Bánh mì, One Really Great Sandwich

slice of bmIn the previous post one of the things I said I loved was a great sandwich. Not just a good sandwich but a great one. I make ‘good’ sandwiches, my husband makes great sandwiches and his bánh mì is one of them.

It is not a difficult sandwich to make if you have the ingredients and that is the key. Curt can pull together a great sandwich just from what he finds available in the fridge but if we are having bánh mì, then you know it is a plan.

Bánh mì is a Vietnamese term for all kinds of bread but mostly it refers to a baguette. But if you walk into a Vietnamese restaurant in America, bánh mì is a type of meat-filled sandwich on a short baguette or bánh mì bread. In Green Bay you can get a pretty good version at Pho #1 Noodle & Grill.  (their bánh mì is image #6 in their menu slide show).

Typical fillings for a bánh mì may include pan-roasted or oven-roasted seasoned pork belly, Vietnamese sausage, grilled pork, spreadable pork liver pate, grilled chicken, roast duck, soft pork meatballs in tomato sauce, fried eggs, and even tofu – in other words, whatever is at hand and that strikes your fancy. That sort of flies in the face of a plan but you’ve got to have the roll and the pate’ or liver sausage is an important flavor.  Accompanying vegetables typically include fresh cucumber slices, cilantro and pickled shredded carrots and daikon radish. Common condiments  might include spicy chili sauce, sliced chilis, mayonnaise, and cheese.

Mise en place:  bolillo, ham, liver sausage, Shriracha laced mayo, frresh pickled carrots and cabbage, cilantro and mint

Mise en place: bolillo, ham, liver sausage, Shriracha laced mayo, fresh pickled carrots and cabbage, cilantro and mint

Curt’s version starts with a baguette, or a hoagy roll, or most likely a bolillo (a short baguette-like roll common in Latino markets).  Not shown in the mise en place photo, is a little commercial sandwich dressing (he used Beano’s Original Submarine Dressing) which he squirted on the greens – you could substitute any Italian dressing or just oil and vinegar.

Bánh mì (ala Curt)

Bánh mì, ala Curt.  This is a pared down version.  A more authentic bánh mì would also include lean roast pork and thinly sliced fresh green chiles.

Put it all together and voilà – a great sandwich. If it is a serious plan he usually gets roast pork slices and good ham from the deli which in my opinion is better than just ham.

Hey, look, it’s lunchtime by my clock and writing this post has made me hungry. I think I’ll go see what sandwich fixin’s I can find…maybe even get Curt to give me some pointers.

Closed and ready for the first bite!

Closed and ready for the first bite!




If you read much about food – restaurant reviews, foodie magazines, etc – you’ve likely encountered the notion of deconstructed food or rather deconstructed dishes. The idea is to take a familiar dish, take its basic ingredients, and re-imagine the dish by combining them into new forms, textures or combinations to highlight the ingredients in interesting ways while still honoring the idea, and more importantly, the flavors of the original dish.  At their best, deconstructed dishes can be a revelation.  At their worst, they are pretentious and can be a waste of good food.

My first, first-hand, encounter with deconstructed food was a “Caesar” Salad at Graham Elliot in Chicago.  We don’t normally go to, or more accurately can’t afford to, eat a such places.  They tend to be in major cities (Green Bay doesn’t make the mark), are hard to get a table at and are generally out of our price range.  But we were going to be in Chicago, thought far enough ahead to get a reservation, and decided we would splurge on a dinner at G.E. were I started with his deconstructed “Caesar” salad.


One version of Graham Elliot’s deconstructed “Caesar” Salad as presented at a foodie gathering at FIG Restaurant in Santa Monica as a part of Los Angeles Food & Wine

What I had in Chicago was pretty close to what is shown above.  The dressing was a smear across the plate, topped with a brioche “crouton” that was filled (a la cream puff) with Parmesan foam, topped with Gem lettuce (a mini head that’s a cross between butter lettuce and Romaine) and finally topped with a light grating of fresh Parmesan and a Spanish white anchovy.

This week we hosted a dinner party and I thought I would tackle a deconstructed dish as a part of the menu (actually, I ended up with two).  Rather than follow Graham Elliot’s lead, I decided to let Thomas Keller of the The French Laundry be my guide.  We’ve posted some deconstructed ventures before (Eggplant Parm: Deconstructed, Deconstructed Gazpacho and Deconstructed Ravioli) but none of those took on the challenge of transforming one or more of the dish’s components into something beyond what one might find in the original (a la Graham Elliot’s Parmesan foam).  Thomas Keller’s version of Caesar salad does that by turning some of the egg found in a traditional Caesar dressing and the Parmesan cheese from the salad into a cheese custard (sort of a savory panna cotta).

