Wednesday, February 15, 2012

UnRecipe: Happiness is Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

People don't always give credit to the fact that Mental Health Days are necessary, lest we become the maniacal belltower monster, picking people off in a homicidal rage. Not good, right? If you've never heard of a Mental Health Day, let me provide a visual aid:

A prescription for sanity, no drug store required - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Maybe people's vision of happiness and perfect calm are other things, but I took an afternoon off and spent it with a friend, enjoying grilled cheese sandwiches and bowls of tomato soup. That was my Mental Health Day, where there was no work or deadlines allowed, and it was all spent in the comfort of home, so no need to stress over getting a vacation put together. Just cheese getting melty between bread and the warmth of soup. It's a simple enough combination that's played at least a small role in most everyone's childhood, usually as a quick lunch put together by Mom or something that was made when you weren't feeling well. Of course you'd dip the grilled cheese in the soup as you ate them, and you would create an even better combination of flavor and texture. It was like magic. Better than anything those little rugrats at Hogwarts could ever come up with. Bam, Dumbledore -- how you like me now?

Making grilled cheese sandwich into flavorful magic - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The real magic of grilled cheese sandwiches was taking the opportunity to come up with some new flavor combinations. Don't just go for any ol' cheese between some bread -- mix it up! I once heard something that is surprisingly true -- nearly any combination of cheese and fruit work marvelously well as a grilled cheese sandwich. Cheddar and grape jelly? Yes! Goat cheese with jalapeno pepper jelly? You betcha! I wanted to try some sweet and savory combinations with some of my favorite flavors, so I made two different types of grilled cheese sandwiches -- one had a spread made up of cream cheese, blue cheese crumbles, crushed pecans and honey, grilled with thin slices of pears, and the second type was cream cheese mixed with shreds of white cheddar, plenty of pepper and fresh orange zest, grilled with thin slices of fresh tomato. You're either saying, "Absolute madness!" or "Yum, grill me up two of everything!" I hope it's the latter, not the former, as you would be correct -- these flavor combinations are dy-no-mite! The similar theme between the two is the use of cream cheese. I got the idea from watching the grinning, elfin-like creature known as Giada deLaurentiis making a grilled cheese sandwich. I liked her technique of making more of a creamy cheese spread, rather than slices of cheese because often times, the bread may crisp faster than it takes for the cheese and sandwich fillings to get all melty and delicious. By using  a soft spread of cheese, it's already halfway to Meltytown, and by adding different flavors, you're just making it more unique and creating something really specific to your tastes. I halved a full 8 oz brick of softened cream cheese, using 4 oz for each different flavor, and about a cup's worth of crumbled or shredded cheese per spread. The other flavorings I added as I saw fit -- I love pecans, so I used a bunch to give it a nice crunchy texture, while for the orange zest, a little goes a long way, and a teaspoon was plenty to give the sandwich a light fresh flavor.

Tools of the trade, plus a super-cute card! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I don't have a panini press. Nor do I have a George Foreman Grill or any such kitchen appliance-wizardry like that. Honestly, I think it's all gadget nonsensery designed to take up more space we don't have. It's called a cast-iron grill pan, people -- get one and call it done. It gets hotter than the surfaces of three yellow suns and you can make something other than a grilled cheese sandwich in it, miracle of miracles. This was another one of the wonderful things from the holidays, thanks to the Mister. You don't have to spend the extra dolla-dolla billz on a Le Creuset cast iron grill pan. I do love the one we have, it's such a beauty, but don't be a slave to name brands. You can head to a secondhand store or a camping supply place and find cast iron goodness there, just as easily and likely for a fraction of the cost. The main thing is, get something heavy-duty and cast iron. You'll likely have to take some time to season the pan if it's new -- that was the one benefit of getting the Le Creuset, it was pre-seasoned -- but it's worth having a nice cast iron cooking vessel or two. Your meats and grilled cheese sandwiches will thank you.

As Dre would say, "I gotta say it was a good day," - Photos by Wasabi Prime
It was truly a blessed Mental Health Day. There was even almond croissants, thanks to my friend who brought them to go with coffee -- egads, they were good! It was the day the whole Seattle area was treated to one of the most stunning sunsets... well, ever. Twitter, Facebook and any kind of Instagram-type phone app literally exploded with multiple shots of a sky turned into a Hello Kitty Rainbow Brite Explosion of Color. This was also right before a big snowstorm hit, so maybe it was Mother Nature's way of saying "sorry" before giving us a wintery slap in the face, but whatever. Just a reminder to take those good days when we can, because no one will ever give us our free time, we have to take it for ourselves. And you can be sure I'm taking more time for myself soon!!


  1. Yum! Tomato soup and grilled cheese - the ultimate comfort food combination! Yours sound so good!

  2. Last year there was a food truck called Melt that specialized in grilled cheese sandwiches. The partners in that venture have since retired that truck (ha! re-tired the truck, bad pun alert!) and moved on to other projects. They made a mean grilled cheese sandwich kicked up a notch or two with variety of ingredients. I liked it. But, and maybe it's just me, I really appreciated grilled cheese and tomato in soup in Seattle weather way more than here in Honolulu. :)

    1. I totally get that - I'd crave spicy shrimp and saimin, even on a hot Hawaii day, more than grilled cheese/tomato soup. Wonder if someone's tried to do a grilled Spam and cheese musubi? It sounds terrifying, but tempting to try...


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