I got word of a grilled cheese competition happening at Mt Washington Tavern in Baltimore. Local food competition? Of course I’ll enter! My favorite part of the whole thing? All the proceeds ($10 entry fee for the public) went to Moveable Feast, an organization that provides nutritious foods and other services in order to preserve quality of life for people with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening conditions. Their motto is “Feed people, Fight disease, Foster hope.” It was amazing to be able to compete in a sold out event that drew a crowd of over 100 people benefiting such a tremendous organization.
On hand were 5 professional chefs and their teams, 3 home cooks chosen from over 30 entrants, and lots of grilled cheese fans, young and old. I met a lot of great people and had a blast! I also had the pleasure of trying all the professionals’ creations and snapped some photos while I was at it. One of my recipes was chosen to be made live at the competition. I brought all my sandwich parts and Mt Washington Tavern provided the table, table cloth, and butane burner. We each made one sandwich to personally present to the judges and then a few more for them to taste. It was really cool to go up and talk to the judges and describe what I made. I tried to channel my favorite Top Chef contestants 😉
I entered a recipe I’ve made before in a slightly different format. The inspiration comes from a sandwich recipe our friend Mark sent us many years ago. The inspiration for its name (The Dirty Mushroom) comes from a bar my friends and I frequented in college/grad school, the Olive Branch. They serve really good sandwiches that you can order “dirty” (on garlic bread) or not. I liked my sandwiches dirty. Turns out the judges like their sandwiches dirty too: I won the Home Cook Category!
Check out my winning recipe below. I got a TROPHY! Woo! I also won some cash, a Mt Washington Tavern gift certificate and t-shirt, and did I mention… a TROPHY?!
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Baltimore’s Best (from a home cook) Grilled Cheese
Makes about 8 sandwiches. Directions for the sandwich first; directions to make all the components second)
Loaf of good crusty Italian bread, sliced (crisp on the outside & soft on the inside)
4 oz roasted garlic compound butter, room temperature (1 stick of butter plus 1/2 head of garlic)
6 large portabella caps
2 roasted red peppers, sliced very thinly
1 large sweet onion, slice thinly and wilted
3/4 lb mozzarella, sliced thinly
8 ounces herbed goat cheese, room temperature (mine: plain with basil and parsley added)
4 tbl pomegranate molasses
Salt and pepper
To assemble and cook the sandwich
Heat a medium/large skillet (or a griddle) over medium-low heat (err on the side of low heat). Spread 2 slices of bread with the garlic butter. To easily assemble the sandwiches, place a slice of bread buttered side up on your work surface. Place your second slice of bread buttered side down on top of the other slice of bread. This keeps you from getting butter on your cutting board or counter. Cover the bread with a single layer of mozzarella then spread with about 3 tbl of the herbed goat cheese. Layer on a thin layer of onions, roasted red peppers, and portabella caps and brush/drizzle with pomegranate molasses*. Sprinkle with salt and freshly cracked pepper. Add another single layer of mozzarella. Place the “bottom” part of your sandwich in your heated pan, butter side down. Take the remaining slice of buttered bread and place it, butter side up, onto your sandwich. Cover the pan and cook the sandwich for about 3 minutes. Check your sandwich by peeking underneath and see if it’s at the shade of golden brown that you like. Once it gets there, carefully flip it over and cook for another 3 minutes or so uncovered. When it’s finished, slice and serve!
Shortcuts: To make this the quick & easy way, make garlic butter by stirring some garlic powder into some softened butter. Buy your favorite jarred roasted red peppers and hearbed goat cheese. Use tiny bit balsamic vinegar in place of the pomegranate molasses (I’ve done this – it’s delicious).
To make the components
Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Cut a head of garlic in half and place in the center of a large piece of foil. Drizzle the garlic with olive oil and close the foil around it. Bake for 60 minutes or until soft. Once the garlic is cool, you should be able to just squeeze the softened cloves right out of the surrounding paper. Reserve the cloves from the bottom half for the butter, and use the top half for anything your heart desires (cooking veggies, making garlic bread, sautéing chicken).
Broil the red peppers, as in this recipe. Let cool. Slice very thinly, about an 1/8″ thick.
Preheat a skillet on medium high heat. Slice the portabellas very thin, as thin as you can. I sliced mine on an extreme bias so that there was a large cap to gill ratio. Saute the mushrooms in a tiny bit of olive oil (they’re like sponges so if you use a lot of oil, you’ll end up with oily mushrooms. yuck.). Let them sit in the pan, without fussing with them, for a good 3 – 4 minutes to sweat some water out of them. By not stirring them around, they’ll have the chance to caramelize a bit. Flip them over and cook for another minute. Set aside to cool.
