Brie Sandwiches – Made at Home

Recently I took to polling associates via Twitter about what manner of sandwiches they might like to see, and brie was one of the answers that came back. That sounded like a fine idea to me, and after a bit of thinking I had two ideas ready to go.
brie1The first, seen above, is a simple sandwich of roasted garlic, red lettuce, slices of roasted portobello mushroom, and brie. The brie was softened a bit and spread on the top half of the bun, and a layer of roasted garlic went on the bottom half. This is one of those straightforward numbers that’s either going to sound good to you or it isn’t, and little I say can sway anyone in one direction or the other. If you like mushrooms, this is outstanding. The portobello is its meaty, delicious self, the roasted garlic is sweet and subtle, and the tangy brie sets off the other two flavors quite nicely. The final sandwich had a bit more brie than what you see above, because I started with a moderate amount in hopes of avoiding an overwhelming presence. I’m no great cheese booster, and so I prefer a careful hand. If you love the stuff, by all means pile it on.

brie2The second sandwich I put together is a bit more complicated. Technically speaking, it’s boulettes d’agneau avec espagnole et brie, which is to say it’s a meatball sub, except the meatballs are made of lamb, the sauce is brown sauce, and the cheese is brie. This, friends, was outstanding. I buttered the bread and put it face-down in a skillet before assembling the sandwich, and this was the touch that walked the sandwich just to the edge of too much. That I had the meatball sub archetype to guide me helps, as it kept me from piling on ingredients that would have done little but turn a lovely ensemble into a cacophonous chorus.

The lamb isn’t subject to much, just a little cumin, garlic, salt and pepper before being browned in a skillet and put into the oven. The sauce is the standard mother sauce formula of mirepoix, roux, brown stock and spices. The brie is the brie, and all together that’s a recipe for something that is very nearly too rich, but in the end just right. This was a delight, the bite of the brie cutting through the rich notes of the other ingredients, the savory presence of the lamb and the sauce pulled back just enough. (This sandwich also featured more brie than pictures, for the same reasons mentioned above.)

Not every sandwich I make is a success, and I’m happy to own up when something doesn’t turn out as well as it could, but I’m also not embarrassed to announce when I’ve got something that works. This is a fine, fine sandwich.

Mushroom Sandwiches – Made at Home

mushroom1-5The whole reason this blog exists is that sandwiches don’t get the attention or respect that they deserve. Why not, then, turn my attention to ingredients that don’t get the respect or attention they deserve. I’ve featured a number of mushroom sandwiches on this blog, most of them quite delicious, but in my experience when most people go looking for sandwich ideas, mushrooms aren’t the first thing that come to mind. That’s a pity. I recognize that the above mass of sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but in the event that it doesn’t I’d say you’re missing out.

The above is two of the three layers in a grilled cheese sandwich, which feature what I would refer to as Drunken Mushrooms. The final product:

mushroom1That’s a layer of extra sharp cheddar cheese on the bottom, the drunken mushrooms, and a layer of toscano cheese with peppercorns. The mushrooms were sauteed with onion until they were fairly well cooked, to which was added a bit of garlic and some rosemary. Finally, about half a bottle of beer was poured on, and the whole thing reduced until there wasn’t any loose liquid. That last bit is important, because soggy mushrooms are likely to ruin a grilled cheese. The bread involved was a dill rye bread, and I have to say that overall this was quite good. The toscano cheese is nutty and brings a nice depth of flavor, while the mushrooms took on an extraordinarily complex flavor from the reduced beer without losing their own, earthy essence. This was tasty, but making a good grilled cheese is a fairly low degree of difficulty, and in any case it’s more cheese sandwich than mushroom sandwich. I like mushroms a good deal, and they deserve more.

mushroom2That’s a roasted portobello mushroom stuffed with Italian sausage and ricotta cheese, with a layer of red leaf lettuce added into brighten things up a bit. Roasting a portobello is little trouble: Cut a cross-hatch into the bottom, brush a little olive oil on it, put it into a 400 degree oven for 8-10 minutes, flip it and give it another 8-10. Take it out, stuff it with whatever you like, and put it back under the broiler until whatever you’ve got on top is melted or crisp or however it may be to your liking. I used pre-cooked chicken sausage here because I wanted to see how things would come out without going all out, how it might look if this was just something I ended up throwing together. The answer is about what you’d expect: good, but not great.

