BLT(AE) — Made At Home

blt1Like many a person I enjoy a substantial weekend breakfast, and like many a sandwich enthusiast I see no reason breakfast can’t be a sandwich. That’s how the above came to be, and while it is fundamentally a BLT, it isn’t quite the usual, even beyond the addition of avocado and a fried egg.

To start with, the tomato is an heirloom tomato. I cannot stress enough what a difference that makes; heirloom tomatoes taste like tomatoes, and grocery store tomatoes do not taste like anything. If this marks me as some manner of food snob so be it. I am committed to speaking the truth about sandwiches and their ingredients, and I have yet to find reason for a kind word about grocery store tomatoes. The lettuce is only lettuce in the broadest sense, as it is actually spinach. After frying the bacon in a skillet I deglazed the pan with a splash of bourbon, then sauteed the spinach with a plentiful bit of minced garlic. Lastly, an avocado was mashed and spread along a toasted whole wheat bolillo and an egg was fried in a bit of bacon fat.

Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay this sandwich is that when the egg yolk spilled out onto the plate I did not immediately begin sopping it up. The spinach brought a wonderful depth of flavor to the affair, thanks in no small part to the whiskey. The BLT is a fine foundation for a sandwich, and the egg and avocado retched up the smooth, rich flavors of fat, cut by the savory notes of the spinach and the salty bacon. It was exquisite, and next time you find yourself hungry on a sunny Saturday morning I cannot recommend it enough.

Anchovy Grilled Cheese – Made at Home

anchovygrilledcheeseI still had some smoked cheddar on hand after last week’s efforts, and what better to do with some leftover cheese than to place it between bread and grill it? A word, then, on some of the hows and whys of grilled cheese. Firstly, it’s going to be unbelievably rich. You’re filling it with cheese and frying it in butter (you are using butter, aren’t you?), that’s fat on top of fat. You need to cut that richness with something, preferably something spicy or sharp. Plenty of places think the answer to the cheese is meat, often something quite fatty, but that’s a mistake, it’s just more richness on top of same. (This is why short rib grilled cheese is usually disappointing, and kimchi grilled cheese is never less than wonderful.) In the above case, I went with a tin of anchovies. Salty little devils, there was no question they could stand up to the cheese. I happened to have some scallions that were on their way out, and in they went as well. They brought a brighter sharpness to things, although something along the line of red onion might have been better, just because it’s more assertive. Lastly, a note on technique: Keep the heat gentle, somewhere just a touch over medium. It doesn’t take much to melt the cheese and crisp the bread, so don’t use much.

Meat, Greens and Cheese – Made at Home

dandelionbeefWith an event to attend over the holiday, I happened to make up a batch of an associate’s smokey chipotle bacon pimento cheese, a dip based around smoked cheddar with two extra hits of smoke from the chipotle peppers and the bacon. It’s as good as its reputation suggests, and as I do with most delicious things my mind turned to how it might best fit in a sandwich. Another associate suggested some peppery greens, and from there I was off.

The cheese has a strong flavor, and I didn’t think just greens was going to be enough, so I included a decent (but not excessive) amount of sliced London broil (from the deli counter, not homemade.) That brought a flavor that was substantial enough to not be overwhelmed, but not so substantial that it would drown out anything else. The greens in question were sauteed dandelion greens, as I thought those might have the best chance of standing up to the cheese. A little hot dog cart style onion sauce added a note of sweetness, and the whole thing went between two slices of sourdough.

pastramirabeBecause there’s no good reason to make one sandwich when two will do, I also put together a number with the same basic outline, but a few differences: the flavor on the meat went up, from London broil to pastrami. Accordingly, the flavor on the greens went down, from dandelion greens to broccoli rabe.

Overall, I think the dandelion greens are the winner here. Originally my associate had suggested arugula, and I think that level of pepper would also work, but I prefer the more assertive dandelions. It manages to push back against the richness of the cheese in a way that turned out to be crucial. The pastrami, while flavorful, just seemed to obscure the overall dynamic. Sandwiches, after all, are about harmony as much as they’re about anything else, and the pastrami just didn’t play right. Still, all in all a decent sandwich and one that was quite good is a fine result from a little leftover dip.

Grilled Sweet Potato and Cherry Salsa – Made at Home

sweetpotatoAs any enthusiast knows, a great many sandwiches start with leftovers. I’d happened to make some grilled sweet potatoes with cherry salsa, going by a recipe I happened upon when looking for something delightful but vegetarian. The potatoes were grilled and then tossed with lime zest, cumin and chili flakes, while the cherries were combined with scallions, fresh ginger, a dose of lime juice and more zest. It was delicious, and a few days later I pulled the leftovers out of the fridge with a sandwich in mind. It would have been simple enough to just toss the two onto some bread and be done with it, but in my mind leftover sandwiches don’t end with whatever you have in the fridge, you start there.

