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RBR Tailgating: Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Tomato Soup

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Accepting the challenge to bring hearty, delicious, vegetarian fare to a college football tailgate for the first time in non-PAC-12 history.

In the comment section of my first post on these electronic pages, weathermann58 asked if I was "going to throw in some vegetarian non-traditional menu items?" To be honest, before he asked I was not planning any such thing, but in the two hours and thirty eight minutes between his comment and my response the prospect of a vegetarian meal worthy of a tailgate lay there before me, a gauntlet made from only the most responsibly mined metal using sustainable low impact methods "that respect and protect the earth, its peoples, and [its] cultures," and it was taunting. To not take up the challenge would be cowardice.

A few notes before proceeding: This is not vegan. My suspicion is that a Venn diagram of people who snort when I say "vegan" and people who love college football would pretty much be a circle. This has cheese and flavor and a complete lack of tempeh. To those that worry that a lack of meat will leave us weak and protein deficient before what is likely to be a bruising game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs; you are not playing. Unless you are. It is entirely possible that a player or two admirably reads this site rather than spending time on the strip where absolutely nothing good will happen to them but they have nutritionists and hyper-energetic red headed people monitoring their diet and supplementing at every turn. These words will have no effect on them or the outcome. And finally, if you think that the occasional vegetarian meal has no place in the manly life of the football adherent, I know of a guy that has two Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies for breakfast every morning.

Have you ever had a grilled cheese sandwich? That sounds like a silly question, but I'm not sure I ever had until I cooked for this post. I've had things that I've called grilled cheese sandwiches or that have been listed as such on the menu, but I don't recall any grill marks. At home I, and my parents before me, always pan fried the things with a copious amount of butter. I tried ironing one between two pieces of tin foil once because I saw it on television or read about it somewhere - it was awful by the way - but I had never made one on a grill before. It's as easy as you'd think it would be so first let's focus on the grilled cheese sandwich's most frequent and perfect pairing.

Tomato Soup with Basil and Red Pepper

-          10-12 Plum Tomatoes

-          2 medium Red Bell Peppers

-          1 small Red Chili Pepper, chopped with or without seeds depending on taste

-          1 small handful Basil plus more for garnish

-          3 cloves Garlic, minced

-          2 cups Vegetable Stock

-          Olive Oil

-          1 or 2 dashes Red Wine Vinegar (optional)

-          Salt to taste

Make the soup a day or two ahead of time and bring it with you to the tailgate. It can be served cold, but it's easy enough to bring along a saucepan and reheat it right on top of the grill.

To make the red bell peppers really nice and sweet, get the coals good and hot or switch the igniter and cook them until their skins blacken. One of the nice things about cooking ahead and bringing your food to another local is the complete lack of cleaning necessary before hand. Note the un-swept patio and scattered big wheels and dump trucks. What do I care? No one's coming over. Who's going to see?

Grilled Peppers GrChSoup

Once blackened, place them in a large bowl and cover with cling wrap to sweat.

Covered Peppers GrChSoup

While the peppers are sweating, cut an X into the bottom of the tomatoes at least an inch deep and lower them into boiling water for 30 - 45 seconds. After boiling the skins should peel right off. Cut each into quarters and using your fingers, deseed. Next chop them up and set aside.

Scored Tomato GrChSoup

After the red peppers have been in the bowl for 30 minutes, uncover and peel away the skin. It should practically fall off, but if necessary, run it under a cold tap as you peel. Next, pop off the stalk and tear the pepper open so it unfolds like a blanket. Rinse out the seeds and roughly chop.

Peeled Peppers GrChSoup

In a sauce pan add a few glugs of olive oil, the bell peppers, the red chili, and the garlic with a pinch of salt and turn to medium heat. When the garlic starts to get aromatic, add the tomatoes and half the basil with another pinch of salt and cook ten minutes. I go back and forth on whether or not to use red wine vinegar in this soup so I usually taste at this point. Tomatoes have enough acidity to remain lively and flavorful, but on occasion you get a batch that falls flat. If that's the case, add a dash or two. Otherwise, leave well enough alone.

