Saturday, February 25, 2012

An upgraded first meal

February 19, 2012

Grilled Black Forest Ham and Swiss
Classic Tomato Soup
Sweet Potato Fries
Forest Ville 2010 Gewürztraminer
French Silk Chocolate Pie

When planning a meal I usually decide on the main course and then add other dishes as complements. However, sometimes I start with a side dish, in this case homemade tomato soup. Winter is the time for soups and tomato is relatively easy to make and is always satisfying. The recipe uses canned tomatoes. Tomatoes for canning are picked when ripe unlike the "fresh" tomatoes you see in the supermarket that are picked green and then gassed to turn them red. The tomatoes are cooked with only a few other ingredients — onions, chicken broth, bay leaf, brown sugar, heavy cream, salt, pepper — and then pureéd. I used the immersion blender to pureé the soup because of the convenience. A conventional blender does a better job but it's more hassle to use. You need to drag it out of the cupboard, assemble the parts, pour in the soup in batches, then disassemble it, wash it, and find a place for it again in the cupboard. With the immersion blender you have none of that, just snap the blender attachment on the motor, plug it in, and go. I even forgot to remove the bay leaf before blending but this was not a problem, the blender did a good job of shredding it.

What better to go with the soup than a nice grilled ham and cheese sandwich. I went to Whole Foods to get quality ham and cheese. The deli has several kinds of ham to choose from so I asked the clerk for a recommendation. The two clerks on duty disagreed on the best ham to use for a grilled ham and cheese sandwich: one liked the black forest ham and the other a different ham (I've forgotten its name). In order to help me choose, they very kindly gave me a thin slice of each. Both were good, and I happily stood there in the store eating ham at the deli counter while pondering my decision. I eventually chose the black forest ham which had a stronger, more distinctive flavor. I asked for half a pound, figuring that would work for two meals ... when that came out to seven slices I asked for one more to make it easier to divide. I also got 4 slices of Swiss cheese.

Diane picked up a loaf of rustic, white "Sheepherders bread" from the Supermarket bakery. I had originally been thinking of whole wheat or rye. Rye was rejected because we wouldn't have much use for it other than for these sandwiches. Wheat would have been good, but I'm glad we had a white bread so the flavor of the ham was more prominent. I thought about adding something else to the sandwich, some greens or tomato, but in the end we decided ham and cheese with no other ingredients is the best way to go. This ham has a very strong flavor, it was easy to smell after the sandwiches were grilled. It tasted so good that neither of us took advantage of the Dijon mustard jar on the table. The mild Swiss cheese was barely noticeable so we probably should have had a stronger cheese. I don't know much about cheeses so invite suggestions. Perhaps gruyère? Some added sweetness might have been good, too, perhaps a honey Dijon dressing.

The menu was completed with some sweet potato fries (frozen, Alexia brand purchased at Whole Foods), some raw crunchy vegetables, and a nice fruity wine.

The meal was followed up with a yummy chocolate pie for dessert! It wasn't too hard to make but required spending some quality time with a hand mixer. Eggs, sugar, and water were combined in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water on the stove and beaten with a hand mixer for about 10 minutes. The bowl was removed from the heat and beaten for another 8 minutes or so. Chocolate (lots), vanilla, and butter were added then whipped cream was folded in, as in a mousse. This filling was added to a pre-baked pie shell (Normally I'd make this from scratch but to save time I bought a frozen pie shell at the store and baked it.) and then chilled. It was very good, though I thought it was a touch too sweet. I have another pie shell and I can see making another French Silk Chocolate Pie sometime soon.

In 1975 I was a chemistry grad student at UC Irvine and was the Teaching Assistant that fall for a Quantitative Analysis lab class. I was attracted to one of the girls in the class. She wasn't doing particularly well so, sly dog that I was (not!), I asked her to stay after class to talk about her grades. Since it was an evening class and neither of us had had dinner, I invited her to my campus apartment for something to eat. I fixed her a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. I guess it must have been an OK meal because she buckled down and improved her grades. Over 37 years later I still fix her the occasional grilled ham and cheese. It turns out she was attracted to me, too.

Classic Tomato Soup from Cook's Country
French Silk Chocolate Pie from Cook's Country

Note: You may need to be a member to see the recipe on an America Test Kitchen web site. 

The oven-fried chicken thighs were very good as leftovers. We re-heated them in a pan on the stove with a little oil. This crisped up the skin without overcooking or drying out the thighs. They may have been a little under done to start so came out nicely being reheated this way.

Do you know anyone like Earl here who would probably starve if they had to prepare their own food?


  1. When I made Croque-monsieurs we always used gruyere or emmental cheese shredded and soaked in Guinness. It made for an great sandwich. The Guinness is optional but the cheeses are strong enough to hold their own with the ham.

    1. Thanks for the suggestions. Now I know another name for a grilled ham & cheese sandwich, have ideas for cheeses to try (but I think I'll skip the Guinness), and maybe I'll shred the cheese instead of using slices.

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  3. Awwww. I love the little romance story at the end!!

    1. I'm glad you liked it ... had you heard it before?