“Look what I came up with,” Barbara said excitedly in an email to Margaret with an accompanying photo. It’s “The Henry.” Margaret sat there staring at a grilled cheese sandwich on her screen. Huh? “What am I looking at?” After uproarious laughter, Barbara confessed that she had spotted the Grilled Cheese Academy competition online, which was designed to honor and find more ways to use, yup, cheese, and in this case from Wisconsin and in sandwiches. And the reward was tempting bait: $15,000 for the Grand Prize winner.
“See what you can come up with?” she challenged. I took her up on the suggestion.
After 50, we feel you don't have to prove you can cook. We can. If you're like us, you've prepared zillions of meals for family, friends, and events from favorite cookbooks, magazine recipes, and blogs. Occasionally, we find a reason to heat up our creative cooking chops. This was one of those times. This would be fun.
And then Margaret’s competitive juices started to flow as she thought about all the ways she could top Barbara’s grilled cheesy creation and, at the same time, make it a tribute to her hometown, St. Louis, MO, west of the Mississippi. As much as we both enjoy cooking, the reality is we were also vying for the prize that we agreed might pay for the dual neck lifts we’ve often talked about doing. (If we win, we’ll toast our cheese win to you Norah Ephron.) Of course, we said in a more rational moment, the $15K prize would really help pay for our book publicity. But how prosaic.
Barbara’s cheesy creation, "The Henry," is named for the great explorer who discovered the majestic Hudson River in 1609, and which has given so many great enjoyment in viewing it, living near it, and painting it. There's even a School of Painters named after the area, the Hudson River School, since many mid-19th century landscape painters such as Thomas Cole and Frederic Church used it for their subject matter. And the entire area, too has become known as the Hudson River Valley, or HV for short, a 10-county region that extends 150 miles above the tip of Manhattan, north to Albany, the state's capital. More important, it's a great place to live and designated a National Heritage Area with farms, wineries (it's the oldest wine-producing area in the country--take that California), farm-to-table restaurants, new bakeries kneading the best breads, and the Culinary Institute of America, the other C.I.A. which educates budding new chefs. Barbara's among the area's biggest advocates since she now lives there and often crosses the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, which spans the river.
So, she loaded her sandwich concoction with all the essentials to pay homage to the area. Cheers to Henry and his crew, she thought, as she raised high a half of the sandwich to toast him, then took her first bite. She suggests pairing it with a robust white wine; in her case, one from a local winery, and also having a fork in close range. It's quite messy, but certainly deserves a big thumb's up.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Grilled salmon, 1 1/4 lb
Red lettuce, heaping handful
Crisp bacon, 3 crisp slices
Avocado, 1/2 avocado sliced thinly
Vine-ripened tomato, 1/2 sliced thinly
2-3 slices cheddar cheese
3 TB mozzarella cheese sprinkles
Dill, 2 TB
Caramelized onions, 1/2 onion sliced and cooked until crisp
Tartar sauce, 2 TB homemade or bottled
2 slices good quality bread, rye or sourdough
Toast rye bread lightly. Spread lightly with freshly made tartar sauce. Load one half with ingredients ...starting with lettuce, then tomato, avocado, bacon, caramelized onions, both kinds of cheeses and dill. Top with other bread half, place on foil or in a pan and cook at 350 degrees until cheese melts, about 5 minutes or so. Remove, cut in half, and serve with homemade or store-bought coleslaw, crisp pickle wedges, and a local crisp white wine or beer.
Not to be outdone. Counterpoint: The St. Louis Arch-eese
After raving about “The Henry,” Margaret, a St. Louis native, proceeded to create a Midwestern grilled cheese counterpart, and one with some hints of her town, which is known for delicious rainbow trout that are easily caught in the state’s many crystal clear streams and lakes, Provel cheese (used on iconic Imo's pizzas and known for its gooey consistency and buttery taste), and its towering Arch.
The moniker for hers, “The St. Louis Arch-eese,” alludes to the landmark Gateway Arch (not to be confused with the McDonald’s golden arches). It’s a 630-foot stainless steel monument which graces the St. Louis Mississippi riverfront and is the world’s tallest man-made arch. It was built as a monument to westward expansion, which overlooks both East and West.
Margaret also knew hers would look quite professional for she has a secret device: several years ago, her youngest sister gave her a Panini maker. This was also a boon for it would eliminate the need to use butter or oil to grease the pan. So she prepped, photographed, and pigged out.
Prep time: 10 minutes
¼ lb Smoked Missouri Trout
Bibb Lettuce (2 large pieces)
1 home-grown tomato (six slices)
½ cup of sweet peppers…red, yellow, green for color and chopped onion
pinch of pepper
Secret sauce: 2 tablespoons Mascarpone, 2 tsps. horseradish mixed with 1 tsp of fresh dill
Three slices of Provel Cheese
2 slices of butter crust bakery bread
Green pepper slice in shape of an Arch
Take the two slices of bread and spread generously with the horseradish/mascarpone/dill mixture. Keeping an arc or tower in mind, pile on one piece of the bread, the lettuce, three slices of tomato, add a pinch of pepper, the trout, slather on the rest of the horseradish/mascarpone/dill mixture on the trout, then add the sautéed peppers and onions and capers, three slices of provel cheese, three more tomato slices and the other piece of lettuce. Top with other slice of bread. Put on a preheated Panini and toast for three minutes. Place on a pretty dish, add an arch of green pepper straddling both sides of the sandwich (or Mississippi River), and take a photo. Perhaps add a few chips or some slaw. Then, dig in and serve with an ice cold glass of Prosecco or a sparkling Missouri Vidal Blanc, our state’s most popular white wine grape.
Winner takes all: Stay tuned to find out the results. Perhaps, neither of us will win the grand prize. At least, we had a fun, friendly competition, and were able to gobble up the results of our culinary endeavors. When friendship, eating (and wine) are involved, what could be better?