Grilled Cheese Comfort

Chances are if you ask a dozen people what their favorite comfort food is you might get 12 different answers. I know my answer could be different, depending on my tastes on that particular day.

But one that surely rates high on my list is the grilled cheese sandwich. Some of my fondest childhood memories are those cold winter days when my mom would serve up grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch. Of course, the sandwiches made perfect dunking fare for a hot bowl of soup.

There are probably as many variations of the tasty sandwich as there are varieties of cheese. I discovered another today while watching Claire Robinson’s “Five Ingredient Fix”  on the Food Network. One of the recipes Robinson featured was for Grilled Pimento Cheese Sandwich. She did something that I’d never seen before. Both sides of her sandwiches were slathered with mayonnaise before they were grilled.

That was news too me, but apparently, not so much for everyone else. My friend, Bob Sullivan, who enjoys talking food with me while we exercise, said he and his wife, Shirley, always coat their grilled cheese sandwiches with mayo. I’ve coated grilled salmon with mayo to keep the fish from drying out but never have done so with grilled cheese. But it’s something that I’ll likely give a try.

Here’s the recipe, along with several others. Take you pick. You may have a new favorite when all is said and done.

Grilled Pimento Cheese Sandwich
1½ cups shredded best-quality sharp Cheddar
½ cup real mayonnaise, plus more for grilling
1 4-ounce jar chopped pimentos, drained
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
12 slices brioche bread, lightly toasted
Pulse the cheese, mayo, pimentos and cayenne in the food processor until just combined. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill for at least 3 hours.
Spread some additional mayo on 1 side of each slice of toasted bread. Arrange 6 slices, mayo-side down, on a clean work surface. Place 2 heaping tablespoons pimento cheese evenly on the 6 slices of bread and top with the remaining 6 slices of bread, mayo-side facing up.
In a large nonstick skillet over moderate heat, cook 3 sandwiches until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is starting to melt, about 3 minutes. Turn the sandwiches over and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes more. Wipe the pan clean and repeat with the remaining 3 sandwiches.
Yield: Serves 6.
What To Toss In: If you like your pimento really spicy, you can always add some chipotle in adobe sauce to give it a smoky flavor. This also can be used as an entertaining dip. Just arrange some baby carrots and cut up some celery sticks around the cheese.

The Blue Tomato
1 cup (about 4 ounces) Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
½ stick butter, room temperature (divided)
8 slices crusty seeded Italian bread (or other hearty bread such as sourdough)
2 large ripe tomatoes (about 12 ounces) cut into 8 slices
½ large bunch of basil, leaves only
In small bowl, place cheese and 2 tablespoons butter. Mix well. Butter one side of bread slices with remaining butter. Place 4 bread slices on work surface, buttered side down. Divide cheese mixture evenly over bread slices. Top with tomato and basil. Top with other 4 slices of bread, buttered side up.
Heat nonstick skillet over medium heat 2 minutes. Place sandwiches in skillet (in batches if necessary), cover and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until undersides are golden brown and cheese has begun to soften. Uncover and turn sandwiches with spatula, pressing firmly. Cook 2 to 3 minutes longer, or until bread is golden brown and cheese is softened and heated through. Turn once more and cook 30 seconds. Remove from skillet and let cool 3 to 5 minutes. Cut in half and serve.
Yield: 4 sandwiches.

The Caribbean Grill
½ mango, cut into ¼-inch dice
2 tablespoons red onion, diced)
¼ red bell pepper, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Pinch of sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon curry powder
8 slices fresh Italian bread
8 slices (1 ounce each) Swiss cheese
¼ cup honey mustard
In small bowl, prepare salsa: mix together mango, red onion, bell pepper, lime juice, sugar, salt and pepper. Set aside. (This can be made one day ahead and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before using.) Makes about 1 ½ cups.
In small bowl, mix butter and curry. Spread 2 tablespoons butter mixture on one side of each slice of bread. Place 4 slices of bread on your work surface, buttered side down. Spread mustard on bread. Place about 2 tablespoons mango salsa on bread, followed by the cheese. (You may need to fold cheese slices to fit bread.) Place remaining 4 bread slices on top, buttered side up.
Add remaining curry butter to nonstick skillet and heat over medium heat 2 minutes. Put sandwiches in skillet (in batches if necessary), cover and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until undersides are golden brown and cheese has begun to melt. Uncover and turn sandwiches with spatula, pressing very firmly. Cook 2 to 3 minutes longer, or until bread is golden brown and cheese has melted. Turn once more, press with spatula and cook 30 seconds. Remove from pan and let cool 3 to 5 minutes. Cut diagonally and serve with extra salsa on the side.
Yield: 4 sandwiches.

