Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Epic Sandwich Party!

Planning a party is usually one of two potential things: it’s really fun or it’s really stressful. There’s a lot to do and never enough time and dealing with the food aspect is usually the biggest source of stress. I wasn’t sure what to do for my recent 30th birthday, but when it became an Epic Sandwich Party, all stress went right out the window - right along with my 20's!

Epic Sandwich of stacked proportions!
The rules of the Epic Sandwich Party are just like those that govern general sandwich creation: there are no rules! Any kind of sandwich can be created with a few key ingredients and this creative freedom brings out the fun – and sometimes weird – tastes of your guests.  Plus having your guests make their own sandwich masterpieces takes all the cooking pressure off you, the host, so you can spend more time mingling and partying with your people!

Three Major Reasons Why Epic Sandwich Parties Rock:

1-You can’t please everyone, but everyone can please themselves:

The dollop of grainy mustard makes this sandwich epic!
Let’s face it – if you try to plan your party’s menu so everyone is consistently happy, you’re in for a disappointing evening. People’s tastes are too different and with so many different eating styles (vegetarian, vegan) and/or food restrictions (gluten-free, allergies, etc.), coming up with something that everyone can eat is pretty near impossible. But an Epic Sandwich Party empowers everyone to please themselves. If you provide variety in meat, bread, veggie and side options (I’ll get to the Shopping List in a moment), you are appealing to broad tastes and letting your guests get more specific for themselves. You might not think that toasted rye bread with raspberry jam and sharp cheddar tastes good (it really does, just so you know!), but you don’t have to because your guests will think up their own food and everyone’s happy because they take care of themselves.

It's enormous! Or is it...?
2-Epic Sandwich Parties are Very Kid-Friendly:

There are lots of kids in our circle of friends and family and I wanted them to feel welcome. An Epic Sandwich Party is a fun and super easy way to include the little ones in the festivities.  Kids love sandwiches!  And getting to make their own can appeal to even the pickiest of eaters. My six-year old nephew made the first sandwich of the party and he was so excited to have that honor. I pointed out the different choices he had and he considered each one thoughtfully before putting together a Roast Beast (beef), Cheese and Ketchup Sandwich. It was just what he wanted! All the kids at our party seemed to have fun building their own sandwiches, which made their parents happy and able to have fun too!

3-The prep is so minimal, it’s hardly prep!

Just stock up on sandwich essentials, add some general party junk food, chill the drinks and you’re good to go! Have some napkins, plates and cups standing by and let everyone be inspired to create their own sandwich greatness.

You can’t go wrong with this basic Shopping List for your Epic Sandwich Party:
So many tasty ingredients!

Bread: 3-4 different kinds, such as:
Basic Sourdough
Rye (dark and light)
Buns (my Dad brought his special homemade buns and they did not last long!)

Meat: Variety is key!
Turkey breast, like Lilydale’s seasoned and roasted turkey breast slices
Roast Beef
Montreal Smoked Brisket
Spicy Capocolo
Smoked Prosciutto
Turkey, sliced applies and sharp cheddar!
Lettuce (spinach and mixed greens)
Granny Smith Apples, thinly sliced

Sharp Cheddar
Jalapeno Havarti
Goat Cheese
Grilled roast beef, mushrooms, and 3 kinds of cheese!
Mustards (plain yellow, spicy, grainy, Dijon, Honey, Cranberry)
Mayo (plain and Dill)
Banana Peppers

Potato chips (your favorite kinds!)
Veggies and Dips (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower)
Potato salad

Root Beer
Orange Pop
(just add ice cream for floats!)

...and don't forget real beer for the adults!

Special Equipment:
Skillet/Grill for those who want a grilled sandwich experience

This party wouldn't have been complete
without an Epic Sandwich Birthday Cake! 
Ice Cream
...and Epic Sandwich Birthday Cake!

Convinced now? I hope so! Our guests had fun building their own epic sandwiches and we did too! For your next gathering, forget the planning stress and throw an Epic Sandwich Party instead!

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Sandwich Valentine

Good food brings people together, or as Julia Child once said: “People who love to eat are always the best people.”

