Get your grilled cheese on


Oct. 21—Did you know that there’s an entire restaurant chain in Ohio devoted to fancy grilled cheese sandwiches? It’s called Melt Bar & Grill. The menu is vast.

While we are not lucky enough to have such a place in Erie, I think its existence speaks to a larger issue in the annals of American cuisine. Chiefly, we can’t get enough grilled cheese sandwiches.

It starts early. How many of you never sat down to a winter lunch of Wonder Bread and Kraft singles, toasted and melted and served with a bowl of Campbell’s Condensed Tomato Soup?

To this day, I know very few adults who don’t melt when they hear the golden words “grilled cheese.”

You might think the last thing you need is a recipe for grilled cheese. So, naturally, I’m here to offer you five. This is not because plain yellow American oozing down the sides of buttery toasted bread requires improvement. It’s because these flavor combinations caught my eye, and dragged it (and the rest of me) to the fancy cheese section at the grocery store. Please know I was powerless to stop it.

Five things I learned:

1. Did you know that some people coat the outside of their bread with a thin layer of mayonnaise before grilling? At least the New York Times says so. For the record, I will never make a grilled cheese sandwich without mayo again. They also spread butter on the insides of the bread. Sounds like a dietary disaster, right?

It sure does to me, as someone who has been alive for the past 43 years. If you have, too, your brain is also wired to tremble at the sight of real butter. Cheese is verboten. Mayo is evil.

But you know what? The nutritional pendulum has recently swung into newly mapped hostile territory. Fat is no longer public enemy No. 1. That distinction now belongs to refined sources of carbohydrate: white flour, white pasta and, ee-gads, sugar. Well, I guess we all knew about sugar. But stay with me.

So if you’re going to feel guilty about eating grilled cheese, at least direct your angst toward the bread, not beleaguered butter and cheese.

And, by the way, if you use low-fat cheese in any of these recipes, you aren’t allowed to read my column anymore.

2. Now, Peppadews. First of all, that word is a lot of fun to say. Peppadews. Peppadews. Peppadews. It just hops off the tongue. And the flavor does too. They’re essentially small red peppers, but pack a sweet, tangy, slightly spicy flavor, the result of a proprietary pickling process prepared in South Africa. (See what I did there?)

You can’t just grow Peppadews. And you have to capitalize the word. You can find them canned, but I got them from the Mediterranean bar at Wegmans.

3. The fanciest sandwich I made was Blue Cheese and Caramelized Onion. This introduced me to the world of spreadable blue cheese. It’s not just like the crumbles, though you could use those. They’ll just take longer to melt.

But my friend Donna, who works the cheese shop at the westside Wegmans, pointed me toward Dolce, or Dolcelatte. It means “sweet milk” in Italian. It’s also sometimes called Gorgonzola Dolce. The cheese was developed for the British market and has a milder flavor than standard Gorgonzola.

4. I provided a quick explanation of how to make caramelized onions in the recipe for this sandwich. That process takes about half an hour, so keep that in mind. Some of my betters make caramelized onions in big batches and freeze them in portion-sized bags.

5. I had to roast the peppers for the Jalapeno Popper Grilled Cheese. Normally, I’d do that on the grill, but it was cold out, and I didn’t feel like it. So I dug out my grilling basket and set it over the gas burner grate and tossed in the whole peppers.

I turned up the flame to high and turned the peppers a few times until they were black all over, about 10 minutes, then wrapped them in foil until they were cool enough to peal. That sandwich almost started a fire.

JENNIE GEISLER writes about her adventures as a home cook every Wednesday. You can reach her at 870-1885. Send e-mail to jennie.geisler@timesnews.com. Visit her blog at GoErieblogs.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNgeisler.

KILLER BASIC GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH

2 slices soft sandwich squares or large peasant-style slices, not more than { inch thick

Butter

Mayonnaise

1 to 2 ounces grated cheddar or other cheese, depending on size of bread.

1. Heat a heavy pan over medium-low heat.

2. Thinly spread one side of each bread slice with butter. Spread the other side of each slice with mayonnaise and place the bread, mayonnaise-side down, in the pan. Divide the cheese evenly on top of the buttered slices. Adjust the heat so the bread sizzles gently.

3. When the cheese is about halfway melted, use a spatula to flip one slice over on top of the other, and press lightly to melt. Keep turning the sandwich, pressing gently, until it is compact, both sides are crusty and cheese is melted.

— New York Times

– Per serving: varies by ingredients chosen

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