Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Book Review: Melt

When I think about it, I don't think us Brits really know how to do sandwiches. We can successfully do dainty little morsels that sit neatly with afternoon tea, there are a variety of satisfactory pre-packed possibilities available in supermarkets and garages (I lived on chicken, bacon and mayo sandwiches for three years at university), and our coffee shops serve up some delicious paninis, but by and large we stick to what we know and play it safe. You certainly couldn't call us adventurous, not like the Americans, they will sandwich any-dang-thing. 

When I think of American sandwiches, I think of Joey in Friends describing his meatball sandwich, I think of Man Vs Food (yes, I watch it, it's hypnotic), I think of Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches, those sound good. I think big, bold and exciting, so when Melt came into my hands, I felt apprehensive (in an incredibly British sort of way), but completely intrigued. 

The book focuses on the grilled cheese sandwich, and is divided into two parts, Savoury, and Sweet, and the two parts are made up of four chapters, which are adventurously titled: Gastronomically Gourmet, Living On The Edge, Epicurean Adventures and Experimental Territory. 

Firstly, the thing we Brits need to realise about the grilled cheese sandwich, is that is it less like our normal sandwiches, and more like a toastie, it's hot and the butter goes on the outside. It isn't going to be healthy, but it's going to be indulgent, comforting, and far more exciting than pre-packed, sliced ham or tinned tuna (oh, you know what I'm talking about). 

The whole design of the book screams fun, it's bright, bold, and has a slight comic feel. It certainly doesn't take itself too seriously, so if you like your recipe books to contain food that aspires to be on Masterchef, walk on now and remain hungry. 

The great thing about sandwich recipes, is that they are incredibly simple, it's essentially compiling a bunch of food items rather than actually 'cooking', and indeed in some places the instructions do get a little repetitive — "Let sandwich cook for 3-5 minutes per side or until bread is golden brown" — but all that means is that it's super easy, and anyone can cruise through the pages and then go create a taste party in their mouth. 

There are certain things in this super easy sandwich book that may catch you off guard, some of the sandwiches are bread specific e.g. Chaliah, so for the full experience, it'll be no good relying on a loaf of pre-sliced white bread from the supermarket. Also, being an American book, there are ingredients in general that we may not be familiar with (marble cheese, packages of Stouffers Spinach Souffle), so you may struggle to follow some of the recipes to the letter, be prepared to google and improvise. 

The only thing that makes me a little sad, is that not all the sandwiches have a photo, there are many photos included, and one could argue that many of the sandwiches look similar, so why fill a book with too many of them. I would argue that there is a lot of pleasure to be found in a picture of a grilled cheese sandwich and it should never be underestimated. 

There are some curious flavour combinations included such as roasted brussel sprouts with cheddar, some ingredients sound a little 'studenty' (the Soupless French Onion incorporates french onion soup mix), and there are some even more curious ideas for fillings that will throw any notion you had of carb control right out of the window: Fish and Chips (with cheese and coleslaw), Risotto (yes, rice in a sandwich) and Farfalle pesto Grilled Cheese (yes, pasta). However, there are other sandwiches that are less kooky, one that whets my appetite in particular is the Salmon Croquettes with Dill (posh fish fingers, yum).

This book may lead you to stretch your definition of what a sandwich is. To me, a sandwich involves bread, and being able to pick it up and eat it with your hands. There are several sandwiches in Melt that don't adhere to such rules. In the savoury sandwiches we find alternatives to bread such as lettuce leaves, mushrooms, eggplant slices, potato pancakes and savoury waffles, which I think are great ideas, but it's moving onto part 2 where we find the sweet sandwiches, that our definition of sandwich, particularly a grilled cheese sandwich, becomes challenged. 

Some of the sweet sandwiches, such as the Harvest Fest (sweet potato, cinnamon, marshmallows, apples and cheese) sound different and interesting, and others such as Squash with Apple Butter (spaghetti squash, apple butter, cranberry goats cheese in a croissant) sound tasty, but two brownies, with mascarpone and a crumbled cookie in the middle, whilst sounding absolutely delicious, is a pudding, not a sandwich, a pudding. 

My obsession with the definition of sandwich aside, Melt is great, great fun. Yes, you may have to improvise with some of the ingredients, but if you are bored by lunch time snacks, then this book is full of ideas to turn your midday meal time into a circus for your tastebuds. It's great for keeping kids entertained, great for those that aren't naturally gifted in the kitchen, but might like to be, and students, still trying to build their repetoire of meals. It is a bit wacky, but it does provide what looks like a great variety of grilled cheese sandwiches... and puddings! 

Melt: 100 Amazing Adventures in Grilled Cheese
Shane Kearns

RRP: £15.99 (Available from Amazon)
Adams Media Corporation
  • ISBN-10: 1440538743ISBN-13: 978-1440538742

Please not I was given a review copy of this book, but was not paid to write the review.

1 comment:

  1. Dawn - I wanted to thank you so very much for your honest review. The photos of the book look awesome. You did a great job. :)

    Obviously, I am the author of this particular cookbook and take all of your comments to heart. I wish there were more photos in the book as well, but even I was having problems trying to take new and unique photos of each and every sandwich. I am very happy with the photos that did make the cut though.

    And in regard to pushing the envelope of what a sandwich is, that is basically what this cookbook (and my blog) is all about. It is my goal to prove that a grilled cheese can be so much more than just two pieces of white bread and some cheese. Sure, a lot of the dessert recipes are not sandwiches in the least, and I still joke about that to this day, but they do taste delicious! :)

    Anyway, thank you again for such an honest and thorough review. I do greatly appreciate it. Hopefully you have had time to enjoy some of the recipes contained within the cookbook.