Gooey, cheesy goodness!

The Great Grilled Cheese Experiment of 2012

A few weeks ago, I wrote about grilled cheese sandwiches. The feedback was impressive; I received more comments on that post than any other. Go figure! And I have to say, you guys inspired me. There were so many creative suggestions for different types of grilled cheese I decided I’d have to give some of them a try. Thus, the Great Grilled Cheese Experiment of 2012 was born.

The truth is, I was itching for an excuse to do something fun like this. Over the years, I’ve taken a scientific approach to figuring out some of the mysteries of daily life. In fact, I sometimes think of myself as the unofficial third MythBuster. Adam, Jamie and Mark. Has a nice ring to it, no? (And yes, I get that there are other people on the show who could already lay claim to that title. Humor me here, okay?). In the past, I have tried to fry an egg on the sidewalk; held a blind ketchup taste test; and grown mold in the back of the refrigerator. That last one was unintentional, but whatever. With such a storied pedigree in my blood, the idea of whipping up a bunch of these sandwiches and seeing which one was best appealed to me. Once I mentioned it to Tara, she was on board, too. So I went to the store to stock up on a variety of different cheeses and breads, and on Monday the two of us prepared four different sandwiches, all taken from comments left on my blog post. The contenders were:

  • Pear and brie on rye, as mentioned by The Edmonton Tourist.
  • Havarti, swiss and brown mustard on wheat, as mentioned by my friend Jonna at Read Between The Whines.
  • Mild cheddar and colby on white bread and dipped in salsa, suggested by Tara’s mom, Tracy.
  • Mozzarella and sharp cheddar on rye, courtesy of a woman who goes by the moniker SoCalGal.

The sandwiches were all quite different from my go-to sharp cheddar on white, and Tara and I were eager to try them all. So, come lunch time, we fired up the Foreman Grill (a wonderful device for preparing grilled cheese – actually, that’s the only thing I ever use it for), and commenced to sampling the four varieties. Surprisingly (or maybe not, since we are so in tune with each other already and are quite the perfect match), she and I not only agreed on the winner, but also the exact order of the four sandwiches sampled.

Clockwise from top left: Jonna's sandwich, The Edmonton Tourist's, Tracy's, and SoCalGal's.

First up was the pear and brie on rye. The cheese was creamy and the sweetness of the pear perfectly contrasted it, as well as provided a nice crunch, giving it some much-needed textural variety. We found the rye to be a bit overpowering, however. Perhaps a different bread would work better?

Next up was the havarti, swiss and brown mustard on wheat. We were both somewhat leery of the mustard, not being fans of anything with the word “poupon” in it, but actually this condiment provided a nice tang, and the dual cheeses melted together perfectly. The sandwich was tasty, though the mustard did, indeed, claim dominance.

Our third sandwich was the mozzarella and sharp cheddar on rye. Again, the cheeses melted together beautifully and I’m already a sucker for sharp cheddar. And again, the rye bread was a little overwhelming.

Last up was Tracy’s mild cheddar and colby on white. A classic combination, made unique with the addition of a side of salsa. We did half cheddar, half colby jack, in order to try both. What can I say? Every bite was delicious.

So, who was the big winner? The plates speak for themselves…

The amount of sandwich left on each plate directly correlates with our enjoyment of each grilled cheese concoction.

Congratulations to Tracy for the winning sandwich! I was somewhat surprised with the result, figuring one of the more exotic combinations would take the prize (really, there is no prize other than bragging rights, to be technical), but wouldn’t you know it, the simple sandwich on white bread appealed to our taste buds the most. I especially enjoyed dipping it in the salsa; this gave it a nice, tangy kick that elevated the sandwich above the others.

Gooey, cheesy goodness!

Tara and I enjoyed the challenge so much, we’re thinking there may be another round in the future. We’ve already received suggestions for other grilled cheese sandwiches that sound good and worthy of sampling. Maybe we can turn this into a Sweet 16-style elimination tournament with one eventual grand prize winner. The things we do in the name of science, kids!

Have you ever had a similar food challenge? What tempts your palate and teases your taste buds most? And, for crying out loud, have you ever tried to fry an egg on the sidewalk and had success?? I’m 0 for 2 there.

My Bologna’s First Name Isn’t Oscar

Yesterday I made myself a bologna sandwich for lunch. Ordinarily this would be no big deal, but I felt weird about the whole thing thanks to Jess Witkins’ confessional about her own bologna sandwich experience last February. Maybe it wasn’t the bologna so much as the fact that she paired it with a glass of Chardonnay, but for some reason she got a lot of flak over that post, so much that she now considers that tiny indiscretion one of her most embarrassing moments of 2011.

