Brown bag inspiration

Chefs elevate the humble sandwich

Staff WriterJune 3, 2009 

  • Autumn Faughn, marketing and community relations specialist for Whole Foods Market in Milwaukee, suggested eight simple sandwiches she considers "sandwich epiphanies" for lunch at your desk:

    Try alternative seed or nut spreads like tahini or cashew butter with jam.

    Pair creamy smoked Gouda with sliced apples on pecan raisin bread.

    Layer garlic hummus with ripe tomatoes and sharp cheddar cheese on spelt bread.

    Try roasted yellow peppers, ripe tomatoes and a spread of cream cheese on a French baguette.

    Stuff pita bread with sliced chicken breast, lightly dressed spinach salad and purple onions.

    Spread ham salad on rye bread with dill pickles.

    Put deli-roasted veggies and pepper jack cheese between slices of olive bread.

    Arrange cream cheese and apple or cucumber slices on sourdough raisin bread.

    Karen Herzog, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

  • Anything perishable that will be kept at room temperature for more than two hours should be packed with ice. Frozen fruit or juice can serve as edible or drinkable ice packs.

    Room temperature, moisture and protein are the three feeders of bacteria. Dry hot food on racks and pat dry with a paper towel to reduce moisture before packing in containers.

    If time is an issue, make a week's worth of sandwiches over the weekend, put them in the freezer, and take one to work each day. They will thaw by lunchtime. Pack moist vegetables or condiments separately to keep bread from turning soggy.

    Create a lunch pool with four people at work. Each person packs five lunches to share one day a week.

    Repurpose plastic condiment cups for salad dressings and dips.

    Invest in reusable lunch containers. There is a variety in different shapes, sizes, designs and materials: plastic, glass and stainless steel.

    McClatchy Newspapers

Many of us interested in saving a few dollars are resorting to lunches of the brown bag variety. That doesn't mean our midday meal has to become a steady rotation of PB&J, tuna or turkey.

We can do better. And so, we sought advice from the handful of Triangle chefs who have elevated the local sandwich scene: Matt and Sheila Neal of Neal's Deli in Carrboro, Hich Elberti of Sandwhich in Chapel Hill and Billy Cotter of Toast in Durham.

Elberti and Cotter create sandwiches based on dishes they cooked in other restaurants; essentially they translate a dish into sandwich form.

For example, Elberti turned a risotto with apples, sage, mushrooms, prosciutto and Parmesan cheese into a pressed sandwich with apples, sage, mushrooms, bacon and cheddar cheese. Cotter used the classic Italian combination of sweet sausage and broccoli rabe on a panino (the singular of panini) with roasted garlic and Asiago Fresca.

You can do the same thing. A tomato, olive and caper pasta dish could become a tomato sandwich topped with chopped olives and capers. Add a slice or two of provolone, lettuce and vinaigrette, and you have an inspired lunch instead of a ho-hum one.

Meanwhile, Neal says he gathers inspiration from television, cookbooks, farmers markets, even his customers' travels. They often return to share sandwich stories. He'll try to re-create them.

One thing on which all three men agree is to use the best ingredients you can: high-quality cheese, meat, bread and homemade dressings. Neal would rather not offer tomatoes during the winter than use the bland ones from the grocery store. Instead, he buys greenhouse or field tomatoes from local farmers.

We also don't want you to blow the bank on a brown bag lunch -- a proposition aimed at saving you money. Using less of high quality meat and cheese is better than a thicker sandwich made with poor quality meat and cheese. Buying fruit and vegetables when they are in season is always cheaper.

Here are a few tips from each chef:

Neal recommends salting and peppering each tomato slice.

Elberti recommends a sandwich structure as follows: bread, condiment, lettuce. The condiment glues the lettuce to the bread. The lettuce protects the bread from getting soggy.

Don't make it complicated. "Just a few really good ingredients works better," Cotter says.

andrea.weigl@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4848

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