Thursday, April 24, 2014

Grilled Brie, Raspberries and Chocolate Chips

It’s the week after Easter and I still have a hankering for chocolate.

This year's haul from the Easter Bunny. 
 Chocolate kisses, Kinder-Surprises, chocolate cupcakes - this was a chocolate-filled weekend! I’m usually more of  a salty than sweet snacker but I do love a chunk of  chocolate bunny with a tall, cold glass of milk. 

 I’m not quite ready to put it away yet, so I consulted the  Internet orbs and found a way have my chocolate and eat  it too – in a whole new kind of grilled cheese sandwich,  combined  with some silky, creamy brie and sweet  raspberry jam.

 Chocolate and Grilled Cheese?!

 The only thing crazier than the idea of this sandwich would  be not to try it.

 So try it I did.  A delicate balance between the sweet  chocolate and creamy cheese needs to be struck in order  to make this sandwich work and it took me two tries to get  it right. I is rough when I have to eat this sandwich twice. Sigh.

I had never made such a sweet sandwich before and I went big with my first attempt. Very big and very, very sweet. It was basically a chocolate fondue sandwich, and that may not be an issue for you, but for this sandwich to really shine, the brie deserves equal time in the spotlight. I toned it down for Version 2 and the result was nothing short of grilled cheese and chocolate miracle.

It's hard to go wrong with good brie.
You will need: 

Sourdough or rye bread
Triple Crème Brie, sliced thickly
Raspberry Jam
Chipits’ Baking Chocolate, broken into pieces or Milk Chocolate Chips (or you could sacrifice bits of your Chocolate Bunny to this delicious cause)
Butter (2-3 Tbsp)

How to:

1-Spread one slice of bread with a thick layer of raspberry jam. Cover the entire piece of bread, right up to the crust.
2-Add your chosen chocolate to the jam side: either the shards of baking chocolate or the chips. For best results, use just one kind of chocolate.
3-Arrange the slices of brie on the other piece of bread and combine the two.
4-Pre-heat your skillet on low and melt the butter before grilling the sandwich 3-4 minutes per side.
5-Flip and grill until the outsides are golden brown and the insides are melted. Some oozing of chocolate or brie is to be expected.
6-Slice and enjoy!

Don't go crazy with the chocolate! Less really is more.
The result: rich, sweet, velvety and ridiculously decadent!

The chocolate and brie melt so well, they are barely contained within the bread. The raspberry jam adds a pinch of tartness and I love brie with anything.  When I just used the chocolate chips, I could actually taste all the flavours of all the ingredients instead of just tasting melted chocolate and grilled buttery bread.  The toned-down version is still plenty sweet but doesn’t overdo it.  It’s still a grilled cheese sandwich at heart.
A grilled cheese and chocolate miracle.

That said, this grilled cheese gives you permission to skip the dinner sandwich and go straight for desert. Just add a tall, cold glass of milk.

Trust me, you’ll need it. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Marghertia Pizza Grilled Cheese

I love pizza almost as much as I love sandwiches.

The combination of melted cheese, chewy crust and meaty toppings get me every time. Note that I said meaty toppings.  As a reformed picky-eater, I have come a long way in trying and liking many new foods but try as I may, I can’t quite seem to like vegetables on my pizza.

I know it’s weird. People swear I’m missing out on so much.  If I judged pizza on looks alone, I would be all for the beautifully topped Hawaiian or Vegetarian pizzas, but they just don’t do it for me taste-wise. Give me a classic pepperoni, or one topped with multiple kinds of meat (like ham, salami and bacon), a cold beer and a stack of napkins and I’m all set for pizza night.

Who knew Scotland would have the best Margherita pizza?
The one exception to my meat-only pizza preference is the Margherita Pizza.  It’s the simplest pizza out there: basic tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, fresh basil and sometimes chopped cherry or grape tomatoes. Nothing that fancy  but when it’s baked fresh on a thin crust, with the cheese hot and bubbling, mixed in with the invigorating scent of basil, Margherita Pizza has the power to trump my cherished pepperoni any day.

Week Two of National Grilled Cheese Month inspired me to forge a bond between two of my great loves - pizza and sandwiches – in trying out a Margherita Pizza Grilled Cheese. The result was molto bello!

As for any good pizza, use simple, sweet, fresh ingredients.
You will need:

Sourdough bread or Italian baguette
Slices of mozzarella cheese
A handful of grape tomatoes, sliced
2-3 medium leaves of fresh basil
Butter (Garlic butter would be excellent for this sandwich)
A skillet, lid and spatula
Spicy pizza oil for dipping

1-Spread the butter on the outsides of the bread.