The portobello is the star of the mushroom sandwich world for a reason, beyond the fact that it stays on the bun much easier than the rest of its fungal brethren, it’s meaty and dense and packs a good deal of the umami flavor that makes mushrooms so good. The scoring and the roasting takes a lot of the moisture out of it, and that’s the key. All in all, I’m a bit disappointed in myself with this one. This could really sing with some pork sausage and some tastier cheese, or some chorizo and potato, or shredded chicken and roasted poblano chilies, or really any number of combinations. Instead I aimed for somewhere in the middle, ended up exactly there, and it was a bit lackluster. Little surprise.

(A note: I sliced the above for the purposes of the photo, but should you try your hand at this one don’t bother. Let the natural bowl of the mushroom work for you, and don’t open yourself to the risk of the whole thing falling apart.)

mushroom3  Back to the smaller crimini mushrooms, this sandwich is something like duxelles on rye. Duxelles is minced onion and mushroom, sauteed with herbs and more butter than is sensible until it’s something like a paste or mash. The incredibly rich, savory end product makes its most notable appearance in beef wellington, and in things like mushroom pithiviers but there’s really no reason it can’t be used to its own end. Here I paired it with red leaf lettuce and red onion, along with a layer of sweet mustard. This was quite tasty, although I would warn you that a light hand with the onion is required.

Ultimately, I’m quite satisfied with two of the sandwiches, and the third could be quite a bit better with a little more effort. That’s a decent outcome, but I know that there are other, greater sandwiches to be had down the road. I can only hope that when I find them I can give mushrooms the treatment they deserve.

Kale Sandwiches Four Ways – Made At Home

I happen to find kale to be delightful. I recognize that it’s not for everyone, but it suits me just fine, and my diet and sandwiches are so much the richer for it. It’s not just one of those good-for-you-might-as-well-eat-it foods, but an earthy, full flavor that works well with a great number of things. Three of the sandwiches here are built to star kale, but it goes just as well in a supporting role, working behind other ingredients. It’s versatile and delicious, and what more could you want from a sandwich ingredient?

To start with, my method for all of the following was to separate the leaves from the stems, discarding the latter. The kale is blanched in boiling water for 4 minutes or so, then run under cold water until cool. You can eat it right then and there, if you prefer, or you can put it in a pan with a bit of fat, some spices, and some liquid (broth, wine, water all work) then cover it until the liquid is absorbed. That gives you a batch of kale ready to be deployed in virtually any instance.

First up, kale with hash browns and a fried egg. This went on sourdough, and is a good example of the sum of the parts being enough. Kale, hash browns and fried eggs are all delicious, and putting them together simply makes for a delicious combination. It’s not more than what you would expect, but since what you would expect is pretty stellar, there’s not much to complain about. Some hot sauce or a good dose of black pepper would also go well here, and adding onions, garlic, peppers or whatever else you like to the hash browns couldn’t hurt.

This is kale with roasted garlic, sauteed red onion, and a mustard vinaigrette. This wasn’t bad by any stretch, but it’s the runt of the litter. It’s tasty, with a nice savory profile, but it doesn’t feel like anything special. The main advantage here might be that depending on what kind of pantry one keeps, this might be the easiest one to put together at a moment’s notice, especially if you just go with straight red onions and not ones that have been cooked down.

This is ricotta cheese and kale that’s been sauteed with butter and red pepper flakes. The idea for ricotta came not from the artichoke hearts sandwich, but was simply jacked whole from a Scanwiches post from some years back, which they credit to BKLYN Larder. Regardless of its providence, it is a fantastic concept. Simple, rich and creamy, this is the best way to highlight the kale. Ricotta is flavorful but not assertive, and it forms a spectacular background with which the greens can work.