The flavor profile already had plenty of sweetness from the potatoes and the cherries, and there was more than enough brightness from the lime. Not bad, but it all lacks depth. A deeper richness would really round things out, and for that two ingredients occurred to me. On the left above there’s a layer of peanut butter on the bottom bun, and on the right I went with avocado. Both are creamy and have plenty of fat, bringing that richness I felt was lacking. The salsa also hadn’t been as spicy as I’d like, so some hot sauce went on both sandwiches.

Ultimately, these weren’t spectacular. They were good, but some of the sandwiches I’ve made have really knocked me over, so it’s hard not to be a tad disappointed when something doesn’t gel completely. Maybe a different bread might have helped, the whole wheat kaiser rolls I had on hand were a bit dry and not so flavorful. Some sandwiches are a bit tricky to figure out, but luckily doing so is plenty rewarding.

Kale & Roasted Eggplant Sandwich – Made at Home

kale-eggplant-sandwichI’ve put together a few kale sandwiches before, and the results were quite pleasant. Vegetables get short shrift in the sandwich world, rarely given an opportunity to stand as starring ingredients. There are plenty of reasons for that, some of them valid, but the fact remains that it need not always be that way. It’s a bit tough to make out all of what’s in there, but this sandwich consists of roasted eggplant, caramelized onions, kale sauteed in cabernet sauvignon, all on a homemade buttermilk white bread that had been spread with a bit of roasted garlic butter. That’s a short step away from a vegan sandwich, you’ll note, and switching out the butter for something like Earth Balance would hardly harm things.

Now, it’s possible that this sandwich could have been even better with something smokey and fatty. This was delicious on its own, and the world is better off with more than a handful of light, tasty, meatless sandwiches.

Turnip Sandwiches – Made at Home

turnipsandwich1Turnips! When’s the last time you saw someone go wild over a turnip? It’s been some time, I’d wager. One of the less popular root vegetables, people have been growing them for something like the last 3500 years, and within that stretch someone’s been jazzed about them about 15 times. Usually you see the opposite sort of reaction, and indeed a short time ago a pair of respected associates were on Twitter disparaging turnips. I’ve never been a big fan of the turnip, but it happened to strike me that maybe they might make some fine sandwiches, and so I set to work. Roasting the turnips seemed the natural move to me, as it leaves you with a better flavor than boiling them, and removes the work of changing water mid-cooking.

The turnip is a starch, of course, and that makes it a tricky thing to work with. There are some good sandwiches with fried potatoes in them, but in general adding such a thing throws off the starch-something else-starch balance that is the sandwich. So I figured if I was going to work with turnips, I had to include some rather large flavors to prevent a bland, starchy experience. That meant some smoked herring fillets, which have a heavy smoke, distinctly fishy flavor. So now I had the turnips, which bring a woody, earthy flavor, and smoky fish. I thought something sweet might play well in there, as smoke and sugar tend to pair exceedingly well, in barbecue and elsewhere. Caramelized onions are my go-to move for sweet on a sandwich, but I thought I might take it a step further for this occasion and I cooked up a batch of onion jam. Recipes vary, but in this case it was mostly a few pounds of onions cooked down in a couple cups of red wine and a honey gastrique. So the turnips, fish, and onion jam went down on some pretzel bread with a bit of horseradish mustard, and that was that.

I liked this sandwich quite a bit, but I’m not so sure that was about the turnips. The onion jam was delicious, I like canned fish, and pretzel bread is always a nice change of pace. This was quite good, and the turnips were a part of that, but they were hardly the star.

turnipsandwich3 My second attempt aimed for more simple ends. A New York strip steak, thinly sliced, salted and peppered and thrown in a skillet for just about a minute, went over some roasted turnips and under some provolone. Melted under the broiler, the whole thing came together as a fairly standard cheesesteak sandwich, except it also included turnips. I can see some cheesesteak aficionado not caring for what I did here, but I was quite pleased with it. The steak and the cheese are each assertive enough in flavor, but neither so much that they might drown out the turnips. Instead, the turnips give an extra dimension to what can easily be a fairly flat sandwich, and I thought it was quite welcome. turnipsandwich2Finally, I wanted something without meat. I’m celebrating a root vegetable, it would be downright negligent of me not to include something my herbivore associates can enjoy. I’ve still left the vegans in the cold, but this one is easily adaptable to their needs. For the third sandwich, I cut some heirloom tomatoes into slices about as wide as I had the turnips and gave them the same treatment, a stretch in the oven to boost up their sugars and break them down a bit. I’ve had my own issues with tomatoes before, but going heirloom helps make the most of things. Roast tomatoes and turnips isn’t quite enough for a sandwich, so I roasted some garlic as well and combined it with some minced scallion into a compound butter, which was spread on both sides of the sandwich. This one was a bit of a mess to eat, as the tomatoes had little structure left, but that didn’t prevent it from being all sorts of tasty. The garlic, tomatoes and turnips all have their own sweetness, with varying levels of subtlety, and it was a delight to have them working together. This was rich, vibrant, and the turnips helped establish the sandwich as substantial.

