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Kiddie Food

We all have connections with food that we ate when we were young (shoot, Proust wrote a 900+ page novel based on his scent memory of what is actually a rather small vanilla cookie). Whether it’s some sort of soup or mac and cheese or a cookie or pie only made at holiday time, we all have these memories and feelings associated with food from his period. Of course, there are always the emotional ties involved with who was making them, how we felt about that person, the circumstances associated with them (were you standing on a stool with a huge apron hiked up around your armpits helping, covered in flour from head to heels?) and so on.

But sometimes, whether it’s due to the weather (cold, damp, and nasty), the time of the year, or just the thought of the person we most associate with a particular item, nothing else will do than to make that item. We might not even want to consume that item (heh, never happens to me) – we are just looking for that connection or the reincarnation of the memory.

This past week, I had two huge cravings: tomato soup (which also required grilled cheese sandwiches) and date bars. Now, the date bars are definitely my brain trying to connect with my mom, who’s been gone these almost 8 years (and her date bars were legendary and no, unfortunately, I do NOT have her recipe; some horrible person nicked her cookbook with all her written down instructions in the estate sale), but the tomato soup and grilled cheese (which my mom NEVER, ever served) is definitely a taste and scent-memory from … elementary school cafeteria!!

I don’t believe I just said that.

Now, I can be absolutely certain-sure that the tomato soup the lovely cafeteria ladies at Randall School served us came out of those giant commercial cans from Campbells(tm) or someone like that, and the grilled cheese was more than likely made with that sliced commercial ‘cheese-like’ product on commercial white bread that came in a plastic bag. But I loved Thursdays because that was ‘grilled cheese and tomato soup day’ (versus Tuesdays when we might get grilled cheese, but it would be served with chili — the taste of which I have attempted to reproduce for the last 40 years, with no success whatsoever). But once the weather got nasty and cold and rainy, my brain and my tummy (which are, we now know, completely connected chemically as well as ‘electrically’) were yelling, “We want tomato soup and grilled cheese’.

Which meant of course that I had to have it.

Now, I could have just dollied down to the grocery store and picked up a can, but not wanting to end up with the 480 gr. of sodium or 12 gr. of sugar in each serving (which, ahem, comes from high fructose corn syrup – aren’t you glad I told you that), I decided to make my own, from scratch (yes, I realize this took me almost 500 words to get to this point but you don’t come here for ‘the short form’ now do you?).

Tomato Soup From Scratch, with cream if you want Cream of…

You will need an extremely large crockpot or dutch oven for this.
1 large onion, chopped fine
3 stalks of celery, chopped fine
3 carrots, chopped fine
1 tsp. of dried oregano
1 tsp. of dried basil
Saute all of that in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil (not the Extra Virgin – use the stuff that says ‘for frying, sauteing or baking’ on the can/bottle) until the onion is transparent and throw all of it into the crockpot or the bottom of the dutch oven.

2 24-oz. cans of crushed tomatoes – the lowest sodium you can find – mine only has 90 gr. of sodium in it
1 32-oz ‘box’ of low sodium/no extra sodium chicken or beef stock (I have yet to find any such thing as a ‘no sodium’ stock – the one I found at our store has 125 gr. of sodium). Beef stock will give you a less tomato-y/more beefy taste than the chicken stock will
1 cup of white wine (almost anything will do – but nothing too dry or too sweet and do not use ‘cooking sherry’ which is just poor quality sherry doped up with salt.

Put the tomatoes, stock and wine into the dutch oven or the crock pot along with the veggies. Put on low for several hours until the veggies are all extremely soft.

Using a slotted spoon or a sieve, take out the veggies and put through the sieve or a food mill or food processor. If your tomatoes are more chunky than crushed, you’ll want to put that through the sieve, food mill or a blender also.

Now, you can serve this ‘as is’ or, if you want to go the extra mile (and give yourself the memory of what your school soup tasted like when you poured in a bit of your milk from the carton into it to cool it off), you can add a half-pint of heavy cream.

And don’t forget the grilled cheese sandwich.

And for dessert:

Date Bars

Date bars have two items to make: filling and the bottom and top crusts. You will need a 9×13″ pan for these.
Filling:
1 pound of pitted dates or dried date pieces (see extra notes for if you are using date pieces)
2/3 c. of light brown sugar (or a little less than 2/3 c. of white sugar and make up the rest of the 2/3 c. with a bit of dark brown sugar, which has a very strong molasses taste)
2/3 c. fruit juice (you can use any sort – orange, mango, pineapple, whatever you have)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Put all of this together in a heavy pan on a low heat and cook down, stirring until thick and pasty. Note: If you are using dried date pieces, you will need more liquid, especially if they come ‘dusted with oat flour’. I needed an extra half cup of water on these and probably could have used a bit more. You want this filling to be heavy and thick but still of a consistency that you can actually spread it.

While that is cooling, make the crust:

1.5 cups of rolled oats
1.5 cups of all-purpose flour
1 cup of light brown sugar (or 2/3 cup of white sugar and 1/3 cup of dark brown sugar)
1/2 tsp of soda
2 sticks of butter

Mix up all the dry ingredients and then cut up the butter into small chunks and with a pastry blender, work it all in until you have small crumbly bits

Assembly:
Take half the crust ingredients and press them into the bottom of a 9″x13″ baking pan.

Pour the date filling over the top (Or, if you ended up with date pieces and your filling is more ‘pasty’ than ‘pourable’, use a spatula to plot big spoonfuls on top of the patted down crust). Smooth with a wet spatula or rubber scraper — I had to keep wetting my rubber scraper to smooth my plops together but you get the idea.

Take the other half of the crust ingredients and sprinkle those on top of the date filling, then put a paper towel or piece of waxed paper on top of the top crust and press all over the top of it to firm down the ingredients.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 min. and cool.

This should make several dozen cookie bars.

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