Daniel Krieger
Daniel Krieger

7 Secrets From a Grilled Cheese Master

Daniel Krieger
Daniel Krieger

Of the many eventful holidays that fall in April, none is more delicious than April 12th, a.k.a. National Grilled Cheese Day. Yes, like so many culinary delights before it, the ooey-gooey sandwiches you grew up craving have their very own day of celebration. Even better, it happens to fall in the middle of Grilled Cheese Month. Which is why we’ve enlisted the expertise of Spencer Rubin, founder and managing partner of Melt Shop, a New York City-based mini empire of grilled cheese eateries, to share his secrets on making the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. (For the record, Rubin gives his mom full credit for his own grilled cheese-making skills.)

1. GOLDEN BROWN AND CRUNCHY IS KEY.

“The perfect grilled cheese is golden brown, crunchy to the touch, and has a little bit of cheese that is nearly burnt on the side because it spilled out over the edges from cooking directly on the skillet,” Rubin says. “The cheese pulls away from you after your first, second, and third bite. It’s savory, salty, and I always like a little bit of acid from a tomato to cut through the richness of the cheese.”

2. BUTTER ISN’T YOUR ONLY BASE OPTION.

But it’s probably your best option. “I like salted butter, but people talk about using mayo and margarine all the time,” says Rubin of what to put in your pan. “Salted butter drives the best results, if you ask me.”

3. DON’T SKIMP ON THE BREAD.

“Quality bread is key,” Rubin says. “Too soft and it doesn’t develop the right crust; too hard and it's like eating a crouton. Ideally you want day-old sourdough. Sourdough is key because the air pockets that develop while proofing help add to the texture. You want day-old bread because it has firmed up a bit, giving it a better crunch after toasting."

4. ALL CHEESE IS DELICIOUS CHEESE.

“Obviously good cheese is the key to a great grilled cheese,” Rubin says. “But the best thing about grilled cheese is you can never really go wrong. Whether it’s a 5-year aged cheddar, cave-aged Gruyere, or Kraft singles, they're all delicious in their own ways.” As for which cheeses melt best? Rubin says that semi-soft varieties like Muenster and Havarti are the way to go.

5. FLAVOR YOUR BUTTER FOR AN INSTANT UPGRADE.

You don’t have to break out the fine china to fancy up your sandwich. Let the butter and/or bread do all work. If you want to take your sandwich to a more sophisticated culinary level, Rubin recommends using “truffle butter, herb butter, or garlic bread with garlic and Parmigiano.”

6. SALTY AND SWEET IS A GREAT COMBINATION.

Tomatoes and bacon are tried and true add-ons. For an unexpected combination, Rubin recommends throwing in some jams and sweets. “I always love salty and sweet combinations,” he says. “My favorite sandwich on our menu is the Maple Bacon with aged cheddar, brick spread, Applewood smoked bacon, and maple syrup. The combination is insane.”

7. SIDES AREN’T REQUIRED, BUT THEY MAKE IT A MEAL.

Though for some diners a grilled cheese sandwich is an entire meal in itself, there’s no reason not to indulge in a side dish. Melt Shop is well known for its menu of tater tots, but lighter sides work, too. “I like a nice side salad with my grilled cheese,” Rubin says. “It’s nice to get a little green in your meal and a good vinaigrette always helps brighten things up."

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Doc_Brown, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Cropped.
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This Just In
The Honey Smacks In Your Pantry May Be Contaminated With Salmonella
Doc_Brown, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Cropped.
Doc_Brown, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Cropped.

Salmonella, a bacterial food-borne illness often associated with raw eggs and undercooked chicken, has been linked recently to a popular children's cereal. According to Snopes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging consumers to avoid Kellogg’s Honey Smacks, citing the brand as the likely cause of the Salmonella outbreak spreading across the U.S.