Personally, I don’t see what all the fuss was about. Bologna’s good, right? And a decent Chardonnay is plenty tasty. Why not enjoy them together? It’s like a Happy Meal for grownups!

Who cares what's in it - it tastes good! (Courtesy of defglam.com).

And yet, there I was, feeling weird about my own sandwich. Like the reputation of bologna had somehow been sullied. Granted, it’s never been held in very high esteem in the first place. It probably ranks just above hot dogs but slightly below Spam on some fictitious list of Questionable Food Products To Avoid. But you know what? I happen to be quite fond of both hot dogs and Spam, so an occasional bologna sandwich is really no big deal. It doesn’t help that my girlfriend wrinkled her nose when I brought up the topic of bologna during my Christmas/New Year visit. How and why we ever got into a discussion over processed lunchmeat escapes me, but knowing she’s no fan of bologna was also detrimental to my enjoyment of the whole sandwich experience. In retrospect, I was doomed from the start.

It should be noted that I’m very particular when it comes to bologna. Not just any old kind will do. My bologna does not have the first name Oscar; in fact, it is flavored with garlic, sliced paper thin, and imported from Trenton, New Jersey.

I kid you not.

There’s this company called Loeffler’s Gourmet that is based in Trenton, the city both my parents call home. Any time we’d visit, we’d return with a couple of pounds of their bologna, which is unlike any other. I would venture to guess that even people who claim not to enjoy bologna would love Loeffler’s bologna. I haven’t been back east in nearly fifteen years, but my folks still return a couple of times a year, and the tradition of Bringing Back Bologna continues to this day. So yeah, I had some in my freezer. And once I took a bite of that sandwich – on a Kaiser roll, with a slice of American cheese (don’t even get me started on that), and mustard and tomato and pickle – all my initial consternation faded away and I was left with a mouthful of pure processed bliss. And to all the naysayers out there, I may not know which part of the animal my bologna came from – or even which animal, for that matter – but I also don’t care. When something tastes THAT good, it’s hard to give a damn whether a tongue or cheek was involved. Much like Spam, it’s almost a religious experience.

I apologize if this post made you drool.

Yes Or Snow?

For days now, we Portlanders have been teased with the prospect of snow.

Keep in mind, it’s a pretty rare event here. The fact that it’s a novelty excites many of us, and also causes widespread panic and chaos the moment the flakes start falling. Those east coasters who are so skilled in bologna production no doubt chuckle over our reaction to even the threat of a little snow. Snow lover that I am, my eyes have been glued to the sky ever since Saturday night, hoping for a little bit of the fluffy white stuff. And while we’ve had snow showers for three consecutive days now, the temperature has hovered at a maddening 36 or 37 degrees the whole time, making it too warm for anything to stick. I posted on Facebook this morning that the snow reminded me of the Republican presidential field of candidates – just a bunch of big flakes not adding up to anything. And all white, too.

I can be quite the comedian when I try.

Audrey, kicking the soccer ball around in the snow yesterday.

The ironic thing is, I’ve seen more snow in Vancouver, Washington in one hour than I ever saw in Ely. Before my trip to visit Tara, I was excited over the prospect of lots and lots of snow. After all, normally by New Year’s Eve they’re measuring their snowfall in feet instead of inches. When my trip was still a couple of months away I was assured by more than one person that I’d be sick of snow by the time I left. I fretted over a lack of warm-enough winter clothing and even contemplated purchasing long johns in advance. Instead, I was treated to constant sunshine and 50 degrees. Suuurrre it was 20 below zero with 24″ of snow on the ground last December 31, honey.

So, yeah. Hoping to make up for that around here, but even twelve hours before this big storm is supposed to hit we don’t know what’s going to happen in Portland. According to the various local meteorologists we will see either:

  1. Nothing but rain.
  2. A little bit of snow turning to rain by daybreak.
  3. A lot of snow piling up all morning.

Way to nail down the forecast, guys! It’s all dependent on where this low pressure system makes landfall. Just a few miles north or south will make all the difference. The kids are already counting on a snow day tomorrow. Of course, they had the same hope for today, but woke up bitterly disappointed.

If it happens, great. If not, it’s hardly the end of the world. Besides, any snow we do get had better be all gone by Thursday evening, as Tara is flying in for another visit.

Thank god. These fourteen-days-apart-and-counting have been torture.

Again, I kid you not.

Peace out for now – and, think snow!!