what’s better than grilled cheese and tomato soup?

everyone likes grilled cheese and tomato soup.  its just one of those meals that no one can hate.  i do admit, for most of my life i was not a tomato soup fan (at least the stuff from the campbells can), but recently i have developed a taste for it.  grilled cheese on the other hand, now that was something i have always liked– i suspect i did even in my previous lives.

this week, since i knew i wouldn’t need a ton of food because i’m leaving to go home for thanksgiving so early, i decided just to pick two dishes to make and live off leftovers.  the beauty of grilled cheese is that if you have the ingredients, you can make a fresh and hot sandwich at the drop of a hat!  the soup, on the other hand, is not so quick.  so i made a big ol’ pot of it and just warmed up the leftovers right out of the fridge!

here’s what i gathered from the grocery for the soup:
-three medium/large and ripe tomatoes, two fresh cloves of garlic, half of a vidallia onion (or whatever kind you have on hand), one can of low-sodium chicken stock, a cup of fat-free half and half (leftover from making the butternut squash soup!), olive oil, S&P, and a pinch of red pepper flakes.

i started by washing, “eighthing” (cutting in to eighths :] ), and seeding my three tomatoes and laying them out on a baking sheet. i gave them a quick glug of olive oil and S&P and tossed them around.  on the same sheet, i cut up half an onion into small roasting chunks and halved two cloves of peeled garlic.  i tossed the pan in the oven at 400 degrees for a good half an hour (moving them around occasionally) until they got all caramelized and soft.

once all the vegetables had roasted, i added them to a pot of simmering chicken stock (one can) that i added a good pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to.  *note: add the red pepper flakes while the stock is still cold and bring it up to a simmer all together, your stock will take on a spicy heat from the peppers!**

i simmered everything together for a minute or two and then added salt and pepper to taste.  right before i was ready to blend, i added a cup of the fat-free half and half to give the soup it’s “cream of tomato” look.

using my wonderful Magic Bullet, just like the butternut squash soup, i pureed my cream of tomato until it was nice and smooth and creamy. (i’ll show you what it looks like at the end :] )

ladle it up into a bowl or your favorite mug (this is my all time FAVORITE way to eat soup!) and serve it along side my delicious grilled cheese… coming right up!

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for the grilled cheese, i pick up a few ingredients:
-a loaf of the most nutty and delicious whole-grain bread you can find, fresh basil, a fresh tomato, and sliced cheeses of your choice– i used provolone, muenster, and havarti–, and butter.

i found this nine-grain bread at The Krog (or kroger…) that hadn’t even been sliced yet.  mmmm!  i cut it myself into a little thicker slices than normal sliced bread just to make the sandwich substantial.  just look at this beautiful loaf!

while i preheated my skillet (or you can use a griddle if you have one) to medium, i sliced some super thin slices of tomato on my cutting board and laid them out next to my freshly washed basil.

next step:  the cheese!  i laid out a piece of muenster on one half of the bread and then the tomato right on top.  over the tomato i put a piece of round provolone cheese and topped that with three or four large basil leaves.  finally, i topped the whole thing with a piece of havarti and closed the sandwich with it’s other piece of bread.

i spread each side of bread with a little bit of butter (so you get that beautiful golden-brown crust!) and grilled it in the pan on both sides until the cheese got melty all the way through.  i usually cut my sandwich diagonally, but when you make this meal for nostalgia sake, cut it the way your momma always did :]

so, tell me, what’s better than a lunch (or dinner!) of grilled cheese and tomato soup?  nothing.  that’s right. nothing.  whether it’s cold and rainy, you’re feeling a little under-the-weather, or you’re just missin’ mom, this is the perfect meal for any day.

enjoy!

ooey gooey cheesy mac

one of my dearest girlfriends and i had been trying and trying to plan a cute dinner night for what seems like forever, but our schedules just didn’t match up.  when we finally found a night that were were both free, we decided to go all out and make our most favorite food– baked macaroni and cheese.  we have a long history of eating mac&cheese together, so it seemed like a perfect choice.  along with a fantastic movie, we were ready for a great night!

