Friday, April 29, 2011

"Elvis" for Lunch: Peanut Butter, Banana and Bacon

I knew that Elvis had a penchant for peanut butter. And I knew Elvis's tastes ran more to the gourmand than gourmet. But I never knew about his favorite sandwich: a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich with bacon. (Did I just hear you say “Wow!”?)

It’s been rumored that Elvis could eat up to 15 of these at a time, and the sandwich was grilled in bacon fat, but even in the interest of science, I couldn’t bring myself to do that.

I learned about “The Elvis” from reading my review copy of Susan Russo’s new book The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches (Quirk Books, 2011). It is a simply charming book that alphabetically details well over a hundred different sandwiches: their origins, history, trivia, variations and, of course, the recipes, where need be.

It has everything from the familiar – hot dogs and sloppy joes – to the funky – spaghetti sandwiches and the potato chip sandwich. And all kinds of regional faves, like po’ boys and lobster rolls. Even dessert-like sandwiches, like the pound cake sandwich and the fluffernutter.

I was hard pressed to choose just one to post about here, so you may be seeing more, and soon. And the photographs, by Matt Armendariz, are magnificent, nearly edible. Susan’s writing is, as usual, just delightful to read.

Sandwiches are ubiquitous and can be as everyday normal as the Isaly’s chipped chopped ham sandwich on white bread I took with me in my school lunch bag to the sumptuous sophistication of a Monte Cristo.

Growing up, we had a family favorite that I think it was my brother Bob who christened as “The PeaLeTom”: A peanut butter, lettuce and tomato sandwich on toast. We thought it was the poor man’s version of the BLT and it’s still a favorite of mine. Elvis had nothing on us!

When I was making this for lunch the other day, Mr. Rosemary walked by:

“Who’s that for?”


“Looks better than mine. What’s in it?”

After I told him, he said, “Never mind.”

The Elvis
from Susan Russo’s Encyclopedia of Sandwiches

2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 slices white bread (I used rye)
1 ripe banana, mashed (I just sliced mine)
2 slices bacon (just 1 for me)
2 tablespoons butter

Spread peanut butter on one slice of bread, banana on the other. Add bacon slices and close sandwich.

Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Cook sandwich two minutes per side, or until golden. Eat it while it’s hot. Keep all the ingredients close at hand – you’ll likely be making another.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Non-Easter Easter Ham and Broccoli Quiche

It doesn’t look like Easter. It doesn’t feel like Easter. It’s gray, rainy, and 40 degrees, and I'm crabby about it.  I just got back from a Florida vacation where it was sunny and in the 80’s all the time and my daughter gave me a cold down there. So, yes, I’m more than a little crabby, not to mention un-ambitious, and in no mood to cook up a festive, spring meal.

When it gets to really be rug-cutting time, I know I’ll pull my socks up and get on with it, and this is what I’ll whip up for an Easter brunch – a ham and broccoli quiche. It’s traditional, it’s classic and it just might be the ticket to put me in a spring-like mood.

I love quiche. It’s a lot like a pizza to me. It can easily handle a lot of variations, lots of different combinations. And if you take the cheater’s way out (as I often do) and use refrigerated pie dough, it’s a snap to make. (Although I have gotten much better at making pastry, I’m proud to say.) And since you can serve it warm or at room temperature, it’s a perfect company dish.

Once I hosted a baby shower for a friend and the menu was quiche, fruit salad and cheesecake. My daughter (the same one who gave me the $^#&*# cold) helped me with the quiche assembly line. We made eight quiches, four different kinds: Ham and broccoli, bacon and onion, spinach and shrimp, asparagus and ham, all with a healthy helping of cheese. First we placed a layer of shredded cheese in the pastry–lined pans, then the meat and vegetable filling, then more cheese, then poured the custard up to the edge of the pie. (Baking eight pies at once was something I’d never done before and convinced me that catering was not for me.) Everything went off without a hitch and everyone wanted to sample every quiche. Only crumbs left in the pans.

I follow the basic formula for quiche I started using years ago from a cookbook I bought from a New Hampshire restaurant called Peter Christian’s that is now defunct. I liked it because it was just a formula rather than a follow-by-the-letter recipe. I also liked the addition of sherry to the custard. The only things that are constant are the eggs, half-and-half, cheese and onions. And even those are variable to a degree. You can enrich the quiche with cream or using a variety of cheeses.

So this as Easter-y as I’m getting this year. I really had the best intentions of making an Easter Pie. If the spirit moves me later this evening, maybe . . . just maybe . . . . .

In the meantime, I hope you're in a sunnier place -- or at least a sunnier mood -- and have a blessed Easter with family and friends.

