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Due to the hectic, on-the-go times we live in, lunch has become the forgotten meal, a ho-hum bite grabbed on the run between meetings and phone calls, soccer drop-offs and appointments.

Whether it’s a boring deli sandwich made with processed meats or random leftovers grabbed from the fridge, the sad little meal at your desk often suffers from a lack of imagination, not to mention taste.

It doesn’t have to be that way. With a little advance planning and simple prep, you can think outside the lunch box and create a healthy sandwich or salad that will renew your flagging energy and punctuate your day with a delicious exclamation point.

“It’s so important that your food has flavor,” said Amy Ludwick, who with her husband, Chris, owns Grapevine Catering and Earth’s Bounty Kitchen, a new deli and cafe in the Skyhawk Village of Santa Rosa. “It’s all about what’s seasonal. We won’t serve tomatoes unless they’re in season and picked at the right time.”

Chris, who was the opening chef at the former Girl & the Gaucho in Glen Ellen, started his own catering company in Guerneville in 2002, which now operates in the kitchen behind Earth’s Bounty deli and cafe.

For a simple but elegant sandwich, Chris follows the Wine Country credo of using only the freshest and the best ingredients, starting with the bread. For his deli sandwiches, he sources fresh rolls from Village Bakery of Santa Rosa, customizing the breads to match the flavors of each sandwich.

For his seasonal heirloom tomato, mozzarella and pesto sandwich, for example, he prefers the bakery’s soft and rustic ciabatta roll.

Village Bakery’s focaccia roll, which is a little softer and more oily, works well with his roasted turkey pesto sandwich made with Hobbs bacon, provolone, charred peppers and arugula.

For his chicken salad sandwich, Chris is partial to the sweet brioche roll, which pairs well with the grape and pistachio relish he slathers on as a condiment.

“The quality of meat makes a big difference, too,” said Chris, who suggests all-natural meat products such as Zoe’s, Boar’s Head or Diestel of Sonora, which recently introduced a line of pre-sliced deli turkey.

If you like to add a bit of cheese to your sandwich, Chris advises using local California cheeses in a wide range of flavors and textures, such as Point Reyes Farmstead’s Toma, Bravo’s Chipotle Cheddar or the Redwood Hill Farm goat cheeses.

“The cost is higher if you eat sandwiches every day,” Amy said of the high-quality meats and cheeses. “But it’s worth it.”

The Ludwicks, who also make an artisan line of condiments, advise thinking creatively when it comes to dressing up the sandwich. Instead of the usual mayonnaise, think about throwing on a bit of balsamic vinaigrette, which will kick up the flavor.

“It’s always fun to have something unique that’s not mayonnaise and mustard,” Amy said. “Chris likes to make his own pestos, flavored aiolis, tapenades and relishes.”

You can purchase many of these condiments at the grocery store, but if you have time, it’s nice to make them yourself. Just be sure to use them up quickly.

If you like to lighten up your mid-day meal with a fresh salad, Chris advises starting with crisp, fresh-picked lettuces that you’ve sourced yourself from the farmers market or your own back yard.

Once you’ve got your greens as the base note, you can build a harmonious chord by adding some kind of fresh fruit, a few slivers of cheese and a handful of toasted nuts.

One of Grapevine Catering’s most popular salads is constructed from Little Gems baby lettuces sprinkled with fresh strawberries, spicy almonds and some unctuous Point Reyes Original Blue Cheese.

It’s just four ingredients, but like a string quartet it sings together with a wide range of colors, tastes and textures.

It would be a shame to drown such an elegant salad in processed salad dressing, which tends to be too sweet and gummy and lacking in acidity.

Instead, take the time to make your own vinaigrette, adding Dijon mustard to help deepen the flavor and a splash of vinegar and lemon juice to brighten up the greens.

A piece of seasonal fruit or a mixed fruit salad makes the perfect ending to a healthy lunch. To make your colleagues at work especially jealous, pick up some fresh baked cookies from your local bakery.


The following recipes are from Executive Chef Christopher Ludwick of Grapevine Catering and Earth’s Bounty Kitchen and Wine Bar.

Smoky Pork Tenderloin Sandwich with Peach Jam and Balsamic Onions

Makes 1 serving

For sandwich:

3 to 4 ounces of cooked pork tenderloin, sliced thin (see recipe below)

1 tablespoon whole grain mustard

2 tablespoons peach jam (see recipe below)

2 tablespoons balsamic onions (see recipe below)

8-10 leaves of arugula

1 fresh ciabatta roll, or other favorite sandwich roll

Slice open roll and spread mustard on both sides. Place sliced pork on the roll, top with balsamic onions, peach jam and arugula. Season with salt and pepper. Close sandwich and enjoy!


Smoky pork tenderloin

Makes 3 to 4 sandwiches

1 pound pork tenderloin, cleaned

1 tablespoons smoked paprika, granulated garlic, olive oil and salt

1 teaspoon pepper

Place all ingredients in a bowl and mix well to coat pork. Place pork on a hot grill and cook on both sides until the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees or desired temperature up to 165 degrees. Remove pork and cool. When cool, slice thinly for the sandwich.


Peach Jam

Makes 2 cups

1 cup sugar

2 cups fresh peaches peeled and rough chopped

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons water

In small sauce pan, combine sugar, water, lemon juice and peaches. Cook over medium heat until peaches are tender and the liquid is thick.


Balsamic Onions

Makes 1 cup

1 yellow onion

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup balsamic vinegar

½ cup sugar

— Pinch of each salt and fresh ground pepper

Heat oil in heavy bottom pan. Add onions and sweat until translucent. Add vinegar, and sugar. Cook on medium heat about 5 minutes or until liquid is thick and syrupy. Add salt and pepper. Place in refrigerator to cool.


Baby lettuce with Local Strawberries, Point Reyes Blue, Spicy Almonds and Chardonnay Vinaigrette

Makes 1 serving

6 ounces baby mixed lettuces

6 fresh local strawberries cut into quarters

½ cup spicy almonds (see recipe below)

⅓ cup Point Reyes Blue cheese, crumbled

2 teaspoons chardonnay vinaigrette

— Salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and toss to coat

Place dressed lettuce in a neat pile in the center of the plate and garnish with the remaining strawberries, almonds and Point Reyes Blue cheese.


Chardonnay Vinaigrette

Makes 8 servings

½ cup white wine or chardonnay vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons sugar

2 cups olive oil

— Salt and pepper to taste

Place vinegar, Dijon, sugar, and salt and pepper and oil in a medium sized bowl or large cup. Immerse a hand blender into the ingredients. Blend dressing until the oil and vinegar emulsify or combine together. Adjust seasoning or acidity if needed, by adding more sugar or vinegar according to desired taste.


Spicy Almonds

Makes 1 cup

1 cup sliced almonds

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 tablespoon paprika

¼ teaspoon ground red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon chili powder

— Salt and pepper to taste

Place almonds on a sheet pan and place in a 400 degree oven. Toast almonds until lightly brown. Remove and cool. Place remaining ingredients in a small bowl and mix together until the almonds are well coated.

Put almonds on a sheet pan and place into the oven for about 3 to 4 minutes or until almonds are dry. Remove, cool and set aside until needed.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.

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