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A Sandwich for a Rainy Day

Mike Mozart  Hellmann's Mayonnaise CC BY 2.0Everyone loves a good sandwich, right? Usually the idea of a scrumptious sandwich involves fresh cuts of deli meat with salty, sharp slices of cheese, mayo and mustard, and all the trimmings — red onion slices, fresh lettuce, tomato — okay, I’ll leave it at that, apparently I love a good sandwich. But sometimes, when the fridge is running bare or your just plain hungry and don’t have the patience to layer your two slices of bread with six or seven fresh ingredients, a quirkier, more processed version of sandwich eating beckons:

It’s called lathering one slice of bread with creamy peanut butter and the other slice with a generous smear of mayo, inserting a crisp leaf of, say, romaine lettuce in between, and digging in. I admit, it sounds mildly disgusting, much like most dishes that include mayo, such as the French custom of dipping French fries in mayo or coating cubes of chicken in mayo in chicken salad, or in coleslaw, shreds of carrot and cabbage. But there’s something about the combination of mayo’s eggy, oily tang and peanut butter’s salty, nutty bite that pairs surprisingly well, especially with a crisp piece of lettuce to freshen things up.

Mike Mozart  Skippy Peanut Butter CC BY 2.0I also love this sandwich because I associate it with my grandmother, “Gigi,” and her airy, open, sunlit kitchen where I grew up rifing my way through her pantry cabinets. My grandmother is a healthy eater, a disciplined lady, and a former athlete; she is not the person who comes to mind when you think processed, jarred foods like mayo and peanut butter. Nevertheless, she is the one who introduced me to this indulgent-bordering-on-disgusting combination, laughing off its disgusting vibes as she gets out the jar of mayo, adding, “Just every once in a while.” I don’t know if the sandwich is a vestige of the depression era in which she grew up, or, like casseroles overflowing with processed cheese, a culinary custom native to the Midwest, but regardless, I encourage you to try it. See if this sandwich out of a jar doesn’t knock your socks off, at least once.

Mayo and Peanut Butter Sandwich

Ingredients

Mayonnaise
Peanut Butter
2 slices of bread (any kind will do)
Leaf of crisp lettuce

Tools

Cutting board
Butter knife

  • Spread one slice of bread with a generous layer of mayo.
  • Spread the other with a generous layer of peanut butter.
  • Place a crisp, freshly washed and dried leaf of lettuce on top of the layer of peanut butter.
  • Place the other slice of bread on top and firmly press together. Voilà.

Potato/Pot-AH-to, Bread/Brioche

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At what point does the humble, wholesome, pleasant-tasting sweet potato reveal its inner potahto, from root vegetable to guilty pleasure?

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The obvious and correct answer is: when fried into chips. The word “fry” or “chips” may sound unhealthy, but so are desk jobs, cell phones, and breathing in certain cities, so I think we can fry up some sweet potatoes in vegetable oil, lightly salt them, and look the other way. As I enjoy the veggies of my labor, I’ll bask in food writer Michael Pollan’s assertion that  homemade chips are inevitably better for you than the store bought variety.

Sweet Potato Chips

Adapted from the potato chips recipe, Barefoot in Paris

Supplies/Ingredients
You need a heavy bottomed pot, paper towels, a big plate, a slotted spoon (or better yet, one of those wire “spiders”), either a mandolin or sharp chef’s knife + excellent knife skills, a vegetable peeler, about 3 medium sweet potatoes, your choice of oil, sea salt or kosher salt, & any herbs you want to add.

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Prep the potatoes. Set the mandolin on the thinnest blade (1/16”) and slice. Soak the slices in ice water for a few minutes. Drain the water, refill with new ice water, pat the slices dry, and soak the slices in ice water a second time. (This removes the starch, getting them nice and crispy.)

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Fill the pot with 2-3 inches of oil. Heat on medium high heat. I used vegetable oil as opposed to peanut or canola oil and it worked fine. You can tell when the oil is hot enough if the oil sizzles when you drop a potato slice in. Reduce the heat to medium, drop a batch of slices in, and then bring the heat back up to medium high. I set the timer for 3 minute increments but it took over 5 minutes per batch. Just keep your eye on it and don’t drift too far from the stove. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with sea salt and any desired herbs. (Would be great dipped in guacamole or tsaziki.)

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Bread vs Brioche?

‘Tis a slippery slope, an existential dilemma, one that Marie Antoinette reportedly provoked when she said “qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” which actually means, “let them eat bread that is characterized by inordinate quantities of butter, honey, and eggs.” Bread? Cake? Eh. You say potato, I say potAHto.

