Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Get your gooey on

Cheese was a great thing to happen to bread for centuries before peanut butter and jelly got in on the act. There is a reason why almost every sandwich is made just a little bit better by the simple addition of a slice of cheese.

But my favorites are always when cheese is the star of the show. And nothing does that like a good old grilled cheese sandwich.

Now, I will pause here to address some issues for sticklers. To me, a grilled cheese sandwich is cheese (classically, in my childhood, American or, better yet, Velveeta) between two slices of the whitest white bread to be found, slathered on the outside with butter. My grandmother insists that this is called a "dream sandwich" and that a real grilled cheese isn't buttered, but fried in melted butter. I think this is a semantical argument that doesn't matter to your clogged arteries. Then there are the people who call it a toasted cheese, which I say is a cheese sandwich on toasted bread and has nothing to do with a griddle at all.

Okay, now that I've gotten that off my chest, we can proceed. Kids love grilled cheese. I defy you to find a kid's menu that doesn't feature them. (TIP: you can even get them at Burger King if you ask nicely.) And the humble grilled cheese is, like pizza, a great vehicle for getting kids to try things they might not like.

Take me for example. When I was a child, I'd have eaten my left foot before I ate a tomato. Unless you put it in a grilled cheese sandwich. Grilled cheese with tomato and bacon was my mother's secret weapon when our garden overflowed with tomatoes that I looked at with distrust and contempt. (It also helps if you make the experience special. I remember many a late-night movie date with my mom: just us, some grilled cheese and tomato, and something wonderful on TV late at night while everyone else was in bed.)

But cheese and bread are adaptable, and turning a diagonally cut sandwich into wedges of pizza is a lot easier than putting square pegs in round holes.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich Pizza for Mom

1 pre-baked pizza crust

1 T. butter

½ pound provolone cheese, sliced

½ pound sharp yellow cheddar, shredded

1 large ripe tomato, sliced

½ pound crisp cooked bacon, crumbled

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rub bottom of crust (yes, the side that touches the pan) and 1-inch edge of top with butter. Place on pizza pan. (If you are using pizza dough, melt the butter and pour into pan, just painting edges. I actually don't recommend this for this pizza because it makes it harder to shape.)

Top crust with provolone slices and cheddar. Bake 5-7 minutes, until cheese just starts to melt. Scatter tomato slices and bacon over cheese. Return to oven for another 7-10 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling and starting to brown.

Color conundrum – How do you like your cheese? Yellow or white? Many people will argue the point, saying one tastes better than the other, but anyone from a cheese-producing area will tell you, there’s very little, if any, difference. Most manufacturers add yellow dye to their cheese because they know some people won’t buy white. Others, like Cabot Creamery in Vermont, refuse to add dyes to their cheese on principle. While some people say the color was originally added to distinguish where the cheese came from, it really comes down to the seasons. Cows eat differently during the summer months pastured in a field than they do in winter stabled in a barn. Anyone who read the Little House on the Prairie books can tell you how Ma had to ring the juice out of a carrot to make the butter look better in the winter, when the fat didn’t have the same pretty yellow color.

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