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Meet the Judges of the 2014 Grilled Cheese Recipe Showdown

by Grilled Cheese Academy

The 2014 Grilled Cheese Recipe Showdown kicked off April 1 in conjunction with National Grilled Cheese Month, and this year the contest is bigger than ever before! To match the growing excitement, we invited two new guest judges to join our returning guest judge Heidi Larsen and help sample and choose the winning recipes.

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Our three guest judges, Heidi Larsen, Paula Jones and Mackenzie Smith are all popular food bloggers who have a deep appreciation for the deliciousness that is grilled cheese. Learn about each judge and read their tips on how to craft a great grilled cheese in their profiles below.

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Heidi Larsen of foodiecrush

Heidi Larsen is the founder, editor, creative director and chief dishwasher of foodiecrush, the blog and online magazine featuring her original recipes and photography. With over 20 years of publishing experience creating and photographing content, Heidi now celebrates the virtual buffet food bloggers deliver across the World Wide Web by featuring their recipes, photography and stories. She is a food photographer and stylist, recipe developer, digital ebook content creator, designer and consultant. She is also the co-creator of the Cookie Cravings eCookbook series. Heidi lives in Salt Lake City with her husband, daughter and their three rescue mutts, all of whom make occasional appearances on foodiecrush.

Heidi’s Top Grilled Cheese Tips:

  1. No-longer-fresh bread.

Use stale bread OR toast your bread first. This helps the bread develop a nice golden edge and crispy exterior. It also helps to keep your bread from getting soggy. Who wants a soggy sandwich?

  1. Melted butter.

Brush melted butter onto the outside of the bread and then into the smoking hot pan it goes. We’re adding flavor and not trying to count calories here.

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Paula Jones of bell’alimento
Paula Jones is the recipe developer, photographer and publisher of the food and travel blog bell’alimento and cofounder of Mixed food blogger conference. She has been featured in publications such as Southern Living, Bon Appétit and Parade. You can also find her work featured on the web on such prestigious sites as Saveur.com, CNN.com and The Huffington Post. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and 3 children. 

Paula’s Top Grilled Cheese Tips:

  1. Preheat your pan. 

Sometimes I get hasty and don’t give my pan enough time to warm up, resulting in the first side of my sandwich having a perfectly browned crust and the second side getting scorched because I’ve let my cooking time remain the same and not taken into account the pan’s gotten hotter. Preheat the pan for a minute or two on medium, then cook both sides low and slow for an evenly browned crust.

  1. Consider the textures.

Be adventurous when combining different varieties of cheese and try mixing not only flavors, but the textures, too. For example, when using a firm cheese, add a layer of creamy cheese to the mix for extra gooeyness.

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MacKenzie Smith from Grilled Cheese Social

Grilled Cheese Social is the ultimate website for grilled cheese enthusiasts where proprietor MacKenzie Smith of Brooklyn has created a shrine to all things melty and cheesy. Anchored by lush, gooey close-ups of crisp, buttery bread and cheese topped with all manner of accouterments – everything from bacon-wrapped dates to a handheld poutine-wich made with gravy-dosed french fries.

MacKenzie’s Top Grilled Cheese Tips:

  1. Grate matters.

If you are working with a hard cheese, make sure to grate it – this method allows more heat to get in-between the cheese shreds, which helps it melt more evenly. If it’s soft cheese, try thick slices so that it takes longer for it to ooze out.

  1. Upgrade your butter.

Don’t forget about enhancing your butter. Try mixing some fragrant dried spices into salted butter for unexpected pops of flavor. Some of my go-to’s are garlic powder, red pepper flakes and rosemary.

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