How to Make the Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Mike Snider wrote . . . . . . . . .

When it comes to comfort food, few dishes can beat the grilled cheese sandwich.

But nudge yourself out of your comfort zone and you can transform the grilled cheese into an even more satisfying eating experience.

For sure, North Americans love grilled cheese sandwiches as they are — consuming about 2.3 billion in the 12 months ending September 2022, according to market research company The NPD Group.

There’s plenty of room for kitchen experimentation because most of those — more than 2.1 billion of them — were prepared and eaten at home. Another 160 million were ordered at restaurants and retail food service outlets, NPD says.

What’s special about the grilled cheese sandwich? A classic food made with love.

For many, grilled cheese sandwiches dish up a memory of childhood, with a parent or grandparent often serving up melty goodness along with a bowl of soup — typically tomato.

“It’s a comfort food. It’s a simple meal,” said celebrity chef Carla Hall. “But if you don’t make it with love, it could be just as disastrous, like the bread is not lined up properly or the bread is burned and the cheese is cold.”

However, as an adult, we might want something “more interesting,” Hall said.

Changes can be as simple as using a different type of cheese or preparing the bread another way before putting it in the pan. You could also radically up your grilled cheese game by adding new ingredients or grilling your sandwiches in an entirely new way.

What’s the easiest way to improve my grilled cheese?

IF you usually put some butter in the pan, try something else. Butter the outer side of both slices of bread evenly before putting them in the pan, so they have equal coverage.

The best way to evenly coat the bread? Brush melted butter on the slices, suggests America’s Test Kitchen.

An alternative approach: On the bread, spread mayonnaise, which is made with oil and eggs, and allows for more even grilling, Hall said. “The mayo isn’t going to burn. You are able to control the temperature better on your grilled cheese.” And it can be tastier, because mayonnaise “has flavour, acidity and salt,” she said.

You can even try using butter and mayonnaise. A Bon Appétit recipe entitled “Best-Ever Grilled Cheese” proposes melted butter in the pan and mayo spread on the sandwich exterior. “When mayo-slicked bread meets buttered pan, that’s when the magic truly begins,” writes senior food editor Alison Roman.

A hunger-inducing scene from the 2014 movie Chef, offers another tasty strategy. Jon Favreau — he wrote, directed, produced and acted in the film — as chef Carl Casper, makes a grilled cheese for his son. He butters both pieces of bread, squirts some olive oil into the pan then places each piece of bread, butter-side down, onto the oil and slides them around, combining the oil and butter.

Then he places slices of cheddar and some shavings of other cheese, including gruyere and parmesan on each piece of bread. As the cheese begins to melt, he lifts the slices to check on how brown they are. When they look good, he finally flips one half of the sandwich onto the other. (Having tried this recipe, I can attest to its quality.)

What’s the best bread for grilled cheese?

WHITE bread is the classic choice. But there are many types of white bread. Many recipes, including the Bon Appetit offering, mention Pullman bread, which is a square-sided loaf, according to Bakerpedia.

Other breads to try? Country white, hearty wheat, oatmeal or — a favourite of Hall’s — pumpernickel. “I love how toasty and crunchy it gets,” she said.

Grinshpan adds, “I use fluffy bread like fresh sourdough, challah or, a personal fave, fluffy pita.” She has a recipe in her book Eating Out Loud: Bold Middle Eastern Flavours for All Day Every Day, in which you stuff a buttered pita with a mixture of Gouda, sesame seeds, nigella seeds.

She and husband Ido “have really fond childhood memories of eating cheesy toasts in Israel,” Grinshpan said. “Here, I fancied it up a bit with some nigella and sesame seeds and finished it with a little honey for some of that sweet-salty goodness. But if you wanted to scrap all that and just go for cheese in a pita? No one’s gonna be mad at a grilled cheese.”

Uh, what about cheese?

FINALLY, we get to the cheese. Here, the classic choice is American cheese, with Food Network’s Classic American Grilled Cheese including one slice each of white and yellow American cheese.

