Tag Archives: sandwiches

Banh mi at home

My brother has said that I eat like a trucker, and when it comes to this particular sandwich that is probably accurate…

Even though I made them on Saturday night for fun, and even though Alistair’s birthday was only two days later, he still begged for banh mi for his birthday. As I like to be obliging about birthday dinner, and because banh mi are definitely high on my list of most delicious foods, I didn’t need any convincing to make them again. I would happily eat banh mi three times a week! So we had sticky pork banh mi two times in three days.

You might ask (especially if you live in Seattle) why would anyone make banh mi when you can get quite a decent one in the ID for $3? Yes, banh mi are practically a dime a dozen and yes, almost anyone I ask has their very favorite banh mi spot, but it doesn’t matter. I still love to make these little sandwiches at home. Homemade, the daikon and carrot pickle is tangier and crunchier, the meat more tender and caramelized, warm from the grill with glistening charred and sticky edges, and the herbs and greens are so crisp it might seem they are speaking directly to you in Vietnamese. Also, since nobody expects homemade banh mi – they’re such a takeout item – I love to surprise people by making my own.

Caramelized Pork Banh Mi serves 4 generously

Caramelized pork

  • (2) 3/4 lb pork tenderloins, sliced to 1/4″ thick on the diagonal
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 4-5 tbsp warm water
  • 2 tsp Nước chấm (fish sauce)
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 plump shallots, chopped and mashed in a mortar and pestle, or minced fine
  1. In a small heavy duty saucepan, combine the water and sugar over medium high heat. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the syrup has caramelized and is the color of an old penny – a rich deep reddish brown, not burnt though. You’ll know by the scent.
  2. Add 4 or 5 tbsp warm water – stand back a little! It will spatter and spit. Set aside to cool.
  3. When cool, put the caramel in a medium sized bowl and add the Nước chấm, soy and shallots.
  4. Start the grill.
  5. 20 minutes before you plan to start grilling the meat, toss the pork in the marinade and leave on the counter.
  6. Over hot coals or a with the gas set on high, grill the pork for 2 minutes on each side. As the slices come off the grill, stack them on a warm platter.

Daikon and Carrot Pickle

  • 1 fat daikon radish, peeled and trimmed
  • 2-3 medium carrots, peeled and trimmed
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 c. white vinegar
  • 1 c. warm tap water
  1. If you love to julienne vegetables, go for it and cut the daikon and carrot into  3/32″ matchsticks. I used to do that. Now I use the fat grater attachment on my food processor. 
  2. Put the julienned or grated daikon and carrot in a colander and set it in the sink. Toss the carrot and daikon with 2 tsp of sugar and 1 tsp of salt. Let them sit for 10 or 15 minutes. Then rinse and shake the excess water out.
  3. Dissolve the sugar in the warm tap water and add the vinegar. Toss in the rinsed carrot and daikon and refrigerate until ready to use. This will keep covered in your fridge for a week.
To assemble you’ll need:
  • mayonnaise
  • Two good handfuls of washed cilantro leaves
  • shredded romaine
  • sliced green chili – jalapeño or serrano
  • 2 crisp baguettes (not too chewy!!), sliced into 6 -8″ lengths on the diagonal
  1. Slice the baguette down the length to make a long sandwich.
  2. Spread the bread with mayonnaise.
  3. In this order, stack sliced pork, romaine, carrot-daikon pickle, cilantro and sliced chili. They’re done!
There are people who might quibble that I didn’t include pate, much less head cheese, vietnamese sausage or braised pork belly. Knock yourself out – if that’s what you like. However, this pork is so sticky and smokily perfumed – it’s all I want.

What To Eat for Christmas Dinner – in plenty of time for next year. Sigh.

Better late than never? I hope so. I almost survived Christmas. I could not finagle a single minute to write even a little line or take one yellow-cast nighttime photo. Oh well, I can’t stand those dim candlelit dinner photos anyway.

Right now, I am hunkering down on the couch with a blanket and my laptop. Outside it is neither bright and crisply cold nor white with snow. My hand is deep in one of the many little bags of cookies my sister dropped off for Christmas. You would not believe it. Cardamom horns, chocolate nib shortbreads, chocolate sparklers, chewy ginger cookies, teeny tiny chocolate marshmallows AND (!!!) pecan chocolate dipped butter toffee. They are so gorgeously packed up – each in its own small cellophane bag with a little printed label. I should have taken a picture. (I would accuse her of showboating but I could never jeopardize her taking me off her delivery list!!! Yes. They are that good. I may have to make her write a guest post sometime in November 2013.) I digress. I am so wiped out by Christmas I can barely move. I am just sitting around eating cookies, contemplating how on earth I can get up the energy to make something decent for dinner for the ravenous hoards. (aka my children)

Part of the reason for this slothfulness is that the weather is so particularly Seattle-ish. The mercury hovers around 40 during the day, dipping down to within 3 or 4 degrees of freezing at night. I am dying for a little snow but this will not be the year for it. It’s bleak, that’s what it is. A good time for a nap on the couch, slipping in and out of sleep with a good book. Like a cookbook. I have two new ones here, which are making for a fine escape from this dreary weather. Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, so warmly Mediterranean and  Screen Doors And Sweet Tea, a gift from my very dear friend Alicia. I’m making the Sweet Potato Biscuits for a party tomorrow, New Year’s Day, to go with baked ham and scallopped potatoes and, for tonight, the open kibbeh pie from Jerusalem. Well actually my neighbor is making the pie. But I will be eating it! With a spinach salad with dates and almonds from the same book. Toasting for peace in the Middle East on New Year’s Eve! (and celebrating my newest Ottolenghi cookbook – naturally!)

