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gourmet grilled cheeses

Posted by aleta under the comfort foodie

Grilled cheese. Mmmmm. Nothing quite like it on a rainy Sunday afternoon beside a bowl of hot soup. Or a night when mom doesn’t feel like really cooking. Crispy, gooey, warm, always fresh, eternally comforting, grilled cheeses are truly an amazing thing.

But what if I told you it could BETTER?! Yes, you heard it, better than you remember. This was Dano’s claim upon our first rainy Sunday together, and I’m all like “psh, yeah right, dude.” But he was right. The secret?

Put a little . . . spice on it, rowr!

Spices. This is my traditional grilled cheese spice mix: salt, pepper, paprika, oregano, basil and just a smidge of cayenne pepper. And what’s more, the spices add enough savour that you can make this with just a teaspoon of margarine (for the whole thing) . . .

This is what 1 tsp of margarine looks like.

. . . some light bread . . .

A life saver.

. . . and fat free cheese singles. I have a feeling a few people are going to call for my foodie resignation, but those people have not had these sammiches! You don’t have to make this light; my first experience was with thick-cut cheddar, a meaty and flavourful whole-grain bread and lots of butter. It was certainly delightful. Make your grilled cheese your favourite way, but the spices are key.

Now, there is a method to the spices. All your leafy spices go on one slice, and all your powdery ones on the other.

Flakes on one, powders on the other.

Take your knife and pretend you’re spreading more butter/margarine on there to smear all the spices in real good-like. Check out your fridge for any miscellaneous vegetables you might like on there and chop them up pretty finely. This will prevent you from burning your lips on a length of onion that drew out some damn hot cheese with it. I always use onions, tomatoes, fresh basil if I have it, and just a single slice of ham. Be generous, you’re making a sammich here!

Onion VERSUS Tomato.

And then you construct your perfect grilled cheese on medium-hot. I think the picture says it all.


Btw, that black stuff on there is actually purple basil. I like to let my cheese cook veerrryyy slooowwwwlllyyy. You don’t have to do that. I think I just like watching it.


Now no squishing with your spatula, okay? Flip!


And once it’s all melty like that, you are ready to eat! Serve as one does grilled cheese.

I like to try all kinds of different mixes of things depending on what I’m eating for bread at the time and what I’m in the mood for. So with sandwich-sliced raisin bread I’ll use sage, basil, cinnamon, chili powder. With a wheat bread maybe I’ll try mace instead of cayenne. You see? Whatever you like in food, you’ll probably like on your grilled cheese. Except garlic powder, that has never quite worked out for me!

Omnom and cheese.

Grilled cheeses. Totally omonom.

Dano’s Gourmet Grilled Cheeses
highly adaptable to your liking

2 slices bread of your choice
Margarine or butter to your liking
2 slices cheese of your choice
Sliced onions, tomatoes, avocado, basil, cilantro, parsley, green/red peppers, ham, turkey, or whatever else tasty and sammich-able is in your fridge
Spices! (again, I use a generous pinch each of basil, oregano, paprika, salt & pepper, and then a tiny little amount of cayenne pepper) Also works well is chili powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, pre-made spice mixes, Tony Chachere’s, whatever’s in your spice rack.

Sprinkle your leafy spices on one slice of buttered bread, and your powdery spices on the other. Smear both sides good with your knife, just don’t get too overzealous and tear the bread.

Craft your grilled cheese over medium to medium-high heat, stacking one ingredient at a time onto the pan. Heat up some soup, keep an eye on the cheese, and enjoy when it’s all ready.

It’s getting chilly, isn’t it, friends? Time to bust out the belly-warming goodness of winter veggies and heavier fare.

This is yet another recipe belonging to the Family Cookbook. My Memere Rita INSISTS that she has the best beef stew recipe. Once my father made the mistake of mentioning “well, Doris [my mother] has a pretty good recipe herself,” my memere was in complete disbelief. No no, her soup was clearly the best, and none would compare.