I tend to agree with Julia. 
Our first baking venture back in Oct. 2010: Thanksgiving Pies!
Good food – both the making and the enjoying of - ties strongly into both my and my husband’s memories of growing up.   We both spent time in the kitchen with our Moms and Grandmas, and I also enjoyed helping my Dad bake bread or make Saturday morning pancakes.  We look back fondly at big family dinners and we enjoy making fun potluck dishes when we get together with friends.  When you cook with someone else, it’s a lot less work and a lot more fun.  The fact that we both enjoy baking and that he inherited some of his mother’s incredible baking genes is a big bonus - plus we take turns between who washes and who dries.  Go kitchen-teamwork!

Making dinner was one of the first things we did together when we started dating.  We continue to enjoy cooking together because it’s a fun way to unwind from the day and catch up with one another.   So it was no big surprise when I mentioned a special Valentine’s sandwich post, he was excited to help.  Together, we bring you our Sandwich Valentine of grilled cheddar and special heart-shaped salami.
Grilled salami and cheese: a heart-melting comb!

You will need:

Your favorite sandwich bread
Slices of Heart Salami (found in the Sobey’s Deli)
1 package of Sensations’ Aged Two Years Cheddar, sliced
Heart-cucumbers, sliced

Recommended veggie sides: red pepper, baby carrots


1-Pre-heat your skillet on medium heat and melt 1tbsp of butter. (Alternatively, you can butter both sides of the bread before grilling it.)
2-Arrange the salami hearts and cheese on one slice of bread and put the other one on top.
3-Press the sandwich down with a spatula as it grills.
A great Valentine is one you can eat!
4-Cover with a lid and let each side grill for a few minutes before flipping.
5-Serve with your favorite condiment – for me, that’s ketchup all the way!

Yum! The smoky salami and the mellow cheese pair beautifully together and I sliced up a red pepper and heart-cucumber and added a handful of baby carrots for some extra special Valentine’s Day veggies.  We enjoyed our sandwiches with frosty mugs of root beer while we cheered on the Canadian curling team. 

Good food and good company is all we need.

Happy Valentine’s Day!  I hope it’s a fun and special day for you and yours!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Comfort Chicken Soup

A hot bowl of soup on a cold winter night is a truly special thing - especially when it’s chicken soup! Temperatures hung around the -20s this weekend, so making soup just felt like the comforting and fun thing to do. I am proud and excited to bring you the first soup post of Sandwiches are Beautiful!

This chicken soup recipe is adapted from a hambone soup recipe I found online at allrecipes.com  Obviously, I swapped out the hambone for the leftover carcass of a roast chicken I’d made earlier in the week (thank you, Jamie Oliver!) and omitted the tomatoes and included more herbs for increased flavour, but the overall process was the same – simple one-pot, fragrant goodness!

Comfort Chicken Soup requires: 

Chicken, carrots and celery about to be added to the soup.
1 leftover carcass of a roast chicken (It had leftover sprigs of rosemary, sage and thyme stuffed in the cavity, which added beautiful flavor to the soup. If you don’t have a leftover chicken carcass, a store-bought rotisserie chicken would also do, along with the addition of the above mentioned herbs)
3 carrots, chopped
3 celery ribs and leafy tops, chopped
½ sweet onion, diced
2 bay leaves
1 cup of cooked chicken, cut into small pieces
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables 
¾ cup uncooked rice
1 cup uncooked macaroni
¼ tsp each of ground pepper and salt

One-Pot Process:
Smells heavenly!
 1- Put the chicken carcass in a large pot and cover with water.Bring to a boil for 10-15 minutes.
 2- Add the onion and the herbs (if not already in the chicken).
 3- Turn the heat down to medium and add the chicken, carrots, celery and other veggies.
 4- Cook on medium heat for 15 minutes and add the rice and macaroni. Season with salt and pepper.
 5- Cover and simmer for 60-90 minutes.
 6- Use a slotted spoon to fish out the chicken bones and carefully pull any remaining meat off the bones (it’s really hot, so use a fork!)
7- Discard the bones, bay leaves and herbs.
8- Let cool 10-15 min. before serving.

Souptacular! It's especially lovely when enjoyed with some soft buttered French bread that you can dip into the soup.  This soup would also pair with a thick tuna sandwich, like the Veggie or Spicy Tuna sandwiches from December.  It’s a comfort food that’s piping hot and hearty – just right for a lazy Sunday dinner.
Have a great week!

Doesn't get much better than hot soup and soft bread!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Thinking Outside the Bread Box - The Pita

If I’ve learned anything from the times I've traveled in France, it's that bread is an amazing thing.

