I grew up eating tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. The tomato soup was Campbell’s and the sandwiches were my mother’s standard recipe: 2 slices of bread buttered on the outside, a slice of American cheese tucked inside. Two slices if I was really lucky. Then she pan fried it to perfection.

As a kid, I could think of nothing better, especially on a cold winter’s day.

As an adult, I still think of grilled cheese as a comfort food. But I’ve expanded my horizons.

I prefer a grilled cheese with a little more personality. Call me a food snob, but I no longer eat American cheese and white bread is a rarity in our home. Instead, we’ve started to create Grilled Cheese Sandwiches that my childhood-self would not have touched with a ten-foot pole.

First, the Cheese

First, we choose the cheese – a good quality cheese that melts works best. So about anything you find pre-sliced in the deli section of the store qualifies. Even American cheese if that’s what you enjoy. But don’t limit yourself.

You can also slice brie or camembert (keep the white rind on, it is edible). My favorite for the Not Your Average Grilled Cheese Sandwich is fontina, a creamy, pale Italian cheese often used for fondues. Also, fresh mozzarella melts to perfection. Moreover, a smoked mozzarella adds a meaty touch without adding any meat.

Next, The Protein

That said, if you want to add a protein, feel free. My kids love bacon, precooked. Ham is also a nice addition. But how about seafood? Baby shrimp, especially Oregon pink shrimp, is delectable. Crab, left over flaky fish, all of it is okay as long as you like the flavor combination you are building. I haven’t yet tried Tempeh but why not?

Or Better Yet, Add Vegetables

You could ditch the meat and replace it with a grilled vegetable. Or splurge and add both. Our favorite veggies in a grilled cheese sandwich are mushrooms. Yet grilled zucchini,  peppers, or eggplant make great additions.

Don’t have time to grill? Check out your refrigerator for left over vegetables – steamed broccoli, sautéed asparagus, roasted carrots and parsnips, cooked greens? All are game. You are only limited by your imagination.

How To Make An Excellent Grilled Cheese Sandwich

So, break out your griddle or favorite sauté pan.

Grill your vegetables and meats you want warmed up, then remove them from the griddle.

Turn heat to medium-low if it isn’t already there.

Grab a couple of slices of great bread… don’t skimp here. The better the bread, the better the final sandwich. A hearty peasant loaf with air pockets in the loaf makes for some pleasant surprises as the cheese fills the holes and browns along side the bread. Yum!

Then butter both slices of bread on one side each. I’ll tell you a secret; we save bacon fat and I sometimes replace the butter with a thin layer of it. Secret number two; If you want to be French or Italian for the weekend, brush your bread with olive oil.

Lay a slice of bread butter-side down on the griddle. Lay your cheese, protein, and veg. Then place the second slice of bread buttered side up.

Cook until the bread is well browned then flip. Cook until the second side is browned. The cheese should be melted and will help hold the sandwich together.

Cut in half, serve, and enjoy! Remember the napkins.

This article was originally published in April 2013. It has been edited for grammar and reformatted.