How To Build A Better: Sandwich

Quality of ingredients is key to a successful sandwich. I have had outstanding ham sandwiches—consisting of no more than ham, bread and butter—and dismal ones—yet also consisting of the same three ingredients. Whether you prep each ingredient from scratch or source it from a trustworthy food purveyor, opt for the best and aim for simplicity. As in the case of the salad, the sandwich is composed of three distinct elements: bread, filling and spread. (Spread encapsulates items other than peanut butter or Nutella, but we’ll address it shortly.) A sandwich is the ultimate comfort food whether slapped together for a meal en route to class or as a snack at midnight after a fifteen-hour day. Don’t complicate that comfort with stress and endless ingredients. Stick to the sandwich fundamentals and Lord Sandwich (or whoever’s credited with its invention) and Subway Sandwich Artists everywhere will nod their heads in respect.

how to build a better sandwich
Bread

If I had a soapbox to rant on, I’d dish out my frustration with bread. Why is it near impossible to source a solid loaf? Give me bread with a wicked, crisp exterior and a soft, yet still structural sound interior. Let it whiff of pungent yeast and crunch when torn or sliced. Honestly, any quality bread will do from focaccia to sourdough, ciabatta to classic bun. Once you find your dream loaf, stick to it and support its producer.

Filling

The options for fillings are endless. Essentially any dish can be converted to a sandwich filling. As noted in my introduction, keep it simple. If you can’t taste each ingredient in every bite, it’s too many. Although a self-diagnosed glutton, even I know when too much is too much. Balance loose or soft fillings with crisp ones. For example, match pulled pork with lightly dressed chopped cabbage or pre-cut coleslaw mix. Your filling is your only opportunity to shake up the textures in your sandwich, so take advantage. Load up on veggies and stick to lean proteins.

Spread

Like its salad counterpart—the dressing—the spread component of any sandwich is too often overthought or underutilized. It provides the dash of flavour every sandwich needs—a reoccurring motif so to speak. The basics are best such as mayonnaise, butter, pesto and nut or seed butters. (Yes, despite my upbringing, I am not a margarine fan.) I am also not a fan of multiple spreads unless like say the classic PB&J they contrast enough to stand up against the other. Whatever the spread, use lightly. With the exception of perhaps regular, nut or seed butters, spreads are just as easily made at home as any filling or, yes, even bread. Like skinny-dipping and prairie fires (i.e. vodka and hot sauce), everyone should attempt homemade mayonnaise at least once in their life.

 

How To Build A Better: Salad

If you have a shred of fashion sense, you have the ability to build a respectable salad. If not…there’s always Freshii.

Like fashion an understanding and respect of the basics—the rules so to speak—is required before variations on them can occur. At its most basic a salad is composed of four elements: foundation, additions, dressing and garnishes. (Note: I have just self-coined each element for the purpose of this post.) Don’t let my technical read on the salad scare you though. Let it empower you to build a better one. Understand the function of each element and you’ll never be bored by greens again.

 how to build a better salad

1) Foundation

 

To most a salad’s identity lies in its foundation. At this very moment in some substandard restaurant a dissatisfied server just dropped a mess of iceberg lettuce drizzled with pre-made dressing and called it salad. It’s essentially just some iceberg on a plate yet it can be defined otherwise. Because of its foundation. And depending on the foundation’s characteristics it’ll drive the nature of the remaining elements. My advice? Choose your foundation based on what looks freshest at the grocery store. For something delicate and lighter, go for red leaf, Butter, Bibb or Boston lettuce, spinach, arugula or your classic spring mix. If you intend to pair it with heavy additions and an even heavier dressing, try kale, Swiss chard or romaine lettuce. Should the produce section look barren or blah, then stick to grains be it rice or macaroni, root vegetables like carrot or potato or legumes from beans to lentils.

