Guest Post: Grilled Cheese, Tomato Soup

First, I need to begin by thanking Lisa for inviting me to be a guest blogger this month. For those that do not know me, I am Jason Teiken. I am another attorney here in Mankato.

This blog is excellent for many reasons. We are currently living through a home cooking revival. Services like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Hy Vee Thyme meals etc., make it real simple, but we also need to be challenged. We need to constantly expand our skill set as cooks and our repertoire as diners. Blogs like this one give us new things to try, to learn, and to master. Even if it’s something “easy” as soup and sandwiches, it is sometimes the “easy” dishes that we take for granted. Making them or looking at different preparations of the “easy” dishes breaks the spell to a certain extent, teaches us new skills, but also helps us appreciate the work that goes into even the simplest dishes in restaurants and homes.

Cooking as with other skills are learned by doing. Even with the home cooking revival of late, it is still too easy to go out, take out, or even have our food sent to us on apps. You can even have your food delivered by a former Gopher Quarterback This blog provides the kind of accountability we all need to get us to do the cooking.

So proud to be writing this. Keep cooking, keep blogging.

But now, a recipe for grilled cheese and tomato soup so delicious, you wish you had a cold. I highly recommend this recipe when you are congested.

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The Grilled Cheese.

Need to give credit where credit is due. This grilled cheese recipe is from the great Anthony Bourdain. His cookbook, “Appetites” where he catalogues his favorite dishes to cook for his family is a must buy. If you haven’t yet read “Kitchen Confidential” I highly recommend the audiobook read by Bourdain or if you have not seen “Parts Unknown”, seriously drop everything and binge it.

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Bourdain’s recipe is a grilled cheese with caramelized onions. It is simple, but is exquisitely delicious and elevates the flavours of your hot bread and cheese quite nicely.

I am not going to go through the entire recipe in excruciating detail. Here is what you need:

  • Bread – I recommend a special loaf from a local bakery. Do not do Bimbo White. Go to your local bakery and see what they have. I found a tomato basil loaf. Perfect for the soup. Cheesy loaf? Make sure the flavours go well with the cheese you will melt on it. Or a nice baguette. Obviously, do not get a nutty grain or something with a lot of nuts on it. You will need to spread things on this bread and flip it).
  • Cheese – Now scoff if you must, but Hy-Vee has a brilliant cheese section. Ask for a good cheese that will melt. Yes believe it, not every cheese reacts the way you want to the heat. Cheddar is a classic. I highly recommend the Port Salut (pictured above), which you can also find at the St. Peter Co-op.
  • Onions – This is key to the Bourdain recipe. You need to take two whole onions, chop them. Throw them in a pan with hot butter (2 tablespoons). You put the onions and butter on low heat for an hour. Stir occasionally and make sure every strand gets nice and brown.

And as it turns out . . .

I am one of those people who cry when they chop onions.

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I’m not crying . . . you’re crying . . .

  • Mayonnaise – This is another distinction from your usual grilled cheese. Instead of butter, use mayo. It reacts to the heat differently and saturates the bread.

Now here is the thing with grilled cheese. I can go through exact times, but with the grilled cheese, you need to watch it and flip it to your preference. Light brown, crisp, or burnt. It is up to you.

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Make sure to have a good distribution of cheese and onions. As with any sandwich, it is a matter of construction.

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The Tomato Basil Soup

This is my mother-in-law’s recipe. She was actually visiting this past weekend and we made it together.

Ingredients

  • 4 medium carrot, chopped (optional)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup butter, cubed
  • 1 can (49 ounces) chicken broth or 6 cups vegetable broth, divided
  • 1 can (29 ounces) tomato puree
  •  5 leaves of fresh basil
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper or to taste
  • 12 ounces of half and half or heavy cream
  • Sour cream or crème fraise for garnish

Directions

In a Dutch oven, cook carrots, basil and onion in butter over medium-low heat for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.

In a blender, place 1/2 broth and the cooled vegetables; cover and process until blended. Return to the Dutch oven. Stir in the tomato puree, sugar, salt, pepper and remaining broth.  Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to low.

