Yes, it was as naughty as it sounds.
I’m sure the Monday Night Gamers would be happy with a steady stream of hearty, simple dishes. They’re an appreciative audience, not placing any great demands on what gets served—but since they’re so appreciative, we always want to provide something interesting.
I’m not sure how I got on the idea of grilled cheese, but it had been brewing for quite some time. I was thinking some kind of variation on a theme of classic grilled cheese and tomato soup, although tomato was out because one of the gang has a dislike of strongly-tomato things. The Rocket Scientist and I brainstormed over breakfast one morning just before Christmas and came up with a plan. At first, we were going to try three different sandwiches on three different breads, but decided that a single bread (we chose the large, round country loaves and cut the slices off the biggest part of the middle of the bread) would make things a little simpler.
The bookends on the grilled cheese were chopped salad (iceberg lettuce, jicama, tomato, black beans, corn, and onions in a ranch dressing) and a simple cream of broccoli soup (chicken stock, onions, broccoli, half-and-half, and a stick blender). The feature was the three sandwiches: gorgonzola and port-poached pear; chevre and roasted red peppers; smoked gouda and grilled red onions. Since there were six of us, we made two of each sandwich, cut them in thirds, and served them on a plate with the soup bowl. Our original plan was three of each sandwich and cut them in half, but the bread slices were far too large and no one would have finished three half sandwiches.
GORGONZOLA and PORT-POACHED PEAR
7 oz gorgonzola
1 large pear
¾ cup Port
We peeled the pear and cut it into thin slices, which we laid into the Port, which was gently simmering. We let them cook through about 10 minutes until the slices were tender and just starting to turn the color of the port.
Worried about how the gorgonzola might both spread and melt, we thought that freezing it (so it was less gooey) and then shredding it would worth the effort. We cut the wedge into pieces that would fit into the hopper of the food processor, then ran them through with the shredding blade. I’d call it only a moderate success in that I think we would have achieved the same result from letting the cheese come to room temperature and then spreading it on the bread. Nonetheless, it still worked well enough. We easily put the cheese on the bread, laid the pears on top, and grilled.
Gorgonzola and pear is already a well-known combination, and the Port added a kind of sweetness to the whole thing that worked extremely well. The buttery flavor left in the bread was an excellent contrast to the sharp nature of the cheese.
CHEVRE and ROASTED RED PEPPERS
8 oz chevre
1 1/2 roasted red peppers
We tried the same thing with the chevre that we did with the gorgonzola, with basically the same results. Chevre is often a mess to work with, and we had hoped that freezing it would make it less awkward. It seems like putting it in a bowl to soften and then spreading it would have turned out better.
The measurement on the peppers is inexact because we used some peppers that we had picked, roasted, and jarred ourselves. I just dipped into the jar and pulled out what I needed to make a single layer on each sandwich.
This one was extremely tasty, but it’s hard to go wrong with the ingredients. As we were eating them, we lamented our lack of foresight in putting some pine nuts on this one. I also think that a little arugula might have been kind of interesting.
SMOKED GOUDA and SAUTEED RED ONION
14 oz smoked gouda
½ medium red onion
We hand-shredded the gouda, then later realized I could have run it through the food processor. Being relatively dense, I was worried that the cheese wouldn’t melt if simply sliced. I used slightly too much cheese (if there can be such a thing!), and the sandwiches were slightly over-stuffed. I would cut back to 11 or 12 ounces in the future.
We sliced the onions mandolin-thin and sauteed them in olive oil until they were just starting to get crispy, then put them on top of the shredded gouda right before grilling, hoping that the heat off of them would aid in melting the gouda. It helped a little, but not as much as I had hoped. For future grilled cheese, I’m going to take a page out of the books of the chefs who put the sandwiches, open-faced, under the broiler for a bit before finishing them on the griddle-top.
By a 4-2 vote, this was the winner over the chevre, but everyone enjoyed all three. What pushed this one over the top was the smokiness of the gouda and the crispy onions combined to provide a bacon-like flavor to the whole thing—of course leading to the suggestion that we just add bacon next time. While we learned quite a few things (both what to do and what not to do), the effort was definitely a success.
Grilled cheese seems like a platform that lends itself to many possibilities. It’s one we’re going to continue to experiment with, hopefully leading to new and exciting discoveries.