Peanut Butter, Butter, and Lingonberry Jam Sandwiches

I went to my regular restaurant, the one I favor over all others. I ordered my favorite dish only to be disappointed. It lead me to wonder why it wasn’t as good as usual. In my head I worried the quality of the restaurant was slipping, are they ordering a lower quality product that isn’t as flavorful? To be fair I stopped and thought it might be me, maybe my taste buds were off that night. It happens.

I think a lot about taste, not so much about the five taste receptors; bitter, sour, sweet, salty, and umami but more about the law of diminishing returns. Take for instance today, I am making a tomato soup that clearly states in its recipe title it’s the only recipe I will ever need. I hope it’s that good and it may well be delicious but I also know after I eat it 5 or 6 times I will more then likely move on to another recipe for tomato soup, say, the world’s best tomato soup. Knowing my taste buds become familiar with tastes, if the food on the plate in front of me becomes to familiar at some point it is less likely to excite me. I also know there are people who don’t care. They eat simply to survive, their interest lies elsewhere, or they want the familiar. I don’t.

How many times have you eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Are you ever excited to eat them anymore? As a kid I could eat them breakfast lunch and dinner if my mother would have let me but they began to wear thin and I started to eat ham sandwiches or turkey, sometimes a grilled cheese. As an adult there are times I get a kick out of eating a PBJ but they never seem to match the intensity and joy of eating them as a child. I compare it to going back to the neighborhood sledding hill as an adult only to find what at one time seemed like the Rocky mountains now looks more like a speed bump. Childhood can make experiences larger then life.

Peanut  Butter, Butter, and Lingonberry Jam Sandwiches

While I am and always have been enamored with simple foods that use honest ingredients it doesn’t mean I don’t stray from time to time. My cooking has become more about good technique and nurturing rather then showmanship. In a way simple food is like going back to my childhood experiences without fear of being disappointed.

1 brioche hamburger bun or 2 slices of brioche, toasted almost burnt

1 1/2 tablespoons Skippy Natural Peanut Butter

2 unsalted butter pats, about 2 teaspoons at room temperature

1 tablespoon lingonberry jam or red currant jam

Maldon Sea Salt (this is a big flaky sea salt meant for finishing dishes)

  1. When the bread has cooled enough not to melt the peanut butter spread the peanut butter evenly across the bottom bun.  On the top bun smear the butter and top it with the lignonberry jam.
  2. Sprinkle the peanut butter with Maldon salt to taste.  Smush the top bun onto the bottom and serve.

 

Cheats, Lies, and Hucksters (How to Cook a God Damned Grilled Cheese Sandwich)

As a kid, learning to cook a fried egg and bologna sandwich is like teaching me how to load a gun without establishing any safety guidelines. While the combination of griddled bread, egg yolk, mayonnaise, seared bologna, and American cheese is white trash foie gras, perfecting the fried bologna without having made a grilled cheese, well, it is Picasso without a Blue Period, Miles Davis having composed no song book before Bitches Brew. There is no reference and no history, a drifting ship with no anchor. At the time, I didn’t understand the damage done by using the cliff notes without ever reaching for the novel.

But here we are, in that time of year when we think about grilled cheese. It is the age old discussion, as if we forgot the combination to the safe and it needs to be cracked again, of how to cheat a grilled cheese. As if the answers locked away are new kinds of offerings; in a waffle maker, with an iron, use mayonnaise instead of butter, or turn a toaster on its side.

So I am just going to say it, I am tired of hucksters and cheats. It pains me to be over sold or even worse, blatantly lied too. I am not putting myself on a pedestal, far be it from me to cast stones, I am no practicing perfectionist and neither am I an Elmer Gantry. I have my faults and I try to be honest about them. Even so, when I witness an egregious wrong I can’t keep my mouth shut. After all, I can’t have my children wondering around this world thinking they will be able to succeed without ever learning the fundamentals. It happens everywhere and now, of all arenas, the kitchen is under attack.

Why can’t we just learn to cook a god damned grilled cheese? What are we afraid of, actually learning how to cook? There are so many basics to be learned by placing a sauté pan onto the stove to griddle two pieces of bread with cheese stuck in between and yet at all costs we try to avoid it. I don’t care what kind of cheese is put between the slices of bread, I don’t even care what kind of bread you use but I do care that you know how the different kinds of bread are going to react to the heat, that types of bread with more sugars and fats are going to brown faster then lean breads made with nothing more then water, flour, and yeast. Or that certain kinds of cheese are so stringy when you go to take the first bite every bit of the cheese is going to come along with it.

