Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - I've been pretending to be on a low carb kick for several years now... not that it's kept me thin or anything like that. Anyway, I've shied away from bread, and naturally, that means sandwiches. They're so easy to make and, when done right, can be really good.
A grilled cheese sandwich is good, quick, and something most finicky kids will eat. No kidding, it's been so many years since I've had one, I had almost forgotten, literally, that it even exists. So, if you don't already know how to make a grilled cheese, here goes.
For the basic sandwich - take 2 slices of bread, put one slice of cheese in the middle, and butter the outside of the sandwich. Put it into a frying pan on medium-low heat, keep an eye on it, and after 2-4 minutes, when the color is just right, turn it over.
To get the outside of the bread golden and the cheese nice and melty, the stove cannot be too hot or else you'll burn your sandwich. When the second side of the sandwich is golden and the cheese has melted, put it on a plate, and you're good to go.
However, if you do want to add something else to the sandwich, IMMEDIATELY separate the 2 pieces of bread. Otherwise, they'll really be stuck together.
What kind of bread? Me, I'm the queen of white bread, and you should use whatever kind you like - Bimbo Bread, Wonder Bread, artisan whole grain bread, whatever.
Use a good brand of real butter. If you read my butter rant last week, you'll remember Kirkland (USA), President (France), Lurpak (Denmark) and Kerrygold (Ireland) are quality brands. Forget about that cheap, awful Mexican stuff, which tastes like margarine because they add oil to it. Ugh.
Cheese could be just about anything sliced. The higher the moisture content, the better it melts. Manchego can be bought rebanado - sliced - and it melts well. Navarro brand Manchego is reasonably priced and is popular with the cooks at Puerto Vallarta's quesadilla stands on the street. While Manchego is one of my favorites, other good melters are Muenster, cheddar, Monterrey jack, Swiss, Maasdam, Emmental, Gruyere, provolone, fontina and Gouda. You might even want to try a smoked version. Of course, some cheeses might not come sliced and you would have to thinly slice it yourself. A good, sharp knife makes the job easier.
Tip #1: If your sandwich is browning too quickly, the pan is too hot. Remove it from the burner and let things cool down for a minute or two. Use a pancake turner to raise your sandwich out of the pan so it doesn't burn, or flip it over. Reduce heat before returning the pan to the burner.
Tip #2: If the cheese isn't melting quickly enough, just cover the pan. This will trap heat and help melt the cheese faster. Make sure the stove is hot enough - but not too hot - and be patient.
Tip #3: Stay at the stove the entire time you're making your sandwich. It's a pretty quick process and butter will burn very quickly if you're not careful. So, I left the stove for a "minute" to do something on this story and the next thing you know, my sandwich was beautifully golden on one side and charred black on the other. This is definitely a "do what I say, not what I do" hint.
If you want a sandwich that's a little different, or with a little more heft, you can get creative. After the sandwich is done and you've separated the 2 pieces of bread, add one or more of these:
• Ham - and now you've got a ham and cheese sandwich
• Sliced tomatoes - remember the salt and pepper
• Onions - if that floats your boat - it's amazing what a little onion can add to any sandwich
• Sliced chile peppers
• Cooked bacon
• If you're a blue cheese lover, try a little of that.
• If you take rye or whole grain bread, Swiss cheese, corned beef, and sauerkraut in a glass jar, you've got a Reuben grill. You could even add a little Russian dressing, if you want.
Here's cousin of the grilled cheese sandwich that always hits the spot. When I lived in New York and worked at home - at a crazy busy pace - this quick sustenance was a life-saver - a toasted English muffin with a slice of tomato and cheese on top, broiled in the toaster oven til the cheese melted - an open-faced sandwich. Save the other half of the muffin for next time. Or fix two!
You can make a variation that is like a little pizza, with mozzarella, garlic powder, a spoonful of jarred tomato sauce, and a little basil or oregano, fresh or otherwise. A piece of aluminum foil on the toaster oven tray makes cleanup a cinch.
And here's one that takes me back to my childhood, fond memories of Granny and meatless Fridays. We called it "cheese bread." She took chunks of good, extra sharp cheddar, melted it in a frying pan, and mopped up the cheese with soft white bread - you know, the cheepo kind you get in a plastic bag at the supermarket. The crispy leftover cheese in the pan was a delicious treat we all loved.
And in those days, with a stainless steel pan, that cheese really stuck and we had to scrape like crazy to get at those crispy, chewy bits. I guess the harder you had to work for it, the better it tasted. Anyway, with microwaves today, there's a quicker, neater way to make cheese bread. Just put the cheese on top of a slice of bread and nuke it. Add a slice of tomato or not.
It doesn't have to be haute cuisine to be tasty. There's a lot to be said for quick and easy.
Copyright © 2020 by Andrea Jupina. All rights reserved.
Andrea Jupina lives in Puerto Vallarta full time. Previously she wrote the "Accidentally Delicious" column for the Vallarta Tribune. Great thanks to Patsy Meyer for her inspired idea for the name "Pan Cooking." Send questions or comments to andreajupina(at)gmail.com.