we started by gathering the ingredients:  one box of elbow macaroni, 12 oz. of extra sharp cheddar cheese (grated), 4 tablespoons of flour, 2 cups of skim milk, 1/2 c. of fat-free half and half, 1/4 cup (one stick) of butter, S&P and nutmeg.

we boiled up the macaroni noodles and had them cool off while we shredded our cheddar cheese.  since we realized we didn’t have a cheese grater or anything of that kind, we had to cut the cheese (hahahahaha) into small planks so they would melt down easily. cut it into the smallest pieces that you can!

once all the cheese was “shredded”, we moved on to melting the butter in a medium saucepan and added the flour and cooked it together until it was brown and nutty (remember, this is making a roux!).  then, add the milk and cream and bring the mixture to a simmer so the flour can start to thicken the milk.  add the nutmeg and cook until the sauce just coats the back of a spoon like this:
next, add the cheese in small batches and stir until it melts down and the sauce gets gooey.  be careful to keep the heat on medium low so that you don’t scald the milk or burn the cheese.  taste the cheese sauce and add salt and pepper to taste.  then, take the macaroni noodles and stir the whole thing together in the saucepan.  ready to see the gooey mess?
man, just looking at this makes me wish i was eating it now!  there’s only a few more steps, i promise!  put the noodles and cheese into a casserole dish that is lightly buttered or sprayed with cooking spray (to make clean up much easier).  we decided to add fresh tomato slices right to the top along with a panko breadcrumb topping (panko breadcrumbs and one tbsp of butter toasted in a pan– but not pictured!).
pop the casserole into the oven for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees until everything is warm and bubbly.
ready?  are you ready to see it?  IT LOOKS SO DELICIOUS.

please enjoy responsibly :]

personal potpies, please!

the other day while i was at world market (where i should really not even be allowed to enter with a credit card), i found these absolutely precious souffle ramekins on sale for $3 for a set of 4.  my mind started racing with recipes for things i could make in cute individual servings: molten lava cakes, three-cheese souffles, flan, individual baked macaroni and cheese… and of course, the classic potpie.

i decided to make a lighter version of the classic potpie with crust only on the top instead of all the way around, so the ramekin worked perfectly.  i made my filling, ladled it in individual portions, topped the whole shootin’ match with pie dough, and in the oven it went.

i started by prepping the veg: cut up two medium stalks of celery, two medium carrots, and one small onion in similar sized pieces.  this is called a mirepoix (look at all these fancy cooking terms you’re learning, hahaha!).  heat up a tablespoon or so of butter along with a splash of olive oil in a pan. *note:  the butter gives the veg flavor when you’re sauteeing them, but it can burn easily.  mixing in a splash of oil helps keep it from burning!*  sautee the veg in the pan with some S&P until they are soft.

after about 5 or 10 minutes of sauteeing, it’s time to start the roux.  add about three tablespoons of flour right to the pot and stir it around to coat the veg.  let the flour cook until it toasts and loses its raw-flour flavor.  next, add one 14oz. can of chicken broth and 3/4 cup of fat-free half and half (or 2% milk or heavy cream) to the pot and stir in half a pint of quartered baby button mushrooms.  bring up to a simmer and watch the mixture thicken (thanks to that roux we made!).

while it simmers, take a fresh rotisserie chicken (or leftover white/dark meat from dinner the night before if you have it in your fridge), and shred the meat into a bowl.  you’ll need about two cups for four potpies. once your sauce has thickened, add the chicken to the pot and stir.  at this point, taste and season with S&P and a pinch of nutmeg.  finally, add a big handful of frozen peas and stir until everything is warm and the filling has thickened.  *note:  is your filling too runny?  spoon some of the liquid from your pot and put it into a small bowl with another tablespoon or so of flour, and whisk until completely smooth (this is called a slurry).  pour this back into your pot and stir until it gets thick!*


now its time to fill the ramekins!  make sure they are good and clean and then set them up on a cookie sheet.  ladle the potpie filling in to each one, making to leave some room at the top.

take a sheet of pie dough from the refrigerated section of the grocery and roll it out slightly to make it a little thinner.  find a bowl or tupperware that has a slightly larger opening than the ramekins and use it to cut out four potpie tops. you’ll want some extra dough around the sides so you can stretch it over the ramekins!

