Pressed Sandwiches are the best sandwiches…

Perfect picnic food

Perfect picnic food

Sandwiches are perfect.

They are portable, they include bread, the filling can be anything you want, they are usually pretty easy to put together, and in this case, they are made ahead of time, so they are great for adventures or weeknight dinners or bag lunches or picnics. And they are really great for summer.

Sandwiches are perfect. These sandwiches are even perfecter.

I have made these a couple different times, most recently for a fundraising meeting at my house on a Tuesday night. I work later than most of the rest of the ladies, and needed something that I could do ahead of time so I wouldn’t spend the whole meeting cooking instead of, you know, meeting. Plus it was hot as blazes that week, and we needed to be able to stay in the living room with the AC.

These can be done with mostly meat or mostly vegetables. They could be completely vegetarian and would be delicious, and I suppose they could be all meat and cheese, though I think they might be a bit one note done that way. I recently did them with various cured meats, some pesto, some provolone and roasted peppers, and they were great. This version included grilled eggplant and squash, pesto, roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella, and sweet capicola on a really good ciabatta that I can get at a bakery in my neighborhood. Next time I might try tapenade or olive spread of some sort. Maybe another meat or cheese or both. You can really do anything your heart desires, but don’t leave out the pesto, because that might be the best part. All the work is done the day or night before, and then the sandwiches get wrapped up and pressed under bricks in the fridge. All you have to do the day you eat them is slice them up.

Plan a picnic, or a boat ride, or a night a roof deck or even a meeting. Invite your friends. Make these sandwiches. Bask in their thanks and awe. Pack them leftovers if you have them. Bask in their thanks once more. And do it in August. It’s national sandwich month!

What I am thinking about when I am not thinking about food:

1. ALL THE BOOKS. I just finished Canada by Richard Ford. It was beautifully written. I have about eleventy hundred still on my list. The problem is they keep publishing more. Someday I am going to find a job that involves copious reading, cooking food, and writing about stuff. And then I will be happy.

2. I, like the rest of humanity, can’t stop listening to Blurred Lines. This is my new favorite version.

3.  I just spent a week with 50 of the loveliest humans I know. They are fun, funny, smart, musical, kind and generous, and I am lucky that they are also my family. We have good times.

Pressed Sandwiches (makes 8 big sandwiches)

One large loaf ciabatta (two smaller would work just fine too. The ones I get are 16 or 18 inches long and about 8 inches wide. You may not be able to find them that big. Two smaller ones would work just fine!)

three large red peppers

two medium summer squash, sliced lengthwise in 1/4 inch slices

two medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise in 1/4 inch slices

one large globe eggplant, sliced lengthwise in 1/4 inch slices

1 cup of your favorite pesto

12 oz fresh mozzarella sliced in 1/4 inch slices

1/2 lb thinly sliced sweet capicola or prosciutto

olive oil for grilling

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Roast the peppers in a 400 degree oven for about an hour, turning every 15 minutes or so, until the skins are charred and the peppers are soft. Remove the peppers to a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap to steam. Set aside for 20 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, salt the eggplant slices and let sit on paper towels for 20 minutes or so to remove the bitter liquid. At the same time, heat a grill pan over medium high heat (or an actual grill is even better!) and rub lightly with olive oil. Grill the squash, zucchini, and eggplant when they are finished salting, in batches until cooked through and soft. Set aside.

Remove the roasted peppers from the bowl and peel, stem and seed them. Slice them into wide slices and set aside.

Slice the bread in half lengthwise, and spread the pesto on the bottom half. Layer the cheese over the pesto, followed by a layer of meat. Follow that with the grilled vegetables, then the peppers, then another layer of meat. Put the second piece of bread on top and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Find a spot in the fridge and use bricks, cans or cast iron pans to press the sandwich down overnight.

Slice the day you plan to eat it and enjoy!

layers of goodness

layers of goodness

In which I have to eat bon bons and drink champers…

Sunday

It is my birthday…I’m 32.