Even though the recipes are shockingly late, please give my Christmas dinner a try anyway. It would make for a thrilling Valentine’s Day dinner party. In those carvery-sort of restaurants where you often find a French dip sandwich, every component is mediocre. Often, you get some sort of feed lot slab of beef, a salty chemical jus from a jug, a limp roll, maybe slightly stale. Certainly no onion jam. And they aren’t buttering that bread with French butter. I bought my tenderloin at Rainshadow Meats, my local butcher, so I know it’s responsibly sourced. I caramelized onions for an onion jam. I made crème fraîche and swirled in a little horseradish. Even though nearly every method for French dip online calls for canned beef broth, I made my own. The seasonings on the beef might seem unusual. Fennel veers away from your run-of-the-mill French dip. Be brave! The delicate licorice notes only add to more usual thyme and black pepper! It is not a misstep or excessive in any way. None of the parts of this sandwich take much in the way of time, skill or effort. The work is minimal considering many people consider Christmas dinner to be the highpoint of the year. This small amount of work pays off in a big way.

The sandwich photos were taken the day after Christmas, without jus, as we’d dipped it all up the previous day. The leftover French dip lost nothing overnight. We hardly missed dunking into hot peppery broth.

Top Shelf French Dip Sandwiches – for 8, with leftovers

The Components:

The day before Christmas:

Season the Beef (somewhat adapted from this recipe from Fine Cooking)

  • 4 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 Tbs. finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 Tbs. ground fennel seed
  • 2 tbsp Kosher salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • (1) 4 pound beef tenderloin, trimmed and tied. If the roast includes the tapered end of the roast, fold it under and tie it in place so that the roast is the same diameter for the entire length
  1. Dry the tenderloin with paper towels. Combine the olive oil, thyme, fennel seed, salt and pepper and rub all over the tenderloin. If you can do this the day before and keep the roast lightly covered in parchment in the refrigerator overnight, so much the better.

Crème fraîche

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  1. Whisk cream and buttermilk together in a heavy medium sized bowl.
  2. Cover with plastic wrap.
  3. Set in a warm spot for 24 hours.
  4. If the cream doesn’t thicken, it probably wasn’t warm enough. You can set the cream in a warmer spot for a further 24 hours. I set mine on top of the stove as we were baking in the oven below at 475. It worked perfectly. The following morning the cream was very thick.
On Christmas Day, starting about 2 hours before you want to eat dinner, make:


  • 6 cups veal stock
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce or Worcestershire
  • splash of sherry
  • sea salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper
  1. Reduce veal stock by half over medium high heat
  2. Add soy sauce or Worcestershire, sherry and salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Keep warm over low heat.
Roast the Beef Tenderloin 
  1. Remove the beef from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for an hour before roasting.
  2. Half an hour before you want to start the beef, preheat the oven to 375°F.
  3. Place the tenderloin on a wire rack on a large rimmed baking sheet.
  4. Roast to 130°F for medium rare, or 135°F for medium, 40 to 50 minutes.  I recommend a digital oven thermometer so you can plug it in and walk away. There is enough going on at Christmas without having to worry about whether you are over cooking the roast or not.
  5. When the roast has reached temperature, allow to rest uncovered on a carving board for 10 minutes. Slice very thinly. (Make sure all the other ingredients are prepped before you start! Don’t let the meat  get cold)

Horseradish Cream

  • 1 cup crème fraîche
  • several tablespoons prepared horseradish, newly opened
Whisk horseradish into crème fraîche to taste. Refrigerate or serve immediately.

16 good quality sandwich rolls

  1. Preheat the oven to 200.
  2. Wrap rolls tightly in foil and warm in the oven for 15 minutes.
  3. Slice in half for sandwiches.

To assemble:

  1. Spread the warm rolls with unsalted French butter on both sides.
  2. After the meat has rested for at least 10 minutes, slice it as thinly as you can with your sharpest carving knife. I have one called Schinkenmesser (it means ham slicer) and it is nicely flexible and carves beautifully.
  3. Pile many slices onto each sandwich – you will have to judge how much. I would say at least 10 slices per sandwich for the grown-ups.
  4. On top of the meat spread 2 or 3 tablespoons of the caramelized onions. And on top of that, 2 or 3 tablespoons of horseradish cream.
  5. Serve with about 1/2 a cup of steaming jus in a small ramekin on the side.

These sandwiches are excessive in every way. Even so, people will eat seconds. It is quite possible that dessert will get the short shrift.

Eggs: Lime Saffron Aioli, Champagne Sabayon and Duck Eggs. Not all at once, obviously.

Here are some true things about me and eggs.

  1. I had to eat an egg in some form every single day before school when I was growing up.
  2. We were a mayonnaise eating family, we made our own, and, we kept it on the counter for a week. (If there was any left. Often there wasn’t.) I could make mayonnaise by the time I was 10. In a blender. Mayonnaise is a raw egg based sauce – in case you aren’t familiar with how you make it.
  3. Deviled eggs are a particular weakness of mine and my sister’s. My uncle makes loads of them for the annual Christmas party and we park ourselves right by the tray and shamelessly pop them in our mouths until they are gone. You make deviled eggs with mayonnaise.
  4. One of the best desserts I ever had was at a little bistro in the Village in New York.  I can’t remember what was for dinner at all, but the warm sabayon with fresh tiny wild berries was like…I really hate to write stuff like angel’s nectar but there really is no other way to describe that ethereal nearly white cloud of beaten eggs and champagne. Of course I had to figure out how to make it at home.
  5. I find duck eggs to be delicious but a little bit freaky. They’re so huge.

I have been thinking about eggs a lot this weekend, as you might have guessed. Earlier this year, I wrote about Mary Alice and the amazing eggs she gets from Tender and  Nugget, her urban chickens. Well, on Friday morning she dropped by with a gorgeous basket of those eggs, a dozen, unwashed, just for me. And then, you’ll never believe this, my excellent neighbor Susan, went to the farmer’s market on Sunday and brought me half a dozen duck eggs.

Is there no end to my good fortune?!

