Classic Grilled Cheese with Marinated Onions and Whole Grain Mustard (and a Green Goddess Grilled Cheese Too!)

I think I've mentioned this before, but every time my husband flies back to New York, I tend to get a wee-bit bummed-out the next day. On his most recent trip, we spent 5 days together and his visit coincided with our Aunt Barbara's stay (fantastic) and Theodore's first birthday (that post will get written, eventually). We had an awesome date night at Root Down, had friends over for a BBQ dinner, went to the Dragon Boat Festival and hiked near Boulder on Sunday morning. Then we piled into the car and dropped him off at the airport. 
The day after he leaves I usually like to do something unexpected, or at least try to go some place where I've never been before. It gives me a sense of adventure (though most things are "an adventure" with a 1 year old and a 3 year old in tow) and it helps me keep my mind off of our current situation. 
So yesterday, the day after the airport-drop, I decided I wanted to go to another farm. It was too hot to hike and I've really taken to this farm-thing. I'd already been to Isabella Farm and Ollin. And today's destination was going to be (drum roll, please) Berry Patch Farms. Finally. 
Now friends, I learned a valuable lesson yesterday: always check the farm's hours of operation before you pack the diaper bag, assemble the snacks, load the kids in the car and head east on I-76. Yup. The farm is closed on Monday. 
We turned the car around and came back to Denver. It's not a very long trip (about 25 minutes) and we were back at our favorite playground in no time at all. But the plan to make a lunch out of the fresh produce I had anticipated buying at the farm...well, that didn't really pan out. 
I needed some comfort food...stat!
There is something really, really great (and comforting) about grilled cheese sandwiches. It's, like, the best lunch in the world. Maybe what makes them so great is the gooey cheese, the memories of childhood, or just the crunch of that grilled bread when you take a big bite. Any way you slice it, it hits the spot.
I made the Classic Grilled Cheese with Marinated Onions and Whole-Grain Mustard from Nancy Silverton's (of Mozza fame) Sandwich Book. It was so delicious! 
And since we are on the subject of grilled cheese, I decided to add a second recipe for Green Goddess Grilled Cheese too. I made it a while back, but never posted it on the enjoy that one as well!
{In case you are wondering, I went back to Berry Patch Farms today...of course, after checking their hours of operation. They were opened and we had a blast. Photos coming tomorrow, or soon thereafter.}
Classic Grilled Cheese with Marinated Onions and Whole-Grain Mustard (Courtesy of Nancy Silverton's Sandwich Book)
{Though this version on the Classic Grilled Cheese calls for only a few extra ingredients, it's a completely different sandwich. The onions and mustard salute the sensibilities of Alsace, imparting a tangy seal to this basic grilled cheese.}
Yields 4 sandwiches
For the Onions:
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 tablespoons champagne vinegar or white-wine vinegar (I used 3 white-wine vinegar)
2 tablespoons of kosher salt
1 tablespoon of freshly cracked black pepper
2 medium yellow onions, sliced into 1/8-inch-thick-slices
For the rest:
8 slices white or whole-wheat sourdough bread
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
8 ounces Gruyere cheese, sliced into 24-32 1/16-inch-thick-slices (I used a peeler to get the slices thin)
To prepare the marinated onions: In a medium bowl, combine the oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Add the onions, toss to coat them, and allow to marinate for 15-20 minutes at room temperature. Season them with more vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. (Mine were fine as they were.)
To assemble the sandwiches: Set half of the slices of bread buttered side down. Spread an even layer of mustard over the bread and cover with half the cheese, folding them back in toward the middle if they extend past the edges of the bread. Scatter the marinated onions on top and place the remaining cheese slices over the onions. Put the top slices of bread over the cheese, buttered side up. 
Grill the sandwiches (a few minutes in a Panini press) and cut in half on the diagonal.
* * *
This is another rocking grilled cheese sandwich. It doesn't take too long to assemble, and I had plenty of green goddess herb pesto leftover-- which I slathered on the summer squashes I picked up at the farmers market. I got a really good quality Italian bread, (courtesy of the the Denver Bread Company), and filled it with mozzarella, creamy goat cheese, sliced avocado and a big handful of spinach. Then I spread a generous amount of the green goddess herb pesto on each side and closed 'er up! The sandwich goes on the panini press for just a few minutes, until the mozzarella cheese is melted. Lunch is served and it's a good one...
Green Goddess Grilled Cheese Sandwich (Courtesy of Sarah Gim, Tastespotting)
Yields 1 sandwich
2 slices bread (we used a white bread, but one filled with lots of different whole grains and seeds would be *awesome*)
3 tablespoons Green Goddess Herb Pesto (recipe below)
2 slices mild white melty cheese like mozzarella
handful fresh baby spinach
¼ avocado, sliced
2 tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled
olive oil (and butter if you’re so inclined)
Spread about 1 tablespoon of Green Goddess Herb Pesto onto each slice of bread (2 tablespoons total, but if you’re sensitive, go light, the pesto is STRONG).
On one slice of bread, add 1 slice of cheese, sliced avocado, crumbled goat cheese, spinach, second slice of cheese, then top it with second slice of bread. Press together gently.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a frying pan over medium low heat. (If you want to use butter, add it to the oil and let it melt). Add the sandwich to the oil and cook until bread is golden brown. Press down on the sandwich lightly, then flip the sandwich over and cook until second side is golden brown.