Instead of thinking too much about that, I am going to leave you with that photo. It makes me happy. It doesn’t look like much, but it is the flotsam and jetsam left over from a Sunday brunch with my (ever growing, yay!) family. This is what Sunday is to me. It is what every day would be for me if it could. The Sunday Times and all the other remnants of a morning well spent around the table…bliss.

The cooking over the last couple of weeks has been haphazard at best, I’m working on that…I’ll be back soon!

Nectar of the Gods: The perfect Vodka Gimlet…

People. Today I caught a glimpse of the End of Days. It looked an awful lot like DENIM STIRRUP PANTS BEING SOLD AT THE GAP.

What could I do but make myself a gimlet and wonder at the mysterious ways of the world? It’s certainly not what I imagined the apocalypse would look like, but apocalypse it must be.

So the hatches my friends? They are battened down. Join me, won’t you? If we’re lucky I’ll see you on the flip side.

The most perfect Vodka Gimlet (serves 1)

1.5 oz fresh squeezed lime juice (2 limes)

1.5 oz simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar, heated until sugar dissolves, and cooled)

3 oz vodka

Mix lime juice, simple syrup and vodka in a cocktail shaker (add ice if you will be serving your gimlet up.) Shake vigorously. Serve over ice. (Or up in a chilled glass.)

sweet nectar of the gods.

In which I have that first day feeling…

What did you do on your summer vacation?

To paraphrase Billy Madison “Back to work, back to work, to show my dad that I’m not a jerk…*” Retirement was F-U-N, but it’s time to get back to life. And a paycheck. I ironed my outfit, and set my alarm for 5:30 (5:30? Yeah, you heard me) and made my lunch, and cleaned most of my apartment, and I was as ready as I was ever gonna be. But I am not going to lie. I think this going back to work thing is taking a toll on me. My feet are a mess, totally not used to real shoes. They like flip flops, and in re: the four-inch heels I picked out for today that perfectly match my necklace and my toe nail polish? Pissed. Additionally, I had a dream last night that I got a $36.56 ticket for skinny dipping. Did you know they give out tickets in the amount of $36.56 for that? I was in a pond with a large group that included Zachary Levi, the actor that stars in Chuck, who also received a $36.56 ticket for skinny dipping. The others received no such ticket, as they were clothed appropriately for public swimming. Lastly, some crazy lady in striped socks and a Hawaiian shirt was staring maniacally at me this morning as we were all walking to work. Lady, it is 8 am, keep your eyes to yourself. Also, you are about to walk into something.

*Don’t be alarmed. My dad would never think I was a jerk. He is incapable of doing so, even when I am a jerk. Rent Billy Madison, then you’ll understand.

Going back to work is  not for the faint of heart. But luckily, I have this to help me through the day.

oh man oh man oh man oh man oh man...

That was my first day of work lunch. It is also my second day of work lunch. It is ratatouille, and it is a delight.

Ratatouille is perfect for this time of year because it is a stew of sorts with eggplant, summer squash, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onions and herbs, and even thought it is cooked, you want to use the best and the freshest. You can roast everything, or saute everything, and the big debate is whether all the ingredients should be cooked together, or cooked separately and combined. I had a recipe all picked out, I was going to saute, and then I was reading Salon.com and an article by Francis Lam just happened to pop out at me. He has a recipe for ratatouille that he calls “weapons-grade” and it looked intriguing. I couldn’t resist, and I am so glad I didn’t, because this is the most delicious thing I have made in a long time. I am planning on stopping at the farmers’ market again tomorrow to pick up more vegetables because it is that good and I want to make gallons of it so I can stuff it into my freezer that is already so full it throws stuff at me every time I open the door. Anybody want some frozen cupcakes?

