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Talk about a big dose of nostalgia. Licorice and grilled cheese really are the foods of my youth, a not so distant youth that I revisit on an almost weekly basis.
When left to my own devices, particularly as a child and as a young adult, I practically lived on grilled cheese sandwiches. Quick, easily adapted to create any flavour, and most importantly, easy to make for one. Grilled cheese is the ideal meal for a solo diner. Then, as now, when home alone grilled cheese is my go to meal.
Like most comfort foods, people have very specific expectations regarding the “correct” flavour and texture for grilled cheese. I am not among them. Sure, cheddar on sour dough is always a satisfying alternative. But I rarely make an unembellished sandwich and I never know what I’m going to make until I open the fridge. Among my favourite combinations are brie and caramelized onion, swiss with shredded chicken, smoked cheddar with shredded pork, mozzarella with tomato and basil and, of coarse my standby, aged cheddar with a fried egg and hot sauce. As for the bread I can be inspired by almost anything that looks good at the bakery that day. Olive bread is awesome with any cheese and tomato, olive oil and rosemary with chicken, or how about a dark rye to go with salmon and goat cheese. And don’t stop with yeast breads. I made a chicken, pickled jalapeno and Monterey jack on left over corn bread one time. I’m not sure how many Weight Watchers points it was worth but it was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever made. When it comes to grilled cheese, my only real criteria are crispy bread and gooey cheese.
Today’s creation – smoked turkey and gruyere with Spicy Apple Chutney on multigrain bread. The whole meal took less than 15 minutes including walking to the grocery to buy bread. (I knew I’d forgotten something yesterday.) I wasn’t planning on using the chutney but my jar of cranberry sauce was MIA and the chutney had somehow crept to the front of the fridge – a little culinary serendipity.
The sandwich was awesome – the perfect combination of salty, sweet, crispy and creamy. (Why is Fred Penner in my head again?)
Now for the licorice side of this equation. I was the kid that always ate the black jellybeans and jujubes, the one that ordered licorice ice cream and the one that actually liked the hard-as-rock licorice candies in my Halloween bag. I’ve never been much of a sweet tooth and I think I can explain my love of licorice with this one simple fact – licorice is never super sweet. Now, I could turn this into herbal medicine lesson, but I’ll leave it to you to find all the healthy excuses you could deploy to justify your licorice indulgence. As for me, I’m comfortable saying that I don’t need any other reason than I love it.
Your love of licorice does not have to end in the candy isle of course. I made chai infused crème brûlée a few months ago. The star anise was the standout in this very popular dessert. You can also infuse licorice flavour into your dinner. Fennel and orange salad is a great alternative to cabbage slaw. Pernod pairs beautifully with prawns and other shellfish. Tarragon and a splash of sherry make ordinary button mushrooms truly special. The following recipe was inspired by a trip to Granville Island. All those fresh ingredients just called out to me.
Mushroom Tarragon Cream Sauce with Parpadelle
• 1 pound fresh parpadelle or other wide noodle
• 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
• 3 large shallots, julienned
• 6 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced or quartered
• 2 tablespoons Brandy
• ½ cup dry White Wine
• 1 cup chicken stock
• 1 cup cream
• 3 tablespoons butter, divided
• 6 tablespoons tarragon, chopped
• ½ cup parmagiano regiano
• Salt and pepper
• Lemon juice
1. Bring large pot of well salted water to a boil.
2. In a stainless steel sauté pan (you’ll get better caramelization than in a non-stick pan) heat 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and butter.
3. Brown chicken and remove from pan.
4. Add shallots to pan and sauté until soft. Add garlic and sauté for another minute.
5. Add mushroom and sauté until they release their water and begin to brown.
6. Deglaze pan with brandy and white wine.
7. Add chicken stock and cream. Simmer until reduced by about a third.
8. Add chicken to sauce reheat.
9. Salt and pepper to taste.
10. While the stock is reducing cook the pasta. Fresh pasta only takes 3 to 4 minutes so don’t put it on too early.
11. When is pasta is cooked, drain thoroughly, reserving a cup of pasta water.
12. Toss pasta in sauce and thin with pasta water if required.
13. Toss with tarragon, cheese, butter and a squeeze of lemon juice.
14. Serve with an extra sprinkle of grated parmagiano reggiano.
And why stop with dinner? Licorice makes me happy. And, happy hour makes me happy. So logically, licorice at happy hour should make me practically euphoric. Now, I may have moved beyond flaming sambuca shooters, but a steaming sambuca coffee (hold the cream) is still on my menu. Or, if you prefer a shi-shi girly version, a Galliano, vodka and espresso martini with chocolate shavings is quite delicious. Of course, everything that comes in a martini glass is delicious. And then there are the classics – when was the last time someone offered you a Harvey Wallbanger? In the name of nostalgia it’s high time, don’t you think? Or you could try this variation of an old standby created by the lovely Monique.
2 tablespoons tarragon leaves
½ a lemon cut into small wedges
1 tablespoon simple syrup
Muddle tarragon, lemon and sugar syrup in a glass. Add ice and top off with soda.
The version we made with lemon was quite tasty. But we both think lime would be better. Maybe that’s just an excuse to make them again.
So there you have it – two foods that I associate with my youth that have grown up with me. No more processed cheddar on white bread for me. The grilled cheese of my past was barely food, but the grilled cheese of my present can be decidedly gourmet. And I can accept that there are no more trick-or-treating expeditions in my future, but I know that I will savour that first sip of my martini today as much as I did any licorice rope pulled from the candy bag then.
If there is a lesson to learn, it is probably that we remember our childhood favourites so fondly because they appeal to our palates on some fundamental level. I would argue that even the foods that you have rejected in adulthood contain some element that you continue to enjoy. The flavours that you loved then are the foundation of the sophisticated palate you possess today. Be they ketchup, fish sticks, mac and cheese or over-sweet wine, they are all part of a culinary journey.
Sorry for the lack of photos. I keep getting error messages and have to get on a plane very soon. But trust me, it all looked great