I get asked all the time if I cook dinner every night, and the short answer is no, I don’t. Just like many of you, life tends to get in the way of having all the time I would like to make elaborate meals. But I do love cooking enough food for several meals at a time and then using the leftovers the next day to make sandwiches like these. Leftovers don’t have to be boring repetitions. Adding some fresh vegetables, a flavorful herbed spread and changing the presentation makes leftovers feel like specially planned meals.
If I am cooking a chicken, turkey, pork tenderloin or beef roast I never make enough for just one meal. First of all, it isn’t economical and secondly it is easy to cook a larger portion, the protein stays moister and it is fun to get creative with the “leftovers.” Buying anything that has been cut into smaller pieces is always more expensive. You are paying for the butcher’s time and expertise. If you are trying to save money, one of the best things you can do is learn how to do your own butchering.
My father was a supply officer in the Navy and he taught me some of the lessons he learned in his job. One of the best ones was understanding how to determine the cost per serving and I use it every single time I go shopping. While spending a large amount of money on a single piece of protein seems expensive, always divide the cost by the total number of servings you can get out of it. For example, spending $50 on a roast seems terribly high, but if you get 10 servings from it, you are only spending $5 per serving. That same serving would probably cost you $25 or more at a restaurant. See how it works?
When I first met The Artist he couldn’t see beyond the initial price, but when I explained the math and he calculated the actual cost, he got it. Now he looks for larger pieces that we can cut into smaller portions or make multiple meals out of. Sometimes he is almost more excited about what we will make for the second meal than he is with the first one.
If you shop at warehouse stores you can save a lot of money by buying in bulk. In addition to cost savings, there is another benefit – you can sometimes afford a higher quality cut or buy organic, which would otherwise put you over your food budget. But be careful, it is easy to get carried away and buy more than you can use before it goes bad or gets stale. If you can’t utilize the entire portion it may not be as good a “buy” as it seems.
Roasting is a technique I use often to coax the maximum flavor from foods. Just like toasting nuts brings out their richness, roasting does the same thing for foods. Unlike steaming or boiling, roasting adds flavor to foods and maintains their nutritional benefits. If you haven’t used the oven to roast your vegetables and proteins, I suggest you give it a try. It will become one of your favorite cooking methods.
Bacon is one of those items where buying a higher quality makes an enormous difference. If you have the option, I recommend you buy your bacon from an independent butcher shop. A reputable butcher will sell higher quality meats, often from organic sources. They will cost more than the cheap brands sold at the grocery store, but once you taste the difference, you will most likely agree that it is worth it occasionally. Today’s recipe calls for maple bacon and I have to admit, the hint of sweetness is addicting, but you don’t have to go out and buy a special type of bacon to make these sandwiches.
The next time you are going to be roasting a turkey breast or whole chicken, add an avocado, some Italian cheese, artisan bread and thick bacon to your shopping list. The next day your family will say a huge Thank You for planning these amazing sandwiches! And with Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Super Bowl coming up, these sandwiches will make terrific use of your holiday leftovers. Enjoy!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Using the right type of skillet makes all the difference when making these sandwiches. It must be weighty; cast iron is preferred, and absolutely flat so that the bread makes full contact with the hot surface. I have found that I get the best results using a preheated griddle and the large cooking surface makes it easier to flip them over.
Kitchen Skill: Using Fresh Herbs
Using fresh herbs makes a huge difference in your meals. Everything tastes brighter and more intense. Remember that fresh herbs’ flavor fades quickly in heat, so add fresh herbs right before serving. If you want more depth of the herb’s flavor, start by adding a little dried herb at the beginning and finish with fresh herbs stirred in at the end.
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 sprigs fresh tarragon
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 (4 lb) turkey breast, preferably on the bone
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 6 slices country bread or other artisan product
- 1/2 lb fontina cheese, sliced thinly
- 1 large ripe avocado
- 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 slices thick cut maple bacon, cooked until crispy, and drained on paper towels
- Fresh pepper lettuce (watercress)
- Butter, for sauteeing
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- To Prepare the Roast Turkey: Strip the leaves off the herb sprigs and discard stems. Toss the herbs and softened butter into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until green and smooth.
- Carefully lift the skin from the breast and using your fingers, separate the skin creating a pocket. Place 1/2 of the herbed butter between the skin and breast meat. Spread it as evenly as you can, covering as much of the breast as possible. Rub the turkey all over with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan and put in the oven. Let the turkey cook for 1 hour, basting every 20 minutes with the butter and pan juices. The turkey is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.
- Remove from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes on the cutting board.
- NOTE: Cooking time will be different depending on whether your turkey breast is on the bone or boneless. Turkey can be roasted up to several days in advance. Store, covered, with the cooking liquids in the refrigerator. Return to room temperature before making sandwiches.
- Prepare Avocado: Using a sharp knife, split the avocado in half lengthwise, running the knife around the center pit. Twist the halves in opposite directions to separate them. Use a spoon to slip under the pit and discard it. Use a large cooking spoon to scoop out the avocado meat, staying as close to the peel as possible. Slice the avocado halves, and toss gently in a bowl with the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
- For each sandwich: spread a thin layer of the remaining butter on 1 piece of the bread. Place 1 slice of the cheese and several slices of the turkey breast on unbuttered side of the bread. Add avocado slices, crispy bacon slices, lettuce and another slice of fontina cheese to the top of that. Sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Butter one side of another piece of bread and place it buttered side up, on top of the bacon.
- Heat a cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add 1 tbsp of butter and let it melt, swirling the pan around to coat. Put the sandwich in the pan and weigh it down with a heavy pot, can, or wrap an ordinary brick in aluminum foil and set it on top to compress the sandwich, or you can use a Panini press. Toast for 1 minute or until golden, turn the sandwich over and toast the second side.
- Repeat with remaining sandwiches. Cut the sandwiches in half and serve while hot.
- Yield: about 3 servings