The Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwich

ultimate grilled cheese sanddwich

Before you balk at the calorific content of this recipe, know this: the grilled cheese sandwich is my oldest son Henry’s ultimate dream meal, and a staple around here. This post is an ode to him, as a tribute and the final part of our celebration of his Bar Mitzvah last weekend.

While Henry fits the mold of the first born son in his devotion to his mother and general desire to “do the right thing”, he digresses when it comes to his food choices. The archetypal “plain eater,” he rejects most of the colourful and flavoursome food that I serve at home.

ultimate grilled cheese sanddwich

For many years the lack of variety in my over-indulged first born’s diet caused great anxiety. I spent hours pureeing and hiding vegetables a la Jessica Seinfeld, only revealing Henry’s exceptionally refined palate and the incredible ability to taste anything in disguise. As time passed and Henry reached an average height without scurvy, I resigned myself to the fact that his diet of white foods: cheese sandwiches, pasta, fish and chicken, would in fact still allow him to grow into an adolescent, so I stopped fighting.

ultimate grilled cheese sanddwich

I never thought the day would come that  I no longer cry at mealtimes, but it has. Although Henry’s repertoire has improved slightly with age, grilled cheese happens here at least once a week. Now that he is officially a teenager, he eats his grilled cheese with cream of tomato soup (home made of course) and while it may not be green, it is not white, and thus satisfies my colour criteria.

ultimate grilled cheese sanddwich

A few notes about grilled cheese:

The secret of the crunchy yet not burned outside of the sandwich is thanks Deb Perelman, who grates cheese into the pan. I find it easier to grate it directly onto the bread before putting it in the pan. You do not get the cheese crown effect, but you get less complaints at the table.

To avoid burning the fat in the pan, and charring the crusts, I butter the both sides of the bread before filling it with cheese and then grating the outside with parmesan. This just produces a crispier outside without the greasy hand effect.

The bread: You can use soft white bread to recreate diner style grilled cheese, but I don’t think it is robust enough for my ultimate grilled cheese sandwich. Aside from the fact that there may be a lot of sugary treats in my house, white bread outside of challah is verboten. Hence I  make grilled cheese on good sourdough or wholemeal.

The bread should be sliced about 1cm thick: enough to melt the cheese, but not burn the outside.

You want just enough cheese to ooze out, but not too much that it burns your mouth, or cannot be dipped into soup. You want enough cheese to feel like this is a decadent treat, but won’t make you feel sick with the richness of the filling.

The cheese: Always freshly grated – never sliced or ready grated from a packet as it just does not melt as well. For Henry, I use mature cheddar on the inside as it is his cheese of choice. Personally I love some sautéed leeks and onions thrown in with a little grainy mustard, and maybe even a thinly sliced tomato, but he would stand for none of that. Pickles are also a great treat in the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich, but again, not for Henry. Feel free to experiment with your favourite cheeses and combine at your will. Parmesan on the outside is really the only prescription here as it grates finely and thus creates the perfect crust.

ultimate grilled cheese sanddwich

The Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwich

2 slices sourdough or wholemeal bread sliced 1cm thick (not too many holes if possible)

50g grated mature cheddar or cheese of your choice

enough Butter to spread onto both sides of each slice of bread

20g parmesan, finely grated

 

(If you are cooking more than one of these, or more than fit in your pan, preheat your oven to 160C to keep them warm while you cook the second or third batch.)

Butter both sides of bread.

Sprinkle grated cheddar on one side of bread and close the sandwich with the second slice.

Grate the parmesan on to both outside pieces of buttered bread and gently press down.

Heat a cast iron or heavy bottomed frying pan on medium heat. You do not want it to be too hot as it will burn the outside of the bread before the cheese can melt.

Place the sandwich in the centre of the pan on medium heat, and press down with a spatula or a weight.

Cook for 3-4 minutes and then flip and repeat on the other side until the outside is golden and crunchy and the cheese has fully melted.

Keep warm in the preheated oven if you are making batches of these.

 

 

Enjoy!

 

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Seed Clusters – A Work From Home Essential

seed clusters

After 15 years of working from home, I think it is safe to say I have mastered the art of the snack. Not too decadent, but sweet enough to satisfy that craving usually derived from boredom or procrastination, these seed clusters fit the bill for the guilt free snack or, as I have discovered, an excellent breakfast on the go.

Working in the kitchen presents a minefield of temptation: jars filled with nuts, countless different chocolate varieties, ends of leftover cake and biscuits. All at an arm’s reach. Which is why I like to have these seed clusters to hand. The perfect mid morning snack when breakfast has not played out in that ideally serene mindful start to the day, and also a great afternoon pick me up, especially when sharing with younger ones.

seed clusters

The original recipe was given to me by my friend Lisa who had received it third hand from her sister. Her clusters are more florentine-like and sweetened with sugar, dried fruit and chocolate. While I do happily scoff the florentine like dessert version when at Lisa’s, I immediately saw the healthy snack potential on first bite.