2) Additions

They’re the supporting stars to your salad, providing variation in colour, texture and flavour. Take inspiration not only from the foundation’s structural integrity as noted above, but also its own flavour and traditional pairings. For example, fill out a pile of black beans with finely diced jalapeno, tomato, avocado and corn kernels for a Tex-Mex take. As your own palate develops (i.e. as you eat more) your pairings will grow in complexity. No addition is wrong as long as it adds colour, texture or flavour.

3) Dressing

Ultimately the dressing is where you can impress. While almost unidentifiable in appearance, it permeates each bite. Let’s put an end to the mythology that salad dressings are hard to make. I proudly have never succumbed to pre-made dressing—even in my weakest grocery store moments. Start simple with a classic 2:1 oil to vinegar vinaigrette, using good quality options for each. Season with salt and pepper and my favourite secret dressing ingredient: citrus zest. Once you master the vinaigrette, delve in the wild (and typically wacky) world of most “advanced” dressings from 1000 Islands to Caesar.

4) Garnishes

Arguably the most beloved element of the salad, there’s a reason garnishes have the top spot. Croutons, am I right? In my books, a garnish must pack a punch in one of two arenas: flavour or texture. Don’t overindulge and keep the portion just right. And it’s not just croutons. How about seeds or nuts? Toasted corn tortillas chips or bagel slices? Heck, you could even pull off pretzels or potato chips.

How To Find The Best Recipe Inspiration

You’re a regular reader of Boost Life and other food-related blogs. You’ve likely worked through countless recipes, and even put your own twists on a few. You’re an accomplished cook who’s ready for more. But when you’re flying blind, without cookbooks, cooking shows, or recipe apps to guide you, how can you find inspiration? Follow my tips and you’ll be shopping and cooking like the improvisational pro that I—and your last exam grader— know you are.

First, however, I should lay out four rules for improvising in the kitchen:

where to find recipe inspo

Rule #1: Don’t be afraid

Experimentation in the kitchen is risky. You’ll screw up. And, that’s okay. Just allow yourself to learn from your mistakes (see Rule #4).

Rule #2: Keep it simple

When you’re first trying out unfamiliar ingredients, cook them as simply as possible. As you become more comfortable with them, then you can start messing around.

Rule #3: Taste often

I only recently learned this surprisingly easy rule: taste your food as often as you can while cooking. And in doing so, discover what a dish needs and how you might balance out and improve its flavour during its preparation.

Rule #4: Be reflective

When you’re eating your meal, consider what could have been done better, which ingredients worked together and which didn’t. Not only will this make you a better cook, it’ll make you a better eater.

Now, my tips for inspiration:

Tip #1: What grows together goes together

In an Ontario supermarket you can ignore season, climate and even perishability. You’re left, however, with too much choice. If you spend time learning what vegetables tend to grow together, or visit farmers’ markets and see what local producers are currently bringing in, you’ll be able to narrow your focus, and cook with a manageable range of ingredients that work together surprisingly well.

Tip #2: Eat widely and wildly

The best chefs are the best eaters. They can taste a dish or a raw ingredient and tell you why it works and why it doesn’t. There’s no innate talent to this—they’ve just eaten a lot of great meals. Never miss a chance to eat somewhere special because the inspiration one meal will bring you can last a very, very long time.

Tip #3: Trust your gut

If the idea of Nutella and aged cheddar makes you excited—and actually it should— combine them in a crêpe. If you long to cook pork belly in pomegranate juice, then do just that. Maybe it won’t work out, but you won’t know if you don’t try. By now, you’ve internalized so many different combinations of flavour that you might not even know where the inspiration comes from. But if it comes from within it’s certainly worth trying. And hey, who knows, you might come up with a truly unique—and delicious—dish.

 

How To Snack Smart

To snack smart is to snack period. I mean it. To most, snacking is a bag of potato chips on a Friday night (sober or not). But that’s not actually snacking though. It’s a meal—maybe two.