Cheats and shortcuts are wonderful but only after you know how to cook the original dish in the tried and true fashion, only after you have mastered the grilled cheese is it okay to riff on it. If you ignore, or fail to recognize, the subtle nuances of cooking you can follow a recipe to the T and still have it fail. It is because there are so many variables that can lead you down the path to disappointment that it becomes imperative to learn how to cook, which is wildly different from simply following a recipe.

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Grilled Cheese Sandwich (makes 2 sandwiches)

4 slices Pullman bread
1 1/2 cups gruyere cheese, grated
1 1/2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon green onion, minced
a splash of heavy cream
fresh ground black pepper
unsalted butter, softened

1. Combine the grated gruyere, horseradish, green onions, and a splash cream in a medium sized bowl. Add a grind or two of fresh ground black pepper. Mix everything with a spoon to combine.

2. Place a 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat. Liberally butter one side of each of the pieces of bread making sure to cover the whole surface. Place the bread, buttered side down into the pan. Top each piece with one quarter of the cheese mixture. Turn the heat to medium low.

3. Once the cheese begins to compress and soften check the bottom of the bread. If it is browning to fast turn the heat down. Once the bread is browned and the cheese melted put the sandwiches together. Cut the sandwiches into 4 crusty cheese sticks and serve.

 

Pimento Cheese Sandwiches

Is it the heat in August, or the midday cicadas—grinding, grinding, grinding—that reminds me of the time of year?  The horizon, corn pollen and gravel dust, is smudged.  This is the first August I can ever remember going outside after lunch to find it refreshing instead of repressing.  The sun is as bright as on a crisp fall afternoon and the humidity is nowhere to be found—grinding, grinding, grinding.

I like to hear the corn grow and without the humidity there is nothing from which the growing pains can echo.  An ambulance, siren blaring, leaves town.  The sirens grow louder until the emergency vehicle turns north on the state highway.  The sirens begin to fade.

It has been like this all summer and  I am being robbed.  I like the heat.  It is the humidity and heat that makes my vegetables grow.  I have nothing growing in my garden this year.  By rights I should be eating okra.  I should have so much zucchini I have to feed it to the chickens.  I should be looking forward to garden succotash and fried chicken but my lima beans died long ago in the continual down pours of early spring. I should be picking fresh field peas and pole beans but I never even got the baskets down from the cabinet.  I should be cutting sweet corn from the cob and freezing it.

I rock gently in an easy chair on the front porch and eat a pimento cheese sandwich.  From out across the fields I can hear the announcer for the high school football game calling plays.  I think back to all my first days back at school.  I feel the butterflies in my stomach,  another summer grows quite.

pimento and mixed tomato sandwich

Pimento Cheese

(Makes 2 cups)

3 cups cheddar cheese, grated (about an 8oz. block)

2 teaspoons yellow onion, grated on a micro plane

3 tablespoons jarred pimentos plus 1 tablespoon pimento juice

2/3 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Nathan’s mustard

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 tablespoon Tabasco sriracha

1 tablespoon ketchup

fresh ground black pepper to taste

  1. Place all the ingredients into a mixing bowl.  Stir gently with a spoon until everything is combined.  Let sit for an hour before serving.  Store in the refrigerator tightly covered.

 

Pan Bagnat – Summer’s Best Sandwich

DSC_0785In a sense, to smush, press, or mash a sandwich could feel redundant but it’s not.  It is a tool employed to make certain kinds of sandwiches better.  Case in point, a Cuban, panini, a shooter’s sandwich, and pan bagnat.

I love all these sandwiches.  Classics, each and everyone.

In the heat of summer, I rely on the pan bagnat, which when translated means bathed bread.  It is a vegetable based sandwich from the south of France, it is light and I find it refreshing.  Often the ingredients list is patterned after a Salad Nicoise subbing in anchovies for the tuna.  For me I like to use omega-3 oil rich sardines but use whatever tinned fish you fancy.

The sandwich is built in layers, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, and then some sort of weight is put on top of it.  At my house the sandwich gets sandwiched between sheet trays and the milk and juice jugs set on top compress it.  Because the sandwich is lightly salted and weighted after a couple of hours under pressure a lot of liquid is released only to be soaked back up by the bread.

And that’s the genius of this sandwich.  In my experience it never gets soggy but instead it becomes meltingly tender, the juices mingle, and in the end this makes for a perfect sandwich on a hot summer day.

