Monday, March 31, 2014

Peanut Butter and Jam Stuffed French Toast

Sandwiches are Beautiful would not be a true sandwich blog without a Peanut Butter and Jam post.  Since my peanut allergies prevent me from trying this classic sandwich, I’m proud to present the following post by my friend and fellow food blogger, Caroline Lyster. Enjoy!

Peanut Butter and Jam: the early stages.
I’m not usually a sandwich person, but I couldn't say no when Erin asked me to write a post for her blog.  Luckily, the sandwich she had in mind for me is one of the few that I absolutely adore: Peanut Butter and Jam.

Whether you’re partial to jam, jelly, honey, or bananas, the key is mixing something sweet with the salty goodness that is peanut butter (or another nut butter if you are so inclined).  It’s easy to make, and pretty healthy if done the right way (Protein packed peanut butter (in moderate quantities)! Whole grain bread!).  And, of course, it’s just flat out delicious.

Because PB&J is so easy to make talking about the sandwich itself would not be a very long post (PB on one side, J on the other…consume and enjoy).  So I decided to get creative, and make my childhood lunchtime staple into something better served with a mimosa in hand: stuffed French toast.

French toast was another staple at my house growing up: we used to get lots of homemade bread and rolls from my grandmother, and these tend to go stale faster than your average store bought loaf.  The solution was simple: soak the slightly stale slices in a custardy mixture of eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla (allowing them to get moist and flavourful), then fry in butter (allowing the outside to get crispy while the inside remains creamy), and smother in maple syrup.  For stuffed French toast the basic method remains the same…the only thing you do differently is make your slices of bread into a sandwich before you soak them!

PB&J Stuffed French Toast needs:

-bread of choice, 2 slices per sandwich (it’s okay if it’s a little stale)
-peanut butter (my personal preference is for crunchy)
-jam of choice (strawberry is the classic)
-4 eggs
-1 cup milk
-2 tablespoons brown sugar (or any other sweet ingredient…syrup would work just as well)
-1 tablespoon vanilla
-a dash or two of cinnamon (if you’re so inclined)
-butter (to keep the French toast from sticking to the pan)
-a large frying pan

Optional…taking direction from Chef Michael Smith, I chose to crust my stuffed French toast with some oatmeal (making the outside extra super crispy).  If you want to do this you’ll also need one or two cups of rolled oats.

Crusted with oatmeal, ready for the frying pan.
How to:

1) Heat the pan that you will be using; medium is high enough.  You don't want the pan to be too hot or the outside of your sandwich will burn before the inside gets warm and creamy.

2) Make the PB&J sandwiches: peanut butter on one side, jam on the other (or, if you’re a true peanut butter lover, peanut butter on BOTH sides with jam in the middle).

3) Mix the eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon in a large bowl.  Dip the sandwiches in the eggs mixture

If you've decided to crust your sandwiches with oatmeal à la Michael Smith, do this after they've been soaked in the eggs and milk.

4) Melt the butter in your frying pan, then add the sandwiches.  Fry slowly (be patient!) until they are golden brown, then flip them over and do the same on the other side.

That’s all there is to it…your stuffed French toast is now complete!  If you’d like, you can top them with syrup to complete the brunch effect, but they’re just as delicious without.

PB & J Stuffed French Toast: a new twist on a classic sandwich.
The great thing about this particular recipe is that once you've got the method down you can really stuff anything you want into your French toast…it doesn't have to be PB&J!  Chef Michael suggests mixing jam with cream cheese and using this as a filling and as a cheesecake lover,
I am definitely going to give that a try.  You can also experiment with other combinations of nut butter/sweet filling…almond butter with honey perhaps, or Nutella with bananas!  The possibilities are endless, and delicious!

For more information, check out Michael Smith's recipe and video.

Caroline Lyster is a graduate student with far too much free time on her hands, most of which she spends in the kitchen. As of right now she lives in Montreal, but now that she has finished her Masters she will soon be off to start a new adventure in a new city (with her giant box of cookbooks in tow). She is the author of Cooking=Love, though the blog is currently on hiatus as she has been quite busy finishing her thesis...she's done now, so be on the lookout for new posts featuring delicious (and mostly healthy) recipes, as well as little tips and tricks to get you cooking more often!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Thinking Outside the Bread Box - The Bagel

Fresh from my inaugural visit to the New York Bagel Café, I am inspired by bagels and their sandwich-making possibilities!
Toasted, untoasted, with cream cheese, jelly, butter or bare, open or closed faced - what I love about bagels is how limitless they are!

