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.
Have you heard the one about the people who look down their noses at parents who use their television as a babysitter only to find themselves enlisting the distraction of the ‘idiot box’ to keep their own children preoccupied once they themselves have procreated?
I’m not sure we ever quite fully qualified as thinking ourselves being too cool for television, but am certain the amount of television we have allowed our son to watch is a lot more than we’d ever imagined in those golden, pre-baby days when you are absolutely in control of every aspect of parenting conceivable.
Despite a general awareness that the Bubba has gotten more familiar with a handful of PBS series (including Pearl Jam’s performance on ‘Austin City Limits’ of all things), it never felt entirely like the bad parenting I’m sure we’d have labelled it some 26 months ago or so.
“Daddy…Daddy…Come get me.”
My son has only recently begun to really stir his vast collection of words and phrases into short sentences, so I’m barely used to that, but somewhat used to it.
What I was NOT ready for, upon reaching his bedroom.
“I want unh watch ‘Dino Train…go that way watch ‘Dino Train’ with me?’”
“Dino Train” is Bubba-speak for “Dinosaur Train,” which is an animated show that runs mornings on PBS, featuring dinosaurs and trains.
Only the lack of guitars and maybe characters aping Johnny Cash and Eddie Vedder keeps me from wondering whether they’d designed the show specifically for him.
Then again, you wouldn’t have to spend a whole lot of time with too many toddlers to figure out that dinosaurs and trains are pretty popular territory. Really, the question is how it took so long for someone, somewhere to pitch the idea.
“Hey…kids like dinosaurs…kids like trains…why don’t we slap together a show about dinosaurs who ride trains?”
“Sounds awful. What would they do?”
“Who cares? Have them actually talk about physical characteristics of different species. The kids won’t care, because it’s dinosaurs and trains.”
And a franchise is born.
Now, if you don’t have children, let me tell you something; you’d be SHOCKED at how quickly someone with fewer than two years on the planet can pick up on something and attach to it. I remember distinctly being asked for ‘Dino Train’ before I was aware it had ever been on the television. We have our son in school (we call it ‘school,’ but, yeah, it’s day care) five days a week, and the only show ever on the TV in the mornings is ‘Sesame Street, ‘ which is pretty much the one show I was 100% cool with being on, even despite the Elmo-ization of the entire neighborhood.
It turned out, however, that dear old ‘Sesame Street,’ the show I remember fondly from my own 70′s childhood, was nothing more than the gateway drug.
Piecing it together now, I know it was those weekend mornings when we’d start with “Street,” but I’d take advantage of the fact the Bubba was chilling in front of the television to go brew coffee…then make a quick breakfast…then more elaborate breakfasts…
Soon enough, we knew expanded our knowledge to “Dordze,” “Cat Hat,” “SooPuh Why,” Sid,” and even, rarely, “Dahmuss.”
Outside our house, that would be “Curious George,” “The Cat in the Hat,” “Super Why,” “Sid the Science Kid,” and “Thomas & Friends,” that last once being an older series about a talking train, which could have held the keys to my son’s heart if only they’d worked in, say, Johnny Cash and horseys. Well, and being on earlier in the day, I suppose.
Despite all the show knowledge and enjoyment and even occasional requesting, it didn’t seem awful to me until I realized my son was barely awake before asking, not to see mommy or for milk or to pet the doggie, but to watch ‘Dinosaur Train.’
And, as the Missus said, “It made me feel like we’re doing something really wrong.”
I’m not okay with that.
Hence, the television did go on this morning for less than five minutes. After brewing some coffee, I made my way back to the living room, grabbed my son’s red toy guitar, sat on the couch, and starting playing it (no better than he can, to be honest). I knew it would distract him, which is a favorite technique of mine. I also know it’s a bit manipulative; I should probably feel worse for that, but…we’ll work on that.
The distraction gave the Missus opportunity to click the screen dark, which is how is remained the rest of the morning and until after the Bubba went to bed for the night (of course, some members of the household are not to be denied their ‘Dancing with the Stars’ fix).
What this episode did, though, was make me consider more how I was burning through my morning in a rush to get on my way to work, with my son being among the tasks that needed addressing on the way to commute time. Sorting him out was getting him dressed for the day and plopping him in front of the screen until we had a chance to get ready ourselves, after which we’d put his shoes and coat on and get out the door, which meant he was being treated with no more a parenting touch than, say, feeding the dog or brewing the coffee.
Not the example I want to set.
So, in addition to guitar distraction, we kicked the soccer ball around the living room for a little bit. After a while he let me know that “we playin game togeduh.”
That’s when I remembered that, over the weekend, he was really into saying how almost everything we did was something we did “together.” And I think that’s really all he wanted. Seems to me kids want to be doing whatever their parents are doing, which, if you’re playing a game together, is exactly what they’re doing.
Fucking brilliant and simple and damned if I shouldn’t have seen this without having to be told at FAR too early this morning, in not so many words, that I wasn’t quite getting it.
Cheers son. Well played…together.