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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.

Ingredients:

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)

Directions:

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!”