New Year’s recipes: Master the art of grilled cheese, mini cheese ball bites

Published 9:00 am Saturday, January 1, 2022

A grilled cheese sandwich is a simple pleasure enjoyed by children and adults alike. Knowing how to create a delicious grilled cheese sandwich is a handy skill. Even though the sandwich may seem simple, there are some tricks to the trade to achieve a golden, crispy-on-the-outside, gooey-on-the-inside finished product.

Start with homemade bread

Fresh, homemade bread can be customized so that you get the desired results in each slice. A bread that is sturdy enough to slice and close-grained enough that the cheese doesn’t leak through should be the goal. While there are many homemade recipes available, this “Honey-Oat Pain de Mie,” courtesy of King Arthur Baking, yields an ultra-thin crust and slices easily.

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Honey-Oat Pain de Mie

Yields one loaf

3 cups King Arthur Unbleached

All-Purpose Flour

2-1⁄4 tsp instant yeast

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1-1⁄2 tsp salt

4 Tbsp melted butter

3 Tbsp honey

1 cup lukewarm water*

(or 1 cup + 2 Tbsp. Use the

smaller amount in the summer,

or in a humid climate; use the

larger amount in winter, or in

a drier climate.)

1. Weigh your flour; or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess. Combine all of the ingredients and mix until cohesive. Cover the bowl, and let the dough rest for 20 minutes, to give the oats a chance to absorb some of the liquid. Then knead — by hand, stand mixer, or bread machine — to make a smooth, soft, elastic dough.

2. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, or in an 8-cup measure (so you can track progress as it rises), and let it rise for 1 to 11⁄2 hours, until it’s risen noticeably. It won’t necessarily double in bulk.

3. Gently deflate the dough, and shape it into a 9-inch log. Place the log in a lightly greased 9-inch pain de mie (pullman) pan, pressing it gently to flatten.

4. Place the lid on the pan (or cover with plastic wrap, for a better view), and let the dough rise until it’s about 1 inch below the top of the pan/lid, 60 to 90 minutes. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350 F.

5. Remove the plastic (if you’ve used it), slide the pan’s lid completely closed, and bake the bread for 30 minutes.

6. Remove the lid, and bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers at least 190 F.

7. Remove the bread from the oven, and turn it out of the pan onto a rack. Run a stick of butter over the top, if desired; this will yield a soft, buttery crust. Cool completely before cutting; wrap airtight and store for several days at room temperature.

Test your cheese

Check to see how well your cheese melts by putting a piece of it in the microwave for 10 seconds. Cheese that melts quickly will need to be cooked on medium to high heat for grilled cheese so the bread toasts and cheese melts. A cheese that is slow to melt will need to be cooked on low and longer for the perfect results. American cheese often is a popular choice because of the way it melts.

Switch up your spread

Butter is often the go-to to get that crispy outer bite on grilled cheese. However, mayonnaise spreads easily and browns very well. It also may add a depth of flavor that differs from butter.

Resist the urge to “squish”

Think twice about pressing down on the product during cooking. Otherwise you’ll end up with a flat, mushy grilled cheese sandwich and the cheese may run out of the sides unnecessarily.

Grilled cheese is a classic, simple recipe that’s made even better when prepared with the right technique. 

Charcuterie boards and tasting menus continue to be all the rage. In addition to a platter of fruit slices, figs, aged cheeses and crostini, treat guests to “Mini Cheese Ball Bites,” which offer various textures and flavors in bite-sized morsels. Enjoy this recipe, courtesy of “Spectacular Spreads: 50 Amazing Food Spreads for Any Occasion” (Rock Point) by Meagan Brown.

Mini Cheese Ball Bites

Makes 12

8 oz. light cream cheese, softened

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

3 Tbsp drained, chopped pimentos

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp paprika

Pinch kosher salt

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

1⁄2 cup crushed pecans

1⁄4 cup chopped chives

12 pretzel sticks

In a large bowl, stir together the cream cheese, cheddar, pimentos, garlic powder, paprika, salt, and pepper until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Place the crushed pecans and chives in a small bowl. Set aside.

Roll the cheese mixture into twelve 1-inch balls. Evenly coat each ball with the pecan-chive mixture. Press a pretzel stick into the top of each cheese ball just before serving. Serve at room temperature or chilled.