Check out any bagel shelf of any bakery and chances are you won’t see just one kind of bagel - there’s whole wheat, sesame, cinnamon-raisin, pumpernickel, poppy-seed, onion...full-sized or mini...assorted. It’s so hard to choose just one kind!

Exquisite Hendrickson Bagels!
Thankfully, the Everything bagel takes care of that. 

With a crispy topping of poppy-seeds, chunks of garlic and onions, it really does have a bit of everything, just like the name suggests. It’s great with plain butter or cream cheese alone, or piled high with meat, cheese, veggies or all of the above. It is definitely my go-to bagel but for this bagel-sandwich to be truly blog-worthy, it couldn’t be just any Everything bagel…

It had to be a Hendrickson Bagel, known more generally as an Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market Bagel!

I love the Farmer’s Market bagels! You may have to fight your way through the packed Saturday-morning crowds to get their stall, but once you do, they are so worth it! They are fresh from Sherwood Park, contain no artificial additives and no nuts! So stock up on these beauties, my fellow nut-allergy people!  Eat them with total peace of mind!

The Hendrickson version of the Everything Bagel is simply titled ‘Onion, Garlic, Sesame, Poppy’ and they have big hunks of all these great things on their golden tops. They smell so good and are soft and chewy, even when toasted. Eat them within three days of buying, or pre-slice and freeze them to extend their shelf life.  And don’t forget to grab an exciting flavor of fresh cream cheese while you’re there!

From the six bagels I bought, two had the honour of becoming beautiful sandwiches of different varieties: two open-faced, one closed.  All three are delicious bagel options I am proud to recommend to you!

2 Bagels, 3 Different Bagel-Sandwiches needs:

-2 Bagels
-Spicy pastrami
-Smoked prosciutto
-Strong Cheddar
-Hot Banana Peppers
-Cream cheese: spinach and feta from Hendrickson’s and the plain Philadelphia kind
-Carrots, shredded
-Red Pepper, sliced
-Red Pepper and Garlic Jelly (mine was homemade by my mother-in-law! Check out the jams and jellies at Anneliese’s Crafts at the Farmer’s Market for something similar.)
-Fresh-ground Pepper and Sea Salt

Toasted bagel, two meats and two cheeses goodness!
#1 -Toasted Pastrami, Prosciutto, Cheddar and Provolone

1-Slice a bagel and spread one half with mustard and mayo

2-Pile on the spicy pastrami, provolone, prosciutto and cheddar

3-Toast both halves in the toaster oven on medium, until cheese is melted and the other bagel half is golden brown

4-Add some hot banana peppers, combine the bagel halves, cut and enjoy!

This is a very nice combination of spicy, smokey and salty meat with the sharp provolone and strong cheddar. The peppers add some heat to a pleasantly warm and gooey blend of meat and cheese.  

#2 and #3 - Open-Faced Veggie and Meat Bagels:


1-Toast the bagel
2-Spread one half with a thick layer of spinach and feta cream cheese
3-Top with shredded carrot and slices of red pepper
4-Sprinkle some fresh ground pepper and sea salt on top


1-Spread one half with plain cream cheese
2-Top with red pepper and garlic jelly
3-Fold a piece of prosciutto and place on the cream cheese and jelly spread

The cream cheese has big pieces of spinach, which adds a different texture to this bagel.  The spinach and feta is a bold flavor combo that’s balanced out by the crisp veggies. The pepper and salt on top add a nice tang to the vegetables as well.  A thick slice of beefsteak tomato would also do nicely instead of, or in addition to, the red pepper. 
Can't go wrong with half veggie, half meat!

On the meat half, the jelly is both sweet and spicy and works well with the smoky prosciutto. The cream cheese and jelly melt well together on the toasted bagel half, so it’s a bit of a gooey, and chewy but tasty mess. 

So for your next sandwich, bypass the standard bread and go for something a bit different instead. These three bagel sandwiches show that with some creativity in mixing and combining your ingredients, you can have your bagel and eat it too!

