Those pocket-sized theme cookbooks on an excessively narrow subject tend to taste repetitive very quickly (veggie burgers?). And so when we received Laura Werlin's Grilled Cheese, Please! 50 Scrumptiously Cheesy Recipes, we were wary -- that exclamation point and subtitle certainly didn't help. Nor did the jacket cover, which simply touts Werlin as the "author of Great Grilled Cheese," a similar book touting the same number of grilled cheese recipes that she published in 2004. All of that made the new book sounds, well, like a uselessly cheesy book.
What the publisher neglected to mention on the jacket cover is that Werlin also happens to have written several meaty cheese tomes, including one reporting on American cheesemakers and a comprehensive cheese primer. She also wrote the Foreword to the home cheesemaking guidebook by Ricki Carroll that got many cheesemakers started, including Jackrabbit Ranch's D.J. Mitchell.
In other words, despite the cheerleader title, Werlin is no cheese slouch. Why another grilled cheese book so similar to her first one? Well, she says it is simply a matter of "grilled cheese has grown up since that book was published." Alright, then we'll take a look -- even if we are going to leave that bologna-peanut butter-pickle grilled cheese for you to try. Get the recipe after the jump.
Werlin begins the book as you would expect, by introducing various cheeses that work well under fire. Those "easy-to-find melters" include the usual suspects like cheddar, Colby, Gouda and mozzarella; she dubs Manchego, Percorino, and Emmenthaler among the "slightly more exotic melting cheeses." There are also "cheeses that melt but don't become stretchy" as well as "non-melting but nutty cheeses." You get the idea. All are general cheese types, no brand names, until you get to the "unique American artisan (melting) cheeses." Here, Werlin recommends folks like Bellwether Farms' Carmody and one of our new grilled cheese favorites, Beehive Cheese Company's Promontory cheddar (more on Beehive's cheddars, including a sea salt and honey rubbed cheese and a coffee-rubbed version, later). Hey, maybe we really can like a book with a gimmicky title.
Though we tend to think the beauty of a great grilled cheese sandwich is in its impromptu, the-fridge-is-almost-bare status, like those two slices of rustic Italian bread we filled with Beehive cheddar and homemade pickled red onions last night, Werlin's recipes are interesting enough to hold our lunch-hour attention -- even if the eight chapters are somewhat randomly assigned.
The chapters are both ingredient-driven ("Just Cheese" and "Veggies and Cheese") and "concept"-centered ("Global Grilled Cheese" -- whatever that means? -- and "Old Favorites and Modern Sides"). In a larger cookbook, that organization would quickly become problematic -- or just plain annoying. Recipes for pimento grilled cheese and a Philly cheese-steak are in the "Regional American Grilled Cheese Chapter," not the all-cheese or meat/cheese chapters as one would expect.
But as this is a quick flip-through, not a mountainous book, Werlin can get away with the scattered organization. She also has some pretty interesting recipes -- a Gruyere and Gorgonzola Dolce sandwich with chestnut or acacia honey; Arepas with Monterey Jack, plantains and black beans. The "Californian" is an unusual combo of goat cheese spiced with chipotle chilis and spread on cinnamon-raisin bread with Monterey Jack and pan-sauteed with fresh almonds. We're not sure we get the California connection - Werlin dubs it such for the almond and raisin content, two high dollar state crops. Buy hey, there's no reason to get into a debate over why something like the Spring pea-fresh basil pesto and Fontina cheese sandwich on a fresh crusty loaf sounds more "Californian" to us. Or perhaps even that "harvest melt" from our very own Grilled Cheese Truck (p. 106: roasted butternut squash, sautéed leeks and Gruyére on whole grain bread brushed with balsamic syrup and agave nectar).
Do we really need another grilled cheese book? Maybe not. But for easy last-minute weeknight suppers, this is a handy book to use as a jumping off point. Or simply to use as an excuse, as we will, to spend entirely too much on cheese next week. We are going to leave Werlin's recipe for a peanut butter and Colby cheese sandwich with fried bologna and dill pickles entirely to you. Turn the page for the recipe, and please do let us know how it goes.
Erika's PB & Cheese
From: Grilled Cheese Please! By Laura Werlin
Note: Werlin says a colleague at Rogue Creamery in Oregon told her about this sandwich, which sounds "perfectly awful" but she says there really is "more to it than just a bite of nostalgia."
Makes 4 sandwiches
4 slices bologna
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
8 sandwich slices of whole wheat bread
½ cup crunchy peanut butter
8 ounces Colby cheese, coarsely grated (or use mild cheddar or American cheese)
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4 medium kosher dill pickles, cut into thirds lengthwise (or use sandwich stackers)
1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Make a small "x" in the middle of the bologna slices to prevent them from curling. Add the bologna the skillet and cook for about 3 minutes on each side, or until the bologna is well browned. Remove the bologna from the pan and let cool. Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel but do not wash it.
2. To assemble, spread the mayonnaise on one side of each of the bread slices. Place 4 slices of bread, mayonnaise side down, on your work surface. Spread 2 tablespoons of peanut butter on each slice of bread. Follow with 1 bologna slice and the cheese. Lay the pickle slices on top of the cheese. Top with the remaining bread slices, mayonnaise side up.
3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Put the sandwiches into the pan, cover, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown. Turn the sandwiches, pressing each one firmly with a spatula to flatten slightly. Cover and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until the undersides are well browned. Turn the sandwiches once more, press firmly with the spatula again, cook for 1 minutes, and remove from the pan. Let cool for 5 minutes. Cut in half and serve.