Tips for Perfect Grilled Cheese

Grilled cheese tips | Kale and Ale

I love cooking. It is very calming and relaxing to me, and I can make food to my preference (which usually means savory and heat level). But there are two things in our house that I had the reigns (if by reigns we mean skillet and spatula) over to Aaron for: Pancakes and grilled cheese. That’s because those are his specialties and he enjoys making those. And make them well he does!

His pancakes stay pretty traditional (maybe a little vanilla or chocolate chips here or there) but they are fluffy and moist, consistently good. While the pancakes are good, the grilled cheese is simply divine. I tried to be helpful and make the grilled cheese once, and it didn’t compare. Aaron’s grilled cheese game is on point, I leave it up to him.

Like stepping away from the stove on grilled cheese night,  I hand over my blog ahead of National Grilled Cheese Day on April 12. Aaron shares his tips and tricks to the perfect grilled cheese sandwich to Kale and Ale readers.

Aaron national grilled cheese | Kale and Ale

Aaron shares his tips for perfect grilled cheese.

Hi, Aaron here.

I love helping Val with her blog from the background or as a taste-tester, but melty cheese is my jam. It’s a food group in my diet, anchored by foods like mac ‘n’ cheese, pizza and, of course grilled cheese. I want to share some tips for the perfect sandwich on National Grilled Cheese Day or any other day, which have been honed and shared here.

Tips for the perfect grilled cheeseNational Grilled Cheese Day assembly | Kale and Ale

Low and slow cooking.

I set my stove on medium low to medium. This helps the sandwich achieve a nice crisp golden-brown outside and smooth inside. If your burner doesn’t cook evenly or you’re making two at once, you might need to rotate the sandwich during cooking to brown all sides evenly.

If it’s a basic grilled cheese, it’s ready to flip when the top butter starts to melt. If it’s a deluxe sandwich, pay attention to how the bottom is browning, flipping when it’s cooked and starting to get crisp but not overdone.

Cheese choice is crucial.

A combination of flavorful and melting cheese (I prefer sharp cheddar and Havarti or chedder and pepper jack) balances one another nicely. You end up with a mix of taste and flavor and gooey meltiness blended together in every bite.

Grilled cheese layers | Kale and AleExtras really elevate the sandwich.

Guacamole is my filling of choice because it adds a creamy, buttery richness and good flavor. Other add on ideas include sauteed mushrooms and onions or tomatoes, but really the sky is the limit.



HelloFresh Food Delivery Review and Discount

This post contains an affiliate link for subscription food box HelloFresh. It’s your choice to use the link and new subscribers will get $40 off the first box.

HelloFresh box | Kale And AleSubscription boxes have been the rage for a while—I wrote about snack and beauty subscription boxes a few years ago—so I decided to give HelloFresh a try. I know there are other options, but I picked HelloFresh because I received a coupon and my coworker spoke highly of the service.

Have you used subscription meal boxes? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below for my readers.

HelloFresh Food Delivery

I picked what day I wanted to receive one week of vegetarian food at my door, which is three meals at two large portions each. You are able to see meals for the week a few weeks out, which makes it helpful for meal planning and deciding if you want the food that week. Options include a classic (with meat), vegetarian or family (serves four) box. Each recipe states a difficulty level and time to prepare.

HelloFresh boxes | Kale And AleThe food arrived sealed in silver bubble wrap (to keep out sun, perhaps?) And ice packs. Each meal was neatly organized in separate boxes, which was a relief since many meals had the same ingredient, and I’m used to food from my CSA being dumped together in one box.

HelloFresh Meals

HelloFresh assumes you have basic ingredients on hand (salt, pepper and oil, for example). I found meals contained similar ingredients that I commonly have around home, but the fact it was organized with pictures and instructions made the process go quicker, and I really loved that I didn’t need to think about and shop for these meals, something I miss about my CSA.

Jamie's Sicilian Spaghetti Alla Norma HelloFresh | Kale and Ale

Jamie’s Sicilian Spaghetti Alla Norma from HelloFresh

I probably ended up liking the most the meal I thought I would like the least, the eggplant pasta. The eggplant was some of the best I’ve prepared at home, and flavors tasted like they simmered for hours even though it was about 40 minutes. It tasted like something I would expect at a restaurant that I wouldn’t think I could replicate at home, so that was exciting. And we made this meal five days after receiving the food and everything (basil and eggplant included) stayed fresh.

HelloFresh prep | Kale and Ale

Preparing the shepard’s pie.

