One of the most comforting of comfort foods is the humble grilled cheese sandwich. Perfect in any season, on its own or coupled with a bowl of broth, grilled cheese in all its ooey-gooey goodness is just plain delicious.
Recently a handful of seasoned chefs from across Canada gathered at Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition's All You Need is Cheese exhibit to duel it out for grilled cheese supremecy. Organized by the Dairy Farmers of Canada, the competition helped celebrate the creative visions of executive chefs Ned Bell of Yew Restaurant at The Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver; Michael Howell of Tempestuous Culinary in Nova Scotia, Liana Robberecht of the Calgary Petroleum Club in Calgary, and Jason Bangerter at O&B Luma and Canteen restaurants in Toronto, as well as celebrate the wonderful cheeses of our nation, made with 100% Canadian milk.
The winner was Chef Jason Bangerter but all the chefs created award-winning masterpieces that elevated this favourite dish to new levels.
The chefs created several sandwiches each -- enough inspiration to help you create your own signature sandwiches.
Sweet Summer Night
Created by winner Chef Jason Bangerter, who called this sandwich "everything a traditional grilled cheese sandwich isn't. The sweetness of marscapone and local strawberries is lit up by salty prosciutto and fresh cracked pepper."
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) thinly sliced local strawberries
- Splash of raspberry liqueur (optional)
- Pinch of grated lemon rind
- Pinch each, salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup (75 ml) Canadian mascarpone cheese
- Two 3/4-inch (2 cm) thick slices brioche bread, about 5-inch (12.5 cm) square *
- 4 large basil leaves
- 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) unsalted butter, divided
- Edible flowers (daisy, lavender, day lily, hyssop or nasturtium) and fine herbs (perilla, lemon balm, tarragon or verbena)
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) toasted macadamia nuts
- 2 Tbsp. (30 ml) aged balsamic vinegar or vincotto
In a small bowl, toss berries with liqueur (if using), lemon rind, salt and pepper; let marinate 5 minutes.
Spread mascarpone cheese on one slice of bread. Top with basil leaves to cover, then with strawberries. Top with remaining slice of bread.
In a small skillet, heat half of butter on medium heat. When butter is melted and starting to brown, add sandwich. Cook, 2 minutes, turn over and add remaining butter. Cook 2 minutes or until golden brown. Slice in half. Garnish with strawberries, flowers, herbs, nuts and a small dish of vinegar for dipping.
*Bread: Trim ends of unsliced bread to make an approximately 5-inch (12.5 cm) square. Slice crosswise into 3/4-inch (2 cm) thick slices
Tips: You could also use Canadian Brie, Fior di Latte or cream cheese.
This is a grilled cheese that does not require heating through to melt cheese. The cool buttery mascarpone and marinated berries are a wonderful contrast to the warm toasted brioche.
Simple yet fantastic, this grilled cheese is courtesy of Executive Chef Ned Bell of Vancouver's Four Seasons Hotel's Yew Restaurant. True to its name, The Simple is a sweet grilled cheese starring summer favourites like fruit chutney, honey and Brie cheese. Crispy grilled brioche and mild Canadian cheddar add sharpness that excite taste buds.
- 2 oz (60 g) Island Brie, (or favourite Canadian brie) cut into thin slices
- 2 oz (60 g) Courtenay Cheddar, (or favourite Canadian cheddar) cut into thin slices
- Two 1/2-inch (1 cm) thick slices Brioche or white artisan bread,
- about 5-inch (12.5 cm) square*
- 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup (250 ml) blueberries, fresh or frozen
- 1 cup (250 ml) cranberries, fresh or frozen
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) diced canned tomatoes, drained
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) apple juice
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) red wine vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. (30 ml) liquid honey (or more to taste)
- 1/2 tsp (2 ml) kosher salt
Fruit Chutney: In a medium saucepan, combine blueberries, cranberries, tomatoes, apple juice, vinegar, honey and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until thickened. Cover and refrigerate to cool. Taste and adjust sweetness, if necessary.
Butter one side of each bread slice and place buttered side down on a work surface. Layer Brie followed by Cheddar cheese on one bread slice. Top with remaining slice of bread (butter side out).