Basic Recipe for a Quiche
Serves 8

Pastry for one-crust pie
4 eggs
1 ½ cups half and half
½ cup sherry
Dashes each of freshly ground black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg and dash of cayenne pepper
4 cups grated cheese, any variety
½ cup chopped scallions
1 cup cooked and cooled vegetable of choice
1 cup cooked and cooled meat of choice
(or use 2 cups of a veggie variety)

• Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

• Place pastry in pie pan and flute edges any pretty way you like.

• Sprinkle 1 cup of cheese and the scallions in the bottom of the crust. Cover the cheese and onions evenly with the veggies and/or meat of your choice. Then sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the veggie-meat mixture.

• To make custard, combine the eggs, half-and-half, sherry and seasonings in a bowl with a whisk and blend well.

• Pour the custard over the cheese-veggie-meat mixture to within ¼ inch of the top of the crust.

• Bake at 425 for ten minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees and bake another 45 to 50 minutes until the top is golden brown and is slightly puffed.

• Let cool at least 15 minutes before cutting. Serve either warm or at room temperature; refrigerate any leftovers if you have them.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lemon Pasta with Shrimp – No Lenten Dissent

Growing up Catholic, we were subjected to a rather meager menu of Friday Lenten meals. There was tuna fish salad, my mom’s tomato-ed version of mac 'n cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, and fish fry at the local Knights of Columbus Hall. Very little variety. I never really knew that real fish was ever cooked at home. That wasn’t my mother’s fault: That was just growing up in a small town in the sixties, where there just wasn’t much variety available. (Of course, sacrifice is supposed to be the name of the game, isn’t it.)

Occasionally we did have blocks of frozen some-kind-of-fish but that did little to stir any craving in me. But when I got to out (aside from the K of C) I immediately gravitated towards shrimp, Lent or not, and that’s one childhood love I’ve held onto to tightly. Shrimp in any form.

I made this lemon sauced pasta last week and it was so darn lip-smacking good, I think I’ll make it again this Friday. (So much for variety, huh?) I was inspired by Indigo’s Sugar Spectrum, who was inspired by Smitten Kitchen. I adapted the recipe, though. I used half and half instead of cream, fresh spinach instead of basil or arugula or chives and I added shrimp. The pasta was delectable on its own, but the addition of shrimp was a perfect complement. The lemony sauce is nicely tart but sweetened by the half-and-half.

I just steamed the shrimp but next time (that will be this Friday) I’m going to roast the shrimp first. Can’t believe that as much as I love roasted vegetables I didn’t think of this myself.

Before taking a look at the recipe, a very simple one, read this delightful little poem. I found this a couple weeks ago on my daily newsletter The Writers Almanac and the author was kind enough to give me permission to use it here. Get a chuckle.

Lenten Dissent
by Cherie Lashway

There once was a logger, named Paddy O'Connell,
Who at lunch during Lent, found himself at McDonalds,
And had just settled down to his Big Mac and fries,
When along came his priest, much to both their surprise.

The priest said to Paddy, "Just what are you eating?
In this season of Lent, I sure hope you're not cheating."
Paddy said to the Father, "I'll tell you no lies.
I'm enjoying a Big Mac, along with some fries."

The priest said to Paddy, "I see no repentance.
Because of this sin, you will have to do penance.

"By Friday or sooner, I say that you should,
For our fireplace, deliver a cord of chopped wood."

Now our timberman, Paddy, an overworked man,
Did think to himself, "I don't think that I can."

But early on Friday, our priest, he heard shoveling,
And looked out the window at Paddy not groveling.
And saw with confusion, dismay and disgust,
That the wood bin was now almost filled with saw dust.

He called down below, barely hiding his ire:
"Hey Paddy, your penance was wood for the fire!"

To which Paddy said, rising up from his work,
While wiping his brow and concealing a smirk:

"I've brought you a cord, like you said that I should,
But if burger be meat, well then sawdust be wood!"

"Lenten Dissent" by Cherie Lashway, used with permission of the author

Now for the recipe . . .

Lemon and Spinach Pasta with Shrimp
Adapted from Indigo’s Sugar Spectrum and Smitten Kitchen

1 pound spaghetti or linguine
3 lemons
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup half and half
½ cup of Parmesan, plus more for serving
4 cups baby spinach
1 pound steamed shrimp

Zest and juice the lemons – you’ll need a good tablespoon of zest and 1/2 cup of juice. Cook and drain pasta, reserving 1-1/2 cups of pasta cooking water. Dry out your pot, then boil the olive oil, half and half, zest and 1 cup of the reserved pasta water together for two minutes over high heat. Return pasta to pot and stir until coated. Add the cheese and 1/4 cup lemon juice and toss everything together. Add more pasta water, 1/4 cup at a time, until the noodles are nice and loose. Add remaining lemon juice, then toss in spinach leaves until wilted.  Add the shrimp and toss again.

Have more cheese on hand to sprinkle on the served plates.