Gradually stir in half and half; heat through (do not boil). Yield: 6 servings (2-1/4 quarts).  Garnish as desired before serving.

Carrots? Yes, carrots. While they cook in the Dutch oven they release their natural sugars and create a sweet flavor that nicely blends with the basil and onions.

Here are a few pictures of the finished products:

Bon Appétit.

 

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Herbed Tomato Soup

I love tomato soup, but it’s a pretty recent discovery. It would have been a good recipe to use for last year’s post on Ingredient You Hated as a Kid. I’ve made it a few times before and have two tried and true recipes. One is for the crock pot and the other takes a least an hour. Both are delicious.

Obvi the point of the blog is to try new recipes. The recipe I used this time came from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook:

  • 1/2 cup sliced onion
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups chopped, peeled tomatoes or one 14 1/2-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes, cut up
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon snipped basil or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon snipped thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
  • Dash pepper

In a large saucepan, cook onion in butter until tender but not brown. Add fresh tomatoes or undrained canned tomatoes, broth, tomato sauce, basil, thyme, and pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Cool slightly. Press mixture through a food mill or put in a blender/food processor until smooth. Return mixture to saucepan; heat through. Makes 4 side-dish servings.

This recipe was super easy, but I’m not sure I’ll be making it again. It was fine. It was like basic tomato soup. There wasn’t anything special about it. I did, however, love using the tomatoes fresh from my garden.

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To do that, I had to blanch the tomatoes. You just put them in a pot of boiling water until the skin breaks and then into a bowl of ice cold water.

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That way, you have no skin on the tomatoes and can chop them up for the soup.

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I was also able to use my fresh thyme and basil! (Thanks, Mom!)

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September is not just tomato soup month…it’s also grilled cheese month! Thad and I found inspiration for these grilled cheese sandwiches last weekend in Wisconsin. The sandwich on the right uses Wild Rice bread we found locally made in Grantsburg, WI.

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We also used this cheese from Burnett Dairy in Grantsburg. It is so good!! We added pepperoni to the grilled cheese too. Seriously so good.

Let me know if there are any must try recipes for this month!

15 Minute Tomato Sauce

Guys. 5 minutes apparently makes all the difference. Jk, kind of.

As I’m preparing to move, I found a Cooks Illustrated magazine and flipped through to see if there were any recipes I needed to try before throwing it out. Turns out, I kept it for a reason! There was a recipe for 15 minute tomato sauce. Make sure you keep reading, because this was the best sauce ever. Seriously.

Anyway, the last recipe I tried was called 10 Minute Tomato Sauce. I picked it because I really don’t see myself spending more than 10 or 20 minutes making tomato sauce on a regular basis. I wanted to try the Cooks Illustrated recipe for the same reason. Plus I had almost all ingredients on hand. Win win.

After making it, I thought Janine had to try it too. Both of our comments are below the recipe.

Recipe:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup grated onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Table Salt
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes (the article recommends using Tuttorosso or Muir Glen brands)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Ground Black Pepper

Instructions:

  1. Heat butter in medium saucepan over medium heat until melted.
  2. Add onion, oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated and onion is golden brown, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  4. Stir in tomatoes and sugar, increase heat to high and bring to simmer.
  5. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.
  6. Off heat, stir in basil and oil; season with salt and pepper.
  7. Serve

Lisa’s Comments:

For this recipe, I used one of the onions from my garden and just finely chopped it, instead of grating it as the recipe suggested. My grater is packed away and I can’t imagine it made much of a difference.

Also pictured are other veggies from my garden that I had to do a quick brag about…

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This is the brand of tomatoes I used. It was the most expensive I could find. Although honestly, I only went to one store.

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Ok, now time to brag about my parent’s neighbor’s garden. They have SO much basil. I was luckily able to use theirs. My plant wasn’t great this year.

