Tag Archives: sandwiches

Foodie Challenge: Balsamic Reduction

Ever read the fabulous food blog Country Cleaver? You should. It’s author, Megan Keno, is amazing. Each week, she posts an instructional kitchen how-to lesson. This week, it was how to make a perfect balsamic vinegar reduction. One ingredient, one method, one beautiful result. As a new twist, she is turning her How-To Tuesday posts into a monthly contest. The winner receives a $25 gift card to Target. I like Target, but I love a food challenge. Let’s do this!

Photo courtesy of Megan at CountryCleaver.com; used with written permission

Photo courtesy of Megan at CountryCleaver.com; used with written permission

To participate, you must follow Megan’s how-to lesson and then show your work. I like this SO much better than math class word problems. Since I had a bottle of balsamic vinegar in the pantry, I jumped right on it and used my reduction for lunch. First, let’s talk about the process. All you need is a bottle of balsamic vinegar and a heavy-bottomed saucepan with rounded edges.

Bahn Mi - Balsamic Reduction Collage

Step 1: Measure 1 cup of balsamic vinegar.
Step 2: Pour it into a saucepan with curved sides (important for whisking).
Step 3: Cook over medium-low heat until reduced by 1/2 and syrupy.
Step 4: Pour into a heat-proof glass container & cool to room temp.

It’s really that simple. I will say, I was afraid I would burn this and have to pour it out or start over. To prevent that, I stayed close to it, whisked often, and when it started to bubble and thicken, I reduced the flame to low – just to be sure. When it was thick enough to coat a spoon and I could scrape a path through the pan with a silicone spatula, I knew I was golden.

Bahn Mi - Balsamic Reduction Test

So what do you do with balsamic reduction? I decided to use mine on sandwiches for lunch – specifically spicy chicken bahn mi sandwiches. Because why eat a boring bologna sandwich when you can have something schmancy? Actually, I hopped on this one because I had all the ingredients at hand.

Bahn Mi - Finished Sandwich Glamor Shot

Oh yeah, baby…. come to momma! This sandwich was so flipping good, y’all. It was absolutely packed with flavor. Would I eat it again? You bet your sweet bippy I would. Here’s what you’ll need to make it at home.

NanaBread’s Spicy Chicken Bahn Mi:
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. Penzey’s Bangkok Blend spice mix
2 bakery buns (soft on the inside/crusty on the outside)
1-2 tbsp. Thai chili garlic paste
6 baby carrots, julienned
1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced
1 orange mild pepper, thinly sliced
2-3 tbsp. roasted peanuts, chopped
a few rings of purple onion, thinly sliced
one leaf of romaine lettuce, julienned
one handful of cilantro, stems removed
1-2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar reduction
lime wedges, for garnish & squeezing

This recipe starts with the balsamic vinegar reduction.

Bahn Mi - Balsamic Reduction

While your vinegar is reducing, prep your chicken breast by trimming off any excess fat and slicing it into 1/2″ cutlets. Heat a non-stick skillet over high heat, add 1 the olive oil, then carefully add the chicken cutlets to the pan. Sprinkle generously with garlic salt and Bangkok blend and cook just until done, flipping once (approx. 2 minutes on each side). Remove to a plate, tent with foil, and allow them to cool. And try not to snitch, which isn’t easy, because that Penzey’s spice blend smells amazing.

Bahn Mi - Finished Chicken

While your chicken rests, warm your bakery buns. I like to wrap mine in aluminum foil and throw them in the oven on low for about 15 minutes. While they’re warming, julienne your vegetables and chop your peanuts.

Bahn Mi - Ingredient Round-Up

Bahn Mi - Roasted Peanuts

When you’re ready to assemble, slice your bun almost in half horizontally (don’t go all the way through). Smear a generous tablespoon of chili garlic sauce on the bottom half of the bun (or less, as you prefer). Top with a row of chicken cutlets, then layer on the lettuce, peppers, purple onion, carrots and cilantro. To finish, drizzle with balsamic reduction and a squeeze of lime. Hello, gorgeous!