When you want to branch out from there, America’s Test Kitchen recommends 3 ounces of mild cheddar

or a combination of cheeses including sharper cheddar and Monterey Jack. These can be grated and mixed.

Don’t want to shred your cheese? Chase Brightwell, associate editor for America’s Test Kitchen Reviews, suggests using a Y-shaped vegetable peeler.

How to not burn your grilled cheese sandwiches

EXPERIMENT with cooking your grilled cheese on low to medium-low to medium heat.

“As for when to turn the sandwich, the longer you take, the more developed and crispy the exterior will be; low to medium-low heat is what’s wanted,” the America’s Test Kitchen recipe advises.

How to use a food processor for grilled cheese

FOR the recipe “Grown-Up Grilled Cheese,” from Cook’s Illustrated, a magazine published by America’s Test Kitchen, use your food processor to combine some Robiola cheese (a year-old or less), Brie, dry white wine and chipotles in adobo sauce in your food processor to make a paste.

Spread that on oatmeal sandwich bread then the outer bread slice is slathered with an unsalted butter and Dijon mustard combination.

Many of Hall’s grilled cheese sandwich recipes, found in her book Cooking With Love: Comfort Food That Hugs You, use a food processor. For the “Broccoli Pesto and Cheddar Grilled Cheese” sandwich, you combine broccoli florets, garlic cloves, pine nuts, parsley and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, lemon zest and juice, salt and olive oil. Then spread the pesto on one side of the bread, place some cheddar on top of that. Then cook.

How to make grilled cheese in an air fryer

HALL learned a new trick during the pandemic: The air fryer can do miracles with a grilled cheese.

She tried it with an over-the-top creation called Taco Grilled Cheese, which includes pre-prepped taco meat, the sandwiches dipped in an egg mixture and then processor-pureed tortilla chips.

The sandwich can be cooked over medium heat on a pan, but she suggests trying your air fryer.

“You put it on the rack and then you set it to do 300-325 (degrees) and it’s ready in about seven minutes. It depends on your air fryer,” Hall said. “But the great thing is it is toasted all the way around. And I love that you get that crunch of your bread and it’s all melted because the heat is circulating. … And if you are having it with soup, it’s a great dunker.”

Of course, when you think of fantastical recipes, celebrity chef Guy Fieri comes to mind. For a totally different type of grilled cheese — and one you could try cooking over a camp fire — Guy Fieri has concocted Sausage, Mac ‘n’ Cheese Grilled Cheese Camping Sandwiches. These require some preparation, too, including cooking some Italian sausage, and some macaroni and cheese made with shredded American, cheddar, smoked gouda and provolone cheese.

You place sliced bread in the sandwich toaster, add a slice of provolone, some mac and cheese, some sausage and another slice of bread. Then cook over the fire or your burner. The recipe could be done in an air fryer, too, or a panini maker as Nicole Gallucci, senior editor at Mashable, used when Fieri coached her over Zoom.

“A classic grilled cheese is delicious but sometimes even the classics deserve a little bit of extra attention,” Fieri said. “My Grilled Cheese Camping Sandwiches will definitely up your grilled cheese game. Four super melty cheeses, sausage and some homemade mac n cheese all toasted up golden brown in a Camp Chef sandwich press … Now we’re talkin’ next level!”

Source: USA Today via Winnipeg Free Press

 

 

 

 

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Five Tips for Cooking Juicy Pork Chops Quickly

Aaron Hutcherson wrote . . . . . . . . .

A Good pork chop is a thing of beauty. When handled properly — with a nicely caramelized crust encasing moist, flavourful meat — it can give even your favourite cut of steak a run for its money. But anyone who has eaten this cut of meat often has likely encountered at least one tough, dry chop, compelling them to try to choke it down anyway to save face or avoid food waste.