Pan Bagnat (makes 1 sandwich)

a 6-inch (15.25cm) piece of French baguette

1 tin skinless, bonleless, sardines in oil

1 small cucumber, peeled

1 medium sized tomato, sliced

5 or 6 thinly sliced red onion rings, skin removed

8 picholine olives or olive of you choice

salsa verde

mayonnaise

kosher salt

fresh ground black pepper

  1. Slice the baguette in half lengthwise.  On one piece of the bread coat the interior with mayonnaise.  On the other spread out a tablespoon or two of salsa verde.
  2. Using the peeler, peel thin strips of cucumber, 10 or more of them.  Lay them in an even layer across the salsa verde side.  Give the cucumbers a sprinkle of salt.
  3. Top the cucumber with the sardines, on top of the sardines lay out the tomatoes.  Season the tomatoes with a sprinkle of salt and fresh ground black pepper.
  4. Top the tomato with red onion.  Place the olives onto the mayonnaise so they stick.
  5. Place the olive/mayonnaise bread on top of the sandwich.  Wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and then either place a brick on top, a sheet tray with weight, something heavy.  Let the sandwich remain weighted for at least three hours to overnight.
  6. To serve remove the plastic wrap, slice on the diagonal, and serve with a glass of chilled dry white wine.

 

 

 

 

 

A Life-Changing Loaf of Bread (Redux)

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I often wonder what makes a recipe so good it goes viral. I am sure it’s lots of factors. Sometimes it’s the recipe itself, other times it is what the author expresses in words through their post, and sometimes it is simply because the author is very famous. This recipe, originally posted on the blog My New Roots, has shown up on lots of other sites and was even a Genius Recipe on Food 52, and rightly so.  At the very least it has gone viral in my circles.

There are lots of things to like about this bread, like stacking it with thinly sliced crisp cucumbers, topped with oily mackerel, shallots, and parsley like in the picture above.  I also like it with thick cut bacon and peas shoots, or simply toasted and topped with butter and lingonberry jam.  It is delicious bread.  I even bake it on my Big Green Egg to give it a more authentic, and Danish, baked-in-the-dying-embers of a wood fired oven flavor.

My only problem is if I make the loaf of bread following the original recipe it comes up short. I heard the same words of disappointment from others who tried it too. The bread can be fussy, difficult to cut, crumbles, and becomes dry.  Many I know have given up making it.

I am sure the loaf bakes up perfect and to the satisfaction of many people every time. It doesn’t for me, but I understand when it comes to cooking and baking there are so many variables that to place fault elsewhere is simply not taking responsibility for ones own abilities. After all, it is up to the cook to get what they want from a recipe.  It is why you need to know how to cook rather then simply follow directions.  Just like different musicians playing the same piece of sheet music. The song sounds very different depending on the players abilities.  It is only because there are so many things about this loaf of bread I like that I stuck with it, experimented with it, until I got the loaf of bread I wanted, until I heard the song I wanted to hear.

I didn’t change much, although I used pumpkin seeds instead of sunflower and ground psyllium instead of seeds and I ground a portion of the oats and pumpkin seeds to create a finer crumb in the end product.  And while I use coconut oil in some recipes I didn’t use it here nor did I use maple syrup but instead brown rice syrup was substituted.   For me all these small touches made for a more manageable loaf in the end.

The fact is, made from the original recipe this loaf of bread is delicious, the taste is very satisfying, nutty, feels good to eat, and it is nourishing.  I simply made adjustments which gave me the product  I wanted to eat.  Rest assured though,  for those on a restricted diet, and those that aren’t, this seed bread is an important find.  It’s worth practicing to get it right.

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Seed bread packed into a pate mold and waiting to be wrapped up for a rest before baking. Notice the parchment handles.
Seed Bread
This recipe creates a less delicate loaf.

Seed and Grain Bread (adapted from My New Roots)

1 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds (1/2 cup coarsely ground)
1/2 cup golden flax meal, ground
1/2 cup walnuts
1 1/2 cups rolled oats ( I generally grind 1/2 cup coarsely in a coffee grinder )
2 tablespoons chia seeds
3 tablespoons powdered psyllium
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoons brown rice syrup or whatever syrup you have and want to use
3 tablespoons spectrum vegetable shortening (it’s palm oil and non-hydrogentated) or unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups hot water

1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Using your hands work the mass until the shortening or butter and the other ingredients are evenly distributed.
2. Line a pate mold, or small loaf pan, with parchment. To remove air bubbles, literally, pack the dough into a 3 x 4 x 10 pate mold. Wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap and let it sit for 1 to 2 hours.
3, Heat the oven to 350˚F. Remove the plastic wrap, place the loaf pan onto a baking sheet and bake the bread for 25 minutes.
4. At the end of the baking time remove the tray from the oven and using excess parchment paper as handle lift the loaf from the pan. Place the loaf, with the parchment still under it, back onto the sheet tray and bake the bread for another 20 minutes.
5. When the timer sounds, roll the loaf so that a new side is flush with the sheet tray. Bake another twenty minutes. Do this until all four sides have been baked against the sheet tray.
6. Remove from the oven and let the bread cool completely before cutting.
7. The bread is best toasted. Store in the fridge wrapped in plastic wrap.