2-Place the cheese slices, tomatoes and basil on the non-buttered side of one bread slice.

3-Cover with another layer of cheese (this ensures the sandwich and all the fillings will melt together). 

Layering the cheese is key for maximum melting.
4-Assemble the sandwich with the other piece of bread, buttered-side out.

5-Place the sandwich carefully in the middle of the skillet on medium heat.

6-Cover with a lid and let it grill 4-5 minutes (remember: low and slow) before carefully flipping it over. Try not to lose any tomatoes in the flipping process!

7-Press down on the sandwich with the spatula as the second side grills and the cheese begins to melt everything together.

8-Remove from heat, slice and serve with some spicy pizza oil for dipping.

Spicy pizza dipping oil and a herb garden view!
What I enjoyed most about turning one of my favorite pizzas into a sandwich was how each bite was a different surprise: a juicy mouthful of grilled tomato, a sweet nibble of basil leaf, slightly crunchy from the heat, or a warm bit of melted mozzarella. No ketchup for this sandwich; spicy pizza oil is the appropriate condiment for this pizza-turned grilled cheese creation.

Any kind of pizza would make a tantalizing grilled cheese incarnation, so I challenge you to forego the pizza delivery one night and get creative with the pizza-sandwich possibilities instead. Just as I was pleasantly surprised to find the best Margherita Pizza in Scotland, of all places, you may surprise yourself with what you create right at home.

Margherita Pizza Grilled Cheese

Pizza Postscript:

The best Margherita Pizza I’ve ever had was at Di Maggio’s, in Glasgow, Scotland.  Sit on the patio outside and admire the view of the Modern Art Gallery across the street while you eat.

My Top 3 Pizza Places in Edmonton are:

1-Millcreek Pizza – Just south of the Whitemud, this is a little gem of a neighborhood pizza place. Their menu has all the classics, plus some India-spirations, like Butter Chicken, Shahi Paneer and the Trucker (pepperoni, ham, salami, Italian sausage and jalapeños!). The pizza is exceptional and the service is lovely; we order from them so often, they recognize us and treat us like family.

2-Parkallen Restaurant – The Mediterranean and Lebanese cuisine of this place is hard to beat but the pizza is truly legendary.

3-Royal Pizza – I’ve included this place mostly for sentimental reasons as it’s where my husband and I had our first official date. We met halfway between our places at the Calgary Trail location and split a large pepperoni pizza. True love at first pizza slice!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Classic Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

The world of the Grilled Cheese Sandwich is an exciting place to delve into.  On one hand, it’s filled with passionate experimentation and a fearless sense of ‘what-else-can-we-try?’ and on the other hand, there is a fierce loyalty to keeping it simple and classic. 

So again I ask you, where do I begin? 

And I find myself answering with a yet another question: why not start at the modest and humble beginning?

The Grilled Cheese Sandwich can be traced back to the 1920s, but it wasn’t until the Great Depression that it really took off in popularity. When cheap bread, processed cheese and a little heat were combined, people found they could enjoy a tasty, filling meal when good food was often very hard to come by. The military soon discovered that grilled cheese was one of the easiest and least expensive meals to mass-produce and when it was served along with tomato soup, it allowed them to get in the recommended Vitamin C in-take.  And that’s how it all began.
Simple and delightful grilled cheese and tomato soup.

It’s pretty amazing how a simple meal meant to provide the bare minimum in taste and nutritional value has really stood the test of time. To kick off National Grilled Cheese Month, I will pay homage to this great sandwich in its most simple, definitive form – grilled straight up on a skillet and served fresh with a side of hot, homemade tomato soup. 

I’ve spent a lot of time researching tomato soup recipes and there are as many different versions as the various kinds of grilled cheese, which makes perfect sense.  I made a tweaked version of a Jamie Oliver recipe and it paired beautifully with the sandwich.  Since timing is important when you’re preparing more than one dish, I recommend getting the soup started first, then making the sandwich. 

