Ultimate Ham and Cheese Toastie (the day after a book launch)


Today feels a little like Boxing Day. It’s that day after the festivities, when your feet still burn from standing on hard tiles in the kitchen prepping platter after platter of food. When you’re brain is dry and muddled, leached of conversation from hours of  interaction. When exhaustion threatens to pull you under, but there’s still a fizzing pond of adrenalin that is snatching you from proper sleep.

The book launch went well.

A  few hours ago a friend asked if it felt like the morning after a wedding.

The answer is yes, but no- I remember feeling much more hung over the day after ours.

But on our way across London last night, driving past Westminster, surrounded by boxes of food and favours, with a cream dress hanging by the window so it wouldn’t crush and The Hungry One by my side in a nice suit, I could see some similarities.

I should say now, if I was going to celebrate another major event in my life, I could not ask for a more charming location than Books for Cooks– one of the most delightful stores in all of the UK.

If I had a fantasy library in my house, it would look like the shelves of this shop.  The kitchen in the rear is a well stocked delight. And Eric, our host had put on a lovely window display…

I had spent most of the morning skinning  and slicing  Scottish salmon and hollowing scores of cucumber crowns for poke.

The fava was blitzed and the capers were flash fried. There were segments of pita, brushed with olive oil infused with oregano, garlic and chilli and baked in the oven until crisp.

We turned baguettes into crostinis and topped them with home made labna, roasted red grapes and walnuts, for a taste of The Hunter Valley (the vineyards that were host to our wedding, some five years ago).

Thanks to the generosity of some gorgeous girls back in Sydney who slipped cash and kind words into one of my bank accounts I found some time in the afternoon to duck off to get my hair tidied and nails fixed.

There aren’t that many places to hide ratty kitchen-hands when you’re signing books.

And there were even flowers to hand- a gift from the delightful Uyen Luu.

The flowers on my bench this morning, cheering me while I finished the washing up of all the tupperware used to transport food.

By the time the clock struck 6.30 there was a lovely crowd of people there- the most important being the group from Ryland Peters and Small- in particular my editors and the publicity team. If one aim in life is to be surrounded constantly by great women, last night I think I cracked it.

By 9.15 pm it was all over. And I was spent. A few of us rolled on for pizza and a cheeky half glass of wine down the road- because just like other major moments in my life- at this one I completely forgot to eat a bite. And by 10.45 pm I could barely pull a sentence together. Yet at 1 am I was still awake, and found myself back in the kitchen, illuminated by the glow of the half open fridge and warming milk in the hope that it would help shuffle me off to sleep.

And so today feels like Boxing Day.

And on Boxing Day in Australia, there’s one thing we always do. We make toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. We do this because there is most likely to be half a leg of glazed roasted ham left over from the day before sheltering under a damp tea towel in the fridge. There’ll be some cheese somewhere.  And because when you’re plum tuckered out, there’s nothing more comforting than a crisp square of salt and carbohydrates.

I thought I knew how to make a great toasted ham and cheese sandwich- it’s not exactly rocket science. That’s until The Hungry One smelled the burnished cheddar and emerged from his office.

I’m happy to report that I’ve since been schooled.

Like no longer protesting when he insists on carrying large boxes for me and taking his advice on learning to accept compliments properly, this is another instance where I’m letting him take the lead.

Here are some tips and tricks he’s since passed on- they’re things like adding the condiment to the meat, not the bread- it’s the ham’s flavour that you want the mustard and honey to amplify, not the carbohydrate. There should be two types of cheese, as you need it to perform two different functions. There should be a rich and round cheddar for flavour, and some standard shredded mozzarella, for the necessary melt and pull.  The bread needs to be a bloomer style loaf- a sourdough or ciabatta would be too stern. It needs to be cut at least 1 cm thick- though he prefers 1.5 cm. The cheese needs to hug next to the slices of bread and the meat and sauce live in the middle.

And then there are two different cooking techniques applied . The first is to microwave the sandwich, open faced. I was shocked by this. But I see his logic. It gives the cheese a head start to melting. It softens the bread. And it means you can properly close the lid of sandwich without the shredded cheese escaping all over the bench (once half melted, it will glue to the bread). It’s only then that whole thing gets toasted in a pannini press, or in a fry pan until golden and the cheese is completely molten.

It’s the sort of soothing sandwich that calls for nothing more than a sliced apple for dessert. And perhaps a nap.

At this point in time, a nap would be an excellent idea.

Ultimate Ham and Cheese Toastie


Nb, recipe below is per sandwich

2 slices of white bloomer loaf, cut at least 1 cm thick
1 slice of thick cut leg ham, roughly torn so it can be patchworked to cover the surface of the bread
30 grams of good quality cheddar cheese, cut into slices around 2-3 mm thick
30 grams of shredded mozzarella
1.5 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp thyme honey (or good quality honey)
Black pepper

 Here’s how we roll

1)  Take one side of the bread and layer the cheddar cheese slices along it. Be sure to make them reach all the way to the edge. A bit of oozy spill is part of the charm of this meal.

2) Layer the ham on top of the cheddar and then drizzle with the honey mustard and crack some black pepper.

3) Take the second slice of bread and scatter the shredded mozzarella over it.

4) Transfer to a plate and place in the microwave for one minute, or until the cheese has started to melt.  While this is happening, start heating up your frypan or pannini press.

5) Transfer the sandwich to the panini press and toast until the cheese has melted, is oozing out the side and the bread is golden. Do not keep going until the bread is as hard as a tack. Part of the appeal here is the contrast between the outside crust and the squishy interior of the bread and cheese.

6) Slice into two and serve hot. If you’re still hungry afterwards, eat an apple.

Nb, in case anyone’s wondering, there are still copies of ‘A Suitcase and a Spatula’ available at Books for Cooks. Alternatively there’s always Amazon or for internationals, The Book Depository.

  1. Sounds like you had a wonderful day for your launch party. Congratulations on your paper baby! You look radiant, I might add. Mmm those toasted sangas look great.

  2. Congratulations on the book launch! It was a great evening and great to meet you too!

  3. Congratulations! ! !

  4. Glad it went well. Congrats again!

  5. What a wonderful night! I’m so glad you had a great turnout and a happy time. For a moment I dreamt of hopping on a plane to London so I could be there. 🙂 So excited for you! I totally get the ham and cheese Toastie thing- the husband is very serious about how it’s done. Always goes down a treat!

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