French Toast Grilled Cheese

A few posts ago I wrote about the Summer Seafood Chowder I made for lunch when my in-laws came to visit. Soup?, you were thinking. That’s it? She gives them soup and nothing else? Merely soup to Jewish in-laws who schlep on the bus for an hour from the city? Well, I’m happy to report that even though it was a beautiful soup, I did not let it stand alone. I served this brunchy version of a grilled cheese tucked along side the bowls and while grilled cheese is almost always good, no matter the version, this one was really, really good.

I had a lovely loaf of whole wheat challah (traditional Jewish egg bread) that I’d picked up from Whole Foods, but any nice whole grain bread would do. I have made my own challah (do you doubt it?) and will share that experience and recipe with you one of these days because it is one bread worth making even if you feel daunted by the idea. But, back to the grill cheese. I had the challah and some chunks of cheddar and gruyere so grilled cheese was definitely on the menu…but how to make it just a little bit more special?

If I hadn’t already committed to a more lunchy meal with the soup, I would have probably done French toast with the challah, so why not combine the French Toast and the grill cheese? An egg soaked bread, grilled to golden perfection oozing cheese. Who could object? I’d never tried it…but it had to be good. Then there was the issue of execution. I had a smaller, older version of the latest Le Crueset grill pan that could maybe do two sandwiches at once. But there was going to be 6 of us for lunch and at least two of the 6 would want 2 sandwiches (the manly men).  I had to figure out a way to have all the sandwiches done at the same time, and be melty hot and ready to go, just as I was ladling out the soup. Baking them could solve the problem and make them just a little bit healthier too, eliminating the need for a buttery pan to fry them in. I pulled out a baking sheet, a SilPat (silicone pan liner) and started the assembly line process.

I was cautious once I got them in the oven. I wanted to watch them like a hawk and turn them just at the right time to achieve the pan-grilled golden crunch that defines both French toast and grilled cheese. And this was exactly the kind of thing I knew I could completely screw up. If you know nothing about menopause, know this: after a certain age, you will put things in the oven and then go do something else and completely forget they are there until the aroma of char grabs you by the throat and drags you away from your email and back into the kitchen to face the ruins of a perfectly good tray of grill cheese. So…I vowed not to leave the oven. I forced myself to stand there. And check. And check. Until they were the perfect color to flip. Then I waited. And checked. And checked. And my vigilance paid off.

French Toast Grill Cheese

Serves 4

8 medium thick slices of whole grain bread, or challah
2 tablespoons mayonaise*
2 eggs plus tablespoon of non-fat milk or water
1 cup grated cheddar
1 cup grated gruyere or swiss*
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of salt

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a cookie sheet lightly with canola oil or spray. If you have a SilPat (silicone pan liner) use that instead. The SilPat gives you non-stick baking without having to grease the pan….and nice browning too.

2. Beat eggs thoroughly with water or milk, adding the salt and nutmeg. Mix the cheddar and gruyere together in a bowl (or any combo of cheeses you prefer)

3. Dip half the bread slices into the egg mix, coating but not soaking too heavily. Line the egg-coated slices on the baking sheet. Spread a thin layer of mayo on the face-up side of the bread. Cover the bread with a healthy amount of grated cheese mix.

4. Dip the remaining slices of bread into the egg mix and use these to top the sandwiches.  Place sheet pan in over and bake for 6-10 minutes, checking every few minutes to monitor the rate at which they are cooking (or burning!). Since we are baking, not broiling, the bottoms (side facing down to the pan) may brown faster than the top, so pull them out to check that surface too. Flip when bottoms have achieved desired golden brown color. Bake additional 5-6 minutes or until desired color achieved and cheese is fully melted.

5. Remove from oven. Let the sandwiches rest a minute or two before cutting or else the cheese will run out too quickly. Cut in half, serve immediately.

* I like to use mayo made with olive oil. David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding who wrote the Eat This, Not That series (great reference book for those looking to make healthier choices in the supermarket!) write “why settle for low-grade soybean oil mayo when you can get one made with heart-healthy olive oil for about the same price.?” And I agree! Kraft is producing a olive oil mayo now that comes in at half the calories found in regular mayo, and can be found in most mainstream supermarkets. Spectrum makes a fully organic version that might be harder to find. More flavor, fewer calories, healthier fat. No brainer.

Endless Options: You could obviously use any cheese or combo of cheeses here (except American! Pah-leese!), and condiments to change the flavor and nationality of these.. Mozzerella and Asiago or Provolone with a pesto mayo takes it Italian-ish, Brie and goat cheese with dijon or strawberry jam takes it Frenchish. Cheddar, Turkey/Pork Bacon, Tomato and Russian Dressing makes it All-American. Pastrami and Swiss with Sauerkraut would make it a French Toast Reuben! Ricotta, some chopped peaches and honey mixed together would make this back into a sort of sweet, stuffed French toast that you could serve with maple syrup. As I said…endless.

Kid-Friendly Note: This version of grilled cheese, with the egg dip, adds an important element for kids whose diets are carb heavy to begin with…protein!

Make it your own and tell me about it!