April is National Grilled Cheese Month!

This sudden onset of chilly weather is the perfect excuse to whip up a hedonistic, cholesterol- and fat-laden, melted masterpiece. Now, I’d hate to think that anyone really needs a recipe for grilled cheese, because it is one of life’s most essential and comforting eats. But, in case your grilled cheese making experience equates to slapping a few pieces of white American cheese between two pieces of equally white bread, there’s a whole world out there for your taste buds to explore.

Here’s one recipe from epicurious.com (originally published in Bon Appétit), but there are no strict rules to follow. Think of your bread as a blank canvas. Just don’t turn the heat on too high, or you’ll wind up with burnt bread and cheese that is barely melted. Personally, I like to throw a plate, a large pot lid or a piece of foil over top to let the cheese melt to a lush, gooey consistency.

This recipe makes four servings. (If you don’t like it, try some multigrain bread with Dijon mustard, prosciutto, basil, arugula or spinach, roasted red peppers and Fontina, plain or smoked mozzarella—all proportioned to your tastes.)

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6 T. olive oil
1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
4 large Portobello mushrooms, stemmed, dark gills removed, caps thinly sliced
8 1/2-inch-thick slices country white bread, about 3-by-6 inches (or try sourdough)
Dijon mustard (optional)
8 ounces Fontina cheese, thinly sliced
2 bunches arugula or 1 bunch trimmed watercress

Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a heavy, large skillet over medium-high heat. Add rosemary and stir 30 seconds. Add mushrooms. Cover skillet and cook until mushrooms are tender, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Season mushrooms to taste with salt and pepper; transfer to plate. Wipe out skillet.

Arrange 4 bread slices on work surface; spread with mustard, if desired. Top bread slices with cheese, then mushrooms and arugula, dividing equally. Top each with bread slice; press to compact. Brush tops lightly with oil.

Heat reserved skillet over medium heat. Place sandwiches, oiled side down, in skillet. Brush tops lightly with oil. Cover and cook until golden on bottom, occasionally pressing with spatula, about 5 minutes. Turn sandwiches over. Cover and cook until golden on bottom and cheese is melted, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer sandwiches to plates; cut in half and serve.

One Satisfied Customer
I don’t know who was behind the line at Yangming Sunday night, but I had the best version of a dish I have gotten at least 30 times over the past four years: No. 603, in the vegetarian offerings, eggplant with edamame, tofu and Thai basil. While my other staple, crabmeat shumai (a Personal Best in last year’s “Best of” issue) was as good as always, I was ravenous and pretty much wolfed down three in rapid-fire succession. It wasn’t until I got to the eggplant, that my hunger subsided enough for me to actually slow down and taste my food.

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I ask for everything extra spicy, all the time, and always wind up having to add a dollop of chili oil. Not this time. The sweet heat and ultra soft eggplant—the closest thing I can think of to compare its texture to is a broiled (ripe) tomato that kind of melts in your mouth, but has a little pop due to its pulp/meat being wrapped up in the skin—had me swooning. The perfectly balanced heat got my sinuses flowing (an all-natural allergy fix) and lingered on my tongue, making my mouth water.

Purists occasionally chastise Yangming for its westernized Chinese fare, but when you drive by, there isn’t a time of day when the parking lot is not packed. (OK, maybe a slight exaggeration, but you get my drift.) I can’t argue that 90 percent of the Asian dishes we consume out here in the burbs are a stretch from traditional preparations, but why shun a good thing? After sampling the house eggplant at every Asian restaurant I have ever gone to, I keep coming back to the same conclusion: Yangming always comes out on top. Last night, though … definitely delivered.

Totally off topic, and to be listed again under Blackboard Specials, Yangming’s cooking classes (through Charlotte Ann Albertson) are a great way to amp up your culinary repertoire and spread your wings outside the continent of Asia. On the 30th of this month from 7-9 p.m., Yangming hosts “The Iberian Peninsula: Spanish Wines, Tapas and Port” ($55).

Learn about Spain’s culture from a culinary perspective and sample wines from the bodegas of the Iberian Peninsula. Chef Ann-Michelle Albertson, who studied with Spanish chefs in Barcelona, Casa del Sol, and at the CIA at Greystone in St. Helena, Calif., will show off her tapas recipes as part of the tasting.

1051 Conestoga Road, Bryn Mawr. (610) 527-3200, yangmingrestaurant.com.

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Also on the Blackboard: Murray’s Main Line & bistro M’s sumptuous Passover Seder menu, available Saturday, April 19, and Sunday, April 20. For $38 (tax and gratuity not included), you get a Seder plate and condiments, plus:

First Course:
Gefilte Fish

Second Course:
Matzah Ball Soup

Third Course (choice of):
Horseradish Crusted Salmon
Roasted Organic Free Range Chicken
Roast Brisket of Beef
Moroccan Lamb Shank with Carrots, Mushrooms and Apricots

Call (610) 644-1010 for reservations.

Our Best of the Main Line Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!