Grilled cheese with bacon

The Humble Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Get the recipe for my favorite Grilled Cheese Sandwich here.

Childhood Memories

I dunno about you, but I have a LOT of memories connected to grilled cheese sandwiches.  I imagine many people will scoff at that statement, but allow me to explain.

My first clear and enduring memory related to a grilled cheese sandwich is attached to my cousin, Chris.  Chris is several years older than me and (to this day) one of the nicest people I know.  Years can go by between talking, and we still pick up a conversation right where we left off.  When I was about seven, I was visiting my cousins with my mom.  I couldn’t tell you where my mom and my Aunt Nancy were at the time, but we got hungry.  Being a precocious seven year old, I had yet to get any kitchen experience.  Chris, however, had a few chops.  He showed me how to make a grilled cheese from scratch (something which blew me away at the time).  He also let me make my own – something which I can definitively point to as a life changing experience for me.

Again, I can hear my readers scoffing.  A grilled cheese sandwich changed your life?

Yes.

That grilled cheese sandwich got me excited about cooking.  Granted, it wasn’t a souffle – but it was something I could cook (safely) for myself.  Somewhere, at that moment in time, my parents smiled and had no idea why.

Speaking of whom, my parents will tell you that there were several years where I ate nothing but hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches.

I can neither confirm or deny this assertion.

Now that I am older and wiser (hah!), I still enjoy the simple pleasure of a good grilled cheese.  I am not talking about white bread and american cheese (though you will still catch me eating those on occasion).  The grilled cheese sandwich is another one of those iconic dishes you can make as simple or as complicated as you like.  Sadly, this also means a lot of people muck it up in trying too hard.

The Basics:

At it’s core, a good grilled cheese is based around a few core ingredients.  Bread, cheese, and butter (I know, you can use Mayo – but I personally have not tried this).  Find yourself a nice bread you like and start there.  Get a couple cheeses – try out some of the ones that sound fun from your deli section at the grocery store. Snag some good butter.

Avoid loading the sandwich up with fifteen kinds of cheese.  You want balance between the bread and the cheese.  Don’t go too heavy on the butter (wow, that hurt to write).  You want it to get crisp, but not soggy. Soggy grilled cheeses make kittens cry.

Technique:

If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m picky about my grilled cheese sandwiches.  One of the most affirming things I have ever felt was seeing a making of scene from the movie Chef with Jon Favreau.  In it, Favreau is getting advice from a chef about how to act in a scene where the main character is making a grilled cheese.  It’s actually pretty intense (and the clip I think conveys the mindset better than the scene used in the movie)   Aside from the excellent technique employed (specifically – keeping the sandwich moving), I find that scene strikes a chord because someone else gets it.  Silly, I know. But hey, validation!

So, to begin.

From my father (and later Thomas Keller) – butter both sides of your bread.  This way, you get flavor as well as browning.  Again, use good butter.

I like to add potato chips to the inside of my grilled cheese sandwiches (again, from Thomas Keller).  I recommend kettle chips as they hold up better (although oddly, the old standbys do great too).  The chips give you a textural change which is great.  Depending on the cheese you are using, they can also keep things from going over to the gooey side.

Be sure you get your skillet or griddle hot before you start.  And have a spatula handy.  You want to keep the sandwich moving throughout to insure it doesn’t develop soggy spots (too much butter in one location), or have less than golden areas (not enough butter in another spot).  Keeping the sandwich moving helps to even this out and make your sandwich golden all over.

Putting your grilled cheese in the oven after the pan is a game changer.  If you like harder cheeses (gouda for instance), then just doing the sandwich in a skillet won’t result in grilled cheese goodness  – the bread will burn to blackness before the cheese ever gets to wonderful meltiness.  Popping the sandwich in the oven melts the cheese and also gives you a buffer to cook a few more sandwiches for family and friends.

Recommended:

Bacon.  Yes.  Put it in there.

I like to add a few chili flakes to mine, simply because I like the flavor.  In lieu of these, there are some nice pepper cheeses which also work – though I find many of them to be a bit on the overpowering side for my tastes.

Salt and pepper your sandwich just like any other food.  You’ll notice the difference!

Slices of chorizo and pear in the same sandwich linked in my recipe substituted for the bacon and chips would make a fantastic sandwich with some or cheeses.

Grilled cheese with bacon

My Favorite Grilled Cheese Sandwich Recipe

Read the article here.

Ingredients:

8 slices Brioche (or your favorite bread)

Butter (room temperature)

3 slices thicker cut cheese (Gouda, Cheddar, American, be inventive!)

