grilled cheese

One of the reasons I make so many grilled cheese sandwiches is that they solve an essential cooking dilemma: what do I feed myself when there’s not much around to eat? The behind-the-scenes truth about the various tasty fillings come from the fact that there are often condiments in the fridge that I think will pair well with melted cheese. (Not much doesn’t.) Spicy pickles and pepper jack are a perfect match, even though they came together from hungry desperation.

So, delicious and gooey and indulgent as they may seem, grilled cheese sandwiches actually serve a boring function in my life: regular old sustenance. Not to undermine all their exuberant qualities.

When Big Girls, Small Kitchen began, reasons to cook were at the forefront of our minds–and reflected in our categories. Were we early twenty-somethings cooking for ourselves, for others, for potlucks, or for the fun of baking? The type of cooking done in each situation is slightly different, to be sure, and the dishes posted here reflected that in their serving size, time or energy required, and money spent.

As the site and I grew up, I expanded the categories to reflect some of the different reasons I was finding to cook. Dinners for two. Lots of brunches for friends. The category situation got out of hand as I experimented with different formats. So I’m here today to tell you that I still think reasons to cook are as good an organizational schema for a blog like this, and that I’m updating the archives and creating some slightly revised categories, ones that touch on single servings, packed lunches, snacks, sweets, party contributions, weeknight dinners, and projects. This batch covers more terrain than plain old breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I think they still stand up for those of you who are here because you want to make home cooking your main source of food.

To keep all those categories going, I’ll be bringing in a few more contributors in the near future. (It seems like you’ve been enjoying Natalie’s posts, so I’m really excited about this change!) As I’ve been pushing my career beyond the boundaries of this site, it means everything to me to have some help in the kitchen here.

And, in the spirit of spring cleaning and updates: I’m also planning on making a few functionality tweaks to the site soon. Is there anything you’d like to find here, or a way you’d like to use Big Girls, Small Kitchen? Please let me know in the comments!

For now, I offer you this incredibly delicious pickle grilled cheese. Enjoy!

Crazy Spring Veggie Cheesy Toasts

Posted by on Wednesday Apr 23rd, 2014

I miss a lot of things. Epic YouTube videos that everyone saw six years ago. Anchorman references. Jokes. Despite loving food more than videos, for the last several years, I’ve also missed favas, peas, and fiddleheads. Too busy eating ramps, I guess. Those I never miss.

This year is different. I ate all my spring produce at once, on these cheesy toasts. If there was a quota, I’ve filled it.

Around here, a lot of the produce is fleeting. We check the farmers’ market  bins for ramps week in and week out, only for them to appear once or twice, then disappear again. Do we like them more because they’re so transitory? Maybe. I do also like radishes and asparagus, though, both of which appear for longer stretches.

Anyway, I filled my quota by cheating. See, I wound up with this yield after a photoshoot for work. I don’t know if any of these have been sighted at local vendors yet, but at least I got a jump on the vegetables and am getting this chance to show you what I do when I cook with fleeting, tender, spring-like veggies: not much. My go-to prep is a flash in the pan with some sautéed onion (or shallot) and garlic. None of the vegetables need much cooking time, and a sauté allows you to monitor cooking so you don’t go overboard and turned the prized veggies into mush. 

This giveaway is now closed. Thanks for entering! -C

For my last post in the epic Middle Eastern Flavor Journey of 2013, I’m coming back to where I started: grilled cheese. My first entry in the series was this Muhammara Grilled Cheese, in which I simultaneously introduced myself to za’atar and pomegranate molasses, made a dip called muhammara, and brought a Middle Eastern twist into my favorite food in the world: grilled cheese.

To bookend that post, today we’ve got homemade harissa, a condiment I can’t believe I haven’t talked about yet, and a technique for making open-faced grilled cheeses for people who live in kitchens too small to fit toaster ovens. Best of all, together with Sargento, I’ve put together the ultimate toolkit for making grilled cheese at home, and you’ll have a chance to enter to win the perfect nonstick frying pan, a grilled cheese press, ingredients for building your Middle Eastern pantry, and coupons for free cheese to melt between two slices of bread–or on top of one slice, which is what we’re up to today.

There are times when I just want an open-faced grilled cheese. It’s like a French bread pizza/toast/tartine craving, as opposed to the need for a sandwich. Right? That makes sense. But when you don’t have a toaster oven, you don’t have the ability to not sandwich your bread together, because otherwise when you go to flip the open-faced sandwich, the cheese will smush all over the pan. That’s why, taking inspiration from this open-faced egg sandwich recipe, I cover the frying pan, turning it into a little stovetop oven, and let the heat build inside until the cheese melts.

To complete this meal, I just mashed avocado with lemon and salt and spread it on top, then dabbled the top with homemade harissa, a garlicky spice paste used throughout the Middle East both as an ingredient and a condiment. I’ve had some really great harissa at falafel joints around town, but I had never confronted the hot peppers needed to make it myself. It’s kind of an experience to make, if you have a few extra hours to kill, and it’s absolutely awesome to eat–fiery, smokey, garlicky, and fragrant with cumin and caraway.

I hope you try the recipe, and here are the details for the giveaway, which includes: the perfect nonstick frying pan, a grilled cheese press, ingredients for building your Middle Eastern pantry, and coupons for free cheese to melt between two slices of bread.

You’ve got three chances to enter the Sargento Ultimate Grilled Cheese Set Giveaway, a $100 value:

  • {one} Leave a comment below and tell what cuisine you’d most like to see explored on Big Girls, Small Kitchen in 2014.
  • {two} Be a subscriber to the Big Girls, Small Kitchen newsletter and leave a second comment letting me know you’ve subscribed.
  • {three} Tell your facebook friends and/or twitter fans about the contest – post the link and tag @Big Girls Small Kitchen (facebook) or @BGSK (twitter). Leave a third comment letting me know you’ve done so.

