Who here knows about The Cheesecake Factory? I’d heard of it, of course, this mythical place that had 30+ cheesecakes on their dessert menu as well as an assortment of other tasty items. I’d seen them places, usually in well-to-do towns on cross-country road trips, but I’d never been into one. Turns out we have a Cheesecake Factory less than an hour’s drive from my hometown, in a shopping center I don’t usually frequent. You may have noticed we’re a bit crazy for sweets, and my kid brother convinced me to take him here.
Did I mention they have an enormous menu? My eyes were immediately drawn to the Farmhouse Burger, a cheddar cheeseburger topped with pork belly and a fried egg on a brioche bun. How could I resist? I recently found out this item in particular was singled out as one of the worst entrees in America, weighing in at 1530 calories, without the fries. Considering what I’ve seen on the Chili’s menu, I’m not sure I agree this is so unusual, but I will say that unlike many other restaurant dishes, I felt this one was worth the calories. It wasn’t too fatty or too salty, had nice, balanced flavors.
It has often been said that eating at home is preferable because it’s “better for you” than eating out. Having eaten at enough people’s houses, I can tell you definitively that it depends on who’s doing the cooking. Some friends do indeed use fresh, healthy ingredients with appropriate portion sizes. Others come from homes where vegetables mean tater tots, macaroni and cheese (yes, really), and buttered corn, and if nothing on your plate is fried, you’re doing it wrong. So I can’t tell you that my sandwich here is better for you than the Farmhouse Burger at The Cheesecake Factory. Actually, I guess I can – I plugged the ingredients into a recipe calculator (I should really do this for everything from now on), and it returned 710 calories, with 48 of those from fat. Okay, it’s not a paragon of health food. But it is tasty.
California Farmhouse Sandwich (makes 1 sandwich)
- 2 slices sprouted whole-grain bread
- 2 tbsp. mayonnaise
- 2 slices bacon
- 2 quail eggs
- 2 1/4″-thick slices green tomato
- 2 tbsp. flour
- 6 tbsp. cornmeal
- 1/2 avocado, sliced
- Lightly toast bread, then let cool. When cool, spread both sides with mayonnaise.
- In a cast iron skillet, cook the bacon over medium-low heat to render out the fat. When bacon is crispy, drain on paper towels.
- Crack the eggs into the bacon fat and cook until desired doneness.
- Meanwhile, whisk flour and cornmeal in a small bowl, and dredge green tomato slices in mixture. Add to the cast iron pan, and cook for 4 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels.
- Layer avocado slices, fried green tomatoes, quail eggs, and bacon on the bread.
Sometimes simplicity really is best. I am a firm believer in meals with only a few ingredients, as long as it’s not a compilation of processed foods masquerading as something more complicated. High-quality linguine in a sauce of butter, onion, garlic, and fresh-cracked pepper is one example, and this sandwich is another: just one slice of delicious bread, high-quality mayonnaise (in this case, homemade), fresh tomato, salt, and pepper. Sure, you can pretty this up any number of ways, such as with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, a base of fresh basil leaves, or thick, crisp fried bacon. But the beauty of this sandwich is that you don’t have to.
The only thing that really complicates this sandwich is the homemade mayonnaise, and I will echo legions of food writers in that it is absolutely worth it (though I have made the sandwich before with jarred mayonnaise, and it’s pretty tasty that way, too!). It’s softer, creamier, and has at once a stronger and more delicate flavor. I made mine using the whisk attachment on my hand mixer, and a squeeze bottle to slowly drip, then stream, the vegetable oil into the egg yolk for an easy emulsion. I know this is a process that daunts many home cooks, but I urge that it is totally, completely doable. Today was the first time I made it, and in about 15-20 minutes, I had a batch all ready to go.
Simple Tomato Sandwich (makes 1 sandwich)
- 1 medium slice bread – I used my favorite rosemary bread from a local bakery, but any will do, although I’ll say plain white sandwich bread may be a little delicate to hold up to the tomato
- 3 slices from a small, ripe tomato
- 2 tbsp. mayonnaise – I used this recipe as written
- salt and pepper to taste
- Lightly toast your bread slice, and let cool to room temperature, so the mayonnaise won’t melt on the bread.
