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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
Ack! I am late! I apologise. I meant to write this up last night and then, after a long day of conferencing and travelling I succombed to the charms of a snuggly, sleep-sweaty little person who was really happy to see me and, after cuddling him back to sleep, passed out myself.
Bologna. Baloney. Bologna, Italy is a city famed for its University (the oldest one in the Western world if Wiki is to be believed) and the pasta sauce after which it is named (that would be Bolognese for those not in the know). None of this has any relation whatsoever to the American Bologna Sausage. Okay, maybe a little, or a lot – read on fair friends.
Although most of us are familiar with it in the form made by Oscar Meyer, there is maybe more to this sausage than meets the eye. People who like to make it sound more high-brow, liken it to the Italian Mortadella (a variation on head cheese really – and I’ve never been fond) and, in truth, they are definitely, distantly, related. However, the American Bologna sausage is just so much more, well, how do I say this … trashy. In a fabulous kind of a way.
When I was a little person, I lived in a community populated by true hippies (my parents’ friends) and pseudo-hippies (my parents – though, really, I am not convinced that they weren’t actual hippies – this is another discussion about which we have had frequent passionate debates and they will deny their true hippy natures to the bitter end … ). But I digress – none of this has anything much to do with bologna, except for the fact that I was NOT allowed to eat it as a child. When we moved from the country (ahem … land of hippie commune), to the “Big City” (Nelson, B.C. a tiny village in the Kootenays), all the kids in my school seemed to have bologna sandwiches packed in their lunches. Bologna sandwiches that I wasn’t allowed to have. Bologna sandwiches with fakes cheese slices, white (wonder)bread and yellow mustard. Oh my. My lack of bologna sandwich in my lunch bag was just another factor in the long list of things that marked me as “different” from my classmates and made it hard for me to fit in. I craved those sandwiches. I begged for those sandwiches. I just knew that if I could have a bologna sandwich, my entire social world would be vastly improved.
Suffice to say, from my jaded perspective, this was grand high cuisine and I was being denied! In fact, I did not eat a bologna sandwich until I was a teenager. At which point, I decided it was possibly a better treat than McDonald’s. This is Very High Praise coming from a 14 year old.
I would be lying if I said that a part of me doesn’t still consider a bologna sandwich Comfort Food along the same lines as Kraft Dinner, or Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Tomato Soup. But I won’t eat it – not even for this blog. At least not today. Didn’t have time to go the grocery store, if I’m being honest.
I will leave you with this, which was my most favorite quote that I could find about Bologna Sausage:
“Bologna sausages labour under the calumnious imputation of being made of asses’ flesh”. Follow this link to the Old Foodie for more brilliant prose on the topic.
On National Good and Plenty Day – those are the little licorice candies that look a bit like extra long tic tacs. I hate them. Won’t eat ‘em. Can’t make me. Some people love ‘em. Here’s a picture and words to the theme song.