Now, Kale not need be the exclusive providence of the healthy eating crowd. There’s no reason one can’t get some fresh chorizo, fry up a sausage patty, saute the kale in the sausage fat, and pile it all on some sourdough with some caramelized onions. There’s nothing preventing that at all, and I’m happy to report that if one does just that, one ends up with an incredibly tasty sandwich. The kale is as rich and earthy as ever, and the spicy sausage cuts through that just beautifully.

There it is. Ways to celebrate a delicious green in ways from fairly-healthy to not-so-much. It’s a delicious food in and of itself, and as is so often the case, that just means it’s capable of carrying some pretty tremendous sandwiches.

Steak & Tabbouleh Sandwich – Made at Home

I happened to have a bit of tabbouleh left over last week, and as I do with so many odds and ends of food, my mind turned to a sandwich. It was quality stuff, fresh and vibrant, heavy on flavor and light on filler. It seemed to me that steak was a decent base for such a thing, and a bit of yogurt with some lemon zest would further round things out. I hoped to find a cheese that would play between the richness of the beef and the herbal notes of the tabbouleh, but in my fear of overpowering cheese I undershot the mark. I wanted a cheese with just enough tang to register, and so I stayed away from anything particularly pungent or bold. Mahón cheese was what I ended up with, and it didn’t quite do the trick. A Spanish cows-milk cheese, it comes in both a semi-soft young version and an older, harder, more flavorful form, and I went with the younger. That was to the detriment of my sandwich, a pity, but it was to the benefit of my knowledge so I can’t complain too much. Overall, the sandwich rated at tasty enough, and the next one should be even better.


Pork Loin & Bourbon Apple Sandwich – Made At Home

If the world seems full of boring or stupid sandwiches, the only reasonable response is to head home and make your own. That’s exactly what I did, and the result was the number you see above. That’s a layer of black bean/garlic hummus, mustard/rosemary pork loin, and bourbon-spiced apples.

I more-or-less winged the recipes here, and I encourage you to do the same. I toasted up some garlic in a dry skillet and mashed it with some black beans, thinning with a little oil until I had a proper hummus. I mixed up some mustard, rosemary and black pepper until it seemed like I had something that was fit for a pork loin, and then I coated and roasted a loin. I sliced up half an apple, threw it in a skillet with a little butter and a little brown sugar, and I finished it with some bourbon. That’s about all there was to it, and I’m happy to say that’s all it needed. I put all that between some slices of hearty wheat and the result was delightful. Mustard pairs quite well with sweet, as anyone who has heaped pickle relish onto a hot dog can tell you. The bourbon brought woody, earthy flavors to temper that sweetness, and the black beans provided a rich background for the pork and the rest of it. This one was a winner, and I suspect it won’t be the long before some more bourbon-spiced apples end up on a sandwich of mine.

I wish I were as delighted with the other sandwich I made, and had I not made the apples number I probably would have been just fine with this. But I did, and so this one immediately became an also-ran, something I’d make if I were feeling a bit lazy or simply didn’t have something better on hand. Nothing fancy here, just the same slices of rosemary/mustard pork loin, some Gruyere cheese, and some marinated artichoke hearts. The artichokes were key here, bringing acidic notes that helped cut both the pork and the cheese. This sandwich wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t the delight the other one was. It’s also a bit less involved in putting together, and as we all know there’s many a day where convenience is at the top of what we look for in a sandwich.

Tomato Sandwiches Three Ways – Made at Home

There’s a bit of news about the tomato making the rounds. It’s interesting enough, but it seems to be something of a science flag planted on a mountain of personal experience:

The mass-produced tomatoes we buy at the grocery store tend to taste more like cardboard than fruit. Now researchers have discovered one reason why: a genetic mutation, common in store-bought tomatoes, that reduces the amount of sugar and other tasty compounds in the fruit.

For the last 70-odd years, tomato breeders have been selecting for fruits that are uniform in color. Consumers prefer those tomatoes over ones with splotches, and the uniformity makes it easier for producers to know when it’s time to harvest.

But the new study, published this week in Science, found that the mutation that leads to the uniform appearance of most store-bought tomatoes has an unintended consequence: It disrupts the production of a protein responsible for the fruit’s production of sugar.

