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Published November 6th 2014
Cooking a toasted sandwich should never be this hard
Ok. I confess. I don't make cheese toasties. I just don't see the point when there is always someone out there prepared to make one for me, and they cost so little. But all of this changed recently.
For those of us who experience the joys of interstate travel as part of their lives, they would know that Qantas transferred over its Qantas Club Catering contract to Sofitel earlier in 2014. Along with this transfer came one important fundamental change - the introduction of the toasted sandwich machine.
Since that point, each time I have travelled, these machines have looked at me in mild amusement presumably thinking here comes another make-believe-chef who thinks that travelling on a domestic flight automatically grants them a right to cook the most domestic of dishes, the toasted sandwich. But let me explain, for as many years as I have been travelling, the Qantas Club catering staff have been preparing various hot and cold serves, and now they are outsourcing the preparation of a hot serve to the traveller. Surely for the $350 per year membership fee that I pay, I don't have to make my own hot serves ?
However, after 11 months of hot food abstinence, curiosity finally got the better of me. The hordes who queue each morning to make a toasted sandwich before their flight surely can't be wrong. So with a mixture of trepidation infused with domestic confidence, I commence the preparation of my first toasted sandwich. First step of course was to look for instructions, and in the event of not finding those, it was to mimic the person in front of you. Mimicking was the order of the day.
And being someone who disliked making choices, I was sure I was going to be in for a painful time. First up was bread. Wholemeal. multigrain, white or some other type of bread that had no name but looked to be a combination of all three ?. Butter or margarine goes on next. "Excuse me, could I please have a clean knife", I ask the catering staff who have appeared from the kitchen. Surely they didn't expect me to use the same knife that everyone else had used ?
Butter on one side or two ? I assess the future. Perhaps it browns better if on both sides. I elect for both. Now to wipe my butter covered fingers. Next step is the inserts, surely the easy bit in a toasted sandwich. I decide to go for the traditional toasted sandwich with the lot - ham, cheese and tomato. But I soon realise that was a dumb idea. What goes on first ? Does the cheese on the bottom or the top ? How many slices ?
My memory casts back to Carl Casper in the movie Chef. Aha - a slice of cheese on top and bottom will guarantee an oozing sandwich. I then top the sandwich with the other slice of bread, and surely I am done as exhaustion is soon to kick in. Alas, but no. Now it is time for the machine to do its magic. I lift the lid, note the leftover melted cheese from the last travelling chef, cleverly insert my sandwich, close the lid and .....
What next, I ask. With no buttons to press, lights on, no one to mimic as he had left ages ago, and no "make a toastie" app on my smartphone, I assume it is all happening by magic. But soon two of the lights turn off. I acknowledge that cooking speed may be the undisclosed benefit that Qantas are providing me for my membership fee, so I lift the lid in excitement. My excitement dissipates when the sandwich appears unchanged, the lights all come back on, and the internal heater starts cooling. I re-start the process.
After a couple of minutes, I take a peak, trying to lift the lid slowly to see if things are happening in this magical machine, so as not to reset it again.
I wait another minute or so, and conclude that the newly arrived aroma of burning cheese might mean that it is ready. I take the toasted sandwich from the machine, and realise that the preparation rolls on. Now where did I put that clean knife as I look to slice the toasted sandwich in to more manageable sized pieces. Triangles, half rectangles or quarter squares ?
And lo and behold I now have a toasted cheese sandwich. Its appearance is definitely not up to café acceptable standards, but it passes the taste test. The melted cheese on top and bottom have enveloped the ham and tomato, and provide a hot serve that was well worth the 14 minutes of time that I invested in the process.
So how does my toasted cheese sandwich compare with that of my Adelaide favourites, being Combeeze and Cheesy Street. Of course, I have a certain amount of bias. They win hands down every time. It is just a pity that they are not at Adelaide Airport.
Little known fact : The grilled cheese sandwich is a variation of the French recipe, the "Croque Monsieur," a hot ham and cheese sandwich served in bars since the early 1900's.