Tag Archives: bread

World’s Best Grilled Cheese (Sharp Cheddar & Caramelized Onions on Beer Bread)

You’ve been shipwrecked on a desserted — ahem, I mean deserted — island. Your food options are limited to a sandwich (minus the “wich” part) and a very peevish looking saltwater crocodile who doesn’t seem to want you gnawing on him. After awhile your beard begins to rival that of Tom Hanks’s in Castaway, only there’s no Wilson to keep you company.

You’re hungry. You’re alone.

You’re gonna die.

Okay, sorry; that was an unpleasant beginning for a post, wasn’t it? And there’s that big knife up there underscoring the point.

I promise it gets better. Well, not too much better — you’re still gonna die. But something amazing happens first!

One day you’re wasting away on the beach entertaining fond memories of pizza while chewing on a piece of driftwood. Suddenly, a tiny Tiki Fairy appears. You know this is probably a brief hallucination indicating that an agonizing death is imminent, but you indulge your brain and greet her.

What do you know, she has a surprise for you! Drifters who find themselves starving to death on her island get to choose one last meal. Filet mignon? Truffle burger? Mom’s macaroni and cheese? You name it, you get it.

Ah, the question! It’s been posed to everyone from 50 famous chefs to death row inmates: what would you want your last meal to be?

Photographer Melanie Dunea is the one who had the brilliant idea to email 50 great chefs this question and compile their responses in her book, My Last Supper. Some of the chefs go fancy: caviar and spit-roasted pigs would be in Gary Danko’s final spread. Others prefer simple, comforting food from their childhood: Marcus Samuelsson wants gravlax with a dill mustard sauce in his last hours.

Funnily enough, the death row inmates seem to divide along similar lines. There are cost (and other) limitations to ensure the inmates’ meals don’t become extravagant, but some still think big! One, for instance, asks for two steaks, two burgers, a sliced turkey breast, bacon, two baked potatoes, one chef’s salad, one ear of corn, one pint of ice cream, and four sodas. Others cling to small pleasures; one asks only for cool whip and cherries.

Personally, I’m torn. I want comfort food. I want my mom’s chocolate sheet cake, macaroni and cheese, and yeast rolls for sure. I want a pimiento cheese sandwich on white bread, Dad’s chicken and dumplings, and at least a dozen Coke Zeros.

But I also want luxury! I could go for some fresh lobster tail and fried softshell crab. I want a thick Wagyu rib eye. I want this cheeseburger. I want this ice cream sundae.

Can I also have some Chinese pork buns?

Oh, and one more thing. A grilled cheese sandwich wouldn’t ordinarily make my list, but this isn’t your average grilled cheese — it’s the World’s Best Grilled Cheese.

In fact, Sommer from Mama With Flavor (have you seen her blog? hilarious.) started all of my “last meal” daydreams when she responded to my tweet about this sandwich. She proclaimed it “last meal worthy.” And worthy it is: sharp cheddar cheese and sweet caramelized onions are piled high and toasted between two slabs of buttery, freshly baked beer bread.

Trust me, this sandwich would be a far better companion on your deserted island than any anthropomorphized volleyball. With the very first bite I took, I knew I’d struck genius. Lunch (or dinner, or midnight snack, or breakfast, or even dessert) just doesn’t get much better than this. And with a recipe for fresh bread that consists of only four ingredients, it doesn’t get much simpler than this either.

You know what I have to ask for my parting question — and I can’t wait to read your answers! What would your last meal be?

Sharp Cheddar, Caramelized Onions, and Beer Bread Grilled Cheese


Recipe by: Adapted from Catherine Bienik (beer bread) and Simply Recipes (caramelized onions)
Yields: one loaf of beer bread (up to about 4-5 sandwiches)

Bread Ingredients:
3 cups self-rising flour
scant 1/2 cup sugar
12 ounces beer (I used Guinness)*
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Caramelized Onion Ingredients:
4 onions, sliced thinly
salt to taste
olive oil

Other Sandwich Ingredients:
about two tablespoon of butter per sandwich desired
sharp cheddar cheese

Directions:
Make bread: Preheat oven to 375. Grease a loaf pan or line it with greased parchment paper. Mix flour, sugar, and beer until combined and pour batter into pan. Cook for 40-45 minutes, or until top is well browned and loaf feels firm (you can also stick a toothpick in; if it comes out clean, the loaf is ready). When the loaf is close to done, brush the top thoroughly with melted butter and let the loaf bake for 3 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack to cool for about 20 minutes before removing it from the pan and cooling completely.

