in which she yearns for an egg biscuit and ends up with pickles

I saw a photo yesterday on PartyCart’s Facebook page and was struck by longing at 7 a.m.  WHY aren’t they open for breakfast, whined I, why?

Luckily, they were very much open when I swung back around at 3, and I was able to buy the egg biscuit with Southern braised greens, housemade pancetta, and tomato jam that I had been craving.  And I even got to take my own photo, if slightly less luscious looking.  If you haven’t been to PartyCart, go.  It’s in the Healthy Pet parking lot at 28th and Friendly, across the street from J-Tea (whom, I see, has a new blog).  Friendly neighborhood representing, yo!

As I was musing on eggs and happenstance, a gentleman (background of photo above) offered me a taste of his friend’s bread and butter pickle chips.  Although I’ve learned the interesting way not to accept sweets from strange men, I threw caution to the wind and I’m glad I did.  (It also helped that the gentleman was the boyfriend of one of the cart parties, and I’m all for supporting local picklers.)

Wow.  Spicy, sweet, classic bread and butter cucumber pickles, made locally and deliciously by a man seeking to diversify from his contracting work.  You can support his endeavors by ordering some at Kurzhal Family Pickles, 541.517.7302, or inquire at the cart to show your interest.  The jalapeño provides a healthy bite, be warned, but I haven’t tasted better bread and butters.

pickled cheese? czech.

I finally found a preparation for those anemic supermarket Camemberts, thanks to Czech bar food, which takes no prisoners. Nakládaný Hermelin is a garlicky Czech specialty I wish I had found in Prague last summer, but saw it on the internet instead.  Hermelin is a bloomy rind cheese similar to brie, and it is pickled in big ol’ jars of spiced oil made heady by garlic, peppers, and onion.

Of course, if you wanted to use an imported Camembert, my assistant and I wouldn’t say no.  Nakládaný Hermelin hails from the same class of bar snacks as utopenci (“Drowned Men”): fine-grained miniature sausages, pickled in vinegar.  See?  Take no prisoners.

Preparing Nakládaný Hermelin is quite easy: just take a wheel of Camembert, slice it in half horizontally through the middle, press slivers of garlic and dust each half liberally with top quality paprika and pepper, then put the two halves back together.  Slice in wedges so it will fit in your sterilized jar, then layer with onions, bay leaf, and pickled peppers, and cover in oil.

I’ve adapted the recipe adapted from a blog called Northern Table and variations on this Czech food message board.  I’d warn against any of the versions that suggest leaving the cheese on the counter to ripen at room temperature for several days or longer, however, or reusing the oil.  You can get pretty sick by eating soft cheese left on the counter under any circumstances, and Camembert doesn’t quite have the acid one needs to stave off botulism in anaerobic (i.e., under oil) environments.

What you’re losing is the ripening and oozifying of the cheese.  By using pickled peppers you’d be lowering the pH even more, so, um, maybe…but I really don’t trust those garlic slivers in the center of the cheese.  It’s just not worth the risk.  And it’s still pretty darn good, all garlicky and spicy, after being refrigerated for a week.

I wouldn’t waste your best, raw milk Camembert on this preparation either.  Use pasteurized cheese, both for safety and budget.  The garlic and oil will kill any subtle nuances of a good cheese, believe me.

Rawr!!

Before serving, I’d suggest taking out the wedges you’d like to eat and letting them sit at room temperature for a while (and I’ll let you decide how many hours is “a while,” with the food safety proviso that 2 hours max is the limit for prepared foods).

As for the size of the jar, well, that’s up to you.  A quart canning jar for two small rounds of cheese seems ideal to me.  I managed to squeeze a small wheel into a pint jar, just barely, for my first try, and had a hard time getting the oil to fill all the air pockets (also important for food safety reasons).

Be sure you sterilize the jar by washing it well, then letting it go through the heat cycle of your dishwasher or boiling the jar for 10 minutes.

Dobrou chut!

Nakládaný Camembert

This recipe is easy to scale up or down, and Czechs experiment with the spices to their own taste, so you can’t go wrong.  The proportions here are estimated, since I made mine in a pint jar.  I’d advise using more paprika than less, and less garlic than more.  I’m not sure that I’m happy with using vegetable oil, since it didn’t add anything to the flavor of the cheese, but that’s what they use.  You might experiment with olive oils.  Other suggested spices are mustard seed, whole coriander, fresh rosemary (make sure it is completely dry), or dried hot peppers.  You could also just add 2 tablespoons of pickling spices for a slightly different taste.

