When it comes to using recipes, I’m old-school.
No reading from my laptop, tablet or smartphone. For my kitchen counter, it’s paper, all the way.
Cookbooks, sure. But I also rely upon the stash of recipes I’ve accumulated over the years, most of them clipped from the dead-tree edition of this newspaper. There are probably 100 of them, and they’re stuffed (with no thought to organization) into a well-worn file folder, one that’s usually wedged between copies of Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking From My Home to Yours” and Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s “The Italian Country Table” in our kitchen library.
Two that automatically come to mind this time of year hail from Seattle chef Tom Douglas. Ever since I interviewed him in 2012 — the occasion was the release of his terrific “The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook” — I’ve come to associate Douglas with cold weather.
Well, his versions of cream of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, anyway, and their connection to a powerful sense memory of mine.
They’re a callback to the frigid February weekends of my Brooklyn Center childhood, when Mom would supervise the bundling-up process, open the back door and utter what were surely three of her favorite words: “Go play outside.”
Once allowed to return indoors, I was often treated to her foolproof strategy for warming me up from the inside out: the enduring combination of cream of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.
This was the early 1970s, so comfort invariably came directly from a can, either Campbell’s, or the Red Owl generic equivalent.
Oh, and Mom’s idea of a grilled cheese sandwich was just a few Velveeta slivers pressed between slices of Wonder Bread and fried in ridiculous quantities of butter, her favorite ingredient. Nothing fancy, but it sure hit the spot.
Still, Douglas’ cookbook improves upon Mom’s ritual. Turns out that preparing cream of tomato soup from scratch couldn’t be easier, and the payoff is huge, flavor-wise, especially when factoring in his inspired brown-butter crouton garnish.
And while pulling off a grilled cheese sandwich isn’t exactly a high-wire culinary act, Douglas revealed a few useful tricks: grated white Cheddar (and plenty of it), the right bread (potato), lots of butter (Mom would have wholeheartedly approved) and, of course, bacon, because it improves everything it touches.
Since my four-year-old versions of these recipes are fading and yellowed — the curse of newsprint, right? — I’m going to clip and save the ones printed at right. After all, as long as there’s a winter, I know I’ll be making them. Again and again.
TOM’S TASTY TOMATO SOUP WITH BROWN BUTTER CROUTONS
Note: “When I was a kid and my mom made tomato soup, she would cut buttered toast into squares and float them on top of each bowl,” writes Tom Douglas in “The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook.” “My twist on Mom’s toast is to make brown butter croutons.”
• 4-in. chunk (4 slices, about 5 to 6 oz.) rustic bread
• 3 tbsp. unsalted butter
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
• 1 tbsp. olive oil
• 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
• 3 garlic cloves, smashed with side of a knife and peeled
• 5 c. (about two 28-oz. cans) canned whole tomatoes in juice
• 1 c. water
• 2/3 c. heavy cream
• 2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more as needed
• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
• 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
• 1/4 tsp. celery seed
• 1/4 tsp. dried oregano (or 1/2 tsp. freshly chopped oregano)
• 1 tbsp. sugar
To prepare croutons: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Using a serrated knife, cut off and discard bread crusts, and cut bread into 3/4- to 1-inch cubes.
In a small pan over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons butter and cook, stirring often, until butter is golden brown and aromatic, about 3 minutes after butter melts. Remove from heat.
Place bread cubes in a medium bowl and pour butter over them, tossing to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper and toss again.
Spread bread cubes on a baking sheet and bake until croutons are toasted and golden, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from oven.
To prepare soup: In a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter and olive oil. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes (and juice from tomatoes), water, cream, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, celery seed, oregano and sugar. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
Remove soup from heat and purée in batches in blender (or use an immersion blender). Return soup to pot and reheat to a simmer, seasoning to taste with more salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls and serve hot, garnished with croutons.
GRILLED CHEESE WITH BACON AND AVOCADO
Makes 4 sandwiches.
Note: “Instead of Beecher’s Flagship, you can substitute white Cheddar or regular Cheddar cheese,” writes Tom Douglas in “The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook.” “Beecher’s Flagship is slightly crumbly, so it makes sense to grate it. If your cheese is firmer, you can, if you prefer, slice it thin instead.” (The cheese is available at Lunds & Byerlys, Kowalski’s Markets, Jerry’s Foods and other local supermarkets; order online at beechershandmadecheese.com). Douglas added that the bakery uses a potato loaf for this sandwich. “You can use any rustic bread as long as it doesn’t have large holes,” he wrote. “Otherwise the cheese will seep through the holes and stick to the pan.”
• 8 thick-cut bacon slices
• 1 large ripe avocado
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• Lemon or lime wedge
• 8 slices rustic bread (approximately 4- by 6-in.), cut about 1/2 in. thick, divided
• 4 to 6 tbsp. (1/2 to 3/4 stick) butter, at room temperature
• 8 to 12 oz. Beecher’s Flagship (or white Cheddar or regular Cheddar) cheese, grated (see Note)
In a skillet over medium-high heat, cook bacon until golden and crisp on both sides. Remove bacon from pan, drain on paper towels and reserve.
Cut avocado in half, remove pit and scoop out avocado flesh. Transfer avocado to a small bowl and mash with a fork. Season to taste with salt and pepper and a squirt of lemon or lime, and reserve.
Place 8 bread slices on a work surface and generously spread one side of each slice with some butter. Turn bread over so unbuttered slices are facing up. Top 4 slices of bread with grated cheese, evenly covering entire surface of bread slice and dividing cheese equally among 4 slices. Spread other unbuttered slices of bread with mashed avocado, dividing it evenly, then top avocado with 2 slices of bacon. Press a cheese-topped bread slice and an avocado/bacon-topped bread slice together, with the fillings on the insides and the buttered sides facing out. You will have 4 sandwiches.
Place 2 large sauté pans over medium heat and place 2 sandwiches in each pan. When first side is golden brown, turn sandwiches and brown the other side, about 3 minutes per side (if needed, add a little more butter to the pan while browning the sandwiches). When both sides are golden brown and cheese is melted, remove sandwiches from pan, slice them in half on the diagonal, and serve hot.