The oven is one avenue for avoiding dried-out pork chops, but that can take more time than I am willing to devote on a weeknight. When I’m hungry, cooking pork chops on the stove can get them onto my plate in minutes, but without the right care these weeknight warriors can easily turn into shoe leather.

For fast, moist and juicy pork chops on the stove, here’s what you need to know.

1. Choose the right pork chop cut

Cooking great pork chops starts at the grocery store.

They come in a variety of cuts and thicknesses, but the best choice for searing in a skillet is bone-in, thick cut chops. The bone slows down the cooking process ever so slightly, which can be a lifesaver for lean cuts of meat.

My favourite cut has the curved bone on one side. These can be labelled rib or centre cut chops, but porterhouse or loin chops, which have a T-shaped bone, also work for quick-cooking meals. (Sirloin chops require braising.)

In terms of thickness, I find 2.5 cm (1 inch) to be the sweet spot. “Thin cuts easily dry out, because by the time you get the outside sufficiently seared, the meat inside is overdone,” my colleague Becky Krystal wrote, and they are better reserved for frying. “Thick cuts can be hard to get an even cook on, because you may overcook the outside before the inside can even finish.” So unless you’re confident in your cookery, save the extra-thick, double-cut pork chops for the pros.

2. Brining pork chops is not necessary

In a quest to find “the absolute best way to make juicy pork chops,” food writer Ella Quittner wrote in Food52 that a wet brine “produced the juiciest chop, by a landslide” in a comparison against dry-brined and unbrined meat. However, when it came to a caramelized exterior, the wet-brined chops “had the worst, because moisture is the enemy of crispiness.”

I find brining to be completely unnecessary — and I’m not alone. “Not only is brining unnecessary for making tender pork chops, it can also introduce a lot more water to your meat, which will not improve its texture,” Joe Sevier wrote in Epicurious. Plus,

brining adds to the prep time I don’t have when I want to eat dinner imminently, so I say skip it. If you must brine, be sure to thoroughly pat the chops dry with a towel before searing them in the pan.

3. Rest the meat on the counter before cooking

Removing the pork chops from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking leads to a more even cook. Admittedly, it wasn’t very noticeable in the chops I experimented with, but I posit it makes a larger difference for thicker chops.

A more distinct difference is that letting the meat sit at room temperature before searing reduces the overall cook time by a few of minutes. So when it’s time to prepare a meal, simply take the pork chops out of the fridge first before starting on your other dishes. Once those are well underway, you’ll have knocked the chill off the meat and you’ll get more even results.

4. Fat is key to keeping pork chops moist

The leanness of pork chops is what makes this cut a weeknight favourite, but it also means they can easily become tough and dry. The solution? Basting them with fat, such as butter. Add in aromatics while basting for more flavour — similar to how you might cook a steak — and then you have the added bonus of browned butter and crispy garlic and/or herbs to serve with the meat. (Yum!)

5. Don’t overcook the pork chops — and let them rest

Perhaps the most important tip is not to overcook your pork chops. Growing up, I was taught that pork must be well done to be safe to consume, but the USDA has since lowered the recommended safe cooking temperature from 71°C to 63°C (160°F to 145°F) with a three-minute rest, meaning that you can enjoy a medium pork chop just as you might a medium steak. (I prefer taking pork chops out of the pan at 57°C (135°F) before resting, loosely tented with foil, for 5 minutes where the temperature should rise to 63°C (145°F), which is considered medium-rare.)

If you don’t have one already, now would be the time to invest in an instant-read thermometer, and before you know it you’ll be enjoying juicy, tender pork chops in no time.

Source: The Washington Post

 

 

 

 

Fast Cooking Is About Strategy. Use These 3 Tips to Make the Most of Your Kitchen

Michel Martin and Tinbete Ermyas wrote . . . . . . . . .

Fast cooking isn’t about skill. It’s about strategy.

That’s according to six-time James Beard Award-winning food writer Mark Bittman. So when he sat down to revise How to Cook Everything Fast, he had an eye toward teaching technique, not just showcasing recipes.