Parmesan Custards

Parmesan Custards

He also changes some of the cheese into a crispy cheese wafer, adding a different texture to the salad.

Parmesan Crisps

Parmesan Crisps

Here’s what I ended up with.

My "Caesar" salad a la Thomas Keller

My “Caesar” salad a la Thomas Keller

This version presents the dressing as a puddle at the base surrounded with a drizzle of Balsamic glaze, a crouton made from a slice of baguette, a Parmesan custard, a Parmesan crisp, Romaine lettuce and shaved Parmesan.  Mr. Keller include an anchovy in his dressing which I eliminated at the request of my better half (I added some good quality Thai fish sauce instead).

On the whole, an interesting “salad”.  I don’t think I ruined any food.  It certainly took a lot more time to reconstruct this deconstructed presentation that it would to just make a salad.  The custard was quite good.  The crouton was pretty crunchy.  I’m glad I attempted it but probably never again.

I noted above that I tried two deconstructed dishes.  The other was dessert – a sort of deconstructed Mound’s bar – coconut crisps, double dark chocolate gelato, coconut gelato and Belgian Chocolate Thins.  Only the coconut crisps were made in-house, the remaining parts were from the store.  It turned out well – a nice echo of the structure of the salad we started with – crispy discs and other components piled up.

Chocolate and Coconut gelati with coconut and chocolate crisps

Chocolate and Coconut gelati with coconut and chocolate crisps

What’s in your Sandwich?

Today is National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day.


I think, for the most part, this is a pretty international sandwich. It’s  sure an easy day to participate in because all you need is some bread, butter and cheese. Or substitute a tortilla for the bread and you’ve got quesadilla day.  Some of the morning television shows were doing more than Kraft slices on white bread by using an artisan bread or rye or sour dough and then going with some nice specialty cheeses. Add in some peppers or onions, or eggs and pesto, or tomato and sprouts or all of the above and you have a pretty interesting sandwich.

So I wondered what I had in my fridge to make a more than ordinary grilled cheese sandwich. First I had to start with bread. There was still enough bread left on the loaf Curt baked a few days ago to cut two slices. I buttered one side of each slice and put one piece, butter side down, in my frying pan.

This is Wisconsin so there is definitely cheese in my fridge. I chose three. Next on the bread went a slice of aged swiss and on top of that, a layer of 9-12 month old plain gouda from Holland’s Family Cheese. Before the third cheese I needed that veggie, that something different to set my grilled cheese sandwich apart. Last night we had sphagetti sauce and there were a few fresh button mushrooms left that hadn’t gone into the pot. Perfect. A layer of mushrooms and then a layer of provolone.

just before the 3rd layer of cheese

just before the 3rd layer of cheese

Top this with the other slice of bread and grill. Flipping is always the hard part but I managed it without losing any of the innards.

There you have it. A grilled three-cheese mushroom sandwich with a side of tabbouleh (also a leftover, from Wednesday’s lunch). I highly recommend using more than one cheese. The blended flavors turn out great. Anybody else make a grilled cheese today?


Next post: Edible Books

Let’s Eat! Sunday Dinner Follow-up

The wait is over. Here is what we did with the salmon, the loin chop and the rest of the meal.

My Mom is ready to eat.

My Mom is ready to eat.

The salmon was marinated in charmoula sauce and then cooked on the grill.

salmon w/ charmoula

salmon w/ charmoula

Charmoula is a tart marinade for fish which we use on eggplant. Today we used it on fish.


1 clove garlic
1 tsp.sweet paprika
pinch hot paprika
3/4 tsp  ground cumin
3 Tbls finely chopped cilantro
3 Tbls finely chopped parsley
3 Tbls fresh lemon juice
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

Whisk  all of the ingredients together and drizzle about half over the salmon. Reserve the remainder for the table. Let salmon sit 30 minutes. Curt grilled the salmon on a plank.

Fresh from the grill

Fresh from the grill

Along with the salmon we had asparagus, roasted tomatoes, deviled eggs and cheddar popovers. I was the  person assigned the starch for the meal and I naturally started thinking potatoes, rice or pasta. But sitting in Barnes and Noble, drinking coffee and browsing magazines I came upon this popover recipe. Too cheap to buy the magazine, I scrounged through my purse for a piece of paper and copied it out.  Popovers are a bit scary for me because I never think they are going to poof up but these poofed fine even if they weren’t as cheesy as I would have liked.

Hot popovers

Hot popovers


4 large eggs and 2 egg whites
1 3/4 C  milk
1 1/2 C  flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 C  finely grated xtra sharp cheddar
2 Tbls butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put empty popover pans in the oven.