Isn’t “quick bread”  a coy term for cake, just as brioche is dessert in a loaf pan? I recently had a craving for banana bread, only to stumble across a doppelganger recipe in the form of “Banana Caramel Cake” from The Martha Stewart Baking Handbook. Ah, hah! I am onto these silly semantics — bread, cake, same dif.

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Semantics aside, I savor the idea that turning  bread into cake is the difference between a few more eggs and some extra butter + sugar. There’s a reason to celebrate.

Banana Bread? Cake?

Adapted from Banana Caramel Cake, The Martha Stewart Baking Handbook

12 T. unsalted butter, room temp, plus more for pan
1 2/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 1/2 very ripe bananas, mashed
3 T. sour cream or creme fraiche
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 c. + 1/3 c. sugar
2 eggs, room temp
1 c. chocolate chips (optional)

Set Up: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a round cake pan and line bottom with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper. Alternatively, divide batter into loaf pans.

Dry Ingredients + Bananas: Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, mash the bananas and stir in sour cream + vanilla.

Mix Together: Beat butter and sugar in an electric mixer, several minutes, until light and fluffy. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add 2 eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add flour mixture in parts, with mixer on low speed, beating until just combined after each addition. Fold in the banana mixture using a spatula. Fold in chocolate chips, if using.

Pour the batter evenly into the pan, bake about 30-35 minutes until golden brown and cake tester/toothpick/fork comes out clean. Cool the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Flip over on wire rack and peel off parchment paper. Re-invert and let cool completely.

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[Photos: IITA’s Image Library Phostream, prep photo from Marie the Bee’s photostream, Katy Stoddard’s photostream, Steven Depolo’s photostream]

Bread Puddin’ and Vicodin

IMG_1240There’s nothing like bread pudding as an antidote to prescription narcotics. Does that sound unhinged? Allow me to elaborate:

Random fact #1: I just recently lost my last baby tooth. My predicament was the result of an impacted, twisted permanent tooth that wouldn’t give the baby the boot. I have long been dreading the day when oral surgery would be required, until just before Xmas, I developed an infection. I promptly went on antibiotics, buying myself important time to savor holiday treats. After celebrating a delightfully mellow New Year’s Eve, I bit the bullet, or the mouth rest, so to speak, resigning myself to laughing gas and deep, yoga-cultivated ujjayi breathing, to set those suckers free!

Random fact #2: I am a sucker for bread pudding. The down-home-ness of dredging bread in custard implies a certain level of decadence and deliciousness that more rarefied desserts can’t compete with. I read dessert and brunch menus more avidly than I order from them, and I am always drawn to the variations on bread pudding that are advertised — from elegant almond flavored croissant bread puddings to savory stratas with sun dried tomatoes and spinach greens. Bread pudding, along with rice pudding, has been on my shortlist of frugal, versatile comfort food meals to experiment with and file away.

Random fact #3: My grandparents don’t know what to do with panettone. Every Xmas, they receive a red tin from Italy, sent by their producer friend. I have truly stylin’ grandparents, but this Italian sweetbread baffles them. So with a lingering holiday sweet tooth, a reluctance to plunge back into work, and a mandatory soft food diet, I now had my hands on the bread…

I adapted Smitten Kitchen’s “raisin-studded apple bread pudding” — sans the apples and raisins  — using panettone with candied chestnuts:

Instead of whole milk, I used 2 cups heavy cream and 2 cups rice milk and everything worked out fine. Per Deb’s instructions, I opted to go with 4 cups milk and 4 eggs for a bread pudding “truly submerged and then suspended in…custard, rather than just lightly soaked in it…” I was happy with this decision — the bread cubes were still nicely bruléed on top and not overly saturated.

It was the perfect storm for a foray into bread pudding: a toothache, unwanted sweetbread, no groceries and some leftover pantry ingredients. But lest we forget the final ingredient: vicodin. From that experiment, I learned the following:

  1. Bread pudding can be vigorously sucked down one’s throat using one’s tongue and bottom right side of teeth only.
  2. Bread pudding can augment the gentle high of prescription painkillers, distributing the warm buzz of vicodin in the form of molasses-soaked sweet bread, while simultaneously offsetting nausea.
  3. Bread pudding helps a lady convalesce, continues the holiday feast, clears out the pantry, and keeps it classy.
  4. Bread pudding, I may have stitches in my gum and a slightly discernible lisp — but I sing your praises!
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