  • 1 jar, quart-sized
  • 2 small rounds of pasteurized Camembert (about 8-10 oz. each), not too ripe
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, slivered as thinly as you can
  • 1 medium onion, sliced thinly in rounds
  • 2 cups pickled peppers (try a mix of pickled jalapeño rings and pickled roasted red pepper strips if you don’t have your own canned)
  • 2 tablespoons good quality sweet paprika (smoked would also be good)
  • 2 teaspoons juniper berries
  • 2 teaspoons whole allspice
  • black pepper
  • 3-4 fresh bay leaves (if you wash them, be sure to dry them completely, since moisture in anaerobic preparations encourages clostridium botulinum growth)
  • 1-2 cups vegetable or a light olive oil (you’ll need enough to cover the cheese completely)

Prepare a clean, sterilized quart jar (see notes above) and a lid/ring combo or a plastic cap.  Refrigerate the cheese so it is as stiff as possible.

Slice the onion thinly into rings, and slice the garlic thinly, then cut it into slivers.  Thoroughly dry your bay leaves.  If you have a mortar and pestle, crack the whole spices to release the oils.

Prepare the chilled Camembert by slicing each wheel in half lengthwise, so you expose the inside of the wheel. Work fast and with a confident hand, because it is sticky and may fall apart if you mess around with the cut too much.  Press the garlic into one of the exposed halves for each cheese.  Sprinkle both halves of the interior with the paprika and lots of fresh black pepper.

Rejoin the two halves of the cheeses, then slice into wedges that will fit neatly into the jar in layers.

Layer the ingredients in the jar.  Place several onion rings and some spices at the bottom of the jar.  Use onions, pickled peppers, and bay leaves (and dried chiles if using) to separate the wedges, filling the gaps with more pickled peppers. Press the cheese down so it is firmly packed, but don’t pack too tightly.

When you are about half full, add some oil and more spices.  Press lightly with a spoon to release air bubbles.

Keep adding cheese and other items until the jar is about 3/4 full, then top off with oil, again pressing down and checking for air bubbles.  Add the rest of the spices.  Make sure the cheese is fully submerged in the oil.  Close with a canning lid/ring or plastic cap.

Refrigerate for 1-2 weeks, checking after the first few days that the cheese is still submerged.  When you’re ready, enjoy thin slices with traditional rye bread or a baguette, and some Czech lager.  The cheese should taste very garlicky and cheesy — if any off flavors or odd colors or mold are present, don’t eat.

the exchange of two baked goods, a morality tale

On the day I baked M. F. K. Fisher’s War Cake (below) to fortify my culinary literature students working on their final papers, a former student stopped by my office to give me a lovely loaf of cinnamon raisin bread.  Better to receive than give, in this case! I turned it in to a simple bread pudding with cream and walnuts (above).

Fisher’s War Cake is a coffee cake-style sweet loaf with raisins cut into pieces to resemble currants.  She adapted it slightly from popular World War I ration-friendly cakes that she had eaten in her childhood.  I found one almost identical recipe in Amelia Doddridge’s propagandistic cookbook, Liberty Recipes (1918).  The name of the cake in that book — Eggless, Milkless, Butterless Cake — kinda gives you the idea of the studied joylessness with which Doddridge crafts her recipes.  The first step, boiling shortening and sugar together with the raisins and spices, softens the fruit.

Even renamed the slightly less bleak War Cake, this is not Fisher’s finest moment.  Without any binding agent, the cake crumbled to bits when I tried to cut it.  Luckily, I teach kids forced to eat dorm food, so they didn’t mind eating the crumbs.  I substituted currants for the raisins and used local whole wheat flour for a bit more flavor, but held off as hard as I could and didn’t add nuts or butter, even though I was sorely tempted.  And I felt pretty bad that the class before mine had a giant box of Safeway donuts for their last week treat.  War, huh, yeah.

What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

But back to that raisin loaf.  My plan was to serve the pudding with some homemade crème fraiche and brandied apricots, but I realized I must have drunk myself into forgetful oblivion with the last of the apricots when I was on that bender a few weeks ago.  The crème fraiche stubbornly refused to set up during the day, too, so we ate the pudding with slightly sour cream and some rather deliciously fizzy and/or possibly poisonous apricot-brandied cherries.

