Cheats, Lies, and Hucksters (How to Cook a God Damned Grilled Cheese Sandwich)

As a kid, learning to cook a fried egg and bologna sandwich is like teaching me how to load a gun without establishing any safety guidelines. While the combination of griddled bread, egg yolk, mayonnaise, seared bologna, and American cheese is white trash foie gras, perfecting the fried bologna without having made a grilled cheese, well, it is Picasso without a Blue Period, Miles Davis having composed no song book before Bitches Brew. There is no reference and no history, a drifting ship with no anchor. At the time, I didn’t understand the damage done by using the cliff notes without ever reaching for the novel.

But here we are, in that time of year when we think about grilled cheese. It is the age old discussion, as if we forgot the combination to the safe and it needs to be cracked again, of how to cheat a grilled cheese. As if the answers locked away are new kinds of offerings; in a waffle maker, with an iron, use mayonnaise instead of butter, or turn a toaster on its side.

So I am just going to say it, I am tired of hucksters and cheats. It pains me to be over sold or even worse, blatantly lied too. I am not putting myself on a pedestal, far be it from me to cast stones, I am no practicing perfectionist and neither am I an Elmer Gantry. I have my faults and I try to be honest about them. Even so, when I witness an egregious wrong I can’t keep my mouth shut. After all, I can’t have my children wondering around this world thinking they will be able to succeed without ever learning the fundamentals. It happens everywhere and now, of all arenas, the kitchen is under attack.

Why can’t we just learn to cook a god damned grilled cheese? What are we afraid of, actually learning how to cook? There are so many basics to be learned by placing a sauté pan onto the stove to griddle two pieces of bread with cheese stuck in between and yet at all costs we try to avoid it. I don’t care what kind of cheese is put between the slices of bread, I don’t even care what kind of bread you use but I do care that you know how the different kinds of bread are going to react to the heat, that types of bread with more sugars and fats are going to brown faster then lean breads made with nothing more then water, flour, and yeast. Or that certain kinds of cheese are so stringy when you go to take the first bite every bit of the cheese is going to come along with it.

Cheats and shortcuts are wonderful but only after you know how to cook the original dish in the tried and true fashion, only after you have mastered the grilled cheese is it okay to riff on it. If you ignore, or fail to recognize, the subtle nuances of cooking you can follow a recipe to the T and still have it fail. It is because there are so many variables that can lead you down the path to disappointment that it becomes imperative to learn how to cook, which is wildly different from simply following a recipe.

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Grilled Cheese Sandwich (makes 2 sandwiches)

4 slices Pullman bread
1 1/2 cups gruyere cheese, grated
1 1/2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon green onion, minced
a splash of heavy cream
fresh ground black pepper
unsalted butter, softened

1. Combine the grated gruyere, horseradish, green onions, and a splash cream in a medium sized bowl. Add a grind or two of fresh ground black pepper. Mix everything with a spoon to combine.

2. Place a 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat. Liberally butter one side of each of the pieces of bread making sure to cover the whole surface. Place the bread, buttered side down into the pan. Top each piece with one quarter of the cheese mixture. Turn the heat to medium low.

3. Once the cheese begins to compress and soften check the bottom of the bread. If it is browning to fast turn the heat down. Once the bread is browned and the cheese melted put the sandwiches together. Cut the sandwiches into 4 crusty cheese sticks and serve.

 

Recipe Reclamation: Bringing Back Chopped Steak

While it might not be haute cuisine, chopped meat is surely economical, flavorful, and versatile. From meatballs to croquettes to tacos, it can do it all and can do it with ease. It is an uncomplicated ingredient, often interchangeable, and more often than not is a beacon signaling out comfort food to anyone within range.

Take for example chopped steak: it is nothing new. Salisbury steak for instance has been around since 1897. Named after a doctor, Dr. Salisbury, who created it. Salisbury was also a believer in a low-carb diet, fancy that. Continue reading “Recipe Reclamation: Bringing Back Chopped Steak”

Everyday Potatoes

This time of year potatoes are a shot glass full of sunshine, they are the break-up song I can’t stop listening to, they are my noodle, my rice, and my comfort. They are soothing in the way a pacifier is to a child and they get me through the edgy emotions of late winter.

They are one of those rare ingredients that selflessly put other ingredients on a pedestal. They make butter better and cheese cheesier and we all know potatoes are versatile by the vast number of ingredients you can pair with them.

You can bet come Sunday when I want something comforting for dinner, they will make an appearance at the table. Most of the time they aren’t fancy. Something simple will do. But on occasion they get dressed up and this is one of the many things I like about potatoes: they adapt to any occasion. They can even go solo and be the meal themselves.

Potato GalleteWhile I am not particular so much about potato dishes I am particular about my potatoes, really particular. But I didn’t become so until I grew them in my garden. Not until then did I understand what fresh, good potatoes were about. I grow fingerlings, purple, Irish cobblers, Kenebec, and Yukon golds. All are unique, and all have peculiarities the cook needs to understand.

