Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - Last month, after submitting my Grilled Cheese story to Banderas News, I had a bright idea. Do you know what a grilled cheese sandwich really is? It's America's answer to a quesadilla!
Anyway, I received several interesting responses from friends and family and I just had to share them.
My cousin Steve, who lives in Harrisburg, wrote:
• Mom always used 2 slices of cheese for our sandwiches: 1 slice of white Cooper sharp and 1 slice of pepper jack. The tang of the sharp cheese mixed with the zing of the pepper jack was great!
• Mom always inserted the "fillings" before adding the top slice of bread and grilling the sandwich. Fillings included a slice of tomato, a slice of ham, or a rasher of bacon torn in two and laid side-by-side to cover the sandwich. We never thought of a slice of onion, but that sounds great! Will have to try it.
• I've heard some people use mayonnaise to "butter" the outside of the bread instead of butter. I haven't tried that, either, so I can't confirm if it makes a better-tasting sandwich or not…but I do like mayonnaise, so I'll have to test it out, too.
My friend Eileen, who lives in Portland, suggested adding thinly sliced tomatoes to a grilled cheese sandwich. I do that often and it is definitely worth mentioning again.
Here's a really interesting idea from Maria in California, who wrote, "One recipe I learned while living in PV is putting pear slices in the middle before cooking. Delicious."
Really! I wonder how that would go with a grilled brie sandwich. If you go that route, make sure you peel the rind off the cheese.
By all means, make sure your brie is from France. Read the label - because President brand, which touts itself as "Europe's Leading Cheese Expert" sells a lot of industrially produced cheese that is made in the USA. Look closely at the label. The President brand brie that's sold in Puerto Vallarta is imported from the USA. Yikes!
By the way, in the States, I've always had grilled cheese sandwiches made with American cheese. These days I'm too much of a food snob to eat American cheese. In all the years I've been living in Mexico, I've never even looked for it. It just wasn't on my screen. Anyway, last week I did a little legwork and sure enough, you can buy American cheese in Puerto Vallarta. "Whatever blows your skirt up!" as the mom of my Alaska friend Sean always used to say.
One popular food trend now is to use mayonnaise instead of butter for a grilled cheese sandwich. Personally, I'd never tried it. So while I am reluctant to suggest something I didn't test drive myself, nevertheless, I have heard rave reviews. Even The New York Times has written about it lately.
Mayonnaise makes a lot of sense because it is basically oil and eggs. Oil should not burn as fast as butter and the egg should im part a nice flavor. So, while I was writing this, I started getting hungry. I decided to do a little research and make a grilled cheese with mayo, right then and there.
I still had 2 pieces of Orowheat Buttermilk Mantequilla white bread in the freezer. I always freeze bread because for some weird reason, it stays fresher and softer in the freezer, whereas in the fridge it gets dry. I store 2 slices in a sandwich bag, because this bread is so soft and moist, it freezes together. I also fished some sliced manchego out of the freezer. I just can't eat all that stuff fast enough. Thanks to the freezer, I waste very little food.
But the mayonnaise. Uh oh. There was a fly in the ointment.
In the US, Best Foods mayo and Hellman's are the same. It's all marketing. Hellman's is sold on the east coast and Best Foods on the west. Here in Puerto Vallarta, I only buy Best Foods because Hellman's mayonnaise is REDUCED FAT. I loathe reduced fat anything because it tastes like crap.
And the Hellman's label - in impossibly small letters - says: "Mayonesa reducida en grasa." Reduced fat. Julia Child would say, "Phooey!"
Anyway, Hellman's recently changed their labeling. A couple weeks ago I glanced at the "Classic" mayo packaging and thought to myself, oh, they've finally come to their senses, no more low fat bulldinky. It was on sale. And THEY GOT ME.
Fast forward to my sandwich experiment. I was about to schmeer some mayo on my grilled cheese when I took a closer look at the label. Dang. (Actually, I said something else.) Reduced fat! I was hungry. My sandwich was ready to put in the pan. And I had to go on an excursion for some decent mayo. No way was I going to eat that awful reduced fat stuff.
So I scored a new jar of my beloved Best Foods and FINALLY had the right spread for the bread. The sandwich grilled nicely, was a perfect golden and definitely more forgiving of burning than butter. To me, the flavor of the grilled bread was ok.
It was a good enough sandwich, as well it should have been, with all that great stuff in it - crisp bacon, 2 slices of manchego, and sliced tomato. In fact it was darn good. But I'm a butterholic and I'm stickin' with butter. Let's just say, I will never be a candidate for veganhood. But I'm glad I tried "buttering" the grilled cheese sandwich with mayonnaise because I love that, too. And now I have plenty of mayo for artichokes, California style.
So, tidying up the kitchen, another jar of Hellman's mayo was lurking around, this one made with olive oil - an inheritance from a houseguest. Reduced fat. No wonder I didn't like it. I'm tellin' you, ya gotta read the labels.
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.