Supermarket tomatoes are terrible. Anyone who has eaten one knows this, and the genetic reason why it’s terrible is just a bit of interesting conversation. Many supermarket tomatoes spend some time in cold storage, which just damanges them further. Refrigerating a tomato destroys aroma volatiles, and given that tomatoes don’t have much flavor to spare to begin with the whole thing is lost. But don’t despair! For many of us there are other sources of tomatoes readily available. Farmer’s markets are increasingly common sights, and at many of these one can find some beautifully colored heirloom tomatoes, rich in taste. After reading the above article I figured the tomato could use some good news, so I picked up a few of these tasty tomatoes and set out to  put together a few sandwiches that didn’t just include tomatoes but featured them. Tomato sandwiches, not sandwiches with tomatoes.

The first sandwich involved the above heirloom tomato, streaked through with greens and purples. Anchovies went down first, then a layer of pan fried cornmeal mush, then the tomatoes. Cornmeal mush is something akin to polenta or grits, just cornmeal and a bit of salt cooked in boiling water, laid in a pan and refrigerated, then sliced and fried. It is bland, but that’s kind of the point. Anchovies are salty as all get out, and I felt the sandwich needed something that would dial them back a bit. The mush did that, but in all honesty it didn’t dial them back quite enough. I like anchovies a lot, but I always feel that if they were 25% less salty they’d be the greatest thing on the face of the earth. The salt is part of the attraction, but as was the case here it’s often just too much. But enough about those two things. The story here is the tomato. This tomato was delicious. What an odd fruit tomato is, that one finds oneself not celebrating that the taste of a tomato is amazing, but rather that the tomato tastes like anything at all. But it was sweet, juicy and firm, and exactly the kind of sandwich around which one builds a sandwich. This could have been better, but with a tomato this good you’re willing to forgive the sandwich a few faults.

The second sandwich was considerably more successful. Another three-ingredient job, a semi-tart orange tomato went on sourdough with avocado and black bean hummus. (The hummus was not much more than toasted garlic, black beans, and a bit of oil to smooth things out.) If I may praise my own doing, this is a strong example of the simple sandwich. It’s something that can be put together in just a few minutes for not much more than the price of cleaning the food processor, and it’s really quite tasty. Nothing involved overshadows the tomato, but the other two ingredients are quite flavorful on their own. In a nice example of why we bother with sandwiches in the first place, three good things go together and become great.

The third sandwich, the second with the heirloom tomato, was significantly more successful than the other. Sweet potato hashbrowns went down first, followed by sliced of tomato, topped by fennel that had been sauteed with garlic. The garlic had fried all the way to little crispy bits, and they were as tasty as you know such things to be. The sweet potato hashbrowns were crispy and had a rich sweetness that worked well with the brighter sweetness of the tomatoes. The fennel, of course, brought its own distinct flavor, and all of that came together in a really tasty sandwich. This isn’t drop-everything-and-try-it material, but if it sounds like something you’d enjoy I give it a strong recommendation. And if it’s been a while since you tasted anything other than the flavorless mush that is a supermarket tomato, I’d say you could find a worse starting point than this sandwich.

BLT & Turkey BLT — Made At Home

Unlike our esteemed founder, I have no such qualms about the presence of bacon. Although I wholeheartedly agree that the fixation on bacon is hackneyed, unnecessary, and already hopelessly cliche, I do enjoy a bit of smoky, salty substance added to sandwiches every now and then. And of course, within a BLT, its presence is mandatory; otherwise you would just be silly. I attempted to create a pair of sandwiches at home using some roasted garlic bread obtained by my closest associate. The first attempt, the simple BLT with tomato, arugula, and mustard, was underwhelming. This was solely my own fault, as I accidentally used far too liberal an application of mustard and overwhelmed the whole of the sandwich as a result. My second attempt was miles better.

For this second sandwich I went lighter on the mustard, used just one strip of bacon and added peppered sliced turkey breast. The result was a flavorful and refreshing sandwich. The peppered turkey really sang and was pleasantly augmented by a minimum amount of bacon and mustard. The bread — with cloves of garlic baked in — matched up immensely better with the turkey than without.

When discussing sandwich meats, let us not overlook our dear friend the turkey, which — much like vodka in mixed drinks — can often become anything a sandwich requires. It is the most malleable of sandwich meats, which is a feature to be admired, rather than derided.

