Fancy Grilled Cheese


[From the Lawrence Journal World, about a week ago--a quick, but delicious, dinner!  Mmmm...bacon.]

While I typically do a good job of mapping out our dinners each week, sometimes the plan goes awry as the holiday season picks up. With tree festivals and jingle jogs and cookies to make in the evenings, often we just want something simple but still delicious. Enter the fancy grilled cheese sandwich.

A plain-Jane grilled cheese is great, of course, but it's not always satisfying enough for a real meal. So why limit your grilled cheese to American singles and white bread?

After all, the only real qualification for a grilled cheese is that it doesn't include meat. That leaves a lot of room for creativity and what-do-we-have-in-the-fridge ingenuity.

For example, one of my favorite grilled cheese sandwiches is a few fat slices of brie cheese, a slather of blueberry jam, and a handful of greens, like arugula or spinach. If I have some bacon to toss on—it doesn't count as meat, here, it's more like a condiment—all the better.

Another good one? Spread a piece of crusty bread with pesto sauce and a few slices of mozzarella. Then, squeeze the juice out of a few canned tomatoes, and add those too. I like to make this one into a panini by using a second heavy pot to press down the top of the sandwich as it grills.

Don't be afraid to raid your crisper drawer for fruit, either. Apples and cheddar cheese are a classic kids snack, but they're even better when the apples are sliced thinly, sandwiched between a two tortillas, and melted into a quesadilla.

Grilled onions and swiss. Jalapeno peppers and cream cheese. Colby with dill pickle slices. Ricotta with roasted squash and a few drops of Sriracha sauce. Barbeque sauce with gouda and banana peppers. Pickled beets with provolone and avocado.

Seriously, just open your fridge and pull out two or three things that look good—there you go, you've got a gourmet grilled cheese!

While you can make a grilled cheese in any pan, of course, if you have a cast iron skillet or grill top this is the time to use it. Start by warming the pan over medium heat, then melt a pat of butter.

With these more ingredient heavy grilled cheese, I find it's easiest to build the sandwich right there on the stove. If you're using any spreads or sauces, put those on the first piece of bread. Then, put the bread face-up in your pan, layer on the innards, and top with another piece of bread. Push down gently on the top to help the sandwich stick together.

When the first side is toasted and the cheese is just barely going melty—this will take just a few minutes, depending on the bread—carefully flip the sandwich to toast the other side.

When the sandwich is finished, place it on a cutting board to slice it in half. Be sure to enjoy the gooey string of cheese as you pull the two halves apart.

Then tuck-in and enjoy your quick “fancy” dinner!