Killer Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

ready 625 sqSome days, it seems like the world is covered in jagged, sharp edges. Nothing goes smoothly and everything irritates you. When you wake up on the dark side of the mattress, plan on having this grilled cheese sandwich for dinner.

Gooey, crispy, salty and buttery, it comforts like nothing else can.

This sandwich is based on the “Grilled Cheese with a Twist” I ate at Milk Truck’s Smorgasburg location a few years ago. Crafted from aged Wisconsin gruyere, champagne vinegar pickled onions and  whole grain Dijon mustard on Blue Ribbon Bakery Jewish Rye, it was a revelation for me. I have put caramelized onions in my grilled cheese before, but never pickled onions. The sharp tang of the vinegar cut right through the rich fatty cheese and created such flavour balance.

I substituted shallots for onions, because they are sweeter and milder. pickled shallots For my version, I decided upon a combo of cheeses. I used mild, buttery Fontina because It melts like a dream and gives you a really ooey gooey center. Gruyere adds really earthy, nutty flavours to the sandwich. And, rounding out my cheese trifecta was classic mild cheddar. Don’t be tempted to use “old” or “sharp” cheddar for this. It is too dry and crumbly to melt properly.making sandwiches 2A smear of Dijon mustard adds an unexpected tang. I also added a layer of thinly sliced Honeycrisp apple. It added a welcome crunch and tart-sweet component. If you are lucky enough to live in Ottawa, please, please, please, use Rideau Bakery rye bread!

You get much more even browning when you butter the bread, rather than melting the butter into the pan. A very light sprinkling of salt on the buttered bread, before cooking, adds a bonus oomph! But feel free to leave it out if that’s how you roll. I promise not to judge. The key is to cook it low and slow, so that you get it brown and toasty on the outside and completely melted in the center. A lid on the pan will help with thoroughly melting the cheese.cooking

 

sliced closeup

Click here to print recipe for Killer Grilled Cheese Sandwiches.

on black platter

Lime Coconut Squares

with milkA really good lime square should have more than a whisper of citrus flavour. It needs a big shout-out of lip puckering sourness. The base is usually quite sweet, so the topping needs to be really tart. The key to achieving this balance is not as simple as adding more lime juice.  When baking, the juice and zest of citrus fruits react differently. The flavour compounds in the juice are suspended in water, so they evaporate during baking and you are left with only a mild citrus flavour.  Zest, on the other hand, contains essential oils that do not dissipate with the heat of the oven, so the pucker power remains strong.

Lime and coconut is a perfect pairing for summer, and these bars pack a serious pop of lime flavour. mise en placeCitrus squares typically have a shortbread-like base. I decided to mix things up a bit and added some oats to my base. The dough comes together quickly and can be patted into the pan with your hands, no rolling necessary.mixing basepressing base into panThe filling is mixed in one bowl. Fast and easy.pouring filling on crustspreading filling evenlyLet it snow!let it snowcut into perfect squaresWhile small in stature, these squares are mighty in flavour. The edges of the crust are crunchy but the center remains slightly chewy. The filling is loaded with tart lime and tropical coconut flavours. A dusting of icing sugar provides just the right sweet counterpart to all that pucker.

Click here to print recipe for Lime Coconut Squares.on green plate

Crispy Cheese Breakfast Tacos

With fried egg 2For me, the best part of a grilled cheese sandwich is the rogue bits of cheese that escape, melting and then dripping down the side of the bread, bubbling and browning away on the bottom of the pan, transforming into a lacy crispy disc of cheese. The Italians  have been making these crispy discs for years. They call them Fricos. I have made cheddar-parmesan ones to serve with soup.

The genius folks over at serious eats figured out a way to get that crispy cheesy goodness on a taco. Normally, grated cheese is added to a taco, but that’s kind of humdrum. They fused melted cheese to the taco.

My mind immediately went to breakfast, needing to fill these with eggs, avocado, jalapeño and salsa. If you are just going to make one taco, (and who could eat just one?), then you can certainly make the whole thing in a frying pan. But I wanted to figure out how to make several at a time, in case you are really hungry, or perhaps have a few people to feed.