You see, I share a struggle with the great David Leibovitz  to make the perfect healthy granola bar. The best ones are more like a flapjack –  the delicious oat-based treats laced with butter, sugar and often with the addition of chocolate and ridiculous amounts of dried fruit.  And thus completely countering any “healthy” benefits.

These seed clusters are a game changer- they tick the tasty box and the somewhat healthy box. Plus they are dairy, refined sugar and gluten free for those who are interested.. The egg whites keep them soft in the centre, and the date syrup has just enough natural sugar to crisp up the outside. And once I mastered the little snack balls that I can almost pass off as a cookie, I started experimenting with them in bar form. While they are not quite as good in texture (there is less surface area to crisp up in the oven when made on a sheet pan), they can be cut to any size. I prefer slightly larger ones for an ideal breakfast on the run.

seed clusters

Like many of my recipes, these clusters are very adaptable and the ingredients can be varied to suit your taste. Feel free to use different nuts or seeds, any nut butters work, and you can change the sweetener to honey/agave/maple syrup, although that will increase the overall sugar content. Play around and make them your own. You won’t be sorry.

Seed Clusters

Makes approximately 16 clusters or granola bars

150g (1 cup) sunflower seeds

130g (1 cup) pumpkin seeds

30g (1/4 cup) sesame seeds

40g (1/2 cup) flaked almonds

40g (1/2 cup) unsweetened desciated coconut (or coconut flakes)

50g (1/4 cup) millet (this is totally optional – I like it for the crunch)

80g (1/4 cup) date syrup

60g (1/4 cup) cashew or almond butter (personally I prefer cashew)

2 egg whites

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 160C (300F).  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or line a 20cm (8 inch) square tin or equivalent with parchment.

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir together until all incorporated.  You can do this with a wooden spoon or with your hands.

From clusters with a small ice cream scoop or with two dessert sized spoons and place on a baking sheet.  You can also do this with your hands, but you will want to wet them first with water as the mixture is quite sticky and this will help.

If you are making them into bars, pour the mixture into the prepared baking tin and smooth the top completely.

Bake clusters for 15-18 minutes until they are dark golden.  Bake the bars for about 25 minutes until the top is golden and slightly crispy.

Cool the clusters on the baking sheet until they are almost cool and fully set.  Continue to cool on a rack.

If you are making these a baking dish, score them into bars as soon as you take them out of the oven with a sharp knife.  This will help to keep them together once they are cool.  You will need to re-slice along the score lines once they are cool.

These will keep in a sealed container for about 5 days.

seed clusters

Enjoy!

 

 

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BF Bites – February Roundup

Nesting Kitchen Essential – Rosti Bowls

BF bites 2.17

These design classics were my first and best ever set of stacking bowls, pilfered from my grandmothers kitchen while her back was turned.  They are the perfect mixing bowl and good looking enough to serve from at the table, making them doubly useful and a whole few notches higher on the aesthetic rating than a simple glass pyrex. The best bit?  They now come with lids so no more fighting with cling film when you put the leftovers in the fridge.

 

Plant Pot of Dreams – Boskke Planter

BF bites 2.17

I am lucky enough to have the perfect kitchen windowsill for orchids.  When we moved into our house four years ago, I was gifted these very beautiful plants, and one of these Boskke planters.  The Boskke pots are the perfect orchid receptacle as they hold a shallow amount of water at the bottom, just enough for the orchids to feed, and allow light to the roots. Obviously they also appeal to my no.1 homeware rule of “simple and useful”.  Maybe it is the light that streams in through the kitchen window, or maybe it is the pot, but these orchids flower beautifully multiple times a year.  Needless to say I have since acquired a few more pots, and given many away as gifts.

 

Cookbook of the Month – The Hang Fire Cookbook

BF bites 2.17

It may only be February, but I am already back to using my Big Green Egg.  While preparing for full blown BBQ season, I am pouring through this book and ferociously marking all the new recipes I want to experiment with outside.  Samantha Evans and Shauna Guinn quit their day jobs, traveled around America learning from the greats and have shared some inspirational ideas for outdoor cooking.

 

Top of my Podcast List – Bon Appetit Foodcast

Adam Rapoport is my favourite food editor of the moment.  His opener for every edition of Bon Appetit is always spot on, so you can imagine my excitement when I discovered the dedicated Bon Appetit podcast, or as they refer to it, foodcast, earlier this year.  Always interesting, often funny, every episode imparts at least one nugget of culinary genius that will raise your cooking game.  Even if you only love to eat, add it to your weekly downloads.

 

Skin Saviour – Caudalie Purifying Mud Mask

BF bites 2.17

It is always a blessing to be surrounded by friends in the know.  So when I found myself suffering from adult acne on my chin at the ripe age of almost 42, I was lucky enough to be able to call on the beauty genius of my friend, neighbour, first ever cooking student and general inspiration for Building Feasts, Jessica Diner.  She suggested I use this mask.  And as with every recommendation she makes, it worked a treat.  Teenage skin no more.  At lest for now….

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