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Monthly Archives: March 2010

Darn Good Sandwich at Whole Foods Cupertino

I love sandwich. I love it that in every culture there’s some variation of stuffed bread, and out comes this one complete meal you eat with your hands.

For me, good bread is the foundation of a good sandwich. I can never condone Subway. Who cares the bread is baked “fresh everyday”. It’s Daily Baked Cottony Tasteless Bread. All over Paris, you find baguette sandwiches made of minimum ingredients: butter alone, or just one thin slice of cheese or salami. When the bread is good, that‘s enough.

Until recently, I found no good sandwich locally. My favorites have been Salumi at Seattle (owned by Mario Batali‘s dad.) Its meatball sub with an extra shot of blue cheese never fails to make me swoon. Then there is Refuge  of San Carlos that prepares amazing ruebens. Neither is ideal impromptu lunch spot from Sunnyvale. After many passable sandwiches, I gave up. I settled for Penera Bread and Cupertino Whole Foods’ sandwich counter next door. The former is inconsistent. The latter is consistent alright, in its mind-numbingly slow moving line. I went there because I got to combine lunch with grocery shopping.

Then one day at Whole Foods, my friend Weiling unwrapped her lunch paper. Ta-da! It’s like out of nowhere a spotlight was switched on. I saw a golden, blistering crust and a crumb that was springy and laced with irregular holes, a sign of quality with sourdough starter. Under the bread, I saw mesclun, I saw salami. I saw mortadella?! Weiling realized that she’s better act fast before my drool destroyed her lunch. She cut me a generous portion and I wasted no time to sink my teeth into it. The rest is history. Now I have it at least once a week. $5 for a big 6-inch. I feel so loved.

About 4 months ago, bay area Whole Foods start offering a pre-made sandwich which they name it ‘Darn Good Sandwich”. Every weekday at 11:30am, a butcher block is set in the middle of the store. Each 6” or 12” sandwich is cut to order from extra long baguettes stuffed with salami, mortadella, greens, pepperoncini, red onions, provolone, smeared with tapenade and drizzled with vinaigrette. The bread is from Boulangerie Bay Bread of San Francisco, half-baked, frozen then sent out. They make this size specifically for Whole Foods. At each store, one person is in charge from start to finish: final baking of the bread, mixing dressing, assemblage and selling it.

The whole thing is a juxtaposition of flavors: The tang of the dressing counter balances the saltiness of the meat. Salami is sharp, mortadella is mild. The lightness of the greens contrasts the fattiness of the meat. The bread suits me: crackly crust with a moist, toothy crumb of robust flavor.

 

A word of warning: not all ‘Darn Good Sandwich” is darn good everyday and everywhere. I am sure the corporate recipe is the same, but every person who makes it gives his or her own personal variation. A perfect one for me is from Cupertino and only when it’s made by Greg who truly takes pride in his work. I have had it from Mountain View and from other weekdays at Cupertino. I am a bread person so I notice the biggest difference there. Other days and locations, the crust is not crackly, the crumb has a uniform texture and tastes dull. If you are going for it, do make the effort of trying out Greg’s. Currently he works all weekdays except on Tuesdays.

It keeps too. Greg taught me that. Now I buy his sandwich on Friday, then put it in the frig with a jug of milk on top. On Saturday or Sunday before we head out, I bake it again in 375F preheated oven for 10 minutes or so until the bread is completely revived. It’s the envy of the Children’s Discovery Museum.

08/07/2010 Update: Well, a prime example of big brother. The health department mandates that this sandwich cannot be cut to order in front of customers anymore and has to be refrigerated under a certain temparature before it can be sold. Therefore, now what you see is a pile of pre-wrapped cold sandwiches. And Greg doesn’t do make it anymore.

Clockwise from upper left : Kirkland, Strauss Creamery, Kerrygold, Jana Valley

My first butter epiphany was 10 years ago in Sydney. “What was that?!” after the waiter put a small dish of deeply yellow ‘thing’ on the table. “Butter.” my Australian co-worker looked at me incredulously. “But why is it so YELLOW?“ “Because here we don’t bleach our butter like the Americans do.”

