Grilled Grilled Cheese Spring Sandwich

Late last year I bought a slab of cast iron from the local home improvement mega store. The idea was not to buy a quality cooking griddle, but instead supplement my outdoor grill with a reasonably inexpensive multi-purpose cooking surface.

Delicate grill items, like veggies or fish are fine on aluminum foil, but I figured an outdoor flattop would be so much better.

If I recall correctly, I spent less than thirty dollars on a reversible barbecue griddle. The one I found that fit my dimensions was meant to match into a specific model of barbecue, but on its own sits just fine atop the grill I own.

I seasoned it up with a triple round of oil and heat. Smiled contentedly at my own ingenuity. Stored the griddle in inside the grill and then … winter hit.

Yesterday at lunchtime I was working from home, as usual. As I rummaged through the kitchen I discovered a loaf of freshly baked sourdough, some leftover Easter ham, a big block of cheddar cheese, and an abundance of painfully beautiful spring weather.

Inspiration struck.

I fired up the grill. Brushed the grill plates down a little (still crusty from the over-the-winter storage). And put some fresh oil on the slab of home improvement store cast iron.

I was rewarded for my efforts with a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, fresh off the backyard grill. Hot. Fresh. And in the fresh air.

Ain’t spring grand?

Savoury Avacado Chicken in a Cast Iron Wok

I’ve read all manner of reviews about one of the epic cast iron pieces in my collection, the fourteen inch wok, and it turns out the idea of a big and heavy iron wok is divisive and controversial.

A traditional wok (which I do not own) is an agile tool. It is light. It’s meant to be brought up to screeching hot temperatures in which food is moved, flipped, agitated, swirled and stirred with motion of both a scoop in the hand and by tossing and lifting the wok itself. Wok cooking is truly an art form.

It does turn out however that a residential gas stovetop with modest ventilation is not an ideal place to cook in a traditional wok. On the other hand, a wok-shaped bowl of cast iron is pretty darn good enough to replicate some of the properties of a wok. In fact, having spent the last two years learning how to cook well in my cast iron wok has been a remarkably rewarding experience.

And a tasty one.

Our challenge in the wok has been learning to cook dishes that have a curious cultural legacy here in North America. Not everything cooks well in a wok. Woks have a very narrow purpose even in experimenting across cultural recipes. Again, this may be a sensitive topic for some, but as a result of colonial history and inequalities among those who settled here over the generations, in the twenty-first century we have what I understand is a unique form of cuisine: North American Style Asian food. Or as one of my running pals who hails from Hong Kong reminds me frequently “not real Chinese food.”

What I’ve read is that cooking styles and spices mingled with availability of ingredients and limited by tastes linked back to various European ancestries meant that traditional cooking was almost impossible. Immigrants who crossed the Pacific rather than the Altantic set up restaurants as a means to make a living and a life here. They found that they needed to invent dishes that brought the knowledge and experience from their homelands but would be palatable to western tastes (so people would buy and eat it) so dishes like General Tao’s Chicken, Chop Suey, or Ginger Beef became locally known as “Chinese food” but were never dishes that one would actually find in China.

Fast forward to my kitchen, and decades of savouring those shopping mall food court noodle and rice clamshells of spicy goodness. A cast iron wok in my kitchen and a very Canadian-style of recipe that brings together a mish-mash of cultural and regional styles, ingredients, and flavours that results in many various stir-fry-style dishes something like Savoury Avacado Chicken:

The Recipe.

First, mix up the following as a deglazing sauce and then set aside.

125 ml water
15 ml of cornstarch
small packet of chicken bouillon powder
15 ml of lemon juice

As you heat up the wok to get it screaming hot, mise en place your main ingredients, frying in succession the chicken, then the peppers and mushrooms, then adding the spices and diced avacados until it all comes together into a lovely stir fried jumble.

vegetable oil and/or sesame oil for pan
450 grams chicken breast meat (cubed)
handful red bell pepper (diced)
handful white mushrooms (sliced)

10 ml curry powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 large avacado (diced)
toasted sesame seeds to garnish

Deglaze the whole thing with the boullion/lemon juice mix from earlier, and serve over rice garnished with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds.

Thus, the controversy of the cast iron wok: not an authentic wok, sure, but I’m not cooking authentic recipes. It all evens out, right?

Gaige’s Famous Inside-Out Grilled Cheese

Some day I’ll dig into my second-favourite cooking topic after cast iron, and write some posts about sourdough bread.

In the meantime, know that my classic sandwich loaf sourdough serves as the base for a mouthwatering recipe that blurs my passion for cast iron cooking with fresh bread and delicious lunch foods.

It’s a simple hack for your grilled cheese, but add a bit of grated cheddar to the buttered outsides of a classic grilled cheese sandwhich (bread, butter, cheese and heat.)

2 slices of sourdough bread
1 tablespoon of butter or margarine
1/2 cup of grated cheddar cheese

Grill as normal. (My normal is on a hot-hot cast iron griddle.)

If you’ve got a soft spot for fried cheese, the crisp exterior of your sandwhich will warm your heart (and probably clog your arteries … did I mention that this is a sometimes food?)

Saturday Chocolate Chip Pancakes

My twenty inch cast iron grill pan sees service at least once a week (when we’re home, that is) on Saturday mornings as a pancake making workstation.

For at least a decade our family tradition is a fresh batch of these simple breakfast treats.

1 1/3 cups of all purpose flour
3 tablespoons of granulated sugar
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 egg
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 1/2 cups of white milk
1/2 cup chocolate chips

The flour, sugar, and baking powder get mixed together in a medium bowl.

The egg is whisked in a 2 cup measuring cup, then I add the oil, vanilla and milk and mix again.

The wet and dry are combined, mixed lightly, populated with the chocolate chips, and let to sit for about 10 minutes to hydrate.

Batter is poured in 1/4 cup portions onto a hot cast iron grill pan and cooked to desired doneness.

We serve it all up with maple syrup and a hot cup of coffee.