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Gourmet Grilled Cheese Sandwich

I have always believed that it was important to teach my children their way around the kitchen. For a while that seemed to be going well. My oldest son always loved to cook. We spent hours together in the kitchen when he was little. When we baked he would ‘crack’ the eggs if I would ‘hatch’ them into the bowl. He would stir and stand on a stool to watch when I was doing other tasks.

When he went to kindergarten he brought home hand written recipes for some of his favorite foods, like cinnamon toast and peanut butter sandwiches, in his beginning writer's scrawl. He speculated as to the ingredients in dishes he liked, suggesting that Mammaw’s fried fresh fish must be laced with cinnamon, because it tasted so good.

Later, in high school, he would load some of my best kitchen tools in his book bag and go to friends' houses to cook pasta or risotto for a crowd. At home he watched the Food Network and tried to reproduce the creations of Jamie Oliver. He even dreamed of being a chef.

"It’s in the family," you might say, until you notice that my younger children have been more reluctant to take their turn in the kitchen. My daughter has had her moments and her own special interests. One summer she and a friend baked wonderful muffins with the blackberries they picked. Later she went through a phase where she was very interested in nutrition and one where she made exotic smoothies. Perhaps these introductions will someday bud into a true love of cooking.

And then there is my youngest. Well he does like to eat! Still his general lack of interest in learning to enjoy the kitchen arts worried me until one day I devised a plan. Having paid attention as my husband laid down the law that my youngest couldn’t get his driver’s license until he had finished the requirements to become an Eagle Scout, I decided to tack on a requirement or two of my own.

One day, as I was hurrying to finish a load of laundry and get dinner on the table at the same time, I asked my youngest son, who was immersed in a computer game, to lend a hand. He came into the laundry room as requested but claimed he was utterly and everlastingly unable to fold clothing fresh from the dryer. It was just something he wasn’t able to do, he told me.

Then and there, in a flash of insight, I could see that no teenager could possibly hope to safely maneuver around town behind the wheel of an automobile if he couldn’t competently sort, wash, dry, and fold his own clothing. And while we mused over that requirement as I held his attention over a pile of warm clothes, and while dinner waited until I was done there to be put on the table, I concluded that being able to prepare and serve a passable dinner was also a perfectly reasonable expectation for any driving age teen.

At that point my youngest had several years to master these requirements. I was impressed when right away he went to his older brother for instructions on how to make a grilled cheese sandwich like the ones they had shared over the summer. This was no normal grilled cheese sandwich but one they both described as gourmet and one that was made with a flourish. This grilled sandwich is both a comfort food and a showpiece, a recipe to fill and nourish the body as a snack or simple meal and to nourish a relationship by attending to the details of preparation and presentation that make a guest, or a family member, feel cared for and special.

My children are not the first in my family to make a fine grilled cheese sandwich. Perhaps the idea was handed down from my parents' generation. My Dad made what I considered to be a heavenly grilled cheese sandwich when I was a girl. He would cut thick slices of Velveeta cheese for the filling and told me that the secret was to thoroughly butter the outside of the bread, leaving no spots uncoated before grilling it in his cast iron skillet. Who was I to doubt him? He was a very good cook and I loved those sandwiches as a child.

My children, however, have their own opinions. They turn up their noses at Velveeta cheese, rightly pointing out that you just can't trust something called a "processed cheese product." Perhaps they are learning a thing or two about good nutrition. Or perhaps they are simply employing contrarian logic - if mom says it tastes good, It's my job to disagree. In any case they prefer a more high minded grilled cheese sandwich, made from real locally produced cheddar cheese and sprinkled with fresh herbs, freshly ground black pepper and sea salt.

However they want to make it, a grilled cheese sandwich is still a comfort food and is still delicious. This presentation, developed and practiced by my children, will impress friends and family with some basic, and important, skills in the kitchen.

A note to my son who demonstrated this recipe and indulged me as I took numerous photos for this post: Thanks for being such a good sport and for making a delicious dinner!

Gourmet Grilled Cheese Sandwich

1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
sliced Tillamook sharp cheddar cheese
2 slices white bread
several sprigs of fresh thyme (or a few dashes of dried thyme)
freshly ground black pepper
pinch of sea salt
1 tablespoon butter

Begin by grating fresh Parmesan cheese directly onto a slice of bread, enough to cover it with a light dusting.

Slice six to eight 1/4 inch thick pieces from a slab of Tillamook sharp cheddar cheese and arrange them to cover the bread, trimming as necessary.

Grate a little more Parmesan cheese over the cheddar. Pull the leaves from a sprig of thyme and sprinkle on top of the cheeses. If you don’t have fresh herbs, use dried thyme instead.

Lay another slice of bread on top. Sprinkle the top of the bread with a few more fresh thyme leaves, a turn or two of freshly ground pepper and a pinch of sea salt.

Melt 1/2 tablespoon of the butter in a skillet, over medium heat. Rotate the skillet so the butter is evenly distributed. Place the sandwich in the pan and cook, reducing the heat if the sandwich is browning too quickly.

When the bottom of the bread is browned and the cheese has begun to melt, lift the sandwich from the skillet, redistribute butter, adding more, if necessary, to evenly coat the bottom of the pan.

Flip the sandwich and grill on the other side until it is toasty and browned on the bottom and the cheese is soft and oozy.

Remove the sandwich and place on a plate. Cut and garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme if desired.

Serve to eager friends and family. Enjoy!


Alanna Kellogg said...

As I recall, that "oldest" of yours would be quite excited when our of our regular "adventures" called for kitchen time. This is fun - and the grilled cheese looks heavenly.

Michelle said...

I love grilled cheese! And this sandwich sounds so good, adding the fresh ground pepper is genius!

Kerrin said...

I think I will master the grilled cheese by the end of the summer! I've already made two this week, hehe.

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