Heat a grill pan over medium heat. Cook sandwich, turning once, for 5 minutes on each side or until golden and crispy, adjusting heat as necessary to prevent burning. Serve immediately with the chutney on side.
*Bread: Trim ends of unsliced bread to make about a 5-inch (12.5 cm) square. Slice crosswise into 1/2-inch (1 cm) thick slices.
Cooking Tips: If desired, in a blender or with a hand held immersion blender, puree chutney until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for up to two weeks.
Liana Robberecht, with her signature bold pink chef jacket, is executive chef at the Calgary Petroleum Club in Calgary. She calls this grilled chesse "comfort food at its finest." The robust country flavours of this homage to the Calgary Stampede truly celebrates "our nation's farmers" and all that is good and delicious in our fair land.
- Four 1/2-inch (1 cm) thick slices sourdough bread, about 4-1/2 inch (11 cm) square*
- 2 Tbsp. (30 ml) unsalted butter, softened
- 6 slices Canadian Provolone cheese (each 1 oz/30 g)
- 1 oz (30 g) Canadian Blue cheese, crumbled (about 1/4 cup/60 ml)
- 6 oz (175 g) cooked BBQ Beef Pulled Short Ribs (about 1 cup/250 ml) (recipe follows)
- 1 vine ripened tomato, cut into wedges
- 2 tsp. (10 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. (30 ml) Onion Jam (recipe follows)
Place bread slices on a work surface; butter one side and turn over butter side down. Place one and half slices of Provolone cheese on two bread slices; top evenly with Blue cheese, BBQ beef pulled short ribs, remaining Provolone cheese and bread, butter side up.
Heat a large skillet or electric griddle over medium heat. Place sandwiches butter side down and cook, turning once, for 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until golden brown and cheese is melted.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, toss tomato wedges with oil and a sprinkle of salt; divide among plates. Cut grilled cheese in half diagonally and spoon onion jam on top. Serve immediately.
*Bread: Trim ends of unsliced bread to make approximately a 4-1/2 inch (11 cm) square. Slice crosswise into 1/2- inch (1 cm) thick slices.
BBQ Beef Pulled Short Ribs
- 1 lb. (454 g) beef short ribs
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) chopped onion
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup (250 ml) barbecue sauce
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) water
- 2 Tbsp. (30 ml) bourbon
- 1 tsp. (5 ml) grainy mustard
- Pinch salt and pepper
In a 5 to 6- 1/2 quart (5 to 6.5 L) slow cooker, place ribs; top with onion, rosemary, thyme and bay leaf. In a bowl, stir together, barbecue sauce, water, Bourbon, mustard, salt and pepper; pour over ribs. Cover and cook on low until meat is very tender, 6 to 8 hours. Discard rosemary, thyme and bay leaf. Remove ribs and discard bones. With 2 forks, pull apart meat. Skim fat from liquid, and stir in about 1/4 cup (60 ml) of liquid into meat to moisten.
- 1 tsp. (5 ml) olive oil
- 1 cup (250 ml) thinly sliced red onion (about 4 oz/125 g)
- 2 Tbsp. (30 ml) granulated sugar
- 2 Tbsp. (30 ml) Cassis liqueur
- 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) apple cider vinegar
In a small skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and sugar; cook stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Add liqueur and cook, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary. Add vinegar and cook, stirring frequently for 5 minutes or until it reaches jam consistency. Remove from heat immediately. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Tips: Need to save time? Use ready-made sweet onion chutney and shaved deli roast beef for the braising beef short ribs.
For a non-alcoholic version, replace bourbon with apple juice and Cassis liqueur with black currant syrup.
"Tender flaked crab, smooth Canadian cream cheese and Gouda keep the Crabby Dipper an easy grilled cheese sandwich -- it's a classic hors d'oeurve dip popped into a brilliantly please sandwich," says chef Michael Howell from the Tempest Restaurant in Wolfville, N.S.
