Classed-Up White Trash Favorites
Baby, it's cold outside. I'm not a fan.
I'm also not one of those people who is all "Forget Kansas, I'm moving to Florida," (AHEM, MR. MEAT AND POTATOES...) because they can't hack the Kansas seasonal shifts. We're not going anywhere. Rather, I prefer to stay here and whine and grumble and moan about the cold and then wax nostalgic about snow and winter wonderlands later in the year.
This year it's extra painful because I'm schlepping a baby in what feels like a one hundred pound infant carrier (can't someone design a better one? PLEASE?), and his fourteen bags of gear in and out of the car several times a day. See? Whine, moan, complain.
So there has to be a bright side, even if it's contrived. For me, the bright side is food. When I think of cold weather, I think of three particular favorite foods. 1) Tomato soup. 2) Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. 3) Hot Jell-O.
That's right, I said Hot Jell-O, and while it sounds like the name of a really good band or perhaps a not-so-good exotic dancer, it's really much more wholesome than any of that. It's what my mom would give us after a long afternoon of building snow forts and pummeling each other with snowballs, many of which were loaded with rocks. To recover from the frostbite and nicks and scrapes of a snow day, my mom would give us a cup of hot Jell-O. Hi Mom! Remember that?
As is my usual style, I have adopted what might be a classic white trash treat and classed it up. What classes up hot Jell-O? Garnish.
Classed-Up Hot Jell-O Drink
2 C boiling water
1 small package of Jell-O, whatever kind you like - I choose green. And yes, Jell-O, like slushies and Kool-Aid, is categorized by color, not flavor.
Fruit, like strawberries, or kiwi, or limes
Pour the package of Jell-O into the hot water, stir, and garnish with whipped cream and cut fruit. I like to serve this in a fancy glass. But I also often serve tuna casserole to Mr. Meat and Potatoes on our good china, just to, again, class it up. It totally works.
Another cold-weather standard is the old tomato soup/grilled cheese combo. And, if you're like me, it usually means two slices of American cheese between two slices of white bread, served next to some reconstituted Campbell's Soup.
But, I am also the girl who serves tuna casserole on china, so I also like to fancy up my tomato soup and grilled cheese from time to time. My sister, she who makes all things from scratch, makes the famous tomato soup from La Madeleine, the country French cafe that has a chain of restaurants across the country, and it's her favorite, and mine now too. If you can say your tomato soup is "country French", it's suddenly high brow, don't you think?
La Madeleine's Tomato Soup
4 C canned whole tomatoes, crushed
4 C unsalted tomato juice (can sub one cup of chicken broth for one of these if desired)
1 onion, sauteed in butter and olive oil
2-4 cloves of garlic, added to the onion for a minute
14 fresh basil leaves plus a few for garnish
1 C whipping cream
1 T lemon juice
1/2 C unsalted butter; softened
1/4 tsp cracked black pepper
salt, to taste
Step 1) Combine the tomatoes and tomato juice in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Simmer for 30 minutes over medium-low heat.
Step 2) Let it cool a little, and then give it a turn with your immersion blender, if you have one. Otherwise, a regular blender or food processor will do. Then add the basil and puree.
Step 3) Return it all to the saucepan and add the butter and cream. Stir over low heat until the butter and cream are well mixed-in. Stir in salt and pepper before serving.
I have fancy soup and sandwich plates and bowls with handles that my mom gave me. If you are not so lucky, this is cuter served in a mug. We're going for fancy here, right? And don't forget to throw a basil leaf in there or a small dob of sour cream for show.
You can't have tomato soup without a grilled cheese sandwich - it's a rule.
To do better than the two slices of American between two slices of Wonder isn't hard. You don't have to have much imagination to know that you can use better bread, different cheese, even MORE THAN ONE KIND of cheese.
I'm not going to insult your intelligence by trying to tell you how to cook a grilled cheese. I'll just say this: pick a good cheese, and mix it up. Do get some sort of sourdough or a crusty loaf, and toss a little brie on there, or a mix of sharp cheddar and havarti.
But to really class up your grilled cheese sandwich, I say go for some sort of smear. You could spread a little sundried tomato pesto on there, because pesto always says fancy. But, to really knock 'em out, make up some of my favorite onion jam.
Sundried Tomato Pesto
1 jar sundried tomatoes, packed in oil, oil drained off and reserved
2 cloves garlic
1 small (4 oz) bag of pinenuts - walnuts also work
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
Puree it all in a food processor and puree. Save the oil from the tomatoes for a future salad dressing. It's flavorful and delish.
Also, if you have extra pesto, freeze it in your ice cube trays and then save the frozen cubes in a freezer bag. That way, you can pull it out one cube at a time for future grilled cheeses. Perfection!
Onion Jam, adapted from Saveur Magazine
4 heads garlic, whole, bulbs
1 tsp vegetable oil
5 cups vidalia or other sweet onion, chopped
1/3 C butter, softened
1 C cider vinegar
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 T mustard
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
6 cups sugar
1 package liquid fruit pectin
Step 1) Cut the tops clean off the heads of garlic and brush the exposed cloves with olive oil, generously. Wrap the heads in foil and roast in a 425 degree oven for about half an hour.
Step 2) While the garlic roasts, saute onions in butter over medium low heat for 20 minutes, until they are nicely browned.
Step 3) Transfer the onions and roasted garlic to a heavy bottomed pot, and add the rest of the ingredients except the sugar and pectin.
Step 4) Bring the mixture to a rolling boil and gradually add sugar, stirring constantly, boiling for three minutes.
Step 5) Add the pectin and boil for another minute, stirring like mad. Then remove the pot from the heat and let it stand. There might be some foam on top to skim off.
Step 6) Pour the hot mixture into hot jars, leaving a half an inch at the top.
Step 7) Adjust the caps and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.
What you don't use on your own sandwiches, you can give away as Christmas gifts, and people will forever be your slaves in order to get more next year.
It is TOTALLY worth the effort, and you'll never think the same way about a grilled cheese again if it doesn't have a does of this stuff oozing out of it, atop some goat cheese and fontina, and a layer of fresh spinach leaves. Fanciest grilled cheese EVER.
Still, there's nothing wrong with two slices of American between two slices of Wonder. Nothing at all.