The Perfect Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

I realize some people will think this is heresy, but the best grilled cheese sandwiches are made with Velveeta.  Yes, I know.  Not real cheese.  Get over it.  It makes a creamy, melty, cheesy, drippy, greasy mouth of complete goodness.  Complete.  Perfect.  The whole is more than the sum of its parts.  I’m talking about grilled cheese perfection.

A Velveeta grilled cheese requires Nature’s Own Whole Wheat Bread – yeah, the cheap sandwich stuff and tons of real butter.  Slathered sweeps of it across the bread and a goodly amount in a hot cast iron pan. 

If the pan is at the right temperature, the sandwich has a light crust that crunches when you bite into it releasing the ooey, gooey melty magnificent faux cheese.  I’m telling you.  It’s all about proportions. 

I had a cheese slicer which I used to make grilled cheese from the original rectangular block.  Two slices.  One is to fill up the top left side of the bread, the second cut in half so that there is a strip down the right side and another across the bottom of the bread.  Perfection.

The cheese slicer broke after a mere 40 years of use.  I was incensed.  I can’t find one that cuts to the right thickness.  I realize they’re adjustable, but evidently, I’m challenged.  I can’t get it right.  So.  I’ve taken to buying the extra-thick Velveeta slices.  I do have to admit, it’s more convenient if an environmental disaster.  However, the proportion of cheese to bread is just slightly off.  One slice is not enough.  Two is a tad too much.   I always go for too much, with a grilled cheese, with everything in life.  And is my favorite word.  I am a maximalist, not a minimalist. 

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Turkey Stuffing Almost Like My Dad Used to Make

Step One: Using the lid of the turkey roasting pan that you lusted after for years and you finally inherited from your dad – the lid that is never used in turkey roasting because the pan never was tall enough to hold a 20lb turkey with it on — pour the two bags of the seasoned bread cubes you bought at the Kroger — Pepperidge Farm Sage & Onion, because you can’t find Brownberry Ovens any longer.

Step Two: Chop up two huge onions into cubes roughly the same size as the bread cubes. Use the knife you got as a wedding present for your failed marriage and the cutting board you inherited from your dead lover.

Step Three: Using the knife, sweep the chopped onion into the roasting pan lid on top of the bread cubes.

Step Four: Still using the knife and the cutting board, chop two bunches of celery into slices roughly a quarter in thick. If the stalks are wide, cut them in half vertically first.

Step Five: Using the knife yet again, sweep the celery from your dead lover’s cutting board to the lid of your dad’s turkey roasting pan.

Step Six: Using the wooden spoon like the old one your great-grandmother gave you years and years ago for your abruptly ended engagement six weeks before the wedding, stir the onion, celery, and bread cubes together.

Step Seven: Eat a handful of bread cubes, raw onion, and celery, remembering how you used to sneak it when your dad wasn’t looking.  Not that he would of cared.

Step Eight: Using the wooden spoon and your fingers, stuff as much of the bread cube mixture as you can into the cavity of the turkey. Remember the time you forgot to remove the giblets and neck before stuffing into the turkey. Laugh.

Step Nine: Put the heavily buttered, salted, peppered, and stuffed turkey into the oven.  Don’t forget to preheat the oven.

Step Ten: Fish around for the large glass baking dish from who-knows-where..

Step Eleven: Pour the remaining bread cube mixture into the glass baking dish. Wonder what happened to the blue and white Corningware one your dad used.

Step Twelve: Dot with butter (real) and moisten with giblet/neck broth you have simmering on the stove with a bay leaf. Laugh again about the year you didn’t take them out of the turkey before stuffing.

Step Thirteen: Cover the dish with tin foil and set aside until the turkey is done. (Sneak a handful of moistened bread cube mixture first.)

Step Fourteen: Gather the dirty utensils – the knife, the cutting board, the wooden spoon. Remember your wedding and the photograph of you pretending to stab your new husband with the cake knife.

Step Fifteen: Remember your dad asking, “Punkin, is this what you want?” just before he walked you down the aisle.

Step Sixteen: Stare out the window and wipe the tears.

Bread and “it’s a big ol’ goofy world”

Bowl, Spoon, Mascot

Bowl, Spoon, Mascot.

Jamie over at Life’s a Feast just blogged about bread baking. Memories of my early efforts are flooding my brain. Even with something as mundane as bread, I’m reminded that it’s a big ol’ goofy world.

John Prine is a peach and most of his songs are national treasures .(I have no idea why I own no John Prine – I must rectify this.)  The title alone of It’s a Big Ol’ Goofy World is a phrase I use often.  My life seems to have taken more twists and turns than can possibly be normal.  It’s a big ol’ goofy world.

In 1972 or so, I decided that no self-respecting hippy wannabe could call her self an Earth Mother without bread making on her resume. (Candle making and macrame are also required, but I never got around to those two.)  So, I pulled out my mother’s ancient cookbook, inherited from an even older relative, and set to.

It was, in keeping with early times of the cookbook, a recipe for basic white bread – the kind of bread that for years and years housewives made weekly to supply the household. It was assumed, I think, that one pretty much knew how to make bread.

Treasured walnut wooden spoon.

Treasured walnut wooden spoon.

Most people need either really, really good directions on the technique or they need someone to show them. Good bread is less about ingredients than it is about how you go about combining those ingredients and working them.

After the lump of Pillsbury flour brick came out of the oven and even the dog wouldn’t eat it, I went on a quest looking for the perfect recipe. I was just 13 and my range was limited. Brick after brick, I didn’t lose enthusiasm for learning how to do this, but I was supremely aggravated. ‘Course I was in the throes of puberty and spent most of my time aggravated about something.

At the time, my parents were in the process of turning a screened-in-porch into a family room. My dad hired one of the Marines under his command to do the wiring – seems the guy was a licensed electrician as well as a grunt.

He was an odd character. One afternoon, I was fussing with bread bricks when he wandered into the kitchen for a glass of water. I fussed and fumed and probably threw a few bowls around. He told me I was going about it wrong. One thing led to another and the kind-of-odd, crusty gunny sergeant/electrician showed me how to make bread. Somewhere during the process, my mom wandered into the kitchen and sat at the table watching.

There was great success. I’m sure I celebrated by heading to my bedroom and listening to this:

Here’s the recipe:

2 pkgs of yeast (regular, not fast rising)

¾ cup of warm water

2 cups of lukewarm milk (scalded then cooled)

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon butter (softened)

1 tablespoon of salt

7 to 8 cups of white, all-purpose flour (or 6 to 9, it depends)

Besides the bread bowl, you’ll need two standard bread pans, a wooden spoon (for aesthetics because any kind of big spoon will work), measuring spoons and cups, a stove, an oven, dish towels, rolling pin and a stereo.

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