I tried to cook a Grilled Cheese from Facebook. There was…mixed success.

So, this video crossed my Facebook timeline recently…and it looked fantastic, so of course I had to try it. I learned some things in the process…


It can be expensive.

I was out of a few things (red pepper, brown sugar), but I opted out of others (that thinly sliced cheese officially listed as ‘Normantal’)…and still spent $40 on ingredients. stone ground mustard, sage and rosemary (I got the dried stuff because it’s good to have around), brie, and most of the other ingredients all added up pretty quick. Obviously it was all supermarket sized packaging, so I could easily make 3-6 of these, but at $8-$12 per sandwich, it’s nothing I’d call a bargain.

Ciabatta bread is a pain.

Don’t get me wrong, this stuff is delicious, but the video was a bit deceptive in that the loaf shown rose relatively high, and was quite dense. While I’m sure an actual bakery could sell such a thing easily, the supermarket I went to only offered a loaf of ciabatta about 18″ long and about half the height of the one shown.

I made do with diagonal cutting, but even that was quite the challenge. Getting even two slices out of it, with a similar size, thickness, and consistency, took well over half the loaf to accomplish. I definitely needed to change from my garden variety steak knife to a dedicated, serrated bread knife to get anywhere near what I was looking for. Moreover, its porous consistency meant that one of the problems I ended up with was that, on more than one occasion, I got a good slice that ended up with a hole in it. For a brief moment, I considered how nice it would be to have a jigsaw handy.

That ‘just wisk oil and egg yolks to get mayo’ section is bollocks.

Okay, not really. That is, basically, how it’s done. However, Gordon Ramsay did a video on making homemade mayo, and there is a bit of an art to it – the slow drizzle at the beginning for starters, and it’s entirely possible I didn’t add enough oil. Since the Facebook video didn’t list any quantities or proportions, pretty much everything I did involved guessing and listening to my heart, which is clearly a bad idea. If you’re going to do the homemade mayo part, do that separately from other parts of cooking, rather than trying to fit it in while you’re caramelizing the onions. And, while the dude in the rustic video did it with nothing but a wooden spoon, don’t be a hero – if you’ve got a Cuisinart, use it.

I ended up with mostly-raw egg yolks for mayo, and the egg/lemon/mustard combination was still a net positive that was present, but not overpowering.

Save that onion-caramelizing trick…but getting that look is tricky.

No seriously, those onions were incredible and, even if you don’t go all out like I did making the rest of the sandwich, adding red pepper and a little sugar to onions as you’re browning them makes it absolutely fantastic. However, getting them to have that crunchy look on a stove top is not easy. It’s a fine line with onions between ‘caramelized’ and ‘burnt’, something not helped by my use of a cast iron griddle rather than a frying pan – stirring and flipping wasn’t a picnic as I’m pretty sure just about every onion spent time on the stove at one point or another. While none of the onions were undercooked, getting that ‘crunchy’ vibe looks like it takes a bit of practice. Even so, don’t let it stop you – even at the browned stage, it’s a recipe to keep around.

Slow and low…and cover it.

Having made it through every step and the only part left being to actually grill it to the point of browning the bread and melting the cheese, those thick slices of bread require very low heat…and, if you’re like me and utilizing fans and/or air conditioning in order to avoid drowning in your own sweat this summer, you’ll basically-never get that cheese melted before you burn the bread if you don’t cover it. Okay, that might be a bit of hyperbole; this is where the ciabatta bread’s porous consistency does come in handy, as more heat gets to the cheese…BUT, if you use thicker slices like I did, you’ll definitely want to cover it. I just used an upside down pot, and it really helped. I had mine cooking for about 10 minutes and it really did come out ‘just right’.

You didn’t need that third cheese.

Hey, I’m interested in how it tastes. I really am. But it doesn’t look like the sort of thing that’s readily available. Aunt Google keeps bringing up results from France and the term lacks a Wikipedia entry, leading me to believe that its availability is prohibitive. I just made mine with brie and sharp cheddar. It’s certainly worth experimenting with others (I’m curious about using goat cheese with a little lemon juice and mustard instead of the homemade mayo), but just those two did the job just fine.

Even a half-baked attempt is well worth the effort.

What really made it work was the culmination of flavors – the rosemary with the bread, the mustard with the brie, the lemon juice with the cheddar…it all just worked really well together. Even my first attempt was fabulous and the recipe seems like it can withstand shortcomings in its implementation. Now, I wouldn’t call ciabatta interchangeable with Wonder Bread, but I would say that if you’re looking for something to attempt – and the admittedly high fat content doesn’t bother you, don’t let the fact that your result doesn’t look the same as this very-well-produced video give you pause.


