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Which ‘wich is which?


One of the very great joys of being involved in the food content world is knowing other writers, especially bloggers, who ultimately go on to publish books, and then getting to see the fruits of their labors. It is a tremendous validation of the passion and efforts of all of we bloggers that publishers can see the value in our work, and commit to bringing that to fruition in the printed word. 

Most recently, I attended an event for Katy Strahs’ new oeuvre, The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook. Kathy has maintained the blog Panini Happy since 2008, committed to extolling the virtues of using the panini press as a multifunctional cooking tool, and to elevating the art of pressed sandwich making. She and I have some history, having been on panels together at BlogHer Food, and just generally running in like-minded circles in the blogosphere. 

The concept of panini press as kitchen powerhouse is not really a new one. I was blown away nearly a decade ago by a story on Kitchen Sisters about how George Foreman grills were creating opportunities for people of severely limited means to cook sensible, nutritious foods in places where they otherwise could not have even a hot plate. It was something they could stow away, like contraband, when they needed it out of site, yet could be called into action to cook complete meals for their families. 

This is why I adore Kathy’s blog, and her pursuant book. Sure, there are many ideas for sandwiches; it is, after all, the core competency of the panini press. But she goes beyond that to talk about grilling salmon, meats, fruits … basically anything you might cook on a full-on grill, but with a modicum of the muss and mess, right on the kitchen counter. 

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Crab rolls

After our habitual two consecutive Thanksgivings, we went into full turkey denial mode. Turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce may be de rigueur across the nation this weekend, but those of us on the left coast have something much more special…

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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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Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Least Vegetarian Sandwich Ever.

Yes, friends, lest there be any fear that I should slip back into my vegetarian ways (not that it wouldn’t be a good idea!), I opted to make the meatiest sandwich I could imagine to anchor our sun-dappled day at Bouchaine.

To be fair, I didn’t really make a true muffuletta. This mighty meaty ‘wich, native to New Orleans, is traditionally made with a large, round loaf of crusty bread, a variety of cured meats and cheeses (typically capicola, salami, mortadella, emmenthaler and provolone, according to Wikipedia) and — most importantly — olive salad. This salad of course has olives, but also carrots, cauliflower and celery; its dressing is meant to saturate the bread.

But here’s the thing: You can purchase this olive salad quite readily in the delis of New Orleans, but around these parts not so much. And as I was already in the throes of making a few other courses, I really wanted to cut a corner here. So I just combined tapenades of green and black olives with some rinsed and drained capers, and voilĂ .

Also, the muffs in New Orleans are jaw-breakingly tall, sometimes reaching several inches in height toward the center. In the interest of daintiness and easier portioning, I used a ciabatta, which retained an even thickness and allowed for more consistent cutting.

The resulting sandwich has a stunning display of pink-and-white strata, kind of like layers of sedimentary rock, if the earth’s crust were made of meat and cheese. Which, for better or worse, it is not.

I ended up making, oh, about 20 times as much of the olive spread as I needed, so it has casually made its way into almost everything I’ve made since — a dollop in salad dressing, gobs smeared under and atop the skin of a roasted chicken, a touch thrown into braising liquid. It’s a remarkably versatile condiment, lending a fruity and complex flavor to everything it touches.

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