After tasting it, I took absolutely no offense of his sarcastic tone. It was good.

Most of the time I feel, color is a good indication of the quality. Pale white = waxy and blah; Deep yellow = Better mouth feel and more flavorful.

Technically, what makes a big difference in taste, texture is probably butter fat. The American law requires butter to contain at least 80% butter fat. In France 82%. French AOC butters the minimum is 84% and often they push 86%.

It is so true that great ingredients make a great dish. Some times no cooking is required. On the menu at Momofuku, New York City, “Bread & Butter” is just that.

When I had it, the bread was Sullivan Street Bakery (Jim Lahey of the No Kneed Bread fame), along side a goat butter from Scotland and sea salt butter from Vermont Butter Company. I recall the bread’s lacy, resilient crumb of big wheaty flavor, and its crackly, deeply caramelized crust. Then you spread this 86% butterfat butter onto it. Never mind that the act of doing that felt sensuous enough, the taste started to emerge. Both butters tasted … pasture. I literally had flashbacks of grazing cows on rolling hills. The goat butter was true to its name, with a distinctive gamy flavor which I adore. As for the Vermont butter, the salt crystal added another dimension to the texture. It was superb.

In tasting butter, I find that I taste more when it’s at room temperature. Once melted, they all taste the same. Make sure your bread isn’t hot from the oven.

Here’s yesterday’s impromptu line-up:

  • Strauss Creamery from Point Reyes: Most local and my long time favorite as a ‘eating’ butter. 85% butter fat.
  • Kirkland (Costco): From Anytown, USA. It’s what I use in baking/cooking to save money. 80% butterfat.
  • Kerrygold from Ireland. It’s famous and I’ve never had it. 80% butter fat.
  • Jana Valley from Czech: It’s the only one at Whole Foods with its butter fat number prominently printed (82%.) It seems to care so I want to try.

 

Judging from the visual, both Kirkland and Jana Valley are very pale. Strauss and Kerrygold are rich yellow.

Strauss has great mouth feel, it’s flavorful, perfectly salted and the only one that invokes meadow when I taste it (yeah, very scientific.) Kerrygold is simply too salty with 100mg sodium per serving versus Strauss’ 45 mg. The salt masks any other flavor it might have. Jana Valley has excellent mouth feel but its flavor seems to lack depth. Its whitish color is a put-off.

Kirkland tastes like wax.

Anyone knows where to get beurre de Pitou-Charentes or beurre de d’Isigny locally?

Poached egg

No sight is prettier than breaking open a pocket of tender giggly white and watching the brilliantly colored yolk slowly sip out … like lava on rocks.  

Here are a few tips:  

  • Vinegar. Acidity lowers the temperature when the white sets. Therefore it sets faster which minimizes the ‘stringy’ effect. I put in about 3 tbsp of distilled vinegar for 6 cups of water.
  • Calm water. If your water is boiling, swirling, whatever, it disturbs the white as you drop it in and you get lots of the stray strands. Have the water boiling, then turn it down to low. As soon as the water stops moving, gently drop the egg. You do want the water to remain as hot as possible without movement because the white firms up more quickly.
  • Less water. The longer the distance the egg has to travel to the bottom of the pot, the more disturbed the white gets. I put in no more than 2.5 inches of water.
  • It’s an Egg, not an A-bomb. Low drop.
  • Go wide. A wide pot allows you to dish out one egg comfortably without touching the remaining ones.
  • Do your mise en place. 10 seconds is a lifetime in poaching eggs. Before you drop the egg, line a plate with paper towel. Ladle ready by the stove. Salad plated or bread toasted in the oven. As soon as the egg is to your liking, dish it out onto the paper towel and tap it dry gently.

   

Either simply on a piece of bread, or fry up some bacon with Full Circle Farm’s Frisée. The yolk sips into the frisée and becomes part of the dressing.  

I make my dressing with Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, oil, salt and pepper to taste. Any recipe you find on-line will do.

Here are eggs from 3 different sources:

  • Clover Organic, Cage Free extra large brown eggs, which you can get from any supermarket
  • Full Circle Farm
  • A family in Saratoga (8 miles from Sunnyvale) who raises hens in their backyard.