Meanwhile whisk together eggs, whites, milk, flour and salt. Stir in cheddar, set aside.

After the pans have been in the hot oven for about 10 minutes, remove pans, brush cups with butter and put in batter. Return to oven. Bake 25 – 30 minutes. Cut a small slit in each popover and return to oven for an additional 10 minutes. Remove, serve hot. Good as is, better, spread with butter. ( Note: With the cheese my popovers were pretty brown after the initial 25 minutes so I turned off the oven for the additional 10 minutes. Also I had to loosen them with a knife to get them out of the pan so put in plenty of butter of maybe a non-stick spray)

But where you ask is that huge smoked pork loin chop? It was fully cooked so a quick heat through in a pan had it ready in minutes. Truth be told, Curt was going to put it on the grill with the salmon but he forgot. Lucky  for him it didn’t take long on the stove. It was great and plenty leftover for a second meal.

Leftovers for sure.

Leftovers for sure.

How was your Easter dinner?

Eggplant Parm: Deconstructed

Eggplant Parmesan

We’re swimming in eggplant this summer – over planting, hot weather and rain at the right times have presented us with more eggplant than we can possibly eat.  But we try because we like eggplant.  It’s versatile, low cal and tasty.  But there’s one preparation that I’m not very keen on, Eggplant Parmesan.

Eggplant Parmesan is one of those dishes that sound a lot better than it eats.  In my opinion, the typical version is just a soggy mess. Fried eggplant slices, layered with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, covered in marinara sauce and baked in the oven.  But why bread and fry the eggplant only to drown it in marinara sauce? And all that cheese melts into a stringy obstacle course.  I’ve looked for alternate approaches but even the “deconstructed” versions usually just pile up the eggplant, marinara and cheese into a tower that still leads to soggy eggplant.

So I, here, try to build a better Eggplant Parmesan by deconstructing the basic premise.

1 large eggplant, sliced into 3/4″ thick slices
1 – 1/2 tsp. Salt
1 large egg, beaten
Bread crumbs – I use panko, Japanese style
Olive oil
Mozzarella cheese, grated – whole milk is best but part-skim is OK. Don’t bother with low-fat or fat-free
Marinara sauce, good quality bottled or home-made, warmed
Parmesan cheese, grated
Pasta, such as spaghetti, linguine, vermicelli, etc., cooked and drained


Preheat oven to 300˚ F.

Salt the eggplant slices and let drain in a colander for 30 minutes. Pat the slices with paper toweling to remove moisture and excess surface salt.

R to L, flour, egg wash, bread crumbs

Dredge the slices in flour, then beaten egg and finally bread crumbs. Set aside on waxed paper for 10 minutes to allow the breading to set up a bit.

Breaded eggplant slices

Browned eggplant slices with cheese, ready for the oven

Fry the eggplant slices in a few tablespoons of olive oil until each side is richly browned and crispy. Place fried slices on a sheet pan and top with a tablespoon or two of mozzarella. Put into the oven until the cheese has melted and is just slightly browned – about 10 minutes.

Eggplant Parmesan, deconstructed

To serve, put a small portion of pasta to one  side of the plate and top with a little marinara and some Parmesan.  Put two eggplant slices on the rest of the plate, a dollop of marinara and a sprinkle of Parmesan.  Garnish with fresh basil.

The end result gives you what I consider the star of the event, a nice toothsome slice of eggplant with a crispy breading enriched with a reasonable amount of mozzarella, a little marinara to flavor and moisten the eggplant to your taste and some pasta as a side.  Each of the elements hold their own character and best of all, they don’t get soggy.

A Can of What?

When you come to our site looking for recipes and food ideas you are usually getting Curt, who cooks 90% of the time in this household. But I do some of the cooking and there are a few recipes that I still make that I have been making since we were first married. Back then I probably cooked 50% of the time but as our schedules changed, Curt was home earlier than I was and he enjoyed cooking so I just let him run with it. I ended up with clean-up duty but that was fair.

Last night I made one of my newlywed specials that has been a family favorite even if the recipe contains a can of condensed soup! Horrors!! Recipes with  soup have always gotten a bad rap. For one thing, too much sodium but also because it’s not in the spirit of field-to-fork, or of  using the purest ingredients possible, or just because of the times we live in.  Soup is considered a cheat, or not good enough. Only new brides who know zip about cooking use “those” recipes and then they learn how to really cook later, right? Has my husband ever used a can of soup in his recipes? No! Does he love  “Quick Macaroni and Cheese Deluxe”? Yes!

