Grilled Cheese Academy

Grilled Cheese: The CakeWalk.

The CakeWalk. I have never submitted a recipe to another website before (other than photographically speaking to Tastespotting), and was surprised that my image and recipe appeared lighting-quick on the beautifully appointed Grilled Cheese Academy website, without a lengthy moderation process. You may recall that I went to the website launch event in Madison a while back, and while I was immediately impressed with both the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and Tori Miller's execution of such humble ingredients as cheese and bread, I never thought I'd be submitting a recipe of my own. Of course, in true rcakewalk fashion, the recipe is really a Frankenstein's Monster of sorts: Lahey bacon bread, vegan cashew-lemon pesto, and a cheese that I first fell in love with in the early '90's.

When I was still in high school, my family went on a week long vacation to the Ely, Minnesota area. We stayed in a lakeside cabin, my brother and I canoed in the Boundary Waters, and our van broke. We had an enormous bench-seated rental, that I remember we had a lot of fun picking on. I'm sure there is a picture somewhere. But even more memorably than that, we ate at a restaurant called The Chocolate Moose. (It appears that it is still there, but there is no website listed when Googled.) I was vegetarian in those days - much to the chagrin of my Parents, I'd imagine, who were pretty lenient and understanding about my dietary choices.

What made The Chocolate Moose stand out to me was that they had a kitchen garden out in the back, and they were able to use a lot of it in what they served. We ate there multiple times, and I know that I had their grilled cheese every time we did. Their sandwich was something like this: bread, provolone, pesto, tomato, pesto, provolone, bread. I studied it completely. Not only was provolone a rather new cheese to me, I don't think that I'd ever had pesto before.

Theirs was pine nut pesto, and I remember recreating the sandwich soon after we got back to Wisconsin (thankfully, in our own van). I'm sure I bought a little refrigerated tub of pesto back then, but now due to the bounty of a summer kitchen garden of my own, there is no need for that. I used some leftover Cashew Lemon Pesto from a recipe by Dreena Burton in her book Eat, Drink & Be Vegan. When chilled, the cashew pesto was almost like a paste that I spread into a molded shape on the right hand piece of bread (photo below) and then transferred to the grated cheese. When heated, it went right back to it's original state much the same as a refrigerated traditional pesto would.

I love grilled cheese because it is one of those things in the Endlessly Adaptable Club that pretty much always hits the spot. Whatever is lurking in the fridge can find new life nestled in-between good bread and good cheese, and in relatively short order. I think the key to a great sandwich is to line the bread on both sides with some of the cheese, since it provides a moisture barrier, and also to sprinkle a bit of salt on the top of the sandwich after it is grilled. I learned this from my Dad, who is a grilled cheese expert. He would be the first to tell you that he's not much of a cook, but eggs, grilled cheese and outdoor grilling he's got down to a science. That little extra salinity on the top of the sandwich really just makes it.

So, there you have it. The CakeWalk is a sandwich of many parts, but it is one I am proud of. It is satisfying on it's own, but anytime that I'm able to promote Food in Jar's Spicy Dilly Beans, I will! I love these things, and they are even better since now I'm eating my remaining jar with gusto since I know I will have access to fresh green beans very soon to make more. I had a nice big handful on the side this evening, and like to think that everything in this grilled cheese supper was from Wisconsin, save the flour in the bread and the tropical cashew nut in the pesto.

You can check out my recipe in the gallery (search for The CakeWalk) and many others, and even submit one of your own while you're there. It's fun to know that whatever your level of cooking and/or kitchen experimenting, there is a sandwich at the Grilled Cheese Academy just waiting for you to enjoy. I know I have to remember to check out their site more often.

Glimpses of Greatness and Grilled Cheeses

The last two evenings were spent completely (or maybe just somewhat completely) outside of my comfort zone. Wednesday, Sasa and I went to a Farm to Table dinner at La Merenda, in support of the movie Fresh which is screening here next week (4/19-21, 2010 at the Downer Landmark Theater). La Merenda is in the industrial Walker's Point neighborhood, just north of the Allen Bradley clock, as you can see:

We arrived just before our 7 o'clock dinner reservation, unsure of what to expect. It is a very intimate and somewhat dark space, with poured concrete counters and floors, but tastefully lightened by brightly painted cinder block walls. A smiling bartender when we walked through the front door was my first impression, and a lasting one as he recommended a great Spanish Tempranillo that Sasa enjoyed.

