While We’re On The Topic of Cheese….

Grilled cheese, I’m convinced, is a food not at all to be taken lightly. I’d go to certain heights to prove this statement, and mainly those heights are the making of a grilled cheese sandwich for anyone who disagrees with me. Further proof of this is the fact that I am generally not a fan of warm or hot sandwiches in general. I tend to prefer a nice deli sandwich, but when it comes to grilled cheese specifically, I can’t resist. We’ll get into the topic of perfecting the deli sandwich at a later time.

I think the reason I have immortalized this meal is the simple fact that it was such a delightful rarity in my childhood. Given that lunches in my house were generally either left-overs from the night before or multi-grain pb&j’s with tortilla chips on the side (not generally the most enticing combination, honestly) anything else was met with dramatic excitement by all of us. One childhood friend in the community insisted on calling it a “girled cheese” and I tried to explain to him it was a grilled cheese but then he just told his mom that he wanted a “boyed cheese” sandwich for lunch. (That’s a true story.)

All that aside, I have spent a fair amount of time researching techniques and reading recipes. In the past, I’ve tried many variations on the traditional grilled cheese, and I have made quite a few – very scientific, I’m sure – observations: the bread can’t be too dense, because it will be dried out before the cheese has melted adequately. Conversely, the bread cannot be too airy or contain too many holes (ciabatta is out), or the cheese will melt through and you’ll have almost nothing left in the sandwich. If the bread is cut too thin, it will become more of a cracker, crispy and difficult to bite. It has taken many attempts to arrive where I have thus far. I was so pleased with my most recent attempt at perfecting what most people this side of 14 years old wouldn’t bat an eye at that I decided to document it for you.

It’s not one of those fancy grilled cheese sandwiches that have appeared in the pages of bon appetit magazine or an article on buzzfeed as a “grown-up” version…it’s simple, with just 4 ingredients: butter, cheese, aioli, and an english muffin. I don’t have pictures of the process for you (I promise to get better about that, I swear) but I have a recipe, nonetheless.

English Muffin Grilled Cheese

4 standard english muffins
2 tablespoons salted butter
8 slices monterey jack cheese (or havarti, fontina, pepper jack or colby jack)
Aioli, as needed
If you want to make your own aioli:
1/4 cup mayo, from a jar (hellman’s or best foods)
1 1/2 Tbsp dijon mustard
2 cloves minced garlic
(if desired) black pepper, ground, to taste

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Slice the english muffins in half (if not already sliced) and butter the insides lightly. Toast in the pan until golden brown, pressing each english muffin half with a spatula, using moderate force to flatten somewhat.

Turn the heat to medium, and remove the bread from the skillet. Spread the now  toasted insides with aioli (whatever your desired amount may be) and place one slice of cheese on each half. Slap two halves together until you have a total of four sandwiches. In the skillet, melt enough butter to coat the bottom. Place the sandwiches in the buttered skillet and toast for 4-5 minutes.

Remove the sandwiches from the pan, toasted side up. Melt enough butter to coat the bottom of the skillet again. Toast the other side of the sandwich. When you feel the bread is toasted enough, check the cheese. It should be fully melted at this point. If it isn’t, here’s a trick: pour a teaspoon of water into the edge of the skillet, but not so it touches the bread. Place a lid over. The steam from the water will give the cheese a boost to melt it the rest of the way without the bread becoming overly toasted. Remove the lid (and the sandwiches) after about 30 seconds. Brilliant, eh?

Allow to cool for about two minutes, and serve two sandwiches per person.


Comfort-y Foods

The apartment in which I live is quite old. It’s quaint and small but still somehow roomy. There’s not a lot of traffic inside the building (I rarely see my neighbors) and it’s tucked in a quiet neighborhood where I hear virtually nothing when I am falling asleep.

