“Grill My Cheese.” By Nisha Patel and Nishma Chauhan. Quadrille Publishing. $16.99.

My mom deserves sainthood or at least a James Beard Award for the dinners she has prepared for our family of six over the years.

But even top chefs need to take time off sometimes, and feeding four teenage girls is no easy task. So when we were old enough to navigate the kitchen on our own, she instituted an occasional policy she aptly called “Fend For Yourself.” On “FFY” nights, we assembled our own dinners from leftovers in the fridge or cooked for ourselves.

My specialty was a grilled cheese sandwich, done in less than five minutes and perfectly gooey.

So I thought I found kindred spirits in Nisha Patel and Nishma Chauhan, the authors of “Grill My Cheese.” These two friends started a street food company four years ago, selling grilled cheese sandwiches in London. Their cookbook is a collection of recipes for what Brits call “toasties.” But these recipes are more advanced than the simple sandwiches of my childhood.

“This book is all about trying new ideas,” Patel and Chauhan write in their introduction. “Although there is always a place for a standard white bread toastie, we knew we could do better.”

“Grill My Cheese” is 144 pages of bright colors, cartoon drawings, pop culture quips and grilled cheese tips. Patel and Chauhan first establish their “Ten Commandments of Grilled Cheese.” In particular, they recommend grating cheese for a sandwich rather than slicing it, which they say produces a better melt. They also give tips on bread – sourdough is their favorite. And they give their formula for a blend of cheeses that goes beyond orange plastic-wrapped squares.

Patel and Chauhan use a flat-top grill and a meat press to make their sandwiches. But their recommendation for home cooks like me is a frying pan and weight. When cooking the toastie in the frying pan, press down gently with a spatula or use a saucepan to hold it down. They said this will guarantee an even cook with melted cheese in the middle, which I found to be true. Other possible methods use a panini press or the oven.

The names of the recipes in “Grill My Cheese” had me laughing, and their ingredients had me drooling. The “Justin Brieber” adds bacon and brie to a traditional grilled cheese. “Baby Got Mac” is pulled pork, mac ‘n cheese and barbecue sauce between two pieces of sourdough bread. I can’t wait to make the “Every Day I’m Trufflin’ ” – a melt stuffed with butternut squash, sage, ricotta and other cheeses, with a drizzle of truffle oil. The chefs used their own childhoods as the inspiration for the “Slumdog Grillionaire” with chutney and potato. There is a doughnut grilled cheese and a pizza grilled cheese. There are recipes for pestos and chutney to add extra flavor to a simple sandwich. And there’s a “Milky Way Melt” that is exactly what it sounds like for dessert.

I set out to make the “What’s Poppin’ ” sandwich, which promised a little heat. I came home from Whole Foods with $26 worth of cheese and put my fiancé to work with the grater. When he complained about his hands getting tired, I said, “Fend for yourself!” (I am my mother’s daughter.) I chopped peppers for the relish and fried the bacon. The prep took a half-hour, but the sandwiches themselves took only three to four minutes per side to cook.

The end result was the most decadent sandwich I’ve ever eaten. The cream cheese slathered on the inside added a richness I had not anticipated. The filling had crunch and heat and sweetness all at the same time. The grated cheese did indeed melt better than slices I normally use, and I mentally redefined what I understood as “perfectly gooey.”

This is not the cookbook for an “FFY” night when you just want to slap together a grilled cheese. But when you want a toastie, it’s just right.


NOTE FROM THE AUTHORS: A firm favourite of ours with the cream cheese adding an indulgent element to this toastie. It came about from our love of jalapeño poppers (cheese-stuffed, fried chillies), which are cheesy and creamy with a touch of heat. We’ve added apricots to give it a hint of sweetness. This relish recipe will make enough to fill a large jar, but will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. It also works really well on a hot dog or as an accompaniment at a barbecue.

Serves 1

2 rashers (slices) of smoked streaky (lean) bacon (optional)

2 slices of sourdough bread, buttered on one side

100 grams (31/2 ounces) mixed grated cheese (see below)

2 tablespoons cream cheese


1 red bell pepper

1 green bell pepper

1 yellow bell pepper

100 grams (31/2 ounces) dried soft apricots

854 grams (3 ounces) green pickled jalapeño chillies, plus 3 tablespoons brine from the jar

Juice of 1 lime

Pinch of salt


Keen’s Cheddar (1 part) – an unpasteurized, strong-flavoured Cheddar matured for a minimum of one year. It has a creamy, smooth and firm texture and long, earthy, rich, nutty flavours with a sharp finish.

Farmhouse mature Cheddar (2 parts) – a great flavour enhancer to mellow out the blend slightly

Swiss Gruyère (1 part) – a buttery, sweet, slightly nutty cheese with a flavour that varies widely with age. We use one of the younger varieties; the more mature it is, the more earthy and complex the flavour.

Cow’s “low-moisture” mozzarella (2 parts) – known for its mild flavour and great “stretch,” this is one of the most versatile and best cheeses to use when adding stronger flavours to a toastie.

To make the relish, halve, de-seed and finely dice all the bell peppers; set aside in a mixing bowl. Put the apricots in a food processor and add the chillies with the brine. Blitz to a paste and add to the mixing bowl. Add the lime and stir to combine. Add the salt and leave the rest for at least 1 hour.

For the toastie, if you are including the bacon, grill or fry it until nice and crispy.

Place the bread slices buttered side down and sprinkle the grated cheese over one slice. Spread the cream cheese onto the other side, followed by an even layer of the relish on top. Add the crispy bacon, if using, before closing the sandwich and cooking using your preferred method.

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