This ratatouille is a commitment. It took some time, but I did not have to be singularly devoted to it. I was able to do other things while I was making it, like cleaning, filing, watching a classic General Hospital marathon (Brenda’s back!) and planning my outfits for the week, but I would say total cook time for this is close to 3 hours. WORTH IT. It is really delicious. And even thought it has a fair amount of oil in it, it feels really healthy, which is good for the new me. The one that is going to celebrate the new job with a new workout routine. The adipose cells that have found me are getting a little too comfortable…

With ricotta and toast...lunch perfection.

Ratatouille (makes a lot – for my first attempt I halved this recipe.)

adapted from Salon.com

1 head garlic, minced

3 shallots, minced

1 large onion (about 12 ounces), minced

3/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

2 large red peppers, stemmed, seeded, roughly chopped and puréed in the food processor

4 pounds of very good tomatoes, cored and puréed in the food processor

2½ pounds of summer squash and zucchini, ½-inch dice

1½ pounds of eggplant, diced into ½-inch cubes

Thyme and basil to taste

Start by cooking the garlic, shallot and onion in ½ cup of the olive oil over medium-low to low heat in a heavy pot so that they soften and give up their liquid. Stir and try not to let them brown. (This takes awhile.) Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Once they became pale golden and look sticky, add the puréed red pepper and stir to combine. Season lightly with salt and pepper. The pepper should have a ton of water, so let it cook down, stirring every few minutes to make sure nothing gets too caramelized and burned, you’ll have a rich, rusty jam.

Add the puréed tomatoes. Bring it to a boil, and turn it way down to cook off all its liquid. Season lightly with salt and pepper. This already tastes awesome, but you are going to continue cooking for a long time. Around this time, heat your oven to 450. Continue to stir the tomatoes occasionally, just so they don’t burn at the bottom.

Meanwhile, toss the zucchini with salt, pepper and half of the rest of the olive oil. Spread in one layer on a baking sheet (roast in batches if you have to.) Roast until the sizzling starts to slow down and the squash is browning underneath. Take it out and let it cool a bit before putting it in a big bowl. Then do the same with the eggplant, putting it in the same bowl.

When the tomato mixture has cooked down a ton, looks really thick and drier and  tastes even more delightful (you’ll know it’s ready when it gives the oil back up, and sounds squishy when you stir it) chop up some thyme and basil, as much as you like, and stir the herbs into the tomato base. Carefully combine the tomato with the rest of the vegetables so that you don’t mash up your zucchini and eggplant. Serve. It’s even better the next day. Can also be frozen.

In which we reach a milestone…

Today is B&G’s first blogiversary….it was supposed to be a free week, but I couldn’t celebrate a milestone year with stuff from the pantry, so instead, I visited the fish ladies, and bought this…

local striper.

And then I proceeded to burn the skin side and smoke myself out of the kitchen. But that’s quite alright, because I just removed the skin, and added a delightful corn, mushroom leek and bacon cream sauce, and poured myself a glass of Gruner and toasted my little blog. Dinner was tasty, but not perfect, which I guess is pretty standard around here, and ultimately, quite fitting. Next time. I should have made a cake. Or cupcakes at least. But as I mentioned in my last post, I am currently brainstorming for TWO wedding cakes I have coming up this fall, so there will be plenty of baking in the next couple of days. I promise to keep you posted. But until then, Happy Blogiversary to B&G. 80 posts and almost 6,000 hits add up to a year of maintaining my sanity. Thanks for reading!

A dinner worthy of a first blogiversary...

Food Basics – Chicken Stock…

Oh my friends, I am HOME, itching from sunburn and lamenting the 40 degree temperatures, but mostly thrilled to be here. I missed my kitchen and my friends, but now I very much miss my Florida home and family.

I am working on getting unpacked and back and schedule, and trying to catch up with all the people I have been missing so terribly, but of course, the first thing I did was put a pot of chicken broth on the stove to restock the larder. Here is the recipe to hold you over until the real exciting cooking begins anew…(while I was down there I learned that I like CURRY!!! No kidding, there is some experimenting to come.)

