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Southern Road Trip, Part II {With A Cheddar And Apple Melt}

We stopped in Chattanooga on our way to Nashville last weekend.  Scott’s friend is a marine biologist at the Tennessee Aquarium, and she hooked us up with a behind-the-scenes tour.

I’m not going to show you the ginormous tarantula, or the 25-foot octopus that was trying to open the lid to his tank, because you’re probably at work and I don’t want you to wet your pants.  I’m going to focus on the low-key stuff, like Speedy the Hedgehog:

I’m not sure why he lives at the aquarium, since he’s not. . . a fish.  But whatever.

As you can tell, Speedy is highly literate.  He reads, like, 6 regional newspapers a day, and when he’s done with them he shreds them up in disgust, like “Dudes.  Seriously.  What does a hedgehog have to do to get the Wall Street Journal around here?”

Speedy got a little ornery when we tried to pet him, so we moved on to the room where baby sea creatures are born.  We saw these seahorses, who are almost big enough to join the others in the seahorse exhibit.

Did you know that seahorses’ eyes move independently from each other and swivel in their sockets?  That way they can use one eye to watch for dangerous predators, and the other eye to watch for floating pieces of food.

How awesome is that?  I mean, I basically do the same thing at cocktail parties: one eye on potential creeps; another eye on the caterer with the tray of mini quiches.  I believe in the rule of SAFETY FIRST (but always grab free snacks so you don’t get underfed).

Remember that saying, y’all.  Someday they’re going to start teaching it in schools.

Anyway, after the seahorses, we went backstage at the penguin exhibit.  There was an enormous walk-in freezer stocked with boxes marked “PLANKTON” “BROCCOLI” and “ROMAINE.”  It was way more organized than my refrigerator.  For example:

But my favorite thing in the entire aquarium was this:

I mean, how awesome would it be to have this in your living room?  Your friends would come over, and instead of complimenting you on your boring antique china cabinet, they’d be all “where in the world did you get that. . . penguin cart?”  And you’d be all “I stole it from the Tennessee Aquarium, actually!  Would you like an hors d’oeuvre?” And then you’d wheel the Penguins Only cart over so they could help themselves to some cheese and crackers.

Which brings me to my next point: cheese.  Specifically, cheddar and apple melts.

These are crazy easy.  You basically heat butter, apples and cinnamon in a skillet, and you get sautéed apples.

The kicker–which is optional–is pouring some bourbon over the apples when they’re almost done.Then you toast some bread, melt some cheese, and you have yourself a cheddar and apple melt.  It’s awesome with ham on there, too.

Cheddar & Apple Melts (With or Without Ham) {Download & Print Recipe}

I left the proportions flexible here because it’s best when done to taste.  If you like butter, use as much as you want and your apples will get really caramelized.  If you like to go easy on the butter when you can, use the minimum listed below.  Taste as you go along, and add more sugar than what’s listed below if your apples aren’t sweet enough for your liking.


apples–however many you want (2 large apples is enough for a few sandwiches.  I think mine were gala but any should do–granny smith or mackintosh would be great.)

butter (1/2 to 1 tbsp. for 2 large apples)

dash salt

a few sprinkles of cinnamon

sugar (to taste.  My apples were sweet so I used 1/2 to 1 tsp.)

1-2 tbsp. bourbon (optional) or a squeeze of lemon juice

cheddar cheese–a couple slices for each sandwich (preferably a sharp, white cheddar)

bread for each sandwich

ham for each sandwich (optional)


Peel, core and cut the apples however you want.  For sandwiches, I like mine in thin slices.  Melt some butter in a skillet, add the apples, salt, cinnamon and sugar and toss to coat.  Sautée over medium-low heat until the apples are tender.  Pour the bourbon over the apples (or sprinkle lemon juice) if desired and cook about 4 minutes more, until the taste of the bourbon has mellowed.

Wipe out the pan and melt a little more butter.  Toast the bread in the butter until it’s golden on the underside.  Flip the bread and add a little more butter to the pan if you want.  Pile the cheddar on one of the pieces of toast, and ham on the other, if using ham.  Cover the skillet for 1-3 minutes, until the cheese has melted.  Remove the toasts from the heat.  Pile some of the apples on one of the pieces of bread and smack them together into a sandwich.


Scott was traveling for work this week.  When he pulled out all the laundry and started packing, Thunder curled up in the middle of it, as if to say “but I don’t want you to go!”

41 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hi eggton, unfortunately we haven’t cheddar here :o( what can we take instead?