Smoky Southwestern Grill
2 pasilla or Anaheim chilies (or use canned chilies)
8 slices bacon, coarsely chopped
4 ciabatta rolls, cut in half (or 1 loaf ciabatta cut into 3-inch-wide sections, or use any type Italian bread)
2 tablespoons olive oil
12 ounces mozzarella, coarsely grated (if watery, drain slightly and cut into thin slices rather than grate it)
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled or pinched into pea-size pieces
4 large slices tomato, ¼-inch thick
Roast peppers by preheating broiler, or turning on one burner of gas stove. Place chilies under the broiler, or hold one chili with tongs over gas burner flame. Cook, turning frequently, until skin is charred all over. Repeat with remaining chili.
Place chilies in resealable plastic bag and set aside 20 minutes. Using small sharp knife, scrape off charred skin, cut off stems, then cut chilies into ½-inch-wide strips. Set aside.
Meanwhile, in large nonstick skillet, cook bacon over medium-high heat until crispy. Drain on paper towels. Wipe skillet with a paper towel, but do not wash it.
To assemble, pull out some of the center of each roll to create a well. Brush the outside of each roll with the oil. Place bottom 4 pieces on work surface, oiled side down. Distribute mozzarella evenly over these pieces, followed by bacon, chilies, tomatoes and goat cheese. Place remaining 4 pieces of rolls on top, oiled side up.
Using same skillet as before, heat skillet over medium heat 2 minutes. Place sandwiches in skillet (in batches if necessary) and press firmly with spatula to flatten them slightly. Cover and cook 3 to 4 minutes, or until undersides are golden brown in places and mozzarella has begun to melt. Uncover, and turn sandwiches with spatula, pressing very firmly. Cover and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until undersides are golden brown in places (the shape of the roll prevents uniform browning). Turn sandwiches again, press with spatula, and cook 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until mozzarella has melted completely.
Yield: 4 sandwiches.

Two-Cheese Mediterranean
2 ounces feta cheese
½ cup pitted kalamata olives, rinsed and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon capers, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
8 slices sourdough bread (¼-inch thick)
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, coarsely grated (or use Emmentaler or Monterey jack)
4 whole roasted red peppers (from a jar), drained and cut in half
½ cup baby spinach leaves
In small bowl, mix together feta, olives, capers, lemon peel and pepper to taste. Set aside.
To assemble, butter one side of each slice of bread. Place 4 slices on work surface, buttered side down. Spread feta mixture evenly over 4 slices. Press Gruyere into feta mixture and top each slice with 2 pepper halves and spinach. Press again to compress filling. Place remaining 4 bread slices on top, buttered side up.
Heat large nonstick skillet over medium heat 2 minutes. Place sandwiches in skillet (in batches if necessary), cover and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until undersides are golden brown and cheese has begun to melt. Uncover, and turn sandwiches with spatula, pressing very firmly to flatten slightly. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until undersides are golden brown and spinach has wilted. Turn sandwiches again, press with spatula, and cook 30 seconds, or until Gruyere has melted completely.
Yield: 4 sandwiches.

Grilled Tomato, Basil and Goat Cheese Sandwiches
1 French-bread baguette (16 ounces)
2/3 cup olive oil
8 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped mixed fresh herbs (such as tarragon, thyme, and rosemary)
¾ cup soft fresh goat cheese (plain, peppered, or herbed)
4 large plum tomatoes, thinly sliced into rounds
2 cups coarsely chopped pitted Mediterranean olives
Prepare grill (medium heat). Cut baguette crosswise in half. Cut each half lengthwise in half to form 4 pieces total.
In small bowl, combine oil, garlic and herbs. Brush all cut sides of bread with half of oil mixture.
Grill bread, cut sides down, until lightly toasted, about 1 minute. Remove from grill. Quickly spread cut sides of toast with goat cheese. Top with tomatoes and olives, dividing equally. Drizzle remaining oil mixture on top.
Return open-face sandwiches to grill. Cook until bottom sides are toasted, cheese melts, and tomatoes begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Cut each sandwich diagonally in half and serve.
Yield: Makes 4 sandwiches.

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