Note: recently I baked a loaf on my Big Green Egg. It is a fantastic way to bake this loaf. Much like it might be baked in a shop in Europe using the dying embers of a wood fired oven.

The Lobster Roll’s Better More Lovable Brother

It is almost August.  The month in which my parents would always load me and my siblings up in the car and we would head to the east coast for vacation.  It was as much a search for a cool ocean breeze as it was a temporary reprieve from the mundane everyday Midwest.

Sometimes while on vacation when we would sit down to dinner at a nice restaurant my parents would indulge us.  When they did I would order lobster.  As a kid I loved it.  What is there not to like about playing with your food?  It is a distraction pretending the prehistoric monster on your plate is attacking the table while the adults sip their coffee and converse.  There is a silent cheer in your head after you defeat the monster with a hammer and pick leaving behind nothing but empty body parts void of flesh.

Since being a kid, I haven’t eaten much lobster because years ago my taste for it waned.  I don’t hate lobster but my feelings about it have changed.   I believe it to be over rated.  As an adult I think lobster is a pain to cook, let alone eat, and on top of that it feels like it is a foil for butter much in the same way the white is a foil for the creamy yolks of a deviled egg.  I need say nothing of the cost per pound.

On the other hand shrimp is accessible, and in this sandwich there are plenty of complementary flavors, like cucumber, celery and spice, and classics like Old Bay seasoning are perfect.  As a home cook shrimp is familiar, the fear of over cooking a lobster is a big factor to not cooking it, while shrimp are easy and take less time to prepare.  The flavor of shrimp also plays a large roll in this new favorite because it is consistent.  In other words with shrimp I know what I am going to get.

A lobster roll is a great sandwich, most assuredly an indulgence,  but a shrimp roll is no less a treat not to mention much easier on your pocket book.
Summertime Shrimp Rolls (Makes 4 Sandwiches)

  • 1 baby cucumber, cut into half moons (about 1/2 cup)
    8 sugar snap peas, cut crosswise into thin rounds (about 1/3 cup)
    1 lb. (450g) raw deveined shrimp (size 26-30)
    1 teaspoon lemon zest
    2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
    1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
    kosher salt
    fresh ground black pepper
    4 brioche hot dog buns, or whatever hot dog bun you prefer
    leaf lettuce

1. To cook the shrimp place a 3.5 quart (3.5L) pot filled with 2 quarts (2L) cold water over high heat. Add 2 tablespoon of salt to the pot and bring the water to a roiling boil.
2. Add the shrimp and cook them for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the shrimp into a strainer and run cold water over the shrimp. Remove the shells.
3. Chop the shrimp into 1/2-inch (1.25cm) pieces.
4. In a small mixing bowl combine cucumber, sugar snaps, shrimp, zest, juice and mayonnaise, Old Bay, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of fresh ground black pepper. Mix everything.
5. Split the buns from the top being careful not to cut them completely in half, line with leaves of lettuce and top with shrimp salad. Serve.

Thai Collard Wraps (day 5 )

Today was supposed to be a day off from running or lifting but sometimes you just know it’s best to go ahead and put on your favorite running shoes, put your favorite song list on the iPhone, and get it done.  It feels better to do it than not.

My nature is not that of a runner.  It goes against everything I can think of about myself.  But I have been and with consistency.  Some days it is much harder then others but running is always better then not running at all.

Lunch today! Continue reading “Thai Collard Wraps (day 5 )”

Small Batch Barbacoa Beef for Tacos

DSCF4507There is something about big hunks of meat cooked over long periods at low heat that appeals to us at a very basic level. Pit-cooking traditions like hog roasts, barbacoa, and luaus aren’t just barbecues — they’re celebrations. They conjure up visions of earthen pits and long buffet tables with folding chairs, all set up for a multitude of guests.

This kind of cooking takes judgement and practice, though, so unless you host these kinds of events on a regular basis, you’re more than likely cooking blind. After all, you probably aren’t buying a whole lamb or calf more than a couple times a year. It could take you a few years to get it right. Continue reading “Small Batch Barbacoa Beef for Tacos”