By: Michelle Hershman
A day spent reading cookbooks and eating grilled cheese sandwiches (yes, multiple) is my idea of the perfect day. When I heard there was a cookbook called 150 Best Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, I thought I’d stumbled upon the Holy Grail. I could eat grilled cheese sandwiches and ogle pictures of ooey-gooey grilled cheese at the same time? Heaven, right?
Not so fast. There can’t possibly be 150 different grilled cheese sandwiches in this book, I thought, picturing slices of American cheese oozing out of white bread. Well, there aren’t. At least, not in the form I expected. Is Grilled Heuvos Rancheros on a flour tortilla really a grilled cheese sandwich? How about a Chorizo Melt? Sure, the recipes both contain cheese and are grilled; but, when I think of grilled cheese, Grilled Mascarpone, Banana and Honey is not what comes to mind. Grilled cheese is supposed to be simple and remind you of childhood. A Pear Ricotta Panini is a stretch. Then I thought more about it, and I realized, why am I thinking so inside the box? Why am I being a grilled cheese snob? Lasagna Grilled Cheese may not be conventional but it sounds delicious. I think this cookbook could be more accurately titled 150 Best Grilled Cheese and Grilled Cheese-Inspired Sandwiches but I guess that’s too long of a title. Not quite as snappy!
150 Best Grilled Cheese Sandwiches contains an interesting array of sandwiches, ranging from the breakfast Grilled Egg, Cheese and Bacon Biscuit to the dessert Tiramisu Grilled Cheese. The variety is incredible. Sure, we’ve all had a breakfast sandwich with cheese but I never would have thought of the Grilled Bacon and Fried Green Tomatoes sandwich.
The author, Alison Lewis, begins the book with a brief history on Grilled Cheese (did you know grilling cheese on bread began in the 1920s but adding the top slice of bread wasn’t popularized until the 1960s?). She follows the history with tips on choosing bread and cheeses. Some of the tips, I thought were common knowledge and not that useful. For example: whole-grain bread is healthier and provides more fiber and basic white bread is always a hit with kids. However, there were the occasional helpful hints: use brioche and Challah bread when making dessert or French toast-type grilled cheese recipes and spread softened butter on the bread instead of adding it to the pan to keep the butter from burning. The author continues the tips throughout the book and also includes sandwich shortcuts. Again, some of these are “duh” tips (gather ingredients before beginning for time savings) but there are some valuable tips like grating cheese over wax or parchment paper for easy transport and cleaning.
I think the best part of the book is the condiments section which provides easy recipes for chutneys (Peach-Ginger Chutney), relishes, pesto (Roasted Asparagus Pesto sounds delicious) and various cheese spreads that you can add to sandwiches or use in other non-grilled cheese recipes.
If I had to find fault with this cookbook, it’s that there are just not enough pictures. Sure I love reading new recipes, but it’s always disappointing for me when the recipe is not accompanied by yummy-looking food photos. My favorite cookbooks have pictures for every recipe. I know this is not always practical or possible but pictures make a huge difference, not only because they’re fun to look at, but they also show how the finished product is supposed to look and can give readers an idea of how to plate the dish. For example, the Black Russian is pictured with potato chips - the perfect accompaniment for a deli-style sandwich. The absolute best food photo in the book is the photo the author used for the cover – the Classic Grilled Two Cheese sandwich with cheese oozing out the sides. YUM! This is also the only recipe I recognized as “grilled cheese” with simple ingredients of white or whole-grain bread, butter, muenster and cheddar cheese.
This would be a great cookbook for someone who’s looking to add flavor and variety to their lunch. It would also be a great cookbook for kids because it includes a lot of fun recipes that involve just a few ingredients and are simple to put together. But most people who have spent a lot of time in the kitchen aren’t going to get that much out of this book. Still, I cannot fault a cookbook that devotes its pages entirely to my favorite sandwich! If you love grilled cheese, you’ll love reading the different ways to put cheese to bread. But, next time, Alison Lewis, give us the goods – more ooey-gooey pictures!