No, we don’t always eat like this

Coffee-glazed oven brisket

Spicy cheese bread

Oh, shoot.  This is just what we have for dinner when we don't care what we eat.

Oh, shoot. This is just what we have for dinner when we don’t care what we eat.

D cooked these two dishes and took care of my baby J while I worked on a Sunday.  He’s my husband.  No, you may not borrow him.  We had a friend over for dinner.  She said something about how we always eat such nice meals.  D and I looked at each other like, “Yeah, but only when we’re not eating frozen pizza.”  So I hope you’re reading the whole blog…Lisa S.  No, that’s too obvious…L. Simpson… and not just this one post.

These notes on cooking are summarized from what D told me.  Again, the lucky lady showed up when it was all done and ate dinner with her friend.  He found it easy to cook.  Most importantly, D found it easy to handle while taking care of a 12 month old.  He said the recipe is almost all a matter of mixing the sauce together, and you can do that whenever.  He said the same thing about the cheese bread.  He mixed up the sauce for the brisket and the butter mixture for the cheese bread while J took a nap.  D did make one important equipment note.  He said a lot of people might not have a pot big enough to let you brown a three pound brisket and also braise it in that same pot. D and I are lucky we have a giant, oval, enamel-coated, cast-iron dutch oven (that’s a lot of adjectives, isn’t it?).  If you don’t have a monster pot, D noted that you could definitely halve the recipe and do it with a smaller piece of brisket.

The taste?  Wow.  The coffee-glazed oven brisket was rich and spicy and smokey.  It makes the house smell amazing.  It was also definitely on the greasy side.  You see that sauce gleaming in the gravy boat and you just know that nothing low-fat shines like that.  The next day, some fat congealed on it.  Probably as a consequence, it gave me wicked heartburn.  It was worth it.  You don’t cook brisket cooked with coffee and chili sauce, then eat it with spicy cheese bread and not expect heartburn.  Speaking of the cheese bread, it was nice take on garlic bread.  The spice went well with the brisket.  I was surprised that the picture of the brisket in the magazine showed you serving it with mashed potatoes.  To me, this was a natural pairing.  And the recipes are on the same page…  Why fight it?

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Finding balance

Apricot and Cheddar Chicken Melt with Apple, Grape, and Celery Salad

apricot and cheddar melt with side of apple, celery, and grape salad

yin and yang and cheese

This, my friends, is why I lov(ed) Everyday Food.  A chicken apricot cheddar melt.  That’s not a recipe you see everyday (pardon the indirect pun).  Everyday Food was a great magazine for interesting and creative recipes that didn’t require liquid nitrogen.  This recipe takes a chicken sandwich and makes it a wonderfully balanced, sweet-and-salty treat.  You take a baguette, spread it with apricot preserves, add a marinated and broiled piece of chicken and some deli ham and some white cheddar, then broil again to melt the cheese.  That’s the basics, but I really need to break this recipe down to showcase its genius.

(If you’re really especially interested in this recipe, you may also want to check out the video that Sarah Carey did.)

First, the baguette.  The recipe calls for you to cut up one long baguette, but I came up with a fun substitute.  I bought a couple of rolls from the Vietnamese bakery in my neighborhood (sometime, when I’m thinking of abandoning ship and moving to the suburbs, I need to reread that sentence…”I bought a couple of rolls from the Vietnamese bakery in my neighborhood”).  This place sells banh mi and the rolls of french bread they go on.  The rolls are $1 for a roughly 8-10 inch roll.  Such a deal.  It’s about the size of the roll your sandwich comes on at Jimmy John’s, if that helps.  A base of tasty french bread helps ground the sandwich.  It’s just crunchy enough to hold on to chicken and gooey cheese, but with just enough softness to keep the aforementioned goo from rocketing off of the bread the second you bit into it.

Second, the apricot preserves.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that just about any sweet and sour jam, preserves, or jelly would be good here.  I’m thinking peach, pineapple (aka sundae topping masquerading as jam), and maybe cherry or blackberry, depending on how sweet they are.  Traditional strawberry or grape would be far too sweet.  I could definitely see hot pepper jelly on this one for a hot and sweet variation.  Either way, the sweet and sour jam balances the salt in the cheese and the savory chicken.  It also adheres the chicken to that lovely baguette.  Sarah Carey makes her own apricot jam in the video.  Good for her…

Third, the marinated chicken and the deli ham.  In a lesser recipe, this would have been just any old cooked piece of chicken.  The marinade elevates this piece of meat.  It is made from white-wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic cloves, and salt and pepper.  The marinade adds some tang from the mustard and keeps the chicken from being bland. I can’t remember how long I marinated the meat.  The recipe says you can marinate up to 24 hours in the fridge.  The recipe calls you to split four chicken breasts in half horizontally to make two big, flat pieces of chicken.  It’s somewhat frightening to drag a knife a mere inch underneath the flesh of your palm.  Sarah shows this in the video.  She either has a way sharper knife than me or no fear.  The ham adds a certain hamness that only ham can provide.  If you love ham, you’ll understand that last sentence.  If not, think of it as adding salt.

Finally, the cheese.  B lives in the land of white cheddar.  I do not.  Also, as long as I’m on the subject of things I can’t find at the store that Everyday Food calls for, can some other cooks from outside of New England please back me up when I say that those chocolate wafer cookies do not exist?  How many recipes call for those things?  So so so many.  Have I ever seen them at the store?  No.  I’m starting to think they are an East Coast thing or a prank.  Back to the sandwich.  You take those well-balanced ingredients and broil them all to hot, tasty, crunchy, yet gooey perfection.  What a sandwich!

For as much as this is a balanced sandwich, it’s balanced richness.  In steps the salad.  This salad is fresh and bright.  It cuts through the richness of the sandwich.  It is a Waldorf salad without the mayo. D actually recognized it as a Waldorf salad without being prompted.  It is nicely balanced on its own between the bitter, crunchy celery and the sweet, softer grapes and apples.  Plus pecans. Pecans for the sake of…pecan-ness.  (I’ve used the word “hamness” and “pecan-ness” in this post.  This project is highlighting the gaps in my vocabulary)  Is there a word for that nut texture just shy of crunchy?  Whatever the word is, that’s what it adds.  Then you balance the sweet fruit and bitter veggie with a sour dressing and it all comes together.  I could see bringing this recipe to a picnic in the summer.  It doesn’t have any mayonnaise, so you (read: me) wouldn’t have to stress out about leaving it out.