Since early March, 73 people in 31 states have contracted the virus. Salmonella clears up in most people on its own, but in some cases it can lead to hospitalization or even death. Twenty-four victims have been admitted to hospitals so far, with no reported deaths. Of the 39 patients who were questioned, 30 of them remembered eating cold cereal and 14 of them specifically cited Honey Smacks.

In response to the outbreak, the Kellogg Company has recalled its 15.3-ounce and 23-ounce boxes of Honey Smacks printed with any "best if used by" date between June 14, 2018 and June 14, 2019 (recalled boxes are labeled on the bottom with the UPC codes 3800039103 or 3800014810). The CDC recommends that you take even greater precautions by throwing out or returning any Honey Smacks you have at home, regardless of package size, "best by" date, or whether your family has eaten from the box previously without getting sick.

Symptoms of Salmonella include diarrhea, fever, headache, and abdominal pain, and usually appear 12 hours to three days after the contaminated food is ingested. If you or someone in your household is showing signs of the infection, ask a doctor about how to best treat it.

[h/t Snopes]

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Big Questions
Why Does Asparagus Make Your Pee Smell Funny?
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iStock

The asparagus has a long and storied history. It was mentioned in the myths and the scholarly writings of ancient Greece, and its cultivation was the subject of a detailed lesson in Cato the Elder's treatise, On Agriculture. But it wasn't until the turn of the 18th century that discussion of the link between asparagus and odorous urine emerged. In 1731, John Arbuthnot, physician to Queen Anne, noted in a book about food that asparagus "affects the urine with a foetid smell ... and therefore have been suspected by some physicians as not friendly to the kidneys." Benjamin Franklin also noticed that eating asparagus "shall give our urine a disagreeable odor."

Since then, there has been debate over what is responsible for the stinky pee phenomenon. Polish chemist and doctor Marceli Nencki identified a compound called methanethiol as the cause in 1891, after a study that involved four men eating about three and a half pounds of asparagus apiece. In 1975, Robert H. White, a chemist at the University of California at San Diego, used gas chromatography to pin down several compounds known as S-methyl thioesters as the culprits. Other researchers have blamed various "sulfur-containing compounds" and, simply, "metabolites."

More recently, a study demonstrated that asparagusic acid taken orally by subjects known to produce stinky asparagus pee produced odorous urine, which contained the same volatile compounds found in their asparagus-induced odorous urine. Other subjects, who normally didn't experience asparagus-induced odorous urine, likewise were spared stinky pee after taking asparagusic acid.

The researchers concluded that asparagusic acid and its derivatives are the precursors of urinary odor (compared, in different scientific papers, to the smell of "rotten cabbage," "boiling cabbage" and "vegetable soup"). The various compounds that contribute to the distinct smell—and were sometimes blamed as the sole cause in the past—are metabolized from asparagusic acid.

Exactly how these compounds are produced as we digest asparagus remains unclear, so let's turn to an equally compelling, but more answerable question:

WHY DOESN'T ASPARAGUS MAKE YOUR PEE SMELL FUNNY?

Remember when I said that some people don't produce stinky asparagus pee? Several studies have shown that only some of us experience stinky pee (ranging from 20 to 40 percent of the subjects taking part in the study, depending on which paper you read), while the majority have never had the pleasure.

For a while, the world was divided into those whose pee stank after eating asparagus and those whose didn't. Then in 1980, a study complicated matters: Subjects whose pee stank sniffed the urine of subjects whose pee didn't. Guess what? The pee stank. It turns out we're not only divided by the ability to produce odorous asparagus pee, but the ability to smell it.

An anosmia—an inability to perceive a smell—keeps certain people from smelling the compounds that make up even the most offensive asparagus pee, and like the stinky pee non-producers, they're in the majority.

Producing and perceiving asparagus pee don't go hand-in-hand, either. The 1980 study found that some people who don't produce stinky pee could detect the rotten cabbage smell in another person's urine. On the flip side, some stink producers aren't able to pick up the scent in their own urine or the urine of others.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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