- Spread with the mayonnaise, and top with the tomato slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- That’s it!
Sloppy joes aren’t just for kids, uh-uh. We have no kids. No kids were visiting us. We love sloppy joes (even the occasional Manwich, I admit it), and I guess you could say I “grown-up’d” these up, although I bet you wouldn’t find too many kids complaining.
One theory as to the origin of this sandwich’s name is not its deliciously messy texture, but rather refers to the name of a famous bar in Key West, Florida, named Sloppy Joe’s. Though it’s not verified, most could agree that the general formula for a sloppy joe is ground beef and onions cooked in a slightly sweet ketchup-tomato sauce. I added quite a few more vegetables and, as we have no ketchup, approximated the flavor with a splash of vinegar.
Sloppy Joe’s (makes 4 sandwiches)
The steak sauce and Worcestershire sauce are used to make the tomato sauce a bit more beefy in flavor, since buffalo is very low in fat, and thus disperses fewer flavor particulates throughout the tomato sauce. Yes, that is technical language. Feel free to use this to taste; another similar option would be soy sauce. These sauces are especially helpful if you plan to reduce or eliminate the buffalo entirely.
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 lb. ground buffalo
- 1 onion
- 1 green bell pepper
- 2 medium carrots
- 4 stalks celery
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 tsp. chili powder
- 1 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes in puree
- 1 tbsp. steak sauce
- 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 c. brown sugar
- 1/4 – 1/2 c. red wine vinegar
- 4 sandwich buns, toasted
- Heat olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Crumble ground buffalo into the olive oil, season with salt, and cook until no longer pink, stirring occasionally. While buffalo cooks, chop all vegetables into small dice (about quarter inch or slightly larger).
- Add all vegetables to the pot, salt liberally, and cook 5-7 minutes, or until vegetables begin to soften. Add tomato paste and chili powder, and cook 2 minutes, until fragrant.
- Add remaining ingredients, and simmer about 15 to 20 minutes to let flavors mingle – more is certainly better, but if you’re looking for a quick meal, this will do fine. Taste for seasoning, adjust as necessary, and pile on toasted sandwich buns.
I have always loved the idea of a cubano sandwich – roasted pork, ham, cheese, pickles, mustard. I’ve never had one, never been to a restaurant that served one. The one you see there in the picture is not exactly an authentic one. It uses Dijon mustard, salami, provolone instead of swiss, and was pressed in a waffle maker, because I don’t have a panini press. I may never get one – who needs one, when you can press sandwiches with such a cute design in a waffle maker?
But I digress. This sandwich was tasty. I’m not saying it was perfect. Next time I would probably give a quick sear to the deli meats before placing them on the sandwich, to heighten the flavor and shorten melting time for the cheese. I’d shred the pork so it’s easier to eat. That being said, I’d make it again, and for seeming so complicated, it was actually quite easy – about half an hour, tops, if you use pre-roasted pork.
Cubano Sandwiches (4 servings)
- juice of one orange
- juice of one lime
- 1 tsp. dried oregano (or 1 tbsp. fresh, chopped)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 lb. pork shoulder roast, cooked
- 8 slices ham, about 8 oz.
- 8 slices provolone, about 8 oz.
- 12-16 slices salami, about 8 oz.
- mustard (I used dijon but I think yellow is traditional)
- pickle slices (I used a mild garlic dill)
- 4 French rolls, submarine style
- Whisk together orange and lime juices, oregano, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Thinly slice or shred roasted pork and mix into this sauce. Let sit 5-10 minutes, and drain, reserving sauce.
- Split rolls and toast if desired.
- Spread one or both halves of each roll with mustard. Layer one-quarter of pork, two slices of ham, two slices of provolone, 3-4 slices salami, and as many pickles as desired on bottom half of the roll. Top with the other half.
- Brush if butter if desired. Press in a panini press or waffle maker.