Grilled cheese. Pretty basic, right? Crusty bread, melty cheese, (lots of) butter, maybe some mayo or hot sauce. Glorious, though it can sometimes feel a little same ol', same ol'. But maybe it doesn't have to. Maybe you have a few nubs of cheese in your fridge that you wouldn't normally combine. Maybe you have some jam or fruit preserves on hand, or membrillo, or pesto. And maybe there's some salami or cooked bacon or leftover braised greens in your midst. Yep, you can and should put these—and really, whatever else calls out to you—in your grilled cheese, and you'll thank yourself for it. With some inspiration from these pantry staples, and a bit of guidance on how to pull it all together, your (and definitely my) go-to comfort food can benefit from a little mosey on the wild side.
Cue Cook in the Blank, our new playbook for easy weeknight dinners that comes out on 10/30. It lets you endlessly riff on tried-and-true standbys—burgers, baked pasta, chili, frittatas, and yes, grilled cheese, to name a few—with the help of a fill-in-the-blank recipe template. You can use whatever's in your fridge or pantry, poll your family and friends for ideas, or check out the "hints and winks" on the back of the recipe to guide you. You'll find three copies of each recipe that you can tear out, so make each dish a few times to find your favorite combinations, or pass them along to the other grilled-cheese lovers in your life.
I shared the template with a few fellow editors, to see the different grilled cheeses we'd all whip up. Out of the more than 32,000 distinct sandwich combinations you could make with this recipe (promise I checked the math), I'd say the resulting three were pretty epic.
Ella's Ooziest, Allium-est Grilled Cheese
Food writer and recipe developer Ella Quittner led the charge. She surveyed her kitchen and found a bunch of chives, scallions, shallots, and onions; some cheddar, Gruyère, and pecorino; a few slices of whole-grain bread; a couple of eggs. (Side note: I totally want to be the kind of person who has three types of cheese in my fridge at all times. Please teach me your ways, Ella.)
She filled in the template with her choice of ingredients and then got to cooking with the instructions. I feel that kind of love for melty cheese, too.
And this is the final result she landed on. She caramelized the onions; she added a small mountain of cheese; she topped the sandwich with chopped chives and a runny fried egg. Ella, you're my hero.
And then Cory Baldwin, our Director of Branded Content, went in a completely different direction, combining relatively mild, nutty fontina with hot honey, peppery arugula, and tangy goat cheese on a rustic white loaf. "Add-ins that tug at your heartstrings," indeed.
That crunchy, golden-brown, perfectly griddled crust! And the mess of arugula peeking out, like the world's most comforting hybrid salad-sandwich. I know what I'm making later today...
I, however, in desperate need of a trip to the grocery store, really only had the essentials on hand: a red onion; a (slightly wilted, but still completely edible) bunch of chives; a hunk of cheddar; some spicy mustard and a tiny jar of aioli; a couple slices of sourdough bread.
So I kept it pretty simple: Caramelized the onions (well, let's just call them "excitedly sautéed"...I was hungry); grated the sharp cheddar; generously slathered on the condiments; added a few shavings of pecorino. I was on the phone as I was cooking the grilled cheese, and absentmindedly aioli-ed both sides of one of the slices of bread. But that ended up being a happy accident—the crust I got on the outside was bar none, so I intentionally repeated that move on the other slice and made a note for myself to do it again next time. Some of the cheese also escaped from the inside of the sandwich, crisping up and browning into a frico-like situation in the pan.
Because it was Sunday evening, and I had a little more time on my hands, I located a can of crushed tomatoes in the back of my pantry cupboard and stirred up the extremely quick, unfussy soup listed on the back of the grilled-cheese template (seriously, it took about seven minutes). Pro tip: it's pretty great when you leave it chunky, with a touch of heavy cream swirled in at the end and a handful of chives thrown on top. All in all, I felt pretty excited about my dinner.
As different as they all turned out, these three sandwiches are really only an iota of what Cook in the Blank can do. Next time, I'll try brioche and gouda with pepper jelly and chopped cornichons. Or whole-grain bread with fontina, feta, pesto, and braised kale. Or a Hawaiian roll with mozzarella, mostarda, basil leaves, and an accent of pimiento cheese. Or—you get it.
So if you're looking for ideas to change up your standard grilled cheese, or are just trying to figure out what to do with the stuff kicking around in your pantry, play this game and make your dinner (or sandwich) a little closer to an adventure.
What new-favorite grilled cheese will you make with Cook in the Blank? Order it now and let us know in the comments!
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).
Brinda is the Managing Editor at Food52, where she also edits all of Food52's cookbooks and covers the latest and greatest books on the site (drop her a line with recs!). She likes chewy Neapolitan pizza, stinky cheese of all sorts, and tahini-flavored anything. Brinda lives in Brooklyn with 18 plants. Find her at @brindayesterday on Twitter and Instagram.