Brie Tomato Basil Grilled Cheese Sandwich and My Top 5 Tips for the Perfect Grilled Cheese

So remember when I finished the Paleo Challenge, I learned I needed to eat actual meals instead of snacks for dinner?

Well I’m trying to get better at that.  I’ve been trying to incorporate more salads into my dinners, like the Roasted Beet Asparagus and Arugula salad in my last post.   But today and yesterday were long days.  I’ve been stressed and I’ve had a headache since I woke up today.

To remedy all that, I did two things:

1. Went to the Good Will

Thrift shops in Orange County aren’t as cheap in the song, nor are they as cheap as they were in Central NY.  But I still managed a few good finds.

thriftfinds

A tart pan for $2.50, a lovely oval shaped plate for $4.99 (over-priced in my opinion) and a cake plate for $2.50.  I also managed to find a rotating cake stand that will be great for frosting cakes.

2.  Grilled Cheese

brietomatoebasilgrilledcheese3

Let’s be more specific.  Brie Tomato Basil Grilled Cheese.

Now don’t get me wrong, traditional caprese with mozzarella is lovely, but seriously.  This sandwich is out of this world.

Last week someone asked me for tips on a good grilled cheese.  Obviously it’s all a questions of taste but here are…

My Top 5 Tips for Making the Perfect Grilled Cheese

1. Good Bread.  If your bread sucks, your grilled cheese will too.  Don’t you dare you sliced white bread.  Invest in some good bread.  I used Trader Joe’s Italian Bread.  Tasty enough.  Orange County is seriously lacking in good bread bakeries.

2. Make sure there’s cheese on both sides of the bread.  If you’re putting something other than just cheese, you need to make sure the cheese is on both sides.  The cheese is the binding agent.  If you don’t have it on both sides, it’ll all fall apart.

3.  Use Real Butter.  If you’re going to make a grilled cheese, now’s not the time to be healthy by avoiding butter.  No.  You’re choosing to make grilled cheese.  If you wanted a healthy meal, you’d make a salad.  Use butter.  It makes your bread golden, toasty and delicious.  Don’t skimp.

4. Mustard.  Unless you’re making a grilled cheese sandwich with some sort of jam, mustard almost always makes a grilled cheese taste better.  Cheese and mustard just go together.  I’m not talking about yellow mustard.  I’m talking tasty dijon-style mustard or the kind with the wonderful mustard seeds in it.  If you hate mustard, you can ignore this comment.  But if you like mustard, trust me.  Give it a try.

5. Low and slow.  Don’t turn the flame on high! Heat your pan to medium/low.  It might take a few minutes for it to get golden and for the cheese to melt, but that’s way better than a burnt piece of bread with hard cheese in the middle.  Be patient.  It’ll be tastier.

That’s pretty much there is to it.  Oh and if you use sliced Kraft American Cheese or Velveeta… You’re dead to me

Brie Tomato Basil Grilled Cheese

2 slices of amazingly tasty bread of your choice
a big pat of butter
1-2 oz brie, sliced (keep the rind! it’s tasty!)
3-4 tomato slices
1-2 basil leaves, chopped

Spread each slice of bread with butter on one side.  On the other side, layer cheese tomatoes and basil.  I try not to use too much cheese because brie is pretty strong, so I put half the cheese on one side and the bread and the other half on the opposite half of the other piece (does that make any sense?  See the pic below)

brietomatoebasilgrilledcheese2

Heat pan to medium/low heat.  Place sandwich, butter side down on pan.  Cook about 3 minutes per side or until golden all around and cheese in the center has melted.

brietomatoebasilgrilledcheese1

Serve with a bowl of soup and enjoy!  I had it with a bowl of Trader Joe’s Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato soup.  Tastiest soup from a box ever.  I promise!

Added bonus: This month is National Grilled Cheese Month.  I have no idea who decided that but I support, and so should you.  Eat Grilled Cheese Today!

P.S. Dunking is encouraged.

brietomatoebasilgrilledcheese4

Caldo de Pollo (Guatemalan Chicken Stew)

If you asked me what my favorite food is, I would spend forever trying to decide and ask you a million follow up question… is it my favorite food to eat all the time? or for a special occasion? Savory or sweet? Appetizer? Main dish?

If you were my boyfriend you’d probably just say, “answer the question.”

To which I would respond “Caldo de Pollo, if we’re talking about what I like to eat on a normal day.”

I have a habit of not answering questions, or if I do, qualifying that response with a million follow up excuses as to why I can’t really answer the question.

I’m very indecisive.  So here it is.  If I had to choose a favorite food to eat all the time, it would be this: Caldo de Pollo.

caldodepollo3

That just means chicken stew, but this is how my family (and I think most Guatemalan families) makes it.

The vegetables are all in big chunks and there’s a bit of chicken in there.

vegetables

It’s probably the easiest thing in the world to make.  It’s also delicious and healthy.  Whenever I go home, I want my mom to make two things: black beans and caldo de pollo.  It’s just delicious.

caldodepollo1

Caldo de Pollo

1 lb chicken thighs, bone in (boneless is fine too)
1 bunch cilantro
1 tomato, whole
1 onion, ends cut off and peeled
1 chayote (güisquil), quartered
1 cabbage, cut into 6 wedges
3 carrots, peeled and cut in half
1-2 celery ribs
a few pieces of fresh or frozen corn*
2-3 small potatoes
1 small bag frozen yucca
salt
Avocado, Lime, Sour Cream (for serving)

Fill a medium saucepan half way with water, bring to a boil.  Add frozen yucca.

frozenyucca

Boil until tender, it should take about 30 minutes.  This is crucial.  If you put the yucca in the water before it boils, the yucca will stay tough.  Make sure your yucca is tender and keep it in the freezer until the water is boiling, then add it to the water.