This is what we made:

Sunday Night:

Lime and saffron aioli for grilled halibut with parsley, orange and shallot salad

Lemon Tart

Monday Night:

Poached duck eggs on toast with prosciutto, grilled asparagus, truffle oil butter and kosher sea salt (and yes I think the salt is important enough to mention)

Champagne Sabayon with Strawberries, Blueberries and Figs

I dream of dinners completed in half an hour and both the fish and the poached egg on toast fit the bill. And aren’t they so pretty? I’ve made the halibut before. I’ve made the poached egg before too. Poaching a duck egg is the same as a chicken egg – so that’s easy. Varying the halibut recipe is just adding a few ingredients to the mayonnaise recipe.

Lime Saffron Aioli

all ingredients should be at room temperature

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tsp lime juice and the rind of the lime, removed with a rasp
  • 1/8 tsp kosher sea salt
  • 1 tsp hot water
  • 1 pinch of saffron
  • 1/2 small clove of garlic, grated
  • 3/4 cup mild oil, like canola


  1. Put the tsp of hot water in a tiny bowl with the saffron and leave to steep and cool. It’s such a small amount of water it will take no time.
  2. Whisk the egg yolk with the lime juice, salt, water and saffron and garlic until loose.
  3. Put the canola oil in a liquid measuring cup and as you whisk fiercely, drip the oil in very slowly, paying careful attention that it is completely incorporated before adding more. As the oil is incorporated, the mayonnaise should thicken into a silky looking sauce.
  4. As it thickens you can add the oil in a very thin stream, slightly faster than a drip.
  5. When all the oil is incorporated, the sauce should be glossy and supple and hold its shape softly when you dab at it with a spoon (Hopefully, you’re tasting your masterpiece!) Add the lime zest and taste for seasoning.

The parsley and orange salad is a cinch. Just use all the leaves from an entire bunch of parsley, the sections from two oranges carefully cut between the membranes and some of those thinly sliced shallots macerated in champagne vinegar. Add a little extra virgin olive oil, the reserved orange juice and some sea salt and you’re done.

Champagne Sabayon

Be careful to use a very large bowl for the double boiler. I should have used my large Pyrex mixing bowl. The sabayon foams up a lot – more than quadrupling its volume.

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup champagne
  • 2 tbsp St. Germaine liqueur, optional
  1. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in the top of a double boiler set over boiling water.
  2. When the eggs and sugar are foamy, add the champagne. Whisk constantly for 10 minutes or use your electric hand mixer. That’s what I do.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the St. Germaine.
  4. Serve warm in wide bowls with fresh beautifully ripe fruit.

I thought I would make this for the entire family for dessert but it turns out it tastes too “grown-up drink-ish” for kids. It didn’t matter. Martin and I piggishly ate almost the entire thing. I guess if I’m going to describe this as “angel’s nectar” I can say it was “heaven”.

I wonder what a deviled duck egg would taste like?! If I try one over the next few days I’ll let you know. I have three more.


The Moroccan Salmon Sandwich

There is a diner (the upscale yuppie variety) near my house called Skillet, which serves a extraordinarily good hamburger. I am somewhat of a devotee of the hamburger. (And I don’t mind much if it’s the posh kind or the fast food kind – if by fast food you mean Dick’s)  Anyway, at Skillet they have this condiment called bacon jam. It’s as heartstoppingly wonderful as it sounds. Of course bacon jam is heartstopping in every sense of the word. So much so, that having eaten at Skillet several times in the course of a few weeks, I felt I had to explore other parts of the menu. After carefully looking it over, and with a flicker of regret as I passed over the burger (bacon jam, arugula, creamy blue cheese), I ordered the Moroccan Sockeye Salmon Sandwich, which had condiments that sounded intriguing too: harissa aioli and crisp fried preserved lemons.

The salmon sandwich handily beat the hamburger – the epic Skillet hamburger with bacon jam. No kidding. Harissa aioli and fried preserved lemons beat bacon jam?! Yes they did. It’s true. Sharp bittersweet tang, then more sweet, and smoky too, the tangled crunch – oh just a little bit more – What?! How can it be all eaten up already?! I had to figure out a way to make this sandwich at home because ordering two would be embarrassing.

Guess what? It was easy. There are a couple of ways to get there too. This could be a project kind of sandwich, with toasting, grinding and soaking the spices for the harissa and the ras el hanout yourself or you can just buy them ready-made at a grocery store. Moroccan food has become ubiquitous in cities and I see these condiments all over the place. That being said I would not deny myself the pleasure of the scent of freshly roasted cumin, or the sinus clearing burn of roasted dried chili de arbol. (Please try making these condiments just once!) However, I do understand that this is just a sandwich. A fifteen minute proposition if you don’t make all the condiments yourself.