Bahn Mi - Finished - Grey Background

Oh, how I wish we had smell-a-vision. There’s so much going on here. The chicken smells warm & spicy, the chili garlic sauce opens your sinuses, and the balsamic vinegar is tangy and sweet all at the same time. This entire sandwich is an explosion of flavors, and the beauty is that they all seem to balance each other out perfectly – spicy but sweet, crispy yet soft, crunch and creamy.

I served these with one of those microwaveable Asian pad-thai-style noodle bowls topped with a sprinkling of chopped peanuts, a few pepper slices and some fresh cilantro. {Claps hands, drops mic, walks away. Boom!}

Bahn Mi - Finished Sandwich Glamor Shot2

I think Megan’s How-To Tuesday challenges and I are going to get along just fine. And if I don’t win the Target card, I’m still a winner. Because I got to eat that sandwich.

If you want to follow along or jump in and participate, follow Megan at www.countrycleaver.com, or on Twitter @CountryCleaver, or on Instagram and follow the #HowToYOUsDay hashtag.

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I love a good pimento cheese sammich

Pimento Cheese Sandwich - Inside NanaBread's Head

It’s hard to beat a good sandwich, isn’t it? Some people like tuna or egg salad. Some reach for a PB&J, a BLT or a grilled cheese. All are great, but let’s not forget the sometimes overlooked pimento cheese sammy. In my book, a really good homemade pimento cheese made with great cheddar and roasted piquillo peppers is hard to beat.

Let’s break one down. It starts with a great cheese. In this case, my favorite – Tillamook Cheddar. Medium or sharp, it needs to have great flavor.

Pimento Cheese - Tillamook Cheddar - Inside NanaBread's Head

Oh, Tillamook Cheese… how I adore you. If you have a food processor with a grater blade, grating the cheese happens in mere seconds. No fooling.

Pimento Cheese - Grating the Cheese - Inside NanaBread's Head

You only need 6 ounces to make two good-sized sandwiches. Which gives me an excuse to show off one of my favorite kitchen gadgets, my OXO food scale. This little guy is awesome. I’m using it with the digital reader in its ‘parked’ position, but if you’re trying to weigh something larger, it pulls out about 3″ so you can still see it even when using a larger container. Very cool. Just set your empty bowl or plate on the scale and hit ‘zero’ to clear the weight of the plate off, then add enough cheese to hit six ounces.

Pimento Cheese - Cheese Peppers & OXO - Inside NanaBread's Head

Next, grab jar of these gorgeous DeLallo grilled piquillo peppers. No cheap pimentos here, kids. Trust me – these piquillo peppers will rock your world. I love their rich roasted flavor and that they’re packed in water, not vinegar. They are robust and so much better than those small jars of brined pimentos. For this, five or six of these beauties will do nicely.

Pimento Cheese - Piquillo Peppers - Inside NanaBread's Head

In a mixing bowl, combine the grated cheese, chopped peppers and 1/4 cup of mayonnaise (we’re a Hellman’s house). Toss in a pinch of kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon of coarse ground black pepper. Stir until well blended, then cover it tightly and let it sit in the fridge for about 20-30 minutes.

After that, the only decision left is which bread to use, whether to toast it, and what to top it with. We like a good oat nut wheat bread. It’s so darned tasty. I love mine plain; he likes his with add-ons. A pickle on the side gets an A+ too.

Pimento Cheese - His & Hers - Inside NanaBread's Head

Mmm… so good. So creamy. So cheesy. And those piquillo peppers? I could kiss them. So, share time… do you like pimento cheese or do you reach for that BLT? Are you a grilled cheese & tomato soup guy/gal or do you prefer a good tuna or egg salad? Let’s talk sammies. And GO!

Note: I’m aware this post sounds like an advertisement for certain brands, but I swear it’s not. The post was not sponsored in any way by Tillamook Cheese, OXO or DeLallo Foods. These are products I love and use frequently; they just all came together beautifully for this post. All opinions are my own and are shared without influence from the companies shown. I promise.

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Fun with Food: Chicken Shawarma

NanaBread's Chicken Shawarma

I’ve had an itch to try new recipes lately. Exciting new recipes. Exotic new recipes. Inspired by our impending vacation plans, I decided to tackle something from far away lands – chicken shawarma. Have I ever tried it? No, I have not. But that’s the beauty of trying new things. Sometimes you just have to crawl out of your comfort zone.