Green Goddess Herb Pesto (Adapted from Sarah Gim, Tastespotting)
I have to say that I didn't love this pesto when I tasted it for seasoning. It was very strong. But when it was put on this, it was amazing!
1/2 clove garlic
1/2 small shallot, chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
handful chopped fresh Italian parsley
handful chopped kale
handful of chopped spinach
1 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1/4 cup olive oil, I added another few tablespoons to get the consistency right
salt and pepper to taste
Pulse garlic and shallot in food processor until chopped. With the food processor running, add lemon juice, parsley, kale, tarragon and chives. (It won’t process very well yet, don’t worry).
Very slowly drizzle in olive oil until kale and herbs get sufficiently chopped and everything is the consistency of a pesto. You may need more or less of the olive oil depending on how big a “handful” of herbs is to you. You can also turn off the food processor and push herbs down the side of the bowl with a spatula every once in a while.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Euclid Hall Inspiration, Grilled Cheese: Camembert with Pear Puree (And A Walk Through LoDo)

It was 5:30 in the afternoon (or should I say early evening) and the babysitter had arrived. We had a quick review of instructions/suggestions, said goodbye to the boys (in a very undramatic way) and we were out the door- very, very happy to spend a night out on the town. It is a rare occasion. 
We met two other couples for drinks at Peak's Lounge, a bar near the top of the Hyatt Hotel, which is known for its spectacular views of the city and the mountains. After a round, or was it two (?), it was time to head out for dinner, located about 8 blocks away. The restaurant, Euclid Hall, is one of three Jennifer Jasinski joints on or near Larimer Street. I was excited to try it. We didn't have reservations so the wait was pretty long. Not to worry though, we hit the bar. And as best as I can recollect, the drinks were excellent. I got the "Rosita"- Republic Blanco tequila, Campari, sweet vermouth, lavender simple syrup and lemon juice. It was an a** kicker...and very good.  
Euclid Hall is definitely not what I would call a vegetarian haven (it's motto is "Crafted, Not Cranked Out" and that refers to their sausage), but it had quite a few options for yours truly. I shared a mushroom poutine and the gingered spring vegetable were excellent. For my main I had a delicious sandwich-- "Griddled Camembert and Pear Preserve Sandwich" which was served with a red grape and basil salad, topped with a sherry vinaigrette.
When I got home I knew I was going to make something like it for lunch. The pairing of Camembert and pear is a really nice alternative to classic grilled cheese. And with the Denver Bread Company a short walk from my house, I can get fresh (amazing) artisanal bread in a snap!  
As for the cheese, I picked up a really delicious Camembert from my local cheese shop, St. Killian's. The people who work there are so incredibly nice.
I found a recipe for pear puree on Epicurious and went with it. It takes about an hour to cook the pears down, but there's very little hands-on time, and it can be made up to 2 days in advance. 
I made these sandwiches on Saturday, the day we were supposed to do an early morning walk of  Lower Downtown (LoDo) Historic District. (Our walk was postponed until later in the afternoon because the Colorado Rockies were playing a game on Saturday and the stadium is located at the end of LoDo....I didn't know the game was going on during our initial descent from the Highlands). 
I've found that LoDo is relatively quiet during the weekend compared to the weekdays when it's pretty crowded. But baseball season has started and the fans were out. Available parking was pretty much non-existent, so we drove back home, walked to our local playground, napped and then ventured back out to LoDo once the crowds died down. We walked around for about an hour and a half, and it was a really nice way to spend the late-afternoon.
If I had to think of someplace that is comparable to LoDo, I think I would probably say the Warehouse District in New Orleans. In fact, I think the two are pretty similar. 
LoDo has some great loft spaces, excellent restaurants, lively bars and some breweries (Wynkoop Brewing Company) too. There's Union Station, which is under repair, and The Tattered Cover-- an amazing independently-run book store. I took a few shots of the neighborhood to give you a sense of our walking tour, but the area is much larger than what I was able to cover on foot yesterday... enjoy! 
Oh, if you want more information on the District, you can take a Denver Microbrew Tour!
Not the best picture of said sandwich...but by the time I uploaded the photos, the grilled cheese was already a re-shoot was not an option!
Roasted Pear Puree (Courtesy of Epicurious)
(I had enough puree for 4 sandwiches)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
  • 8 Bosc pears, peeled, quartered, cored
Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine honey, lemon juice, and melted butter in large bowl. Add pears; toss to coat. Arrange pears in single layer on large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast pears 30 minutes. Turn pears to coat with juices and roast until very tender, about 35 minutes longer. Transfer pears and caramelized liquids to food processor; blend until smooth. (Pear puree can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
1. Cut two slices of bread, each about 1/2 inch thick.
2. Put a generous amount of pear puree on each sandwich (1/4 of the puree for each sandwich).
3. Add three thin slices of Camembert per sandwich (Camembert has a very rich and intense flavor, so you don't need to use a lot.)
4. Close sandwich and brush olive oil on each side.
5. Heat in a panini press/sandwich maker until the bread is golden brown and the cheese has melted.
6. Eat! 
This really is a very nice alternative to classic grilled cheese. Thanks Euclid Hall for the inspiration. I'll be back soon to see what else you've got! 
* * *
I had a good deal of bread left over the next day, so I made these Parmesan-Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwiches . And, after that, I still had bread left over. (It was a loaf of considerable size!) So I made some fresh pea crostinis and turned the rest of the bread into croutons for Cauliflower Soup with Mustard Croutons
* * * 
Art installation