Removing the pin bones with needle nose pliers

Moroccan Sockeye Salmon Sandwich – serves 4 generously

  • 1 1/3 lbs sockeye salmon filet
  • 1 tbsp ras el hanout (see recipe below)
  • spray olive or canola oil
  • 1/2 c. mayonnaise (I like the Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 1/4 c. harissa (or to taste – see recipe below)
  • 1 medium sized preserved lemon, sliced thin, seeds removed and dried off with a paper towel (I prefer Le Moulins Mahjoub brand for their firm skin. It makes it a lot easier to slice. I bought them at the grocery store)
  • Canola or peanut oil
  • 1/4 c. rice flour
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 handfuls of arugula, rinsed and dried
  • 4 brioche buns or soft potato rolls
  1. Using needle nosed pliers (I have some reserved for the kitchen in a drawer) remove the pinbones from the salmon. If you run the tip of your finger lengthwise down the fatter side of the salmon, you will find the bones poking upwards.
  2. Heat the grill or the grill pan, to medium.
  3. Spray the salmon on both sides with olive oil and sprinkle the ras el hanout evenly over the top of the fleshy side. It will tend to clump in spots but you can even it out with a stiff brush or even your fingers.
  4. Place the salmon flesh side down over medium heat on your grill and set the timer for 8 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, heat about 1/4″ of canola or peanut oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat.
  6. While the oil is heating, combine the rice flour and the cornstarch with a pinch of salt on a small plate. Lightly coat the sliced preserved lemon in the dry ingredients and set aside.
  7. Test the oil by dropping a little piece of bread into it. It should brown quickly and evenly. It it burns right away, it is too hot and you’ll have to begin again.
  8. Carefully, so you don’t splash yourself, lay the lemon slices in the hot oil. They should take a minute or two per side to become golden brown.
  9. Set aside on a plate lined with a paper towel.
  10. Whisk the harissa into the mayonnaise with a fork.
  11. The salmon should be ready to flip now.
  12. Flip the salmon over and set a timer for two minutes. Allowing the salmon to cook thoroughly on the flesh side should make flipping it over a breeze. It simply does not stick to the grate if you grill it this way and you get beautiful grill marks.
  13. Bring the salmon inside and cut it into 4 generous pieces.
  14. Spread both sides of the brioche or potato rolls with the harissa mayonnaise. Lay the salmon, then the arugula, then the preserved lemons  and top with the other half of the roll.
Ras El Hanout – makes about 1/4 cup
This recipe comes from Fine Cooking. It is so easy to throw together if you, like me, have loads of spices in your cupboard.
  • 2 Tbs. sweet paprika (preferably Hungarian)
  • 1 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and stir with a fork.
Harissa – makes about 1/2 cup
This recipe comes from Sunday Suppers at Lucques.  I have only made wonderful food from this book.
  • 6 dried chile de arbol, ribs and seeds removed – this is much easier to do when they are dried
  • 2 San Marzano tomatoes, canned
  • 1/4 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1 medium cloves of garlic
  • freshly ground black pepper – several grindings
  • 1 tsp kosher sea salt
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/16 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Heat a medium sized heavy sauté pan over high heat for 1 minute. Add the chilies to the pan and dry toast them until they have little black spots and they smell wonderful. Depending on the heat of your stove this could happen in seconds or take up to a couple of minutes – so don’t walk away! When they are done, set aside in a heat proof bowl and cover with very hot water. Set aside for 15 minutes.
  2. Setting the heat to medium, toast the cumin seeds. Seeing as the pan is already quite hot, this will take less than 30 seconds under your watchful eye. When they smell fabulous, take them off the stove and grind them in your mortar and pestle. If you don’t have one, crush them with the edge of the bottom of a wine bottle on a cutting board, or in a clean coffee grinder.
  3. In the same pan, cook the tomatoes over medium heat until darkened and somewhat thicker. Set aside.
  4. Drain the chiles and put them in a food processor or blender with the garlic, tomatoes, paprika, cumin, cayenne, vinegar, salt and pepper. Puree until combined. You will have to scrape down the container with a spatula frequently; this doesn’t make a lot of harissa. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a thin stream and blend until smooth.

To give you some idea how of delicious and universally pleasing the Moroccan Salmon Sandwich is, I will tell you that my picky five year old demolished his and ate half of a second and Martin and I ate ours and split a third. There was nothing left for Siri and Alistair and they had to be consoled with ice cream sundaes, which were clearly running a distant second to the sandwich. Alistair even ate just bread with the sauce and arugula because we’d run out of the salmon. Ok. I confess that the fried preserved lemon was a tough sell. My daughter managed to pick hers off even though I trickily shoved it underneath the tangle of arugula leaves. Siri is nobody’s fool and saw through my ruse immediately. The boys blithely polished the whole thing off, lemons and all.

Rarified poached egg on toast

If you were walking down Federal Avenue last Friday, and you happened to look up through the windows of my dining room, you would have seen a solitary woman at the table, eating lunch a tad more ceremoniously than one might usually when eating alone at home. That was me. It was a cold bright sunny day and I was taking this lunch seriously, some might say with intent, on a proper plate with a linen napkin. (Often my lunch is peanut butter and bitter marmalade on whole wheat toast, eaten standing up at the kitchen counter.) Mary Alice, who is beyond generous, brought over half a dozen, warm, very fresh eggs from Gumbo and Kebab, her chickens. Finally, I could recreate the poached eggs on toast with roast asparagus, satiny folds of prosciutto, and truffle butter I had last spring at the Girl and the Fig in Sonoma, on another sunny, much warmer, day in California.

In preparation for the eggs, I spent just a few minutes adding truffle oil and sea salt to softened french butter. Mashing it in, then tasting. Too much oil? Too much salt? When is it delicious enough? Oh, the sacrifices I make! Spending the morning making and tasting truffle butter indeed! If you remember lunch from the Girl and the Fig, you probably remember the truffle butter. You only need a tablespoon. It is easy to make and the oil is pretty easy to come by. Roast asparagus takes one minute of prep, four minutes in the oven. No problem there. The bread and even sometimes Prosciutto di Parma you can buy at the supermarket.

What aren’t so easy to come by, unless you have your own chickens, are fresh eggs. I hate to say it, but to enjoy this lunch, you have to have a very fresh egg. Even though the sandwich (somehow this really doesn’t feel like the right word!) is very simple, it is one of my top ten meals. I feel very lucky. Everyone should have a friend like Mary Alice.

Poached Egg on Toast with Prosciutto, Asparagus and Truffle Butter

  • 1 slice excellent bread with some whole wheat and a little rye if possible, a scant 1/2″ thick
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 very fresh egg
  • 1 slice prosciutto di Parma
  • 4 asparagus spears, rinsed, woody ends snapped off
  • 1 tbsp french butter, or cultured butter, at room temperature with a few drops of truffle oil and a small pinch of kosher sea salt mashed in, to taste
  • several pinches of kosher sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  •  a skillet and a little metal pan you can put under the broiler.