Like which potatoes to use for which dishes: the Russet Burbank, for example, is perfect for mashed potatoes because, when cooked, the grains in the potato swell and separate, making for a light and fluffy mash. On the other hand, when you want to make a nice vinegary French herb potato salad, it is nice to have French fingerlings or Russian Bananas because the waxy make-up of the potato keeps them from falling to mush.

I have a film changing bag in which I store my potatoes. It is a relic from, yeah, the days of film but it is light-proof, which makes it great for storing potatoes. And this is where I get picky. I will use potatoes if they are just beginning to sprout but I won’t use them if I see any signs of green. Storing  potatoes in complete darkness keeps them from getting green. I know you can cut off the green but I also know different people have different reactions to the glycoalkaloids. This is the chemical in potatoes that causes stomach issues for some and, while the green isn’t the glycoalkaloids, it is a sign they are abundant. So I simply won’t use green potatoes.

I also like to keep the skin on. I think they add so much flavor and extra nutrients, but obviously this recipe-dependent. Because of this, once my potato stash from the garden runs dry I only buy organic potatoes. They have a higher turnover rate because they sprout and turn green while the conventional are sprayed with a sprout suppression spray. I know the organic potatoes are fresh, good potatoes because they just can’t hang out like the conventional.

Click here for the Potato Cake recipe.

 

Potato Tips:

1. If the pile of 10-pound potato bags at the store looks messy, it’s because I was digging to the bottom to find the bag of potatoes that has absorbed the least amount of sunlight.

2. Smell the potatoes. They should smell like good soil, not mold.

3. Squeeze the potatoes. They should be firm, with no give.

4. When making mashed potatoes, let the potatoes sit in the colander after having been drained and let them steam off any extra moisture. Then add the butter first and mash it in before any of the other ingredients. Let the starch absorb the fat.

5. If you are making potato salad, dress the potatoes while hot. If making a vinaigrette, add the vinegar and herbs first, then the oil.

6. Waxy potatoes like fingerlings or German butterballs make the best roasted potatoes.

7. Duck fat or lard might be the best choice of roasting fat, and will brown the potatoes deeply and create a crispy exterior with a creamy interior.

8. If you want to roast potatoes in butter start off by roasting the potatoes in canola oil, then during the last 15 minutes of roasting time, stir the butter into the hot potatoes and finish roasting them. This will keep the butter from burning.

9. If your potatoes have begun to sprout but aren’t green, bake them till tender. Then let them cool and store them in the fridge to make hash browns or rösti. About five potatoes makes a nice dinner-sized rösti for two. The baked potatoes will last about 5 days in the fridge.

Rösti with Gravlax and Caperberries

This makes for a great brunch or a good starter for an elegant dinner. The key to success here is to get the inside done without burning the crust. Patience in other words.

SERVES 4

1 1/4 pound russet potatoes, scubbed and roughly peeled

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons grape seed oil

4 pieces gravlax style smoked salmon

4 caper berries

1/3 cup cultured sour cream

2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper

1 tablespoon fresh chives minced

1. Place a clean towel under a mandoline and grate the potatoes using the julienned blade and let them fall right onto the towel. Bunch up the corner of the towel and rinse the potatoes under cold running water. Twist the towel forming a tight ball and keep twisting until all the moisture is removed.

2. Place the potatoes into a bowl and combine with the melted butter. Season with salt and white pepper.

3. Heat a 10 inch nonstick saute pan over medium heat. Add the grape seed oil and then place the potatoes evenly across the bottom of the pan.

4. It took me 8 minutes on medium flame then bumping it up to medium high for 6 minutes to get the right crust. Use that as a guide it is not an absolute.

5. When the rosti is ready to flip use an over size lid or pizza pan and cover the saute pan. Do this by the sink. Flip, without hesitation, while holding the pizza pan tightly to the pan, and them slide the cake carefully back into the pan. Cook the other side of the rosti until crispy.

6. Combine the sour cream with the horseradish and season it with salt and pepper. Roll the salmon slices attractively. Rinse the caper berries. Chop the chives.

7. Arrange the different elements attractively on the cake, cut, and serve.

A New Pair of Shoes

Cheers all and welcome to the new site.  If you are new to my home please make yourself comfortable and feel free to subscribe, follow or bookmark this location.  If you are an old friend I hope you are enjoying the new place.

If you are wondering why I have changed locations it is for many reasons but mostly because the software I was using is going away.  I had no choice but to move.  In time I will get all the recipes moved over and have started doing so but if there is anything missing or you want to see just holler.

I have been writing this blog for three years now and as you all know last year it was a finalist for the Best Culinary Blog of 2012  by the International Association of Culinary Professionals which is a huge honor.  Since then Food52 the other site I write for was awarded the 2012 Best Culinary Publication by the James Beard Foundation.  It has been a big year and a wonderful one as well.

You will also notice something a little different in the banner.  I am starting a culinary journal called foodquarterly  and the food4 collaborative which is a group of talented food writers.  We are moving from the world of blogging into the world of publishing.  I hope you will visit foodquarterly regularly and I hope you enjoy it too.

So, please, come grow with us and follow us on our culinary adventure.  It promises to be fun.

Thanks,

Tom