Potato Chips (I like Kettle Chips)

2 slices thick cut Bacon

Red pepper flakes (optional)

Salt and Pepper

Method:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Bake bacon until crisp in oven and lower oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Let your butter come up to room temperature.

Buttered bread

Buttered bread

Butter one side of each slice of bread.  Place one slice of cheese on the buttered bread (butter side up).  Add some potato chips, covering the space from edge to edge.  Add another slice of cheese.  Break two slices of bacon up and cover the

Assembly!

space.  Add another slice of cheese.  Sprinkle some salt and pepper on the buttered top slice of bread and set it on top.  You want the butter on the inside again.

Gently butter the bread on the top slice of bread.

Get a large nonstick skillet or griddle onto your stove and set it for medium to medium low heat.  You want to brown your bread, but not burn it.

Into the skillet!

Place your sandwich with the buttered side down first (if you move fast, you can get two or three going at once).  Quickly butter the top slice of bread.

You want to keep your bread moving in the skillet.  Shift and turn the sandwiches a bit at a time to insure the butter melts evenly and the bread browns evenly.

Golden brown goodness!

Now, once your bread reaches the color you prefer, you want to yank them out of the pan and put them on the heated tray in the oven.  Work your way through the rest of the sandwiches you are preparing in the same fashion.  The oven will insure your cheese is melted while retaining the crispy bread you have created in the skillet.

Enjoy your sandwich!

*Sandwiches cut into triangles taste better.  Its science.  Or something.

Grilled cheese with bacon

Blackened Chicken Pasta

Blackened Chicken Mac and Cheese Recipe

Read the article here.

Ingredients:

16 oz buttermilk

1 lb chicken tenderloins*

6 oz Blackening seasonings (I recommend Paul Prudhomme’s)

4 tbsp Cajun seasoning (I recommend )

4 tbsp + 1/8 cup olive oil

1/8 cup unsalted butter

2 large shallots (diced)

2 cloves garlic (diced)

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1 tbsp thyme

1 tsp black pepper

4 tbsp salt

12 oz beer (I recommend a good Porter)

24 oz heavy cream

8-12 oz milk

4 oz sharp cheddar (grated)

4 oz gruyere (grated)

4 oz aged gouda (grated) – (I highly recommend )

1 lb pasta (shorter noodles work better, but your choice)

Method:

In a bag or bowl, marinate the chicken with a combination of 2 oz Blackening seasoning, 1 tbsp Cajun seasoning, and the buttermilk.  Marinate overnight.

Preheat over to 385 degrees.

Drain chicken and sprinkle some of the remaining Blackening seasoning over the chicken. Heat a skillet or cast iron pan over medium high heat and add 4 tbsp olive oil.  Sear chicken in pan on both sides.  Remove chicken to a sheet pan and cook in oven for ten minutes.

Remove chicken from heat and allow to cool. Reserve any pan drippings for later.

Get your water boiling for your pasta.  Add 3 tbsp salt to water.

In a heavy bottomed pot (dutch oven works great) over medium heat, add your butter and remaining olive oil.  Add shallots and garlic.  Saute until the shallots begin to darken slightly.  Add any drippings from the skillet you cooked the chicken in.  Add remaining blackening and cajun seasonings, thyme, 1 tbsp salt, and black pepper.  Stirring frequently, cook for about a minute.  Add flour and whisk to incorporate.  Cook 1 min, stirring constantly.

Add 12 oz beer and stir quickly.  This will make a lumpy paste.  Add heavy cream, and 4 oz of the milk.  Whisk to prevent lumps.  Bring to a simmer, sauce will thicken.  You want it to be slightly thinner than you’d like your finished product to be.  If it is too thick, add some milk to thin the mixture.

While the mixture is coming to a simmer, dice up your chicken.  Add any pan drippings to your sauce.

Turn heat off, and add shredded cheese a handful at a time, reserving 1/4 of the cheese for topping. Whisk to incorporate.  Add diced chicken.  Taste mixture and add salt/pepper as necessary.

Add pasta to cheese mixture either in dutch oven or a deep casserole dish.  Sprinkle remaining cheese over the mac and cheese and cover with a lid or foil.  Bake at 385 for 30 mins and remove lid.  Bake for 15 mins or until browned on top.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

Enjoy!

Notes:

*- A little extra chicken is a good thing in this dish.  It adds a nice texture component as well as protein.

Sierra Nevada makes an excellent Porter that is readily available in most states.

The Parrano cheese mentioned above is an excellent cheese that contrasts nicely with the flavors from the chicken.

Pairing:

This goes great with a nice Riesling or Pinot Grigio.  I recommend a drier version of either.

For a bit of green you could go with a salad, or some steamed broccoli.

Also great with a slice of Roasted Herb Bread.