Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Grilled cheese sandwiches are certainly about bread and cheese. But they are also about butter. Butter, beautiful butter. That is one of the many reasons why I love them.

Make this sandwich, or a variation thereof.  We’re fans of fresh tomato or homemade bread & butter pickles when we feel like jazzing it up. It’s all good as long as you don’t skimp on the butter, right?

For this sandwich I used some shredded Colby Jack and a bit of Parmesan for about a cup of cheese total. I like a blend of cheeses instead of just one kind. (I also use American cheese squares because they are so perfectly suited to the task. But I’m more into shredded cheese these days. American cheese melts perfectly and is joyously gooey, but it doesn’t really taste like cheese.)

Next, I like to use some good-quality bread. White rustic bread would surely be best. But I get by just fine with my homemade whole grain no knead bread. The inside of the bread is buttered along with a big mound of cheese and a shmear of dijon mustard for a little extra zing.

Some of the shredded cheese is saved to go on the outside of the sandwich. I spread some butter on top of the sandwich and then press on a bit of the cheese. Every time I do this it seems like something is going to go wrong and the cheese is going to burn. But it never does, especially if you’re not shy with the butter. The sandwich ends up being encased in a thin layer of fried cheese in addition to the melty goodness on the inside. It’s good.

I cook my sandwich in an iron skillet over medium heat for a few minutes on each side or until it is golden brown.

What kind grilled cheeses do you make?

Swirl Lunch

Most of the time I forget very important things like the fact that my kids are suckers for fun food presentation. During some halfhearted spring cleaning I found a neglected party platter in the back of cupboard. We’ve used this serving platter once at a party during the 10+ years we’ve had it. I was about to toss it, but then I had the most brilliant idea ever.

It felt brilliant because my youngest had been eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch with increasing frequency. Don’t get me wrong. Peanut butter and jelly is great, but not everyday. Lately, I don’t let my kid have any say in what will appear in her swirly lunch. “It’s a surprise! Don’t look!” But we might have an understanding that there will always be some raisins in the tail.

So if you were a sucker like me and bought one of these at Crate & Barrel years ago and you’re lucky enough to have a child old enough not throw it on the floor but young enough to still find it delightful, get busy and report back!

This could be fun with deviled egg trays too. Other bloggers, such as Muffin Tin Mom, have been there and done that. But I’m still feeling like a genius parent. Allow me a moment.

Rhubarb Black Raspberry Compote

We saw some lightening bugs flying around last night. This morning I spied a couple of them hitched to each other on the window. It feels like late spring has skipped directly into summer around here. If you’re like me and still have some frozen fruit you put up last summer that needs to get used up, look no further. Compote is the way to go.

Rhubarb Black Raspberry Compote Recipe

3 cups chopped frozen rhubarb
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups frozen black raspberries
1/4 cup Cointreau

Place rhubarb and sugar in a medium pan and cook over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes until the rhubarb is thawed. Add raspberries and stir for 3 minutes until thawed.

Remove from heat and stir in Cointreau. Serve warm over vanilla ice cream or cool with yogurt. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Yield: 2 cups
Prep-time: 10 minutes

Book Review and Giveaway: French Kids Eat Everything

The overarching message of French Kids Eat Everything, a product of the Le Billon family’s year long stay in Mr. Le Billon’s native France, is that kids can and will eat a varied and nutritious diet. All you need to make it happen is to live in a culture that places the utmost priority on eating real food as a profound source of pleasure and connection.

At the opening of each chapter, Le Billon casts herself as the nay-saying North American. She is anxious about her child’s autonomy being threatened by the regimented (but delicious!) school lunch program. She worries about her child starving to death and throws snacks in the back seat as soon as they are picked up from school. She rushes through meals because she’s “too busy”. But by the end of each chapter, her husband, extended family, and France as a whole have managed to help her take another look at her North American habits and she usually ends up happier as a result.

Le Brillon’s descriptions of French society and how it is geared toward teaching children from a very early age to enjoy a nutritious, varied, and disciplined diet had me turning green with envy. School lunches are impressive in France. They are presented in four courses and last for a minimum of 30 minutes! Kids and parents alike are excited to examine the menu each week and every student is required to partake. No one packs a lunch. There are no snacks save a little something when the kids arrive home from school.

It’s a case of being liberated by limitations. I’d give my left arm for a small piece of the discipline the French seem to possess around food. At the same time, they enjoy the act of eating and preparing meals so much more than North Americans. Getting dinner on the table isn’t just another thing to check off a list, it’s the highlight of the day.

