This week’s post is brought to you by Cookware for CSN.co.uk, your virtual one-stop shop for all your cast-iron and stainless steel kitchen-based needs.
I reckon, just a few short years ago, when I was housebound and moribund and near catatonic, a Cuisinart Overstuffed Sandwich Maker would have been just what the doctor ordered. In fact, if I’d had a reasonably-priced and easy-to-use machine with which to prepare quality toasted sandwiches, I honestly don’t think I would have become depressed at all. And I almost certainly wouldn’t have ended up eating cat food. At least not raw cat food. On closer consideration, I think it’s safe to say, the Cuisinart Overstuffed Sandwich Maker is the ideal gift for your least stable, most mentally dyspeptic friend. You know, the one you never hear from. Everybody has one. At least one.
The last time I had access to a toasted sandwich maker - about ten years ago I think - I'm ashamed to admit that I wasn't particularly adventurous. Cheese. Beans. That was about it. This time around, at least for the sake of this review, I decided I should probably be a little more ambitious where my fillings are concerned. After all, the internet, much like a toasted sandwich, is not worth a fig without decent content.
However, rather than just prepare some outlandish sandwiches in the kitchen by myself, like a saddo, I had a word with my agent. Oh, yes, I have an agent, you know. Turns out he’s a good friend of Gregg Wallace’s cosmetic guy. This is the guy who had to mend Wallace’s face after another, less skilled surgeon tried to knock a couple of years off his cheeks and left him looking permanenently rictal. Like this:
So I got my agent to pull a few strings and before you know it - bish bash bosh - there’s a film crew in my kitchen and Gregg Wallace and John Torode are passing judgement on my toasted sandwiches. I was pretty stoked, I can tell you.
The show itself won’t be screened till the summer, and even though it's already been cut together, I’m contractually obliged to keep a lid on it till after the show’s aired. However, what no one can stop me doing - I don't believe - is sitting here and transcribing some of the best bits for you. So here you go.
INT. STAN’S KITCHEN.
Brief collage of STAN painstakingly preparing the ingredients coupled with cute voiceover by Julian Rhind-Tutt.
...Cheese & Ham
JOHN ‘TOAD’ TORODE (cutting a square of toastie and forking it delicately into his mouth): Mmmm. Lovely distinct flavours. You’ve got the smoky irreverence of that Red Leicester coming through and the mustard tang of the Tesco honey roast ham just setting it off. It’s good, hearty fare, but I’ve got to wonder if it’s interesting enough for this competition, at this level.
GREGG ‘EGG’ WALLACE (breaks the toastie in half and gazes at the insides, drooling slightly): Oh, yes! Gaze upon my succulence, ye mighty, and feast your eyes. Cheese. And ham. Arguably the combination that put the toastie on the map back in the snack frenzy that was the late eighties. Just look at that. It’s got cheese. It’s got ham. Seriously, what more could you ask for? In a toastie. Not cheese or ham, that’s for sure. Unless, of course, you wanted more creamy soft cheese or more pink meaty ham, both of which the Cuisinart Overstuffed Sandwich Maker could handle in a heartbeat. But what does it taste like? That’s the question. Let’s find out. [Takes a mouthful] Mmmm. Answer: it tastes good.
...Cheese & Sardine
TOAD: Straightaway you can see, he’s upped the stakes. He may be sticking with the cheese, but he’s thrown in a fish - specifically a sardine - just to stir things up a bit. He’s saying, ‘Don’t go running away with the idea that it’s all about the cheese because it’s not all about the cheese. It’s mostly about the cheese, for sure, I’ll grant you that. But it’s not all about the cheese.’ And when you bite into it... Boom! It works like a treat, and it’s here to stay.
EGG: Absolutely agree. At first you’re wondering what is this abomination doing in your mouth and then you’re thinking, ‘Hold on a minute. This should be wrong, but somehow it’s oh so right.' It’s imaginative, it’s combative, it’s fish and it's cheese and it puts Stan right back in this competition.
...Banana, Nutella & Peanut Butter
TOAD: Rich. Warming. Spiced chocolate with that cinnamon in there. It’s good. But I have to say, it isn’t great.
EGG (salivating like Caligula): It’s like a lovely, luxurious blanket of sugary sweet goodness washing over your tongue, with the occasional shock of firmness. That’s the banana, like a nipple in your mouth. Suddenly. Like a warning. 'Treat her gentle.' That's good. But at the end of the day, I have to agree with Toad. This is Masterchef after all. This is not kindergarten.
TOAD: Stan’s got to really start pulling out the stops here. He’s got to start thinking with his stomach, and eating - if he can, and I know not everyone can - with his brain.
...Asparagus, Peanut Butter & Red Leicester
TOAD (with great humility): I often say this on Masterchef, and it's definitely true, that here we’re privy to some of the greatest unsung heroes of modern culinary theory and technique. Some of the greatest instinctive cooks – the natural-born innovators. They come on here and we nurture them. Eating this toastie here – I have no doubt, this is one of those moments.
EGG: Whoa. It’s like your palate doesn’t know where to look! There’s the oppressive clagginess of the peanut butter, almost threatening to choke you, then there’s the cleansing, purgative freshness of the asparagus, washing that away the clag and leaving just enough room for the cheese to kind of ooze in and make everything all right.
TOAD: Asparagus. Peanut butter. The cheese creeping up behind you like a grandparent, shuffling into your comfort zone and just giving you a little hug. Nothing sinister. This, my fat friend, is a world class toasted sandwich.
EGG: Traditionally, in a time before this quality brushed stainless steel Cuisnart kitchen product, asparagus would have been eaten in the traditional way...
