Friday, December 2, 2011

The Beet

Cheese and hibernation

Express Staff Writer

As freezing temperatures and snow settle in to the Wood River Valley, fireplaces are turning on and people are huddled under blankets, desperately wishing that humans hibernated.

This kind of weather reminds us that, no matter what the human race has accomplished over the past millennia, we are still ruled by our animal natures.

Bears seek out high-protein, high-fat food to get them through winter, slowing their metabolisms during hibernation to make their food stores—stockpiled in their own bodies—last through a long, beyond-freezing Idaho winter.

We—or at least, I—have the same urges. Of course, there are a million recipes out there for soup, stew and other healthy winter fare. Spicy carrot soup has appeared on my dinner table recently, and pasta with roasted butternut squash and sage is another winter favorite of mine.

But with my own inner animal constantly urging hibernation, it's hard to find the motivation to cook either of these somewhat complicated meals after stumbling home from the office in the dark.

So I find myself turning to cheese. Bears have the right idea—protein and fat are definitely called for when the mercury drops. Winter seems to cry out for an awesome grilled cheese sandwich.

There are a few secrets to perfect grilled cheese. First, use lots of butter, and make sure to spread the butter all the way to the edges of the bread. Second, make sure the bread you are using is incredible. Your grilled cheese will be elevated if you use thin slices of crusty French bread or even just a multi-grain variety. Use something with whole grain, and you might feel better about all the fat you just slathered all over it.

Third, use a good cheese. Havarti, cheddar, Gouda and even Swiss are all excellent options. My mom's standby was Velveeta, which melts beautifully but leaves something

to be desired in the taste department.

Fourth, experiment with add-ons. Grilled cheese suddenly seems like a meal when you add turkey, thinly sliced apple or pear or whatever your heart desires. Apples and cheddar are a great pair, as are ham and Swiss (of course).

I have one last tip, though I hesitate to even mention it: Use mayonnaise instead of butter on the bread. This is not for the faint of heart (so to speak), and I would not recommend revealing this to health-conscious people, but the sandwich browns better with mayonnaise.

Here is my basic recipe for grilled cheese. However, I never make it the same way—and you shouldn't either. Happy hibernating!


Grilled Cheese Sandwich

(Makes two)

One small yellow onion, thinly sliced

4 slices of multi-grain bread

2 tablespoons butter (or mayonnaise), plus some for the onion

4 oz. Irish cheddar cheese, sliced

Cook onions over medium-low heat in a medium saucepan with a knob of butter until golden and caramelized (don't rush this, or you will burn the onions), stirring occasionally. This can take anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes. Once done, set aside.

Meanwhile, spread the butter evenly over one side of each slice of bread, carefully covering the entire slice to the edges.

Turn heat to medium. Place one slice of bread butter side down in the still-hot frying pan. Layer half the cheese on top, then add half the onions and another slice of bread, butter side up.

Brown the sandwich for about two minutes, flip, and brown for another two minutes. Continue flipping carefully until the cheese is sufficiently melted -- harder cheeses will take much longer than softer varieties.

If you're having trouble getting your cheese to melt, remove pan from the heat and slap a lid on the pan for about a minute. This holds in the heat but removes the direct heat from the bottom of the pan, reducing browning and promoting melting.

Once the sandwich is done, repeat with the next. If you're making a large batch, sandwiches will keep in a 250-degree oven until ready to serve. Enjoy, and make someone else scrub the onion and burnt cheese residue out of the pan.

Katherine Wutz:

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