Perfect poached eggs

  1. Set the broiler to high. Raise the oven shelf to the top rail.
  2. Heat up the skillet for a few minutes over medium high heat.
  3. Add 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil. When the butter stops foaming, add the bread. Let it sizzle but don’t let it burn. It should be deeply golden and crisp before you flip it over. Toast both sides. Place the toast on a nice plate.
  4. Lay a slice of prosciutto over the toast.
  5. Wipe out the skillet and fill it with water. Heat the water over high heat until it simmers. Add a tsp of salt. When the water is simmering crack the egg into the water. You may need to lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. If you have never poached a very fresh egg before, you’ll be amazed to see how the white holds together in a perfect oval! Now I know why the eggs I typically poach look so sloppy. Cook until the white is firm, about 5 minutes. Don’t let the yolk harden. That’s your sauce.
  6. Just as soon as you crack the egg into the water, toss the asparagus on the metal broiler pan with 1 tbsp of olive and a big pinch of kosher sea salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Put the asparagus under the broiler for 2 minutes, then turn them over, they should be crisp and a little brown. Set them back under the broiler for 2 more minutes. When they are browned but before they become floppy and overdone, remove from the oven. Take them off the pan and put them right on top of the prosciutto. You don’t want them to continue to cook on the hot metal pan.
  7. Remove the egg from the boiling water with a slotted spoon if you have one, and carefully lay it on top of the asparagus. Dab the heaping tbsp of truffle butter on the side of the plate.
  8. Sit somewhere quiet and hopefully tidied up, with a large clean linen napkin and a glass of mineral water. Eat your lunch peacefully, without rushing.

After the asparagus and prosciutto and most of the toast and egg were gone, I found myself chasing tiny crisp crumbs around the plate with my knife, carefully scooping them up against the blade and then dipping the tip into the truffle butter. Some of the large grains of sea salt caught in the buttery crumbs adding mineral crunch and tang.  Then of course there were the traces of molten yolk that got scooped up too. I licked the end of knife. That was such an excellent lunch.

Shades of Fog City – Lamb Burger with Chutney and Smoked Cheddar

When I first moved to San Francisco, I occasionally visited a restaurant called Fog City Diner. A well-heeled but touristy place at the base of the Filbert Steps, Fog City was an out-of-towner and yuppies’ haunt. Singles crowded the bar and the bridge and tunnel set hogged the booths. Often you had to wait forever for a table and  sometimes the food and the service were uneven.

Still, I kept going back because there were a few things I loved about Fog City. One, they made a perfect Pimm’s Cup. Okay I did have to coach the bartender a little bit on how I like it – with fizzy lemonade and a long slice of cucumber, but he was game. The lemonade was made from fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and soda and it made an excellent Pimm’s. Also, the onion rings were exemplary: a crisp cloud enclosing an almost melting interior onion. My favorite though, was the lamb sandwich on focaccia with homemade chutney.  I seem to remember that it was apricot, but it may have been tomato. Whatever. Whether tomato or apricot, it was spicy and floral with that chutney tang I love. The rosy, gamey lamb, the tangy chutney, the chewy focaccia – it was perfect.

Perhaps you think a proper British Pimm’s Cup would be out of place with something so flavorful and almost exotic? No. Not for me anyway. The spicy, sweet Pimms found its match in the spicy, sweet sandwich. And all those people lurking at the bar, wheeling and dealing or on the hunt? Why would anyone subject themselves to that racket after a long day at work? I didn’t even notice them once we scored the booth. Socked in by the San Francisco fog, the restaurant glowed like a beacon. I would run for the glowing windows from work to meet good friends. Cozied up together in a booth, chatting happily and looking out at a gloomy night with the perfect sandwich – who cares if you’re surrounded by yuppies on the prowl?

Fast forward and 20 years later, here I am in Seattle, three kids, a husband, a dog and a cat – I am not running around at night, my mouth watering for a lamb sandwich and a cocktail that complements it perfectly (although some nights I might wish I were). I can’t go back to being twenty-two. Maybe though, maybe, I can conjure up something like that sandwich, since I definitely can’t go back in time. Some weekend in the future, when I have all the time I need to roast a leg of lamb and make focaccia, and whip up a little homemade tomato chutney, I can make the lamb sandwich exactly the way I remember it. Tonight I was in a hurry though – and this quick version made me smile:

Lamb Burger with Chutney and Smoked Cheddar – serves 4

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
  • 1 slice white sandwich bread, processed into fine crumbs
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 clove garlic grated on a Microplane or pressed in a garlic press
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp Major Grey’s Chutney, plus additional to serve – I like Patak’s which has a looser set than most chutneys
  • 1/4 pound smoked cheddar – I used Beecher’s
  • (4) brioche buns
  1. Heat a gas grill on high for 15 minutes. Then turn down one (or two – if you have a three burner grill) of the burners to low, so that one burner is left on high and you have a cooler part of the grill to heat the buns.
  2. While the grill heats up, in a medium sized bowl, combine the bread crumbs, the milk, the garlic, the 2 tbsp chutney and the salt and pepper. Mash with a fork until the bread crumbs have formed a thick paste.
  3. Add the ground lamb to the bowl and combine the lamb with the paste lightly but thoroughly with your hands. Form into 4 equally sized patties.
  4. Spray each patty on either side with olive oil.
  5. When the grill is hot, place the patties over the hottest burner for 3-4 minutes, closing the lid. Then turn the burgers, again closing the lid,  and set a timer for 2 minutes. After two minutes, place a slice of smoked cheddar on top of each burger. Close the lid again!
  6. When there is just about 45 seconds left, lightly toast the brioche – be careful! Brioche burn so easily!
  7. Serve immediately accompanied by more chutney.

Not in Paris … sigh: The Club Sandwich and Curried Chicken Salad

Last week I was supposed to be in Paris. Taking the Metro, ambling through the Marais, eating macaron at Ladurée, ascending the escalator to the rooftop terrace of the Pompidou. When the volcano in Iceland started to erupt, I never thought it would affect me! I should have known. The last time I tried to go to Paris, the flight was scheduled for the day after 9/11. Maybe next time I plan to travel, I’ll try Rome.

Anyway, missing my trip wasn’t so bad – not at all. I met my friends in Sonoma instead. I think any Parisian worth their fleur de sel would give their eye teeth to spend a week in Sonoma, particularly in the spring. The produce, the bakeries, the farm fresh eggs – all produced by people who are passionate about what they are making and growing. I was really lucky.

