Friday, October 24, 2014

Homemade Branston® pickle with English cheddar cheese sandwich.

Homemade ploughman's pickle with English cheddar. ©Ryan Schierling
I cannot claim to have invented this sandwich, nor would I. It is a simple cheese sandwich with a legendary dark-brown English chutney-style spread that is bracingly tangy, crunchy, sweet, and a twee bit savory at the same time. If you’re across the pond, it is a sin to eat a cheese sandwich without Branston® pickle.

I am not an Anglophile and I'm not across the pond, but I have been eating pickle and cheese sandwiches for a while now. I came by a jar of Branston® at a shop in Seattle in the late 90s, picked it up out of curiosity – one for me and one as a gift – and have been preaching the gospel of ploughman’s lunch ever since. 

But I never, ever, ever thought to try and make pickle. It’s like making ketchup, or catsup, or whatever. It’s like making butter. It’s like making mayonnaise or mustard. So few hand-make the staples anymore, they just buy them at the grocer. This tart, sweet, "what-the-hell-should-I-do-with-this-mess?" condiment is not for everyone, but the Branston® traditional recipe has been the same for more than 90 years, and pickle fans are legion in the UK. It may be an acquired taste, though I also believe it's a very geographically-defined and refined taste. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tuna sandwich with white beans and radish.

Tuna with white beans, radish and capers. © Ryan Schierling
There are days when I crave the tuna salad sandwich from my childhood – tinned, chunk light tuna mixed with mayonnaise and sweet relish, on thin slices of whole wheat bread. It's a simple sandwich to make, and it always tastes exactly the way I remember it. 

Julie has zero frame of reference for tuna salad, because she never had it as a kid, not even once. The first tuna sandwich she was willing to try was my tuna melt with Mexican mint marigold, and this was just in the last few years. There was no cajoling, no "just try it, just one bite, c''s just tuna, it's not like it's octopus salad..."  She tried it, liked it, and that opened the door just enough for me to wedge in a can of premium yellowfin tuna packed in olive oil. 

Now there are two tonno sandwiches we make regularly at home. This second sandwich is a flavorful, protein-packed tuna salad with cannellini beans, radishes, shallots, capers, parsley and lemon zest. No heavy mayo or sticky-sweet relish, just a refreshing, clean and crunchy tuna salad served on toasted ciabatta rolls. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tuna melt with Mexican mint marigold.

Tuna melt with Mexican mint marigold (or tarragon, if you please). © Ryan Schierling
Tuna, tuna, tuna, tuna... melty cheese, please.

Tuna salad sandwiches. While ubiquitous culturally, they were never a staple in the meat-free household of my childhood. The closest thing to a tuna sandwich in my experience was probably the Nuteena sandwich – but we never had a melty version of that.

Quite frankly, I never found the smell of tuna sandwiches to be appealing. But, then, it could be that my first real contact with the stuff was working in a less-than-fancy food service environment. While I do enjoy trying new things, I have never been one to bother stretching myself for something that doesn't hold the appearance or promise of present or future enjoyment.

By the time Ryan introduced me to the tuna melt, I already had some decent tuna experience under my belt – just nothing of the cheap, tinned variety. I could appreciate the creamy texture of tuna sashimi, and I enjoyed seared tuna as an entree, but chunk light tuna in water was another thing entirely and I was a bit skeptical.

Now, I probably suggest this comforting sandwich more often than he does.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Chopped Salad Sandwich

Chopped salad sandwich, with and without meat. © Ryan Schierling
Oh yes, I’ve heard the jokes… you know the ones, where a sandwich without meat “is just a salad sandwich.” 

Just…? Oh, no.

Admittedly, I’m rather partial to a Cheddar cheese sandwich with picnic mustard and a tall stack of lettuce, so mostly I’ve just rolled my eyes at the whole salad sandwich notion. While Ryan isn’t particularly meat-centric about his sandwiches, he doesn’t generally opt to put lettuce in them either. A cheese sandwich, for him, is historically just that – good ol' American cheese and mayonnaise between two slices of bread. 

Based on our cheese sandwich profiles, we are apparently unfit to helm a food blog of any import. Too lowbrow? So be it, get over it.