“Quick Macaroni and Cheese Deluxe” is the original name of the recipe I gleaned from a Family Circle magazine back in the early 70’s (We were married in 1973). It has since been called Jeanne’s Macaroni and Cheese and after Nathan was born, Mom’s Macaroni and Cheese. And it was never confused with squeezy cheese (Cheese Whiz?) stirred into hot noodles that Nathan ate when he was a little guy. We never got into Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Had to draw the line somewhere.

Over the years I have tweaked the original recipe but the basic structure remains intact. Last night I cut the recipe in half for the first time since there are only two at our dinner table now, so the pictures you see will be a half recipe even though I’ll be giving you the full recipe.  A full recipe for two generates leftovers, or it should. I have to say I made this for one of our friends one evening. A friend who is a very good cook and tries many types of cuisine in her cooking and she liked it. At least she said she did and even had seconds. So here goes…   My changes, alternatives are in italics.

Jeanne’s Macaroni and Cheese
(originally Quick Macaroni and Cheese Deluxe)

4 servings

1 package (8 oz.) elbow macaroni  or cellentani, gemelli, fusilli and campanelle are fun too.
1 can cream soup (chicken, mushroom, or their variations) I’ve tried others but these work the best.
1  1/2  C. shredded cheddar or Swiss cheese (or both) I rarely use Swiss.
1/2 C real mayonnaise
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp salt (I never use this anymore since the soup has plenty of salt in it)
1/4 tsp cayenne or black pepper (use less cayenne to suit your taste)

1 10 oz. package of frozen vegetables, lightly cooked and well-drained. Or use fresh veggies blanched. I have used limas, edamame, corn, peas, beans, cauliflower or combinations. They shouldn’t be fully cooked because they are going to bake in the mac and cheese.

I used edamame

1 C. diced cooked chicken, ham. turkey. I have used canned white chicken, but leftovers work great. Tried lobster once, don’t!

Leftover smoked chicken

1. Cook pasta, drain, keep hot.

2. Meanwhile combine soup, cheese, mayo, dry mustard, (salt), pepper in a large bowl.

Cheese, soup, mayo mixture

3. Add macaroni, stir.

noodles stirred into sauce

4. Spoon cooked veggies over the bottom of a lightly buttered, deep ( 2 qt) casserole. Top w/ the chicken. Spoon macaroni mixture on top. I also add a light layer of shredded cheese, usually parmesan, and bread crumbs, this creates a nice crust on top. Lately I’ve been doing a layer of half veggies/meat, a layer of noodles, then remaining veggies, meat and noodles.

Layer in veggies and meat

Ready for the oven

5. Bake in 375 degree oven for 40 minutes until bubbly hot. Yes, it said “bubbly hot” in the original recipe. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

This is a half recipe


It’s great comfort food.

Cheese Wars

The Official Seal

Did you know that the United States Championship Cheese Contest was held in Green Bay, Wisconsin?  I should have had you guess first. But yes, this was the championship of the whole United States and it was not only in Green Bay but was held in the Atrium of Lambeau Field, home of the Superbowl Champion Green Bay Packers (see a 360º view of the Atrium here). Now the atrium is just a great big hall with restaurants and shops (like The Packer Pro Shop) that was attached  in 2003 to make us think that the Packer organization was remodeling the stadium thus convincing the county to charge us an additional .5% sales tax to pay for it.

Chunk on the left side is Atrium

I think they added some sky boxes too. But that’s an argument that played out many years ago.

But I digress, back to the Cheese Championship. We found out about it from an announcement in the newspaper. The part that really interested us was “free samples.” Not one to let a food opportunity pass us by, we thought this might be an interesting field trip. It was a three-day event but 10-12 on Friday were the finals and awards ceremony so that was the time we picked to be cheese spectators. Unlike game days the parking lot was pretty empty and we had no trouble getting a spot close to the door. Past the statue of the big cheese himself, Vince Lombardi, we entered the atrium.

photo by P. Derozier

A small crowd, some standing, some seated in folding chairs sat around an awards podium. Behind the podium was about 6 tables surrounded by men and women in white lab coats and wearing either brown, white or red caps. Not a Cheesehead in sight!

Awards Table photo: P. Derozier

We headed directly to a table on the side with samples of winners in various categories from the previous year. Cheddar w/chipotle chili, Gorgonzola, Parmesan, Feta w/basil and tomatoes and Brie, just to name a few.

After a couple more trips to the tasting table we headed back to the action in the judging area.