The contest will run for 10 days, and I’ll announce the winner in my January 3rd newsletter. Good luck!

Well, I bring you another grilled cheese today! It’s been more than eight months, a delay which would make very little sense to you if, like my frying pan, you could see a tally of my grilled cheese consumption.

Within the stringent bounds of the grilled cheese sandwich (must have: bread, cheese), there’s room for creativity. Some tweaks, like adding veggies, make the sandwich a bit more healthful. Others use up leftovers, like this timely Turkey Reuben. This one finds inspiration in the pages of Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, a blockbuster in the Middle Eastern cookbook sector of the shelf. (No, really, it’s gone viral.) I was browsing my copy and found a salad of roasted sweet potatoes, halved figs, balsamic vinegar reduced to a syrup, and feta. The salad sounded good. Which meant it would be better, I thought, as a grilled cheese.

Though I usually roast my vegetables to a nice browned crisp, for this recipe, I left the potatoes a bit softer, which works better in a sandwich. The other elements of this Middle Eastern fusion-y sandwich? Balsamic vinegar, reduced with a bit of sugar into a syrup that’s equal parts sweet and tangy, and fig jam, to replicate the original flavors of the Ottolenghi recipe. Then there’s Swiss cheese, the sandwich’s delicious glue, and good bread that gets buttery and golden in the frying pan.

I always love to combine sweet and savory, but this time of year the combo is everywhere! At our Thanksgiving, we roast our sweet potatoes with brown sugar and butter, and I can just imagine slicing up a leftover potato and making this sandwich for a day-after sweet-meets-savory meal at which I’ll clearly be giving thanks to the Jerusalem cookbook, for yielding so much inspiration.

More sweet potato recipes:

Baked Brie & Sweet Potato Bites

Sweet Potato & Andouille Hash Browns

Sweet Potato & Caramelized Onion Frittata

Hello from sunny and cool New York City! We’re having what a friend deemed “August spring,” but we’re all terrified to talk about it, lest the hellish July temperatures return. To me, it’s Maine weather: in the morning, we wear sweatshirts. At night, we sleep without air conditioning. For dinner, I’m once again okay with turning on the oven.

A good tuna melt deserves the broiler, and today I bring you the best tuna melt I’ve ever had. The inspiration for this melt arrived when Mezzetta challenged me to create a sandwich to share with you, using the fantastic jarred olives, peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, and spreads that they make. Sandwiches are pretty much the perfect summer meal–easy to assemble, no big deal to tote along to the beach or on other adventures. Of course I had to mix things up by turning on that broiler, but I don’t think summer will think any less of me.

For this sandwich, I mixed my favorite canned tuna (it’s called American Tuna and is low in mercury) with a simple, Italian-style vinaigrette made with basil, minced onion, olive oil, and vinaigrette. There’s no mayo in there, nor is there any on the sandwich. Instead, I spread the bottom half of the sandwich with one of my all-time favorite pestos, made with Mezzetta’s sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and Parm. For the melt aspect, I chose a fontina-like cheese recommended by my neighborhood cheesemonger. Perhaps my favorite move, though, was studding the top of the cheese with Mezzetta’s sliced hot cherry peppers, which are pickled and add great spice and flavor.

Before I go grab a cardigan to bulk up for this August “spring” morning, I wanted to let you know that you can enter to win Mezzetta’s annual “Make That Sandwich” contest. Create a sandwich using two or more Mezzetta products, enter the recipe here, and you could win the grand prize, $25,000! (There are also two runner-up prizes of $1000 apiece.) See tons of sandwich inspiration here, and good luck! I’ll be back later today with a giveaway of some awesome Mezzetta delicacies.

I wrote this sponsored post in partnership with Mezzetta to let you guys know about the chance to win their sandwich contest. Thanks for supporting the sponsors that help inspire BGSK’s content! 

This post begins and ends with muhammara. Muhammara is a Middle Eastern dip that’s rich, sweet, spicy, and tangy. I’m always looking for unusual dips, preferably one whose ingredients come from the pantry, and muhammara fits the bill.

Looking to other cultures is one of my tried-and-true ways of branching out in the kitchen. For dips, one of the most fertile culinary traditions has got to come from the Middle East.

Like: picture a mezze table, loaded with hummus, baba ganoush, oils, cheeses, herbs and try not to salivate.

Most of the ingredients in muhammara are everyday items: nuts, chile flakes, tomato paste, olive oil. But one – pomegranate molasses – is a little harder to find. I’ve seen it at some Whole Foods, but I traversed Atlantic Avenue and made a stop at Sahadi’s, a quintessential Brooklyn shopping experience. The pomegranate molasses lends the dip its signature sweetness as well as its tang. I can imagine using the rest of my bottle of pomegranate molasses in dressings and marinades.

Sometimes food inspiration just strikes, and sometimes you have to go searching for it. If you’re going to go searching, there’s no better place to go than San Francisco.

Specifically, Tartine.

Grilled cheese sandwiches are my kryptonite, but goodness I’ve been boring about them lately. Every day, the same. Two slices of whole-grain Bread Alone bread. Some Cabot sharp cheddar. On one forgetful day, I was out of butter and fried my grilled cheese in olive oil. That was the most excitement my sandwiches have seen this summer.

At Tartine, the baked goods beckon, but I needed lunch. I ordered a toasted sandwich, and Alex’s step-sister, Lissa Ivy, ordered one too. I liked hers better, but I’ll get to that.