Monday, April 7, 2014

Seven Suggestions for a Grilled Cheese Upgrade

Parts of the United States are still struggling with wintry weather, or with soggy spring, or both. On cold, wet, blustery days, I love a good grilled-cheese sandwich. Here's my upgrade on a childhood classic:

1. Start with stellar cheese, and think outside the box. I love making g-c sandwiches with  "Humboldt Fog," a wonderful goat cheese made in Northern California. It has a beautiful gray-blue line of ash running through it that its makers say is meant to evoke the fog creeping over the coastal mountains:

2. Use high-quality bread. Just because you're making a childhood favorite doesn't mean you have to go back to the nutritional wasteland of soft, soggy white bread. I  prefer a good, hearty whole wheat:

Other great breads to try include rye with caraway seeds, sourdough, or 12-grain.

3. Layer on a second cheese for more depth of flavor. I love adding Parmeggiano-Reggiano, which is made in one specific area of Italy. Look for the dot-patterned lettering on the rind to let you know you're getting the real thing:

Because Parm-Regg is a fairly hard cheese, I grate it to use it on a sandwich (this also helps distribute it evenly):

Some other standout cheese combinations to try include Brie with Pecorino, and extra-sharp Cheddar with Gruyere.

4 & 5. Add something piquant AND add something sweet. I love spreading one side of the sandwich with "Durkee's Dressing." It's a mustard-like spread that's been slathered on sandwiches in my family for oh, 60 years or more. (Sometimes I think you can't belong in my family if you don't like Durkee's!):

For the something sweet, I love using "Membrillo Casero," or quince paste. I ran across this jelly-like substance a lot in Spain, where it is manufactured. Now you can find it in many grocery stores:

The sweet, floral taste of the fruit balances out the salty, tangy cheeses. The combination is perfection!

A good French mustard (smooth or grainy) and even a thinly spread layer of prepared horseradish would be delicious alternatives to the Durkee's.

If you can't find quince paste, try a thin smear of a very high-quality jam, like Wilkin and Sons' Tiptree Raspberrry, or--if you can get your hands on some--a home-made fig jam. Fabulous!

6. Grill on a cast-iron skillet. There's simply nothing that creates that crispy, crusty outside like cast iron. The contrast in textures between the melting cheese and the crunchy, buttered bread? Yummy!

If you have a panini press, you can try that. But my go-to way of grilling is using my cast-iron pan by Lodge, a venerable company that's been making this kitchen staple for more than 115 years. You can buy Lodge products at Target, Walmart, Macy's, and online at Best of all is if you can inherit a well-seasoned one from a friend or family member. I routinely find Lodge cast-iron pans at garage sales and at thrift shops, too.

7. Pair with a hot cup of tomato soup for a wonderful throwback meal:

If you're not a tomato soup fan, try pairing your grilled cheese with split-pea soup. Or even a steaming cup of coffee is great.

Follow these simple upgrades, and your adult taste buds will sing, while your inner eight-year-old will be smiling!

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