I had some wonderful food last week but the most memorable was this appetizer I had at the Girl and the Fig. Sadly, I didn’t take a photo. Since I didn’t, imagine this: a shatteringly crisp raft of naturally leavened bread, browned in butter and olive oil topped with satiny deep pink slices of prosciutto and charred asparagus. A very fresh egg, also browned in butter, aloft. I have to repeat – this was an incredibly fresh egg – like laid 5 minutes ago – that fresh. Glittering fleur de sel and cracked pepper scattered over and around. And here’s the kicker. I’m not totally sure what it was really – they called it truffle vinaigrette – yet it was so emulsified it was thicker than mayonnaise. To me, it tasted like truffle butter, perfectly softened. Lying casually, one might say beige-ly, on the side of the plate, this truffle-y cream; a stealthily delicious taste to paint with the tip of your knife onto each bite. There might have been a drop of lemon there. The whole thing pushed me over the edge. I talked about it for several days afterwards.

Honestly, I thought I was over truffles. I don’t know who I thought I was kidding.

Even though the dish was very simple, it was the forthright presentation of the ingredients, the lack of showy sauces and transformative techniques; it was so utterly artless, so completely of the season, so fresh. I was knocked out.

I might need to get my own chicken.

After the week away, cooking felt really chore-ish when I got home. So I made sandwiches. So it wasn’t really cooking. Two kinds since Wednesday. We had club sandwiches then curried chicken. Sandwiches were how I got back to the routine.

Club Sandwiches

A Club Sandwich is incredibly easy to make – you just need to channel an assembly line mentality and you can crank them out quickly. I wish I had those ruffled toothpicks every time I make these.

serves 4

  • 12 slices of sandwich bread – toasted (I like multi grain)
  • 8 slices thick cut bacon, browned until crisp
  • 8 slices chicken or 1 breast of chicken, grilled and sliced very thinly
  • 2 hothouse tomatoes, sliced thinly
  • 16 slices of English cucumber, sliced thinly (optional but highly recommended by me!)
  • 8 leaves of romaine, washed and dried
  • mayonnaise ( I like the Trader Joe’s brand)
  • toothpicks (if you can get ruffled ones – go for them)

The layers go like this:

On the bottom: Slice of bread with mayonnaise, topped with lettuce then chicken

In the middle: Slice of bread with mayonnaise, topped with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and bacon – Sprinkle the cucumber and tomato with salt and pepper

On the top: Slice of bread, bottom spread with mayonnaise.

Hold all layers in place with a toothpick.

If you are feeling fancy you could cut the crusts off. I never do this.

Curried Chicken Salad

for 2 generously

Most chicken salad connoisseurs would have you gently poach a chicken breast so that the meat can be shredded before being tossed in lemony mayonnaise. They say that the meat soaks up the dressing better that way and that the shredded meat makes for the best texture. That’s fine. I have made chicken salad that way before and it is exemplary. Sometimes though, I have leftover grilled chicken and with that I like to make curried chicken salad – which is what we had on Friday for lunch. The grilled flavor is set off nicely by the curry powder and I am reminded of tandoori chicken which I love.

  • 1 leftover grilled chicken breast, torn into bite sized pieces or cut into 1/2″ chunks
  • 1/3 c. mayonnaise
  • 1 stick of celery cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 1 green onion, minced
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp minced cilantro (or parsley – but only as a last resort because cilantro is so perfect with curry)
  • 1 tsp curry powder – I like the pondicherry from the Whole Foods label
  • 3 tbsp raisins
  • 1 1/2 tsp honey
  • salt and pepper

Toss all ingredients together in a medium sized bowl until well combined. Serve on toasted bread on which, if you are feeling cavalier, you have spread even more mayonnaise. Often I serve this with sliced cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce in a sandwich. Friday I was lucky I had the energy to even put it on toast.

A good night for sandwiches

Sometimes I get sick of it.  All the cooking and planning. All the discourse and thought about what to eat. Today was one of those days. This may sound weird, coming from someone who loves to eat, cook and discuss food, but sometimes, more often than not in fact, I get really sick of restaurants. The kind I like seem a little smug about their organic locavore-ness. (I have absolutely nothing against organic OR local foods – nothing at all – in fact I strive to eat both organically and locally. What I hate is anything smug.) So I didn’t want to go out for dinner.  I didn’t want to order a pizza either.

Luckily, and this might sound wrong headed after the previous paragraph, another cookbook arrived in the mail. Another Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – of the River Cottage series – with his cheerful no-nonsense chatty prose. On page 114 there was a recipe for Tartiflette Toastie.  Doesn’t that sound nice?  What is that exactly?!

Well, it should have been leftovers.  You’re supposed to have cold potatoes ready to go in the fridge and you’re supposed to have a beautiful piece of Reblochon, which might have been leftover from a dinner party the previous night. I wish I could have that dinner party. A true tartiflette is a Savoyard gratin made from Reblochon, potatoes, cream, onions, and ham. In this incarnation, tartiflette toasties are sliced leftover potatoes sauteed in butter and finished with cream, ham or bacon, and melted reblochon on top of thick slices of rustic bread. According to Wikipedia:

“Reblochon has a nutty taste that remains in [the] mouth after its soft and uniform centre has been enjoyed.”

So even though this sandwich was clearly intended to be made up of leftovers from dinner the night before, what did I do?  I went to the store and bought fingerling potatoes to steam and asked about Reblochon.  You can’t get it here, it’s imported and unpasteurized – so boring!  I settled for Fleur d’Aunis which was recommended by the cheese monger (what a fun word that is!) at Whole Foods.

Fleur d’Aunis is lighter in color and a lot taller than Reblochon.  I imagine that Reblochon has a muskier, more barnyard-y vibe too.  However, Fleur d’Aunis was very nice; mildly nutty in flavor, soft and giving in texture. As recommended by the lady in the cheese department, I removed the soft rind which would have been unappealing melted over the top of the potatoes.