TomRedPep GrChSoup

Add the vegetable stock and simmer for 20 minutes, and then puree. Taste for salt and correct.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich

-          Bread, preferably French

-          Cheese, preferably Swiss

-          Butter, origin unimportant

I chose a baguette, Jarlsberg, and Land O'Lakes, but feel free to do whatever. Make sandwiches with two or three slices of cheese but keep it within reason. You want it to melt all the way to the center. Butter the top and bottom of the sandwich and grill until toasty and melted.

Sandwich GrChSoup

Whenever I grill I like to add strips of squash and zucchini with rounds of red onion, all salted and olive oiled up, for about 3 minutes a side.

Grilled Veg GrChSoup

Fill a bowl, cut some sandwiches and serve.

I feel like that answers the challenge. Sure, I used dairy. But so do many who call themselves vegetarian. Like I said, this is not vegan (snort!). But it is a hearty plate of comfort food that will get you through the chilly (as of this writing the forecast predicts a hoary 50˚) afternoon.

So here you are vegetarians. I hope you enjoy. That's all there is. Nothing more to see here.

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Are they gone? I'm assuming that after a thousand words the strictly vegetarian segment of our readership succumbed to some form of vitamin deficiency induced fatigue. Like weathermann58, I enjoy the occasional meatless meal, but this week we play Miss. State; the number one, no matter how ridiculous it sounds, team in the country. We need meat.

I almost didn't get through it. I'm sure the astute among you with your protein fortified eyes spotted the sliver of bacon poking out from one of the sandwiches in the photo of them on the grill. I'm terrified that someone is going to point out that there are eggs in Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies, but I was out of ammo. I needed justification and any straw that was graspable was grasped.

So why did I choose this week for a vegetarian meal? Because I feel bad for them. At every cookout they have ever been to they've been served the same Dale's soaked Portabello mushroom and dutifully thanked the host for looking out for them. I thought they deserved something nice. Let's let them have the big one against number one Miss. State (nope, doesn't sound right.) In the meantime, let's have pork chops.

Make the soup and sandwiches as above. I didn't just throw up any old recipe as a feint. The soup is delicious and the sandwiches are made with hot bread and melted cheese. How can you go wrong? Just cut the sandwiches into finger sized strips and treat it all as an appetizer.

Brush one pork chop per person with olive oil and liberally salt. Cook four to five minutes per side. Right before flipping, add the squash, zucchini, and red onion.

Grilled Pork GrChSoup

One of my all time favorite vinaigrettes for protein was first served to me over swordfish. It was brilliantly acidic and fresh and lit up the fish. I read up on it a bit. Apparently it's a staple of Sicilian cooking. On a hunch I tried it over pork and while I loved it over fish, it belongs over pig.

Sicilian Vinaigrette for Fish That Should Really Be Served With Pork

-          Extra Virgin Olive Oil to taste

-          juice of 1 Lemon

-          Garlic, thinly sliced, to taste

-          Flat Leaf Parsley, roughly chopped

-          Fresh Oregano, roughly chopped

-          Salt and Pepper to taste

Squeeze the lemon juice into a bowl and add the garlic. Add a few glugs of olive oil and taste. Keep adding until you reach the level of acidity you like keeping in mind that it needs to stand up to pork. Add the oregano and parsley and then set aside for about 30 minutes so the flavors can marry. Salt and pepper to taste and then ladle generously over the meat. This should be about enough for four chops.

Plated Pork GrChSoup

My apologies go out to weathermann58 if I didn't honor the spirit, or letter either I suppose, of the challenge. I don't feel too terribly bad because from his comments on other posts I know him to be an omnivore and able to take advantage of the whole bounty of this post and beyond.

So let's not tell the vegetarians about this. Let's let them think they got the big game. Picture them with that tired Portobello cap and find it within yourself to show pity. Or adopt one. For just 35 cents a day...