I add a little celery!
We had opened our very first Cora in May ’87 and it was an immediate hit. The weekends were especially memorable: The infernal congestion of cars looking for a spot in the tiny parking lot. Families, amazed by what they had heard or mesmerized by descriptions of certain dishes, ran to join the lineup of customers that encircled the building where we occupied the first floor. At the back of the kitchen, my eyes skimmed over the hubbub of the 29-seat space to the bay window at the front, where I could hear the excited clamour of the crowd waiting to enter.
For a laugh, I would whisper to the kids that we were like some creatures on show at an amusement park with six fingers on each hand and hair down to our feet. My youngest would always get annoyed at my dumb imagination, and of course, because they were the only teens whose mom made them work every weekend of their lives. Thank goodness, the crowd wasn’t there to gawk at us, but rather to marvel at what was on their plates. They came to see for themselves if what they had heard measured up to the rumours.
And, thank goodness again, it did. And each customer we served told their neighbour, friend and co-worker, who in turn told their friends and acquaintances. And that’s how, like wildfire, Cora dining tables multiplied and expanded throughout Canada. Thank goodness, too, the powerful draw of our amusement park show remained with us. For over 33 years, thousands of agile arms and hands have worked to adorn our bright, sunny dining tables with love.
As time passed, the need to offer new items to delight our customers became an ongoing challenge, so we set up a small group of people who were “nuts about food.” We would get together once in a while to whip up some ideas. Nothing was off the table, and what I especially liked was that these new dishes had to rekindle some childhood memory that still shimmied its way across our tongues.
One morning, the beautiful, tall Annie, athletic and lively, arrived to tell us about the story of the famous grilled cheese her mom used to make her when she was little, accompanied by a bowl of Campbell’s tomato cream soup. It was her favourite meal, she declared, her voice trembling slightly.
I wanted to know more, but Annie stopped there. We focused on the idea of a grilled cheese that would be so delicious, it would make the rain disappear. For the next few weeks, we tested ways to glorify this grilled sandwich and turn it into an amazing meal full of good things. A dish to enjoy simply, accompanied by attractively cut fruit or potatoes crisped on the griddle. A dish that, made at home, would quadruple the astonishment of those seated around the table.
Annie’s grilled cheese made my heart tear up. I, who as a young girl, ate codfish five days a week, served up in different ways – boiled, pan-roasted, as nuggets, salted or topped with white sauce.
Among the best attempts the team presented, I leaned towards the version that we would eventually christen the TUNA MELT.
Imagine two layers of brown bread slices happily crisping away on a hot griddle or in a pan. Imagine the sandwich’s belly stuffed with a generous helping of canned tuna mixed perfectly with sliced green onions and a little mayonnaise. Imagine two beautiful slices of cheddar, each one hugging the bread and preventing the fish from slipping from its hideaway.
Imagine the first mouthful releasing an explosion of flavours. The tuna’s flesh mixing with the hot, tasty cheese, running from your fingers. Feel the thrill to your taste buds, the rustling of your memory as it recalls the irresistible draw of forbidden fruit.
Of course, you can choose the type of bread as well as the DNA of your cheese. And of course, your little ones will gobble down this simple grilled cheese sandwich – especially if served with a delicious canned vegetable cream soup or even some chicken and rice. With a little creativity, a heat source and a sprinkling of love, you will most certainly transform these two staples, bread and cheese, into a true culinary masterpiece.
You’ve had lots of time to think these past few months. You know the contents of your fridge by heart. You’ve tried tons of new recipes. If you were not already, you have probably become nuts about food. You’ll be able to transform this plain grilled cheese into a dazzling meal for your family. The possible garnishes are infinite. “Once familiar and comforting, delicate and refined, the grilled cheese is a sandwich with multiple facets that is always irresistible, whatever form it takes.”
Psst: I add a little finely chopped celery to the garnish because it adds a pleasing crunch-crunch to the texture in the mouth. And also, because I’m crazy about celery. I put it everywhere, and I snack on it instead of chips or chocolate while watching TV in the evening (an old habit of a formerly portly woman). And also, because I’ve learned, as part of my new confinement hobby, to give celery ends a new life by planting the heart in soil.
Wishing you all a wonderful summer!