Happy National Grilled Cheese Day!
When you hear it’s “National Grilled Cheese Day,” you don’t necessarily want to know why such a day exists, nor for how long it exists. It’s probably all a conspiracy of bread producers and cheesemakers and those cheeky buggers at Hallmark who are always manufacturing holidays to bolster greeting card sales.
Well, I don’t. I shan’t speak for you specifically.
MY reaction upon learning today was THE day was, “We’re having grilled cheese tonight.”
But it couldn’t just be grilled cheese now, could it? I mean, we slap some Dave’s Killer ‘Good Seed’ Bread around a few slices of Tillamook Cheddar as a quick-and-dirty meal solution regularly, so if we’re going to commit first-degree grilled cheese-ing, it’d just need to be something other.
It did not take an enormous amount of time or thought to recall a grilled cheese experience so ridiculous that, once I’d considered it, there was no going back.
GIMME GIMME GIMME un Croque-Monsieur!!!
It wasn’t all THAT long ago when I’d never heard of such a thing. In fact, now that I think on it, a few of my French friends have some explaining to do…
Anyhow, the sandwich with the fancy French-y name is, in short, a grilled ham and cheese…wait, it gets better, topped with a Béchamel (white sauce( and MORE CHEESE..which you brown under the broiler!
No, you do not have to wait 364 more days to try one, but, depending on your dietary habits, it might not be a horrible idea to limit it to an annual treat.
Selling this as a dinner plan was not a concern. Both the Missus and the Bubba are among the most-prolific cheese eaters I’ve ever known.
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 bay leaf
a few grates fresh nutmeg
4 completely hacked (my bread slicing skills are challenged by big loaves) slices of Macrina Bakery’s “Macrina Casera” bread
2 slices Dave’s Killer ‘Good Seed’ Bread (the Bubba will eat crust, but it isn’t his favorite)
6 slices Black Forest ham
6 slices havarti cheese (I understand gruyere to be more traditional, but I love the creaminess of havarti)
melted butter for brushing
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella (again, I went with what I wanted because I’m the one eating it and not you finicky French person!)
To make the Béchamel, you start by making a white roux from the butter and flour. I know there is more of an art to it than what I did, which was melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir the flour into it until it was all gooey and roux-like. Maybe someday I’ll dangle some Abita Turbodog off the front porch and snag me a proper Cajun wandering randomly through West Seattle (you know, like they do…) and make them teach me to master the art of the roux, but, today, it was a working Dad trying to get dinner on the table before 7 p.m., so…slap-dash!
Once you have the roux, add the milk in small amounts, whisking to incorporate it into the roux with each addition. Once it’s all in there, you should have a big, semi-thick white-ish sauce. From here, go ahead and increase the heat and get the sauce boiling. It’ll thicken up pretty well, but keep stirring it so it doesn’t scald on the bottom (not a huge problem if it does, it turns out…).
I’m certain you know what to do with the bread, cheese, and ham to get them looking like sandwiches. Once you’ve done that, brush one side of each with melted butter. Cook the buttered side in a hot, flat skillet (medium heat should work) until it’s golden brown (or darker, if you like it like that). If you’re smart, you realized to butter the top of the sandwich so you can just flip it when you’re ready, rather than forgetting and then having an “Oh, sugar!” moment before rapidly slopping some melted butter atop the sandwich so you can turn before you burn.
While you’re getting the sandwiches in order, preheat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with parchment if you have it and like to save a little bit of clean-up.
The grilled sandwiches (I like to write it “sammiches” for whatever reason, so I may or may not start doing that) go on the parchment-lined sheet. Top each sandwich with a generous spread of the Béchamel; as you can see, you have plenty, so get that sammich covered with a nice, thick layer! Sprinkle the shredded cheese atop the Béchamel in such a way you’ll get a nice layer of browned cheese over the sauce.
Then…yeah, you guessed it…put the sandwiches under the broiler until you get that browned cheese floating atop the Béchamel layer.
Apologies for the lame, blurry phone photo.
They’ll probably be easier to eat if you cut them somehow. I use a pizza cutter to hack the adult’s sammiches into halves and the Bubba’s into six small rectangles.
An acceptable-because-it’s-your-family sampling of the sauce (yeah, there was some finger-licking involved) told me my first go at making these was about to prove a HUGE success. The Missus saw the look on my face and started sticking her fingers into our son’s sandwich under the ruse of organizing it onto the plate for him so she could get a quick preview before getting to the table.
WINNING! (I know Charlie Sheen references are a bit dated by now, but it fits; trust me!)
To cut the fatty deliciousness of the sammiches, I quartered a pint of cherry Heirloom-style tomatoes and tossed them with salt, olive oil, a French dried herb mixture, and a splash of red wine vinegar. I love when the fresh tomatoes start to show up en masse. Hard to believe how much I used to fear/loathe tomatoes!
A story for another day…
The Bubba, as he is wont to do with melty cheese between bread or tortillas, peeled the layers apart to eat them semi-separately. He peeled the ham off some of the cheese and bread, held it out to me and said, “This is TOOKEY!”
“No Owen, that is ham.”
“It’s TOOKEY!” And, in the mouth it went.
I’ll eventually work on fixing that, but as he was eating it and was happy to believe it to be turkey…willing to let it go at 26 months.
A few moments later, the bits of dark skin from the edges of the ham came back out of the mouth accompanied by a bit of a squishy face and an “I no like this.” The Missus tried to explain that it was okay if he didn’t like it and that he could just put it down on his tray, but before she could finish, the Bubba had popped the not-so-offending bits back into the mouth for further examination.
They did not return to the conversation.