The crème fraiche, by the way, had set up beautifully by the time I woke up this morning, and it was amazing with leftovers.  I strongly recommend making your own.

dark days challenge #8: local fast food

For week 8 of the Dark Days winter local food challenge, I got nuthin’.  It was the first week of school, and I’m teaching a new class on the rise of culinary literature, so I was busy with all the new term stuff, plus a paper that was due on Friday for a conference later this month.  So we survived on whatever was in the refrigerator and pantry, plus more than usual dinners out.

But we did manage to pull together some almost local “fast food” meals, I’m satisfied to say.  A big YAY for all the food I canned this summer.

One lunch, we cracked open one of our dwindling supply of home-canned Oregon albacore tuna (the best tuna ever), mixed it with the rest of our local fresh celery, some of my homemade dill pickle relish, and a bit of mayo, and ate it on rolls baked locally.

And one dinner, we ate local Sweet Briar Farms beer sausage, stuffed with my sauerkraut made from Thistledown cabbage, and MFP-prepared mustard (made for my class and probably a tad too old, oops).  We ate both with a side of my vinegar pickles and dried Melrose apples my neighbor gave to me for Christmas.

A third meal was leftover pasta with frozen tomato sauce I put up this summer, a bit of local milk and some local shiitake, and a few frozen pesto cubes made from another neighbor’s basil.  Nothing fancy whatsoever, but still better than McDonald’s!

deli diaspora and the preservation renaissance

dscf0540New York-style Jewish delis ain’t what they used to be.  In yesterday’s New York Times, Joan Nathan reports on one family-run deli in Newark, NJ.  Hobby’s Deli still serves up traditional fare, but serves it to a changing demographic, due to new racial mixes in old Jewish neighborhoods and health concerns plaguing so many of the classics.   Delis have introduced salads (like with the green stuff!), and don’t sell nearly as many corned beef briskets as they once did.

If the traditional New York Jewish deli changes fundamentally due to changing customer taste, I’ll be sad, but also interested in how it will evolve in New York.  Like so many aspects of Jewish communities, deli food has moved on in other areas of the country.  My husband, who grew up eating Attman’s corned beef in Baltimore, chef d’oeuvre of one of two surviving eateries on Corned Beef Row, and my own salt-cured self, who scouted out any corned beef sandwich she could in the Jewish neighborhoods of suburban Detroit, are both products of what I call the deli diaspora.

I can happily recall the moment of rapturous discovery in each place we’ve lived when we discovered the local Jewish, or sometimes, Jew-ish deli:  Saul’s Deli in Berkeley, for example, or Rein’s New York-style Deli in Vernon, CT.  Rein’s Deli even has a glossary of deli terms.  (No, Totowitz, we aren’t in New York any more).  Saul’s, only a few blocks from our first house together, has always featured creative interpretations of deli specialties, but I see that they now specialize in seasonal foods, offering chard dolmas, chopped liver with tomato and onion jam, Moroccan chicken, and a side of long beans, almonds and white chard.  Hey, that doesn’t sound that bad at all to me.  A good cook is a good cook, and there are so many possibilities with the deli canon that it’s hard to believe that more hasn’t been done.  There is a huge and wonderful range of Jewish cookery, both Sephardic and unexplored regions of Ashkenazi cuisine, that would do very well in any deli if prepared with love and skill.

I know I’m usually wearing my Superior Oregonian hat when I talk about northern California (and almost always when I talk about New York), but we Eugeniuses have so much to learn from the Bay Area in terms of our local tastes.  I think even traditional deli would be seen as exotic here in Eugene, unfortunately.  But could we attempt a sustainable, local, deli-style restaurant?  Saul’s Deli surely is inspired by Chez Panisse, just down the street, as well as from Michael Pollan, who is a frequent customer.   In Eugene, we can similarly learn from restaurants like Belly, which makes French bistro new again in its seasonal, PNW-inflected dishes.

Saul’s has a lot to say about reinventing Jewish deli; you can read on the deli’s blog about their take on reviving traditions of Jewish vegetarian cooking, using sustainable beef, and reducing the size of sandwiches.  The Jewish deli, they emphasize, will not survive on nostalgia alone.

I couldn’t agree more.  After all, no one is particularly nostalgic about shtetl food, far more traditional than the deli.

But for those of us who love traditional kosher-style deli, we can keep some of the deli traditions alive in our own homes.  Joan Nathan seems to disregard the preservation renaissance when she writes:

In the old days, everybody cured their own corned beef and pastrami, made their own pickles, and used bread from a neighboring bakery. Now, few even make their own matzo balls.

This demise, of course, contributed to the rise of the deli and kept it flourishing in its heyday.  City life did not lend itself to the big crock of smelly sauerkraut in the studio or curing meat hanging from the ceiling of the bedroom.

