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.

 

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Pimento Cheese Sandwiches

Is it the heat in August, or the midday cicadas—grinding, grinding, grinding—that reminds me of the time of year?  The horizon, corn pollen and gravel dust, is smudged.  This is the first August I can ever remember going outside after lunch to find it refreshing instead of repressing.  The sun is as bright as on a crisp fall afternoon and the humidity is nowhere to be found—grinding, grinding, grinding.

I like to hear the corn grow and without the humidity there is nothing from which the growing pains can echo.  An ambulance, siren blaring, leaves town.  The sirens grow louder until the emergency vehicle turns north on the state highway.  The sirens begin to fade.

It has been like this all summer and  I am being robbed.  I like the heat.  It is the humidity and heat that makes my vegetables grow.  I have nothing growing in my garden this year.  By rights I should be eating okra.  I should have so much zucchini I have to feed it to the chickens.  I should be looking forward to garden succotash and fried chicken but my lima beans died long ago in the continual down pours of early spring. I should be picking fresh field peas and pole beans but I never even got the baskets down from the cabinet.  I should be cutting sweet corn from the cob and freezing it.

I rock gently in an easy chair on the front porch and eat a pimento cheese sandwich.  From out across the fields I can hear the announcer for the high school football game calling plays.  I think back to all my first days back at school.  I feel the butterflies in my stomach,  another summer grows quite.

 

Pimento Cheese

(Makes 2 cups)

3 cups cheddar cheese, grated (about an 8oz. block)

2 teaspoons yellow onion, grated on a micro plane

3 tablespoons jarred pimentos plus 1 tablespoon pimento juice

2/3 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Nathan’s mustard

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 tablespoon Tabasco sriracha

1 tablespoon ketchup

fresh ground black pepper to taste

  1. Place all the ingredients into a mixing bowl.  Stir gently with a spoon until everything is combined.  Let sit for an hour before serving.  Store in the refrigerator tightly covered.

 

Pan Bagnat – Summer’s Best Sandwich

DSC_0785In a sense, to smush, press, or mash a sandwich could feel redundant but it’s not.  It is a tool employed to make certain kinds of sandwiches better.  Case in point, a Cuban, panini, a shooter’s sandwich, and pan bagnat.

I love all these sandwiches.  Classics, each and everyone.

In the heat of summer, I rely on the pan bagnat, which when translated means bathed bread.  It is a vegetable based sandwich from the south of France, it is light and I find it refreshing.  Often the ingredients list is patterned after a Salad Nicoise subbing in anchovies for the tuna.  For me I like to use omega-3 oil rich sardines but use whatever tinned fish you fancy.

The sandwich is built in layers, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, and then some sort of weight is put on top of it.  At my house the sandwich gets sandwiched between sheet trays and the milk and juice jugs set on top compress it.  Because the sandwich is lightly salted and weighted after a couple of hours under pressure a lot of liquid is released only to be soaked back up by the bread.

And that’s the genius of this sandwich.  In my experience it never gets soggy but instead it becomes meltingly tender, the juices mingle, and in the end this makes for a perfect sandwich on a hot summer day.

Pan Bagnat (makes 1 sandwich)

a 6-inch (15.25cm) piece of French baguette

1 tin skinless, bonleless, sardines in oil

1 small cucumber, peeled

1 medium sized tomato, sliced

5 or 6 thinly sliced red onion rings, skin removed

8 picholine olives or olive of you choice

salsa verde

mayonnaise

kosher salt

fresh ground black pepper

  1. Slice the baguette in half lengthwise.  On one piece of the bread coat the interior with mayonnaise.  On the other spread out a tablespoon or two of salsa verde.
  2. Using the peeler, peel thin strips of cucumber, 10 or more of them.  Lay them in an even layer across the salsa verde side.  Give the cucumbers a sprinkle of salt.
  3. Top the cucumber with the sardines, on top of the sardines lay out the tomatoes.  Season the tomatoes with a sprinkle of salt and fresh ground black pepper.
  4. Top the tomato with red onion.  Place the olives onto the mayonnaise so they stick.
  5. Place the olive/mayonnaise bread on top of the sandwich.  Wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and then either place a brick on top, a sheet tray with weight, something heavy.  Let the sandwich remain weighted for at least three hours to overnight.
  6. To serve remove the plastic wrap, slice on the diagonal, and serve with a glass of chilled dry white wine.

 

 

 

 

 

The Lobster Roll’s Better More Lovable Brother

It is almost August.  The month in which my parents would always load me and my siblings up in the car and we would head to the east coast for vacation.  It was as much a search for a cool ocean breeze as it was a temporary reprieve from the mundane everyday Midwest. Continue reading

Fried Bologna Sandwich on Challah with White American Cheese Sauce

Fried Bologna with White American Cheese Sauce

I was probably thirteen or fourteen years-old the first time I had a fried bologna sandwich and I will never forget it. I was watching some TV show and they ate it on the show. I thought I had seen the most amazing culinary treat ever. I went to the kitchen and made one and was shocked to find bologna was even better hot.

I used to save my school lunch money, for things I shouldn’t have been buying, and came home from school starving. My mom wouldn’t make me anything to eat because it was my fault I was hungry.  That said, she didn’t care if I made something for myself and from that moment  on  fried bologna became a staple.

This is my ode to the days of old, I don’t eat one of these often but when I do this is how I want it served.

SERVES  1

4 thin slices of good garlicky German bologna, French garlic sausage, or mortadella

2 slices of Challah, toasted

1 large egg

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 teaspoon Nathan’s mustard

3/4 cups grated white American cheese

3 dashes Worcestershire sauce

2 dashes Crystals Hot Sauce

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 green onion, sliced

1. Place a small sauce pan over medium heat and add the cream and mustard. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat. Add the Worcestershire, hot sauce and cheese. Stir to combine and continue to heat until the cheese is melted. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

2. Place a medium saute pan over high heat.

3. Fold each piece of bologna in half and then into quarters so it looks like a triangle. Place the four triangles into the hot saute pan and sear until it looks like a hot dog that was over cooked on a campfire. Remove the bologna and place it on the bottom slice of Challah and top with the remaining toasted bread.

4. Reduce the heat on the pan and add the oil. Fry the egg to your desired doneness.

5. Pour the desired amount of sauce over the top slice of bread and then top with the egg and green onions. Serve with an ice cold Pepsi, or Coke if you must.