Without recesses and the after school grace period (that hour between 3:30 pm and 4:30 pm), as college and university students we don’t practice snacking. Our schedules are no longer regulated, so our eating habits aren’t either. We eat as much as we can whenever we can. Lost for free time, we maintain our hunger at two extremes: starving or stuffed. Likewise, our snacks are either plain boring or over indulgent. But when smartly done, snacking, in combination with regular meals, levels out your hunger, satisfies it and keeps it satisfied.

snack smart

 

Keep it thoughtless

Time is the enemy of many—snacks included. A snack should be neither time-consuming in its preparation or consumption. Consider the classic: milk and cookies. When it comes to preparation, pouring and plating are the only requirements. Furthermore snacks that are thoughtless to prepare often pack easily, like cheese and crackers or a piece of fruit and some yogurt. Yet even preparation-heavy snacks can be whipped up on the weekend or during a break from late-night studying to allow for minimal preparation when snack time itself strikes. Bars, cookies and cake come to mind—nothing overly indulgent of course—candied or seasoned and roasted nuts, or even homemade fresh cheeses and cured fish. The time you put in in advance will pay off in flavour.

Keep it composed

High school health class and government marketing has imprinted the image of a balanced meal in our minds—or mine at least: half a plate’s worth of fruit and vegetables, a quarter (or slightly less) of protein and another quarter (or slightly more) of grain products. So if we know the image so well, why don’t we apply it (on a smaller scale) to our snacks? Like a well-thought-out outfit or layered composition, snacks should be multifaceted. Take the rice cake, for example. On its own it’s flavourless, boring and flat—akin to cardboard in multiple respects really. However, smear a dollop of peanut butter on top with some peach slices and a sprinkle of cinnamon and now—thanks to composition—you have a snack both filling and flavourful.  

Keep it tempting

Smart snacking shouldn’t induce yawning—it’d be against the very nature of snacking itself. When we snack, we’re tiding ourselves over—treating ourselves—between meals. It’s the carrot at the end of the stick. However in keeping with the carrot imagery, if raw carrots bore you, you shouldn’t force yourself to snack on them. Season and roast them. Puree them into a dip and serve alongside crackers. Grate them and blend them into a cookie, cake or muffin. Keep nutrition in mind, but don’t let it dictate every snacking choice. Let moderation and your personal tastes instead. Milk and cookies or the snack cake wouldn’t exist otherwise.

 

What Your Favourite Starbucks Drink Says About you

Not gonna lie, Starbucks drinks have always baffled me. I’m the girl who orders a black English breakfast tea and took years to say “grande” instead of “medium.” And I’m okay with that. It probably says something about me, something along the lines of: “spent too much time in the UK”, “thinks she’s too good for anything more complex than straight tea,” “student who can’t afford a real drink from Starbucks and loves that a grande tea is the same price as a tall”.

You get the picture.

Curious about the most common Starbucks stereotypes, I asked a few friends who work there and received a whole slew of detailed responses. I edited the list down to student-specific favourites to help you make (largely unfounded) judgements on your neighbours in the library:

What your Starbucks drink says about you

Bone-Dry Cappuccino

For the clean-cut medical or law student with high aspirations. Likely paired with an (almost) edgy briefcase or shoulder bag and well-styled hair.

Caramel Macchiato or Plain Latte

For the average student clinging to a B-average. Think the university equivalent of the real-world commuter who can’t quite afford a mortgage yet thinks one day will and for whom a daily Starbucks is a sign that they’re part of that comfortable yet precarious millennial middle-class.

Soy No-Foam Anything

For the gal always in her leggings and running shoes ready to burst into exercise whenever the desire calls. Probably ordered in a personal cup, or better yet a mason jar with silicon lid. Likely the indulgent addition to a packed lunch of quinoa salad and homemade energy balls.

Cold Brew

For the student in peak exam season. Red-eyed, slightly manic and just—trying—to —pull—though. We’ve all been there.

Earl Grey Tea Latte (with optional bran muffin or whole-grain banana bread, to be nibbled at in unreasonably small bites)

For the totally on-top-of things, well-dressed female business student—the girl always in fantastic shape without doing any real exercise who’s going to land a high-flying, high-paying consultancy job straight out of university. (Basically, everything I’m not.)