On a whim one day when making us lunch, I decided to give the lettuce a little more purpose. We didn’t have a whole lot on hand to work with, except some provolone and a hearty rustic bread. There was middle ground that needed to be found – something beyond bread and cheese, or bread and cheese and lettuce.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Sauerkraut and caramelized onion sandwich.

The Wilhelm. © Ryan Schierling
I love a great Reuben. It is one of my favorite sandwiches ever, and I will eat a Reuben anywhere, anytime. The sad thing is, I'm usually disappointed by thin and flaccid, flabby and fatty, tasteless corned beef brisket that's been boiled to the point of inedibility. In my opinion, if there's no respect for the meat, you might as well do away with it altogether. 

This... this is a sauerkraut and caramelized onion sandwich. Think about that for a second. It's cabbage and onions. There’s no corned beef, pastrami or turkey, or kielbasa, or any veggie substitutes like tempeh or seitan, because they're not necessary here. 

The boldest flavors of a Reuben are the sauerkraut, the Russian dressing or mustard, the rye and, if you’re going for a non-Kosher version, the Swiss cheese. Unless you’re eating a $20 Katz’s Delicatessen-style meat-pile, the rindfleisch is usually an additional sub-par, thinly-sliced, sad lunchmeat texture at best, and what little flavor it does have gets lost in the fistfight of aggressive tastes the traditional toppings hold. 

This isn’t a Reuben. It's not a West Coast Reuben, or a Montreal Reuben, and it's definitely not a Rachel

So, really, what is this meatless punch-in-the-mouth we made? I hereby declare this sandwich The Wilhelm. It’s not the prettiest handful you’ll ever make. If fact, it's downright ugly, but it hits all the right notes for fall – toasty warm and rich, savory, tangy, with hints of sweet and spicy. 

The caramelized onions take a while but are easy enough (see Chips, Dips and Dorks) and if you'd like to try your hand at making sauerkraut, the simple recipe is below. Löwensenf Extra Hot mustard, a staple in our "mustard locker," is great with this sandwich. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The secrets we keep – chilaquiles at El Torito.

Chilaquiles at El Torito. © Ryan Schierling
When we first visited Anna Salinas' El Torito seven months ago, there was no information across the wood shake above the front windows, only a blank open signage slot with exposed fluorescent tubes, waiting to illuminate something, anything.

There was no banner with the tiny restaurant's name, or specials, or letting the public know that the flour and corn tortillas were hand-made. There were only large, hand-written signs in the windows that read "TACOS," "GORDITAS" and "MENUDO."

There is a larger taqueria in this same strip mall, just down the way, and an even bigger Mexican restaurant/cantina across the street where the parking lot always seems to be full. Truth be told, we're not ones for sizzling fajita specials, frozen margaritas and roving mariachi bands, and we've never been the least bit curious about either of those joints. After our first breakfast at El Torito, we were absolutely, unequivocally hooked.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Seriously, we can only eat so much fried okra.

Roasted okra and tomatoes with chili garlic vinaigrette. © Ryan Schierling
My first experience with okra was decidedly unpleasant – an unfortunate "high-brow" circumstance wherein a vegetable galette included its overly-mucilaginous presence.

Then we moved to Texas. If you know anyone with a big garden in these parts, you're certain to find okra offered to you by the cubic bushel in late summer. Okra thrives in the heat and seems to defy the sun-baked earth, and it's been showing up on our doorstep for the last few weeks.

So, how do you say "no" – in good conscience – to the pound of okra that arrives with every late summer CSA delivery? We joined for the local and seasonal offerings, and it just wouldn't be right to turn it away or not make good use of it. 

What exactly are you supposed to do with this stuff? Common wisdom points immediately in the direction of pickling, making gumbo, or battering and frying. But there's only so much pickled okra that's going to get eaten at our house this year, and if I'm going to make a mess of my cooktop with a pot of boiling fat... well, I can't honestly say that okra is the first thing I'd choose to fry up.

In a flash of merciful recollection, Ryan remembered seeing a recipe for roasted okra and cauliflower salad in a cookbook we got last year – Smoke and Pickles by Chef Edward Lee. It has been our salvation over the past few weeks of CSA deliveries. (You can also find it featured in this post by CBS The Talk, where he was a guest last Fall.)

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