If you’ve got no love for the turnip, I can’t imagine the above would sway you. But if you’re just not sure what you might do with them or why they might be enjoyable, I hope I’ve laid out some things that you might find intriguing. Turnips! If they were good enough for 1500 BC, they’re good enough for you.

Lutenica & Ajvar Sandwiches – Made at Home

al-jarsI had never heard of lutenica and ajvar when they were suggested to me. Native to Eastern Europe, I simply hadn’t come across them. But they came from a noted associate, so though it took me some time to get around to them, now that I’ve done so I’m glad I did. The challenge with these sorts of sandwiches is that if you include too many ingredients you risk losing the focus of the sandwich, and if you don’t add enough you simply haven’t much sandwich. Condiments are condiments for a reason, in other words. But I like a challenge, so ajvar and lutenica sandwiches it was.

al-capreseAjvar is built around roasted red peppers, with plenty of eggplant and garlic to round out the flavors, and chili peppers to give it a backbone of heat. The idea you see above came from a different associate, and is simply switching ajvar into a caprese sandwich in place of the tomato. This resulted in a fine sandwich, with the spicy finish of the ajvar giving it a dimension the standard caprese sandwich doesn’t have. A fine sandwich, but not one that represents a tremendous degree of difficulty. I had bigger plans in store.

al-zuchinniBut first, the lutenica. Built around tomatoes, peppers and carrots, this was sweeter than the ajvar and lacked the heat on the finish. (I understand that lack of heat may be atypical for lutenica, but the contrast between the two served me well.) With concerns over overwhelming the relish in mind, I paired it with some zucchini, panko breaded and baked, and a fried egg. Zucchini don’t have a tremendously assertive flavor, and the egg is resonating on a different level than the relish. This one worked as planned, with the vegetables in the relish playing well with the zucchini and the egg giving the sandwich a rich body it would have otherwise lacked. But this also wasn’t too adventurous. The challenges of building a sandwich around a spread deserved a bold gambit.

al-carrotThat, friends, is a wheat roll with ajvar, roasted carrots, and nutella. Ajvar is sweet and spicy. Chocolate and spice go quite well together. Was it so crazy to believe that the key to a sandwich built around a spread was another spread? But two condiments does not a sandwich make, and that left me considering the middle. Contrast didn’t seem like it would be the right play, something bitter or with too much contrast would just throw off the harmony. There are only a few ingredients here; if they aren’t working together there isn’t much left. So that meant carrots. One of the sweetest of vegetables, a roast carrot had the crucial sugars to play along with the rest of the sandwich, but a nuttiness that brought something the other two were lacking. This was a sandwich that doesn’t sell itself on the first bite, but if you stick with it, there’s something very enjoyable going on. I like this sandwich. I’m not going to make it every day, or even every week, but if I found myself entertaining associates on a Saturday afternoon, I just might put together a few just for the thrill of making people eat chocolate carrots.

al-sausageLastly, a sandwich that is a nod to the fact that these are, ultimately, condiments. That is not a criticism, mind you, just a note that they actually go quite well with any number of things. Here I went with a bed of spinach, and some vegetarian faux-sausage with ajvar piled on one half and lutenica on the other. It was delightful, and any actual sausage would have worked just as well. That’s sort of the point, that most anything would work. Any sandwich enthusiast should be able to put a spicy/sweet condiment to work on a dozen different sandwiches without strain. If you’re willing to sacrifice the spreads as the central element of the sandwich, the possibilities are nearly limitless. I’ve now got two nearly-full jars in my fridge, and a good number of tasty sandwiches in my future.

