Fall is finally here. School is back in session, and the weather is getting cooler. I find fall energizing because here in Texas, the summer is so oppressively hot that its end is greeted like spring is in places where it’s freezing and snowy all winter. At my house, we get excited about “cold weather food,” the recipes we love, but just don’t want to eat when it’s 95 degrees outside.
But for plenty of people, fall means less sunlight and freedom. Spend all day at school or work, then emerge into twilight and cold. All that seems particularly oppressive in a place like Gotham City. The whole place is shadows and concrete and places called “Crime Alley.” Even the city’s privileged children have to attend Gotham Academy. It’s dreary, potentially haunted, certainly crazy expensive, and might just exist in a perpetual thunderstorm.
It’s fun to read about though; Gotham Academy #1 comes out this week and is worth a look, even if you’re not steeped in the Bat-mythos. You can find a preview of the first few pages here.
If you’re feeling a bit chilled and gloomy, a warm and comforting meal can help stave off the gloom. One of my favorite simple meals for cooler weather is grilled cheese sandwiches and creamy tomato soup. It doesn’t take long to prepare, it’s popular with children and adults alike, and it’s hard to imagine that even Batman wouldn’t feel a little more cheerful after this meal. These sandwiches are a little fancier than the typical “melted American cheese on plain white bread” variety, but they’re not fussy either. Creamy, crispy, tangy, and smoky: these are the real four food groups. Give yourself a reward for getting through the day!
Gotham Academy Survival Sandwiches and Soup
sourdough sandwich bread, sliced
smoked Gouda cheese, sliced thin
1 tomato, sliced thin
spicy brown mustard (optional)
creamy tomato soup
milk or cream (optional)
The structure of the sandwich is very important to the overall experience. It should be easy to hold and not too drippy. This is low-maintenance comfort food, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay attention. Getting the layers just right will separate a great sandwich from a just-okay sandwich. Having the cheese sliced very thin is best, because you want to be able to add a few layers without overwhelming the sandwich with cheese. If I’m willing to say there’s such a thing as “too much cheese” in a sandwich, you know it’s true. I love cheese like a cartoon mouse.
So, to make the sandwich:
1. First, cook the bacon. If you cook it in a skillet that you can also toast the sandwiches in, do that. When the bacon is done, pour off the grease, but don’t rinse out the skillet. That little sheen of bacon grease is going to make your sandwich extra tasty, and helps it brown evenly.
2. Place the tomato slices on a plate and drizzle a little balsamic vinegar over them. Let the flavor seep in for a few minutes.
3. Take two slices of sourdough bread. If you wish, spread a little spicy brown mustard on the inside of each slice. Put a layer of cheese on one of the slices of bread on top of the mustard. The mustard helps glue the cheese in place. Then add the bacon (I break the slices to make them fit the bread, but you don’t have to), another slice of cheese, a layer of tomato slices (shake off the excess balsamic vinegar first — you don’t want a lot of extra liquid in there), and one more layer of cheese. Add the other slice of bread, mustard side down.
4. Spread a little butter over the top of the sandwich. That will be the second side you cook. In the hot skillet, melt another pat of butter (yes, in there with the sheen of bacon grease). When the cooking surface is greased with the melted butter and starting to sizzle, carefully place your sandwich on it, unbuttered side down. Leave it alone for a minute or two. You don’t want it to burn, but you want to get a good sear on the bread and heat up the filling so the tomatoes will be warm and the cheese will melt.
When you see the bottom layer of cheese is getting soft, gently turn the sandwich over and let the other side start toasting. The first side should have a buttery (but not greasy), golden brown sear on it. If it’s not quite browned enough, that’s okay — you can flip it over again once the second side is done. Ideally, you don’t want to keep flipping it over and over. The goal is to let the heat do its job and only turn to avoid burning.
5. Around this time, heat the soup. Yes, I am suggesting that you eat pre-packaged soup. If you are too fancy for that, feel free to make your own. But what I’m going for here is simplicity. Anyway, if you didn’t buy it already creamy and want it creamy, slowly add the milk or cream. Bring it up to temperature slowly without boiling it. Microwaving it is totally fine. You just want it to be hot at the same time as your sandwiches.
When both sides are done and the sandwich is heated through, serve it immediately with the soup. Dip a corner of the sandwich in the soup if you like. You will soon be full of warmth and happiness (aka bacon and cheese).