- 1/3 cup (75 ml) mayonnaise
- 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) each, grated lemon rind and juice
- 3/4 cup (175 ml) crabmeat
- 1/3 cup (75 ml) Canadian Cream cheese, softened
- 1 jar (6.5oz/ 150 mL) marinated artichokes, drained and chopped
- 1 tsp. (5 ml) chopped fresh parsley
- Hot sauce, optional
- 4 oz (120 g) smoked Canadian Gouda, cut into thin slices
- 4 slices thick cut soft Italian whole wheat sandwich bread*
- 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) unsalted butter
Lemon Mayonnaise: In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, lemon zest and juice; mix well. Allow flavours to blend about 20 minutes.
Crab Dip: In a medium bowl, combine crab, cream cheese, artichokes, parsley and 2 Tbsp. (30 ml) of lemon mayonnaise. Taste and season with pepper. Add a dash of hot sauce.
To assemble sandwiches, divide half of cheese slices on two slices of bread and spread crab mixture on top. Top with remaining cheese and bread. Spread remaining mayonnaise onoutside of each sandwich.
In a large non-stick skillet, melt butter over medium low heat. Cook sandwiches, turning once for 6 to 8 minutes, or until browned and cheese is melted.
*Bread: Place bread slices on a cooling rack and air dry for one hour.
Tips: Serve with some "peel and eat" crab legs and some cocktail sauce.
Prepare the lemon mayonnaise up to three days ahead and the crab dip up to 24 hours; cover and refrigerate. Check crabmeat thoroughly for shells and remove any cartilage. If using frozen crab, thaw and press firmly in a sieve to remove any liquid.
Gets its name from the delightfully bright pop of flavour of the candied cherry tomatoes prepared for the recipe. Fresh local tomatoes are soaked overnight in a tangy marinade before being expertly paired with smooth, rich Canadian Triple Cream Brie and thick sizzling bacon in this cheeky little number created by chef Liana Robberecht from Calgary.
- 2 cups (500 ml) cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half and seeded (about 24)
- 1- 1/2 cup (375 ml) granulated sugar
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig of thyme
- 1/2 sprig of rosemary
- 2 slices each lemon and orange
- 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) vermouth or white wine
- Four 1/2-inch (1 cm) thick slices French bread, about 4-1/2 inches (11 cm) square
- 2 Tbsp. (30 ml) butter, softened
- 1 Canadian Triple Cream Brie wheel, about 4 oz (125 g), rind cut off,
- sliced into 4 equal slices
- Candied Tomatoes (recipe follows)
- 6 slices of cooked bacon
- 1/4 tsp. (1 ml) fresh cracked black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. (2 ml) sea salt
Candied Tomato-Lemon Vinaigrette
- 2 Tbsp. (30 ml) reserved candied tomato liquid
- 1 tsp. (5 ml) grated lemon rind
- 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) lemon juice
- 1 tsp. (5 ml) apple cider vinegar
- Pinch each of salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cups (500 ml) favourite mixed salad
For Candied Tomatoes: In a glass bowl, combine tomatoes, sugar, bay leaf, thyme and rosemary. Squeeze juice from lemon and orange slices and add along with the rind; toss making sure the tomatoes are covered with the sugar. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat, add tomato mixture and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add vermouth and cook for 1 minute. Strain through sieve into a bowl, reserving liquid. Discard stems and rinds. Refrigerate candied tomatoes and liquid to cool.
For Sandwich: Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Place bread slices on a work surface; butter one side and turn over butter side down. Place one slice of Brie on each bread slice. Top two slices evenly with candied tomatoes and bacon. Sprinkle each slice of bread with pepper. Cover tomato side with Brie side, leaving butter side out.
Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Cook sandwiches for 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Place skillet in oven, for 5 to 7 minutes or until the cheese is melted.
Meanwhile, prepare Candied Tomato-Lemon Vinaigrette. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk candied tomato liquid, lemon rind and juice, vinegar, salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in oil. Taste and adjust seasoning. Place salad in a bowl and toss with enough dressing to coat. Divide among plates. Let sandwich rest for 1 minute; cut in half and place on plates; sprinkle with salt. Serve immediately.
Chef Michael Howell from the Tempest Restaurant in Wolfville, N.S., was inspired by his travels in the lovely region of Apulia in southern Italy for this Italian-infused, flavour-packed grilled panini.