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I followed the directions almost exactly. I had a little problem browning the onion. It said to cook it in the butter about 5 minutes until the moisture was gone and the onion was golden brown. I couldn’t get the moisture to evaporate and the onion was almost burning, so I just added the garlic after about 5 minutes.

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You guys. It was SO good. Like, probably the best recipe to come from this blog. I mean, it was easy, it was delicious, and the clean-up was fast. I will 100% be making this recipe again. Frequently.

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I was thinking out-loud in the car with my mom today, wondering how I was going to get fresh basil in the winter. Sure, you can get it at the store, but it’s expensive. She suggested freezing it in ice cube trays with water. I’m going to take it one step further…on Pinterest I’ve seen that you can freeze herbs with olive oil in ice cube trays. HOW PERFECT will it be if I chop the two tablespoons of fresh basil in each cube slot and then fill with one tablespoon of olive oil? That way I can just add a cube at the end of the recipe.

Make a point to have spaghetti sometime soon and try this recipe. You won’t regret it.

Janine’s Comments:

I think this is a first for the blog, Lisa and I are collaborating on one post!

August has been super crazy for both of us, and I’ve been out of town.  But we’ve been discussing if I would have time to make another batch of red sauce.  The only other recipe that struck my interest takes 7 hours, and is just not doable this month!

So on Tuesday evening I get these Snapchats from Lisa, she’s going to make another batch of quick tomato sauce for dinner.  She starts absolutely raving about this recipe. Claiming its the best thing on the blog (though . . . she never tried the Mole I made back in the beginning).  We decide that I should try it out, too!

I was lacking in the picture department today, so sorry!

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I did grate the onion with the largest slot on my grater.  For one thing, this made it much easier for me when prepping the onion.  Usually, by the time an onion is ready to be cooked, my eyes are burning and I can’t see.  I’ve tried running the knife under cold water, same with the onion, sticking a spoon in my mouth . . . most of the time I just make someone else do it.  I would definitely try the grater again.

Lisa and I had the same issue with browning the onion.  You’re supposed to let it cook on medium heat until the moisture is gone and the onion is browned, about 5 minutes.  Both of our onion browned, almost scorched, but there was still moisture.  I think I’d turn down the heat about 3 minutes in and let it cook slower for longer.

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Yum!

I really liked this recipe, though I wish it had a little more flavor. It may be that my oregano was old.  Or it needed salt.  I also think I forgot to add the pepper at the end.  I will definitely be using this one again!

10 Minute Tomato Sauce

I’ve been looking forward to this challenge. I think tomato sauce can be an easy thing to make instead of buy. It’s probably less expensive and tastes better than what you can buy. It’s so easy, though, to buy that jar of sauce for a quick weeknight meal. This was the perfect excuse to get out of my comfort zone.

The circumstances surrounding the first attempt were kind of perfect. Thad and I were planning to be gone for a long weekend and wanted to use up the food we had instead of going grocery shopping. We had an open box of pasta and half a jar of sauce. It wasn’t enough, but I had some tomatoes in the cupboard and remembered that I needed to try a recipe for sauce. Perfect, right?

I quick looked up a recipe for tomato sauce. I was a little worried that it would take a while, but I found Food.com’s recipe for 10 Minute Tomato Sauce. I knew it would take longer than that, but it didn’t require a lengthy simmer and it had good reviews.

First, you saute some onion and add spices and add garlic.

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Then, add crushed tomatoes and sugar. I only had these whole tomatoes, but figured they would work.

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Then, simmer for 10 minutes (see how it totally took longer than 10 minutes?). During that time, I had to help the whole tomatoes turn into crushed tomatoes. This hand blender is one of my favorite appliances. IMG_3846

Then you stir in olive oil and a few more spices.

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It turned out really good! Thad and I found some pepperonis and a ton of cheese, so we decided to turn regular spaghetti into what Thad calls…spaghetti pizza. Spaghetti Pizza was also featured in Week 35 (Italian) of the blog last year.

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Verdict: Homemade spaghetti sauce really can be fast and easy and cheap. For me, it will be especially easy because I almost always have the necessary ingredients on hand.