DSCF2537But on the West Coast, where we’re preserving our hearts out, and even in some pockets of hip outer boroughs of NYC, where they’re acting like they invented preservation, the old days are new again. In Eugene, since we don’t have anything resembling a Jewish deli (although Barry’s on 13th does have matzoh ball soup, and my husband says he likes their other soups) and we undeniably make some sketchy moves (e.g., my tempeh Reuben and liberal-elite Reuben phyllo appetizers), we have to do what we can.

I thought I’d archive some of my deli-worthy recipes, so you can make your own deli at home.  I’m not a New Yorker, or an expert on deli food preparation, but I have to say my preserved food would give a deli a run for its money.  And yours can, too, because what I’m doing is not magic or difficult.

Here are some of my resources for making various deli specialties:

  • Kosher-style dill pickles.
  • Fermented full-sour and half-sour pickles.
  • Sauerkraut for Reuben sandwiches and soups.  Now is harvest time for fat, juicy cabbages, and if  you’d like to make red cabbage sauerkraut, the red cabbages are particularly good right now.
  • Brisket made with local dried cranberries and mushrooms.  This is my favorite brisket recipe.  (The other one in my recipe binder is titled “Traditional, if Dull, Passover Brisket.”)  I usually cheat and use prepared dried cranberries and mushrooms in this recipe, but why not dry your own?
  • Old-world chicken soup.  This often means “with cow bones added,” to beef up the broth.  My recipe is inspired by several old Jewish ladies, and one middle-aged one, who made the absolutely best chicken soup I’ve ever tasted in my life.  Mine’s not nearly as good as hers, I’ll admit, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a chicken soup in a deli that’s as good as mine.  They’re often washed out and watery.  Sigh.
  • Corned beef or tongue. I’ll be sharing my techniques at the October 10 Master Food Preserver meat class.  Please join us, if you’re local and interested in preserving meats!

I’d like to add to my repertoire in the upcoming months.  Here are my two quests:

  • Rye bread.  Polish rye bread, unseeded, is one of my great quests in the West.  I had to control myself when I was on fellowship in Buffalo because they had an entire shelf of Polish rye, freshly baked every day.  My project for 2009, to become an ace bread baker, did not even sorta kinda come to fruition.  OK, OK, I did help for a couple of hours at a fabulous MFP bread baking class, I put some baking cookbooks on my Amazon wish list, and I watched a friend bake bread in my kitchen.  Does that count?  No?  Really?  OK.  Onward to 2010!  If I can figure out how to make a Polish rye loaf at home, I will expire of happiness.
  • Potato pancakes.  We put the Ore- in Ore-Ida, yo.  Oregon potatoes are excellent, so excellent they were bought up by Heinz.  : /  But anyway, I’ll post a latke recipe this winter.  My recipe is quite good, if I do say so myself, but I am a latke purist, and I don’t even like onion messing up my pure, crisp potatoey pillows of heaven.  I’ll figure out the proportions and all that, but it might take a while.

DSCF2807And of course, you’ll need applesauce to accompany the latkes.  Don’t wait up for me!  Now is the time for canning and freezing fall apples as applesauce.  Homemade applesauce is about a thousand times better than commercially processed stuff.  I don’t have a preference, really, taste-wise, between canning and freezing, but a good, tart apple is essential.  Ask at your market which local apples are best for saucing.  I always, always freeze at least a cup of applesauce made with fall apples, since winter apples are kept fresh by cold storage, via a method that makes them reluctant to mush up nicely.

And that, my friends, is everything I’ve always wanted to say about deli.

i say tomato

dscf2022Now that I’m back in Eugene, after a most excellent research month somewhat dampened by a grueling trip home on metallic flying bacteria traps across country (swine flu, anyone?), I’ve got the garden on the brain.

I feel as if I’ve missed all the delicious Ramping Up to Garden Season this year.  I haven’t had time to browse the seed catalogues or even plan what I’ll be growing in all my rows.*

This week I have to either (1) spread my own compost, or (2) buy compost if mine isn’t ready, and prep the rows for tomatoes.  There’s a bit of weeding to done; I took care of most of it before I left, thank goodness, because the unweeded parts are overrun.

By the time we rolled out of bed this morning, had a debriefing session with the cats, and stopped in for a waffle at Off the Waffle (notice new website featuring the review from yours truly), the farmers’ market had been pretty much decimated.  I noticed that some of the tomatoes were already leggy and overgrown, and all the uncommon kinds were gone.