You will see I like to add ginger and lemongrass to my stock if I have them in the house, even if I am not just using the stock for asian food. I like the extra pop of clean flavor that they add, but they are totally optional. When I buy lemongrass I trim both ends, peel the papery layers off and freeze them, they keep in the freezer beautifully. You may also choose not to salt the stock, in case you end up using it later with salty ingredients like sausage or soy sauce or the like.

humble beginnings...

Chicken Stock (makes 4-5 quarts)

6 lbs chicken wings

2 medium onions, peeled and quartered

3 carrots, peeled and chopped in 4-5 pieces

3 stalks celery, peeled and chopped in 4-5 pieces

4 large cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled

1 knob of ginger, about 2″ by 2″ peeled (optional)

1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and papery layers removed, chopped in 4-5 pieces (optional)

small handful black peppercorns

pinch of kosher salt

4 bay leaves

In a large stock pot (I use a 12 qt. pot) cover the chicken wings with water and bring to a boil. Drain the chicken wings and set aside while you wash the pot. This initial boil will remove a lot of the gunk that you would end up straining off at the end. A quick step that helps a lot in the long run. Add the wings and all the remaining ingredients to the clean pot and cover with 6 quarts of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer for several hours-5 or 6 is my standard. You can’t really overdo it. Let it sit on the stove while you are doing whatever else you have to do that day. Remove the solids from the stock by pouring it into another large pot or bowl through a colander. Wash the original pot, place back on the stove and set a strainer lined with cheesecloth over the top. (If you don’t have cheesecloth a paper towel or a coffee filter will work.) Pour the stock back into the original pot through the strainer. At this point you have a lovely clear stock that is ready for freezing. I like to freeze mine in ziploc bags two cups at a time.

grand results...

In which I finally talk about pizza – Thin Crust Pizza Dough…

mushrooms, onions and black olives. heaven.

Hello earthlings.

Bread and Ginger is on the road. I am currently in the supposed-to-be-sunny-and-warm oasis that is the east coast of Florida, visiting family and hanging out with very cute children. It is not exactly the tropical environment that would set my heart aflutter, but I am wearing light pants, short sleeve shirts and the occasional pair of flip flops, so the improvement over the weather at home is vast. I’ll take it. I have been trying to get back into the habit of running, I have played some tennis and eaten some sushi. All good things, but I miss my kitchen BAD. I have not cooked a thing but a grilled cheese since I got here. I am feeling a little lost. That’s all about to change though. I will be making the short ribs from the football gathering by request. I will of course take a picture or two, and I will post about them again, and this time, I will include a recipe.

But in the meantime, since I owe you a new post, I am going to talk about pizza. I have mentioned various tarts and pizzas on here several times, so I thought now was the time to really share.

I love savory tarts and pizzas. They are everything from light, easy to eat appetizers to full, filling meals. I have made deep dish roasted vegetable tarts,

for a shower.

and onion-y custard-y tarts,

for a girls' night

which I will talk about at some point, no doubt, but today, I want to talk about flatbread like tarts. For instance…

for a dinner party.

The base for these delights is the Figs pizza dough recipe, courtesy of Mr. Todd English. It is a great crispy all-purpose dough. Recently I have used it for pizza (red sauce, mozzarella, mushrooms, onions and black olives, if you please) a Gorgonzola dolce, red onion, pear and capricola tart, and an asparagus, bacon and fontina cheese tart with sunny side eggs. Whatever the toppings, this gets baked on an pre-heated pizza stone in a 500 degree oven. The bottom gets crispy and brown and the toppings get delicious and all is well in the world.

Figs Pizza Dough (makes 4 9-10″ pizzas – each pizza serves one or two people)

Courtesy of The Figs Table by Todd English

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for rolling

2 tsp (1/4 ounce) fresh yeast

2 tsp kosher salt

2 tsp sugar

2 tsp olive oil

1 2/3 cups lukewarm water

Place the whole wheat flour, all purpose flour; yeast, salt, and sugar in a mixer fitted with a dough hook. While the mixer is running, gradually add the oil and water. Knead on low speed until the dough is firm and smooth, about 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into four balls, about 7 1/2 ounces each. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Place two balls on a sheet and cover with a damp towel. Let them rise in a warm spot until they have doubled in bulk, about 2 hours. (I have frozen both before and after the rise, either works.) About an hour into the rise time, put a pizza stone on the floor of the oven and pre heat the oven to 500 degrees. If you do not have a pizza stone, get one. They are cheap and you can often find them in the home section of TJ Maxx or Marshalls or Home Goods. If need be, you can turn a cast iron skillet upside down, and use that as your pizza stone. Results are similar.

