To any aspiring cooks looking to impress company or just craving a hot home cooked meal but lacking experience, I recommend Good and Cheap: Eat well on $4/Day by Leanne Brown. This is my all time favorite cookbook! In addition to being chock-full of incredibly gourmet looking and sounding recipes that are so easy it feels like magic, this book also is loaded with helpful tips for grocery shopping on a budget and useful equipment to keep handy in your kitchen.
One of my go-to recipes is the tomato soup (the secret ingredient is lemon zest. Who knew?!). Best tomato soup I’ve ever had but the real game changer is the grilled cheese.
Some ingredients you’re going to need (serves 5):
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- 2 medium onions, chopped (I prefer mine finely chopped)
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped (or 6, you can never have too much garlic)
- 2 cans (28 ounces each) pureed tomatoes (I use canned crushed tomatoes)
- 6 cups of vegetable broth (or a bouillon cube dissolved in water)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Softened butter, for the bread
- 10 slices of bread
- 2½ cups of grated cheese
Optional additions (You’re going to want these. Trust me!):
- ½ cup heavy cream
- Leaves from 2 sprigs of thyme
- 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil (Again, you can never have too much. Dried basil works in a pinch)
- Zest of 1 lemon (Gives that extra fresh taste)
- Dijon mustard
- Large soup pot with lid
- Chef’s knife
- Butter knife
- Medium sized pan
- Immersion blender (optional, for creamier texture)
In your pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, stir them to coat, then place a lid on the pot and leave it for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and stir. Add the garlic and cover again until the onions are soft and just starting to brown, about 2 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and vegetable broth and stir. Make sure to scrape any sticky onions off the bottom to keep them from burning. Bring the soup to a boil, then turn it down to low to simmer for about 10 minutes.
Taste. Add salt and pepper as needed. Add the cream, herbs and lemon zest if using (it makes all the difference). At this point, you can use your immersion blender to puree the onion and tomato mixture but I enjoy the slight crunch of the finely chopped onions.
Now for the finale; the grilled cheese! Spread the butter on one side of each slice of bread, all the way to the edges.
Flip over 5 slices of bread, buttered side down, and top each with mustard, if using. I absolutely LOVE this with dijon mustard so I tend to top all my bread with copious Dijon. Then top your 5 slices of bread with approximately ½ cup of cheese and place another piece of bread over this, butter side up.
Place your pan over medium heat for about a minute. If it’s too hot, the sandwich will burn before the cheese melts. Stuff as many sandwiches into the pan as will fit with room to flip them. I usually make this as my dinner for the week, one grilled cheese per evening, so I tend to only cook one at a time.
Fry the sandwiches until they are golden brown, about 2 minutes. Press down gently on the top of each one for even browning. Flip the sandwiches over with your spatula and repeat on the other side.
Once the cheese is melted and both sides are browned to your liking, put it on a plate with a bowl of your fresh tomato soup and enjoy. I recommend dunking for the full unparalleled experience but make sure your grilled cheese has cooled enough first. There’s nothing like a hot bowl of tomato soup after a long day. I hope you love it as much as I do.