Tartiflette Toastie – River Cottage Every Day

serves 4

10 minutes using leftovers, add 20 minutes if you have to cook the potatoes first.

  • 4-6 slices of bacon or cooked ham cut into thin strips
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 8 fingerling potatoes, steamed and sliced to 1/4″
  • 4 tbsp heavy cream
  • 4 oz Fleur d’Aunis or other soft washed rind cheese, sliced rather thickly (or Reblochon if you are lucky enough to have some!)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 slices toasted rustic bread, cut in 1/2″ slices
  • A salad of radicchio or arugula or something rather bitter, lightly dressed
  1. Lay the bacon in a heavy non-stick frying pan in a single layer (can overlap each other by 1/3) and turn on the heat to medium.  Bacon will stay flat and cook more evenly if you start it in a cold pan. Cook until browned – I like mine rather crisp. Put the bacon aside on a plate.
  2. Pour off most of the bacon fat, leaving any crisped brown fond to flavor the potatoes.  Add the olive oil and the butter and heat.  Fry the potatoes until lightly browned.
  3. Add the cream allowing it to bubble and reduce for a minute or two. Stir in the bacon or ham toward the end. Taste and season with salt and pepper accordingly.
  4. Divide the potato mixture over the 4 slices of toast. Lay the slices of cheese over the top and run the whole thing under the broiler until bubbly.  Serve with the bitter salad.

We drank a Pinot from Oregon with the “Toastie” and I have to say this was a perfect dinner on a night when I didn’t feel like cooking.

Welsh Rabbit Redux

I’m going to have to call this dish “rabbit”, not “rarebit”. I was reading about Welsh Rabbit on Wikipedia and here is a quote about the use of the term “rarebit”:

In his 1926 edition of the Dictionary of Modern English Usage, the grammarian H. W. Fowler states a forthright view: “Welsh Rabbit is amusing and right. Welsh Rarebit is stupid and wrong.”

Fair enough is what I say. All I’m looking for is an easy dinner that is not the same old thing we always have. So, because I was asked to by a reader, I am exploring Welsh Rabbit. Last night I took a pass at it.

Since I am staying at my mom’s house, I decided to start with Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Cookery and Household Management – I wish I had my own copy; it’s instructive and hilarious. Incidentally, Mrs. Beeton refers to the dish as “rarebit”. Mrs. Beeton’s is a compendium of all household work, much cooking, but also decorating, home economics, etiquette and childrearing – all are covered. Her book has been the English person’s source for classic English dishes. Mrs. Beeton’s Welsh Rabbit recipe isn’t all that different from the sauce that I make to put on penne for macaroni and cheese, so I passed. I didn’t want to make the same-old-thing-but-on-toast. A big mistake – I should have stuck with the familiar here, as that is the whole point of this kind of dish. I turned to Joy, a book I would call the counterpart to Mrs. Beeton’s in the States. My mother has the 1975 edition, if you’re curious. Joy refers to the dish as “Welsh Rarebits”…(should I let them know that this is “stupid and wrong”?!)

There are two recipes included; one using beer, the other milk. I wanted something different so I decided on the one with beer. Also, I liked the sound of Worcestershire, paprika, curry powder and cayenne (I substituted Tabasco which is what my mom had in the house. I know the Tabasco was not the big problem with the dish)

I just want to give you an idea of how it works. I can’t give you a recipe in good conscience – you don’t really want to make something that even your significant other will think of as “kind of yucky”. On the other hand my mom said she liked it. However, this is how she put it: “If I don’t have to make dinner, it tastes 600% better.” I have to factor in that statement. Also my mom is predisposed to like British food because she grew up in England. She said the Rabbit tasted like pub food. I think this was supposed to be a big compliment, although since she was very young when she lived in Britain and also since it was just after WWII (AND she hates beer!) I am not sure how much real experience she has with pub food.

Anyway, what you do is melt a little butter in a double boiler over simmering water and add a cup of ale. When it is warm, whisk in a pound of grated sharp cheddar (aged less than two years – if it is aged longer than that you will have problems with the fat separating out of the Rabbit and pooling in unattractive puddles on the top.) When the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth, add a lightly beaten egg, whisk and add the seasoning. Honestly, I would give the measurements but I really don’t think you should try this. It was not good.

The sauce was quite runny. Like thin gravy. The color was French mustard yellow. I was concerned that it should have been a spoon-coating thick sauce, like a thick melted milkshake, so to thicken it up I had Martin make me a little roux which he cooked separately while I whisked and peered anxiously into the pot. The roux made for a markedly thicker sauce, but I shouldn’t have bothered. The photo on Wikipedia shows a soupy cheese sauce on toast. My sauce was so unattractive, I poured it over the toast and ran it under the broiler. My mom said my grandmother used to broil her Welsh Rabbit. She did the milk and white sauce kind. Browning the top helped the visual appeal to a degree.

When we sat down to eat everyone except my mom looked skeptical and glum. It was a “what is this?!” kind of night. The kids dutifully took one bite and that was enough for them. The bread, mushy under the mantle of sauce, had a sad and mealy kind of texture. The sharpness and saltiness of the cheese was underscored by the Worcestershire and the mustard but not in a good way. The curry was just plain weird.

You may think I am crazy, but I still have hope for Welsh Rabbit. Next time I’ll try the kind with milk but probably not until the memory of this debacle has faded.

Pulled pork sandwiches – yes you can

If there is anything that would stop me from becoming a vegetarian (okay, there are many things) one of them would be the pulled pork sandwich. And carnitas. And those little grilled pork skewers you get with rice noodles and salad at a Vietnamese restaurant. The carnitas and the pork skewers always seem to taste better in the restaurant but I think you can easily approximate barbecued pulled pork at home. A real grill master would certainly beg to differ and it’s true: true barbecue is grilled over hardwood and the smoke imparts flavor. I (lamely, I gather) grill mine on my gas grill.  The great thing about making it yourself though, is how easy it is. Although the actual pulling of the pork initially may seem a little arduous, the work is actually minimal considering that when you are done you will be able to feed 15 people.  It really pays.

