I was paging through "Grilled Cheese Kitchen," by Heidi Gibson with Nate Pollak (Chronicle Books, $19.95), months ago when a sandwich caught my eye. And not just any old sandwich, but one so outrageous — a three-layer tower of grilled cheese, some with bacon or jalapeños — that it shouted "must have" even though I had no immediate plans to invite 15-plus people over for sandwiches. I set the book aside for just the right occasion.
Needless to say, that occasion is here, whether it's the Big Game on Feb. 4 or this weekend's nail-biter on Sunday. As hungry crowds gather around TVs all over the state, someone has to feed them. If you're reading these pages, we'll make an educated guess that the someone is you.
But first a few words about this delightful book, which notes that "Morning, noon, and night — any time is the right time for a grilled cheese sandwich." We have to agree, whether it's for the book's Sunday Brunch Grilled Cheese (inspired by the classic Monte Cristo sandwich, with Brie, strawberries and Brown Sugar Bourbon Sauce), or a Mushroom-Gruyère Grilled Cheese (shiitake, cremini and oyster mushrooms with Gruyère and leek) or the Moroccan Chicken Grilled Cheese (chicken breast with ras el hanout and a green olive, artichoke and preserved lemon spread, along with Mahón cheese), all of which stretch the concept of "grilled cheese" to its most delicious limits. (And if there was ever an ingredient to stretch, it would be cheese.)
But back to the outrageous sandwich, the spectacular tower that the authors call the Grilled Cheese Birthday Cake. Yes, indeed, this is one to celebrate.
The tower sports three layers of gooey grilled cheese sandwiches, cut to fit inside nesting circles, in this case with the help of springform pans, although a careful cook could work without the safety net of those metal rings.
The key to success is to have help in the kitchen so that the sandwiches are served hot. This is most easily done with at least two cooks at the helm — and for the ingredients to be organized and in place for efficient assembly (bread buttered, bacon cooked and jalapeños sliced in advance).
The sandwiches are first popped into the oven to get the cheese to an initial state of melting, then they are plopped onto the griddle for a nice toasting on the exterior. The final step is to cut them quickly to fit their designated level on the tower.
Then it's showtime, in all its extravagant glory, with a winner in the pantheon of sandwiches.