To roll out the dough: Dab your fingers in flour and then place 1 ball on a generously floured work surface and press down in the center with the tips of your fingers, spreading the dough with your hand. When the dough has doubled in width, use a floured rolling pin and roll out until it is very thin, like flatbread. The outer border should be a little thicker than the inner circle. Pick the dough up with a spatula or the back of a knife, allowing it to fold up almost like an umbrella and transfer it to a paddle. Do not worry that the pizza is not round, you are looking for; an 8- to 10-inch shape, a cross between an oval and a rectangle.

Cover with your favorite toppings, traditional pizza or otherwise.

traditional

fontina cheese, shaved asparagus, crumbled bacon.

That one is a personal fave. To make it even better, add morel mushrooms, or if you don’t have those, add a couple of fried eggs after you pull it out of the oven.

More protein. Delicious.

Gorgonzola dolce, sautéed red onion, sliced asian pear.

I have also added sweet capricola to that combo to great effect. I was not able to capture it on film very well.

So there you go. Be creative. Enjoy, let me know how it goes. I will leave you with a tip. I LOVE LOVE LOVE fresh mozzarella, however, this is a really wet thin dough, and fresh mozz is just too watery for good results, you end up with a soggy mess. I have had much better results with regular whole milk grocery store mozzarella.

I will also leave you with a list of things I am missing terribly…

My current adobe does not have one of these. Also missing? SOY SAUCE. I know, its unfathomable.

my favorite thing. The current kitchen I have to work with is none too shabby, believe you me, but still I miss it.

requires no explanation...

Three Bostonians (missing: one new cousin-in-law)

my current breakfast of choice.

my security blanket.

And lastly…

pasta. Lent is a cruel time.

And now, I am off to Publix to stock up on the required ingredients (or as I like to think of them, pantry staples-I mean really…I need to get SOY SAUCE!) for the braised short ribs redux. I would normally feel silly making such decadent things in tropical climes. But it is 45 degrees down here today, so it is really quite fitting.

In which I think of other things…

I made pad thai courtesy of Pim the other night, but I have had a hard time finding the mojo to cook and write about food when this is happening. My heart breaks a little bit more every time I turn on the television, and I want nothing more in the world than to be there, dispensing potable water and hugs in equal measure. Haiti had nothing to begin with, and now they are surrounded by death and desperation everywhere they turn. I have to hope that there is a silver lining in this cloud of destruction, and that Haiti will rise phoenix-like from the rubble, and with this attention and help that they so desperately need and so rightly deserve, become a thriving, peaceful success story. To the people of Haiti: I grieve for you, I hope for you and I know that your spirit is stronger than your strife. You will rebound and rebuild and recapture the spirit and strength that has sustained you forever.

Lucky.

In which I make boy food that girls like too…

Pardon the interruption, but I need to own this: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/09/dining/09sous.html?_r=1&ref=dining. I just had to share. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming. 

I love football season. Except the Patriots are freakin killing me this year. Bums. Nothing better than a chilly Sunday afternoon with my peeps and some good football food. I used to have people over a lot on Sundays. And when I say people, I pretty much just mean my cousins, but they used to come over a lot. And then they got a new fancy tv, and my tv just doesn’t measure up, and also they moved, and the walk to my house is longer than 30 seconds, so it doesn’t happen as often anymore. But anyway, cozy Sunday afternoons with football and food are my fave. I am not sure what it is about football – maybe because the games are so long, and there are usually three on in a row. It just isn’t the same with baseball or basketball. 

