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In L.A. with my friend Perri.

You know how some things just seem so unattainable? Well for me, attending The Grilled Cheese Invitational was something that I could only dream of ever since I started my grilled cheese blog (The Grilled Cheese Social) last May. As a broke grad student living on the opposite coast, I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to experience all the glory that encompassed this cheese-melting ceremony in Los Angeles until a little birdie tweeted (literally, well sort of) about a contest that Tillamook Cheese was putting on.

When I first read Tillamook’s tweet about the video contest, I rubbed my eyes in disbelief and instantly ran out the door and hopped on the subway to find some of that delicious Tillamook Cheddar. After running into a few stores that were sold-out of this award-winning cheese, I finally found a nice big chunk of it and proudly marched up to the register to pay.

Now that I had the cheese, I had to decide what I was going to make with it. I wanted to do something simple so that it could show off the cheddar, but also something creative and delicious so that my sandwich would stand out among the other contestants. I decided to use some inspiration from my childhood in the South and from my current life in Brooklyn.  From my southern roots I chose to use cornbread and fried green tomatoes, and from my new Brooklyn roots I decided on a buzzfood that was taking the local Williamsburg restaurants by storm – candied bacon.

For the video contest I decided to infuse the candied bacon in the cornbread so that there were little bursts of sweet and spicy bacon in each bite. As for the fried green tomato, I thought it would be like a play on the classic tomato and grilled cheese sandwich that so many of us had grown up eating. It was like my modern spin on a classic comfort food. And here’s the recipe and my winning video entry:

Ingredients

Candied Bacon Cornbread:
1 box of Jiffy corn muffin mix
1  large egg
1/3 cup of milk
½ pound of thick cut bacon
3/4 cup of brown sugar
2 tsp of cayenne pepper

Fried Green Tomato:
2 large green tomatoes
1 egg
¼ cup of milk
Creole seasoning
1 cup of cornmeal
Salt & pepper to taste
¼ cup of vegetable oil

Sandwich:
Tillamook Sharp Cheddar Cheese
2 pats of Tillamook Salted Butter

Instructions

How to make the candied bacon cornbread:
The first thing you’ll want to do is candy your bacon. Mix brown sugar and cayenne pepper and toss with bacon to fully coat it. Next preheat your oven to 350 and lay your bacon on a cooling rack and place in a shallow baking dish (to allow grease to drip through). With the remaining brown sugar mixture, sprinkle some on top of the bacon and place in the oven. Bake for about 20 minutes or until bacon looks cooked through (it won’t really ever get crisp). After your bacon is finished cooking, allow to cool and slice into tiny little chunks.

Next, heat your oven to 400 degrees and mix your cornbread according to the directions on the box (beat one egg and 1/3 cup of milk with batter and let sit for a few minutes to rise). Once raised, stir in the candied bacon and bake in a greased shallow baking dish for 15-20 minutes. Remember: you’ll want to make the cornbread thin because you’re using it for a sandwich and you’ve got to let that cheese melt!

How to make the fried green tomatoes:
As the cornbread is baking, you’ll want to make your fried green tomatoes. Cut tomatoes down the horizontal center into medium thick slices. Lay them on some paper towels and salt to allow some of the moisture to be drawn out. After about ten minutes on one side, flip them and salt the other side. Next, beat 1 egg with ¼ cup of milk and set aside. Then mix cornmeal with salt, pepper, and creole seasoning to taste and set aside. Once the moisture has been excreted from the tomatoes, dip in egg mix and coat in the cornmeal mixture. Fill your pan with the vegetable oil and heat to medium high. Once it’s hot enough, fry your tomatoes until they are crispy on each side, flipping once. It should take about 3 minutes on each side. When they’re done, place on a paper towel to soak up some of the grease.

And finally, the grilled cheese!
Now that everything is ready, go ahead and assemble your sandwich. Cut 2 pieces of cornbread and layer with cheese, some of the fried green tomatoes, and some more of that delicious Tillamook Sharp Cheddar, and top with another piece of cornbread! Melt 1 pat of butter in the pan, put sandwich in, then gently place something heavy on the sandwich (I used a press but a tinfoil wrapped brick works wonderfully, too) and cook until one side is golden and crispy. Flip and repeat the butter and press routine until your sandwich is all done!

Stay tuned for part 2 of my story about my experience at the Grilled Cheese Invitational!

Written by MacKenzie Smith, winner of the Tillamook Cheese Grilled Cheese Invitational Video Contest and mastermind behind the Grilled Cheese Social.

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