 

 

Margaritas!

This month was by far the most exciting challenge. I didn’t have to deal with raw meat, it was an excuse to have some friends over, and I didn’t have to spend more than like 10 minutes in the kitchen.

I decided to make margaritas. Honestly, I didn’t go outside of the box too much, but I did try a new recipe.

I made a spicy cucumber margarita. It was so good and so easy. I definitely recommend it and will probably even make it again myself. It wasn’t that spicy…in fact, I’d probably turn up the heat a little bit next time. It also wasn’t overly cucumber-y.

You need:

  • 2-3 cucumbers, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup tequila
  • 2 tablespoons triple sec (what is triple sec anyway?)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (I just used 3 juicy limes)
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced.

First, add the cucumber to the food processor and puree. Then, run the puree through a mesh strainer. You want to discard the pulp and save the juice.

Second, combine the sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat on low until the sugar dissolves.

Third, combine all ingredients in a pitcher and refrigerate.

Fourth, Enjoy!!

The second margarita I made was a blackberry margarita. I basically created just a regular lime margarita, but added blackberry syrup.

Blackberry Syrup:

  • 1 pint fresh berries
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 1/2 a lime

To make the blackberry syrup I took the fresh berries, mixed them with the  sugar, and some lime juice in a saucepan. I cooked on low heat for 20-30 ish minutes. Towards the 20 ish minute mark, I started breaking up the blackberries to make the juice. Once they were broken up, I strained the blackberries with a fine mesh strainer (also used for the cucumbers above) and pressed the blackberries down to get the juice.

Both margaritas were really good, although I’m not sure the blackberry one was worth the cost of the blackberries. The cucumber was my favorite!

As you can see, I did a really great job taking pictures. I’ll be better next time!

 

Burgers

Friends, I kind of failed in June. I didn’t blog about either of my burger attempts. I did make two different kinds of burgers, though, in two different ways. Here’s the make up post:

Burger 1: I mixed half a pound of bacon in with two pounds of ground beef.

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Oh, I added some cheese too!

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I used the food processor to kind of grind up the bacon before mixing the bacon, cheese, and beef in a bowl. I also added the usual egg, breadcrumbs, and seasonings (I didn’t take a picture and a month later I don’t really remember what seasonings…I always just make it up as I go along anyway).

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We were having people over!!! I didn’t just make 2.5 pounds of burgers for two people. But the part of making burgers that I need to perfect is the sizing of them. I never know what size to form the patties into because they always shrink when they are cooked. If anybody has a tip, let me know!

Anyway, Burger 1 was delicious. I don’t have a picture of it, but I added some diced jalapenos (that I froze from my garden last year!) to half of the batch and those were great too. If you’re looking to switch things up once in a while, I’d definitely try bacon, cheese, and jalapeno.

Burger 2: Like Janine, I’m a fan of the black bean burger. It doesn’t replace a regular burger in my mind, but it’s something different to have once in a while.

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I followed this recipe and they were super easy and delicious. You basically mix most of the ingredients together in the food processor, stir in a few more, and then form them into patties. We tried grilling them, but they weren’t firm enough, so I ended up cooking them on the stove.

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Ok, so they aren’t super attractive, but they are worth trying. That fish spatula that you see is also a must try. It’s my go-to spatula.

So, June is finally done. I’ll be doing another quick post at the end of July with some cocktails!!

Pizza #2

This was my second time making pizza dough from scratch. Usually, I’ve always used frozen pizza dough from Rhodes. It’s super fast and tastes good. It does take some thinking ahead though, because it needs to be thawed. A couple of times, I’ve made a pizza dough when we cook the pizza on the grill. The recipe is literally called “The Best Pizza Dough for Grilling”. I’m sure it would have been just fine in the oven, but I thought I should try a different recipe.

While searching, I wanted a recipe that I’d make in the future. Most recipes always had a rise time for the dough. That also requires thinking ahead. When I found this recipe from allrecipes.com that had really good reviews, I thought it was worth a try. There was no rise time.

