Printed word rituals + sandwich contemplation

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Little by little, shelf by shelf, my house is filling up with magazines. Piles of dogeared, coffee-stained New Yorkers and Atlantics, whole shelves crammed with food and fashion magazines of varying age and condition, and the prized bookbound Kinfolk issues neatly stacked under the coffee table.

There are plenty of books, too, though their numbers have leveled off considerably since I caved and got a Kindle.

My true printed love has always been magazines. Less fleeting than daily news with feature stories that can live far beyond the day or week of their release, though most are easily enough consumed in several minutes. Some stay with you–reflections from the survivor of a strange or cruel trial imbue a weird funk that you can’t shake. A powerful descriptor thrusts an everyday city street, meal or facial feature into the spotlight of an otherwise mundane routine.

Words can of course be as powerful on a screen, but print comes with a mini ritual that forces the reader to engage in a way that dragging a finger over a screen can’t replicate. Turning a page or creasing a newspaper, slipping an old train stub in between pages to serve as a makeshift bookmark. Such printed word rituals were on my mind this week after I watched an older man methodically read his newspaper on the crowded subway. Deft folds between spreads to keep the paper’s real estate to a minimum. A quick, clean rrrrip to remove the stock numbers page of the business section, which he then folded and tucked in his jacket pocket for later. Surpassing the entire “life” section with a “flip” after pinching the snubbed portion between his fingers and thumb.

As everyone else on the train stared down at their smartphones, it was impossible to tell who was reading something aside from that man with his paper.

All this print nostalgia has very little to do with this chicken sandwich, which I made for Sean one evening before meeting a friend for dinner. But like a New Yorker review I just read of Tina Fey’s new Netflix sitcom, “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” I contemplated each layer of this sandwich probably way longer than I should have.

To be fair, it is pretty damn complex for a chicken sandwich. The chicken is laced with citrus and warming Indian spices; blistered shishito peppers lend a grassy, smoky flavor brightened by a squirt of fresh lemon juice; the feta adds sharp saltiness; and fresh cilantro heightens the grassy, citrus flavors that permeate this dinner-worthy sandwich.

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Blistered shishito and chicken sandwich
serves 1

Ingredients

    1 chicken breast
    1 lemon, divided
    Extra virgin olive oil
    1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
    1/8 teaspoon cayenne
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    Salt and pepper
    3 or 4 whole shishito peppers
    1 small shallot
    8-inch piece of crusty bread (ciabatta or a bolillo roll works well)
    Mayonnaise
    2 ounces feta cheese
    1/2 cup baby spinach leaves
    1/4 cup cilantro leaves

Method: Put the chicken breast in a quart-size freezer bag with the juice of half the lemon, 2 teaspoons of olive oil, the garam masala, cayenne, garlic and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. Close the bag and massage the marinade into the chicken until evenly coated. Marinate for about 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet over high heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil, the shishitos, shallot and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook, tossing frequently, until the peppers are blistered on all sides and the shallots are caramelized, about 5 minutes. Squeeze the juice of the other half of the lemon over the vegetables, remove them from the heat and set aside. Wipe the skillet clean.

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Remove the chicken from the marinade bag, and slice it into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Toss it with a bit more salt and pepper. (As you can see, I marinaded three chicken breasts at once–so tripled the marinade amount–because this chicken is effing good in/on everything.)

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Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet and add the chicken when the oil slides easily around the pan. Add the chicken and cook for about 5 minutes until just done. Remove, and set aside.

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To build the sandwich, slice the bread in half, and tear out a little of the inside if it seems too bready. Spread each side with a bit of mayo.

Slice the shishitos in half and remove the stems if you prefer. Layer on the chicken, feta, shishitos, shallots, spinach and cilantro leaves.

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Close and shovel in mouth immediately.

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Because we need one more excuse to eat grilled cheese

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Guys, did you know that April was Grilled Cheese Month? Truth be told, I had no idea until late last week, when a large, heavy box addressed to Marge Hennessy arrived in the mail.

“Marge?” I thought aloud. This must be from someone in my blog family. Turns out, it was. My friends at Kerrygold USA had shipped a few blocks of their milder cheeses along with their rich Irish butter in celebration of this yet-unbeknownst-to-me holiday. So I figured this was as good a time as any for a little grilled cheese testing.

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I’m not a real prescriptivist when it comes to grilled cheese. All I really require is a bit of crunch (properly grilled bread), a lot of ooze (sufficiently melty cheese) and a hint of tang (either from natural cheese funk, a smear of mustard or even a little shaved raw onion).

The most crucial part of making grilled cheese is to get the heat just right so the cheese melts and the bread toasts at about the same speed. I’ve found that a cast iron pan over medium-low heat, plenty of soft butter on both sides, and several flips of the sandwich seem to do the trick.

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My favorite melting cheeses are: Fontina, Gruyere, young/sharp cheddar, mozzarella and Kraft singles (ain’t no shame in it)! My favorite accent cheeses are (don’t overdo it!): goat, blue, grated Parmesan and aged cheddar.

From there, I love all kinds of additions, from avocado to bacon, fig jam and apples slices to roasted tomato and blistered peppers. But like pizza toppings, I’ve found that a little goes a long way when it comes to grilled cheese add-ons.

For this grilled cheese test, I made these four sandwiches:
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  • Fontina + Kerrygold Skellig sweet cheddar
  • Fontina + Kerrygold Skellig sweet cheddar w/ avocado & grainy mustard
  • Kerrygold Blarney Castle (gouda) + Kerrygold aged cheddar
  • Kerrygold Blarney Castle + Kerrygold aged cheddar w/ roasted cherry tomato + shallot

All the sandwiches were made with the same bread, Tuscan pane from Labriola. I love this bread for grilled cheese because it has a fairly neutral flavor; soft, slightly cobwebby interior; and not-too-crunchy crust. If you can’t find it, good old white bread or Pullman loaves work really well for grilled cheese, too.

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The runaway favorite for the tastiest classic grilled cheese was…(WAIT FOR IT) fontina + sweet cheddar.

The fancy (AKA Margeified) favorite was gouda + aged cheddar with roasted cherry tomato and shallot.

I guess that because Grilled Cheese Month is over, I’ve technically failed you. But I prefer to think of this post as a win due to all the grilled cheese eating that it allowed to happen. Plus, now you have a whole year to test out grilled cheeses in preparation for April 2015.