Happiness is... a warm cheese sandwich.
It's a sentiment as true today as when I read it as a child in my very first cookbook, the "Peanuts Cook Book." It described the simple joy of slapping cheese on a slice of bread, topping it with tomato and oregano, then waiting patiently as it toasted to a bubble.
In my family, the sandwich evolved. The bread was replaced by English muffins. The American cheese became cheddar or mozzarella. We kept the slab of tomato and sprinkle of dried oregano, which made all the difference in the world once it meshed with the bubbling juices of the tomato and the melted cheese.
As it cooked, the kitchen smelled divine and I remember looking into the glass of the toaster oven trying to will the cheese to melt faster. Once it was done, it was essential to wait a bit for it to cool down or it would burn the roof of your mouth.
Though I haven't made these sandwiches in a while, they came to mind recently as I thought about Mother's Day. It's perfect to eat in bed. It's simple enough for the kids to make. And it's deliciously comforting.
There are two secrets to maximum happiness in this sandwich.
First, always open the English muffins with a fork so that you preserve the nooks and crannies. Otherwise, it's just flat bread. Second, pre-toast the English muffins without any toppings so that they are a bit crunchy before you put the cheese and tomato slice on top. This takes a little longer but vastly improves the texture of the finished sandwich.
Also, the cheese must go beneath the tomato, otherwise the tomato slice will make the bread soggy. I add a small sprinkle of cheese to the top, too, because it looks finished and because I love the taste of browned cheese on the warm tomato. You can use your favorite cheese or try freshly grated Parmesan like I do.
And if you don't like oregano, use your favorite dried herb or a combination of herbs. And while I favor the simple version in the recipe below, it obviously is easily adapted. Consider these add-ons:
— Whole-grain mustard
— Crisped bacon (or Canadian bacon)
— Seared kielbasa slices
— Cooked spinach (well-drained)
— Jarred banana peppers or jalapeno peppers
— Fresh arugula
— Jarred roasted red peppers (drained and patted dry)
— Mango chutney
ENGLISH MUFFIN CHEESE AND TOMATO SANDWICH
Start to finish: 20 minutes
4 English muffins, split with a fork
8 slices of cheddar cheese
8 center slices of tomato
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the toaster oven or conventional oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet or pan with foil.
Toast the English muffins halves until lightly colored, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Top each muffin half with a slice of cheese, then a slice of tomato, a sprinkling of oregano and a bit of the Parmesan cheese. Arrange the muffins on the prepared baking sheet, then return them to the oven and toast for 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly at the edges and the tomato is hot and cooked through. Let cool for several minutes before serving.
Nutrition information per serving: 380 calories; 190 calories from fat (50 percent of total calories); 21 g fat (12 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 60 mg cholesterol; 28 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 21 g protein; 580 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."