I’ve been in a bit of a food funk lately. Okay it’s been pretty much the entire month of January. Maybe it was the inevitable let down of a rash of pre-Christmas baking with long shopping lists and flour on all the elbows of my shirts. Or perhaps it’s this mild winter that feels more like spring but without any of the fresh produce to go along with it. It’s hard to muster up recipes with winter squash, hearty root vegetables, or roasted meat and potatoes when it’s almost 60 degrees outside and all the trees have been tricked into blooming by the first week of February.
I think in retrospect this time of year is always the hardest for me. We try to eat seasonally and after four months of nothing but kale, the creative juices just aren’t flowing quite as well. To beat the slump I turned to a new cookbook I bought myself for Christmas this year that I’ve been hoarding and reading a little bit at a time over lunch as it seemed apt. Peter Miller is a great independent architectural and design book store in Seattle. When we lived there I used to wander over and spoil myself by looking at their beautifully curated selection of pens, notebooks, and cards and linger over their books, turning the pages of large books of lush photographs of landscape designs, stunning buildings, and great streets or public plazas. I can honestly say I probably want to own every single thing in the shop.
I came across a mention somewhere of a book Peter Miller put out this year and somehow didn’t put two and two together. The title is what grabbed me – Lunch at the Shop: The Art and Practice of the Midday Meal. As I may have confessed before, I dread lunch. I’m perfectly happy eating handfuls of cheese doodles or smearing chocolate peanut butter on a rice cracker. I tend to put all my effort into breakfast and dinner and am out of inspiration and energy when it comes to lunch. I bought the book hoping it could turn over a new page in my lunch repertoire. After trying my first recipe, I can already say buying the book has been worth it. I’ve made this sandwich three times already just this week. I love how it perfectly marries two different creamy textures (almond butter and brie) with two bright crisp flavors and texture (apples and arugula).
Peter Miller is located a few blocks from Pike Place Market and the approach Peter Miller (the owner of the store) presents is based on two basic principles. First making use of good, fresh, local ingredients. The recipes are not complex and really highlight one or two great ingredients. Secondly that the practice of making lunch and sharing it with others is an important ritual to perform. It makes us present, enhances our daily experience, and prizes not only high quality food but also social interactions.
The first recipe I chose was a sandwich that seemingly is two different sandwiches, for lack of a better term, sandwiched together. I think it was the ingredient list and the use of arugula that appealed to me. I love the bright, biting taste of arugula – it’s like lemon of the vegetable world – and it brings a nice biter profile. I like to throw a handful in with pasta while heating it to slightly wilt it or mix it with watercress and blue cheese and butter to make a spread. It’s definitely my favorite salad green, and recently I’ve been using it in salads with hearty slices of avocado and thin slices of roasted citrus. Anyway, I digress. As you can see I really do love arugula.
This sandwich calls for thin slices of either apple or pear splayed over a thin layer of almond butter and hearty slices of brie or another mild, soft cheese with a nice tall mound of arugula in the middle knitting the two halves together. As in any recipe with such a limited list of ingredients the quality of those ingredients is paramount. If there’s one thing we spend money on in our house – now this is the french heritage talking – it’s large loaves of crusty bread. We’re lucky enough to have found a great bakery up here called the Bread Farm that offers several different types of bread. It’s also important to buy some nice ripe cheese. Among the many things my French mother has taught me is how to pick a cheese that’s ripe. More important almost than appearance is smell. You should almost be able pick your cheese with your eyes closed. The cheese should have a strong, rich aroma that compels you to unwrap the cheese and eat it right there in the store. Additionally a soft rind cheese should be a little soft to the touch – not firm – and appear a bit runny. To me this runny always looks as if the cheese is oozing out the side a bit. If you can only find arugula that’s a bit wilted in appearance, you can always revive it in a bath of ice water for a minute or two. Ideally buy a bunch of the larger variety instead of the baby versions they always sell in clam shells. The larger leaves will have more of a peppery bite. As for the apple go for anything crunchy. When in doubt pick a Fuji or a Green Delicious.
Arugula Almond Butter Sandwich
A quick yet complex flavored sandwich to be eaten while taking your time preferably sitting in the sun. You can use thin pear slices instead of apple. Whatever is more fresh and in season. Other cheeses would be okay as well but don’t pick a flavor that’s too overpowering and make sure the texture is creamy. If you have to swap out for the arugula go for a green that has a little bite to it, maybe some mizuna, frisee, or mustard greens.
Quantity: Makes one sandwich
Time to Prepare: 10 minutes
2 pieces of good quality bread sliced thin
A few slices of a good, fresh brie brought to room temperature
4 – 6 thin slices of apple
Several pieces of arugula
Start by thinly slicing two pieces of bread from a crusty loaf. I’d chose a multi-grain or country french loaf over a sourdough. Lightly toast the two slices. Meanwhile prep your other ingredients. Soak the arugula in a bowl of ice cold water (throw a few ice cubes in some cold tap water). Take your apple and cut it in quarters then core and slice it in thin slices. Turn back to your arugula which should now be crisp and revived. Drain the water and rinse the arugula two more times in clean water. Then spin in a salad spinner and wrap in paper towels to remove any water clinging to the leaves.
Take the toasted slices of bread and while still warm spread one half with a thin layer of almond butter and arrange the apple slices overlapping one another on top of the almond butter. Slice two or three quarter-inch slices of brie and place on the other piece of toast. Then making sure your arugula is dry, stack a nice handful of the greens on top of the brie. Put the two halves together, cut in half and enjoy.