“There are patterns [in cooking] that after you do many times, you begin to recognize and you do automatically. But beginning cooks don’t see those patterns, and they don’t have them laid out for them,” Bittman tells NPR.

And he’s indeed cooked — and written about cooking — many times. He’s the author of numerous cookbooks, and spent decades writing about food for the New York Times.

“The attempt in Fast is to say: Here’s how you really need to learn how to cook, here’s how to organize ingredients. Here’s how to use the right technique.”

Bittman breaks down three strategies for faster cooking. His responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.

1. Prepare as you cook

There’s a lot of downtime in cooking. It takes time for the heat that you’re using to be applied to the food that you’re using it on. And you can use that time to do other things that make the whole procedure go more quickly.

2. Keep a well-stocked pantry

There are challenges around cooking besides the cooking itself. And one of them is shopping. To the extent that you can keep a good pantry, you can cook a lot of recipes without shopping. And that’s a real advantage.

3. Always cook more than you need — think leftovers

If you’re cooking beans for a dish, then cook a lot of them and either refrigerate or freeze what’s left. Same with whole grains.

Whenever you can, it almost always pays to cook more, even if it’s just cooking more of the given dish. That’s the kind of thing that veteran cooks know and learn.

Below is a recipes from Bittman’s revised edition of How to Cook Everything Fast that you can try at home when you’re in a pinch.


Spinach Carbonara

With the richness of eggs and Parmesan and the fresh bite of lightly cooked spinach, this recipe offers a hearty meatless alternative to more traditional pasta carbonara. You can replace the spinach with escarole, kale, mustard greens, chard or broccoli rabe. Just cut the ones with large leaves and stems crosswise into ribbons and cook a little longer if necessary.

SERVES 4

Salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound spinach
2 cloves garlic
1 pound any long pasta
3 eggs
4 ounces Parmesan cheese (1 cup grated)
Pepper

Directions

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.

2. Put 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over low heat.

3. Trim off any thick stems from the spinach.

4. Raise the heat under the skillet to medium-high. Cook the spinach, adding a handful at a time and stirring between batches, until the leaves are just wilted, about 5 minutes.

5. Peel and chop 2 cloves garlic, adding them to the skillet as soon as you can (they’ll cook with the spinach).

6. When the spinach is tender, turn off the heat.

7. When the water boils, add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally. Start tasting after 5 minutes.

8. Crack the eggs into a bowl.

9. Grate 1 cup Parmesan cheese and add to the bowl; sprinkle with salt and lots of pepper. Whisk with a fork to combine.

10. When the pasta is tender but not mushy, drain it, reserving about 1 cup cooking water. Add the pasta to the spinach and pour in the egg mixture. Toss, adding a splash of cooking water if you want to make it saucier. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve.

Source: npr

 

 

 

 

Stop Spiralizing Zucchini — a Peeler Works Better

Christopher Kimball wrote . . . . . . . . .

Spiralizing zucchini into “noodles” often translates into a wan and watery dish, a poor imitation of the pasta it attempts to emulate. Generally, it’s better to let an ingredient shine on its own merits. And for raw zucchini, we didn’t need to look far to find a better answer.

The Italians have done it for ages, reducing whole zucchini to paper-thin ribbons, then dressing them simply — some lemon juice, a bit of oil, maybe some honey, Parmesan, fresh herbs and nuts. The effect is a fresh and vibrant salad made in minutes.

In this recipe from our book “Milk Street Tuesday Nights,” which limits recipes to 45 minutes or less, we use a vegetable peeler to slice zucchini into thin ribbons. The zucchini really shines, balanced with the clean, sharp flavors of a lemony dressing along with Parmesan and hazelnuts. The hazelnuts — or almonds, if that’s what you have on hand — give the salad crunch and a slightly buttery note.

