Even if you have been a reader of my blog and fan of Cast Iron Guy since it’s very early days, chances are high that you didn’t know me before the pandemic.
I used to be a guy who spent ten to twelve hours per day either downtown, or transporting to and from downtown for work. My home kitchen was something that was reserved for Saturday pancakes, Sunday dinners, and a few home-cooked meals each week between when we we’re dashing about here, there and everywhere.
But the last two years has set a lot of people up with new routines, lifestyles and habits.
I not only started baking a lot more sourdough bread, but my kitchen also got regularly used for the preparation of lunchtime meals: quick foods to be cooked and consumed in time to squeeze a walk in with the dog before heading back to the computer for work.
It’s probably not surprising then that I started making a lot of sourdough grilled cheese sandwiches. Quick, easy, and filling.
It’s probably also not surprising then that I got very bored very quickly with standard cheese on grilled bread fare that is the obvious grilled cheese sandwich recipe for most fans of this dish.
Don’t get me wrong: the classic bread, cheese, butter, heat combo is still a tried and true standard for any time and anywhere.
Yet, even greatness risks becoming mundane in high enough volume. It didn’t take too many months of pandemic-days working from home before I found myself experimenting with this great recipe, bending the rules, pushing the boundaries, and testing the limits of what could be grilled on or between two slices of bread and still taste good and not stray too far from this formula. Simple grilled cheese was no longer sparking my culinary curiosity the way it had, even with fresh sourdough and a hot cast iron griddle to work with.
Now, as much as I’d like to make this a simple post with a great recipe for readers to follow I think the point here is that culinary curiosity and creative cooking is not something that is reserved for highly trained chefs nor does it required elaborate recipe bending.
It can be something as simple as trying new things with something as standard as a grilled cheese sandwich. Adding ingredients (like in the attached photo which includes a fried egg, ham and hot sauce into a tasty grilled sandwich) or changing the order of things (like putting the cheese on the outside of the bread!)
Creating extreme versions of your favourite meals is about pushing the edges of the recipe, understanding what makes it work and cook properly all the while testing the edges of what could make it better, tastier, spicier, crunchier, more satisfying, or changing any variable that makes you happier cooking and ultimately eating it.
My comfort in doing this came from the simplicity of the standard grilled cheese sandwich which is tough to ruin even with a mediocre chef at the helm, but simultaneously can take on new tasty twists even with minor adjustments. It’s a safe food on which to experiment.
My joy came from pushing the boundaries of grilled cheese, changing the cheeses, dusting with spices, and adding or substituting other layers… but still ultimately grilling cheese inside buttered bread on my cast iron griddle.
It is said that in order to learn how to fix something, take it apart and break it first. I learned how to fix computers as a kid by frantically trying to repair the damage I did installing games, trying to get the machine working again before my parents found out. It seems some kind of similar sentiment exists in cooking: learn to fix (or improve a recipe) by taking it apart, breaking it, and trying to make it better. Hacking it.
I didn’t break the grilled cheese sandwich, but during the pandemic the grilled cheese sandwich broke me … enough that I wanted to pull it apart and make it into something better, if only for myself. I wanted to hack the recipe into something more exciting, something more extreme.
I think it worked.
I think it’s still in the works and probably will be for a long time.