The grilled cheese sandwich is a staple around my house — but what about gourmet grilled cheese? Despite my lifelong passion — and my husband can confirm that it is a passion — for toasted bread and melty cheese, the idea of layering other ingredients in the sandwich had never occurred to me… until Alison, from A Girl, Defloured suggested it for Tuesday dinner.
Alison is a recipe developer, fellow sorority sister (yes, another one! Chi Omega has a lot to answer for), and — as you might have guessed from the name of her blog — she has Celiac disease and avoids gluten. She lives in Southern California with her husband and three kids and spends the summer on Cape Cod with her extended family — a big ol’ friendly, rollicking, Irish-American clan that welcomed me on the Fourth of July with a banh mi hot dog bar and a gorgeous pavlova.
Alison is well practiced in the art of juggling and fast meals are her specialty. She says Tuesday is the busiest night of her week.
“After retrieving my three lovely offspring from their various schools, we usually get home by 4pm. Because I go to belly dance class at 6:15 (we’ve got to do fun things for ourselves, right?) and my two sons have soccer practice (at 6:30 and 8:00), dinner must be on the table by five o’clock to give everyone enough time to make it back out of the door dressed in uniform. And it also gives us enough time to digest our food. From experience, doing a belly roll on a full stomach is not a good idea — trust me on that one.
“A five o’clock dinner is very early for us, but I’d rather eat then, and all together, than staggered, standing at the counter, and/or in the car. I guess I’m old fashioned that way.”
How does she get dinner on the table in a hurry? Two words: Be prepared.
“I’ll prep everything I can in the morning, or even the night before. All the chopping, grating, slicing, and even mixing dry ingredients for a baked good can be done well in advance.”
Instead of starchy side dishes, she serves up lots of vegetables, fruits and lean meats.
“Chicken breasts pounded thin and marinated in lemon juice, olive oil and thyme in the morning and can be grilled in just a few minutes per side in the evening. When served with a side of wilted spinach and sliced tomatoes, dinner can be on the table in less than 10 minutes.
“Stir fries are another favorite — again, dinner can be on the table in 20 minutes if you have all the vegetables and meats prepped the night before or first thing in the morning.
“Other times we’ll make a fried egg sandwich or frittata, BLTs, tuna melts, or (the dreaded) leftovers. Often when I roast a chicken or grill steaks I make enough for two meals — it’s hard to resist leftovers when they are refashioned into chicken enchiladas or steak tacos.”
When she really needs a break, she declares Appetizer Night (which sounds awesome).
“I usually have a small cache of ready-made appetizers in the freezer. The kids love it because it usually means eating dinner in front of the TV to watch a game, or movie… and it’s a rare occurrence.”
But enough about the other meals of the week. Let’s talk grilled cheese.
“When I learned a few years back that Los Angeles restaurant, Campanile, was serving gourmet grilled cheeses once a week (and that people were going crazy for it) I knew this was something that I wanted to try at home. It’s a brilliant idea, really, as it elevates the ordinary into the extraordinary. We have many different kinds of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner, but this recipe is one of my favorites.”
Gourmet Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Fig jam, goat brie, smoked ham and arugula
From A Girl, Defloured
Note: I loved the super-melty brie and touch of jam in Alison’s savory-sweet grilled sandwich. I used American brie and sour cherry preserves instead of fig jam (because my usually omnivorous husband hates figs). I usually grill with butter but using olive oil made sense given the creamy cheese — and it helped cut back on the saturated fat guilt.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Ready in: 10 minutes
Yield: 2 sandwiches
2 slices of red onion, separated into rounds
4 slices of (preferably artisanal) bread (Alison uses gluten free)
1/4 cup fig jam
4 ounces of goat milk brie (or brie from cow milk is fine too), cut into ¼ inch slices
2 slices of Applewood smoked ham
1 cup of wild arugula
Olive oil for brushing
Heat a panini press or skillet over medium heat. Spread the fig jam on one side of each slice of bread. Top two slices of bread evenly with the cheese slices and ham. Divide the onions evenly over the remaining two slices of bread and top with arugula.
Close the sandwiches, brush the outsides lightly with olive oil, and grill in the panini press for 2-3 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the outside of the sandwich is golden brown. If you are cooking the sandwiches in a skillet or griddle, cook for 2-3 minutes per side. Slice into halves or quarters and serve immediately. With wine, natch, says Alison.
(Top four photos courtesy of Alison at A Girl, Defloured.)
More Tuesday dinner
Chocolate idiot cake from David Lebovitz
Crispy vegetarian tacos from The Misanthropic Hostess
Punchy penne with tomatoes and feta from Chez Loulou