While bread is baking and cooling, caramelize onions: Put a few tablespoons of olive oil into a skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil is translucent and shimmering, add onions and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Add salt to taste and continue to cook, stirring every few minutes, for 30 minutes to an hour. The goal is to let the onions sit long enough that they start to cook down and caramelize, but not to let them burn. If they seem to be sticking or burning at any time, you can do any of the following: add some more oil to the pan, turn down the heat slightly, or add some water to the pan. Once the onions are a rich brown, remove them to a container to cool slightly before use. Store extra onions in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Assemble your sandwich: Once the bread has cooled, use a serrated knife to cut it into slices. In a skillet over medium heat, melt one tablespoon of butter. Place a slide of bread into the skillet and pile on sliced cheese and caramelized onions (note: you can brush the underside of the bread all over with melted butter first if you want to ensure even browning). Place another slice of bread on top.

Cook until the bottom slice of bread is well toasted (peek every now and then by lifting a corner) and then gently flip, using your hand to brace the top slice of bread as you do so. You can add more butter if your skillet looks dry, lifting the sandwich to allow the butter to run underneath. When both sides are golden and toasted, remove sandwich to a serving plate and microwave for 30 seconds to insure melty cheese. Repeat these steps to make as many other sandwiches as you want! Serve immediately.

*NOTE: I don’t drink, so I wasn’t sure what sort of beer to use. This recommendation from a friend was outstanding, though! For information about how much of the alcohol cooks out of a given dish, please see this chart. In this particular recipe for beer bread, only about 30% of the alcohol remains in the entire loaf after cooking.

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Mini Doughnuts for Your Coffee Cup (a creative use for yeast dough scraps!)

I baked something so flippin’ fantastic this weekend that I cannot wait to tell you about it. Except that telling you about it involves a video tutorial. And a video tutorial involves hours of editing. So while that’s going on, I’ll share this other flippin’ fantastic idea.

Naturally, you’re planning to make doughnuts, right? Or perhaps you have some other yeast dough plans in the works? After rolling and cutting, you’re bound to have scraps of dough lying about unused.

Personally, I’ve always been a re-roller, piling the dough scraps together and rolling them out again to try to get a few more pastries. The resulting goods will be a little tougher, but it seems like a waste otherwise.

As I was browsing through doughnut recipes, however, I saw these sweet miniature doughnuts used as coffee (or hot chocolate!) cup decorations. They were the perfect use for dough scraps!

After cutting out all of my doughnuts, I used a couple of smaller cookie cutters to cut out these minis. I proofed them with my regular doughnuts, fried them quickly on both sides in 350 degree oil, drained them on a paper towel lined plate, and then rolled them in a mixture cinnamon and sugar. They were hot, fluffy, and as cute as a button on a kitten carrying a cupcake. Translation: adorable.

P.S. – While poking about, I found a fun tip for using yeast dough scraps for savory dishes. Now you have sweet and savory ideas in your tool belt!

P.S. 2 – I wish I could find the site where I originally saw these coffee cup doughnuts; I like to put up a link if something inspires me. If you stumble across it, let me know.

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Soft Pretzel Dogs (an homage to Auntie Anne’s Pretzels)

I have this embarrassing salad bar practice. You’re going to think I’m silly (or else you’re going to leave me a comment saying, “I DO THAT EXACT SAME THING!” and make me feel a little better. No pressure.)

See, I’m a little shy about how much salad dressing I eat. I was never one of those mostly-veggies-with-a-spritz-of-lemon-juice salad people. I was (am!) one of those bacon-cheese-and-crouton salad people, where the dressing has to touch every leaf with its creamy goodness. But I can never quite shake the feeling that the person behind me at the salad bar is watching me pour my bleu cheese dressing with thinly veiled disgust, silently tabulating the calories I’m about to consume.

To deal with this uncomfortable situation, I developed a little pantomime routine in which I dump as much salad dressing as I want on my salad before giving a little gasp and jerking the bottle up as if to say, “Oops! Of COURSE I didn’t mean to pour that much salad dressing — it just came out so fast!” Then I snap up my salad and hastily head to my seat.

I’m sure the lemon-spritzers in line behind me think I’m disappointed that my salad got drenched and that I’m really only eating it because I hate to waste food . . . right?! Okay, maybe I’m not fooling anyone.

