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A sandwich showdown with Columbus Salame

All three sandwichers

Last month, Columbus Salame reached out to me with a proposition: They were rolling out a new product line, Farm to Fork Naturals, and wanted me to emcee a fun little event with bloggers competing, Top Chef-style, to turn out their most creative sandwiches with the new deli meats. I, of course, said yes. I mean, how fun is that?

I've been chummy with Columbus for a little while now. Under the auspices of my other site, Punk Domestics, I hosted a Twitter chat for them a while back, and then went to visit the production facility in South San Francisco to see how their cured meats are made. I've become a fan of their Artisan line, which uses sustainable, antibiotic-free meat, and cures the meat in natural casings using very much the traditional methods that I got to experience in Italy in January. For Farm to Fork Naturals, they are applying this sustainable sensibility to their pre-cut deli meats, which is really their bread and butter. Er, lard. 

The competition was thus: Bloggers would have a pantry of ingredients, including of course various forms of salame. Then, we would dispatch them across the street to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, where they would have 10 minutes and $10 to acquire one or more secret ingredients to set their sandwich apart from the pack. Upon their return, they would have 20 minutes to assemble their sandwiches, which would be judged by a panel of food media experts based on creativity, use of the ingredient, presentation and, most importantly, flavor. The stakes were high: The winner would get bragging rights, a big basket of Columbus product … and $500. 

To kick the event off, though, Columbus wanted me to develop four appetizer recipes so that we would have some nibbles for the bloggers and judges; these were expertly executed at the event by Rebecca Jean Catering. (They even interviewed me on their blog. Neat, no?) Because I wanted to inspire creativity in the sandwich makers, I tried to showcase the salame in as many different ways as possible: Cold and hot, soft and crispy, savory and sweet, traditional and not so much. 

Our suckers, er, blogger competitors were Lynda Balslev of TasteFood, Chef John of Foodwishes and Michael Procopio of Food for the Thoughtless.

Lynda, Chef John, Michael

Handsome bunch, aren't they? Turns out they're a creative lot, too, each taking radically different directions in their sandwichery. Lynda drew inspiration from the fennel salame, nabbing some fennel pollen to lay down on her salame, fig and fennel pollen sandwich, which also used shavings of fresh fennel for even more fenneliciousness. She's posted her recipe here

Michael's eye was drawn immediately to a packet of marrow butter, which he used in combination with the fat he rendered when making some crispy salame slices to make a umami-tastic grilled salame and turkey sandwich. Here's his recipe

Chef John came back with two secret ingredients, pine nuts and pluots, which he combined with diced soppressata to make a sweet-savory relish to punch up turkey and teleme. Read his recipe here

Twenty minutes later, they served their sandwiches to our panel of esteemed judges: Susannah Chen of YumSugar, Jonathan Kauffman of Tasting Table SF, John Birdsall of CHOW, Anna Roth of SF Weekly and Valeria, the senior marketing manager at Columbus. 

Panel of judges

Who won? Well, I'm going to make you read their posts to find out. But suffice to say that a good time was had by all, and the winner graciously gave their monetary proceeds directly to the San Francisco Food Bank. And boy, could they use it.  

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Not that San Francisco's seasons aren't already kooky by most standards, but the past couple of years have been extraordinary. After surviving a period spanning most of 2010 and 2011, in which winter never seemed to leave us, this past…

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Mini Hot Browns

Happy Derby Day, y’all!

Like most non-veg*ans, I like bacon. A lot. Certainly at least as much as the next guy. But like some others, I am a bit over the baconization of the foodie Internets. Bacon is strong mojo. Like a psychedelic drug, it should be used with great care and respect. You can’t just use bacon for bacon’s sake. Mark my words, the day the Bacon Explosion exploded all over the web was the day bacon jumped the shark.

But bacon still has and will forever have its time and place. It is, after all, one of the high holy trinity that is B, L and T. It is also a seminal ingredient in the most quintessential Kentuckian sandwich, the Hot Brown.

This open-faced sandwich, created by chef Fred Schmidt at Louisville’s Brown Hotel in 1928, is not diet food. By modern standards, the Hot Brown’s combination of bread, turkey, cheese sauce and bacon is a total hot mess. But hey, all things in moderation, right? If you miniaturize them down to passed hors d’oeuvre size, each wee morsel is just a palpitation compared to the full-on heart stopper of a whole one.

And yes, they do taste just a little better when you’re wearing your big ol’ floppy Holly Golightly hat and a sundress, washed down with a mint julep. But doesn’t everything?

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While not everything in the cookbook is unapproachable to the average home chef (in fact, most dishes are merely layerings of common techniques to new effects), until I invest in the anti-griddle or bone up on my frothing skills, I will not cook my way through the book. But I'm glad at least one person has the cojones to try it. Still, it's nice to draw inspiration from.

Generally, the names of Alinea's dishes are outlines of components, such as the famous,
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To our minds, an amuse bouche has a specific function. It should always be one bite, and it should set the tone for the meal ahead. It should appetize through the eyes as well as the palate. It should be the one thing in the meal you want more of, but cannot have; it should leave you hungry, for there is so much more ahead.

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Coppa-wrapped persimmon

Coppa-wrapped persimmons
Prosciutto and melon is one of the greatest hits in Italian appetizers, and with good reason. In two simple ingredients you get a masterful array of sensual contrasts: Earthy and fruity, salty and sweet, tough and tender. We've gone on to wrap plenty of other fruits in prosciutto; figs are a winning choice, for example. But when we wrapped crisp fuyu persimmons in prosciutto, the combination was less than stellar. The meat overpowered the delicately cinnamony sweetness of the fruit. I just love the sweet coppa at Lucca, so I thought I'd give that a whirl. What an improvement! The coppa has a fine crust of spices around the edges that played very nicely with the persimmons.

In his zeal preparing the salad for the party, DPaul diced up all the persimmons I had set out, intending a few of them to be cut into wedges for the appie. He recovered it by intertwining the coppa with dice of persimmons on a skewer. It's not just a clever save; it worked out to be an improvement on presentation and eatability. Then again, I'll eat almost anything at the end of a pick.

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The chicken or the egg?

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Culinarily, it’s less cut and dried, though the egg still tends to have the upper hand. One eats eggs for breakfast, chicken rarely before brunch. And when it comes to Southern food, the egg definitely comes first.

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