once you have the pie dough on the top, put a little egg-wash on top (one egg and a few teaspoons of water, beaten up) and take a sharp knife and slit the top so that the steam can escape while the pies bake.  bake them in the oven according to the pie dough directions on the box.  the filling is already nice and hot, so all we’re doing in the oven is getting the nice golden-brown and crusty top that everyone loves!

be very, very careful when enjoying these pies as they are absolutely MOLTEN on the inside (oh, and the ramekins themselves are very hot… a little fact that I forgot when picking one up…).  this is a perfect dish when you want a little taste of home or a big punch of flavor in your own personal cup :]
share these with friends or eat them all by yourself!  enjoy!

a warm bowl of autumn

autumn is my favorite season.

the trees change color, my scarves come out of my cold-weather box, pumpkins and little kids are scattered all over the Lawn, and apple cider is abundant.  i love to cook with seasonal ingredients and this is my favorite time of year to do so.  it was chilly the other day when i popped over to the grocery so i decided it was a perfect night to make some soup.  i toyed with the idea of pumpkin soup, an apple and potato soup, and even carrot soup, but my mind was made up when i saw a gorgeous butternut squash sitting on the shelf. (i’ve included a picture of the monster squash split in half if you’ve never seen one before).

i decided to roast off and puree the squash, add some fresh ginger and a touch of cream to warm chicken broth, and finish with nutmeg right on top. it is a hearty soup to have by itself in a mug with a crusty roll by its side, or along side a toasty grilled cheese and tomato.  hungry yet?

i started off with my ingredient list:  one large butternut squash (about 3 to 3.5 lbs), one knob of fresh ginger root, two cans of low sodium chicken stock, 1 cup fat-free or light half-and-half, half a cup of 100% apple juice or cider, two tablespoons melted butter, S&P, and ground nutmeg.

very carefully, i began the prep by splitting my squash in half lengthwise and then half again (lengthwise).  i scooped out the seeds with a soup spoon and discarded them (but you can roast them just like pumpkin seeds if you’d like!).

i laid out the squash on a baking sheet and brushed them with the melted butter and topped them off with some black pepper.  i also poked holes in the squash with a fork (like a baked potato!) so that they could steam from the inside.  they went in to the oven for about an hour to an hour and a half (depending upon the size of your squash) until they were fork tender.  **note:  is your squash taking forever in the oven?  after an hour and a half if its still stringy and not quite done, scoop it out of its skin and in to a microwave safe bowl and zap it for about 5 minutes or until it is finally tender.  it works wonders!**

once the squash has cooled enough to handle, remove the flesh from the squash skin and put it right in to a soup pot on the stove.  into the pot add the two cans of chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you’d like to make this vegetarian!), two tablespoons of fresh grated ginger (if you don’t like it spicy, add less), and S&P to taste.  my secret ingredient?  half a cup of fresh apple cider.  it gives the soup a sweet note and adds a whole new layer of flavor.  let this simmer for about five minutes and then add a cup of fat-free half and half and a pinch of nutmeg.  remember: at this stage the soup will be chunky because of the squash.  don’t worry!  we’ll fix it!
once the soup has come together in the pot (taste test it to make sure its just right for you!), its time to puree.  there are a few options for this step:
–1) if you are lucky enough to own one of these immersion blenders, just pop it in the pot and puree away!  **note: if you have one of these, i am severely jealous.
–2) if you have a large blender or vitamix, pour the soup in and blend until smooth.
–3) if you are as cool as me and own a Magic Bullet (part 2 for your enjoyment), carefully ladle the soup in batches and puree until completely smooth.
serve this soup piping hot in big fat mugs and curl up by the fire or in front of a good movie with friends or the fam.  this is also a fantastic starter for a fall dinner party or a great soup for thanksgiving if you have vegetarian guests.  add a sprinkle of nutmeg on the top of each bowl and you’re all set to go!
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
in no time you have a delicious, nutrient-packed, seasonal soup that will get you even more in the mood for the holidays.  enjoy!