Beautiful, ain’t it? I tend to think so. There is one semi-apparent flaw in this old building, however, and that is this: There are fairly massive cracks underneath all the doors, including the front door. By “fairly massive”, I mean the cracks are about an inch and a half tall. Which is really fine in the apartment itself (i.e. bedroom and bathroom doors, etc) but the front door allows for a p r e t t y cold breeze on those 28º days. This means a few things: blankets, sweaters, warm comfort food, hot coffee and/or tea and/or chocolate, and may I say again: warm comfort food. Listen, I have to say that I am a very simple-minded person when it comes to comfort food. I’m not generally in the mood to make several comfort-y type plates. For example, I would never make the mashed potatoes- fried chicken- gravy – buttermilk biscuits combo. Ain’t nobody got time for that. In fact, when it comes to comfort food, I’d usually do something pretty weird, like a pile of mashed potatoes in a bowl, topped with crumbled chicken-sage sausage and country gravy (don’t knock it till you try it, it’s amazing). We’re talking one dish meals here.

Another up and coming hearty winter staple is a twist on the traditional baked potato bar. You should know that I love chili and cheese on my baked potato as much as the next person, but I can’t eat that stuff in good conscience anymore because it makes me feel so bloated and gross,  (something I was never warned I might experience in my adult life). Of course, being the bums that we are, Caleb and I ate these han solo, without so much as a salad. I apologize for the lack of pictures. I was so eager to eat these morsels that it never crossed my mind. So without further ado, I give you this recipe, which will not fail to warm your stomach and curb your hunger while also being a bit utterly delicious.

Baked Potatoes with Roasted Vegetables and White Cheese

start by preheating the oven to 350º. Have two casserole dishes or small-ish roasting pans lightly oiled. Serves 3-4 people.

6 large russet potatoes, scrubbed
2 Tbsp kosher salt, on a small plate
2 bunches broccoli, rinsed
1 head cauliflower, rinsed
1 shallot
3 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and black (or white) ground pepper, to taste
1 1/2 cups grated monterey jack or other white cheese*

Poke the scrubbed potatoes about 6 times in various places with a fork. Roll them lightly in the dish of kosher salt, to coat them sparingly. Place in one of the lightly oiled pans, bake. These will need a total baking time of approximately one hour.

Meanwhile, cut the stem off the broccoli, and using a sharp chef’s knife, cut the broccoli into thin slices about 1/4″ thick (some of the slice will stay intact, others will crumble into tiny pieces. This is fine). Go ahead and throw this in a large bowl, you’ll be combining all later. With the cauliflower, it’s much of the same. Cut it in half and slice out the core,  removing any leaves. Slice it about 1/8″ thick. Now, you’ve got two options with the shallot: you can either mince it into very small pieces using the same method you would to dice an onion, or you can slice it into very thin, almost transparent slices. Peel and mince the garlic (I used my trusty garlic press).

In a large bowl, toss the broccoli, cauliflower, shallots and garlic with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the vegetables (in a single layer) onto the other lightly oiled roasting pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through and lightly browned at the edges (during the last 7 minutes of baking, turn the oven up to 375º).

When the vegetables and potatoes are cooked, remove them from the oven. Place the potatoes on a cutting board, and with a fork in one hand -to anchor them- and a knife in the other, cut each one in half length-wise. When they are all halved, use the fork to fluff them slightly. If they are not easily fluffable, they need to be baked longer. Try 10 minute intervals until you can fluff them with very little effort. When fluffing, take care that the inside of the potato remains inside the skin. If it falls out, scoop it back. Pat it down slightly. Using a large spoon, heap the roasted vegetables on top of the potatoes. Top with the grated cheese. Broil them in the oven for about 4 minutes, until the cheese is melted and slightly browned.

Serve hot and eat slowly: I have found that when I rapidly devour potatoes, my stomach gets bloated and (dare I say) uncomfortably gassy. The kind of uncomfortable that includes shooting pains under the ribcage. We set a timer for 20 minutes (silly I know) to make sure that we didn’t rush ourselves, and this method seemed to work fine.

We used monterey jack because it’s mild and inexpensive, and frankly because it was on the menu two other times this week. You can really use any soft white cheese. Havarti might be especially tasty, along with fontina, both are nutty and melt very easily. You could even sprinkle hard white cheese, like parmesan over the top of the soft one.

Use russet potatoes always when you use potatoes for baking. They are very starchy, and as a result, they will be nice and fluffy, like a cloud, stable enough to be a base for a good filling.