    August 31, 2012
    • Hi there! Hmmm… what about gruyere? Do you have that? I think the sweetness of the apples goes well with a sharp cheese. But you could probably use any cheese you like. I personally would probably choose a hard, cow’s milk cheese, not a dry, crumbly one. I don’t like brie, but it might be good with something like that, too. . . What do you think you might use?

      September 5, 2012
  2. OK. No. Wait… You have talking penguin friends?! How did you meet them? Did they start liking cheese when they started talking? Oh man. I’m just in awe. What do they think of the bourbon on the apples?

    August 31, 2012
    • The penguins and I understood each other fine until the bourbon hit their systems. Then they started slurring like otters and I was like “you guys. Pull it together. You’re embarrassing both of us here.”

      August 31, 2012
  3. Those actually sound delicious – I might have to try them
    My current favorite thing is grilling peaches and topping them with a little mascarpone cheese – sprinkle with pecans if you have them – and you should you live in the south LOL – It is to die for!!!!!

    August 31, 2012
    • YUM. I just dipped some pecans into some cinnamon goat cheese that I have in my fridge and it was AWESOME. So I bet I’m going to love your grilled peaches dish. Have you ever grilled them in the oven? I am lazy about getting the actual grill going more than once a week or two. (We have a cheap charcoal thing). I just ate my last peach in my cereal, so I’ll have to get some more!

      August 31, 2012
      • we always do ours on the grill – it it too hot here to heat up the kitchen – all about the outdoor cooking LOL

        August 31, 2012
  4. It’s a good thing you didn’t show the tarantula or I definitely wouldn’t have clicked to see your melt! Ummm looks so good!!! It’s one of those meals that shouldn’t be so gourmet, but it is, and I’ll take it!

    August 31, 2012
    • There was NO WAY the tarantula pic is getting near this website. Or near the internet in general. It was. . . furry. And the size of my hand!

      September 4, 2012
  5. Trish #

    Wait, was that a garlic clove in that bread? Because I need to know what’s going on there. And my favorite thing is the… otter?… that someone drew on the otter… food?… That fridge is a mystery.

    August 31, 2012
    • Trish, that totally is a garlic clove in the bread! Basically, I took this bread recipe that I’ve written about before, and just took out some of the herbs and instead, folded three heads’ worth of roasted garlic into the dough after the first rise, before I put the dough in the bread pans to rise the final time. It was delicious! But I like the regular herb bread better, actually. Next time I might just whip the roasted garlic up with some butter or some olive oil and make a spread, and put it on the herb bread. Here’s the link to the herb bread if you’re interested:

      I love that little otter drawing too! I figure it’s probably an awesome place to work if people are drawing otters on things. Doesn’t it just put you in a good mood?!

      September 4, 2012
  6. Speaking as a former zookeeper, I’d like to compliment you on your choice of what to photograph on a behind the scenes tour. Well done.

    August 31, 2012
    • I forgot that you were a zookeeper! You said on your website that you took care of small mammals. What were your favorites?

      September 4, 2012
  7. I want a penguin cart in my house–do they sell them in the gift shop?

    August 31, 2012
    • Sadly, the gift shop was filled with stuffed penguins, which is related, but not the same thing. I’m thinking we need to make a trip to Home Depot. I have a sharpie already, so all we need is the cart! Alternatively, I guess we could just write “Penguins Only” on a piece of furniture we already own. . .

      September 4, 2012
      • I have a little road sign that says “Warning: Penguins” on it that I got at some aquarium–maybe Boston? Anyway, you could do something similar and have a whole room just for your penguin guests! Do you think you could embrace the cold and wet and fishy design theme? lol

        September 5, 2012
  8. That looks awesome. And it’s wonderful timing- our faithful apple tree has grown yet another huge crop! So a recipe to help use up the apples is welcome; there is only so much stewed apple, apple tart and apple crumble a person can make. 🙂

    Btw, went back to Glasgow last month and thought of you & Scott. Hope you’d a wonderful road trip this last week!

    August 31, 2012
    • You went back to Glasgow? That’s awesome. Was it for another conference? I do hope your writing is going well, and I’m glad your apple tree is plentiful so you have lots of brain food to help you along!

      September 4, 2012
      • It wasn’t for another conference, but to help a friend move there. Nearly met up w/ Carol Anne but our schedules didn’t work out which was disappointing. But she did recommend a few amazing places to eat, so that was a win. 🙂

        Writing is going ok at the moment, thanks.
        And will send you on the photos I have from May as soon as my camera learns to play nicely w/ my computer…

        September 6, 2012
  9. Mary #

    These look amazing…we make something similar and usually add applewood smoked bacon. Because everything is better with bacon. I’ll definitely try upping the apple factor with this recipe, and the bourbon totally burns off for 2 year old consumption, right? 😉

    August 31, 2012
    • Hi Mary! Yum– bacon would be awesome in this. We’ll have to try that sometime soon.

