Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Every Crispy, Gooey, and Buttery Bite

In a food world that is overflowing with self-proclaimed experts and one in which the term “chef” is used without either experience or education, it is nothing short of refreshing to dive into a cookbook written by an authority that has earned every ounce of her praise and success. To say Laura Werlin is a well-respected authority on American cheese is like saying that there are just a few grape vines in California. She is the author of four books as well as a James Beard Award winner and is simply a delightful personality. Watch one of her videos to see in person.
Grilled Cheese, Please! is a fun, lighthearted, and mouthwatering book on a subject that just about every living soul loves. Have you every heard of someone that didn’t like grilled cheese sandwiches? Laura takes her immense knowledge of cheese and really puts it to use with every gooey, crispy, and buttery bite. It’s brilliant - grilled cheese sandwiches are a topic that transcends gender, age, income, and all other divides.
I’ve been a fan of Laura’s for years. Quick-Fix Southern and Grilled Cheese, Please! were both released on March 8. We even had the same incredible editor, Jean Lucas, at Andrews McMeel Publishing. We also share the same fabulous literary agent. As I type this on a plane (somewhere over Mississippi), we are both hitting the road to promote our new books at the same time. It’s very much like having a baby on the same day as a friend. We’ll always have something in common.
Grilled Cheese, Please! is a well rounded book of sandwiches that leave the standard grilled cheese in the dust. This is her second book on grilled cheese and a must have for any kitchen. In addition to her dreamy recipes, Laura also includes recipes from food trucks and well-known restaurants.  She also has sides for grilled cheese sandwiches. Who can want more?
I can think of nothing better than warming up my skillet when I get home for the sole purpose of cooking up her Chips and Guacamole Grilled Cheese. 

Chips and Guacamole Grilled Cheese

In this recipe, tortilla chips are on the outside of the bread to give the sandwich its corn-like flavor and to give you the ability to enjoy all the flavors – the guacamole, bacon, cheeses, and corn chips all at once. Although I prefer using Colby and Monterey Jack separately in this recipe, you can use the combination cheese, Colby-Jack, if you prefer.

8 slices bacon
8 large tortilla chips (about 2 ounces)
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
8 slices sourdough bread
½ cup guacamole (recipe follows;  or use purchased preferably one with tomato in it)
2 tablespoons peeled, seeded, finely diced (1/4-inch) Roma tomato (see Note)
4 ounces Colby cheese, coarsely grated
4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, coarsely grated
4 ounces goat cheese

Line a plate with paper towels. In a large nonstick skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until very crisp. Drain the bacon on the paper towels. Remove the bacon fat from the pan and wipe the pan with a paper towel, but do not wash it. Set aside.

To make the tortilla chip butter, put the chips in the bowl of a food processor and process until the texture is very fine, similar to sand. Alternatively, place the chips in a sturdy plastic bag. Using a meat mallet or other heavy object, pound the chips until they are the texture of sand. 

Put the butter in a medium bowl and add the ground chips. Using a fork, work the chip “sand” and butter together until well mixed. The mixture will be somewhat stiff.

To assemble: Spread the butter mixture on one side of each slice of bread. Place 4 slices, butter-chip mixture side down, on your work surface. Spread 2 tablespoons of the guacamole on each slice of bread. Sprinkle the tomato on top of the guacamole, if using. Follow with the Colby and Monterey Jack cheeses. Dot with small pieces of the goat cheese. Finish by placing two bacon pieces on each sandwich. Top with remaining bread slices, buttered side up.

For stovetop method: Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Put the sandwiches into the pan, cover, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the undersides are golden brown. Watch carefully because the chips in the butter can burn easily. Turn the sandwiches, pressing each one firmly with a spatula to compress the filling slightly. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until the undersides are well browned. Turn the sandwiches once more, press firmly with the spatula again, cook for 1 minute, and remove from the pan. Let cool 5 minutes. Cut in half and serve.

For sandwich maker method: Use your sandwich maker for this sandwich only if you have variable heat settings. Otherwise, it will cook too hot and burn the chips on the bread without melting the cheese. To use your sandwich maker, follow directions for assembly above. Cook according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Note: There’s no need to use the tomato if your guacamole already has tomato in it.

Chef Deborah Schnieder has spent a lot of time south of the border in Baja, Mexico. She now brings her Mexican cooking experience north to her Orange County restaurant, SOL Cocina. I adapted her guacamole recipe because of its lovely balance of flavors, which is often tricky to achieve when it comes to making this quintessential avocado dip. 

1 ripe Hass avocado
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lime juice (from about 1 lime)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons finely diced white onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
½ serrano chile, minced (optional)
1 tablespoon cored, seeded and diced Roma tomato

Split and pit the avocado, and mash the avocado flesh in a medium bowl with the lime juice and salt, using a potato masher or a fork. Do not use a blender or food processor. You want to keep the avocado slightly chunky, not make it soupy. Stir in the onion, cilantro, chile, and tomato. Let sit for about 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.   
Note: This makes more than you need for the sandwiches. Serve the remaining guacamole with chips alongside.

Makes about 1 cup

Excerpted from Grilled Cheese, Please! ©2011 Laura Werlin. Photos by Maren Caruso.
Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. 

Copyright © 2011 Rebecca Lang Cooks, LLC. All rights reserved.