Gourmet Grilled Cheese with Pear & Brie

Long time, no see.

I was dealt some big blows over the last couple months in terms of health and personal life, and despite all my intentions to keep up with the blog, it wasn’t in the cards. I am not going to get into detail about all that at the moment, perhaps in the future, but for now, let’s focus on some food. For the record, I am OK now, feeling good and ready to move forward.

I have a few recipes already developed, tested, & photographed, so expect a lot more action in the next few weeks! (And yes, I mean it this time.)

When people ask me what kind of food I cook and write about, I always say it’s comfort food with a twist. I like taking familiar, beloved dishes and giving you another way to look at it. I think the spins on classics make things fun and interesting, but also are a way of introducing yourself to new idea (especially for people who grew up picky like me).

So what’s one of the classic-iest classic comfort foods ever? Grilled cheese. This is my take on a gourmet version, mixing the elegance of a fancy cheese board with the nostalgia of everyone’s favorite childhood sandwiches.

Note: Since a sandwich can vary in size, these are estimated amounts based on a shopping list that will make at least 4 sandwiches with some ingredients left over.

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • medium white onion
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • loaf of sourdough bread (8 slices)
  • small jar of mayonnaise
  • 7-8oz brie cheese, sliced
  • baby arugula (1 cup, packed)
  • fresh basil (2/3 cup, loosely packed)
  • 1 bartlett pear, thinly sliced
  • 4oz blue cheese crumbles
  1. Start by caramelizing the onion. Thinly slice the onion. Heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt & cook the onion for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to low. Cook for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until brown and tender. Deglaze with the balsamic vinegar & scrap any bits from the bottom of the pan. Set aside to cool. Onions can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 4 days.
  2. To make the sandwich, start by heating a skillet, griddle pan or panini press to medium heat. Spread mayonnaise evenly on what will be the exterior sides of the bread slices. (You can used softened butter if you are anti-mayo, but trust me, it cooks much more evenly.)
  3. Build the sandwiches. On the bottom piece of bread, start with a layer of sliced brie, waxy shell removed for better melting. Mix the arugula and basil, adding that next. Follow with a layer of pear slices, the caramelized onions, and finally the blue cheese crumbles. Top with the second slice of bread. Repeat for additional sandwiches.
  4. Toast the sandwiches for 4-5 minutes, flipping halfway through (unless you are using a panini press). The brie should be melted & the bread crispy but not burnt.

  5. A couple cross sections so you can see how I arranged the ingredientsIf you are new around these parts, I always like to offer up suggestions on how to modify my recipes for your tastes. I know a lot of bloggers and chefs hate when people make changes to their dishes, but my motto is “I cook what I like”, and you should too.

    Bread… use whatever you like. Italian, wheat, whatever. I happen to love and suggest sourdough because of the way it offsets the sweet flavors of the brie and pears. Speaking of, I am obsessed with pears. They are one of my favorite fruits, but I know it’s apple picking season in a lot of areas. (Jealous! But makes me wonder if there’s anywhere to go pineapple picking here in Hawaii…) You could definitely swap the two if you are looking for a new way to use up your surplus of apples and you are over pies and strudels.

    Bartlett pears are sweet & soft when ripe, perfect for this application

    If you want this sandwich right away with less hassle, an onion or bacon jam could be used in place of the caramelized onions to add that smoky, savory bite. And yes, bacon or prosciutto in general would really add to the gourmet cheese board theme going on here, but I don’t eat pigs and cows, so I’ll leave that up to you.

    This recipe is great for lunchtime when you are feeling a little fancy. You don’t have to make a bunch of sandwiches all at once, it’s totally easy to use them over the course of a week. If you are having a get-together, you could make 4, 5, or even 6 of these and cut them small to serve as an appetizer. It’s a great, hearty vegetarian option.

    What do you think? Is a grilled cheese a good way to experiment in the kitchen, or do you prefer the classic white bread and american combo? Let me know what you think, and I’ll see you soon with another new recipe!

Blue Cheese Arancini with Honey Hot Sauce

I’m back in the comfort of my own kitchen again! I had a great week traveling home to Massachusetts, and to Florida for a couple days too. Talk about a strangely packed suitcase- I had winter boots and sweaters next to flip flops and swimsuits. It was fun, but I’m really glad to be home.

The downside of my week away was the fact that my husband is not the best at grocery shopping. There was not a lot to work with in my fridge and pantry when I got back, and I wasn’t in the mood to run right out to the store. So I threw together this hearty little snack from what I could find- blue cheese stuffed arancini with a honey hot dipping sauce!

Arancini are Italian rice balls. You can use day old rice, like I did, or risotto, but the latter is a lot more work with the constant stirring. Traditionally arancini have ingredients like mozzarella, peas or ham stuffed inside. Mine definitely have a more American twist.

Yields 8-10 rice balls

  • 8.8 oz instant rice (I am going to be honest, I used a bag of good ol’ Uncle Ben’s 90 second rice), cooked and refrigerated overnight
  • 3 cups vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan
  • 2 eggs
  • 3-4 Tbsp blue cheese crumbles
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1/8 cup sriracha sauce
  • 1/8 cup honey
  1. Heat oil on the stove top in a small pot over medium-high heat. Don’t use a skillet, because you want the rice balls to be completely submerged when you fry them.
  2. In a bowl, throughly mix the rice, the parmesan and the eggs together. In a second bowl, combine the panko bread crumbs, onion powder, garlic powder and oregano.
  3. With damp hands, pick up about an ounce of the rice mixture and place a couple large blue cheese crumbles in the center. Gently mold the rice around the crumbles and into a ball, sealing them inside. (It should be about the size of a golf ball.)
  4. Roll the rice ball in the bread crumb mixture until completely coated and place it on a piece of wax paper. Repeat until you run out of rice.
  5. Fry the balls in small batches, about three or four at a time, for 4-5 minutes, until golden brown. Don’t crowd them in the pot. You can gently turn them once halfway through, but they should be submerged in the oil, so it shouldn’t be necessary. Remove from the oil and let them cool on a paper towel or fresh wax paper.
  6. For the dipping sauce: stir together equal parts sriracha sauce and honey. I made about a quarter of a cup, but you can make as much as you like.

If you don’t have sriracha and honey, you can substitute the dipping sauce for buffalo. I’m a little burnt out on buffalo after football season and I’m really into the spicy sweet sauces at the moment like honey hot, pineapple habanero, Thai sweet chili etc.

This is a great appetizer or party snack. They aren’t too big, but a couple of these are all you need. It’s also a great way to use up last nights leftover rice and turn it into something completely different. They don’t have to be made my way either. You can do them plain or with traditional stuffing, like mozzarella, and some marinara sauce to dip. I love, love, love dishes that use up leftovers.

Another thing I love is seeing people try recipes! I got a couple pictures from people last week, which was so nice to see while I was away from my kitchen. So if you make any of these, please send it to me on Twitter or Instagram!

You can also check out some of the food I ate (but didn’t cook) while I was traveling. I admit it was pretty nice to eat out a lot and not worry about making dinner, but it’s good to be back. I’m sure I’ll have a couple more posts this week because I’ve been inspired and excited to get back to work!

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