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This photo shows a grilled cheese sandwich prepared using the method recommended below. (Elizabeth Karmel via AP)

This photo shows a grilled cheese sandwich prepared using the method recommended below. (Elizabeth Karmel via AP)

For the ultimate grilled cheese, use both stovetop and oven 

By ELIZABETH KARMEL 
The Associated Press

Grilled cheese is the ultimate comfort food, an adult treat that harkens back to childhood. I never met a grilled cheese sandwich I didn’t like.

Where I grew up, there was an old-fashioned drug store with a lunch counter. When the weather was good, my best friend and I would ride our bikes there and order grilled cheese and made-to-order orangeades. The grilled cheese was made with fluffy white bread and American cheese on a griddle. It had one slice of cheese between the bread slices and was as thin as a sandwich can possibly be, as the bread was compressed during grilling. Still, I have a vivid and mouth-watering taste memory of this grilled cheese, as if I ate it yesterday.

At home, grilled cheese mostly meant Swiss cheese and rye bread, or Roman Meal bread stuffed with sharp cheddar and grilled in a pan. I loved them both. When I lived in Chicago and needed comfort food, I would go to a Greek diner and order a grilled Swiss cheese on rye with bacon — enough said!

Recently, I have mashed up the best grilled cheese sandwiches of my memory to come up with the ultimate grilled cheese recipe.

I use a sturdy white bread; Pepperidge Farm original white is my top choice. I use one slice of American cheese, aka melty cheese, on each side to hold everything together and then add a thick slice of whatever cheese I have on hand. It is usually Muenster, Swiss or sharp cheddar — but you can even use pimento cheese if it doesn’t have too much mayo in it.

I used to butter the bread and try to “grill” the sandwich on the stovetop in a non-stick skillet. But invariably, the cheese was still cool in the middle when the outside of the bread was brown. Making grilled cheese in a panini maker solved these problems, but then it wasn’t a grilled cheese per se. It was a crisp, flattened cheese bread.

I wanted to recreate the perfect drugstore grilled cheese, but with more and better cheese.

So instead of spreading the bread with butter or mayo, I took a note from the drugstore griddle and put a small bit of butter in the pan. Once it was melted, I swirled the bread in the butter, adding a thin coat to one side of the bread. I removed one piece of bread, stacked the cheese on the other, and then topped it with the first slice — butter-side out.

If you’re adding other ingredients, like bacon, tomato, mushrooms, caramelized onions, etc., now is the time to do it.

Quick tip: I keep my bread in the freezer and start out with frozen bread. The rigid bread helps keep the structure of the sandwich intact before the cheese starts to melt and hold everything together. Using frozen bread also slows down the browning (burning) of the bread.

Don’t turn the heat higher than medium. I let the sandwich toast for 1-2 minutes, or until it’s crisp and lightly brown, and then flip it to brown the other side. Do this carefully, because the cheese isn’t melted yet and the sandwich won’t hold together on its own. But if it slips apart, don’t worry: At this stage, you can easily realign the bread.

Next, I pop the sandwich and non-stick skillet into a preheated 350-degree Fahrenheit oven for 2-4 minutes, depending on the thickness of the cheese and bread. This lets the cheese melt completely without the bread burning. It takes 3-4 minutes for the cheese to melt, and then your grilled cheese is ready.

Remove it from the heat, and slice on a plate or cutting board. You will have a super melty, gloriously brown and crispy grilled cheese sandwich with a buttery but not greasy crust.

Whatever cheese you choose, I recommend at least one slice of melty cheese to hold things together. American cheese comes in white and yellow, and if I am making a grilled cheese with a fancy cheese too, I opt for the white.

Enjoy your version of the classic but don’t stop there. Grilled cheese lends itself to lots of flavor variations.

A few of my new combinations:

Jalapeno Jack, Tomato and Avocado on Whole Wheat Bread

Ham and Gruyere on Brioche or Martin’s Potato Bread

Pesto, Mozzarella and Prosciutto on Italian Bread with a Sesame Seed Crust

Brie and Fig Jam on Country Bread

Blue Cheese, Walnuts and Sliced Pear on Raisin Bread

Sharp Cheddar and Apple on Rye Bread

Monterey Jack, Spinach and Sliced Almonds on Whole Grain Bread l

Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling, barbecue and Southern foods expert, and the author of four cookbooks, including the newly released “Steak and Cake.” Her website is www.elizabethkarmel.com


 Sauerkraut is tasty and good for your gut

By ANGELA SHELF MEDEARIS

When it comes to making healthy eating choices, there is a constant barrage of information. Fueled by a multi-billion-dollar industry, marketers try to convince us that their products are just what we need to feel good and be healthy. When it comes to probiotics, for example, what do consumers need to know to make an informed buying decision?

Probiotics are the “friendly” bacteria that reportedly help improve or maintain good gut health. Probiotics contribute to a healthy gut flora. These live microorganisms can help you have good digestion, boost your immune system and even provide you some important vitamins. Many foods are now enriched with probiotics, which also can be purchased in supplement form.

Sauerkraut has ancient origins dating back more than 2,000 years. Legend tells us that fermented cabbage was a food staple for workers constructing the Great Wall of China. In the summer, laborers building the wall lived on cabbage and rice. In the winter, the cabbage was preserved with rice wine, which soured the cabbage, keeping thousands of workers healthy in the worst of conditions.

Probiotics found at the store usually contain only one strain of bacteria or a few strains that are thought to be helpful. On the other hand, raw sauerkraut can contain a mixture of over 13 different species of gut-friendly bacteria.

Each batch of sauerkraut you eat may contain different proportions of different strains of probiotics. Including a variety of strains can help you diversify and improve your gut flora.

Raw sauerkraut can not only be a healthy way to supplement your diet with gut-friendly bacteria, but it also can add an exciting new flavor to your meals. Sauerkraut contains various strains of probiotics, vitamins B and C, beneficial enzymes, Omega-3 fatty acids and lactic acid that fights off harmful bacteria.

To keep the probiotics it contains alive, do not heat or cook sauerkraut. Add raw sauerkraut to salad, as a garnish to meat or as a side dish to accompany a breakfast of eggs and sausages. This recipe for Spicy Sausage and Sauerkraut Sandwiches uses raw sauerkraut as a topping, like adding pickles to a burger, but with more health benefits. It’s a delicious way to improve your gut health!

SPICY SAUSAGE AND SAUERKRAUT SANDWICHES

1 pound bulk spicy pork sausage

2 medium green and/or sweet yellow peppers, ribs and seeds removed, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

8 pretzel or regular hamburger buns, split

8 slices pepper jack or provolone cheese

1 1/2 cups sauerkraut, rinsed and well-drained

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, optional

1. Heat oven to 350 F. In a large skillet, cook sausage over medium heat 4-6 minutes or until no longer pink, breaking into crumbles; drain.

2. Add bell peppers and onion; cook and stir 8-10 minutes longer or until vegetables are tender.

3. Place bottom burger buns on a foil-lined baking sheet. Spoon meat mixture onto bun; place cheese over meat. Bake 4-6 minutes or until cheese is melted.

4. Remove from oven and top with the sauerkraut. Add Dijon mustard, if desired. Put top buns on the sauerkraut and meat mixture and serve immediately. Serves 8.

Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.”

©2020 King Features Synd. and Angela Shelf Medearis

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