All three meals had very different variety and flavor. As I  mentioned, portions were large, there were leftovers for every meal even after having a healthy serving. The meals I received were:

Try HelloFresh-$40 Off

If you are a new user and want to try HelloFresh yourself, go to and enter code SHXPYF for $40 off your first shipment!

If you try or have tried HelloFresh or another subscription box, I would love to hear your thoughts and experience.

5 Things Being Vegetarian Taught Me

5 things being vegetarian taught me | Kale and AleToday marks 20 years I’ve been a vegetarian, and there are five things I’ve learned from it. I was 15 when I became a vegetarian, so I couldn’t even think 20 years into the future. I started with a plan to be vegetarian for one week, and 1,040 weeks later I’m still hanging on, with no plans to ever stop.

I became a vegetarian for ethical reasons. Growing up in Iowa, I could see cows at the edge of my development from my kitchen. I was surrounded by cornfields and understood the process food takes to get to our plate, and it didn’t sit right that animals were sacrificed for us. I have always understood and respected that it’s a personal journey and decision as to what one eats, and for me that means keeping animal products off my plate.

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum kale |

Happy place: Within the kale at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

What has been a growing and learning experience goes beyond food, shaping me into who and how I am today. These are the five things being vegetarian has taught me.


In a way this was already a trait, as it’s the reason I became vegetarian. But like I said, I was 15 at the time, so my world scope was pretty narrow. Being vegetarian and attuned to the needs and rights of animals has made me more aware of others suffering. There really is so much suffering, and I try to always look and think of others needs ahead of my own—not to be confused with at my own expense.

Do I need this extra fancy coffee or can I donate 5 or 10 more dollars to the charity I’m giving to now? I won’t enjoy that coffee as much as someone suffering. I love giving and receiving gifts that have a story behind them or the money goes to an artist or organization. I tend to think about things like this.


Being vegetarian often means being the odd one out or minority. Going to restaurants or events, you have to request something and often get creative with the menu: Can you substitute/leave off this? Does this contain this hidden ingredient? How large are the sides so I can make a meal?

Even at home, I like to replicate dishes I’ve had or seen, vegetarian or otherwise. The entire reason for this blog was built on my creativity: I wanted to show others they too can lead a minimally processed life without sacrificing time or money. I enjoy recipe creation, thinking of new ways to make classic dishes and coming up with new flavor and texture combinations.


Both in eating and life, I’ve learned to say yes more, in both food and life. I used to make sure I knew how things would turn out or what to expect, but now I jump in more. I don’t want to miss opportunities just because I don’t know the answer or outcome beforehand. This has always worked out in my favor, and related to food, I’ve gotten to try and love many foods that people who eat meat don’t seem to eat often, or go to vegetarian/vegan/raw food restaurants in neighborhoods I would otherwise not visit.


Education is always needed when a vegetarian. Staying on top of what is in foods is never-ending: Prepared foods and restaurants can change recipes at any time and it’s important to know what is in your food. Views on a healthy diet have changed a lot in the 20 years I became a vegetarian; in 1996 people thought complete proteins needed to be eaten together for the most benefit and now we know that isn’t true and fad diets have come, went and sometimes come again. Keeping up and staying educated is important.


I’m not a patient person by nature, and it’s something I’m always trying to get better at, but being a vegetarian presents many opportunities to practice my patience. Many people ask a lot of questions that, to me, seem obvious or straightforward, but I put on a smile and use it as an opportunity to explain explain my stance and beliefs, and why I stand where I do regarding animals.

More information

It’s never been easier to be a vegetarian than it is now. It’s very common for people to not be vegetarian and eat less meat for health, there are so many resources, celebrity chefs are making meatless cool and menus in restaurants are often clearly marked as to what kind of diet can have that meal, among other things.

To learn more and get started, some good websites for more information include:

RECIPE: Get started with this simple chickpea patty recipe, the first recipe I made as a vegetarian and still one of my favorites.

RELATED: A real vegetarian’s view on fake meat


Kale, wild rice and pomegranate salad

Kale, wild rice and pomegranate salad | Recipe |

Kale, wild rice and pomegranate salad

As the weather gets colder, I gravitate toward warmer, heartier dishes. However, my love for salads doesn’t subside just because the temperatures drop, so a heartier and warmer dish is in order. Like many who live in cold and snowy (although not yet, I’ll take it!) climates, I am looking for more substantial food in the winter. Combining kale with the Minnesota favorite wild rice creates a filling and chewy salad that holds up as either a side or a lighter main dish. And the deep red pomegranate seeds provide a pop of flavor that is worth the minimal effort of getting the seeds from the fruit. (Learn how to deseed a pomegranate.)