Start with a parchment lined baking sheet and a 375° oven. I chose cheddar cheese, but feel free to experiment with your favourite. Pepper-jack would be good too. Arrange 1/2 ounce of grated cheese in a 5- by 2-inch rectangle. Repeat until you have about 3 or 4 cheese rectangles on the baking sheet. Bake for about 3 minutes until the cheese starts to melt.Melting cheese 1Melting cheese 2Then lay a fresh corn or flour tortilla  on top of cheese so that roughly half the cheese is covered by the tortilla. For my first batch, I lightly oiled the tortillas, which turned out to be a mistake, because you don’t want the tortilla to become crispy. It must remain soft, pliable and moist,  so you can fold your tortilla in half to eat it. So I briefly dipped the tortillas into a bowl of water before placing them onto the cheese and back into the hot oven. That way, the surface moisture evaporates, steaming the tortillas to give you the perfect supple texture.Melting cheese 3Melting cheese 4When they cool, you can lift them off the baking sheet and each tortilla is now wearing her own crispy cheese mini skirt! Then the fun begins. Fill them with whatever makes you happy.

I created some with scrambled eggs.scrambling eggsscrambling eggs 2With scrambled eggs 625 sqThen I decided to make an open faced one with a fried egg.With fried eggThese are almost as much fun to make as they are to eat.

Click here to print recipe for Crispy Cheese Breakfast Tacos.

 

 

 

Canned Cornbread

Yes I’m fully aware that baking cornbread in tiny tomato paste cans is a bit twee, but I just couldn’t help it. After being served “canned” cornbread at The Tasting Room, I just knew I had to  come home and recreate the experience. Just imagine the surprise on your friends and family’s faces when you lift up the can to reveal cornbread inside. It’s just so much fun. And really, who couldn’t use a little more fun in their day? output_WdoSLZThe most time consuming part of this project is preparing the cans. They need to be greased and floured very well.prepping cansThis cornbread recipe is an old favourite, created by my friend, Pam. I have tried many different recipes in the past 20 years, and I always come back to this one. With both cornmeal and cornflour in the batter, the texture of this cornbread is fantastic. The addition of corn and jalapeño add sweet and heat.ready to bakeThe batter mixes up quickly in one bowl. mixing batterA spring loaded ice cream scoop makes easy work of getting the batter into the cans. DO NOT FILL EACH CAN MORE THAN HALFWAY!filling cans

ready for ovenIf you greased and floured properly, the cornbreads will slide right out. If you missed a few spots like me, some “gentle” coaxing may be necessary.

They are delicious as is or mix up a batch of whipped browned butter to slather on them.

whipped brown butter 1whipped brown butter 2I served them on these adorable safari plates my daughter bought for me. with a glass of wineleopardelephant 625 sq

Click here to print recipe for Canned Cornbread with Whipped Browned Butter.

on blue rectangular platter

A Surprising Dinner at Africa’s Top Restaurant (The Tasting Room)

Certain restaurant meals stand out in your mind for ages. Although it has been almost 30 years since devouring Emily Luchetti‘s Gingerbread Cake with Warm Apples and Cider Sabayon at Stars in San Francisco, l vividly recall that heady aroma and taste of the molasses and spices as if it were yesterday. That cake blew me away. I had no idea that gingerbread could be anything but a cookie, and that it could taste so heavenly. (Sadly Stars closed down in 1999, but if you are a gingerbread lover, bake this cake!)

I am certain that the memory of the meal I had at The Tasting Room (Franschhoek, South Africa) this past March will remain strong in my cerebral cortex, long after the names of my kids and husband have totally escaped me. Dutch born chef, Margo Janse, celebrates South Africa through food. Her philosophy is to make fine dining approachable and not intimidating. Her dishes are whimsical, playful, consistently surprising, visually stunning and very delicious.

Before we went on Safari in Botswana and South Africa, we spent a few days in Capetown and then made our way East, to the wine region of Franschhoek. We spent the afternoon biking to several wineries. I must admit, I approached the biking with some trepidation. I love going to spin class on a stationary bike, but biking where there are cars makes me very nervous. And biking and drinking… well let’s just say, that seemed like an accident waiting to happen. We were assured that the roads were not heavily travelled by cars. I suited up and vowed to just have 3 sips at each winery.

