17 February 2006

Cheesy Sandwich, Grilled

Posted in food, fun at 4:48 am by Tricia

A few summers ago, C-boy and Z-boy wanted grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch every day. Every….single….day. It was enough to make me stir crazy. Even though we used Zingerman’s bread, and good enough cheese, it made me crazy.

About one week into this food jag, I had an “aha!” experience: I realized I should just jazz up my own sandwiches. Homemade pesto, a thick slice of fresh tomato from the farmer’s market, slabs of grilled red peppers – it was enough to keep me cheerfully grilling cheese sandwiches for weeks on end.

Imagine my shock when two – at least two! – cookbooks showed up with Grilled Cheese sandwiches as their focus. Here I was being trendy and I didn’t even realize it!

But hey, you don’t want to know what I ate for lunch – especially since it was 3 or 4 years ago (back when the main point of blogs seemed to be to post what you’d eaten for lunch, come to think of it!). In the time since, blogging about what you eat for lunch is as boring and trite as cheese sandwiches. Blogging now requires passion and focus and purpose (and consequences!). Or it needs to provide some sort of aggregator – say, all the worthwhile cheese sandwich experiences in the blogosphere. Now that would be a valuable service (according to Pete Wells).

I do think he makes some good points. Someone who is intentionally writing for an audience needs passion, purpose, and unique voice (although i’m not getting the ‘consequences’ part). Someone like me, who just wants to play around with some technology but doesn’t feel the need to make it private – I probably won’t meet those criteria. Well, maybe I am unique: my purpose is to store random snippets from my brain. Nobody else shares those snippets, so I’m unique and purposeful. But like Catherine wrote in Foodmusings:

In fact, many blogs aren’t really trying to do anything but entertain their creators and a handful of readers. They are, by their very definition, navel-gazing undertakings.

I’m much more of a hypertext theorist than a food blogger (go read my disssertation if you don’t believe me). I spent a few too many years gazing at the boys who’d grown under my navel, so I got out of touch with the tools of my trade. And most of my recent writing has been in the academic vein. But I like to read food blogs, and play around with technology, so here I am.

Now on to tonight’s dinner. While musing about my contribution to today’s celebration of cheese sandwiches as I walked to work this morning, I was trying to decide whether or not to make my pesto-muenster-grilled red pepper sandwich. My mind started drifting, and I thought of people who combine cheese with fruit preserves. I’ve never actually tried that, but we’ve currently got a jar of awesome homemade apricot butter in the fridge. And then I thought about halloumi – a great sheep and goat’s milk cheese we first encountered in Cyprus. I wondered how the tang and intensity of the apricot butter would do against the mellow yet salty halloumi.

So when I found myself eating dinner alone – the boys having gone out while I was writing evaluations at the science fair – I decided to try grilled halloumi and apricot butter, on Zingerman’s sourdough (bread of the month! quite the bargain!).

I can’t say it was a success. It pains me to admit this, but I think the problem was the bread. C-boy and I share a love for this bread, but it was too much for the halloumi. The bread is sour and tangy. Halloumi is mild but salty. It needs something with much less flavor, like a pita or one of the other selections at local Arabic markets. Seems obvious in retrospect! And I know some of you don’t care for my rambling reflections on why it didn’t work, but for anybody who rushes out to try halloumi, I want you to know the best approach.

I also grilled a slice of the halloumi by itself – the common treatment for halloumi, in fact, especially in our house. I tried that with a dollop of apricot butter. Much better! Now I understand the pairing of cheese and fruit preserves.

(By the way, I still haven’t mastered the art of food pictures, so I won’t shoehorn any into this post.)

If you’ve never heard of halloumi, you’re probably not alone. We have a friend who grew up in Beirut, whose parents still own an apartment in Cyprus. We travelled there together in 1994, and he introduced us to grilled halloumi. The cheese is made from sheep and goat’s milk, with a touch of mint. It’s soft yet kind of chewy. It’s commonly grilled (cooked on a stove top griddle), but it’s not stretchy or oozy after grilling and doesn’t really ‘melt’ per se – instead, most of the liquid gets cooked out and it gets kind of chewy, and it squeaks when you bite into it. A few years after our Cyprus trip, we found that many of the Arabic groceries in town sell it. More recently, it’s been available at Zingerman’s. Other large grocery stores are selling this Keses brand, but it’s much more expensive than what’s available at the Arabic markets. At a local grocery, I talked to a rep from the company that is importing and selling Keses in this area. He gave me some compelling reasons why it should be better than the cheese at the other markets. So I bought some of each, tried them together – and couldn’t really tell the difference. So I keep buying it from the Arabic markets – besides, they’re a more intriguing shopping experience! But to be honest, all of it pales in comparison to the cheese available on the island, so if you want an authentic halloumi experience, you’ll need to book a flight to Cyprus.

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