It starts small. You have a singular craving, something which is supposedly simple and easy to achieve – the creation of a grilled cheese sandwich. And yes, I realize that at first this seems like a simple thing, but it turns out it’s about the effort to fulfill a desire that is purportedly easy within our culture.
For some reason today I found myself craving a grilled cheese sandwich. This is not particularly odd as I personally adore cheese and, during my vegetarian phase, often resorted to it as a staple. Crunchy butter-toasted bread, awesome cheesy goodness within – forget hamburgers, this is the food that I really wanted.
And occasionally I find myself needing to fill that “Grilled Cheese Void” even now.
Trivial, you say. Go buy a loaf of bread and a hunk of cheese, fry the sucker up and you’re done…
Except it’s *me* who’s making it.
So, having decided I wanted that particular sandwich, with appropriate accompaniments, I was forced to set off on a mission.
It started with the Soup…
A grilled cheese sandwich is nothing without an appropriate accompaniment that provides dip-able goodness, so I needed to fabricate a soup. Since this was the part that would take the longest I tackled it first. Into a deep pot went onions, celery and carrots, a fine base to build flavor on. After the veg had colored I tossed in some stock that I’d previously frozen – and a soup was born. It was a bit weak, so into that brew went a load of spices and a few bits of random dried pasta that were lying about. A hit from my stick blender brought it moderately together. I had proto-soup, but it wasn’t quite there yet.
Meanwhile, I needed to deal with the bread. I don’t buy bread – I make it. So, into my stand mixer bowl went a cup of flour and a tablespoon of yeast, followed by a cup-and-a-half of hot water. An hour later I has a fabulously fragrant sponge to which I added another two cups of flour and teaspoon of kosher salt. On to the stand mixer, which thanks to a dough-hook blended the mass into a cohesive whole. Another ten minutes of old-fashioned-hand kneading and I had the beginnings of the loaf I needed.
The soup had cooled, so I moved it to my refrigerator for the next hour or so, wanting it to be thoroughly chilled. The stick blender had done a good job, but not good enough. This was going to need a serious mulching from my traditional blender. I gave it that, and then some. A pinch more salt. Some generic curry powder. A bit of hot sauce. Suddenly the soup had a WOW quality – not great as a standalone product, but just perfect as the accompaniment for my nascent sandwich.
Before we go on let’s clarify. I wanted a simple sandwich with a tasty side – thus far I had built a soup and created proofing dough. Another hour passed. The dough wasn’t rising aggressively (not surprising given that the weather out here has shifted to cold and wet – yeast doesn’t like this atmosphere). I shifted gears and went to work on the grilled cheese filling. In my fridge was a hunk of aged cheddar, some “at the end of its’ life” mozzarella, and various bits. I did *not* start with the cheese. Instead, I decided the base of the filling needed to be a tomato concassaee. That’s the tomato flesh stripped of its skin, emptied of the internals, diced into small bits. So I proceeded to blanch the globes, denude them, and chop.
Now I moved onto the cheese. A little block of cheddar met my box grater defiantly, but fell easily. A similar chunk of real (not processed) mozzarella followed (it fought me desperately but was ultimately shredded). This filling still lacked punch. Ah! Kalamata olives were hiding at the back of the fridge. A dozen, chopped within an inch of their lives, provided both salt and sharpness to the filling. A few grinds of pepper and I had my core.
Meanwhile, the bread dough rose, and I was reduced to a waiting game. An hour passed and I knocked out the dough and transferred it to a loaf pan. Another hour passed, and then two. Finally, the mass had risen sufficiently to warrant baking. Into the oven it went. Five hundred degrees to start with, immediately reduced to four-twenty-five. Forty minutes to bake, and nothing I could do to speed the process.
Later. Bread. Done. Cooling on one of my baker’s racks. A pause. Thirty minutes for the loaf to set.
And now the finale. The loaf cooled, my serrated knife tore through it. I slathered one interior side with Dijon mustard, the other with roasted garlic puree I had stashed in the fridge. Between them I slathered the mix of cheese, olives and tomato. I pressed the slices together passionately. On the outer sides I applied a liberal coating of butter while I heated a non-stick pan to *incendiary*.
With the pan at maximum heat, I slipped the sandwich into it. The roar of the sizzle filled the air. The nutty smell of browning butter was everywhere. It took less than a minute for one side of the nascent sandwich to brown to perfection.
The pan roared as the second side hit the glowing cooking surface. Seconds passed, each one tortured by the fear that I was letting the bread remain on the grill too long, that the resulting creation might become burned. But I held out, trusting my instincts, believing in my ability to judge the done-ness without seeing it directly.
And I was rewarded.
A perfect, crisp exterior gave way to an oozing interior, each bite a complex song of crunch, tomato, cheese and olive. The ultimate grilled cheese sandwich. And when dipped in the warm soup…
I had achieved my goal.
And so it took me seven hours to cook a grilled cheese sandwich… Something which most folks take for granted as a “quick and easy meal”. The lesson here? Truly good food takes time. There is no substitute. What most people consider good is really just a mediocre approximation.
You may want to argue this point, but I’m not going to participate. See, I’m the one eating this awesome sandwich, with the astounding accompanying soup, and a casually created wasabi mayonnaise that gives the plate an added punch. I just *do not care* if you believe you’ve got a justifiable contrary position because this is a spectacular grilled cheese sandwich that makes me happy.
The only regret I have is that you’re missing out on it.
That’s my literary two cents worth on the meal I just had. Your mileage will vary.
Me? It’s been awesome.