Enter the TasteSpotting website. Ever seen it? It’s a visual feast, for sure, but it’s more than that. It’s a network of bloggers who post their recipes for the world to see and enjoy. It’s where I found this gorgeous recipe for Chicken Shawarma by kurryleaves. Her gorgeous photo on TasteSpotting peaked my interest, but her post convinced me to give it a try. It convinced me hard.

Now fast forward to our trip on Monday to our local Mediterranean grocer. If you remember, I mentioned it in my rambling Dr Pepper-induced rant about my new bargain designer purse from Macy’s. (Do I owe you an apology if you read that one? I feel like I might.) Anyway, The Complete Package and I dropped in for lunch and while we were there I browsed the grocery selection. What else is a girl to do while waiting for her gyro with extra feta and hot sauce? While browsing, I found garbanzos to make hummus with, the most fabulous bag of warm pita bread I’ve ever seen in my entire life, a small block of my beloved haloumi cheese, and the new love of my life – pasteurized kefir cheese. Have you seen this stuff? Have mercy – I’m in love. Big love. It’s like slightly soft, slightly salty cream cheese that melts in your mouth. It’s like Greek yogurt on steroids. It’s what my new Syrian buddy at the Mediterranean market recommended. My new bestest kefir eating buddy. We’re tight now.

Oh, kefir cheese... where have you been all my life?

So, I tell The Complete Package that I’ll be branching out and making him chicken shawarma with all my market goodies, and you know what he ordered for lunch? A chicken shawarma. Go figure. I don’t know what he was thinking, but I know what I was. I was thinking “great, now I can be judged for a recipe I’ve never made against a Syrian kefir-eating shawarma guru.” A lesser woman would have thrown a little hissy fit and put the pita back on the shelf, but not me. I’m tenacious. I love a challenge. And at the time, I was hopped up on Dr Pepper. (Again…I apologize.)

So here’s what I done did. Basically, I used kurryleaves’ recipe for the chicken marinade, the toppings and the method, then went out on my own for the tahini and tzatziki. So let’s take a look at how it all went down. Ready, Freddy?

First, I bought a package of chicken breast tenders. I brought them home, removed that crazy tendon that runs down the middle, and threw them in a gallon Ziploc bag with the marinade. I should clarify that I used kurryleave’s marinade as a guideline. For instance, I left out cumin (yuck), substituted my favorite yellow curry powder for the turmeric, and I added cayenne pepper (because I was unsure of what pepper powder might be). It smelled so good! The chicken has to marinate in the fridge overnight, so start this one early.

Next, I made a batch of my favorite lemon & garlic hummus. I made about a quart so we could eat it as a side dish with the extra pita bread and to use in place of the tahini sauce on the sandwiches.

After the hummus was in the fridge, I mixed up a batch of tzatziki to dress the sandwiches with. I made my own version based on a few I found at Tasty Kitchen, my favorite recipe source. Since I despise dill (except for dill pickles), I used flat-leaf Italian parsley. So in all, it was my new kefir cheese (or you could use Greek yogurt), parsley, finely minced onion, grated cucumber (pressed into paper towels to remove any liquid), salt, lemon juice and a splash of red wine vinegar. Oh, I also threw in a pinch of freshly ground black pepper. Using the kefir or yogurt as a base, you add the minced onion, grated cucumber and parsley (or dill) – then add the lemon juice, red wine vinegar and salt to your own taste. This is really good stuff, especially if you’re a Greek yogurt and cucumber lover. I made extra of this, too, so we could really slather it on and eat the leftovers with pita bread. Tzatziki is great as a dip, too.

Pita bread, hummus and tzatziki - the shawarma trinity

Last but not least, you’ll want to slice up a tomato, a little bit of purple onion, some cucumber and a little lettuce. Set it aside until you’re ready to assemble your shawarmas.