Slice the onion very thinly and cook in the same pan you used for the mushrooms. Add a bit of olive oil and about a 1/4 of water. The water helps the onions soften and cook without getting brown. Cook the onions to your desired doneness, adding more water as needed. Mine were quite wilted with a tiny bit of crunch left in them.
Finely chop about 3 tbl basil and 2 tbl parsley. Mash the goat cheese in a medium bowl and stir in the herbs. Mix well and set aside.
Assemble the sandwich as described above. Hope you try it… and enjoy it!
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Chef Kevin Miller‘s winning (my fav of the day too) grilled cheese: The Dutch Toasty made with aged Gouda, Jarlsberg cheese, and herbed goat cheese on homemade brioche. He served it with a spring pea soup presented in an adorable little copper pot. Kevin’s been collecting copper cookware since he was young, most of it from Paris. For all my Baltimore readers, Kevin was the chef at Ixia, now closed. I used to love Ixia for its inventive food and cocktails. I was very sad when it closed because it filled a void for well-made, imaginative cocktails that I used to get at Catherine Lombardi in NJ. He’s with Widespread Concierge Services now and working a new project opening (and name revealed) in two weeks. I’ll update with the info once it’s available. I do know it’s a store front and they’ll have cooking classes, among other things!
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There was a lot of butter going on today.
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Setting up for the competition in the Garden Room at the back of Mt Washington Tavern. The room has a retractable roof and since today was beautiful, we cooked under the blue sky!
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A look at all the grilled cheese creations from the professional chefs. From left to right:
Chef Opie Crooks from Roy’s in Fells Point made an Applewood Smoked Bacon Grilled Cheese with munster cheese on brioche. There was a smoky, spicy sauce underneath that was really nice but I didn’t get a chance to chat with Chef Crooks to see what it was.
Chef Chad Gauss from the City Café in Mount Vernon made Soup in a Sandwich grilled cheese. It had sautéed onions in a French onion soup broth/sauce that tasted like it had brie in it and was served with a truffled French onion soup. This was the Crowd Favorite winner (I think – it was announced right after my victory so I was in a brief daze and it was so loud in there!).
Chef Darrick Granai from Baldwin’s Station in Sykesville, MD made The Vermonster. He made (for the first time ever) his own vanilla scented brioche and filled it with maple pork belly and 3 Vermont cheddar cheeses from Cabot. The sandwich was served on a cedar-smoked yellow tomato puree.
Chef Carl Gray from Mt Washington Tavern (the host of the event) was there to make their Veggie Melt served with sweet potato fries. It’s got marinated eggplant, roasted red peppers, artichokes, pesto, and Monterey jack on thick wheatberry bread. You can order it every day from their menu.
Chef Matt Milani from The Rumor Mill in Ellicott City, MD made the Rumor Mill Fusion Grilled Cheese, a sandwich filled with bacon jam and Gruyère. He served it with a vanilla-tomato mousse sprinkled with house-smoked sea salt (so delicious!) and a mini-grilled cheese made by his Pastry Chef Megan that weren’t grilled cheese at all. They were a white chocolate mousse and mango puree made to look like little sandwiches. I’m sad that I didn’t get to taste those (they were gone by the time I got down there) but I did get a picture while Matt and I were chatting before the event started. Matt won the Kid’s Choice award at the event.
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The vanilla-tomato mousse chillin’ on the anti-griddle (pun intended). I love me some molecular gastronomy on a Sunday. Matt also added some crazy MG stuff to his olive oil that was spread on his sandwich to grill it. It pulls the water out to kind of “powder” it. Wish I had my little notebook while we were talking!
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Two other fun pictures from the day:
I’d like to say thanks to Mt Washington Tavern for putting on such a fun event. I had a great time talking with the chefs and lots of people in attendance. I got a lot of nice feedback from people and walked away with a win. Most importantly, I got to be a part of an event that raised $1000 for Moveable Feast and got some of their literature to bring back to my work. Special thanks to Mikey, the wonderful coordinator for the event. She was totally awesome and made sure everyone was taken care of. Despite being a home cook (and not one of the esteemed chefs in attendance), she still made me feel pretty special.
*A note on pomegranate molasses: you can find this tasty, interesting ingredient in Middle Eastern markets or possibly in high-end supermarkets. If you find pomegranate concentrate (not the frozen stuff in the juice aisle) you could use that. You could make your own out of POM juice, sugar, and lemon juice. If you find it there are plenty of uses for it: drinks, dressings, marinades, baked goods, and Muhammara dip.