I’m not sure how long ago this battle raged, but when my mother requested recipes of the Mater Familias, this one was sent, no doubt to prove a point. Now I love my mother dearly, and her beef stew is excellent, so I was a little defensive about the whole situation and didn’t want to like this stew. It contains veggies I’d never used before, but I went outside my comfort zone and, ironically, ended up with a new comfort food.

The broth is sweet owing to these mysterious turnips and parsnips, standard fare in many households, but not the one in which I grew up. I thought the recipe could use a bit more colour, so I threw in some celery. And oh my, if you serve this to a friend with some Tuscan bread, you may very well earn a friend for life.

Here we go! Don’t tell Memere I let the veggies get that close to the meat before it was cooked okay? Thanks dude, I appreciate that.


Now we do the choppy chop.

Chop chop.

First step is to sear the beef. Memere wisely used the oil and butter method, in which you use two tablespoons of each. I try to keep my recipes lower cal wherever possible, but I am a meat LOVER and searing your meat on high in oil and butter is hands-down the best way to do it. For stew, it is no different.

Where's the beef?

At this point, I sauteed the onions and almost broke down and just dug in the way it is. Because there is no more amazing combination in my world than steak and onions.

Onions first.

Now we’re gonna start with our other veggies. Each is added one at a time in league with a cup or two of water. At first I was a little frustrated at the vagueness of this. “One to two cups?! Memere, just tell me how many cups already!” I think the idea is to make sure that all your veggies are at least partly in the water with each addition. Oh, and every time you add something, let it return to a boil before adding the next.


Next carrots.


Now celery.


And turnips.


And parsnips.

And potatoes!

And finally, potatoes.

Now you let this bad larry simmer for a little while and you end up with this little number here.

Warm your bones.

Wrap yourself in a blanket on the couch and enjoy!

Memere Rita’s “Back to My Roots” Beef Stew

2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp butter
1.5 lbs sirloin beef, lean cut, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 yellow onion, chopped
4-5 carrots, peeled & sliced
4 ribs celery, sliced (editor’s addition, optional)
1 purple tap turnip, peeled & diced (I googled this term, and I think she means the small turnip. I could only find a large, so I used half of it)
4-5 parsnips, peeled & sliced
4-5 potatoes, peeled & diced

Let oil and butter get HOT on the stove, then sear beef for about two minutes. Reduce heat, add chopped onion and sautee to caramelize.

Now add each vegetable in turn with 1-2 cups hot water (just enough to cover most of the vegetables). After each addition, allow the pot to return to a boil:


After the potatoes, give it a good stir. I wouldn’t recommend stirring it again after it’s simmered, or your veggies will kind of fall apart in a mushy mess. Let simmer, uncovered, 30-50 minutes. Season to taste (and salt is an excellent idea here).

Serves 8 exhausted, growing farm boys. Reheats well.


roasted squash soup

Posted by aleta under for veggie-heads

Excited about winter squash, I wanted to make a pumpkin soup. I couldn’t find any recipes, so I tried to adapt a mishmash of recipes online for butternut squash soup. So uh, here’s a little documentation of the process.

I started off with more ingredients than I ended with.


I mean, look how beautiful!

The beauty of butternut.

The pumpkin gave me a hard time, and was much more difficult to make photogenic. The guts, however, are just so darn pretty.


I then prepared these to roast for an hour.

I love cobalt.

Post-roast, we make a squash smoothie that looks here suspiciously like a mango smoothie of some kind.

Mango smoothie?

I couldn’t get a good shot of both brands of soup, but I promise, they look the same and the butternut was way better. It didn’t even need the maple syrup I thought might give a nice layer of flavour.


In addition to being a bit time-consuming, this recipe will also leave your kitchen a total mess. But Dano ate it until he couldn’t any more and ranted and raved and, I assure you, has no problems being harsh when he doesn’t like something. So maybe it’s just not for everyone? It is super healthy and flavourful and I don’t think there’s any fat in this. So there are certainly redeeming qualities here!

The mess.

Here’s the recipe I ended up with after all my experimentation. Thanks, Epicurious!