- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The minute you pull apart the toasted bread and catch a glimpse of the meltingly soft cheese, you get a rush of anticipation. To my mind, nothing beats a grilled cheese sandwich for a plain and simple pleasure. This is a dish that’s half nostalgia and all flavor.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not looking for variety. Like many old favorites — including cupcakes, short ribs and root beer floats, grilled cheese sandwiches are fair game for innovation and experimentation.

The evolving grilled cheese sandwich fits into a couple of current culinary trends including gourmet retro and nostalgic comfort food.

Gourmet retro involves taking old favorites and dressing them in gourmet wardrobes, according to the Center for Culinary Development in San Francisco.

Nostalgic comfort food, seen in everything from macaroni and cheese to chocolate sandwich cookies, is whatever brings back a fond memory from childhood.

The culinary center, which helps food companies design dishes, sees gourmet retro in baked goods, such as fancy cupcakes or dolled-up doughnuts. However, that doesn’t mean a home cook is limited to sweets.

Grilled cheese, as yummy as it is, can be even more splendid in a gourmet wardrobe.

My inspiration uses Muenster instead of American cheese and adds ham for gusto. Since flatbreads are hot right now, I’m using flour tortillas instead of sliced white bread.

If you think this recipe bears a resemblance to a quesadilla, you’re right. Grilled cheese also encourages international inspiration.

Grilled cheese and ham with apricot jam

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 finely chopped shallot

1 small jalapeno chile, cored, seeded and minced

1/4 cup apricot jam

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon brown sugar, optional

2 8-inch flour tortillas

2 thin slices ham

2 thin slices Muenster cheese

1 tablespoon butter

Heat vegetable oil in a small skillet. Add shallot and chile and saute over medium-high heat for 1 minute or until shallot is light golden brown. Remove from heat.

Spoon shallot mixture into a bowl. Stir in apricot jam, vinegar and salt. Taste and add brown sugar, if necessary, for flavor balance. Cool.

Place tortillas on work surface. Spread each tortilla with 2 teaspoons jam mixture. Arrange 1 ham slice and 1 cheese slice on each tortilla. Fold each tortilla in half to form a half circle.

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet. Add folded tortillas and press down firmly with a spatula. Cook tortillas for 2 to 3 minutes per side over medium heat or until tortillas are golden and cheese melts. Remove from skillet.

Cut each tortilla in half to form quarters. Serve with remaining jam on the side. Makes 2 servings.

Note: Store any leftover jam in the refrigerator and serve as a simple spread with sliced ham or chicken.

Bev Bennett is the author of “30-Minute Meals for Dummies” (John Wiley & Sons).

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