I don’t think I have to sing the virtues of grilled cheese. Perhaps I should, however, admit that I’m addicted to them, and for this I blame Heidi. As a little girl I savored the image of Grandfather making melted Swiss cheese over the fire to spread on good black bread, for Heidi’s dinner. (Don’t get me started on baked potatoes roasted in the fireplace for dinner, from Milly-Molly-Mandy!)  

My mother’s go-to lunchtime meal for 3 little girls was open-faced grilled cheese. She’d turn on the oven, letting it warm up to about a medium temperature, and meanwhile take a cookie sheet and lay out six slices of bread. This was undoubtedly Wonder Bread (what else?) but might have been Sunbeam, the local version.

Then she would slice good sharp Cheddar cheese and place just enough cheese onto each piece of bread to cover it as evenly as possible. Somehow the spaces in between would be nearly as yummy as the cheese. Then she’d pop the tray into the oven and give it about 7-10 minutes or just until the bread was golden brown and the cheese was melted. My sister Laurie, the youngest, preferred hers to be a bit burned for some odd reason that I never understood... 

These days I find many of my choices of bread, cracker, or chip are merely excuses for vessels to contain melted cheese. And thus we come to the quesadilla, which is just so versatile and of course, is a staple of many casual restaurants’ menus. Although clearly of Mexican origin, the quesadilla I first encountered was in Friendly’s – without so much as a chipotle or speck of cilantro to be found. Usually you are offered the choice of “with chicken or without”.  

At home, however, you can go wild with your own versions of quesadillas. I’m using a low-carb flour tortilla by Mission, which comes in at 90 calories apiece. Tortillas, whether flour or corn, are not known for their low-calorie (or low-sodium) characters, so you may have to hunt around if those are your criteria. But the fillings are the important part, anyway! 

Here are some of the different combinations I’ve tried – or have in mind to try soon:
  •  Swiss cheese, thin deli-sliced ham, and grated sharp Cheddar (yes, try two or more types of cheese!)
  • Swiss cheese, roast beef, pesto
  • sliced tomato, Cheddar cheese, a bit of grated Parmesan
  • Baby spinach leaves, sliced mushrooms, mozzarella, a sprinkle of dried rosemary or basil
  • Swiss cheese, cooked chicken, sliced mushrooms
  • Swiss cheese, pesto, canned tuna or canned baby shrimp or crabmeat
You could, alternately, try a sweet version with a bit of softened butter spread inside and cinnamon sugar sprinkled over the butter. Jam, honey, or maple syrup drizzled over ricotta or dry cottage cheese or cream cheese would also be awesome, I imagine. Sprinkle just a little cinnamon and sugar on the hot quesadilla just before serving.   My quick cooking method is this:
  • Using a large non-stick or cast iron skillet, heat about two tablespoons of good olive oil. Before it gets too hot, use a pastry brush dipped in the oil to spread the oil on one side each of two flour tortillas. (If using a soft spread as a filling, spread it on the inside of the tortilla BEFORE placing in the pan.)
  • Take one tortilla and lay it in the skillet a bit off center. Begin layering your ingredients on one half of the tortilla, starting with a slice of Swiss cheese or whichever the best melting cheese in your ingredients might be. Top off with a last layer of cheese, and fold over the tortilla (using a fork or spatula) to form a half-circle.
  • Lay the second tortilla next to the folded one in the pan. It might not fit perfectly but it doesn’t matter. Only the side where the ingredients are being layered needs to be firmly seated in the hot skillet. Layer the ingredients as before, and fold over the tortilla onto them to form the half-circle.
  • With a spatula or fork, flip the folded tortillas over and if you have one, put a panini press on top to flatten. Grill on this side another few minutes, until the cheese has melted and the tortilla surfaces are lightly browned.
  • Serve! I often have some celery sticks or carrot sticks with these for contrast and crunch. And iced tea or cold milk!
Among the other yummy “vessels” for melted cheese I like are naan bread, Nabisco Tuscan-flavor flatbread (crackers), pita chips, Triscuits, ciabatta or other crusty breads, and yes...Wonder Bread. What can I say?

Results of the 2011 Grilled Cheese Invitational - If I'd only known...
Heidi and Grandfather