06 March 2008

PB&J Trio

I just had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for an entire day. Four of them. One for breakfast, one for lunch, two for dinner. Camille went out of town on business. What's a Food Network-educated chef to do without someone to cook for? Other than indulge his base desires?

I've always thought the comforting mush that is soft white bread, mashed peanuts, and jam could be dolled up into a pseudo-gourmet novelty. So, after my cheap, lazy ass got through two-thirds of the day with PB&J, I figured I'd go for the trifecta at dinner. And do it Iron Chef style.

PB&J Trio

four slices white bread
peanut butter
strawberry jam
grape jelly
guava jelly
sliced bananas (optional)

sandwich maker or panini press

Plug in your machine and preheat. Slather two slices with peanut butter. Slather one slice with your preferred jam. Split the other slice between the remaining two flavors. If you're using a sandwich maker, be judicious with the fillings as they will become a superheated mash that will explode over your face. A panini press does a better job of melding everything together, so if you've got one (and you should), then go crazy.
Add banana slices. Assemble the sandwiches and cook, 3-4 minutes. Let cool a minute before halving. If competing on Iron Chef, plate with a fruit garnish (preferably one representing a jam/jelly) and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

I only used banana slices on half the sandwichs, so it's actually a PB&J Triple Trio. One thing I wanted to accomplish was eat grape PB&J and strawberry PB&J side-by-side and settle that argument once and for all. Of course, I grew up on the strawberry version, so I'm biased. But in my mind and in my mouth, the grape flavor is too distinct and doesn't meld well enough with the peanut butter. In grape's defense, the fact that it was jelly and not jam makes a huge difference. Jellies are generally too sweet and runny.

Interestingly, the bananas really dominated the strawberry jam and guava jelly. The guava was especially eye-opening. I brought the Hawaiian Sun guava jelly back from (drum roll...) Hawaii on my last trip, only to find it was exceptionally sweet. However, against the peanut butter and paired with the banana, the guava flavor almost disappeared and actually served to brighten the banana flavor.

The banana-strawberry was a little underwhelming. The two fruits always go together so well, and here I thought the starch of the banana would balance well with the sweet jam and creamy peanut butter, but the banana flavor tended to dominate. Also, the heat and pressure of being pressed softens the banana texture, effectively turning it into another jam and undermining my scientific hypothesis for including them to give the sandwich some bite. Thankfully, this science experiment still tastes good and remains cheap and comforting. The master stroke of this preparation is the crispy texture of the bread, which turns an old school comfort food into a warm, crunchy-gooey culinary pleasure. That's how I'd describe it if I were on Iron Chef, anyway.