Portabella-gruyere grilled cheese sandwich. Yes it can–and should–be done. Or what about green chili-cheddar grilled cheese? See the humble grilled cheese sandwich gets a bum wrap. Yes you can slather margarine on two sides of bread and pop a piece of tasteless American cheese in the middle and call it done. But you don’t have to.

With a few tricks, I like to make what we call grown-up grilled cheese at our house. Okay, I should confess, it’s also an excuse to feel like I’ve made my kids a decent meal instead of just “settled” on grilled cheese. Plus, they really do taste good.

Let’s talk cheese

Don’t get me wrong, I actually like American cheese. But I pick up the deli slice variety instead of the kind that you peel off plastic. American cheese gives your sandwich the meltiness it needs to be, well, a grilled cheese. Sure, other cheeses may melt okay, but nothing beats the meltability of American. So I pair it with other varieties to get the flavor–and the texture–right. Some of my favorite combos:

American + Fontina (a mild, creamy Italian cheese)

American + Gruyere (a hard cheese that’s almost a cross between Swiss and Parmesan)

American + Extra Sharp Cheddar

Bread basics

You just can’t skimp on the bread if you want a decent grilled cheese. Airy bread absorbs the butter on the outside instead of keeping it crisp. End result: soggy sandwich. I usually choose an Italian deli bread, hearty whole wheat, rye, or even make some on my own.

Deconstructing grilled cheese construction

And now for putting the sandwich together: You want a crisp outside bread layered with hot cheese on the inside right? You might even want to throw in some slices of ham, turkey, tomato, mushroom, or a combination. The key is that you want everything warm or else you’ll end up with an unevenly heated sandwich (almost as bad as soggy!). So, for example, say you want to put ham in the sandwich. Heat the ham on the griddle before you put it on the melting cheese. Ditto for a slice of tomato, or mushrooms. The one exception I can think of would be green chiles.

Now to put it altogether you’d normally put one slice down, lay a few slices of cheese and then put another slice of bread on top right? Try this instead–cook the bread slices side by side and then bring them together once the cheese has started to melt. Again, the goal here is a crispy, evenly cooked sandwich.

Brushing butter

You don’t need a lot of butter on the bread to make it crisp. I melt a little butter in the microwave and then brush it on the bread. This spreads the butter more evenly, and thinly, than a butter knife.

Mushroom-gruyere grilled cheese

Servings: 2 (you can easily double or triple this recipe)

Ingredients

4 bella mushrooms

3 slices American cheese

Several small slices of Gruyere (about 4 ounces)

4 slices deli ham

4 slices hearty Italian bread

To give you an idea how I put this sandwich together (well, actually I was the photographer and my hubby did cooking duty), I’ll break it down.

  1. Cut up 3-4 baby bella mushrooms.
  2. Melt one tablespoon butter in a large, non-stick skillet. With a kitchen brush, use some of the butter to brush the outside of each sandwich bread slice. Set aside.
  3. Put the mushrooms into the butter and cook until soft.
  4. Remove the mushrooms from the pan and add the ham slices. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes, then remove.
  5. Add your bread slices to the pan with the buttered side facing out. Lay one and a half slices of American cheese on one side and slices of Gruyere on the other.
  6. Place the hot mushrooms on the Gruyere side and the ham on the American cheese side (the hot ingredients help melt the cheeses).
  7. Cook the bread until it becomes just crisped on the outside. Press the ham/American cheese bread side onto the Gruyere-mushroom side and continue cooking for about 1 minute.
  8. Remove from the pan and serve. Note that the outside of the bread will have more flavor because it cooks in a pan that also had ham and mushrooms. Mmmmm.

Grown-up grilled cheese is perfect to serve on a family night movie night. There’s plenty of other fun ideas about how to pull off a movie night at Movie Night on a dime at Better Homes & Gardens. I like the idea of recreating a drive-in at home. I’ve been looking through the site as part of the Motherboard team.

Your turn, do you like grilled cheese? Do you ever add something fun? And do you have movie nights with your crew? What do you serve?

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