OK I’ll admit this isn’t really a difficult recipe. It can barely be called even that. But there’s little else that’s this simple that makes you feel so good. It’s got everything going for it. Bread, cheese, butter, and toasty goodness. How can you go wrong?
For me, every time I make a grilled cheese sandwich I think of my grandfather. That’s an odd statement I’m sure. A little explanation is in order. My grandparents were both fantastic people, more so than the usual “gee I love grandma” kind of thing. They never made a lot of money, in fact that never made very much at all. They did however, do an awful lot to help people; volunteered like it was a contact sport, and were the kind of people who you can only hope to live up to a fraction of the example they set.
I somewhat feel like my grandfather passed a bit of what made him tick on to me. He was an endlessly interesting guy. He always had some new idea or plan, always was doing something quirky and decidedly off the beaten path. Among many other things; he was a machinist for years, a teacher, a mathematician, he read books over the radio for the blind, he delivered Meals on Wheels well into his 70′s, and he taught kids at the Rhode Island Training School – Juvy.
This was a short, fat, bald, old man walking into a rough and tumble environment to teach kids who’d been tossed away into Juvenile Hall something…anything. His math degree, as you might imagine, didn’t help too much here. Mostly the bosses wanted a baby-sitter. My grandfather thought it unfair to just have them sit in a classroom and just do nothing. He wanted – in fact needed – to do something helpful and useful. So he decided to teach them how to cook. Not five course dinners mind you (my grandparents were possibly the worst cooks that side of the Mississippi, without much exaggeration) but simple things. Like grilled cheese. Simple things that you could make with little money, little help, and little in the way of cooking prowess.
While showing them how to make some basic grub, my grandfather learned things that I’m sure he never could have fathomed. More memorably, I recall him telling me that a crack pipe could be made out of almost anything, including aluminum foil. So the warden took that away. Along with most of the kitchen tools.
The grilled cheese sandwich sticks out more than anything else. One day he stopped by our house, he told me one of his students kept burning himself every time he flipped the thing over in the pan. Every time. Not being able to keep his eyes on everyone all the time he finally figured out that this kid wasn’t using a spatula (one of the few tools still available in this sad, ill-equipped little kitchen.) He in fact had never used a spatula….didn’t even know what one was. They all had a good laugh about it in “class” but its something that’s stuck with me to this very day. I’ve often hoped that guy has eaten his fair share of grilled cheese and thought of my grandfather every time his fingertips stayed intact. I think of him and my grandfather every time I put two pieces of bread and some cheese together. Strange places that little moments in life take you….
I’ve been told I make a great grilled cheese, I’m not sure how difficult it really is, but I have a few tips to impart if nothing else. I use white bread, most of the time I try to go with either the Amish White Bread if I’ve got some hanging around or some good quality thick white bread (read: not Wonder Bread.) There’s a lot of room to do neat and fun stuff with a grilled cheese sandwich; different breads, cheeses, add some meat, etc…but for a basic -classic – sandwich, this is the way to go.
I also use a good quality white sharp cheddar cheese. I slice it thin, usually an eighth of an inch or so, in two layers. You can go thicker, or use different types of cheese. I get a few slices of butter going on a hot pan – figure medium heat will do here – around 5 on my electric range top. Get your cheese set up, get another 3 or 4 thin slices of butter set up on the side of the sandwich that will be facing down, and plop it down in your pan. This will take a few minutes to brown. For the first four or five minutes I use a metal cake pan and flip it over the sandwich like a big metal dome. This keeps the heat in and ensures that the cheese will actually melt up nicely. Keep a watch on it. Once it’s browned nicely, flip it over (make sure to use that spatula) and cook uncovered for another few minutes. This side will take two to three minutes. Remove. Eat. Simple.
- Bread – Two Slices of Good Quality White Bread
- 2 – 3 Tablespoons of Butter (No one said this would be Weight Watchers)
- Approx 8 – 12 1/8″ slices of cheese – depending on the size of your block of cheese