 

Judging from the looks ….

 

Saratoga backyard versus Full Circle Farm

The color of the Saratoga’s yolk is actually more intense than the one from Full Circle Farm. The lady told me she just started adding flax seeds to their diet.

Full Circle Farm versus Clover organic

 I wonder what Clover feeds their chickens. ‘Organic’ paper?

 

 

Judging from the taste …

We had them poached with frisee salad and lardons.

For me and my husband at least,  Full Circle Farm wins hands down. It is the ‘eggy’-ist. It gets us to ‘woo-and-ah’. Saratoga, not quite. Don’t think we taste much difference from the Clover.

I will have no problem picking out Full Circle’s egg in a blind tasting.

However, my sister did the same test (the same night no less). Her and her family of 3 think the backyard eggs taste the most intense.

Rematch between Saratoga and Full Circle then.

Clover is good for eggwash.

Low and slow and stir constantly

The best thing about this recipe is, WHOLE eggs.

I used to make macarons out of leftover egg whites. With a toddler in tow, I only have time to make ONE thing.

The key is honey. Honey makes it soft and have a consistency of ice cream made of only yolks. I’ve tried (4 times no less) varying the amount of honey. 140g is the lowest it needs to preserve the texture.

This recipe is based on http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/329285

Yield about 1 quart

  • 2 cups Half and Half ( or 1 C Whole Milk + 1 C Heavy Cream)
  • 140g honey
  • 55 g malt powder (optional)
  • 2 Large eggs (preferably pastured)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Splash of vanilla extract
  • Great topped with salted sunflower seeds.

 

Combine Half-and-Half, Honey, Salt, and Malt milk powder if using. Heat on medium heat till small bubbles form along edge. In a bowl, whisk Eggs till frothy. Slowly add some of the hot honey mixture to temper the eggs and add back to honey mixture in pot.

Over low heat, heat up mixture till it reaches 170F. Make sure to stir continuously to minimize curdling.

Strain through sieve. Stir in vanilla extract. Refrigerate overnight. Churn in ice cream maker.

Variations: Infuse the batter with whatever you have in your pantry or your garden. I have tried lavandar blossoms, earl grey tea leaves and rose geraniums. All excellent. I particular like earl grey since the tannin of the tea cuts the sweetness of the ice cream.

 After the milk (before the eggs) comes to a light boil, move off the hot burner. Put the aromatics of choice in. Infuse for 15 – 20 minutes. Strain. Then continue with the recipe.

Hens pecking away at Full Circle Farm

I LOVE eggs, and I love them soft, very soft. That requires good eggs, very good ones.

Every time I see eggs that are labeled “Organic Vegetarian Diet”, I roll my eyes. Since when chickens became vegetarians? Organic or not, if they are not allowed to fully express their ‘chicken-ness‘, you get eggs with pale yellow yolk and nondescript flavor.

Like Chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill Farm, NY said: ‘The key is pastured eggs’. Chickens that have space to roam, and natural diet (worms, grubs, garden scraps) produce eggs with soul-satisfying ‘eggy’ flavor and yolk of that gorgeously deep, orange color.

One of my most memorable egg experiences was in a restaurant in Gubbio, Italy’s Umbria region. The dish is simple: One duck egg, poached, drizzled with truffle oil and freshly shaved truffle on top. Giggly, aromatic, along side a piece of grilled bread. Enough said.

I have tried eggs from local farmer’s markets such as Mountain View and Sunnyvale. The quality is inconsistent. Sometimes you get good ones, sometimes you can’t tell them apart from the mass-produced, supermarket varieties. The best eggs (that’s until I discovered Full Circle Farm) I have tried is from the Devil’s Gulch Ranch north of the Golden Gate Bridge. That’s160 miles round trip. The guilt.
Then what do you know? Barely one mile from my house, is the Full Circle Farm. 20 hens as of now, and the eggs they produce fit every criteria of goodness.

I would like to share meals, recipes, ideas inspired by the produce at Full Circle Farm, MY local farm.