Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I WANT YOU... to make a grilled cheese sandwich

This morning, I was listening to the world’s greatest news program, the Takeaway*.  A new concept was being discussed: “wiki-cuisine,” a website where anyone can contribute their ideas and suggestions to individual recipes.  The website is called Foodista (  Barnaby Dorfman, founder and CEO of Foodista, was interviewed, and he was rather convincing about the site’s merits, putting a wonderfully egalitarian spin on it. 

However, John Hockenberry (a host of the Takeaway and my personal hero) was suspicious of the concept, and I ultimately tend to agree with him. I need at least some sort of perspective on a person before I can be receptive to cooking advice.  Plus, food is so personal, and the reasons for our preferences are complex.  The Takeaway used a classic example to illustrate this point: grilled cheese sandwiches.  The hosts asked each other, their interviewees, and listeners how they liked their grilled cheese prepared.  There were some strong opinions out there, and a surprising amount of open-faced grilled cheese sandwiches reported.  Hockenberry’s daughter likes to wrap her sandwich in aluminum foil before she puts it in the pan.  I am open to many variations of grilled cheese from classic with American to sandwiches with highfalutin cheeses and various accompaniments (fresh herbs, tomato, bacon, smoked ham, etc.)  With that being said, I do feel strongly about two things:

1.     The bread.  You must have good bread to make a grilled cheese sandwich.  White, wheat, multigrain, it doesn’t matter, but it must be a decent loaf.  If you live in Colorado, watch out for Udi’s Italian Wheat or Mulit-Grain to go on sale, and stash it in the freezer.  You’ll be eating delicious sandwiches and toast for a month.
2.     It must be grilled!  In a hot pan with butter or olive oil, until the sandwich is a luscious golden color.  I have nothing against melting cheese on some bread in the toaster and having an open-faced tasty treat.  I call this delicious, but I do not call this grilled cheese. 

Besides inspiring deep thoughts on grilled cheese sandwiches, the Takeaway also inspired my dinner. We’ve had a few cold, dreary days in Boulder, and school has been particularly overwhelming this week; a warm, melty sandwich seemed like perfect antidote.  I decided to branch out a little from the traditional grilled cheese, and made myself a Monte Cristo. 

I went for the Monte Cristo in its simplest form.  I chose smoked turkey, Swiss cheese, and sharp Dijon mustard for the filling.  For bread, I went with multi-grain, more to add a contrasting color than anything else.  I hate when food is monochromatic.  This is a partial explanation for my obnoxious affinity for flat leaf parsley: a little color goes a long way.  So at least the multi-grain provided a warm brown to the pale layers of the filling.  My sandwich was light on the turkey, so the Swiss would shine through.  After all, the inspiration was a grilled cheese sandwich.  Next, I beat an egg with a touch of hot sauce, took the sandwich for a quick dip and put in a hot pan coated in olive oil.  As opposed to butter, I felt the richness of the egg batter needed the grassiness of olive oil for the sake of balance.  I gleefully ate my sandwich, with a pile of hot peppers on the side.  I’m sure that the vodka and my delirium made a contribution, but this meal was all I could have asked for after a long day.

So, there you have a synopsis of my grilled-cheese-motivated cooking jaunt.  And now, to pay homage to the inspiration for this post, please inform me of how you like your grilled cheese, if you feel so inclined.  As they say on the Takeaway, join the conversation. 

*See glossary for more information.

If you want to hear the Takeaway’s story on grilled cheese and Foodista, click here:

If you want to be in on the world’s greatest reporting and commentary, click here and listen daily (you won’t regret it):


  1. Yum yum yum- love making and eating grilled cheese sandwiches! I think the key to a good grilled cheese is all in the actual grilling of the bread. I like to apply the butter directly to each slice of bread and then brown the sides on low heat to avoid burning. Nothing worse than a burnt grilled cheese! I've also had several delicious versions that include adding either tomato, spinach, or broccoli rabe- depending on your preference. Definitely want to try your version of a monte cristo- it sounds amazing!

  2. Thanks for joining the conversation, Lindsay. I can say from experience that you make excellent grilled cheese sandwiches. And thank you for pointing out the importance of low heat. I wasn't clear about that. Low and slow gets you browned bread and melty cheese. No one likes a grilled cheese when it's not melted in the middle.

  3. Personally, I have never made a grilled cheese in my life, so I cannot comment (but I am). However, my friend recently made me one and it was fantastic. Then I joyfully realized, "I have all the ingredients for this at home right now!" I have yet to make one though.

  4. hey sara - it's me jacky! was looking for something to eat for lunch today and happened upon this grilled cheese idea - happened to have some frozen udi's multigrain in the freezer, some havarti cheese, tomato, little left over spinach, spicy brown, sliced avocado, and went with it. The dipping in egg was what intrigued me as I had never thought of this... so tackled that with a little sriracha. Sandwich is delicious... however, bread seemed soft - just never got that crisp crunch that I feel is necessary for a grilled cheese. Will the egg take away the crunch? or perhaps I used a little too much olive oil? I usually spread the butter on both sides of the sandwich, so olive oil was new as well... or I just did something wrong?

  5. Jacky, you definitely did not do anything wrong. The egg battered-bread will not develop the same crunch as a traditional grilled cheese sandwich. However, if you start the heat off medium-high to high, an then proceed to lower it, you will get texture on the outside while still allowing the cheese to melt on the inside. Rather than a traditional grilled cheese which develops its golden crust over a slow, low heat. Also, be sure to give the bread a very light dip in the batter. But still, if serious crunch is what you are after, skip the batter and go with a traditional grilled cheese. Thanks for writing!