FOOD WISE: Quick, delicious solution to game-day hunger

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Chef Renee’s Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup Bake makes a quick and filling meal on busy fall afternoons. (Renee Morgan Photo)

Chef Renee’s Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup Bake makes a quick and filling meal on busy fall afternoons. (Renee Morgan Photo)

By CHEF RENEE MORGAN

What better way to spend a Saturday than at a bunch of little boys youth league football game?

That’s exactly what I did last weekend and I can tell you that no little (ahem, excuse me – Big!) boys ever played more entertaining football. Nevermind the fact that I happen to be two of those boys’ grandmother. No prejudice here, no siree!

We settled into our lawn chairs to boil in this part of the Texas heat, also known as Indian summer, and the purple and gold took the field. I could see in the faces of every parent there the assurance that their future football star would surely make the play of the day. We all waited with baited breath as 15-20 eight and nine-year olds strode out to the field as though they were seasoned pros, their giant helmets and pads dwarfing their skinny little kid bodies. I’ve never seen anything so cute (I mean, tough) in my life.

As they lined up against their opponent and parents cheered and coaches barked instructions, adorable little cheerleaders with massive gold hair bows perched on top of their little heads, begin to call out “2 bits, 4 bits, 6 bits, a dollar…!” I can’t even stand the cuteness. Then, all of a sudden, the ball is in play. I’m not really sure how this happened, as there doesn’t seem to be any passes in football at this level, but there is lots of activity and a big pile up of boy bodies everywhere. Parents are on their feet, cheering.

And before I know it, the game is over and the Panthers take the day, 28-6. Go Panthers!

After observing my grandson’s game, I quickly came to the conclusion that their games are so much better than college and pro games for so many reasons. A few come to mind immediately. First, they’re just so darn cute. Second, the boys still have the innocent love of the game. Third, they don’t really know quite what they’re doing yet so it’s super fun to watch all the confusion. Fourth, the time is real or at least close. When my husband is watching the Longhorns or the Cowboys and he says only five more minutes in the game, I automatically know that really means anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Not so with these guys. They just get on with it. Fifth, did I mention how cute they are?

When the game was over and the dust had settled, I knew there were lots of football moms with hungry boys on their hands, which is another great thing about being the Nana. Know what I mean? When my daughter complains about how hard and how much work it is to raise kids, I just laugh and laugh and laugh. In all seriousness, I do remember what it was like to haul all the kiddos around to the lessons and games and practices, then rush home, exhausted, and try to put something reasonably healthy on the table quickly.

The recipe for this week just happens to be one of those quick, easy and inexpensive ones that would work great for a busy day of kids’ activities. It’s a little different take on the classic grilled cheese and tomato soup. This one is more like a casserole of a combination of the two, under a blanket of yummy, melted cheese. What kid wouldn’t like that?

The technique for toasting the grilled cheese sandwiches is a useful and quick way to make grilled cheese sandwiches for a big group of kids anytime. Just be sure to flip the pans over halfway through cooking to ensure even toasting. They turn out perfect every time and you don’t have to stand there cooking each sandwich individually. When I make it at my house, I sometimes also add some ham to the sandwich part, just to make it even heartier, especially if I’m serving it for dinner. Add a salad and you’re good to go for game day.

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup Bake

Serves 6

Ingredients:

1/2 cup tomato paste

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoon dried basil, divided

1 3/4 cup evaporated milk

2 large eggs

3 ounces cream cheese

12 slices sourdough bread (1/2-inch thick or greater)

6 slices mozzarella cheese

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 cup shredded Italian cheese blend

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place two same-sized metal cookie sheets on top of each other and put them in the oven to heat. In the meantime, in a small saucepan, combine tomato paste, garlic, salt, pepper and 1/2 teaspoon dried basil. Cook and stir over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Gradually whisk in the evaporated milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 4-5 minutes or until thickened, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

2. Whisk together the eggs. Gradually whisk in a third of the tomato paste/milk mixture. Stir in remaining milk mixture and continue whisking to avoid scrambling the eggs. Set aside.

3. Spray a 13 x 9 inch baking dish with non-stick spray and set aside. In a small bowl, mix together cream cheese and 1 teaspoon dried basil until blended. Spread onto six bread slices. Top with mozzarella cheese slices and the remaining bread. Spread the outsides of the sandwiches with butter.

4. Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and separate them. Put a layer of sandwiches on the bottom cookie sheet and top with the other cookie sheet. Return to the oven for 7-8 minutes, until the underside of the sandwiches is toasted. Then flip the cookie sheets over and repeat so that the other side of the sandwiches can toast until both sides are golden brown. Remove the sandwiches and arrange them in the prepared 13 x 9 pan. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

5. Pour the tomato soup mixture over the sandwiches and top with the shredded Italian blend cheese. Bake uncovered 25-30 minutes until golden brown and the cheese is melted. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Chef Renee is an award-winning chef and Congressional Nominee in the area of Culinary Excellence. Currently, she works with Taste of Home Magazine, where she tours the country infusing magazine fans with her love of all things food. foodies@LHIndependent.com

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