So…help a laggard out.  What’s shakin’ in the tomato world this year?  I’ll buy starts for my favorites this week if I can find them — Saucey paste tomatoes and Sungold cherries.  Oregon Star won best paste at Territorial; that’ll be my second choice if I can’t find Saucey.  I’ve had great success with Willamettes, so I’ll probably buy some of those or other Oregon-developed slicers.  And I’m always drawn back to some variety of Brandywine, since those fat, juicy, meaty, sweet heirlooms so delicious and I love their funny leaves, even if they aren’t heavy producers.  But I’d like to try something new. I haven’t had much luck with the Czech and other Eastern European varieties — I heard that they do fine in the cooler part of the season and then can’t handle the heat of our late summers.  Dunno if this is true.

Which tomatoes you putting in?  What are your old favorites and new experiments?  Which cultivars should I try?

All I know is I’m looking forward to this:

dscf2126

Mmmmmmm.  Let summer begin!

*I’ve got the caneberries, seascape strawberries, artichokes, leeks/shallots/garlic, rhubarb, some leftover favas and overwintered fennel well underway, plus my usual herbs and a hopeful start on cilantro, so I don’t feel as if I’ve neglected the whole thing, but I missed all the tulips and most of the daffodils, which just makes a person feel unsettled, know what I mean?

liberal elite miniature reubens in phyllo cups for the win!

dscf27741We won!  Finally!  Why yes, those would be my liberal elite miniature Reubens in phyllo cups (with apologies to Sheila Lukins for using her cookbook as a backdrop).  Each leetle cup has a few strands of my homemade purple sauerkraut, chopped corned beef that I had cooked the night before, a sprinkle of caraway seeds, a dollop of Russian dressing made from mayo, dill relish, ketchup and hot sauce, and Jarlsberg grated on top.

These nibbles were my contribution to a “liberal elite” election party last night, which featured such academic-minded delicacies as BBQ beef brisket, cupcakes, flatbread and Swedish cheese in a tube (several flavors).  The cupcakes were arranged in the shape of the United States on the coffee table.  Each one had frosting initials of a state on it, and when a state turned, guests were invited to take a cupcake, spoon on either blueberry or strawberry topping, and nom nom nom.

I thought about just bringing the fixins for Reuben sandwiches, that classic of days gone by, but I felt a social obligation to step up my game.  It was, after all, about elitism, and what says elitism better than phyllo cups?

I’ve worked with phyllo for many years, but mainly just for recipes that called for layers layed flat, stuff like baklava and spanikopita (Greek spinach and feta pie) and that marvelous Moroccan dish, bstilla, which pairs chicken or quail with raisins and cinnamon.

I’ve never bothered with the fussy little appetizer cups.  But, well, I bought a mini-muffin pan yesterday, and I had the phyllo, and I thought, the country’s in for some big changes…I should take up the challenge.   Yes I can!

And I did.

The instructions I used can be found here, and are easy enough for anyone.  The little cups can be filled with anything, of course, but my Reubens can inspire a wealth of sandwich fillings:

  • miniature clubs (chopped turkey, bacon, aioli with microgreens)
  • miniature PB&J (coarsely chopped peanuts and fresh fruit compote)
  • miniature croque-monsieurs (ham, gruyere cheese, a dab of mustard)
  • minature pan bagnat (olive-oil-marinated tuna, chopped roasted red peppers, capers on a slice of hard boiled egg)

In short, use your imagination, either liberally or conservatively. The results will work for any party.

OK, now for more sober business.

I am deeply disappointed, in a night of hope and change, that California passed the divisive and discriminatory Prop 8, which takes away the right of same-sex couples to marry in the state, a proposition I blogged about here.  All I can say is that our country is changing, and I firmly believe that in the next generation, being happily and openly queer won’t be judged as it is now, with religious bias in our civic institutions.  This is not the end; it’s the beginning.

reuben blasphemy?

I would never, never, ever disrespect corned beef. Ever. Corned beef on rye is my favorite sandwich, and I respect it so much I won’t even EAT it at a West Coast deli. I’m not joking. And I take it even purer than the New Yorkers do — without even a hint of mustard. Nothing but corned beef and rye.

So why would someone like me even dare to discuss a tempeh reuben? Well, because they’re actually good. As much as I love corned beef, and as fat-soaked greasy meaty delicious as a corned beef reuben is, I know that I can eat half before my stomach starts to rebel against me.