Some extra Bagel facts to snack on:

-The bagel’s holey design suggests a desire to make this kind of food easily transportable as “it's possible to thread such a roll on a stick or a string” and take it to-go. (A Short History of The Bagel,

-Bagels are boiled and then baked, a process which helps them to last longer because their exteriors become harder than other breads. (A Short History of The Bagel,

-Bagels are delicious but slicing them can also cause severe injuries if you’re not careful!  Apparently, “1,979 people [went to emergency rooms] with BRI (bagel related injuries)…in 2008”!  (Newman, Barry. To Keep the Finger Out of Finger Food, Inventors Seek a Better Bagel Cutter, The Wall Street Journal, December 2009)

-If you enjoy kitchen gadgets, you may want to invest in a bagel slicer to minimize your risk of BRI. But if slicing a bagel without one really makes you feel alive, at least be smart about it and don’t hold it in your hand while you cut!  Place it on a flat surface, hold it down with one hand and carefully slice through the bagel horizontally. (

Thursday, March 13, 2014

I Heart the New York Bagel Café

It had me at the mustards.

The first thing I saw after I crossed Gateway Boulevard and stepped into the New York Bagel Café was the centre-piece of mustards, hot sauces, jams and honeys grouped together on each table and I fell for NYBC.

Great centerpieces and menu!
How could I not?! There were three kinds of mustard on my table and I hadn’t even seen the menu yet!

It was my first time venturing into the little bistro on Gateway and 84 Ave and I was excited to take myself out for lunch for a different kind of sandwich experience and finally discover its appeal. I caught it at a quiet moment in the afternoon, which is a rare thing since I've heard that comfortable space is bursting with people during a post-Farmer’s Market run on the weekend. I was grateful for the quiet, as it gave me time to take in the friendly vibe - and to study the incredible menu.

The range of choices is definitely impressive for a place that size. NYBC has an extensive breakfast menu with over 20 different Eggs Benedict combinations, plus a solid selection of meat-free bennies and fresh perogies every day. But seeing as it’s the New York Bagel Café, there was really only one option I was willing to consider.
Not the average sandwich menu...

Or so I thought… 

After reading through and visualizing/taste-alizing (like visualizing, only with taste) the remarkably long list of bagel platters, I went with a classic: Lox and Cream Cheese. On white, whole wheat, cheddar or pumpernickel? Or rye bread? While I was tempted by the different options, I chose the whole wheat bagel.  What better way to be ease into this new eatery than with a tried-and-true selection?

It’s always exciting to wait for your food the first time you visit a new restaurant and I enjoyed my wait.  The eclectic music of lively Latin beats, bohemian guitar and the gravely vocals of Leonard Cohen added to the laid-back, slightly off-beat atmosphere. There was even a stack of Far Side comic books to peruse through while I anticipated my lunch's arrival.

Lox and Cream Cheese: an NYBC classic.
New York Bagel Café gets full marks for food presentation! My chosen bagel platter was a beautiful sight to behold: an artfully arranged, colourful spread of brown bagel, rusty-coloured lox, khaki capers and crisp white cream cheese and onions - plus a sour dill pickle on the side.

Since I am that person who takes photos of their food in public, I quickly snapped a few images on my phone and started in on my bagel masterpiece.  

Taking full advantage of the DIY factor involved, I laid the cream cheese on thick, then piled on the lox, capers and yes, the onions because apparently, I like them now!, and I savored that beautiful first bite.

Don't hold the onions - they're great on this bagel!
Really lovely flavours and textured emerged as I ate up my bagel: the smoky, oily salmon, the sharp crunch of onions and the peppery capers. Alternating crunchy bites of bagel with sips from the frothy blend of espresso and chocolate and warmth that was my moca, I thoroughly appreciated the experience of NYBC. 

It’s a good food restaurant, not a fast food one, as a small sign on the bar indicates, so go when you have time to sit, relax and be intrigued by different bagel combinations, intense coffee selections and the varied collection of condiments on your table.  Don’t rush your New York Bagel Café experience; take your time to delight in its charms.

The only unfortunate part of the afternoon - I didn’t get to try all the mustards on my table. But I’m looking forward to going back so I can see which bagel platter pairs well with my beloved whole gain Dijon…

It may take more than one trip back to find it, but I’m up for the challenge!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Green Eggs and Ham Sandwich

Classic Dr. Seuss: try something new and you may like it!
Do you like Green Eggs and Ham?