Don’t worry if the ribbons vary in width; this adds to the visual appeal of the dish. And don’t dress the salad until you are ready to serve. The zucchini and herbs are delicate and quickly wilt.


Shaved Zucchini and Herb Salad with Parmesan

Start to finish: 20 minutes

Servings: 4

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, plus 3 tablespoons juice (1 lemon)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon honey

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1 pound zucchini (2 medium)

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about ½ cup), plus shaved to serve

1/2 cup lightly packed mint, torn

1/2 cup lightly packed fresh basil, torn

1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and roughly chopped

In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon zest and juice, oil, honey, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Set aside. Use a Y-style peeler or mandoline to shave the zucchini from top to bottom into ribbons; rotating as you go. Stop shaving when you reach the seedy core. Discard the cores.

To the dressing, add the shaved zucchini, grated cheese, mint and basil, then toss until evenly coated. Transfer to a serving plate and sprinkle with shaved Parmesan and hazelnuts.

Source: AP

Gardening: A Tomato Lover’s 7 Tips for Growing Them Big

Jessica Damiano wrote . . . . . . . . .

Tomatoes are not only my favorite backyard crop — they’re also the most popular among American home gardeners. And it’s no wonder: Have you ever compared a supermarket tomato to a backyard one? The homegrown scent alone will transport you straight to summer.

Another benefit of growing your own tomatoes is variety. Seeds for yellow, black, pear-shaped and even giant tomatoes — which you won’t typically find in the produce aisle — are readily available in catalogs and many garden centers. And since my tomatoes-of-choice are large and lumpy, that’s typically how I roll.

I’m so enamored with them that while writing a garden column for Newsday in New York, I created and for 13 years hosted The Great Long Island Tomato Challenge, a gathering of fellow tomatophiles in search of the biggest fruit of the season (yes, tomatoes are technically fruits).

Over the years, I came face-to-face with many beautiful, sweetly scented, giant tomatoes, including a 5 lb., 4 oz., beauty that was the largest ever entered into the competition — not to mention heavier than some newborn humans.

I also got to meet and speak with the competitive tomato growers who raised those champions, and it didn’t take long to notice some commonalities in practice among them.

But first things first: Although tomato plants can be a little fussy, they aren’t difficult to grow. Give them consistent watering (deep and infrequent trumps a daily sprinkle), well-draining soil (incorporate generous helpings of compost into beds or containers at planting time), plenty of heat and light (direct, unobstructed sunshine for a minimum of 6 hours daily is best) and a slow-release, balanced fertilizer formulated for tomatoes.

Keeping beds well-weeded will remove breeding grounds for pests and diseases while eliminating competition for nutrients and water.

Tomatoes thrive best in soil with a pH level between 6.0 and 6.8. Test kits are worth their $10-$20 cost and will last for many years. If the pH reading is lower than 6.0, incorporate about 2 cups of dolomitic lime into the soil for each plant, working it about 8-12 inches deep.

So, you want to grow a whopper? Follow these seven expert tips for success:

1. Select large, indeterminate varieties like Big Zac, Porterhouse, Rhode Island Giant or Bull’s Heart, all genetically programmed to produce large fruit.

2. Start seeds early indoors and transplant seedlings into larger containers several times before moving them outdoors. Plant them deeply each time, removing leaves from the bottom one-third of plants and burying stems up to the next set of leaves. This will produce stronger plants.

3. Remove new flowers that develop at the top of the plant when older fruits near the bottom begin to grow. This will force the plant’s energy into producing fewer but larger tomatoes.

4. Be vigilant! Monitor plants daily for pests and diseases — and react to problems quickly to keep plants from becoming stressed.

5. Remove suckers — the small shoots that grow at the junction where the plant’s stems and branches meet — to prevent them from sapping the plant’s energy and shading developing fruit beneath them.

6. Prune plants to retain only one main branch instead of allowing them to develop into shrubby forms.

7. Be diligent: Water, fertilize and weed regularly.

Source: AP