Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Caramelized Onion, Apple, Walnut Grilled Cheese

There are 2 types of bloggers: the hermits and the party animals. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you might wonder why I never leave comments on your blog or participate in food blogging events. Two things happened in the last couple of years that turned me into an on-line hermit: I left my office job that offered plenty of slow days and nothing to do but surf the web, and I had a baby. My new anti-social existence often leaves me in situations of having a perfect recipe for a food blogging event at completely the wrong time. Sometimes I am late by a few days, sometimes by a few months, and in this case, by a few years. The event in question is the "Grilled Cheese Day" from 2006. Some journalist from Food and Wine Magazine reported that most food blogs were boring because they discussed something as mundane as a grilled cheese sandwich. In response, the food bloggers around the world decided to show him just how fabulous and interesting a grilled cheese can be. I guess I am more than 2 years late for that event, so writing about grilled cheese is no longer a cause. It's just plain old yummy grilled cheese.

Do we really need a "recipe" for grilled cheese? The students in my Knife Skills class think that we do. Knife Skills is the only class where I don't give out recipes since the focus of the class is not cooking, but chopping. But we still have to eat, so we improvise a meal out of whatever we chopped up. Most of the menu changes, but one item has become so popular that I make it for every Knife Skills class: the grilled cheese.

We always end up with a ridiculous amount of sliced onions, and what better thing to do with them than to caramelize and turn them into a musky, jammy concoction that turns every dish to gold. As Marie Wolf from BreadBasketcase mentioned: "Caramelized onions improve almost everything, except maybe ice cream." I got an idea for a grilled cheese with granny smith apples and caramelized onions from a class I took with Didi Emmons about 5 years ago. The walnuts got added when I was trying to use up whatever was left over in the vacation house pantry on the last day of a ski trip 3 years ago. It was such an incredible sandwich that I haven't changed it a bit in the last 3 years (and I am a hopeless improviser). What can I say -- you can't mess with perfection.

Caramelized Onion, Apple, Walnut Grilled Cheese

For Caramelized Onions:
3 Tbsp olive oil, plus more as needed
2 Lb yellow onions, sliced
Salt (2 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher / 1.5 tsp Morton's Kosher / 1 tsp table)
2 tsp balsamic vinegar

For the Sandwiches:
Good bread, sliced 1/2 inch thick (in Boston, I prefer to use Iggy's "country sourdough")
Unsalted Butter, softened
Walnuts or Pecans, coarsely chopped (either toasted or un-toasted are fine)
Granny Smith Apple, sliced 1/6" thick
Good cheddar, sliced 1/8" thick (I prefer 1 year old Cabot or Grafton Village)

To make caramelized onions:
  1. Set a large, heavy (not non-stick) skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, onions, and salt. Cook stirring occasionally until onions get somewhat brown, 12-18 minutes.
  2. Turn down the heat to medium-low and cook stirring occasionally until onions are medium brown, about 45 minutes, adding more oil if they stick too much.
  3. Add balsamic vinegar, and cook stirring occasionally until onions are dark nutty brown, about 15 minutes. Take off heat. You'll have way more onions than you'll need for grilled cheese, but that's not such a bad problem to have.
To assemble sandwiches:
  1. Have 2 pieces of bread ready for each sandwich and butter each piece on one side (be generous with butter -- you only live once :)
  2. Turn on the broiler.
  3. Set an oven-proof skillet, that can hold all the sandwiches you are making in one layer, over medium heat.
  4. Place 1 piece of bread per sandwich in the skillet, buttered side down. Arrange caramelized onions on top of bread, sprinkle with nuts, top with 1 layer of apples and then cheese. The order actually matters. You want the cheese to be on top so that it melts quickly under the broiler and the nuts to be next to the onions so that they stick and don't fall out. Cook the sandwiches until the bottom of the bread is golden brown.
  5. Pop the skillet under the broiler for 1-2 minutes, just until the cheese melts. Check every 20 seconds since broilers vary widely.
  6. Return the skillet to the stove top on medium heat. Top with the second piece of bread, placing it buttered side up. Flip the sandwiches, and cook until the bread is golden brown on the bottom.
  7. Serve with a German Riesling. It's a food/wine match made in heaven.

