Ultimate Comfort Food

We're in need of a little bit of comfort here on the East Coast.

Hurricane Sandy came for a visit earlier this week and left much destruction in its wake.

Chris and I have been working from home for the past three days. Trains, buses, subways -- all suspended until further notice. But, fortunately, we are safe and have power/water/gas. Our friends in downtown NYC and the Jersey Shore weren't as lucky, and we're thinking of them and hoping for a quick recovery.

With roads still closed and most of the neighborhood in the dark, we've been cooking at home and have been slowly emptying out the fridge...and our wine supply. It has been nice being home together. We don't usually get to have lunch with each other. In fact, Chris made a tasty lunch for us yesterday: Ina Garten's recipe for the Ultimate Grilled Cheese.

I'm usually a Kraft Singles grilled cheese kind of girl, but once I had a bite of this version, I saw the light. The Barefoot Contessa light. I'll warn you that this is a very rich sandwich, so just serve it simply with a lovely bowl of creamy tomato soup. (We added a couple drops of liquid smoke to our soup for extra flavor.) You might not need dinner after one of these babies. Crunchy, buttery bread; sharp, creamy cheese; tangy mayo and mustard -- plus smoky, sweet bacon. Delish.
You can find the recipe here, at FoodNetwork.com, but I'll break down the steps for you -- Chris is still preferring to remain mysterious. We of course, did not need to eat six sandwiches, so we cut everything in half. I love that Ina suggests using extra-sharp cheddar from Shelburne Farms, in Shelburne, VT, where Chris and I vacation every August. It is terrific cheese. Shelburne Farms also has a lovely selection of mustards that you can use in place of the Dion. We had a jar of the Tangy Maple version which was great in this sandwich.

Ina Garten's Ultimate Grilled Cheese

12 slices thick-cut bacon, such as Nodine's applewood smoked
1 cup good mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip)
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 white Pullman loaf or sourdough bread, sliced 1/2 inch thick (12 slices)
6 tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature
6 ounces aged Gruyere or Comte cheese
6 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, such as Cabot or Shelburne Farms

To Do:
  • Arrange the bacon on a baking rack set over a sheet pan in a single layer and roast for 20 to 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven, until browned and crisp. Drain on a plate lined with paper towels and cut into 1-inch pieces. (In a pinch, use pre-cooked bacon and microwave for a minute or so, drain and cut into pieces.)
  • Combine the mayo, mustard, Parmesan, and about 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Lay 12 slices of bread on a board and spread each one lightly with the room temperature butter. Turn over the bread slices and spread each one generously with the mayonnaise mixture -- corner to corner.
  • Grate the Gruyere and cheddar cheeses in a food processor and combine. (Or, have your handsome, strong, husband grate it by hand.) Top one half of the slices of bread with bacon. Pile 1/3 cup grated cheese evenly on top of the bacon and top with the remaining bread slices, sauce-side down (butter side up).
  • Meanwhile, heat an electric panini press to medium high. When the press is ready, cook the sandwiches for 3 to 5 minutes in batches until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted. Let cool for a few minutes. Cut in half and serve warm, preferably with tomato soup and some dill pickles on the side.