Over the course of her family’s stay in France, Le Billon gradually attempts to modify her family’s eating habits. Taking a lesson from French parents who make it a priority to repeatedly expose their children to a wide array of foods during their first years, Le Billon trains her typical picky North American children to expand their palates and enjoy their food. Le Billon distills the lessons she learned into a set of ten rules.

I’ve been inspired by the book to take our family dinner to the next level. I started with clamping down on snacking (myself included). But I’ve counteracted any resulting unpleasantness with more elaborate dinners. Inspired by the book, I’ve been serving multi-course meals to the kids most nights of the week. They love it. Probably because dessert is always on the menu now. Surprisingly, it takes me about the same amount of time if I prepare a simple soup/salad, simple entree, and super simple dessert. (It’s usually fruit, but I did make a mean chocolate pudding last week.) And there’s no more opting out of dinner for my youngest any more. She no longer goes to bed with a belly full of bread. So far it’s working really well aside from all the dishes. Not only are all of us eating more vegetables and trying lots of new foods. We are also spending more time together at the table.

To win your very own copy of French Kids Eat Everything, comment below. I’ll be choosing a winner at random at 7pm EST on Thursday May 10th, 2012. Good luck and happy reading.

Update May 10th: Shelly is the winner! Thanks to everyone for chiming in!

Tennessee

In our infinite wisdom, we decided it would be a good idea to drive 1,020 miles to visit some friends over spring break. This will tell you either a) how great our kids are or b) how foolish we’ve become in our old age. Let’s just say we had a great trip to Nashville and a day to visit, but then things went south rather quickly thanks to a stomach bug my youngest picked up somewhere in Virginia.

Speaking of Virginia, if you ever find yourself in the northern Shenandoahs, be sure to visit the Luray Caverns. It was the real deal and blew both of my kids away.

I also have to mention Pal’s. It’s a fast food joint in southwestern Virginia and Tennessee. We weren’t hungry when we stumbled upon it, but I had to take a picture anyway. Judging from the high volume of traffic moving through the drive-thru, they must be doing something right beside their architecture.

Once we arrived in Nashville, we quickly set out to consume as much BBQ as possible. Some of the best we had was at Martin’s.

It was one of those meals where a hush fell over the table. Even the kids were quiet for a long time. Or at least it seemed like they were. I was so busy enjoying the food that I probably wouldn’t have noticed if the kids had suddenly caught on fire.

The cornbread was made with white cornmeal and contained a generous amount of black pepper. Arnold’s in Nashville also was not afraid to use large quantities of black pepper in their food. But both restaurants pulled it off brilliantly. And the dry rub baby back ribs at Martin’s were stellar. So was the cole slaw. I want their cole slaw recipe.

Sadly, one has to take breaks and rest up in order to get ready for the next round of eating. In our spare time we convinced our hosts to finally go out and get themselves some chickens. We got to visit a cute little farm and soak in all the green green trees and grass.

Pigs are not my favorite animal. But this particular group of swine was rather amusing, especially this sow that insisted on mounting the largest male repeatedly.

In the barn we got to visit some piglets that were beyond cute. Maybe pigs aren’t so bad after all.

Tennessee was a welcome respite from our grey New England existence. I just wish we had more time to take it all in (and eat more). But after this trip we drafted a new family rule: no more road trips that are longer than eight hours. However, time with friends and another order of Martin’s ribs might lure us back someday.

Maple Kettle Corn

[donotprint]Thank goodness I write a food blog or I never would have taken the leap and bought a little container of maple sugar for what seemed like way too much money. But for you, my dear readers, I forked over the $4.00 and got busy making some maple kettle corn.

We picked up the sugar at the Hebron Maple Festival after we sampled maple ice cream, frothy maple milk (yum!), and maple cotton candy. The line for the maple kettle corn was too long. A long line is always a good sign. But at that point we’d eaten so much we didn’t see the point of waiting it out even if maple kettle corn was a life-changing event. So I went about making some a couple days later with my trusty maple sugar.[/donotprint]

Maple Kettle Corn Recipe

Kettle corn made with maple sugar is more prone to burn than regular kettle corn. So don’t go anywhere while you’re making it. Get all the ingredients ready ahead of time while your pot is heating. Things can move quickly, but the pay off is worth it. Imagine crunchy-salty-sweet goodness with undertones of molasses. Or is it caramel? I’m not sure, but it’s definitely tasty.

