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The weather in Florida is finally getting cooler.  I love cooler weather.  Our family can finally enjoy opening the windows and turning off the air conditioning for a while (hopefully).  I have been craving a good tomato-basil soup for a while now, so as soon as I woke up yesterday I decided that it would be the perfect soup along my other craving: grilled cheese.  You see my parents-in-law went out to California for Thanksgiving, that’s where they used to live for 20+ years, and spent some time with my sister-in-law, Keely.  As I was bidding them farewell I just casually slipped them a hint.  That if they wanted to bring me back anything, a loaf of San Fransisco sourdough bread is all I wanted.  Well, if they aren’t the best in-laws, I don’t know who is.  Guess what they brought me back? 

Of course you can make your grilled cheese with any bread, but I recommend finding a good sourdough loaf to take it to that next level 🙂

Fresh Tomato-Basil Soup 

 Ingredients:
4 lbs of tomatoes (I used 2 pints of grape tomatoes, 1 pint of heirloom tomatoes, and 1 big ugly tomato)
2 onions, approximately 2 1/2 cups
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 shallot, diced (or can substitue garlic)
1/4 cup basil, julienned, + more for garnish
2-3 tbsp olive oil
3 tsp salt + more to taste
2 tsp fresh ground pepper + more to taste
1 quart chicken stock
1 tbsp tomato paste (helps to develop flavor quicker)
3 tsp sugar
1/4 cup 2% milk
optional: croutons or parmesan shavings for garnish

Directions:
Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot at medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, salt and pepper to the pot and allow them to become soft and translucent, about 10 minutes; stirring periodically.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now add the shallots, stir and continue to cook until you can press a carrot piece with the back of your spoon and it easily falls apart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next add in the tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, stock, and finally the basil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Allow your soup to simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the tomtoes are soft and cooked down.  Now check for seasonings, and add more salt and pepper if needed. Now use your immersion blended (or in 2 batches in blender) and puree the soup down. If you don’t like bits of tomato skin you can strain your soup, but I personally love the bits and pieces of texture in this soup. You can also use a food mill if you have one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I add the milk and give it a stir. Serve in a mug or bowl and top with your favorite garnishes- I used parmesan shavings and basil. Really great flavor, super fresh, hence the name 😉 and really nice thicker consistency.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next the grilled cheese to eat along side your soup. 

Ingredients:
sourdough loaf of bread cut into whatever thickness you prefer (i like medium thick slices 🙂 )
sharp yellow or white cheddar cheese, about 2 slices per sandwich
muenster cheese, 2 slices per sandwich
swiss cheese, 1 slice per sandwich
2 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp dijon mustard
3-4 tbsp of butter
 

Directions:

Combine your mayonnaise and mustard in a small bowl.  Spread this sauce on both insides of bread.  Next, arrange your cheddar slices on one sourdough slice of bread.  Place your swiss cheese in the middle and your muenster slices on the other side.  Top with your already mayo’d slice of bread.  You can either spread your butter lightly over both top and bottom of your sandwich bread-or if you want a little less butter, like me, I just used a brush to spread  it directly on my George Foreman grill..(I don’t have a panini grill yet, and this was a gift).  If you don’t have a panini press you can use a skilled and place a plate or heavy lid on top of you sandwiches, flipping halfway through.  Total time is about 4 minutes.  You can try your own combination of cheeses, let me know what the results are!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
So there you have it, the perfect combination on a cool Florida evening:  fresh and hot tomato-basil soup with a crunchy crust on the outside, melty and cheesy on the inside with a slight tanginess from the sourdough and dijon, but a slight sweetness from your swiss cheese- sandwich.  And if you dip one into the other, some say fireworks go off…  a bit exagerated?  I don’t know 😉  Some really have seen said fireworks 🙂  I hope you enjoy this one!
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Hello after a long weekend!  Tonight was my uncle’s last night with us before returning to Spain.  So of course, we had to have a big dinner to wish him a bon voyage.  But my mom was too tired to cook, and my grandmother had her chemotherapy today and wasn’t feeling up to it, so… Super-Pamela to the rescue!  Haha.. no, I offered mostly because it’s nice to cook when grandma will watch Lucas for me, so I can “just cook”.  I love it, it really is like a therapy to me.  So for tonight, in keeping with our fall theme, we have a Rigatoni with Squash and Prawns.  Well, it’s more like Rigatoni with Squash and Shrimp, since we had regular jumbo shrimp on hand.  This is a recipe I cannot take credit for; it was created by a chef I really love for healthful Italian cuisine, Giada de Laurentiis.  Here is the recipe with a few adjustments:

Rigatoni with Squash and Shrimp

Ingredients:
 
3 tbsp olive oil, plus 3 tbsp
1 pound butternut squash, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt, plus 1 teaspoon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus 1/2 teaspoon
1 cup chicken stock or broth
1 pound rigatoni
1 pound large or jumbo shrimp
3/4 to 1 cup 2% or whole milk
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan


Directions

Warm 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butternut squash, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Saute until the squash is golden and tender, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the chicken stock, bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the squash is very soft, another 5 to 7 minutes.

Transfer the squash mixture to a blender or food processor and puree. *You can actually add some of your milk at this point, rather than all of it later, if you need some liquid to better puree your squash.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta.

Meanwhile, warm the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the shrimp with the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Add the shrimp to the pan and cook until just pink, about 3 minutes.

In a large pot over low heat combine the cooked pasta, pureed squash mixture, and 3/4 cup milk. Stir to combine. Add the remaining 1/4 cup milk if the sauce needs to be moistened.

Add the cooked shrimp, basil, and cheese. Stir until warm and serve.   Top with a little extra parmesan and basil.

Results:  An incredibly healthy and delicious dish!  The sauce is so creamy, and you actually feel like you’re eating something bad for you, but it’s not!  The combination of the sweet butternut squash with the bite of the pepper in the sauce as well as in the shrimp, along with the saltiness of the parmesan cheese is just delightful!  I doubled my recipe to feed my family of seven plus a toddler.  I got great reviews! 

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