April: National Grilled Cheese Month

April 12, 2011 – A day that will live in infamy.  The day I was too busy traveling to a work conference and missed National Grilled Cheese Day.

Some of you might think I sound melodramatic or even a little ridiculous.  I’m going to have to assume you think the same thing about vets on Veteran’s Day, mothers on Mothers Day, or secretaries on Administrative Professionals Day.  Obviously you don’t care about what really matters.

So back to the fact it’s April and National Grilled Cheese Month.  A lot has happened since the first man ever took some bread and cheese, then grilled it.  I wish we knew who this first man was so we could honor him with a medal.  Or was it a woman?  Now that I think about it, probably was a woman.  Mothers are so great about fixing amazing food for their children.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the standard white bread and American cheese sandwich.  It’s basic and classic, but I’d like to challenge you to try something different this month.  Live a little and see what you can create.  There are a few basic elements to a grilled cheese sandwich we should go over first.

1. Bread

Bread is the first of two main ingredients.  Plain, standard white bread is ok, but there are many other choices out there.  This also plays a factor in cooking time.  I prefer larger slices of bread which always results in a larger sandwich.  Nothing wrong with that.  You might also check out some high fiber, whole grain, whole wheat, rye, artisan, etc.

2. Cheese

Just as with plain white bread, there is the standard processed American cheese.  Processed cheese melts well and comes in handy pre-made slices, but what about cheddar, provalone, muenster, mozzarella, monterey jack, havarti, bleu, brick, asiago, parmesan, gouda, and anything else you can find?  I enjoy mixing and combining cheeses.  Feel free to experiment with two or three.  Some even cook shredded cheese into the outside of the bread for a nice crust.

3. Extras

Here’s where you can get fancy by adding sauces, vegetables, fruits, and meats.  Some add tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, apples, salami, ham, pickles, mustards – anything that tastes good.  You might find yourself treading into the territory of other pre-defined sandwiches and that’s ok because we all know from Geometry class that a square is really a special type of rectangle.

4. Cooking

Here’s the part where you finalize your creation by melting that cheese.  I used to use an electric skillet.  I enjoyed this because I knew exactly what the temperature was.  I figured out how long and at what temperature I needed to cook each grilled cheese based on how dense the bread was and what kind of cheese I was cooking.  Denser breads require more heat to melt the cheese.  Denser cheeses take longer to heat.  What I’m really trying to say is if your heat is too high, you’ll burn the bread and not melt the cheese, and while some like food burned, this would not be the preferred outcome.

If you use an electric stove or a gas stove, you should also experiment to see what works best.  Gas stoves have immediate heat while electric stoves take time to get hot.  An easy mistake to make is to turn on an electric stove too high, and then once side 1 is cooked, side 2 is burned as the heat continues to rise.  An easy way to avoid this mistake is to let your pan pre-heat, just like you’d do for something cooked in the oven, so your heat is more stable before making your sandwich.  And last but not least, don’t forget the butter.  Generously apply it to the outer sides of your bread to help protect it from burning.  One last tip is to match your bread slices the same way you took them out of the bag.  This will help to ensure a better cheese seal and you shouldn’t lose much oozing out into the pan.

So that’s all I have for now.  How do you cook your grilled cheese?  What do you put in it?  What bread do you use?  Do you add any extras?  Please share.  It’s National Grilled Cheese month and no one likes a humbug.