Sundried Tomato Compote
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) oil packed sundried tomatoes, coarsely chopped
- 4 tsp. (20 ml) sundried tomato oil (from jar)
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 3/4 cup (175 ml) dry-cured black olives, pitted
- 2 Tbsp. (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- 4 tsp. (20 ml) cold water
- 3 cups (750 ml) packed arugula (4 oz/125 g)
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) coarsely chopped walnuts
- 2 Tbsp. (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp. (5 ml) chopped garlic
- 3 Tbsp. (45 ml) grated Canadian Parmesan cheese
- Two 3/4-inch (2 cm) thick slices olive bread, about 5-inch (12.5 cm) square*
- 3 oz (90 g) Canadian Asiago Cheese, cut into thin slices
- 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) unsalted butter, softened
Sundried Tomato Compote: In a bowl, combine tomatoes and enough hot water to cover; let sit for 30 minutes; drain, reserving 4 tsp. (20 ml) of soaking water. In a food processor, combine tomatoes, tomato oil, reserved soaking water and garlic; process until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a bowl.
Tapenade: In a food processor, puree olives, oil and water, until smooth; transfer to a bowl.
Pesto: In a clean food processor bowl, combine arugula, walnuts, oil and garlic; process until smooth. Add Parmesan; pulse to combine.
Preheat panini press to medium.
Sandwich: Spread both slices of bread to taste with sundried tomato compote and olive tapenade. Top evenly with cheese slices and spoon generous dollops of pesto. Press slices together and butter outside. Place sandwich on panini press and grill 5 to 7 minutes or until cheese is melted and bread is crispy.
*Bread: Trim ends of unsliced bread to make a 5-inch (12.5 cm) square. Slice crosswise into 3/4-inch (2 cm) thick slices.
Tips: Make tapenade, sundried tomato compote and pesto up to three days ahead; store covered in the refrigerator.
Toss remaining pesto with hot cooked pasta and top with shaved Canadian Parmesan cheese.
Ned "Bell Pepper" Sweet & Spicy
"When I make it spicy, I like to make it sweet!" says chef Ned Bell from British Columbia, who describes this grilled cheese as "rustic, chewy, crunchy and cheesy - it doesn't get any better." It is served with a wonderful homemade jam, which adds a nice sweetness to the sandwich.
- Two 1/2-inch (1 cm) thick slices of artisan country loaf bread (such as, Calabrese, rustic Italian, ciabatta), about 5-inch (12.5 cm) square
- 2 oz (60 g) Canadian Red Hot Pepper Cheddar, cut into thin slices
- 2 oz (60 g) thinly sliced Canadian Pacific Pepper Spicy Verdelait, cut into thin slices
- Two 1/4-inch (0.5 cm) thick slices of beefsteak tomatoes
- 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup (250 ml) diced sweet red bell peppers
- 1 cup (250 ml) diced sweet yellow bell peppers
- 1 cup (250 ml) grape tomatoes
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) liquid honey
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) white wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp. (2 ml) kosher salt
Jam: In a medium saucepan, combine red and yellow peppers, tomatoes, honey, vinegar and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes or until tomatoes are very soft and most of liquid has evaporated. Cover and refrigerate to cool.
Butter one side of each bread slice and place buttered side down on work surface. Layer Cheddar cheese followed by Pacific Pepper Spicy Verdelait cheese and tomato slices on one bread slice. Top with remaining slice of bread (butter side out).
Heat a grill pan over medium heat. Cook sandwich, turning once, for about 5 minutes on each side or until golden and crispy. Serve immediately with 'jam' on the side.
*Bread: Trim ends of unsliced bread to make a 5-inch (12.5 cm) square. Slice crosswise into 1/2-inch (1 cm) thick slices.
Tips: If desired, in a blender or with a handheld immersion blender, puree jam until smooth. Refrigerate covered for up to two weeks -- a great make-ahead recipe.
Canadian Red Hot Pepper Monterey Jack cheese is a good substitute for British Columbia's Pacific Pepper Spicy Verdelait. A flavoured Gouda can be a substitute for British Columbia's Canadian Red Hot Pepper Cheddar.