Gourmet Grilled Cheese

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Warm melted American, Gouda or Swiss housed between two crisp buttery-browned slices of bread could mean but one thing: grilled cheese.

Laura Werlin is a food writer and expert on the subject.

"Great Grilled Cheese," her third cookbook, pays homage to this American classic with 50 creative sandwich recipes.

Werlin may be from California, but she's a real "cheese head." Her first book, "New American Cheese," celebrated great cheese and cheese makers in America. The second, "The All American Cheese and Wine Book ," was a James Beard Award winner and was, as the title suggests, about cheese and wine in this country. Werlin's latest came about just because she loves American cheese, especially when it's grilled.

She offers these sandwich-making tips to The Early Show's Harry Smith.

  • GRATE, DON'T SLICE: Grated cheese melts faster so the bread tends not to burn.

  • SOFT IS BEST: Always used softened butter - it will spread easily on the bread and make the bread brown evenly.

  • SALTED BUTTER IS BEST: Salted butter adds more flavor to the outside of the bread.

  • NONSTICK IS BEST: Always use a nonstick skillet - sandwiches won't stick to the pan.

  • COVER IT: Best to cover the sandwich when cooking on the first side, in order to melt the cheese sufficiently.




    APPLE, HAM, AND CHEDDAR ON SOURDOUGH
    Makes 4 sandwiches

    Cheddar and apple is a classic combination, as is cheddar and ham. So why not combine America's favorite cheese with apples and ham and grill them? Best of all, you need no special ingredients to make this homey taste sensation.

    2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
    8 slices sourdough bread (1/4 inch thick)
    1/4 pound smoky ham, such as Virginia country ham, cut into 4 slices (or buy pre-sliced ham)
    1 small green apple (about 5 ounces), such as Granny Smith, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
    6 ounces medium or sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

    To assemble: Butter one side of each slice of bread. Place 4 slices on your work surface, buttered side down. Place a slice of ham on each bread slice, folding it to fit if necessary. Top with 4 to 5 apple slices per sandwich, followed by the cheese. Place the remaining 4 bread slices on top, buttered side up. (If the sandwich seems quite thick, press it down to compress the ingredients slightly.)

    STOVETOP METHOD: Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Put the sandwiches in the skillet (in batches if necessary), cover, and cook for 2 minutes, or until the undersides are golden brown and the cheese has begun to melt. Uncover, and turn the sandwiches with a spatula, pressing firmly to flatten them slightly. Cook for 1 minute, or until the undersides are golden brown. Turn the sandwiches again, press with the spatula, and cook for 30 seconds, or until the cheese has melted completely. Serve immediately.

    SANDWICH MAKER METHOD: Preheat the sandwich maker. Follow directions for sandwich assembly, and cook according to the manufacturer's instructions.

    GAS GRILL METHOD: Brush the grill rack with oil and preheat the grill to medium-high. Follow directions for sandwich assembly. Put the sandwiches on the grill and follow directions for the stovetop method.

    TWO-CHEESE MEDITERRANEAN
    Makes 4 sandwiches

    There's a lot going on in this sandwich, so although it says "two-cheese," it also has many other flavorful components like capers, olives, and peppers. For this reason, I particularly like this grilled cheese either as a meal or cut into smaller pieces and served as a tasty hors d'oeuvre.

    2 ounces feta cheese
    1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, rinsed and coarsely chopped
    1 tablespoon capers, drained and rinsed
    1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
    Freshly ground pepper
    2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
    8 slices pain au levain or sourdough bread (1/4 inch thick)
    4 ounces Gruyere cheese, coarsely grated (or use Emmentaler or Monterey Jack)
    4 whole roasted red peppers (from a jar), drained and cut in half
    1/2 cup baby spinach leaves

    In a small bowl, mix together the feta, olives, capers, lemon peel, and pepper to taste. Set aside.
    To assemble: Butter one side of each slice of bread. Place 4 slices on your work surface, buttered side down. Spread the feta mixture evenly over the 4 slices. Press the Gruyere into the feta mixture, and top each slice with 2 pepper halves and the spinach. Press again to compress the filling. Place the remaining 4 bread slices on top, buttered side up.

    STOVETOP METHOD: Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Put the sandwiches in the skillet (in batches if necessary), cover, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the undersides are golden brown and the cheese has begun to melt. Uncover, and turn the sandwiches with a spatula, pressing very firmly to flatten them slightly. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the undersides are golden brown and the spinach has wilted. Turn the sandwiches again, press with the spatula, and cook for 30 seconds, or until the Gruyere has melted completely. Serve immediately.

