As a child, you may have imagined your adult diet as a buffet of your favourites, like hot dogs and ice cream. Your tastes probably matured along with the rest of you, but a childhood classic still hits the spot once in a while. To make sure you revisit the past in the tastiest way possible, we've rounded up some upgrades.
As a child, I would eat my hot dogs microwaved until they exploded, then rolled in a slice of white bread and dipped in tomato sauce. I'm older and fancier now and, while I rarely eat hot dogs, I really enjoy them when I do. To ensure you enjoy every hot dog, consider a few of the following techniques and toppings.
First of all, did you know you can marinate those guys? Score 'em (or spiral, which we will cover in a minute) and let them soak in a bath of tomato sauce, soy sauce, red wine vinegar, chilli oil and Worcestershire sauce for at least eight hours. What you'll get is a super-flavourful sausage, with a sweet and spicy glaze.
Once they're flavour-blasted, you're going to want to spiral-cut that sucker.
Not only does cutting the hot dog this way increase its surface area, allowing for more tasty browning reactions to take place, but it also creates handy crevices for packing in toppings.
Speaking of toppings, they frankly are one of the most exciting aspects of sausage culinary arts. Fancy mustards are all well and good, but don't limit yourself to squeeze bottles. Some other winners include:
- Get funky: Kimchi, sauerkraut, all the pickled peppers, pickled onions, pickles, Asian slaw, spicy mayo, blue cheese
- Get decadent: Cheese, chilli, bacon, potato chips, macaroni and cheese (two classics in one!), nacho cheese, hot honey (make your own!), cojita cheese
- Get some veggies on there: Tomato, thinly sliced onion, grilled onion, salsa, guacamole
Finally, don't forget about the bun. A soft, white bun will get the job done, but a pretzel roll, fresh burger bun or potato roll will give your dog a particularly tasty place to rest. If that's none of that is fancy enough for you, you can always make them into Disney Princesses.
Get Toasted Cheese in Your Grill
I will always be satisfied by two pieces of toasted, buttery bread on either side of a couple slices of tasty cheese, but there are more mature (and delicious) ways to go about getting your jaffle on. The best jaffles are filled with gooey, stretchy, completely melted cheese, and some are more suited for the job than others. Though every cheese has its own special time and place (the place is my mouth), not every one of them will work in a jaffle situation. Luckily, science is here to help you out.
The key is in the pH. A cheese that is too basic (as in, higher pH, not a lover of Frappuccinos and autumn foliage) lacks the ability to stretch into those glorious stringy strands, while a cheese that is too acidic will harden into a greasy mess. The sweet spot is somewhere in the slightly acidic range of 5.3-5.5, which includes gruyere, manchego, gouda and mild (but not sharp) cheddar.
If you're a lover of the sharper cheeses, this may seem like bad news, but not all is lost. To get all of that acidic, sharp goodness up in your grill, cast a soft, fresh cheese in a supporting role. Spread it on the insides of each piece of bread, and then finely grate harder, sharper cheese on top. The soft cheese will suspend the harder cheeses and facilitate a smooth, creamy melt. Fromage blanc and fresh chevre both work extremely well, but plain (or flavoured!) ol' cream cheese will work just fine.
Of course, cheese is only half the battle. You should also pay attention to the bread. Choice of loaf is a matter of personal preference, and challah, rye, sourdough or a fancy French boule are all good options, but garlic bread would really take it to the house. The most important thing is avoiding bread with a lot of holes. Holes lead to lost cheese, and lost cheese is very sad. Once you have chosen your bread though, there is one thing that you're going to want to do not matter what: toast both sides.
This method, suggested by J. Kenji López-Alt over at Serious Eats, will up your toasted cheese game without a lot of added time:
The best method I've ever seen for making a perfect grilled cheese comes from Adam Kuban. His secret? Grill the bread on both sides. That's right. Grill two slices of bread in butter, flip'em over so that the browned sides are facing up, add your cheese, and close your sandwich so that the cheese is sandwiched between the browned surfaces. Not only will this get you better tasting bread infused with more butter, but it will also give your cheese a head start on getting extra-melty.
Now, you can keep your bread-cheese-bread format and no one could fault you. Why mess with perfection? But, if you want your sandwich to be a little more substantial, there are some add-ins you could consider. This may depart from the traditional format, and we may be getting into "melt" territory here, but I'm not one to let semantics prevent me from building a better sandwich. (Some of my favourite food writing of 2014 however was this passionate rant against the abuse of the term "grilled cheese." Reddit user Fuck_Blue_Shells, where are you now?)
Some ideas to get you started:
- Plant parts: Basil, spinach, hot peppers, pickled peppers, sundried tomatoes, pickles
- Spreads: Membrillo (quince paste), fig spread, any of the jams from IKEA, chocolate spread (surprisingly great with brie), honey, pesto, olive tapenade
- Fruits: Apples, strawberry slices, fresh tomatoes, avocado, pineapple
- Proteins: Bacon (duh), salami, prosciutto, tuna, hummus, carnitas (Trader Joe's has a great pre-cooked option), buffalo chicken
Return of the Mac (and Cheese)
Perhaps the Holy Grail of childhood comfort food, macaroni and cheese needs no "improvement". I still buy a blue box every now and again, but it's more out of nostalgia than convenience as making it at home isn't the least bit difficult.
First, pick a pasta. What you're looking for here is a cheese delivery system, so pick something with folds, nooks and crannies. Macaroni elbows and shells (duh) fit the bill, but if you want to venture out and explore some exciting shapes, consider trying gigli ("lilies"), pipe rigate or riccioli.
To skip the packet of orange powder and make a super creamy, cheesy dish, start by cooking your pasta in milk. By doing so, the pasta releases its starch into the milk, creating a thickened, creamy sauce. Once the pasta is cooked, just chuck your cheese in and stir until melted. Boom. You have the creamiest, easiest mac and cheese of your life.
Another, slightly more involved, but just as delicious method starts with the making of a roux. If you've never made a roux before, don't be intimidated. It's a simple matter of cooking equal parts flour and fat, and it will open up a whole world of saucy possibilities. Once the roux is made, pour in some warm milk (eight times the amount of butter and flour) and whisk until the roux is smooth, just simmering, and coats the back of a spoon. From there, you can pretty much wing it.
Just chuck things in with wild abandon. Don't just grate some cheddar and call it a day; get some fancy cheeses in there. Fresh chevre will add some nice grassy notes, crumbled gorgonzola adds some funk, and, for my personal favourite mac and cheese, Dubliner will add a sweet, nutty flavour. When your mac is as cheesy as you like it, it's time for fancy add-ins.
- To make it a meaty meal: Grilled or shredded chicken, skirt steak, prosciutto, bacon, chorizo, pancetta, even lardo
- To make it a bit more healthful: Spinach (add at end), kale (add a little earlier), caramelised onions, zucchini, grape tomatoes, mushrooms, roasted garlic, olives
- To take it up a notch: Hot sauce, cajun seasoning, za'atar, lemon zest, preserved lemon, hot honey, worcestershire, nutmeg, basil, pesto, toasted pine nuts
You could stop there and dig in with a fork, or you could transfer to a baking dish, top with tasty bread crumbs (and more cheese) and pop it under the broiler for a satisfyingly crunchy topping.
While the above may not be exactly what your young self had in mind, these updated childhood classics will satisfy your inner child without while still packing a flavourful punch. If you do succumb to the bright orange siren call of the blue box, don't feel too bad. Old habits die hard.
Illustration by Sam Woolley. Photos by Vancouver Bites.