In a hot non-stick skillet, heat a tablespoon or two of canola oil. Fry your marinated chicken tenders until they are well done, turning once, and place them on a cutting board or plate to cool for a few minutes. When ready, chop or slice your chicken into bite-size pieces.

That colorful marinade is pure flavor, baby.

Now for the fun part – shawarma assembly. If you’re using a large, thin middle-eastern style pita, lay it out flat. If you’re using the smallish ones you find in most grocery stores, cut the top edge off and open it up. Give the inside of your pita a schmear of hummus. Top with chicken, then spoon on some tzatziki sauce. If you want, you can give it a shot of hot sauce or some sriracha chili sauce. That’s what I’ll be doing. Top with your choice of cucumber, tomato, purple onion and lettuce, then carefully roll up your pita and dig in. The verdict: loved it! I loved making all the different components. Loved that gorgeous marinade. Loved the tzatziki. Loved it all. I’ll definitely be making this again. It’s a keeper.

We're gonna shawarma all up in this joint.

One last warning. Make sure you have napkins or paper towels close by and push your sleeves up. This sandwich may get messy. Serve it with a side of hummus and tzatziki with carrot sticks or a nice Greek salad. I’d recommend an ice-cold Dr Pepper, too, but that’s where I tend to get in trouble.

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TCP Cooks: Flank Steak Sandwiches with Soy-Ginger Mayonnaise

TCP's Steak Sandwiches with Soy-Ginger Mayo - No one can eat just one!

This sandwich has become a Complete Package signature dish. He’s made it so often, family and friends consider it a trademark TCP creation. But the truth is the recipe came from The America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook (2001, Boston Common Press). Once he tried it, we were hooked. The recipe may sound less than dazzling at first glance, but it’s packed with tremendous flavor. It’s hard to describe, except to say that everyone who’s ever tried it loves it. Last week, when Mom and two of my sisters were here, TCP broke out the flank steak sandwiches, and they fell in love. They’re that good. The key is a good flank steak and the soy-ginger mayonnaise. If you’re not a ginger fan, don’t worry. Mom isn’t either, but she loved these sandwiches. All I can say is “try them…you’ll like them!”

First, mix up the Soy-Ginger Mayonnaise:
1/2 cup of Hellman’s Mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip, Hellman’s – TCP insists)
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon of honey
1/2 teaspoon of garlic, smashed to a paste
1 teaspoon of fresh ginger, grated on a microplane
1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until well blended. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. You can make this up to one day in advance, and it really tastes best if you make it early so all the flavors come together.

For the sandwiches, you’ll need:
1 1/2 pounds of flank steak, trimmed of fat & patted dry
1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt
Salt & Pepper, to your own taste
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil (if you use a skillet)
1 baguette of French bread (use a good soft one)
The soy-ginger mayonnaise (made in advance)
1/2 of a small purple onion, sliced paper thin
2-3 cups of arugula, washed, stemmed & dried

Season your flank steak with garlic salt, salt & pepper. If you’re using a cast iron skillet, heat it to blazing hot first, add the oil and then add your flank steak. If you’re using an outdoor grill, you can skip the oil and just season it first. Either way, cook your flank steak over high heat until the outside is seared and the inside is medium-rare. Remove from the heat and allow it to rest on a cutting board for 10 minutes. If you have a piece of foil handy, throw it over the steak to keep it warm. While the steak is resting, prep the rest of the sandwich.

Slice your baguette in half lengthwise and toast each half on the grill or in a dry skillet or griddle until lightly toasted. Spread each half liberally with soy-ginger mayonnaise. Cutting across the grain and on a bias (45 degree angle), thinly slice your flank steak and place it on the bottom half of the baguette. Top the steak with purple onion and arugula and put the lid on it. Gently press the sandwich to bring it all together, then slice into 4″ to 6″ segments and serve immediately.

We could talk about side dishes for this meal, but the truth is I never remember what we had with these sandwiches. Pickles? Chips? Maybe. I really couldn’t tell you. They’re so good, everything else becomes a blur. And really, you don’t need anything except a handful of napkins and something cold to wash them down with. Enjoy! And thanks for making these for the girls, honey. You da’ man!

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N’Awlins-Style Muffaletta Sandwich: Aww, cher…make ya say “Aieee!”