A Fantastic Grilled Cheese

A never ending place of wonder

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve made it to the departure gate…almost…

I got in line to check my bag in. I’m convinced that traveling for longer than ten days without breaking the 50-pound limit is impossible. All that is in my suitcase is clothes for the week, toothbrush/razor/soap type stuff (ALL travel sized), my travel adapter, a phone charger, a towel, and a precision screwdriver set. I clocked in at 49 pounds. This worries me, because if the 8-kilogram limit on carry-ons to London is accurate, I’m not sure how I’m getting that stuff there and back; it may be an expensive proposition no matter how I slice it :/. Anyway the lady at the baggage check-in was extremely friendly and helpful. While they had a self-checkin area before the baggage line, I assumed it worked like the domestic airlines where those only worked if you had actual tickets; I was using exclusively my passport to check in. As it turns out, the self-checkin kiosks worked for people like me as well. Instead of making me use the kiosk and get back in the line again, she was really nice and checked me in. I got an aisle seat, one of the two last seats on the plane.

Once she had my bag, I proceeded to my favorite part of the airport: the security checkpoint. By “favorite”, I mean “the part that I, like everyone else in this building, enjoys the least”. Now here’s the thing: In practice, I don’t ultimately care. In principle, I absolutely do. As I pulled Tiny out of the bag, three different people checked and told me, “only put one laptop in each bin”. It never, ever gets old to respond with “…I did” to the men and women who man the conveyor belts, because their eyes light up in amazement, which is impressive given that they see thousands of laptops every day. Half out of concern regarding whether I actually wanted another X-ray and half out of principle, I opted for the pat-down instead. The guy was *all* business, when he went over the fact that he was using the backs of his hands as he patted down my posterior, I told him, “dude, It’s all good, I don’t really care, do your thing”, but gave the whole schtick just the same. I otherwise had no issue going through security. Also, I came to a decision: passengers 75 and older can keep their light jackets and shoes on while going through security. I now have plans for my 75th birthday, when I will once again, opt for the pat-down.

I’m convinced that for some reason, Delta has put me in about the furthest gate possible. There is an upside to that: I got to traverse the concourse with purpose; normally I peruse it out of boredom, but I did get to see most of the core bits of it. I saw a currency exchange kiosk and thought that I’d save myself a trip on the flip side of the flight. Given the exhorbitant fees in exchanging the currency in addition to the difference in value…well, let’s just say that the Biblical scene of Jesus flipping the money changer tables in the temple seems all the more justified.

Uncertain what the food situation is going to be on the plane and whether I’ll be awake to have any, I decided to stop at one of the ‘alternative’ food places on the concourse to get some form of holdover. I wondered if it actually constitutes ‘alternative’ if such places heavily outnumber the McDonalds/KFC type places to which these shops are designed to provide an alternative. In any case, I got what amounts to a ‘vegan Mounds bar’, an almond/coconut granola bar, and a bottle of strawberry banana Naked. I’ve learned something. There are people reading this blog who are card carrying chocoholics. There are other people reading this blog who can’t stand the substance. Vegan chocolate will satisfy neither. I’d try to isolate the pseudo-chocolate substance based on the ingredients list, but I couldn’t even tell you what language it’s written in.

As posted before, I forgot my trusty M&Ms pillow at mom’s house. This posed a problem, but I figured that pillows would be among the easiest things to purchase at an airport. I stand corrected. I can either get the neck pillows (i.e. utterly useless), or, I did manage to find a Hello Kitty pillow that actually looked comfortable. I debated to the point of looking at the price tag. I’m not paying $30 for a pillow *and* dealing with the explanations. If Delta sells those craptastic airplane pillows onboard, I’m buying one and doubling up on the Unisom. I *will* fall asleep on the flight!

If you only remember ONE travel tip I provide over the course of this blog and forget all of the others, it is this: pack a power strip in your carry-on. Get one with half a dozen outlets, even if you’re not sporting a laptop. If all you’re bringing is a phone or an iPad, great – forget the charging stations. EVERYONE is all over them, and everyone in a close seat in close proximity is eyeballing them, waiting for one of the present occupants to blink. If there are two people sitting next to each other on a wall, it’s because they’ve found an outlet and are holding it hostage, whether or not they are traveling together. Bring a power strip. If all the outlets at your gate (and the ones next to it) are occupied, you can ask to plug your power strip in, charge your phone, and the people who have already planted their flag on the socket don’t have to give anything up to help you. Conversely, even if you’re the one who has found the magical available wall outlet, plugging in through your power strip is the easiest means of making friends at the airport. The only down side is if you end up with four ‘new friends’ and your flight starts boarding.

Finally, if you’re a Verizon customer wondering what it’s like to be a T-Mobile customer, come to Kennedy airport. I’ve experienced multiple dropped calls, super slow connectivity, and plenty of pings north of 200ms. My T-Mobile phone is intentionally left at mom’s to enable me to text overseas, but I do wonder if the reverse is also true – I’d wager plenty of money that T-Mobile has better throughput here than Verizon, but presently, I’ve got no means of verifying that.

Alright, unless something crazy happens, I hope for my next post to be made from Frankfurt in some form or another. Then again, I am flying DELTA, an acronym for “Doesn’t Ever Leave The Airport” from a frequent flyer whose judgment I trust.