Pulled pork sandwiches feel celebratory to me – I think this is because they are so extremely delicious. This year, for Martin’s birthday picnic on the ski slopes, I made pulled pork sandwiches with west North Carolina Barbecue sauce which as the author informs us, is the red, ketchup-y kind as opposed to the vinegary spicy type which is from east North Carolina. I put it all together the day before and we warmed it up on the portable grill of a friend, tailgate style in the parking area.

Yes, yes – a real grill master gets up at 4 am to start the fires and get the pork on but you don’t have to do that. I got the 5 lb Boston butt out of the refrigerator at 12 pm, let it come up to temperature for half an hour on the counter, rubbed it with kosher salt and pepper and put it on the gas grill. Because it’s gas, I never have to worry about tending the fire or running out of fuel. I just let it alone for about 3 hours, and it’s done. Or at least the pork was cooked. The sauce took another 5 minutes of prep and 10 minutes of being left alone on the stove. The time consuming part, should you choose to do so, is hand-pulling the pork. Now, you could just slice it (so lame) and you could just chop it (not for me – it’s just not good enough).  That would indeed be very quick.

When I have to do something time consuming and repetitive (notice I didn’t say laborious) I get into the rhythm of it. Music helps. For instance, I put the Shins mix (or the Talking Heads or something Bollywood or Schubert – whatever) on Pandora and get to work. Anything repetitive in the kitchen and I put on some music and focus. Five pounds of meat takes me about about half an hour of pulling.

What they don’t tell you in the cookbooks, is how to pull pork. They just write: pull the pork into shreds. Which tells you nothing. It is easy to pull a chicken breast and there is nothing to avoid – little gristle, no fat. Pork shoulder is completely different. I kind of wonder if they don’t tell you because they don’t want to put people off. The truth is: Pulling pork is not for the squeamish. You should though – pull pork. If you are too squeamish about things you will miss out on some of the best stuff in life – like these pulled pork sandwiches.

There are motherlodes of pork fat running through the shoulder of a pig (a.k.a. Boston butt) and you have to pull around them.  They are slick and gelatinous. I find that a 6″ chef’s knife can scrape away the worst of it. Your knife and your hands will be slick with grease. Definitely wear an apron. If you slice or chop the meat – these gelatinous and unappetizing pieces end up in your sandwich and you don’t get the textural pleasure that is unique to pulled pork. Although I bet that the real grill master is not as fastidious as I am about getting most of the fat out. Actually, it is very satisfying to pull the pork yourself once you get over the “ick factor”. Just crank up the music and go. If you’re going to eat meat – you’re going to have to get used to fat and tendons and other parts of an animal’s body – that’s all there is to it.

We served the pork on toasted Kaiser rolls and I made black bottom cupcakes. The picky kids got hotdogs. Our friends brought the beer and hot chocolate. We warmed the pork in a cast iron skillet on the grill with a big squeeze bottle of sauce on the side.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches with West Carolina Barbecue Sauce – Weber’s Big Book of Grilling 2001

Serves 15

This book was such a surprise to me, recommended by a friend.  Normally I would never try a book by a manufacturer.  I guess I thought it would read like a technician’s manual. Weber’s Big Book of Grilling is a very different thing than the books that come with the KitchenAid mixer or the Cuisinart.  They have nothing to recommend them; they barely scratch the surface of what the machines are capable of, and are never, ever inspiring. This book is different. I bet I have tried and loved more recipes from this book than any other on my shelves.

The Sauce

  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c minced yellow onion
  • 2 c ketchup
  • 2/3 c packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 c yellow mustard
  • 1/2 c cider vineger
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp Tabasco
  • 5 lb boneless pork shoulder, also known as Boston Butt rolled and tied (your butcher can do this, mine was already tied when I bought it)
  • 1-2 tbsp kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the grill on high heat. Take the pork out of the refrigerator 1/2 an hour before you want to grill. Rub the pork all over with kosher salt and black pepper. Set the grill to indirect medium. On my grill this means you leave the two outer burners on, set to medium and turn off the one in the middle – for indirect heat.  Place the roast fat side up, on the grill. I have a digital thermometer to insert into the meat that beeps when the temperature of the roast gets to 185 F. A five pound roast takes 3 hours more or less. If you have a regular meat thermometer, use that and check every 20 minutes or so after 2 hours.

While the roast is on the grill, make the sauce. In a medium sized saucepan over medium high heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, occasionally stirring, until translucent. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

When the pork is done, let it stand at room temperature covered in foil for at least 20 minutes. The outside will be burnished red and crisp and incredibly tasty – salty like a potato chip and crunchy and chewy all at once.  You will need a large bowl for the pork, a bowl or plate for the scraps and a cutting board. The hard part – at least the first time – was the distinction between the meat and the fat. It’s not immediately clear.

Since I have never had the pleasure of eating at a true barbecue joint, I have no idea if what I decided to do was authentic. What I do know is that it was completely delicious. You have to use your fingers and know that your hands will become incredibly greasy. I pulled large pieces of meat off the roast.  They were edged with the slick fat that coated my knife and my fingers. That clear fat I pulled off as best I could. Then I took my knife and scraped off any really fatty looking parts clinging to the meat. What I realized after I’d pulled the pork for awhile is that the reddish crisp outer layer of the roast must also be pulled, the fat clinging to the back must be scraped away. If you throw away the crisp part, you get rid of the most wonderful part of this sandwich. It is just the right kind of chewy, with small succulent pieces of pork clinging to the back. Just pull it apart, scrape off the fat and add it to the bowl.

When you have pulled apart the entire roast, toss the meat with a couple of ladles of the warm sauce, just to moisten. Serve the remaining sauce on the side with toasted Kaiser rolls, spread with butter if you like. I like my sandwich pretty saucy and the recipe allows for that.