      I read some stuff on-line a while ago about how alcohol doesn’t burn off much when you heat it. (Not sure if that’s true.) But to be safe you could always just take out a spoonful for your little one before you toss some bourbon in!

      September 4, 2012
  10. Why do I always read your blog when I’m hungry? Sometimes I don’t even know how hungry I am until I read your blog! That sandwich looks amazing. Will you make me one???

    August 31, 2012
    • I wish I could make you one, indeed! We ALWAYS have cheddar lying around. Always.

      September 4, 2012
  11. sue ellen #

    Great way to jazz up the ole’ toasted cheese. Can hardly wait !!
    The sea horses are so cute!!
    Thanks for the wonderful cooking ideas!!

    August 31, 2012
    • Hi, Sue Ellen! The seahorses were *adorable.* They tend to grab each others’ tails with their own tails and kind of bob up and down. It was amazing!

      September 4, 2012
  12. I’m glad I’m not a journalist for a regional newspaper. How shameful to be so harshly judged by a hedgehog.

    August 31, 2012
    • Oh, how this made me laugh out loud. It sounds like something out of an Oscar Wilde play, almost.

      September 4, 2012
  13. 1. I didn’t know that seahorses were real for the longest time, and they are on my bucket list. See real, live seahorses. And fireflies. I’ve never seen those for reals either.
    2. When I start school next week, I’m going to teach everyone: SAFETY FIRST (but always grab free snacks so you don’t get underfed).
    3. Those sammies look very tasty. And they are also making me crave apples topped with peanut butter. Or apples topped with cheese and peanut butter.
    4. I feel like my comments are always numbered. It’s a thing. Now I’ll have to keep doing it. Forever.

    September 1, 2012
    • When you come visit, we can show you fireflies! But in the South (even in Virginia, when I was growing up) we call them lightning bugs. Seymour tries to eat them, but we can catch some and put them in a mason jar and watch them light up while we sit on the front porch and I eat the 25 lbs of baked goods that I will require you to bake me as a condition of your visit. I mean, it’ll be a friendly condition, but now that you’re in baking school, the stakes are higher.

      September 4, 2012
  14. Wait, what were people putting on that cart that necessitated the PENGUINS ONLY sign?

    Apples on a sandwich. I would never, ever have done this, but I know you wouldn’t lead me astray. Not about serious things like sandwiches.

    September 1, 2012
    • I know, right? I wondered the same thing. Maybe food? But in the picture there’s a box labeled “Blick” on the cart. Blick makes ART SUPPLIES. Maybe the penguins take an art class?

      But ever since I read your awesome letter on movita’s blog this morning, I’ve been thinking maybe the penguins dance on the cart. Maybe they *dance.*

      September 4, 2012
  15. Speedy and Thunder are curled up in their nests exactly the same. You say “Gazette”, I say “Stinky Underwear.” So touching!

    September 1, 2012
    • Can you imagine what would happen if Thunder and Speedy ever met?! I am so curious about this now. It’s driving me nuts.

      September 4, 2012
  16. a #

    Now I want a hedgehog! I have a couple carts – I should mark them Penguins Only to see what people make of it. I am, after all, on a quest to appear deranged so as to eventually retire early by collecting stress-related disability. 😉

    Apple and cheese sandwiches – yummy!

    September 1, 2012
    • I like this plan. You should do it. At work. Maybe put some stuffed penguins on there and wheel it around. Or better yet, label it penguins only but put some *other* stuffed animal species on the cart. Like a bunch of walruses.

      September 4, 2012
  17. Perhaps it is just me, but I really, really want to see a pic of the octopus. Also, I want to eat that sandwich for lunch. I think I can office-source most of the ingredients (minus the bourbon, sadly).

    September 4, 2012
    • Lucy, I’m totally emailing you a picture of the octopus.

      September 4, 2012
  18. Too, too funny. Please email photo of octopus; maybe I can finally get myself fired from my job.

    September 4, 2012
  19. do you know that the very day you posted this, i had made my very own apple and cheddar melt? it was makeshift; yours looks waaaaa-haaaayy better than mind did. And a fabulous use of a little bourbon, i might add.
    why DOES a hedgehog live at the aquarium? mascot?

    September 18, 2012

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