Dark Roast Caffè Misto

For the all-round nice person. Look out for this one, my friends, they may just have notes to share or, at the very least, smile at you and move their books so you have room to squeeze in beside them.

How To Nail Your Summer Internship

On the clock from nine to five—or sometimes longer—sweating it out in your professional wardrobe and lumbering around under a constant sense of self-doubt: sounds like summer, doesn’t it? For those of us unable to relax from May to September, yet desperate to stay clear of a textbook, we search out summer internships. In my case, I worked it in an advancement office, hospitality and food buying departments and then sick of suits, ended up at a dairy farm. Aside from the additional lines on your resume, the change in schedule, surroundings and company is often invigorating—if not terrifying. Here are my top tips to survive a summer in a limited time position.

 

How To Nail Your Summer Internship

 

Own your naivety

5 Kitchen Gadgets To Gift Yourself After Graduation

by Danielle Del Vicario

Last week, I made hummus. I know, I know. Right now you’re probably rolling your eyes and saying, “Danielle, you make hummus all the time.  And write about hummus all the time. We get it.”

But bear with me.

I made it from scratch, with nothing but a knife, a pot and a potato masher in my student apartment. As I mashed away, my thoughts laced with nostalgia, I remembered my well-stocked kitchen in Durham, England, complete with two food processors, pasta maker, spiralizer and raclette set. What I would give for the days of easy smoothies, perfect zucchini pasta and bubbling French cheese. Much mashing, stirring and (attempted) mincing of garlic with a dull knife later, I had an acceptable—but still pretty lumpy—hummus, packed into the fridge with a disconsolate sigh.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a little elbow grease in the kitchen. I’ve been known to beat egg whites to stiff peaks using just a whisk all in the name of almond riciarrelli. (The perfectly balanced almond cookie, native to Sienna, is worth a quick Google). And while an avocado slicer is not going to make a significant impact on your life, there are kitchen gadgets that will. So as you near the end of exams and possibly even graduation, treat yourself. Please. It will be a life investment with countless hummus-y returns. My five can’t-go-without gadgets are below, but I also salute you on whatever kitchen-related spurges you make.

5 kitchen gadgets to buy yourself after graduation

Food photography 101

by Leah Moldowan

Since you’re not able to smell or taste the food you see online, it’s the photos that are going to convince you an online recipe is mouth-wateringly delicious. That said getting those shots isn’t always an easy task. When I first started photographing my food as way to document my journey to healthier living, I had no clue what I was doing or that I’d eventually fall in love with food photography itself. While you don’t need to be a professional photographer, it does take some time and repetition to master. Of course a nice dSLR camera (my Canon T2i is my baby) helps, but an iPhone will do. Honestly if you have nice looking food and good natural light, you’re set.

My biggest tip would be to practice, practice, practice! A cliché, I know, but just take pictures everyday and try new angles and lighting until you find what works. Also look critically at photos of food on Instagram or Pinterest and use them as inspiration for your own shots.

Food selfie etiquette

by Madeleine Brown

I have and will never take a selfie. Never ever.

But, it’s true I have and will definitely continue to take the odd food selfie. That said I have mixed feelings about the act. I haven’t worked long enough yet in hospitality to downright despise it, but on the other hand I firmly believe that there’s a way to go about doing it. So until society deems it utterly socially inappropriate or restaurants confiscate the cameras and cellphones of guests who attempt it, go ahead document your breakfasts, lunches and dinners, but keep in mind the following advice.   

The stigma of using a college/university food bank

by Claire Matlock

While our workload rises and snow falls, everyone hunkers into the season with a warm sweater and, hopefully, some comforting food. However, the reality for many students on a budget is the exclusion from seasonal traditions such as pumpkin spice lattes, or a roasted turkey. As a food writer, I understand the importance of food in punctuating holidays. Those students unable to afford its physical and emotional satiation should not be afraid to utilize their university’s food bank.