Tomatoes, carrots, onions and celery make a great soup.
Classic Tomato Soup:

1-2 onions, coarsely chopped
1 handful of chopped baby carrots (no peeling required!)
2-3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 carton of vegetable stock (chicken stock works well too)
1 19 oz can of stewed tomatoes
1 container of grape tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
Fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper


1-In a large soup pot on medium heat, combine the oil, garlic, onion, carrots and celery and sauté for 10-15 minutes, until the veggies have softened.
2-Add the stock and all the tomatoes.
3-Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
4-Add some fresh basil during the last few minutes of simmering.
5-Using an immersion blender, puree the soup to your desired texture (smooth vs. chunky).
6-Simmer on low until ready to serve topped with fresh basil leaves and the grilled cheese sandwich.
Dijon mustard really enhances this sandwich.

While the soup is simmering during Step 3, start making the Classic Grilled Cheese Sandwich using:

Sliced sourdough bread
Slices of cheddar and mozzarella cheese
Dijon mustard (optional but I highly recommend it!)


1-Pile the cheese on one half of the bread.
2-Spread a thin layer of mustard on top of the cheese.
3-Spread the butter on the outsides of the bread and carefully place the sandwich on the pre-heated skillet.
4-Cover with a lid and let it grill.
5-Be patient! The trick to stove-top grilling is low and slow to ensure the cheese melts inside and the bread doesn’t burn outside.
6-When you start to hear the bread and cheese sizzle (about 3-4 minutes), it’s time to carefully flip it over. The grilled side should be a nice golden colour.
This sandwich needs low heat and lots of grilling time.
7-Press down on the sandwich with a spatula to ensure maximum cohesion of the cheese and bread.
8-Keep flipping and grilling the sandwich until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden brown.
9-Remove from heat, slice and serve with the tomato soup.

There’s a reason why this soup/sandwich combination is so timeless: it’s warm, savory, and so delectable!

I’ve sometimes found tomato soup to be bland and one-dimensional but this recipe really delivers on the flavor. I like the slightly chunky texture of the pureed vegetables and its gorgeous orange colour.  Using fresh herbs in any recipe really adds an extra-special element and the fresh basil (literally) tops this one; it makes it so crisp and sweet. Really lovely. 

Golden delicious: grilled cheddar and mozza cheese.
As for the sandwich, the Dijon mustard was a great addition to the gooey, delicious, melty inside. It gave it a bit of sweetness and tang, plus it’s basically impossible to go wrong with cheddar and mozza. Sourdough bread grills so well and I love that audible crunch when I bite into it.  Definitely don’t scrimp on the butter since it adds that special sheen and eliminates stickage during the grilling process.

This meal sticks to the basics - good bread, good cheese and hot soup - and it’s a great way to dive into the Grilled Cheese realm. There will be lots of experimentation this month, I guarantee it.  

But right here and now, somethings are just too good to mess with.

If it's not broke, don't fix it!

Grilled Cheese Links:

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

National Grilled Cheese Month - A Teaser

Grilled Cheese is sheer sandwich excellence.

The concept of cheese – any cheese – on beautiful bread, grilled to buttery, golden, melted, oozing perfection is simple and brilliant.  It’s messy, melted goodness is appealing to even the most picky of eaters, like I was as a kid.  It’s still a favorite among grown-ups – especially when fancy grown-up cheeses like Brie or Gruyere are the ones to be grilled.

A grilled cheese sandwich comforts, satisfies,  delights and inspires creativity like no other kind of sandwich. In my research, I've  bookmarked countless pages of grilled  cheese recipes, utterly mesmerized by  beautiful images of the melted cheese spilling  forth from the crispy, golden bread, like a  welcome banner, each more mouth-watering  than the last. It’s exciting,
overwhelming and  absolutely impossible to do justice to this  idolized sandwich in one or two
blog posts.

A good skillet is a must for stove-top grilled cheese.
A great tool to invest in is a small panini grill.
Seriously – it’s hard to even know where to begin!

So I’m beginning at the start of the month, which is fitting since April has actually been declared National Grilled Cheese Month. No, it’s not an April Fools thing, it’s true! There’s even a Grilled Cheese Invitational in Los Angeles on April 12, also known as National Grilled Cheese Day, where amateur and professional chefs come together to battle it out for bragging rights and Grilled Cheese Supremacy. Who knew this little sandwich could evoke so much in so many?

Throughout the next few weeks, I will be sharing my favorite grilled cheese finds - some old, some new, some weird but all wonderful.  I have lots of ideas but I’m also extremely open to hearing from you, my fellow Grilled-Cheese Connoisseurs.  Feel free to comment or message me any of your ideas, tips or feedback and we will celebrate this amazing sandwich together!

Here’s a tease of some of what’s to come:


April is shaping up to be a great month.

Grilled Cheddar, Turkey and Apples.