Gourmet Grilled Cheese Night

Here in L.A., there are restaurants that do a gourmet grilled cheese night. It’s a nice idea: you get to go to a fancy restaurant (like Campanile, for example) and spend far less money than you’d normally spend there for dinner. Only, I find it hard to justify spending ANY money on grilled cheese. It’s the kind of thing anyone can make at home (in fact, this may be the one dish that Craig–who doesn’t cook at all–is better at cooking than I am). Last night I decided that I’d do our own Gourmet Grilled Cheese Night to prove that you don’t have to be a fancy restaurant to spend your night frying bread in butter and waiting for the cheese to melt.

The first thing you need for a Gourmet Grilled Cheese Night is good bread. I bought a loaf of sliced La Brea Bakery sourdough:


(Appropriate since Campanile is attached to the La Brea Bakery.)

The next thing you need is butter. Take a stick of butter out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. You’re going to be using a lot of it.

Finally, you need cheese. The first cheese that I decided to put to work on Gourmet Grilled Cheese night was an extra sharp, white Tillamook cheddar which I grated on the widest holes of a cheese grater:


Sure, Tillamook is not by any means a gourmet cheese but Gourmet Grilled Cheese Night doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune on cheese. What makes the grilled cheese “gourmet” is the other stuff you add to it. Case in point: deeply caramelized onions…


To get them that dark, melt 2 or 3 tablespoons of butter in a skillet and slice a yellow onion thinly. When the butter’s hot (on medium/high heat) add the onions and a big pinch of salt. Toss them all around and cook until they start to brown and then lower the heat. Continue to cook, stirring every so often, until they’re almost a bronze color and intensely sweet. (That takes a good 20 to 30 minutes, as it would for a French onion soup. It’s worth it.)

Now the other thing that I’ve learned about grilled cheese is that, to make it extra decadent, you butter the inside of the bread too. So butter the insides of the bread, pile on the onions and then pile on the cheese and the other extra special ingredient: pickled jalapenos.


Squish the sandwiches together, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of butter to a big frying pan and melt it on high heat. When the butter just starts to brown, add the sandwiches:


Move the bread over the butter so that it soaks it all up (you don’t want the butter to burn), lower the heat a little and fry until the bread on the bottom gets super toasty. Then flip:


Actually, I had some issues here: the sandwich on the right cooked perfectly. The one on the left had an incident involving cheese squishing out, creating a cheese puddle that blocked the bread from getting toasted. The cheese started burning. That sandwich fell apart. But once I removed the other grilled cheese (when the cheese had melted and the other side was toasted) I was able to move the sandwich over and salvage it. Here are the finished grilled cheeses on a cutting board:


Again, the one on the right fared much better. But that grilled cheese combination–the sweet onions, the sharp cheddar and the spicy pickled jalapenos–was totally killer. It was my favorite grilled cheese of the night (and it’s the one you see featured at the top of this post).

The other grilled cheese that I made on this night of grilled cheeses was one that I slightly pilfered from the Campanile grilled cheese menu: blue cheese, apple and honey.

I bought a high-quality blue at Gelson’s:


And prepped the sandwich in a similar way: slathering the insides of the bread with butter, adding big chunks of the cheese and pieces of a thinly sliced Granny Smith apple.


I also drizzled on good honey (from the farmer’s market) before squishing the sandwiches up. Then I decided to get out two smaller frying pans to prevent the incident from earlier (this is why later, Craig–who did the dishes–yelled out: “WHY DID YOU USE FOUR FRYING PANS?” as he faced my kitchen disaster zone. (The fourth was from the onions.))

I also preheated the oven to 350 so I could finish melting the cheese in the oven, thinking this blue was a bit harder to melt than the cheddar.

So in each mini-frying pan I placed a knob of butter, cranked up the heat and added the sandwiches:


When they were toasty on one side, I flipped them over:


And then I placed them in the oven to finish cooking. Here it is, the other gourmet grilled cheese of the night:


This was good stuff: the intense funkiness of the blue was a great contrast to the tartness of the apple and the sweetness of the honey. I’m not sure the oven step was necessary; in fact, I think the oven’s heat almost caused the cheese to break down too much. Just get it good and melted in the pan (you can always cover it with a lid) and your grilled cheese is good to go.

And that’s the way to bring a hip, L.A. restaurant fad into your home kitchen. Get out your frying pans, your spatulas, and your butter. Gourmet Grilled Cheese night is ready to rock your world. (And if you have any Gourmet Grilled Cheese recipes or ideas, share ’em in the comments.)

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