My husband has been trying to get me to go outdoor biking with him for years. He was so thrilled that he snapped a photo of me in my bike helmet, standing next to my bike, and texted it to our kids. My eldest son responded with scepticism. He said, “Just because she’s wearing a helmet, doesn’t mean she actually rode the bike” We followed up with proof later that afternoon.proof of biking in franschhoekIt was actually a very easy ride, as there were almost no hills or cars. The scenery was breathtaking. These shots were taken by my friend Jack.view in Franschhoekbiking in FranschhoekWe checked into our hotel for a quick shower and headed out to dinner at The Tasting Room.

Our amazing travel agent, Linda, made all the arrangements for us. All we knew about the restaurant was that it was ranked “Top Restaurant in Africa ” and “53rd Best Restaurant Worldwide“.  We were told that they served an 8 course African inspired surprise (there is no menu to choose from) tasting dinner, with wine pairings for each course. We arrived hungry and very excited.

I’ll do my best to guide you through it. Ready? Oh, wait a minute, You just might want to unbutton the top button of your pants to make room for what’s coming. (FYI, I wore a jumpsuit to dinner, with an elastic waistband – a wise choice if you decide to eat here!)

I only brought my phone to dinner, so some of my pictures were not so great. Luckily, I found some beautiful images on two great travel blogs – SFO777 and A Table for Two to add to my own photos.

The first dish that landed on our table was “Onion-Lime Chips with Black Pepper Snow. “Crunchy, salty, tangy and completely addictive. I am still utterly befuddled by the fact that the black pepper snow was white!lime-onion chip with black pepper snowI have often thought of restaurant bread as a harbinger for the rest of the meal. When I took my first bite of “Cornbread in a Can“, I was filled with great hope that the rest of the dinner would be just as delicious. The cornbread was baked in a beautiful Lucky Star Pilchard can. The waiter tipped the tin upside down the cornbread slid out. We slathered it with the whipped salted browned butter and there was silence at the table while we all chewed in wonderment.cornbread in a can 1cornbread in a can 2Then the waiter arrived with what looked to be a tray of miniature desserts. Surprise! Turned out to be “Prawn and Avocado Cupcakes, Rooibus Macarons and Barley Madelines”.faux dessertsOur faux desserts were followed by “Confit tomato and potato tumbleweed“. The potatoes had been shredded and then formed into a hollow round sphere and deep fried. Need I say more?confit tomato and potato tumbleweed 2The next course was simply called “Broccoli, Broccoli, Broccoli“. Three different preparations of broccoli that equally thrilled the carnivores and omnivores at our table.broccoli broccoli broccolijpgFoie gras molded to look like chocolate, topped with edible gold leaf”. Really!!foie 2jpgUp next: “Paradyskloof (a nearby town) quail, amasi, sweet corn, granola.”QuailOur very sweet waiter noticed that my friend Ed was not eating all his food. When Ed explained that he was getting over a stomach bug, the waiter smiled and said he had just the thing. He returned with a pot of Buchu tea. Buchu is a herb that grows in South Africa. It is said to have excellent detoxing abilities when steeped in hot water and served as a tea. herbal teaCheese course: “Dalewood huguenot matured cheddar, rusks, mebos custard, currants.”cheese course
Just when we thought we could not eat another bite, dessert arrived at the table. The waiters silently placed a bowl containing what looked like a giant white snowball in front of each diner. They instructed us not to start eating, just yet. They left the room and returned with glass beakers filled with what looked like caramel sauce. In a totally synchronized move, the waiters poured the sauce on each diner’s snowball. Here’s what happened next:

The snowball was actually a white chocolate dome coated in finely shredded coconut. The hot baobab caramel sauce melted the chocolate to reveal a scoop of coconut ice cream inside. Magical!

This was truly a very special evening. There was one more surprise in store. I had sent the chef a recipe for my husband’s favourite birthday cake. They lovingly baked it for him to help celebrate. It was almost as good as mine!birthday cakeIn my next post, I’ll share with you how to recreate that cornbread in a can!