Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Thermal Paradox

With the promise of warmer weather, I thought it would be good to share a drink idea.  This one, however, requires a bit of explanation. 

I have always liked sweet and savory combinations.  I like complex historical figures and fictional characters who evolve and I like books and movies to end differently than I expect.  Even so, you don't have to be strange like me to enjoy the conflicted deliciousness of the Thermal Paradox (but it helps).  

1 2L bottle of your favorite lemon-lime soda
1 lime, juiced
1 orange, juiced
1 small lemon, juiced
1/4 tsp. orange extract
1/4 tsp. cayenne
Crushed ice

The Method
Add cayenne, extract and citrus juices to a large pitcher then pour in soda. Stir with large spoon. Fill glasses 1/2 full with crushed ice and pour drink slowly over crushed ice.

Food for Thought
Adding the cayenne to a cold refreshing drink is analogous to the addition of a very small amount of salt to your chocolate chip cookie recipe. The effect is to complement and highlight the desired feature, which yields sweeter tasting cookies or, in this case, a more refreshing drink; a drink, which gradually stokes the fire you are drinking to quench. Do not substitute any other chili product. Cayenne is perfect for this because it lacks the earthy, bitter-yet-fruity notes of other chili products and supplies plenty of heat. Bottoms up!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

"Hold the Club" Turkey Club on Ciabatta

As it turns out, I was one ingredient short on a great brunch dish that I love today.  What to do?  After inventorying what I did have, I decided on lunch.  It was great.  This club sandwich has most of the characteristics of your garden-variety club, except that, with this type of bread, you really don't want the extra piece of bread in the middle. 

1 loaf of artisinal Ciabatta bread
1 lb. bacon
1/2 lb. thinly sliced turkey breast
1/2 lb. thinly sliced black forest ham
6-8 slices of your favorite mozzarella or smoked provolone cheese
2 large handfuls of fresh spinach
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
3-4 sprigs of fresh Sweet Basil
Kosher Salt
Fresh ground black pepper

The Method
Fry bacon, remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat panini press or similar appliance to medium-high.

Cut Ciabatta bread into 8 equal pieces.  With a good bread knife or other serrated knife, remove crust from top and bottom of each piece of bread, then split each piece into top and bottom halves.  Brush one side of each top and bottom with olive oil.

Add one tablespoon of olive oil to a sauté pan over medium heat.  After washing spinach, add to pan and sauté for 3 minutes.  Add in minced garlic after 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat and tip pan to allow remaining moisture to drain away from spinach.

Place half of bread pieces, oiled side down, and add equal amounts of turkey, ham and bacon to each piece then add spinach and garlic mixture, allowing excess moisture to drip from spinach prior to adding it to the sandwiches.  Cover with cheese and 4-5 basil leaves.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Place remaining bread on top of sandwiches with oiled side up.  Place several sandwiches at a time on your panini press, or similar appliance.  Grill for several minutes, until golden brown and all cheese is melted.

Food for Thought
When removing the crust from your bread or slicing it into top and bottom halves, watch our for your thumb!  Keep the thumb on your non-knife-wielding hand above the plane of the knife blade. 

If you don't have a proper panini (Italian for sandwiches, with panino being singular) press, this will work just fine on any George Foreman type grill.  If you don't have any such appliance, grill it on the stove top in your favorite frying pan, though the textural effect won't be exactly the same.  If you think you've got too much spinach going into your sauté pan, you're wrong.  If you haven't done this before, you will be astounded at how much your spinach condenses as it cooks down.  This technique ensures that you don't have soggy sandwiches as most of the excess water in the spinach is removed. 

Also, cooked spinach is better for you than raw spinach because applying heat causes the breakdown and deactivation of nutrition-blocking oxalates, which inhibit iron absorption.  We all know that spinach is rich in iron but that mineral has no bioavialability unless heat is applied to the spinach prior to consumption.  Furthermore, high levels of oxalates can actually leach iron from your body.  Finally, spinach treated in this manner also goes great in your favorite omelet or frittata.

Buon Appetito!

P.S. Basil is delicious.  It's one of those great herbs which, like mint, can play well in both sweet and savory dishes.