Simple Sides: A Peachy Grilled Cheese!
Children in this country consume an estimated 12 percent of their calories from fast food, and 20 percent of all American meals are eaten in the car! The consequences are predictably unhealthy. Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a bit of planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy, and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks that will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability and to identify where adult attention might be needed.
Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic; this is by design. We hope these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience and confidence in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach a child basic culinary skills, and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all your hearts forever. “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” – Julia Child.
I remember the days when a grilled cheese sandwich was just a simple combination of American cheese and basic white bread! In fact, for me as a kid, grilled cheese with a side of hot soup was always the go-to lunch when the weather was stormy. That notion still lingers, so the concept of a fair-weather grilled cheese— with summer peaches no less— was very counterintuitive for this preprogrammed palate; until that first bite!
Before letting your kitchen helpers loose on the cutting board, let’s review what we are improving on. American “cheese” isn't really cheese at all. It contains less than 51% cheese curds, so by law, it is considered and labeled a “cheese product.” The rest of the ingredients are preservatives, whey, and other additives to ensure such an absurdly long shelf life that, when stored properly in the refrigerator, those slices will outlast that refrigerator! White bread? Another American icon with little nutritional value and lots of empty calories. The highly processed flour and additives in white, packaged bread have single-handedly contributed to rampant obesity, heart disease, and diabetes in children across this super-sized country. Enough of both, America!
Instead, how about starting with a juicy ripe peach, topped with two flavors of high-quality melted cheeses accented with a few fresh basil leaves? This tasty trio is then sandwiched between lightly grilled slices of deliciously tangy sourdough or hearty whole-grain bread. Quite a difference, nutritionally, from the traditional faux cheese sandwich of my youth! The flavor possibilities are endless depending on the bread and cheese choices your kitchen crew decides upon.
To that point, choose those cheeses wisely. Fresh peach should be the dominant flavor of every bite, so keep the cheeses on the mild side. I took a chance using a favorite smoked gouda, which definitely has its own recognizable taste but also provided a clear distinction from the very mild Gruyere without overpowering the overall peachy flavor. After all, if the flavors of both kinds of cheese are too muted, then why bother? Finding that flavor balance could be a fun and tasty culinary exercise for your aspiring chef-helpers. That is, provide several kinds of cheeses, mild and strong, so the kids have to taste test and then choose the best combination.
While prep is basically no different than constructing a PB & J; (the layering of ingredients onto one slice of bread and covering it with another slice), the process for making grilled cheese must be done LIVE in a hot pan, demanding close adult supervision. One valuable tip for this construction: apply a second layer of cheese! The sandwich will stay together much better if another thin slice of each cheese is placed over the basil leaves before that second piece of bread is put down. That way, when the sandwich is flipped, there is a little more cheese to melt onto that second piece of bread. Besides, any excuse for a little extra cheese works for me and is the key to, dare I say it, a real peachy summer sandwich!
Peach-Basil Grilled Cheese Sandwich!
Makes one sandwich
2 tablespoons butter
2 slices hearty whole grain or sourdough bread
1 peach, sliced thin
2 slices Gruyere cheese or any favorite mild cheese
2 slices smoked gouda cheese or any favorite mild cheese
4 to 5 fresh basil leaves, shredded or finely cut strips <2>**
What the supervising adult should do:
To develop taste and ingredient pairings, provide several kinds of cheese options. The stovetop work needs extremely close supervision.
What the kids can do:
Butter the two slices of bread on one side. Heat a skillet over a medium-low flame. Once hot, add one slice of bread to the skillet, buttered side down. Top with a slice of each chosen cheese.
Arrange peach slices on top of the cheese, then sprinkle with fresh basil. Top with another slice of each cheese to bind the second slice of bread placed over the cheese, buttered side up.
Once the bottom slice is golden brown (approximately 2 to 3 minutes), carefully flip the sandwich. Cook until toasted and the cheese is melted to gooey goodness.
Slice in half and serve immediately while still warm.