Our dinner was four courses, with a focus on local and sustainably farmed meats and produce. Photography skill is put to the test in a room like this, and I think I failed to capture the ambiance, which really was quite lovely. Chef Peter Sandroni talked briefly on the restaurants commitment to local food, and thanked us for supporting the local restaurant scene.

This may be where it gets a bit tricky... since parts of each course were truly great. Amazing even. But as a whole, each dish left just a little something that I wanted to love and just didn't. One thing I did love was this amazing cheese on the first course: a Montchevre Honey Goat Cheese from Belmont, Wisconsin. It was lightly breaded and pan fried, and was really outstanding.

As the evening progressed, I have more and more dimly lit pictures. I actually liked the sodium light colored hue the orange walls added to the atmosphere, although it really does nothing to accentuate my food photography! I have a slew of pictures over at flickr that I will annotate with other happy moments in this dinner. I am also planning to check out La Merenda again, and try some additional small plates.

Last night, my Husband and I carpooled with Peef and Lo, and Sonja - another blogger from Milwaukee by way of Boston. We had full circle discussions about food on our ride out to Madison for the celebration of the new website Grilled Cheese Academy. This site, produced by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing board is drop dead gorgeous - full of inspirational cheese sandwiches of the grilled variety. You may not think twice about a grilled cheese, but it is indeed inspired eating, especially when prepared by L'Etoile's Chef Tory Miller.

The small Cafe Soleil rests beneath its parent restaurant, where unfortunately, I have never eaten. I was a little wrapped up in chatting (further reading will have to be done here after meeting another Milwaukee food blogger - Mel!), and not as conscious of my surroundings as I am when I'm alone... but when my Husband noted that Chef Miller looks really excited about what he's doing, I had to pay attention and agree. This is the type of passion that makes everyone as excited about a grilled cheese sandwich as he is - and not to mention that the sandwich combinations that the Grilled Cheese Academy showcases on their site are solid recipes. Epicurean grilled cheese sandwiches for people who love to cook, and some that are easy enough for a quick throw together. There is also a section for recipe submissions, so if you feel that you have a worthy contender, you can submit!

The above specimen was one of my favorites: The Monroe. Bacon, Limberger cheese, spinach, onions and fig jam happily playing together in one sandwich. I have never eaten Limberger before, and I have to say it was much different that I was expecting. It was delicious! Another of my favorites was this one:

The Biloxi. Pulled pork, coleslaw and bread and butter pickles. I actually ate two samples of this one, even though I ran out of room and it meant I didn't get to try each variety. Next to each plate of grilled cheese samples, were a couple of different varieties of Wisconsin beer, and I have to say I was more than a bit surprised how expertly paired up they were. Granted, I could have been more scholarly and written everything down, but that would have deterred me from my gusto in sampling. I forgot to mention the rocky piles of cheese cubes, little bites of Wisconsin cheese in a nice range of every flavor imaginable: blues, fontina and even a raspberry one that was particularly good. I have also downloaded a set of photos to flickr, and will try to annotate later today as I remember...but do remember that the Grilled Cheese Academy website has a recipe for each and every mouthwatering photo on their site! Way to go, Wisconsin Milk Board! Also be sure to check out other Wisconsin blog and food blog pages over the next few days to read more on their takes of this event as well.

When it comes down to it, I think the past couple of days have taught me a few things. I love to eat, I can have a critical palate, and I definitely know what I like and why, but what I really love is being enslaved to my kitchen, concocting and tweaking and testing - and then writing about it. I have a deep sense of appreciation for professionals that are able to make food and serve others, and it is fun to go and see what is out there, especially when the whole food experience is akin to live theater. But to have the pleasure to cook and bake in my own home is much more rewarding to me than reviewing.

I recall writing some paper in college in which I used this quote, and I believe that it was to the same effect: that I would rather "stoke the star maker machinery behind the popular song" (that was Joni Mitchell, by the way). I am not introverted, but do walk that fine line. While attempting more events is no doubt in my future, I am absolutely content to keep my "day job", blissful as it is, and immerse myself fully in the wonders of flours and other such things.