a dinner party for boys.

i ran into a few of my friends the other day on the way out to a halloween party.  we started talking and realized that they were long overdue for a dinner party at my apartment (which i was absolutely thrilled to throw as usual) and we made plans to get together on monday night.  before we parted ways, i asked if there was anything in particular they’d like me to make.  they said that any form of meat between two slices of bread was perfectly fine with them.  sigh.  boys.

here i was, excited to make something elaborate and new, but it seemed that hamburgers were the order of the day.  so, instead of making something boring and predictable, i made my own spin on the comfort food.  ready for this?  inside-out cheeseburgers.  they are quick, flavorful, and with only a few ingredients, even relatively inexpensive.   they are so easy, even a college boy who usually microwaves water for ramen noodles could do it :]

i started by running to the grocery for some ingredients for my party of 8: 
– 1 1/4 lbs. 80/20 ground beef (burgers for the boys, humanely raised if possible- makes 4)
– 1 1/4 lbs. 93/7 ground turkey (lighter for the ladies- makes 4)
– 1 medium sized buffalo mozzarella ball
– 2 tsp dried rosemary
– 2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
– S&P to taste
– olive oil
– small head of boston lettuce
– 2 medium vine-ripened tomatoes
– wheat hamburger rolls (i find ones with no HFCS and high fiber)

*a note about the beef:  i used 80/20 ground beef because i wasn’t too concerned with the fat content for growing college boys.  if you want to turn this in to a slightly leaner burger, go with the 92/8 ground beef option by Laura’s Lean Beef which still has lots of flavor, but a fraction of the fat.  or, just as easily, make all the burgers turkey burgers!

i started off with crafting my delicious and lighter turkey burgers.  i put the lean turkey into a bowl along with a healthy pinch of salt, some good cracks of black pepper, a drizzle of olive oil to keep them moist, and two teaspoons (or less– do this to your liking) of dried rosemary.  **crush the rosemary in your hand before you add it to the meat and it will release its flavor better!  i mixed the meat and spices gently together and then using my hand, scored the meat into 4 equal pieces.

taking the first quarter, split the portion in half and form the meat into two thin patties. then take a slice of buffalo mozzarella and place it on one patty and cover it with the remaining half (shown in the photo to the right).  pinch the edges together to seal the cheese in between the top and bottom, and set aside.  repeat this with the other three turkey burgers, set them on a plate, and stick them in the fridge while you make the beef burgers.

for the beef burgers, put the meat in a bowl and add a pinch of salt, a good bit of cracked pepper, and 2 tsp. (or less) of crushed red pepper flakes for some kick.  you won’t need to drizzle these with olive oil since the meat has a high enough fat content to stay moist through grilling.  follow the same steps as before and fill the beef burgers with a piece of mozzarella and seal them up.  place them in the fridge.  here’s what they all look like when they are in their cute hamburger shapes:

once you are ready to cook, warm up your grill pan or skillet with a touch of olive oil in the bottom and begin to grill the burgers.  i did mine in two batches, turkey first and then beef.  **note:  although you can undercook your beef burgers (medium, medium well, etc), you can’t undercook a turkey burger! ** cook the turkey burgers on medium-medium high heat for about 4-5 minutes per side, making sure they are completely cooked through.  grill the beef burgers to your liking (medium well is about 3-4 minutes per side).

get the boston lettuce washed and separated into fluffy leaves for your guests to pop on their sandwiches.  slice the tomato into thick pieces and put out extra mozzarella if you have it (add basil and you have a tomato/basil/mozzarella burger!)  you’re welcome to warm or grill the buns if you’d like, but i tend to like mine as-is.

i served my meal with french fries and black seedless grapes (picnic style!).  also try these delicious inside-out burgers with a salty italian pasta salad, or even a juicy fruit salad.  if you’re feeling adventurous, try a greek salad with cucumber, tomato, olives, and feta!  the possibilities are endless.

this is sure to please even the most picky eaters.  try this out on your fam and let me know how it goes!  or, if you are a college boy reading this, these burgers are very impressive to make for a date :]  enjoy!

Inside-Out Mozzarella Cheeseburgers