Baguettes, croissants, pains aux chocolat, artisan loaves, crusty rolls, focaccia, multi-grain...they're all divine and they will all get their moment in the spotlight here eventually.  But it’s important to remember that when it comes to sandwiches, bread is not the be-all, end-all.  In this ‘Thinking Outside the Bread Box’ mini-series of posts, I’ll be exploring sandwiches that go beyond the traditional two-slices-of-bread realm.  Part One’s show pays homage to the Pita.

Al Salam Pitas: so fresh and perfect!
The pita is a brilliant piece of food architecture.  My favorite pitas come from Al Salam Pita Bakery and Restaurant at 101 Street and 34 Ave.  They are huge, so soft and baked fresh every day.  Another good choice is Byblo’s Bakery Pitas, from Sobey’s or Save-On.  Both kinds will dry out quickly if not eaten within the first two days of their purchase, so plan accordingly.  

These fresh pitas are delightfully soft and their pockets are perfect for stuffing with tasty sandwich innards.  Anything goes!  I’ve stuffed pitas with turkey, roast beef, plain cheese or all veggies.  For this particular pita experience, created in Two Acts, I packed mine with homemade hummus, grilled Masala chicken strips and fresh vegetables for a delectable Indian/Mediterranean-theme.

Hummus is surprisingly easy to make and there are tons of recipes online, a few of which I pulled from to make my own.  But if making your own hummus is not in the cards, I recommend Sensations’ Roasted Garlic Hummus at Sobey’s.  It is smooth and thick and its chunky garlic topping sold me instantly.  When paired with the Al Salam Pitas, it doesn’t last long in my house!   Hence, I made my own this time.

Hummus Cast Photo: Just toss these together and puree!
Act I - To take the Homemade Hummus plunge, you will need:

4 tbsp Tahini
2 tbsp Lemon Juice
2 tsp Garlic, minced
2 tbsp Olive Oil, plus more for topping
1 19 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Seasalt, to taste
Paprika, sprinkled for topping
A sturdy Food Processor

  1. Mix the tahini and lemon in the food processor for 1 minute.
  2. Add the garlic, olive oil and salt. Mix for another minute.
  3. Drain and rinse the chickpeas, add to the mixture and puree.
  4. If too thick, add 1 tbsp of water and keep mixing.
  5. Add more garlic and seasalt to taste. And you can bet I did!  (For safety-sake, make sure to unplug the food processor when you sample!)
  6. Sprinkle some paprika and drizzle olive oil on top.

A loud but very simple process.
 For Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, add some chopped roasted red peppers (from Scarpone’s, found in the mustard/condiments section) to the puree and keep tasting for desired flavour. It's also fun to watch it turn that beautiful rusty colour!

Intermission: Clean-up

Clean up for either kind of hummus is super easy – just grab some pita and scoop from the remnants in the food processor!  Delicious and done!

You could conceivably stop right here, but then this wouldn’t be a sandwich post, would it? Onward!

Act II – The Creation of the Grilled Masala Chicken Pita requires:
Grilled Masala Chicken Pita Cast Photo

2-3 Chicken Breasts, boneless, skinless
2-3 tbsp Indian Masala spice
1 Red Pepper, sliced
2 Carrots, shredded
Handfuls of spinach
Homemade Hummus

  1. Preheat the grill or use a non-stick skillet on med-high heat.
  2. Grill the chicken for a minute (on each side if you’re using a skillet) and add the Masala spice (generously, if you like, on each side).
  3. Cook through until no longer pink inside.
  4. Remove from heat and cut into strips.
  5. Tear off a thin strip around half a pita and open it up.
  6. Spread a thick layer of hummus on one side of the pocket.
  7. Stuff the pocket with chicken strips, red pepper, tomatoes, carrot and spinach.
  8. Tuck the hummus side of the pita around the stuffing and fold the other side on top to create a bulging, half-moon type shape.
  9. Enjoy!
I couldn't resist taking a bite first but it still makes for a good photo! 
The Review:

Eating this pita(wich) warm off the grill is such a treat.  It’s full of different, yet complimentary flavors: the garlicky hummus, warmed by the spicy chicken and the cool, sweet crunchy vegetables.  The great thing about using both kinds of pitas is the sizing options: Al Salam pitas are extra-large, while Byblo’s are small to medium-sized.  

Let your appetite dictate your size but either way, make sure to tear some up for the Encore:

Roasted Red Pepper and Plain Hummus and Pita!
Hummus for dessert!