Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You Go Grill! - Grilled Cheese Makes A Comeback

Grilled Cheese with Apple Butter
A friend of mine recently told me about a restaurant in San Francisco that only serves grilled cheese sandwiches. Apparently customers are lined up out the door. In fact, there are a number of these gooey enterprises popping up all across the country. We're talkin' food carts to gourmet panini shops. Build your own, to crazy creative concoctions. I've seen everything from the classic American cheese version, to brie, raspberry and chocolate chip "Sweetest Things." There's even an annual Grilled Cheese Invitational in Los Angeles.

It seems fitting doesn't it? We're all stressed out about the economy and we just want to return to a simpler time when mom made grilled cheese on white bread and served it with a cup of tomato soup. Heidi Gibson, Commander-in-Cheese of The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen in San Francisco, affirms that it's more than just the food, they are trying to create "a feeling of relief [like] you are back in your mom's kitchen..."

I was inspired to come up with my own grilled cheese opus - Sharp Cheddar and Apple Butter. Old timers will tell you that you should always serve apple pie with a wedge of cheddar cheese. The sharpness of the cheddar compliments the apple-y cinnamon-spiced tang of the apple butter.

Here's how to make it: Start with slices of French bread, butter the outside of each slice. Then, spread apple butter on the inside of each slice. Top the apple butter with sharp cheddar and grill to perfection. You can throw a little bacon on it if you are feeling more adventurous.

Imagine the combination -- the salty, sweet-smoked bacon melted into the tangy sharp cheese with the sweet spice of apple butter tying it all together. Tastes like fall, doesn't it?

What's your favorite grilled cheese sandwich? Do you stick to tradition or experiment?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Glorious Garlic: Tips for Working with Fresh Garlic

I realize that sometimes it's easier to grab the granulated garlic shaker than to peel and chop a clove of fresh garlic but trust me the fresh garlic flavor and versatility make it worth the effort.

Always try to purchase garlic from the bulk bin versus bagged garlic. This helps to ensure that the garlic you buy is fresh. You can sort out the best garlic by following these hints. Always choose a large head of garlic with tightly packed cloves and white papery skin. Avoid garlic with loose cloves and damaged or discolored skin.

If you happen to purchase a head of garlic that has begun to sprout simply break the gloves apart and plant the in your garlic or window box. In a few weeks, you'll have garlic chives to snip.

Did you know that the finer you chop garlic, the stronger the flavor becomes? The oil in the garlic is released when you chop it, which gives the strong garlic aroma. A whole clove of garlic will impart milder flavor, while minced garlic will be more pungent.

Peeling garlic can be a hassle. If you are preparing a recipe that calls for whole garlic cloves like 40 Clove Garlic Chicken, try using a garlic peeler to remove the skin. If you don't have a garlic peeler, separate the cloves and place them in a small bowl. Pour boiling water over the cloves and allow to sit for 1 minutes. Drain the boiling water and then cover the cloves with cool water. When the cloves are cool, peel away the papery skin and use as desired.

I love the flavor of roasted garlic. Roasting mellows the sharp, pungent flavor and leaves you with creamy, aromatic goodness. It's wonderful in mashed potatoes, with roasted chicken, and in savory custards. It also makes a to-die-for accompaniment to cheeses and crackers. Try smearing it on crusty slice of French bread topped with goat cheese or cream cheese. Yum!

Roasted Garlic Heads

Roasted Garlic
Whole Fresh Heads of Garlic
Olive Oil

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Cut off the top third (the stem end) of the head of garlic to expose the cloves. Leave the head in tact and attached by the root. Peel away any loose papery skin on the outside of the head. Place the heads of garlic in a ceramic container. Pour olive oil over the garlic until there is about 1/2 inch of oil in the bottom of the container. Cover the container with aluminum foil and bake for about 1 hour until the garlic is soft and lightly browned.

Carefully remove the softened garlic from the oil. The cloves should release the creamy garlic with a gentle squeeze.

You can also use the garlic-infused oil to make Caesar salad dressing, to sauté chicken or fish, or brush vegetables for grilling. Store the oil in the refrigerator for up to one week.