...parboiled spears laid out on a thick layer of peanut butter on a nest of white bread. Nowadays, why stop there?
TOAD: Nowadays, out comes the cheese, transforming a classic snack into a culinary event.
EGG: This is the second sweet course of the competition and it’s a tricky one. You have to ask yourself… is it a cake? Or is it a toastie? And the answer is, it’s neither, and at the same time, it's both. Make no mistake, this is challenging stuff. My only grizzle would be that it’s too dry. It needs something to lubricate it, just juice it up a little.
TOAD: Yes, maybe a creamy Cointreau custard and just a sprinkling of cocoa powder or something. You’re right, it needs something to lift it. Disappointing.
...Marmite & Nutella
TOAD: Now this is interesting. At the heart of this recipe is of course the stark contrast of tastes. You’ve got the lovely, welcome sweetness of the milk chocolate, and the sharp, salty, unmistakable barb of the yeast extract. The latter comes in, through the window almost, or a hole in the roof, like a sex offender. It shouldn’t work, and it doesn’t, but for me, that’s where the triumph lies. Deliciously inedible.
EGG: Well, I’m very disappointed. And I can see Stan going out of this competition. This is the penultimate round, and he has to be blowing us away at this point. He should be unlocking Pandora's Box, Dr Caligari's Cabinet and the bag with the cat in it. If he has one. The spirit of his imagination needs to be set free. At this stage in the game, I want to be shocked! I want to be amazed! I want to be frightened. All we’ve really got here is an adolescent challenge to our basic gustatory instincts. He needs to let go. He needs to be bold. Or else - I'm sorry to say - he’s finished.
...Double Gloucester Crêpe Souris
EGG: Wow. I’m lost for words.
TOAD: Well, you did ask him to be bold.
EGG: If I’d known then, what I was letting myself in for, would I still have pushed him? I don’t know that I would.
TOAD: I’m in two minds myself.
EGG: At the moment, Toad, I've got as many minds as I’ve got emotions running wild. Part of me can’t help feeling that, with this dish, Stan has arrived at that taut, frangible, fit-to-burst-with-excitement point where kitchen, gallery and philosopher’s glory-hole all collide and explode. We're at the point where Magical Chaos ensues.
TOAD: This is a toasted sandwich that may actually transcend the form, but what it definitely does, without question, is it tramples on our preconceptions. It tells you to take everything you’ve ever learned about heated snacks, put it in a sack marked ‘OBSOLETE’ and be sick in it. Let's just be clear what we're talking about here. We're talking about Double Gloucester cheese and a toasted mouse. A mouse which has been prepared by being left to decay for about three, maybe four weeks, in a bag of purple wool. Outstanding.
EGG: OK, so we’ve established that conceptually, this is a bit special. But we’re not here to give out arts grants. We’re here to eat food. So let’s find out, what does it taste like? [EGG stuffs an entire half-toastie into his gaping maw and crunches and chews like a mannerless child] Well, texturally it is a conundrum. There’s the stringy, chewy stringiness of the cheese and the sharp, crumbling crunch of decaying mouse bones breaking between your teeth. Then there’s the fur that gets stuck in the back of your throat and… is that nutmeg?
TOAD: Definitely nutmeg. But the interesting thing is that the nutmeg forms part of what tastes like a riot, like a controlled riot of flavours, a riot that’s almost choreographed – there’s dill, there’s chilli, there’s vanilla, there’s black pepper and just a hint of Marmite all moving around one another - and then you’ve got the overriding, overpowering smack of decomposing rodent, tying the whole thing together. Heston Blumenthal must be kicking himself.
EGG: I think it’s safe to say, it’s an acquired taste, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say, if this toasted sandwich doesn’t win both the Turner Prize and the Pulitzer Prize for Cooking, then I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.
TOAD: Exactly. And whether or not it’s a myth that mice like cheese…
EGG: It is.
TOAD: Well, whether or not that’s true…
EGG: It is.
TOAD: OK, so if mice did like cheese…
EGG: Mice could never like cheese. It's a medical thing. It damages their brains.
TOAD: But what I'm trying to say is, the whole mouse-cheese thing has been turned on its head. This is Masterchef at its most radical and creative. And Kerry Katona is going to have her work cut out in the next round.
EGG: Well done, Stan. Good work.
That was disgusting. And I don’t know why I did it. I felt sick photographing that wretched mouse. I found it in Ben’s knitting bag. His wool is peppered with droppings. I could have just thrown it out but it seemed a shame to waste it.
Please don't tell me I need to get out more. I already know that.
Anyhow, as you can see, the Cuisinart Overstuffed Sandwich Maker toasts sandwiches very well, no matter what you put in them. So, if you want to experience for yourself the exquisite dark magic of toasted foodstuffs, then why not get yourself along to Cookware by CSN, ask to speak to the sweetly pretty girl who answers the phones and emails there...
...and give her merry hell about why CSN no longer stock the Cuisinart Overstuffed Sandwich Maker.
Alternatively, you could always go somewhere else. It definitely pays to shop around with stuff like this and to be honest, even though it was free and everything, CSN did take ages to deliver.
As for the make and model – although I’m sure they’re all pretty much of a muchness – this one does do the job. Wallop. Nice one. Although to be honest, the light that tells you when stuff is done doesn't really work very well.
So there you go.
Next week there will be something beautiful here.
In the meantime, if you would like me to feature your product on my blog, please write to me at this address here and offer me some kind of bribe.
No animals were harmed, inconvenienced or posthumously disrespected in the preparation of this blog post. Except maybe one.