Last night was one of those unexpected nights off that had us toying with the idea of dinner and a movie.
Before you get too excited about our romantic evening in, I should preface by saying we are terrible at dinner-and-a-movie nights. We always sit down with our dinner and either can’t decide on a Netflix movie, refuse to make the one-block trip to Walgreens for a Redbox, or will under no circumstances purchase the movie we really want to watch on Amazon for $15.
What invariable ends up happening is yet another viewing of one of the many Harry Potter installments, a no-fail, always-appropriate option with all of the incredible bonus features to appease a fangirl like me.
Don’t get me wrong — Jason likes Harry Potter. But he much prefers the other Harry: Harry Dresden. We still argue about the role of wands in the wizarding world, but that’s a battle I don’t think either one of us will ever win…
So getting back to dinner-and-a-movie night. It didn’t happen. Again.
We of course fulfilled the dinner portion but then decided television didn’t sound like a good time after all, especially if it was going to keep us up past our [Jason’s] firm yet constantly challenged 9:30pm bedtime.
Instead, we took the evening to prep and plan for our upcoming marathon week of cooking and to create a last-minute, feel-good dinner from the randomness that is currently inhabiting our pantry.
Thus, we give you: Last-Minute “Gourmet” Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup. A meal that sprung out of Jason’s desire for grilled cheese and my refusal to eat grilled cheese without tomato soup.
After taking a look at what we had on hand, it was decided Jason would take charge of the grilled cheeses while I toyed around with the soup.
For those who know me, they know that tomato soup is not something I take lightly. I am incredibly picky and have an unwavering, almost religious bias to the Tomato Bisque of Tanya’s Soup Kitchen in my hometown of Wichita. Tanya Tandoc was my cooking mentor as a pre-teen/teenager and nurtured my taste for knowledge and flavor. Her recipes are objects of reverence in our household and are borrowed upon almost constantly when I am the one taking the lead in the kitchen.
It’s no surprise, then, that Tanya’s untimely death this past summer ignited something fierce inside of me. We cooked nothing but Tanya recipes for a solid month in the wake of her passing, and I call on her expertise now more than ever, if just to keep her alive that much longer.
So to honor her and to ensure deliciousness, I took my tomato soup inspiration from her infamous Tomato Bisque recipe.
BUT I couldn’t bring myself to use 3 cups of cream on a run-of-the-mill Monday [nor did I have it, thank goodness], so I improvised with the half-and-half reserved for my daily coffee and added quite a few alterations. Because her tried-and-true recipe is sacred, and the Internet is thus far unworthy of it.
Here’s how the night panned out:
LAST-MINUTE “GOURMET” GRILLED CHEESE AND TOMATO SOUP
Cook time: 35 minutes
Begin first with the soup, which consists of:
- 1 can of tomato paste
- 1/4 yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, smashed
- < 1/4 c. sugar
- Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper to taste
- 2 c. water
- 1 c. half & half or cream
- Combine tomato paste, onion, garlic, sugar, and seasonings in pot and bring to a boil. Lower temperature to medium and let simmer for about 30 minutes until the onions are fully cooked.
2. Meanwhile, prepare your grilled cheeses with the following ingredients:
- Loaf of artisan bread [boule, ciabatta, sourdough, or any favorite will work]
- Crazy good smear of your choice [we love pesto or roasted tomato tapenade]
- A combination of your favorite cheeses [we used Mozzarella and Lacey Marble cheese]
- Spinach [optional]
- Olive oil
3. Slice the bread and smear one side with the tapenade and cover with cheese and spinach to your preference.
4. Close sandwich, drizzle top with olive oil, and either use a panini press or stovetop skillet [or iron like Benny & Joon!] to cook.
Cook until cheese is melted and you can’t really recognize one ingredient from the next. There is no science to it — just don’t burn it.
5. Once the grilled cheese is almost done, taste your tomato soup for flavor and add seasoning or sugar as needed before turning off the heat and using an immersion blender to combine. As you blend, pour in the cream or half and half to thicken.
Serve together on a cold, random Monday, with or without a movie.
Notably missing: the spinach. Because we were too busy eating it by the mouthfuls to remember to put it on our sandwiches.