My brother was up from NY for three weeks or so recently working with one of his buddies, so I got to see him more than usual, and one of those times was a Sunday. The Giants were on and he decided to come over and hang out all day, and that lured my littlest down from New Hampshire, and my cousin over from the far reaches of Charlestown. It was fantastic and just like old times. All we were missing was the almost littlest, and a few more cousins and my life would have been complete. 

I made guacamole, ribs and mac and cheese. I have already done mac and cheese around here, but this time I used ras el-hanout instead of mustard powder. It was delish. 

Macaroni and Cheese redux

 

The ribs are ones that I have made before on several occasions. I have made them for 4, and I have made them for 40… 

lunatics

 

They are always a success. They originally came from Fine Cooking (do you notice that comes up a lot? Get yourself a subscription, stat. I love this magazine, I have never had a bad recipe from them, and they are always easy enough to not be at all intimidating, but not at all dumbed down. They are always great for entertaining. Run and pick one up, I promise you’ll like it) but get modified slightly almost every time based on what I have in the house (or in this particular case, what I totally forgot to add because I am a space cadet.) 

It starts with St. Louis style pork ribs. They get a dry rub, some low, long cooking time and a sauce to drizzle at the end, and they are delicious and easy. St. Louis style ribs just involves creating a more uniform rack of pork spare ribs by removing the rib tips and skirt from the top of the ribs, and removing the tough membrane from the boney side of the rack. Ask your butcher to do it. Or look it up on the webs and try to do it yourself. Or if you are cooking for 40 hungry crazies and don’t want to take the time to trim 12 racks of ribs to the St. Louis style, don’t bother. It actually does not matter at all for these, as it turns out. 

This is the beginning: 

rubbed and ready

 

Uh, I just went looking for that photo and realized how many things I still have in the queue to tell you about. I am a slacker. 

This is an Asian flavored recipe. The rub has chili powder, brown sugar and chinese five spice powder, and the drizzle is mostly soy sauce. This particular Sunday I was out of a couple things and instead I used, surprise surprise, ras el-hanout with the five spice powder. Guess what?! It was delicious! That is some remarkable stuff. I also totally forgot to add brown sugar. Oops. Didn’t matter though. Still good. I am including a link for ras el-hanout, because if I am going to talk about it so much, I should probably hunt down where you might be able to find it, or else that’s just mean, since not everyone has little sisters that head off to exotic places and bring them spices. Which reminds me, I have been wanting to show you this…she flitted off to Budapest about a month ago and brought this back. 

saffron

 

Can you even stand it? Look at that little scoop! The best part is that I think this bag cost her like 50 cents, and it would have cost like 50 bucks in the States. Thanks Al! 

The ribs get rubbed with the dry rub, and then put in a 325 degree oven for 2 or 2.5 hours. Technically the recipe says a 300 degree oven, but perhaps I have mentioned that my oven burns 125 degrees too hot, so 325 is the lowest I go. This should be inconvenient enough that I get it fixed. It is truly a demonstration of my laziness that I have not, since it would take an explanation to my very dear, but not very english speaking Italian landlords, and I can’t quite imagine how that would go, and don’t often have the energy for such things. I just avoid recipes where I would have to dehydrate things (I am looking at you, Alinea) and I can’t really use my oven as a warmer. So far I have survived. 

After two and a half hours or so, the house smells fantastic and the ribs are very tender and they bend in half pretty easily when you try to lift the rack up with tongs. I took them out of the oven, sliced between the ribs, drizzled with the soy dipping sauce and sprinkled with scallions. Voila. 

meaty and delicious

 

These were pretty tasty, as I have come to expect from this recipe. The boys and the girls were happy. I finished off the afternoon with some brownies that I made from the recipe on the back of the Ghirardelli cocoa container. They were also pretty tasty. 

dessert

 

And with that, I am going to leave you with the recipe, and head off to plan my next post because I am rambling like a crazy person today. I need to work on my focus for next time.