Smoked Chicken & Pepper Jam Sandwich – Made at Home

pepper jamI’ve typed three hundred words about this sandwich, twice. I’ve also deleted them twice because I’ve realized that I’m dancing around an ugly truth: This wasn’t that good. It wasn’t that bad, either, but that’s the most damning thing of all. I’ve long railed against the mediocre here, sandwiches without even the courage to be bad. I should make no efforts to spare myself when that’s where I end up, and that means calling this sandwich what it is: just OK. Pepper jam came as a suggested ingredient via Twitter, and I have to say that it left me stumped for quite some time. Brie was a suggestion I got at the same time, and it was no great labor to produce the delightful brie & lamb meatball sandwich and associated numbers. But pepper jam? If you’re unfamiliar, it’s what it says on the tin, a jam made of sweet and hot peppers. It’s got quite a bit of spice to it, but like any jam the dominant note is sweetness. The flavor isn’t complex, but it struck me as quite hard to pair. I eventually settled on smoked chicken and bacon, because it seemed like it might give it a savory depth that would play well with the sweet. Or well enough, anyway.

I hesitate to say that this was the best I could do with the pepper jam. Some things just aren’t meant to be on sandwiches, but I’m not at all convinced this is one of them. I simply didn’t try as hard as I could, settling for good enough, and for this I beg your forgiveness. I intend to revisit the issue. You deserve more, as readers. The pepper jam deserves more, as pepper jam. I don’t see it as a simple task, but it’s a worthy one. As always, any suggestions are welcome.

Brussels Sprouts Sandwich – Made at Home

brusselssproutsTheoretically, one could make a sandwich out of anything. One shouldn’t, though, because there are lots of things that simply don’t lend themselves to the format. After spotting some gorgeous green and purple Brussels sprouts at the farmer’s market, I had to wonder just how they would fare. After a while, it was clear that the only way to test it out was to give it a shot. So I thought about the kinds of things normally served with sprouts, and in short order I had my game plan. If Brussels sprouts were ever going to work, they were going to work in this sandwich. Roasted garlic on the bottom. A layer of bacon over that, and deeply caramelized onions on top of the bacon. Then the sprouts, which had been tossed with salt and pepper and a touch of bacon grease and then roasted until beginning to brown. On top of the sprouts went some blue cheese crumbles and toasted walnuts, both scattered so as to not appear in every bite. Brown mustard capped things off, and the lot of it went between two pieces of sourdough, the particulars of which I will come to in a moment.

Friends, I was struck dumb. It’s a feeling familiar to many enthusiasts, but I took a bite of this sandwich and then stopped, staring down at my hand. It was transcendent. Every piece worked in concert with every other piece, and together they formed a rich medley that was far beyond the sum of its parts. The roasted garlic was as delicious as roasted garlic always is, bacon was salty and savory (let it never be said that I am categorically against bacon), the onions brought a welcome sweetness that tempered the deep richness of the sprouts, and the bites were divided between being capped by a tang of cheese or an echoing nuttiness. It may seem that I stacked the deck, but I genuinely felt that sprouts had such a distinct flavor they needed all of this to create the harmony that a great sandwich requires. The nuts could probably go and they wouldn’t be missed, but with any other ingredient removed I feel like this sandwich takes a big step down.

A note about the bread: Brussels sprouts, shaped as they are, present a great risk of filling creep. Even after being halved for the roasting, they still make for tricky sandwich assembly and even trickier eating. In order to solve this problem I cheated a bit, namely by selecting bread that had a nice dome to it. I used a miniature sourdough round, but anything with the proper shape will do. After slicing it in two, I went about scraping much of the bread out of the top half of the sandwich. This always feels like a bit of a betrayal to me – bread brings so much to sandwiches and here I am, telling much of it to get lost. But that’s the only way this works, is to hollow out the top half so that it forms something of a cap over the ingredients. When constructing the sandwich I left a clear lip so that the bread might be flush with the bottom half at the edges, and all together the sandwich was as manageable as could be. There was still some creep out of the front, but it really was as stable as I could reasonably ask.

I am usually fairly conservative in my home sandwiches, preferring to let more skilled chefs explore the margins. But if a few more sandwiches turn out like this one, it won’t be long before I’m keen to put just about anything between bread.

Roasted Beets and Pastrami Sandwich – Made at Home

beetsandpastramiThis sandwich was the result of a simple question. I wondered if pastrami and roasted beets might go together, and so I investigated just that. It seems straightforward enough in concept, the savory, just-salty-enough presence of the pastrami and the sweetness of roasted beets. Arugula brought a bit of pepper to round things out, and a red pepper sort-of-pesto was the final addition. (I thought that the sweetness of the beets might not be enough, so a mash of red peppers, garlic, almonds and some Parmesan offered some support.)

Is there a bigger delight in sandwiches than trying something new and finding out it works? Such simple exploration yields tasty results and another reminder of just how wonderful sandwiches can be. They can be quite complicated, and a truly great sandwich is a rather difficult thing to construct. But a tasty, satisfying number usually isn’t far off, provided you’ve got a few things that are likely to taste good together. Pastrami and beets fit the bill, and now that I know it works, I imagine my future likely holds some quality pastrami and more stained fingers.