One of my favorite sandwiches in this big wide world is a good New Orleans style muffaletta. Like most muffaletta virgins, I had my first at Central Grocery in the French Quarter. Once you’ve dined at the birthplace of any great food, nothing else will ever compare. And while our version comes pretty close, you should definitely stop by Central the next time you’re in the French Quarter and try the original. It’s a N’Awlins tradition – like Mardi Gras parades with beads, beignets at Cafe du Monde, or hurricanes at Pat O’Briens. Nobody does food and fun like New Orleans, but here’s how we try to harness the party at our house.


NanaBread’s Muffaletta Sandwich:
1 round sourdough bread boule
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound thin-sliced deli ham (not a sweet one; use old-fashioned baked ham)
4 slices of provolone cheese
1/3 cup of mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip, people; use the good stuff)
1 small can of chopped black olives (4.25 ozs.; you only need half of the can)
24 small pimento-stuffed green olives
2 Tbsp. of juice from the green olive jar (trust me)
3 Tbsp. Italian Olive Salad Mix (optional, but use it if you can find it)

Start by slicing your sourdough boule horizontally; you’ll want the bottom to be about 1″ thick. Using your fingers or a spoon, remove some of the excess bread from the top, leaving a deep indentation in the dome of your boule. Drizzle one tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil over each half of the bread. If you need to, use your fingers to work the oil out to the edges and into the nooks and crannies. Place both halves oiled side down on a griddle until the bread is a beautiful golden brown. (If you don’t have a griddle, a non-stick skillet works just as well.) I also like to weigh down the top so the surface is pressed down onto the griddle.

While the bread is toasting, chop the green olives, open the can of black olives, and spoon out 3 tablespoons of Italian Olive Salad mix; set aside. One quick side note about the Italian Olive Salad: you may be wondering why I use olives AND an olive salad mix together. The answer is that the olive salad mix also contains a mouth-watering mix of other vegetables (cauliflower, peppers, carrots, celery) and spices preserved in olive oil. Do you have to use it? No. But if you can find it, the olive salad will add another extraordinary layer of flavor. Trust me.

Once your bread is toasted to a beautiful, crispy golden brown, remove it from the griddle and place both sides face up on a cutting board. In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise and olive juice and blend until smooth (it will be a little on the thin side). Dress each half of the bread with the mayonnaise mixture. Make sure you spread it all the way out to the edges. It’s imperative. Okay, really it’s just so all the olives stick. Next, sprinkle your green olives and olive salad on the top half, and the black olives on the bottom half. Don’t fret about separating friends. They’re all coming to the party in the end. You’ll see.

Layer your thin-sliced ham over the top of your black olives, making sure the ham goes all the way out to the edges again. (Remember – no honey or maple glazed ham, please! It will ruin the flavor of the sandwich. You really just need a simple old-fashioned or baked deli ham here.) Arrange your provolone cheese slices over the top of your green olives. Place both halves face-up on a baking sheet and toast them under the broiler until the ham warms and the cheese turns into this gooey, gorgeous golden hue. Remove from the broiler.

Using a spatula, flip the top half onto the bottom half to bring your sandwich together. Everyone is at the party now, and they are all getting along famously. It’s world peace in a sourdough boule. Allow your muffaletta to rest for at least 5 minutes before you cut it. It will be hard. It may even seem impossible. If you need a distraction, grab an Abita Beer, a bag of Zapp’s Cajun Crawtator chips, and a handful of napkins. Once you’re ready, grab a serrated bread knife and cut the muffaletta into wedges, like you’re slicing a pie. Mmmmm….pie.

Don’t get fancy here and try to serve this on a real plate. This is bar hopping food. You want to slap that sucker on a paper plate or wrap it in a little butcher paper. Then settle in with your muffaletta, your cold Abita beer, that bag of zesty, crunchy Cajun crawtators and let your mind slip away to an enchanted land of live oaks, Spanish moss, warm breezes, hot beignets and hotter jazz. Oh, New Orleans…you are unforgettable. Happy Mardi Gras, y’all.

Certified Yummly Recipes on Yummly.com

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