The truth is, while I eat reasonably all week, I go all out on the weekends. And I can eat a lot. Like, enough so that more than one waitress has been driven to exclaim over the amount I have consumed (they better be glad I don’t believe in docking tips). Like, enough that I can almost always out-eat any fully grown, healthy, hungry man around me.

In college, the impressive amount I could eat would become glaringly apparent in the dining hall, where most gals were ordering half a grapefruit for breakfast and my plate was overflowing with bacon and eggs. And a waffle. With, like, butter and syrup and stuff. This disparity produced lots of food embarrassment. For some reason, perhaps especially as a woman, I always feel like I should be, um, daintier or something.

Sometimes, though, a certain food compels me to stop caring about what other people are thinking. Recently, that food was Auntie Anne’s Pretzel Dogs. I first saw them in the Dallas airport on a layover. I was reserved, ordering only one along with a couple of other small snacks.

But my first bite of that buttery, yeasty pretzel wrapped around a juicy hot dog was a surreal experience — and I don’t think it was just the medicine I take for my flight anxiety. I was hooked. I talked about the pretzel dogs throughout my entire weekend trip, and when I found myself flying back home to Charlotte through Dallas, I was prepared.

As soon as we touched down, I hastily disembarked and headed straight for the nearest Auntie Anne’s. There, I immediately threw caution and food embarrassment to the wind, ordering 3 pretzel dogs and a big soft pretzel on the side to, um, balance out my meal. And cheese sauce. I was in pretzel dog heaven.

Clearly, the next step was to figure out how to make pretzel dogs at home in Charlotte. I found the following recipe and, while not perfect, it’s pretty darn close, not to mention pretty darn easy!

The baking soda solution I dipped my pretzels in didn’t seem strong enough to give them a nice deep brown color, so I tweaked it below. I also had a lot of fun with flavors. I made soft pretzels, pretzel dogs, cheddar pretzel dogs, and jalapeno pretzel dogs. And all bashfulness aside, over the course of a weekend, I ate almost every single one of them myself.

Do you ever feel any food embarrassment, or are you an unabashed eater?

Soft Pretzel Dogs



Recipe by: Adapted from CDKitchen
Yields: 8 pretzel dogs and 5-6 pretzels

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup warm water
1 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup bread flour
3 cups regular flour
2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons baking soda
3 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
8 Nathan’s all-beef hot dogs (do yourself a favor and don’t use anything but Nathan’s!)

Toppings:
cheddar cheese
jalapeno slices (wear gloves to handle, and don’t touch your eyes!)
coarse salt, to taste
4 tablespoons butter (melted)

Directions:
Place warm water in mixing bowl and sprinkle yeast in, stirring to dissolve. Add the sugar and salt and stir. Add the flour and mix until combined. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic (this took a few minutes on high speed with my KitchenAid mixer equipped with a dough hook). Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover it. Place it in a warm area to rise at least 1/2 an hour.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. When dough’s almost finished rising, prepare a baking soda water bath. I used one that I don’t think was strong enough (from the original recipe) to brown the pretzels appropriately, so I’ve poked around and found a better one for you. Mix the warm water and baking soda and continue to whisk periodically as you work with your dough.

Once your dough is risen, spray cooking spray over a spot on your counter and turn the dough out onto it. Use a sprayed pizza cutter to slice off a strip of dough. Roll it, starting from the middle and working outward with greased hands, into a thin rope — the thinner you get it, the more like Auntie Anne’s pretzels it’ll be. I even gently picked it up and let gravity help me lengthen it every now and then. For inspiration, watch this awesome video from the folks at Auntie Anne’s on shaping, dipping, and baking pretzels.

Form your strand into a pretzel shape OR wrap it around a hot dog OR wrap it around a hot dog and strip of cheese OR wrap it around a hot dog with a strip of cheese and some jalapenos. When you wrap it around the hot dogs, just slightly overlap the dough so there aren’t many gaps. Now dip the pretzel into your soda solution and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until golden brown. Brush with melted butter and serve immediately with hot mustard or Cheez Whiz (tastes just like Auntie Anne’s cheddar dip!) for dipping.

P.S. Don’t forget about the Cheesecake Challenge! Choose any one of 9 cheesecake recipes to prepare within the next month. Email a photo to me by 4/5/2011 to be featured on Willow Bird Baking! Get more details about the challenge here.

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