Broccoli Sandwich – Made at Home

I hold broccoli in very high esteem. It has a bright, earthy flavor, it’s really quite good for you, and I like it a whole bunch. I am far from alone in this, and when one of my associates suggested a broccoli sandwich I immediately set to work. After thinking on it a while, what I eventually settled on was not to build a sandwich around straight broccoli. That’s a challenge for another day. For a first attempt at a broccoli sandwich I brought along quite a bit of support. Firstly, I put cooked broccoli florets in the food processor, chopping them well but not to mince. I mixed the chopped broccoli up with a quinoa/brown rice mix, some breadcrumbs, and an egg. This mix I fashioned into patties, which were then put into a hot skillet until both sides were crispy and brown. I built two sandwiches around the patties, both with a few slices of salami and caramelized onions. One sandwich got a few slices of cheddar cheese, and the other a fried egg. It will come as a surprise to no one that the sandwich with a fried egg was much better, but there are plenty of times when one wants a sandwich without going to the trouble of frying an egg, and I wanted to get a sense of the sandwich in that context. Regardless of the egg’s superiority, these were both very tasty sandwiches. The broccoli patty was crunchy, the grains rounding out the flavor to something a bit deeper, more nuanced. The salami was a bit lost in the rest of the things, but between the patty, the sweet onions, and the richness of the egg I didn’t miss it. In the other sandwich the salami was a bit more noticeable, and the cheese was present but didn’t overwhelm the broccoli. For a first attempt at a broccoli sandwich, I would say this was a rousing success. There are other, more daring broccoli sandwiches to be made, but it was hard not to be satisfied with this attempt.

Peanut Butter Six Ways – Made at Home

This is the 200th sandwich review here at On Sandwiches, and I wanted something special to mark the occasion. a lot of things were considered and ultimately rejected: treks to especially expensive or ostentatious sandwiches, eating challenges. No, on this occasion I’d like to talk about the sandwich I eat most frequently: The peanut butter sandwich. It sometimes surprises people to learn this, but it’s true. More often than not I find myself, with no small amount of pleasure, enjoying two humble pieces of bread with a bit of peanut butter in the middle. I don’t go quite as crazy for them as I used to (I must confess that for a time I was consuming upwards of six per day) but they have a very special place in my heart. So, for the 200th review here at On Sandwiches, I present the peanut butter sandwich, six ways. Continue reading

Blackened Chicken on Roast Squash Bread – Made at Home

Recently I found myself with some leftover squash that had been tossed in garam marsala and roasted. Like any sandwich enthusiast, my thoughts immediately turned to how I might incorporate those leftovers into a sandwich. Rather than the standard route of piling it between bread, though, I thought I might try something a bit different and incorporate it into the bread. So I did just that, combining a cup of diced/shredded roast squash into a whole wheat dough, kneading it smooth and baking it up. With the bread baked, I turned to the rest of the sandwich.

Thinking back to the stellar number I had at Sun de Vich, my first thought was a spread of Greek yogurt, mint, and finely diced red onion. A chicken breast got a healthy coating of salt and pepper, cayenne, chili powder, and garam masala before going down in the skillet, and a few poblano peppers got flattened out and stuck under the broiler. Bringing everything together, it looked like I had a somewhat sparse but perfectly serviceable sandwich. Alas, looks can be deceiving. I wouldn’t call this sandwich an out-and-out failure, but it’s not exactly a success. It’s successful if considered an experiment, but as a finished sandwich it came up terribly short. Firstly, the spice on the chicken proved to be a bit overwhelming. While piling on more yogurt helped that, at that point you end up with flavors fighting each other rather than working together. Secondly, the taste of the squash was completely lost. It was present when the bread was tasted on its own, but by the time the sandwich came together it was long gone. I hadn’t expected a really bold squash flavor (if I’d wanted that I could have just included the squash on standard bread) but there was really no squash flavor of which to speak. So the very thing I’d set out to feature disappeared. I think that there are some strong ideas here, and in the future they’ll work out to a better sandwich, but here and now all I had was a too-spicy sandwich and a missing squash.