Judging area photo: P. Derozier

We found out from a nearby guy in a brown cap (his duties being done for the day) that the brown caps were the “B Team”, essentially gophers who moved cheese, tidied up and keep things organized. The white caps were the Judges. These guys and gals were boring holes in the blocks and rounds of cheese and then examining, sniffing and tasting the cheese that was removed. There was a lot of spitting behind the tables. Like wine tasters, cheese judges don’t swallow, otherwise they’d all be the size of Packer linemen. 1602 cheeses had been entered from thirty states so over the last two days these guys/gals had been trying a lot of cheese. After the taste they would scribble away on their clipboards.

photo: P. Derozier

photo: P. Derozier

Every ten minutes or so the Red Caps (the Cheese Heads?) would call time and the judges would move from one tasting table to the next. Time passes slowly at a cheese championship so we went over to the Cheese Sculpture on display at the other end of the atrium. This was done by Sarah Kaufmann who says on her bio card that she ” carves cheese in her home studio and on location across the U.S.” She was there sporting a cheese top hat and cow print overalls. She does a lot of  sports cheese sculpture. This one is of two Wisconsin champions, the Cheese Champions and those other guys who play in the big field behind the Atrium.

Sculpted from cheese- photo: P. Derozier

Soon the Red Caps called out the final round. Cheeses were being removed from the tasting tables and placed attractively on the awards podium along with drapery and fruit. Once all of them were out there we waited while the computers did the final tabulation. And then the moment we had been waiting for! Just like the Miss America contest we started with the 2nd runner-up: Holland’s Family Cheese of Thorp, WI for their aged Gouda Super.  Screams and cheers!!!  1st runner-up: Sartori Foods in Plymouth, WI for their SarVecchio Parmesan. More cheering! And finally, the Winner of the 2011 US Cheese Championship: Katie Hedrich of LaClare Farms in Chilton, WI for Evalon, a hard goat’s milk cheese.  Shouts and cheers! Wisconsin had creamed the competition!

We are the Champions!

So yes, we are Cheeseheads up here and we wear our wedge proudly whether it be in the Dairy or on the football field.

By the way, at the championship we noticed the owner of our local fromagerie so we stopped in yesterday and got some of the winning gouda and goat’s milk cheese. They are great.

An aside:  A number of years ago, Wisconsin entertained the idea of dropping the America’s Dairyland slogan from our license plates and adopting something newer and catchier; and they solicited suggestions from the public.  My favorite –

Eat Cheese or Die

First, I cleaned up the kitchen

Last night, when it was obvious that I had forgotten that Monday (not Tuesday) was Valentine’s Day, Jeanne said “if the kitchen is cleaned up when I get up in the morning, I’ll give you a kiss.”

Well, that was easy enough.  I usually get up about 2 hours before she does and it only takes a few minutes to do up the dishes, even if I had a beef roast and lots of drippings to deal with.  But, I was feeling a little guilty.  It wasn’t exactly like I had done anything to actually honor the day.

For breakfast  I offered blueberry pancakes but she declined, suggesting instead that we meet for lunch later.  OK, another easy out.  Let someone else do the cooking and I just pick up the tab.  So Titletown Brewing it was.  Nice lunch, but still not exactly getting me off the hook, Valentine’s-wise.

After lunch I had to stop at the grocery to pick up some milk and so I took the opportunity to see what was fresh in the produce department -maybe I could come up with something for dinner to salvage my honor.

Hmmm, the asparagus looked good (not even close to locavore fare at this time of year but, what the hell, it’s Valentine’s Day).  OK, asparagus, now what?  Hmmm, that would probably be tasty wrapped in some prosciutto, maybe some Parmigiano-Reggiano shaved over the top with an egg, cooked easy.  So I go to my local cheese-monger to get some prosciutto and I see a sign for a new cheese, Rush Creek Reserve, an unpasteurized 60-day ripe cheese wrapped in cedar strips from the Uplands Cheese Company in Dodgeville, Wisconsin.  Wow!!!! What a great cheese.  Thick and gooey at room temperature.  Just wonderful!  On toast, a great accompaniment to the asparagus/prosciutto/egg deal.

Rush Creek Reserve cheese

Asparagus with Prosciutto, egg and Parmesan

Now, Jeanne and I have recently been looking at an old (1951 copyright) book called Family Meals and Hospitality (more from this curious volume another day) .  The authors were all faculty in Home Economics Departments at Hunter College or New York University (who knew that NYU had a Home Economics department?).  The illustrations in the book are hilarious and one seemed appropriate for today.

Dining out at home is fun, even when the waiter is a novice.

We contrived to reproduce the photo, but lacked a third-party photographer, so we took turns posing.

At any rate, the dinner was delicious.  The cheese spectacular –  and I think I salvaged Valentine’s Day from the routine of washing dishes.