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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuscan Tomato Soup with Double Cheesy Bacon Grilled Cheese

Have you all heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder? No joke, I think I may have it, at least when it comes to food. What the weather is like and what season it is totally and completely affect my mood and what I crave food-wise. In the winter, I can't seem to get enough warm and bubbly casseroles, fresh-baked cookies, and chili of all sorts. When springtime hits, bring on the fruit, the salad variations, and everything grilled.

We have had ridiculously unseasonably warm weather the past month or so. Here in Wyoming, we usually get very, very little spring. It basically goes straight from 20 degrees and snowing to 65 degrees and sunny, with no middle ground whatsoever. I have grown accustomed to this, much to my dismay, so I tend not to get too overly antsy when everyone else starts talking about Spring Fever and how warm their weather is getting, fully knowing that while everyone else transitions, we will be stuck in cold, miserable, blowing weather. This year, Mother Nature threw us a curve ball and gave us some record high temps in March. It truly felt like spring should feel. Warm, sunny, get outside and play weather... it was amazing!

Needless to say, our good luck didn't last (although the weather forecast predicts that our drop is very temporary and we should be back up to the 60's by the weekend), and yesterday was a cold, wet, snowy/sleety day that just reeked of winter. I found myself back in my winter craving mode, immediately needing some hot soup and a warm, gooey sandwich to go with it. Tomato soup and grilled cheese is one of my go-to comfort meals. While I normally prefer to make almost everything I can from scratch, for one reason or another, I had never yet attempted a homemade tomato soup. (Yes, I was eating soup from a can, don't judge! I still love that darn stuff!) Yesterday was the day I remedied that, and I am so glad I did!

It is now my pleasure to share with you this delicious and hearty soup and the cheesy, bacon-y, sandwich that went along with it (dipped, of course!).

Tuscan Tomato Soup with Double Cheesy Bacon Grilled Cheese

For the soup:
- 1/2 red bell pepper, cut into large chunks
- Extra-virgin olive oil, black pepper, and a pinch of salt for roasting
- 2 tbsp. butter
- 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
- 2 stalks of celery, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1 tbsp. garlic paste
- 8-oz can tomato paste with roasted garlic (or whatever you find that sounds good)
- 28-oz can crushed tomatoes with basil (same as above)
- 1 cup lower-sodium chicken broth
- 1 tsp. McCormick Tuscan Seasoning (Italian would be fine, too)
- Seasoned salt and black pepper, to taste (I used less than 1/2 tsp. of each)
- Pinch of red pepper chili flakes (optional)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup fat-free Half and Half

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. In a small baking dish lined with foil, place the red bell pepper chunks. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place into the oven and roast until the pepper is starting to blacken, about 15-20 minutes. Remove and place in freezer to cool while you start the vegetables.
2. In a large pot, melt the butter and the olive oil. To this, add the chopped onion, celery, carrots, and garlic paste. Saute over medium-low heat until the vegetables are starting to soften up, about 12-15 minutes. Add the tomato paste, the canned tomatoes with the juice, the chicken broth,  the Tuscan Seasoning, the chili flakes, and the seasoned salt and pepper. Stir well. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat to medium-low again and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
3. While the soup is simmering, retrieve your roasted red pepper from the freezer. It should now be cool enough to peel. Remove the skins and then add to the soup mixture so it can simmer and incorporate in.
4. After your soup has simmered, carefully pour the soup into a large food processor to blend everything together. You can also use an immersion blender if you have one- I don't, so I went with food processor and it worked fine.  :)
5. Once there are no longer any large chunks of veggies visible, or at whatever point you are happy with the texture and consistency, return the soup to the large pot over low heat. Slowly add the Half and Half until you have reached your desired creaminess, then allow the soup to simmer just long enough to heat through. Serve hot with Double Cheesy Bacon Grilled Cheese.

For the Sandwich (1):
- 2 slices whole wheat bread
- Butter for bread
- 3 slices of Cheddar and Swiss cheese (you can choose which cheese gets 2 slices)
- 4 pieces of cooked bacon

Butter the outsides only of the two pieces of bread. Heat a skillet to medium-low, and place one piece of bread, buttered side down. Place two pieces of cheese, then the four pieces of bacon, then the third piece of cheese on top of the first slice of bread, topping with the second slice of bread, buttered side up. Allow to cook until golden brown, then carefully flip using a spatula, and cook until the other side is also golden brown and the cheese is melted and gooey. Cut in half and serve with Tuscan Tomato Soup. Oh, and dip. Definitely dip!

This duo is perfect for a cold, winter night, or a rainy spring evening... or anytime if you're not a complete weirdo like me! :) Anyone else really affected by the seasons and the weather when it comes to food and what's going on in their kitchen? Come on, I know I can't be alone out there!!!

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