Grilled Cheese

Ok, I know, this isn’t really groundbreaking.  But I’ve discovered that there are a multitude of ways to really screw up grilled cheese sandwiches.

Fortunately, making a really fantastic grilled cheese sandwich requires only three ingredients.*

  • 2 slices of Really Good Bread (I like sourdough.  If all you have is Wonderbread… I’m sorry. Wheat breads are equally delicious, and stand up well to stronger cheeses.)
  • Cheese – something melty.  process American works, but Swiss or provolone or any of a number of other cheeses you can get in the deli will give you more flavor.
  • Butter – the real thing people.  This ain’t a sammich for your diet.

You also need three tools – a knife, a heavy bottomed flat skillet, and a spatula.  Oh and a plate.  And probably your fingers.

Take your heavy bottomed flat skillet and put it on the stove.  Do not turn the stove on.

Take some butter, and smear it all over one side of a slice of bread.  Do not be skimpy.  You want delicious crispy brown goodness, you need fat.  And that’s what butter is.  So lay it on there.

Now lay that butter-side down on your skillet, and turn it on to MEDIUM HEAT.  My stove goes from 1-10 + “HIGH”.  I set it on 5.

On top of that slice of bread lay one layer of cheese.**  If you’re using anything else, lay a thin layer of that on top.  You don’t want your sandwich to get too thick, or it’ll not get hot and gooey in the middle before you burn the outside.

And burned grilled cheese is just a sadness that I’m not prepared for.  And, as the saying goes, your patience will be rewarded.

Now, butter up another slice of bread, and lay it on top of the cheese butter side UP.  While you’ve been adding to your sandwich, your heavy skillet is slowly heating up the sandwich.  Slow heat is important at this stage, because you want to melt the cheese and not burn the bread.  After about 5 minutes or so, start checking the bread for done-ness.  I like a good deep golden brown.  You might like more or less than that.  Totally up to you.

When the appropriate level of grilled-cheese doneness has been reached, use the spatula to flip the sandwich.  Do this quickly, so as not to spill sandwich goo everywhere. (Another reason not to put too much in your grilled cheese).

This second heat phase won’t take long at all – maybe 2 minutes.  Watch it carefully.  At this point the cheese is melted, and you’re just browning the other side of the bread.

Once you’ve reached Ideal Brown-ness on your other side, transfer the sandwich to a plate.

Cut it however you like, and savor the delicious goodness.***  The crispy, brown, buttery bread.  The gooey cheese.  The blistering roof of your mouth because you didn’t let the sandwich cool long enough.

Ok maybe not so much on that last one.

*You can add many things to this sandwich.  Thinly sliced turkey or ham.  Very thinly sliced tomato. Whole green chilis, sliced thinly.  Sweet pickles.  I’m fond of a little smoked turkey and a thin smear of country style mustard. But the original is the original, and you can’t go wrong there.

**Two layers of cheese is daring, but I tempt fate and do it sometimes.  But just make sure it’s not TOO MUCH cheese.

***While I’m sure TJ will enlighten us with a poll on what is the proper way to cut a grilled cheese sandwich (across?  corner to corner? into squares?), for now, I accept the zen of sandwich cutting, and believe that all sandwich cuts are created equal.  The choice is yours.

Mushroom Barley Soup

This is not a quick recipe.  It’s not particularly /hard/, but it takes some time to turn into delicious goodness.  Trust me, it’s worth it.

  • 3 strips bacon, cut into small pieces *
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lb button or cremini mushrooms ** – trimmed and quartered
  • 2 TBSP tomato paste
  • 1 quart beef stock (I use Kitchen Basics Reduced Sodium)
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 beef boullion cube
  • 1 cup pearl barley***
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 TBSP red wine vinegar

You’ll also need a large, heavy bottomed pot like a dutch oven.

Cook the bacon in the pot over MEDIUM heat – you want to render out the fat from the bacon – until it is crispy.  Add the onion and cook 5-8 minutes (still over medium heat) until the onions just start to turn golden.  Add the garlic and mushrooms and cook until they are tender and the pot is almost dry, 5-10 minutes.  Stir in the tomato paste and cook 1 minute more.

Add broth, barley, water, boullion cube, and oregano – bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until the barley is tender, 30-40 minutes.  If the soup needs more water to thin it out, add whatever is necessary.  Season with plenty of black pepper and stir in the vinegar.

Serves lots!

*If you are extremely averse to bacon, you will need either butter or olive oil to saute your veggies in.  Please, consider this a “splurge” food, as the bacon really does add a lot of flavor for being so small in comparison with the rest of the soup!

**Yes – one POUND of mushrooms.  I use creminis (which are the same as baby portobellos) because they’re the same price if you buy them out of bulk stock instead of in the little wrapped packages.  YMMV, as always, depending on season, region, and megamart store.

*** You can use quick-cooking barley if you like.  I keep pearl on hand, so that’s what I use.  If you use quick-cooking barley, reduce the “simmer” time to 10-15 minutes.

Fresh Corn and Black Bean Salsa

This stuff is AMAZING.  It’s quick and easy to throw together, and I made it for a BBQ I’m going to today, so I thought I’d share. The recipe is my mom’s.

  • 1 lb frozen sweet white corn – don’t bother thawing, just dump it in.
  • 1 can black beans (the plain ones with just salt, not seasoned), drained and rinsed well
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 jalapeno, very finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, very very finely minced
  • zest of 1 lime

Dressing: 1/2c lime juice, 1/2c olive oil, salt and pepper to taste (I like lots of pepper)

If you just HAVE to have cilantro, you can add some, but I can’t stand the stuff.  If I’m going to double the recipe, I usually double everything but the corn (’cause 2 lbs of corn is a TON) and make the dressing with 3/4c juice and oil.  It works out well. 

Serve cold (it’s best if it sits a few hours before you eat it) with tortilla chips or on its own as a side dish with grilled chicken.

Random Hug Distribution

Today, a few people that I think ought to get awards/hugs, because they have created or done something that makes my life more wonderful on a daily basis.

  • The person(s) who invented scoopable, flushable kitty litter.  No longer do I have bags of poo in my trash.  Just flush ’em away!
  • The person(s) who invented stacking, locking-lid plastic storage containers. When we moved, we had to pitch a lot of nasty, melted storage things.  I bought a new set.  My “tupperware graveyard” is gone, and in its place are neatly stacked containers with their matching lids.
  • The person(s) at Google that thought up Google Documents, making blog posting, story sharing, and writing collaboration easier than ever.
  • (The) God(s) for inventing raspberries.  Nom nom nom.

… I had other things but I can’t think of them now, so I’ll probably just edit this to add them back in later.  Gah!