Childhood Favorites with a Twist: Comte Grilled Cheese and Queso Quesadillas with Papaya-Avocado Salsa

Last Sunday I stumbled upon a collection of recipes that I had clipped from the New York Times Dining & Wine section. The recipes were part of an article titled "Taking Back A Childhood Favorite" [printed on April 11, 2007] and included grilled cheese sandwiches and cheese quesadillas. But the recipes weren't standard or typical; they offered unique and delicious twists on the classics. And they were incredibly easy to make, with a prep time of about 10-15 minutes each.

Recipe No. 1:
Comté Grilled Cheese with Cornichon Spread (Adapted Slightly)
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard 
2 tablespoons mayonnaise 
2 tablespoons finely chopped cornichons or other pickles 
4 slices whole-grain bread or multigrain baguette
1/4 pound Comté cheese, sliced 
1 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Whisk together mustard, mayonnaise and cornichons. Spread on 4 slices of bread and divide cheese among bread slices, to make 2 sandwiches. 
2. Melt butter in a medium skillet over moderate heat. Cook sandwiches until golden on both sides, 1 to 2 minutes a side, pressing down on sandwiches with spatula. Reduce heat to low and cover; cook until cheese melts completely, about 2 minutes more. Serve hot.

Note: You can also make this in a Panini press. 
Yield: 2 servings.  

Recipe No. 2:
Queso Quesadillas with Papaya-Avocado Salsa- I made it last night. The original recipe calls for queso fresco, but I opted for a really nice Monterey Jack at the suggestion of my local cheese monger.  The sweetness of the papaya mixed with the richness of the avocado, plus a bit of bite from the red onion, was perfection. You could probably use this as a party dip too!

Queso Quesadillas with Papaya-Avocado Salsa (Adapted)
For the salsa: 
1 cup cubed fresh peeled papaya 
1/2 avocado, peeled and cubed 
1/4 cup cubed, seeded cucumber 
1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley (the original recipe has cilantro, use it if that's your preference)
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion 
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice 
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice 
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
Freshly ground black pepper 

For the quesadillas: 
4 6-inch corn tortillas 
1/4 pound of a good Monterey Jack

The original recipe calls for broiler cooking (which I did last night), but I found that the cheese oozed out to quickly and the tortilla got a little burnt.  I made this recipe again for lunch today and used a fry pan, with medium heat, and the quesadillas were perfect. Use a tiny bit (not even a pat, but a rub) of butter and place the tortilla on the pan.  Add the cheese and top with another tortilla, cooking each side about a minute. Remove from heat and place salsa on top. Yum.  Serve immediately. 
Yield: 2 servings.