Let’s go make some, Blog-I-Am! 

March 2, 2014, marked the late, great Dr. Seuss’ 110th Birthday!  He was born Theodor Seuss Geisel and is still beloved by children and adults alike around the world for his quirky, imaginative and surprisingly profound children’s books. 

When I think back on some of my ‘learning to read’ memories, Dr. Seuss is there, right along with Robert Munsch, Shel Silverstein and Beatrix Potter. Green Eggs and Ham was a classic (probably because I was such a picky eater) and we always watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas during the holidays. The speech of the valedictorian of my high school graduating class was even interspersed with excerpts from Oh, The Places You’ll Go. There was not a dry-eye in the house...

Dr. Seuss has been part of my journey through childhood, young-adulthood, auntie-hood and teacher-hood. As an auntie to two amazing little boys, we’ve spent hours reading aloud together and nothing is more fun than stumbling through the tongue-twister masterpiece Fox in Socks while a little four year-old giggles uncontrollably! Even the older kids in my life love to get ‘Seussified’, like the Junior High students I directed in The Seussification of Romeo and Juliet, the Drama 7 class that brought The Lorax to life, and the English 10 class who enjoyed listening to Green Eggs and Ham. Those almost-too-cool high school students didn't even notice they’d transformed back into kids while I read to them.  Plus, it helped them understand the tricky concept of theme.

To honor the birthday of the man whose books hold a special place in my heart, as they do in the hearts of so many others (Beatrix Potter herself included!), I was inspired to recreate the most famous, oddly-colourful food in sandwich form: Green Eggs and Ham!

You do not like them. So you say.

Try them! Try them! And you may.

Green Eggs and Ham ingredients!
For this Special Literary Lunch, you will need:

Eggs (for two sandwiches, I used four eggs)
Sandwich Bread, toasted
Chopped Green Pepper
Fresh Dill, finely chopped
Green Food-Colouring (a few drops)
Ground Pepper
Swiss cheese (for the Mouse, while you enjoy it in your House)

How to make them here or there, how to make them anywhere:

1 – Crack the eggs in a skillet over medium-heat.
2 – Keep them moving by constantly stirring them in the skillet to avoid burning/sticking and add the green pepper and dill.
3 – Squeeze a few drops of the green food colouring onto the eggs while they’re still runny and keep stirring them to set the colour.
4 – Divide the eggs into sandwich portions and remove from heat. Bread should be toasted now to avoid drying out.
5 – Spread some mayo and mustard on the toasted bread and place the eggs and cheese on one slice.
6 – Arrange the ham (the damn ham, as Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird might say) on the other slice and sprinkle with dill. (Or if you want to dye your ham green too, go for it!)
7 – Assemble the sandwich and slice for easy eating.

Ready for lunch! Munch, munch, munch!

The crisp, faintly bitter flavor of the green pepper contrasts nicely with the sweet, slightly tangy taste of the dill – much like the up-beat, optimistic Sam-I-Am and his bitter counterpart. The melted cheese and the sharp tinge of mustard combine with the other ingredients at just the right moments; just as the profound themes of Dr. Seuss’ stories don’t overpower the plot, they are subtle, yet truthful.

Plus it’s just so much fun to eat a Green Eggs and Ham sandwich! My inner four year-old was giggling along with my adult-self.

You can eat them in a box, with a fox, in a house, with a mouse. 
You can eat them here or there, you can eat them anywhere!
If you try Green Eggs and Ham, you may like them, Blog-I-Am!

I do so like Green Eggs and Ham!
Some fun, little-known facts about Dr. Seuss:

*He wrote Green Eggs and Ham on a bet with his publisher that he could write a book using only 50 different words.  He won when it was published in 1960 and it remains one of his best-selling books.

*If I Ran the Zoo, published in 1950, introduces the word nerd. Thanks, Doc!

*Many of Dr. Seuss’ books have a political bent: Yertle the Turtle, 1958, opposes tyrannical dictators, The Sneetches and Other Stories, 1961, decries racism and Antisemitism and The Lorax, 1971, warns of the dangers of exploiting the environment.

*Due to its political themes, The Lorax has been on the American Library Association’s Annual List of Banned Books.  Who knew?

*Dr. Seuss was awarded in the Pultizer Prize in 1984.

For more Seuss titles and info, check out:

Happy Reading and Eating!