I love making this salad because the vinaigrette only gets better over time, so make it on a Sunday and have it as an easy side dish or quick lunch early in the week. The recipe only calls for half the vinaigrette for the kale, but it’s a warming topping full of flavor that if you are like me, you’ll be adding more to the salad so the rice can soak it up.

Kale, wild rice and pomegranate salad dressing | KaleAndAle

It’s important to massage the kale with the vinaigrette so the kale wilts a little.

By leaving out the optional parmesan or feta cheese, this gluten-free recipe is also vegan, or is vegetarian with the addition of a salty cheese. And because the salad tastes good cold or room temperature, it makes a festive holiday dish that everyone can enjoy. Because you are cooking the rice while getting the rest of the salad ready, it only takes about 30 minutes to prepare.

Kale, wild rice and pomegranate salad | Recipe |
Kale, wild rice and pomegranate salad
Print Recipe
A hearty and filling wither salad that is great as a side dish or main meal.
Servings Prep Time
3-6 people, depending if main or side dish 15 minutes
Cook Time
30 minutes
Servings Prep Time
3-6 people, depending if main or side dish 15 minutes
Cook Time
30 minutes
Kale, wild rice and pomegranate salad | Recipe |
Kale, wild rice and pomegranate salad
Print Recipe
A hearty and filling wither salad that is great as a side dish or main meal.
Servings Prep Time
3-6 people, depending if main or side dish 15 minutes
Cook Time
30 minutes
Servings Prep Time
3-6 people, depending if main or side dish 15 minutes
Cook Time
30 minutes
Servings: people, depending if main or side dish
  1. For the vinaigrette, in a bowl or shaker add the cumin, vinegar, oil and salt and pepper and blend. Set aside.
  2. Place the kale in a large bowl, top with half the vinaigrette and massage into the kale to slightly wilt for a few minutes.
  3. Fold in the rice and pomegranate seeds.
  4. Top with cheese or nutritional yeast (if using) and more vinaigrette if desired. Can be eaten right away or later to let flavors develop, cold or at room temperature.
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A real vegetarian’s view on fake meat


A real vegetarian's view on fake meat | Kale And Ale

Flickr photo by Ginny

Vegetarians and meat-eaters alike seem split into two camps on fake or mock meat products: They are a godsend or vilified if one doesn’t eat meat.

When I became a vegetarian, I often relied on fake meat. As a high schooler always on the go, it was a simple, quick and filling option. And it made the transition to a meat-free lifestyle easier because I was making and eating fake versions of things I was familiar with.

Once in college and on my own, I took the time to learn how to cook more food. I educated myself on eating a balanced diet that doesn’t include meat. I explored new foods and how to make meals that include protein without having meat at the center of the plate. I met other vegetarians and tried new types of foods that were more readily available in my college town.

The very first recipe I made when I became a vegetarian at 15 is still one of the easiest and most favorite recipe in my go-to arsenal, the chickpea patty. What inspired me to make more patties (and my own food in general) was getting tired of looking at ingredients on prepared foods and not knowing or being able to pronounce what the heck I was reading.

I’ve never been one of those people looking down on others or shaming them for wanting a veggie burger, or chicken wings or the like. I crave a veggie brat at cookouts in the summer. (Check out this awesome, flavorful recipe for homemade brats.) Breaded buffalo tofu is part of a tasty meal with a beer. But I don’t eat these things because I crave or miss meat. I desire them because they are really flavorful and/or bring back good food memories and shared experiences—a brat around a picnic table with family or breaded tofu watching a game with friends.

I’m more than fine not eating the mock loaf shaped like an animal. I haven’t missed meat since one week after I stopped eating it. But I will have a flat, chewy food containing protein that i made myself on my plate this Thanksgiving (most likely Isa Chandra’s chickpea cutlets), and I’ll make sure its covered in (vegetarian) gravy. Not because I’m missing the turkey on my plate that everyone else is eating, but because I want to be part of the shared experience.

What’s your view on fake meats and why? Please note if you’re vegetarian/vegan or a meat eater.

Vegetarian main foods to make for Thanksgiving

If you aren’t eating meat, it doesn’t meat you can’t have a filling main dish. Here are some suggestions featured on Kale and Ale. Other ideas can be found on my Pinterest board.

Baked Portobello Parmesan

Cauliflower steaks

Chickpea cutlets

Mushroom roll