While the yucca cooks, start the rest of the soup.  The beauty of this soup is that it’s fast and doesn’t involve a lot of chopping.

vegetablesinpot

Big chunks of carrot and güisquil (güisquil in Guatemala, but chayote in Mexico so that’s what you’ll probably see it labeled as in US grocery stores) are appreciated.  But the cabbage is my favorite part.  Not familiar with guisquil/chayote?  It looks sort of like a pear from the outside:

chayote

And sort of on the inside, just quarter it and cut out the seed in the middle

chayote2

In a large post, add all of the ingredients.  Add enough water to cover the ingredients.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 45 minutes or until cabbage and potatoes are cooked through.  The take a fine mesh strainer, take out the tomato, peppers and cilantro.  Pour some of the broth on it and using a spoon, mash the tomato, peppers and cilantro to get the most flavor out of it, then discard.  Add yucca you cooked separate to the pot.

caldodepollo2

Serve with lime, sour cream  and avocado.  I usually just eat it with lime and avocado, but sour cream makes it super tasty, just mix it into your bowl just before eating.

*I don’t like corn, so I never use it, but most people (including my mother) add it.

I like to pack mine up into 6-7 containers (that’s how many meals a big pot makes), and take them for lunch for the week.

Healthy and delicious lunch that is totally Paleo friendly if you omit the potato and yucca.  Even though yucca is a root, I think it’s too starchy for Paleo.

But seriously, what makes this delicious is the lime and avocado.

avocadolime

It takes a regular soup and makes it out of this world.  Don’t skimp on that!

So what’s your favorite food?  Something you could eat everyday and not get tired of.

Green Soup: Broccoli-Spinach Soup with Yogurt

I’m a firm believer in balance.  Not like the yoga type.  I tried yoga, really I tried.  I just can’t do it.  I was thinking balance more in the dietary sense.

This weekend I went to the Taste of OC festival.  To say I ate a lot is probably the biggest understatement ever.  It was amazing.

Ribs. Fried Pig Ear.  Shrimp and Lobster Grinder. Italian Ice. Broken Banana Cream Pie. There were probably other things too.  I can’t remember since I was in food coma the second half of the afternoon.

Sometimes, you can only take so many rich, heavy dishes.  Sometimes you need something green, healthy, tangy and light that includes zero sugar.

Something like this:

Broccoli-Spinach Soup with Yogurt

1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion diced
2 cups broccoli, chopped

2 cups spinach
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup non-fat greek yogurt
salt and pepper to taste
garbanzo beans, optional

In pot, heat oil and cook onions until translucent.  Add broth and bring to a boil.  Add broccoli and spinach and simmer for 3-4 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Allow to cool a little bit.  Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth.  Stir in greek yogurt and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Garnish with garbanzo beans if desired.

Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side.

Easiest meal ever? Probably.

Tastiest? Pretty close.

I have no doubt in my mind I’ll be ready for an enormous meal soon (even though I think I’ve sworn off food festivals for all of eternity… or maybe just until the end of the month?).

In the meantime, I’ll stick to the green stuff for a bit.

Potato-Carrot-Parsnip Soup

I’m a firm believer in a few things:

1.  Cooking enormous meals such that you will have tons of leftovers.

2. That most soups taste better the next day.

3.  My friend, the Biscotti Queen (or Sara), is the best recipe recommender on the planet.  (Like the Pear-Onion Brie Bruschetta I made last week)

Let me elaborate on the third thing.

Biscotti Queen and I no longer live across the street from each other.  Rather, we live across the country.  Her in NY, me in CA.  Sad times.  But thanks to gchat, we still talk everyday.  We recently had a discussion that the top three things we talk about are:
1. Jobs
2. Boys
3. Food and things we want to make
Honestly, that’s probably in backwards order…

So she recently suggested I make Potato, Carrot and Parsnip soup from Epicurious.  But you know me.  I can never actually follow a recipe.  I always have to make changes. I tried to go the healthier route with this one… resolutions remember.  We won’t talk about the fact that I just ate 4 cookies…

Potato-Carrot-Parsnip Soup

adapted from Epicurious

2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
4 large carrots, peeled and chopped
3 large parsnips, peeled and chopped
2 good sized russet potatoes, chopped into 1″ cubes
1/3 cup fresh chopped parsley
1 tbsp fresh thyme 
4 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup Sherry
salt and pepper to taste 

Heat oil in a large pot.  Add onions and cook for about 10 minutes.  Add carrots and parsnips and cook an additional ten minutes.  Add herbs, potatoes and broth.  Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are tender (about 15-20 mins-ish).  Next, using an immersion blender, puree the soup (the original recipe says to only puree half but I did the whole thing.  Whatever’s your style is fine).  Add milk, sherry, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer.

Serve with crusty bread and enjoy!  (Serves 6-8)

Now this was tasty when I had it last night for dinner, but I swear it tasted about 8384940284949 million times better tonight.

So Biscotti Queen and I recommend you go make this now.

I promise it’ll be delicious, and if it’s not right when you make it, try it again the next day and be prepared to be wow-ed.   Can you say no to that?