Your basic French soup technique starts with a mirepoix (pronounced MEER PWAH): a mix of onions, celery, and carrots sweated in olive oil or butter. The usual proportions of each are 2:1:1. Then the vegetable the soup is named for is added, with spices and stock. Et voilá: soup.
Tomatoes, however, are very acidic, and I don't like too sharp a taste for tomato soup, so the first thing I do is double the amount of carrots in the recipe. The sweetness of the carrots counteracts the acidity of the tomatoes and mellows the whole thing.
So, to cut my recipe down to something an ordinary family would make,
1) Rough chop 2 large onions, a whole stalk of celery (not just a rib), and a bunch of carrots (at least a pound). Gently sweat veggies in oil (preferably olive) or butter (not margarine). "Sweat" means cook slowly on medium-low heat until the onions turn translucent; if you're browning the onions, you're sautéing, not sweating.
2) Add a No. 10 can of diced tomatoes, fresh ground pepper, a whole freaking bunch of dried basil (about a half to three-quarters of a cup -- be as crazy as you want), and 5 quarts of chicken stock.
3) Simmer until all the veggies are soft. Then either transfer in portions to the blender or (as I do) use a stick blender to puree the soup. It's okay if it's not satiny smooth; I like a kind of thick texture to the soup.
That's all there is to it. It makes an enormous quantity of soup. But then, I invented the recipe to use with large groups, and typically make several gallons at a time. Cut it down as desired, fiddle with it. Just remember: extra carrots, and a massive amount of basil.
THE PERFECT GRILLED CHEESE
You're gonna plotz.
I put two slices of American cheese in each Grilled Cheese sandwich. To use only one means there's too much bread in proportion. But, while using two slices of cheese gives you a great cheese flavor equal to the amount of bread, it also risks giving you the Cheese Funk in the back of the throat. To counteract the Funk, I put a small schmeer of mayonnaise inside the sandwich. Not enough to taste it as mayo, but to add a little tang that counteracts the Cheese Funk. The result is a really bold cheese taste that is also very smooth.
The beautiful exterior was formed in a surprising way. We didn't have time to butter 340 sandwiches -- and we really didn't have time to soften up that much butter -- so we melted the butter by the pound, and then gently spooned it onto the sides of the sandwich to be grilled. Oh, and we used real (unsalted) butter, not margarine.
Slightly stale bread is better than fresh, soft bread for grilling, BTW. I bought 32 loaves at the day-old bread store on Thursday.