Cooking for one: pepperoni pizza grilled cheese

Lately I’ve been trying to learn how to cook. It’s not because I’m getting married, as several people have offensively suggested. You do know that we both work full-time, right? And that I work evenings, weekends, holidays, and summers, while Mr. Teacher Man does not? Remember?

I can picture it now: my fiancé leaves work around 4:30, comes home to watch “Around the Horn” and “Pardon the Interruption,” and waits for me to race home from work during my one-hour dinner break and make him a delicious dinner. Then I wash the dishes and race back to work because I’m a modern working bride. Yes, I’m learning to cook because George, who will be 27 years old and one semester short of a master’s degree when we get married, needs someone to cook him dinner. (Actually, when George is in Texas, he usually makes dinner for the two of us while I’m at work because he’s a keeper. And an adult.)

I’m learning to cook because I need to eat and takeout gets expensive. But, since George is still in Kansas and my roommate is a vegetarian, I usually only cook for myself, and that can get tricky. I’ve wasted a lot of food making family-sized recipes and telling myself I’ll eat the leftovers. And, for those of you who feel obligated to finish every last morsel of food, even when you’re full: Eating more than you want or need is still wasting food. So unless you find a way to get those leftovers onto a needy family’s dinner table , you’re gonna have to buy less food to waste less food.

That’s where the sandwich comes in. It’s one of the few dishes that can be prepared for one person without leaving you a fridge full of leftovers  you’ll never finish. About a week ago, I created something I called a pepperoni pizza grilled cheese. It turned out to be delicious, and I was so proud of myself that I couldn’t resist posting it on Facebook. My friends commented on how good it looked and a few even asked me how to make one.

It’s a grilled cheese. I promise it’s not hard. I’ve tried a few other easy dishes that made people think I’m a better cook than I really am, but they were all from recipes I found on Pinterest. The pizza grilled cheese is my own original creation, so here’s how I did it. (You’ll have to excuse my photography; all I’ve got is my iPhone and a kitchen with weird lighting.)

Start by preheating your pan on medium heat. Instead of regular butter, I added Italian spice, garlic powder, and parmesan (the powdery kind in the green bottle) to the butter before buttering one side of each slice of bread. This isn’t absolutely necessary, but it really adds something to the sandwich.

Next, I put a thin layer of marinara on the unbuttered sides of each slice. The bread will get soggy if you use too much. But don’t worry, you can always dip the sandwich into a side of marinara sauce if you need more tomato flavor.

Now come the toppings. You’ve made grilled cheese before, right? I did a layer of mozzarella, then fresh spinach (ripped or chopped into small pieces so you don’t bite into a giant leaf and feel like a giraffe chowing down on tree), then pepperoni, and finally some shredded parmesan. If you don’t already have mozzarella and shredded parmesan at home, you can just use an Italian cheese blend from the grocery store. If you’re an amateur or professional cheesemonger and have stuff like Romano, asiago and provolone lying around, go nuts.

Put it all together and throw it in the pan. Make sure your pan isn’t too hot The sandwich is pretty thick, so too much heat will burn the bread before all the cheese has melted. Once your sandwich is nice and toasty on the outside and warm and melty on the inside, take it out of the pan and onto your plate. Oh, and turn the burner off. I forget to do that sometimes.

A few tips: If you’re using regular sandwich bread, throwing it in the toaster on low before adding the butter and marinara can help prevent sogginess. You could also use a heartier bread or wait until your bread gets stale, which is pretty much inevitable if you live alone. If you notice your bread is perfect on the outside and the cheese hasn’t melted fully, broil it in the oven for a few minutes and you should be good.

For more variations on the grilled cheese sandwich, check out this post of Top 10 Grilled Cheese Sandwiches from Closet Cooking. Genius.

Pizza Grilled Cheese
Servings: Makes 1 sandwich

1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon grated parmesan cheese (the kind in the green bottle)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Dash of Italian seasoning
1/2 cup (a heaping handful) shredded mozarella cheese
1/4 cup (a five-finger pinch) shredded parmesan cheese
6-8 precooked pepperoni slices
2-3 tablespoons marinara sauce (I like Newman’s Own)
1/4 cup (a small handful) fresh spinach
2 slices of bread

1. Preheat pan to medium heat.
2. In a small bowl or ramekin, mix butter, garlic powder, grated parmesan and Italian seasoning.
3. Spread garlic butter mixture on one side of each slice of bread, covering the entire surface of the slice. Gently place the slices butter-side down on a plate.
4. Spread a thin layer of marinara sauce on the unbuttered side of each slice of bread.
5. Pile mozzarella, spinach, pepperoni and shredded parmesan onto one slice of bread and top with the other slice.
6. Place the sandwich in the preheated pan, cooking a few minutes on each side, until bread is golden brown and cheese is melted.
5. Serve with extra marinara for dipping.

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