Enter (1) a sometime-vegetarian, meat-lovin’ husband, (2) Eugene, Oregon, and (3) a hippy-friendly local neighborhood pub, Cornucopia. Cornucopia is one of the only local places we like for the ambiance. The beer’s great, but the food is hit-or-miss. Their ingredients are fresh, and some dishes are really good, but the menu seems a bit lazy to me — there’s someone creative back there, and I wish they’d give the menu a good scrubdown and coat of paint just like they did the restaurant a couple of months ago.

One of the hits is their tempeh reuben. It’s exactly like a reuben but the corned beef is replaced with tempeh.

Tempeh is a vegan fetish object. If vegans flew a flag, it would be made of tempeh. And with good reason. These little soybean cakes are better than tofu, a similar product, because the soybeans are fermented and processed quite differently, leaving whole beans or chunks in the mixture. The intarnets tell me that it is not only high in protein, but also in several other vitamins and minerals, and the fermentation aids digestion.

What does tempeh bring to the table in terms of deliciousness? Well, texture, mainly. A corned beef reuben falls apart and is generally kind of mushy and oozy. Not that there’s anything WRONG with that, but it relies on bread to keep it all together, and we all know bread doesn’t do that altogether too well.

With a tempeh reuben, you get a bit of backbone. The soybean chunks in the tempeh give the sauerkraut, cheese, and dressing something to cling to. Sure, the smoky, meaty taste of the corned beef goes missing, but the tempeh has mouthfeel and a slightly nutty taste, and it soaks up the other flavors in the sandwich.

I fry up the tempeh in a bit of oil until crispy. I’m not in this for the health. I suppose you could bake it with a bit of soy and brushed with vegetable oil. In the picture, we have tempeh chunks, but I’d recommend leaving it in larger pieces, like maybe 3 x 3 or 4 x 4 inch-squares, so the cubes don’t fall out of the sandwich. You may also want to experiment with slicing the entire cake in half widthwise, so it’s only about 1/2 inch thick. It’s all a matter of preference.

I’m not going to get all crazy-granola on you, but if you do partake in a vegan diet, you can certainly substitute the delicious cheese and russian dressing with soy versions of both.

Tempeh Reuben

Serves 2

4 slices New York rye bread

2 t. butter, softened

1-2 T. vegetable oil

1 cake tempeh (plain, not flavored), cut into squares large enough to cover your slice of bread (3 x 3″?)

1/2 cup raw sauerkraut, drained and squeezed as dry as possible

6-8 thin slices of a good mild cheese, like Noris Farmhouse (our house cheese) or Jarlsberg

Russian Dressing

1 T. sour cream or mayonnaise (mayo will be sweeter)

1-2 t. ketchup

1 t. srirachi or other chili sauce

1 T. dill pickle relish, or chopped dill pickles

Mix ingredients for Russian dressing in a small bowl and set aside. In a skillet on medium-high heat, add 1-2 T. of vegetable oil, and fry tempeh cake until golden brown.  Add more oil if necessary.  Remove from heat and blot excess oil. This step can be done ahead of time and tempeh stored in the refrigerator, but be sure tempeh is at room temperature before you assemble the sandwiches. Wipe excess oil from skillet if you are preceding immediately to make sandwiches.

Butter one side of all four slices of bread. Preheat skillet on medium heat, if necessary. If you have a large pan, you can make both sandwiches at once, but it might be easier to make one at a time. To make one sandwich, place one slice of bread butter-side down in the preheated skillet, then add a wide swath of Russian dressing, tempeh cake, half of the sauerkraut, enough cheese to cover the sauerkraut, and the second slice of bread, butter-side up (you’ll be flipping the sandwich in a moment).

After 3-4 minutes, or until bread on bottom is golden, crusty brown, flip sandwich carefully, using a wide spatula and your hand as a guide. Flip the sandwich in one, quick motion so it doesn’t fall apart. Cook until cheese is melted and sandwich is heated through, another 3-4 minutes. If bread starts to burn, turn down heat, or, if you’re in dire trouble, take it off the burner, put it on a plate, and microwave for 20 seconds or so to melt the cheese (this is what we did for the picture above, since the heat was too high).  Don’t forget you need to make another sandwich for your partner, as much as you want to eat your sandwich immediately.

You’ve now achieved the blissfully ambivalent state of being partly healthy, partly super-fattening; partly green, partly sickeningly-overindulgent; partly Asian, partly New York Jew.  Enjoy this liminality, savoring each bite.  Congrats: you’re an American.