Archive for August, 2013

The “Secrets” of Grilled Cheese, Revealed:

I was contacted by someone at Esquire.com back in April, looking to get my perspective on grilled cheese as a perfect food, per my “noted expertise in food science.” (BAHAHAH.) They ran a month of grilled cheese features and reviews for grilled cheese month, which was pretty glorious. At the time, I could have recommended five other bloggers more qualified for the task. But I’m not an idiot. So we emailed back and forth for a week or so, during which time I wrote the below, in response to her request for the “secrets” of the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. Well, grilled cheese month came and went and they never ran it, and it just seems like a shame to let all this wisdom go to waste. I figured that my 50th post was a good time to take a small deviation. So here it is. Certainly not “secrets,” but the guiding principles at my house.

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Use great ingredients, if you can. No one will argue that Wonder Bread and Kraft aren’t a classic. Sure, you can make a pretty alright grilled cheese for 40 cents – that’s what’s so great about grilled cheese. This is just the beginning, though – a springboard for delicious possibilities. So, bread is important. It’s not just a delivery system for what’s inside. If you wouldn’t eat it with butter slathered on it straight out of the bag, you can do better. (Me, I happen to think my grocery store makes a pretty great Pane Di Altamura – so you don’t necessarily need to make a special trip, or spend a lot.) Cheese possibilities are endless, and can be intimidating. If you’re feeling paralyzed by choice, traditional rules will tell you that the “best” cheeses are the high fat varieties that melt well, (e.g., Gruyere, Fontina, Cheddar.) That said, I find these kinds of hard rules unnecessarily restrictive. Use more than one cheese, by all means, and use what tastes delicious to you.

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Use a sandwich press. Not the countertop appliance, the pan. Getting a solid crunch and even browning on bread requires pressure. Invest in a decent press and griddle pan, preferably one with ridges. You can get decent one for around forty bucks, but if you’d rather spend that on artisanal cheeses, you can still accomplish the same thing with some ingenuity. (Cover a plate in tin foil and stack a few cans of soup or a book on it. 2 – 3 lbs is what you’re after.

number 3

Experiment. While it’s true that simple grilled cheese can be great, it’s also a blank canvas. There’s (almost) no such thing as a bad grilled cheese, I’ve found, and the most successful sandwich is often one you pulled out of your hat with what you found in your fridge. As a for instance, butter is not necessarily an absolute. Try grilling with mayonnaise, instead of butter. Dredge the buttered side of your bread in fresh grated (anything) before you grill it. Do you have bacon? Why isn’t that in there? Experiment with spreads inside the sandwich – aioli, tapenade, mustards. Just last week I accidentally blew my own mind with some red pepper hummus.

number 4

Finally, respect the cheese. Do not undermine its authority by crowding it out with too many other ingredients. Not sure? Here’s how you know you’ve done things right. Are your slices of bread firmly adhered to one another? When you cut your sandwich in half, does it hemorrhage, just a little bit? Yes? Then well done, my friend. Feast.

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@ The Fallingwater Cafe, in Mill Run

We departed Philadelphia on the fifth day, and began the return west into Amish country. First stop, Intercourse. We’d both been looking forward to it for days. If I’m being honest, though, it was kind of a let down. Not much excitement, over pretty quickly. I did pick up some literature on the subject, though. If you’re into that sort of thing.

We reached Mill Run late in the day, and checked into our (first ever) bed & breakfast. We sat in floral print splendor and stared at each other until it was time to go to bed. In the morning, a bright and early reservation to see the most important building of the 20th century. And then there was this.

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“Ham and Asparagus Panini: Ham, Swiss and asparagus on wheat-berry bread.”

Despite Frank Lloyd Wright’s success in utilizing the cantilever design and attractive local materials in his design of Fallingwater, the café on site was unable to leverage these concepts in the construction of their panini. Let’s review:

Poor construction. Fallingwater was lovingly constructed over two years by local stonemasons. The “grilling” of this Panini was done hastily, with a dry heat method that failed to properly secure the lower level to that above.

Inferior materials. While Fallingwater’s horizontal trays were made of reinforced concrete, the horizontal trays of this panini were flaccid and unpalatable.

Structural issues. Fallingwater’s cantilever is anchored into the rock of the adjacent hillside. The back of this Panini was anchored in a precarious slaw pile.

Edgar Kaufmann Jr. called the house an “ever-flowing source of exhilaration.” I found this Panini to be a source of indigestion, and awarded it a 3.

But it was pretty hard to be mad.

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@ E’s on Main Street, in Middletown

We spent ten or fifteen minutes driving through Delaware on our way up to Philadelphia, and I found what was obviously something of a treasure in Middletown. We were only there a short time, but I got the sense that everyone who walked in had eaten there dozens of times, and was known by name. I later learned that E(ileen) was best known for her creamy tomato soup, and voted “Best Soup Downstate DE.” It’s cute that Delaware thinks it’s big enough to have regions.

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“The best in Middletown, guaranteed to eat the crust: Choose from American, Swiss, Jack, Provolone, or Cheddar on Texas Toast.” (Mine was ‘Merican, + bacon.)

Challenge accepted, E. Now me, if I wanted to encourage crust consumption, I wouldn’t necessarily lead with Texas toast. It generally just leads to a bland, disproportionate let down. And a plate of crust. Perhaps Texas and Delaware have some kind of bread alliance, wherein they agree to send only inferior toasts to Wisconsin, and nothing but the finest of toasts to the good people of Delaware?

I’m on to you, Texas. I gave that shit a 7.

And this.

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