    SANDWICH MAKER METHOD: Preheat the sandwich maker (if your machine has adjustable heat, set it to medium). Follow directions for sandwich assembly, and cook according to the manufacturer's instructions.

    GAS GRILL METHOD: Brush the grill rack with oil and preheat the grill to medium. Follow directions for sandwich assembly. Put the sandwiches on the grill and follow directions for stovetop method.


    RICOTTA AND MARMALADE WITH CHOCOLATE SAUCE
    Makes 4 sandwiches

    The chocolate sauce helps elevate this grilled cheese sandwich to a downright elegant affair. Still, it is finger food, which makes for a casual dessert.

    4 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
    1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk or cream
    1 cup ricotta cheese, at room temperature (drain if watery)
    1/4 cup orange marmalade
    8 slices country white bread (1/4 inch thick)
    2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

    Place the chocolate in a medium-size heatproof bowl and set aside.
    In a small saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat until just a few bubbles form. Pour the milk over the chocolate and stir until the pieces have melted. Transfer the mixture to a small serving bowl and set aside.
    In a small bowl, mix the cheese and marmalade together. Set aside.
    To assemble: Butter one side of each slice of bread. Place 4 slices on your work surface, buttered side down. Spread the cheese mixture evenly over the 4 slices. Place the remaining 4 bread slices on top, buttered side up.

    STOVETOP METHOD: Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Put the sandwiches in the skillet (in batches if necessary), cover, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the undersides are golden brown and the cheese has begun to soften. Uncover, and turn the sandwiches with a spatula, pressing lightly to flatten them slightly. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes more, or until the undersides are golden brown. Turn the sandwiches again, and cook for 30 seconds, or until the cheese is soft and creamy.
    To serve, cut in half diagonally. Spoon a little chocolate sauce into individual plates or directly onto the sandwiches.

    SANDWICH MAKER METHOD: Preheat the sandwich maker (if your machine has adjustable heat, set it to medium). Follow directions for sandwich assembly, and cook according to the manufacturer's instructions. Lower the lid carefully; if too much weight is put on the sandwiches, the filling will ooze out.

    GAS GRILL METHOD: Brush the grill rack with oil and preheat the grill to medium-high. Follow directions for sandwich assembly. Put the sandwiches on the grill and follow directions for the stovetop method.

    DUTCH GRILLED CHEESE
    Makes 4 sandwiches

    Gouda cheese, cumin, and caraway combine to produce a distinctive and flavorful sandwich with a taste that is reminiscent of the traditional Dutch Leyden cheese.

    3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
    1 medium red onion (about 1/2 pound), thinly sliced
    ¾ teaspoon cumin seeds
    6 ounces best-quality medium-aged Gouda cheese, coarsely grated
    8 slices rye bread with caraway seeds (1/4 inch thick)

    In a large nonstick skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over low heat. Add the onions and cook very slowly, stirring occasionally, until they turn a dark golden color, 30 to 40 minutes. If the onions begin to scorch, add about 1 tablespoon of water. Remove the onions from pan and set aside. Wipe the skillet with paper towel, but do not wash it. (The onions can be prepared up to 6 hours in advance and kept covered at room temperature.)
    Heat the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and toast just until they become fragrant, about 3 minutes (watch carefully, they burn easily). Remove the seeds and let cool briefly. Do not wash the skillet. When the seeds are cool, crush them using a mortar and pestle. Or place them in a resealable plastic bag and lightly pound with a mallet or the bottom of a heavy skillet. In a medium bowl, toss the crushed seeds with the cheese.
    To assemble: Butter one side of each slice of bread with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Place 4 slices on your work surface, buttered side down. Distribute the cheese evenly over the 4 slices, followed by the onions. Place the remaining 4 bread slices on top, buttered side up.

    STOVETOP METHOD: Heat the same skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Put the sandwiches in the skillet (in batches if necessary), cover, and cook for 2 minutes, or until the undersides are golden brown and the cheese has begun to melt. Uncover, and turn the sandwiches with a spatula, pressing firmly to flatten them slightly. Cook for 1 minute, or until the undersides are golden brown. Turn the sandwiches again, press with the spatula, and cook for 30 seconds, or until the cheese has melted completely. Serve immediately.

    SANDWICH MAKER METHOD: Preheat the sandwich maker. Follow directions for sandwich assembly, and cook according to the manufacturer's instructions.

    GAS GRILL METHOD: Brush the grill rack with oil and preheat the grill to medium-high. Follow directions for sandwich assembly. Put the sandwiches on the grill and follow directions for the stovetop method.

    • Ellen Crean

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