27 comments:

Elise said...

Now THAT is a grilled cheese sandwich. Yum.

shauna said...

If I could eat that bread, I'd be all over that cheese sandwich!

And by the way, I've completely become a hermit blogger. It's kind of nice to shed that first, frenetic energy, and simply settle into the food we love.

In a few weeks, I'll be even more of a hermit blogger than before!

Suzanne said...

Grilled cheese sandwiches in all their varieties from the most humble American cheese and white bread of our childhood, to this glorious version you've featured here, are one of the real joys of the gastronomic experience...is there anything better than the crunch of the fried bread and the gooey delight of the melted cheese???!!! Ah...yum.

Charles said...

I remember that sandwich from class, it was fabulous. Grilled cheese is so underappreciated :).

Kalyn said...

Never too late to blog about a delicious cheese sandwich! It looks fabulous.

Anonymous said...

I think you may have just thrown down a food blogger challenge: find a way for caramelized onions to work with ice cream!!

Kevin said...

Great take on a grilled cheese sandwich!

raya said...

Why is grilled cheese SO good? This looks amazing and I can't wait to try. And a knife skills class? That is something I need to find in my area. I've always wanted to improve my chopping know how. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

Suzanne said...

This sandwich....and the picture that so beautifully captures the melted cheese has compelled me to a second visit, just to look at the picture again and carefully read the directions.

Ciambellina said...

I like your blog! I would imagine you will receive lots of similar messages since your blog made it to "Blogs of Note."

Grilled cheese - yum! And I liked your post on the tuna from Boston. Keep up the good work!

My Heart's Fancy is a gift and said...

I have to try this as I've been experimenting with grilled cheese sandwiches lately. And besides, who says grilled cheese sandwiches just have to have bread, butter and cheese anyway? Thanks for sharing.

maybelles parents said...

yum. that love apple and cheese

lucas said...

nice...

Shakespere said...

Wow. That sounds delicious! Wish you had some samples.

xtinatanst said...

thanks for sharing this idea :) i really like it, and it's my first time seeing your blog

Music Lovers said...

nice blog

ChumpChange said...

Grilled cheese is my kryptonite to my sixpack... thanks for the recipee.

Fed Guy said...

Wow! I want one!!

woolies said...

Yum.

Running T. said...

Wow! That is absolutely a piece of art. But it still beacons to be eaten!
I'll have to try this - it has 3 of my favorite things: good bread, cheese and carmelized onions.

Fantastic!

Asha Dutia said...

Deep appreciation for your grilled cheese sandwich all the way from Bombay, India!

Jeanne said...

It was divine - something I have never said about a grilled cheese sandwich before. Thanks!

stephen said...

just made this sandwich. totally good. ill keep this one in rotation

Kmartin said...

This recipe looks amazing! Can't wait to try it.

Kmartin
www.cookeatshare.com

cburright said...

This is the fist I've seen your blog! (You're featured on the blogspot dashboard.) Your recipes look incredible! I'm definitely keeping an eye on your blog from now on.

Shawn said...

Sounds delish, but... 72-78 mins to make a grilled cheese sammy seems a bit much to me.

Helen said...

That's kind of like saying that spending and hour and a half on a chicken sandwich is crazy. Sure, you don't roast a chicken to make a sandwich, but if you have roast chicken leftovers, why not? Same with this sandwich -- it's a vehicle for left over caramelized onions or an incentive to start a new batch of caramelized onions to use for the week (on pizza, in tarts, with duck, roasted portabellas, etc). The sandwich itself takes 5 minutes.