1/4 cup canola or safflower oil
3/4 cup popcorn
2 tablespoons maple sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat a large non-stick pot over medium high heat. When it is nice and warm, add the oil, popcorn, and sugar. Stir well to make sure that the sugar is well distributed. Place the lid on the pot. Shake the pot with increasing frequency once the popping begins to make sure that the corn and sugar do not burn.

After a few minutes, the popping should subside. Remove the pot from the burner (a little too early is better than too late) and stir the popcorn with a wooden spoon while you sprinkle on the salt. Stir a few more times to make sure none of the sugar burns on the bottom of the pot.

Serve immediately or store for up to a couple days in an airtight container. Be sure to give the popcorn a little extra cooling time if you’re serving youngsters. The sugar bits can be very hot.

Yield: 10 cups – serves 3 -4
Prep-time: 10 minutes

Note: My kids didn’t start eating popcorn until they were three years old. Make sure you’re up to date on current recommendations as far as choking hazards and feeding before serving this snack to children.

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Eton Mess On A Stick

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Eton Mess (a traditional English dessert consisting of strawberries, whipped cream, and crushed meringues) is my kids’ new favorite reason for livin’/snack. This afternoon they were happily introduced to meringues. Then we smashed them into bits! It was great.

I even put them to work making their own snack. Here they are whipping some cream and smashing meringues.

They are very focused.

But the pay-off for all their hard work is deemed worth it.

A sure sign that a snack is a winner is when my children, who are usually nice enough to humor me, refuse to stop eating so I can take a couple photos. [/donotprint]

Eton Mess On A Stick Recipe

This recipe actually works best with huge industrial-strength California strawberries. The beefy berries hold their own on skewers better than I imagine delicate local berries would. They also have more square footage for the whipped cream and meringue to cling to. For the meringues I took the easy route and used Trader Joe’s Vanilla Meringues, but feel free to make your own, especially if you have a ton of egg whites and sugar waiting to be used.

1 pound strawberries, washed, hulled, and halved lengthwise
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 medium meringue cookies

Pour the cream and vanilla into a small bowl. Whip the cream mixture until peaks form. Set aside.

Place the meringues in a sandwich bag or under a towel and gently smash the cookies into tiny bits with the flat side of a meat tenderizer.

Stab the berries with a small bamboo skewer. (Cut off the pointy tips if your little ones can’t be trusted not to poke themselves in the eye.) Dip the berries into the crushed meringues, the whipped cream, and then maybe the crushed meringues one more time. Consume immediately.

Yield: 3 servings
Prep time: 10 minutes

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Daffodowndilly

Wait. Was today the first day of Spring? I didn’t even know because I was too busy frolicking outside. Well, happy Spring to you! What a glorious Spring it is shaping up to be here. Usually the first day of Spring in New England seems like nothing less than a cruel lie. But it feels like we’ve been transplanted to Virginia this year. Things are fully three weeks ahead of schedule. Birds are making nests. It’s 80 degrees outside. It’s awesome.

My favorite poem right now is about daffodils.

Glorious daffodils.

It’s by A.A. Milne and it’s called Daffodowndilly. Make your kids memorize it.

She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour:
“Winter is dead.”

 

Mini Meatball Sandwiches

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Having been a vegetarian for many years, I’m still learning when it comes to making a decent meatball. Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution is where I got the recipe for these little beauties. Lucky for me, we had a few leftover and I was able to whip up a delicious quick lunch that took no thought. Bliss![/donotprint]

Mini Open-faced Meatball Sandwiches

If you’re lucky enough to have some leftover homemade meatballs on hand, drop everything and make this now. Obviously, the proportions and number of sandwiches can be adjusted to your needs. The only real requirement is that the bread be sturdy enough to support all of that cheesy meaty goodness.

3 small slices of rustic bread
4 fully cooked small meatballs, cut in half
3 1-inch by 4-inch slices of white cheddar cheese

Preheat the broiler in the oven on High. Slide a rack into the upper third of the oven so the sandwiches will be close (but not too close) to the heat.

Assemble the sandwiches by placing the bread on a baking tray and topping them with 2 or 3 meatball halves. Top with a slice of cheese. Broil for 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted and has begun to brown.

Yield: 3 mini sandwiches
Prep-time: 5 minutes
Bake-time: 5 minutes

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