So first you dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. “Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.” The question is…what does “creamy” look like?

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This was the yeast and sugar “dissolving” in the warm water.

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This was after it sat for 10 minutes. I figured it looked creamy enough.

So then you stir in flour, salt, and oil. It says “beat until smooth.” Honestly, I used my hands and kind of kneaded it in.

I panicked for a second because I wasn’t sure if I had bread flour (I did) and called my mom to find out if All-Purpose Flour would work. She says it will. My plan is to use the bread flour until it’s gone for the next few recipes, but then try All-Purpose. Unless I’m using bread flour on a regular ish basis, I don’t really want to keep it in my kitchen for the few times a year that I’ll use it.

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Then you let it sit for 5 minutes. At this point, I had to run to the store and we weren’t quite ready to top the pizzas, so I let it sit quite a bit longer.

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The recipe called for cornmeal on the pan before laying down the dough. I love the texture the cornmeal added!

As you can see in this picture, I wanted to see if there was a difference between the pizza stone and a baking sheet.

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All three pizzas turned out great! The dough was good, too! We determined that the pizza on the regular baking sheet was more crispy than the pizza on the pizza stone, so I was happy to learn that too.

I will definitely be keeping this recipe for the future. It was so easy and turned out great.

If you haven’t grilled a pizza, I highly suggest trying that method this summer too!!

Pizza

For my first pizza challenge, I cheated a little. Thad and I had Owen over the weekend and we thought we’d try campfire pizzas. We got these handy tools from the store:

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Apparently, you just put buttered bread in the slot, add pizza sauce and toppings, and then another slice of buttered bread to make a little pie.

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Then you stick them in the fire…

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And play a guessing game.

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But they tasted pretty good.

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And of course the kids thought they were pretty cool.

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I promise I’ll do a legit pizza post next week, but this was too cute not to share!

Steak 3

I know, I’ve already done 2 steaks this month, but I wanted to try one more. I wanted to see if there was much difference between a steak on the grill and a steak cooked inside.

First…what cut to buy?? I had two recommendations for top sirloin steak, so that’s what I went with this time.

Second…how?? My mom suggested looking up a recipe from Alton Brown. He said to get a cast iron skillet, put it in the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Once the oven was preheated, take the skillet out of the oven and put it the stove on high heat. Prep the steak with canola oil, salt, and pepper. Sear the steak by putting in the pan for 30 seconds each side. Then put the pan and steak together in the oven for 2 minutes a side.

Boyfriend pointed out that the steak I bought was massive and that he didn’t think that short of a cook time would cook the steak to my preferred doneness.


He’s a pretty smart guy, and I agreed with him…especially when I remembered Alton Browns recipe was for a ribeye steak.

After some discussion, I preheated the oven, seared the steak, and then put it in the oven for 5 ish minutes and then another minute or two after I flipped it.


There was a little smoke detector incident, but everything turned out great! I would definitely use this method in the future.

So steak month is over. I learned that rib eye and sirloin are the cuts of steak I should buy in the future. Also that if I need to make a steak by myself, the inside method would be best because I don’t have to deal with the grill.

Steak #2

For this attempt, I got a different cut of meat and used a different grilling method. I wanted to get a ribeye (the same as Steak #1), but couldn’t find it at Cub. Instead, this package caught my eye:


It said it was great for grilling. It lied. Later, I learned that this was the worst cut I could have purchased. I guess that’s why I thought it was reasonably priced.

Anyway, we grilled them up. I learned that you put the charcoal in the grill in an even layer, except for a little hole in the middle, which I guess is something relating to heat and placement of the meat.


Then you light the charcoal on fire, but you have to wait for it to die down before you put the meat on (bummer).


Anyway, then we put the meat on and flipped it once and it was done!


It seemed like less monkey business than the gas grill, even with the charcoal. I didn’t like it because the texture was chewy, but I’m blaming that on the cut of meat. Apparently this is good steak to put *in* things, like fajitas or something. I’ll try that with the leftovers. My mom said sirloin is the way to go, so I’ll have to try that next time.