By CHRISTIANA ROUSSEL
Cherokee Bend mom Alison Lewis is what you’d call an overnight sensation. If by “overnight” you mean more than 15 years in the making. You see, Alison is one of those local people whom lots of people might already know but is really starting to pop on the national scene.
As founder of the food-centric home-based business Ingredients, Inc. (www.IngredientsInc.net), Alison has been feeding blog subscribers and followers healthy, family friendly menu ideas and inspiration for years. To paraphrase the Atlanta-based cable magnate Ted Turner, she was a food blogger before food blogging was cool. And now she can add writing her own cookbook to her list of accomplishments.
Starting her career as an editorial assistant at Oxmoor House in 1994, she worked on various “light” publications and contributed with recipe development. Alison has a natural sense of what flavors and foods work well together, but she augmented her skill set by obtaining a nutrition degree from the University of Montevallo while she was still at Southern Progress. This advanced degree helped her understand the science behind creating lightened recipes. Some home cooks may know that Greek yogurt is a great substitute for sour cream in a dish but Alison can tell you why it works. She can also rattle off five or six other dishes that use Greek yogurt and are delicious.
Alison’s talents got her promoted to Southern Living Assistant Food Editor in 1996, a position she held until 2001 when fate inspired a career-shift. She had long known she was merely exchanging paychecks with the nanny for her three young children. But when that caregiver had to quit, Alison and her family seized the opportunity to take stock of the situation. In the summer of 2001, Alison left the publishing Camelot that was Southern Progress and established Ingredients, Inc.
The foundation of the business was recipe development for large and small food-based organizations. Her client roster is a wish list for any recipe developer: Nestle, Kraft, Carnation, Bisquick and POM, to name a few. Have you ever flipped through a magazine to see an advertisement from a food company that included an enticing recipe? Chances are, it was probably one of Alison Lewis’ creations.
Friends and family loved hearing what she was whipping up in the kitchen so writing about it on line just came naturally. In October 2008, Alison started her Ingredients, Inc. blog. A lot has happened since that first post, but one thing is for sure: her list of followers has grown by leaps and bounds. Five times a week, you can receive her email updates that can include anything from a fantastic gluten-free chocolate torte recipe that’s perfect for Passover, why coconut water is so hot right now, or 10 ways to avoid cravings.
Over the course of her career, Alison has taken classes at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) campuses in New York and California, as well as at The Institute of Culinary Education in New York. This kind of epicurean exposure can be seen in a wide range of her classics such as Orange-Ricotta Pancakes, Flaxseed Crusted Salmon, or Sausage & Fresh Spinach Lasagna. But the best part about Alison’s recipes? They work!
Anyone who has ever worked remotely close to a Southern Progress test kitchen will tell you that every one of those recipes is religiously and painstakingly tested and re-tested and tested again. That same rigorous adherence to testing standards was applied to all of the recipes in her new cookbook, 400 Best Sandwich Recipes: From Classics and Burgers to Wraps and Condiments. Alison always knew she had a cookbook in her. But, it was not until she was on a car-confined conference call, spit-balling ideas (again!) with her publisher, that the topic for this cookbook was born. Driving to the beach, with her kids in the backseat, they bandied about various topics. Alison confesses to feeling defeated when idea-after-idea was shot down.
And then 9-year-old Zachary piped up, “What about sandwiches?” The Alabama-half of the conference call grew silent and waited eagerly as Bob Dees conducted a few deft keystrokes. Moments later, he announced that there was not a full-scale cookbook devoted solely to the subject of the sandwich on the market. It was decided. Now, came the hard part. Alison had only six months to create, develop, test and retest 400 sandwich recipes. For those not privy to the publishing milieu, that’s a nanosecond.
Alison Lewis will be the first to admit that, were it not for a strong cadre of faithful tasters and testers, this book would not have come together on time. She has a stack of first editions to dole out to the folks who helped make her dream a reality. Copies of 400 Best Sandwich Recipes can be purchased at national retailers like Amazon and Costco, as well as from her website. Upcoming appearances include a demo at the Saturday Pepper Place Market (www.PepperPlaceMarket.com) on April 30th and a cooking class at Birmingham Bake and Cook Company (www.BakeAndCookCo.com) June 9th.
Can’t wait until then? Here are two of her favorites from the new book:
Classic Club Sandwich
My favorite club sandwich is at the Pine Tree Country Club in Birmingham, Alabama, where I live. They have been making it the same way since I was a child.
12 slices white bread (1⁄2-inch thick slices), toasted
1⁄2 cup Homemade Mayonnaise or store-bought
8 oz sliced turkey
2 small tomatoes, sliced
8 slices Swiss cheese
8 slices bacon, cooked
4 lettuce leaves
Tip: Deli or roasted turkey can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Place bread slices on a work surface. Spread mayonnaise on one side of 8 bread slices. Arrange turkey, tomato and Swiss cheese over mayonnaise on each slice. Stack 2 slices together, keeping toppings up, then place 2 slices of bacon and the lettuce on top of cheese. Cover with remaining top halves and press together gently. Slice into quarters. Secure with toothpicks to hold the stacks together.
Updated Club Sandwich: Use 1⁄2 cup aïoli instead of mayonnaise. Substitute 4 watercress leaves for each lettuce leaf, 8 slices applewood smoked bacon for bacon, 8 oz peppered turkey for turkey and 8 slices pepper Jack cheese for Swiss.
Homemade Ice Cream Sandwich
Sometimes it’s the little things in life that are so wonderful. These are easy to make, adorable and taste delicious.
2 cups vanilla ice cream
16 chocolate chip cookies (see Tip)
Mini chocolate chips
Let ice cream stand at room temperature for 10 minutes to soften. Place 1⁄4 cup of the ice cream on 8 cookies.
Place remaining cookies on top of ice cream, pressing gently to seal. Roll edges in desired toppings. Serve immediately or wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for up to 3 days.
Tip: Use your favorite chocolate chip recipe for these cookies or store-bought cookies.
Excerpted from 400 Best Sandwich Recipes by Alison Lewis © 2011 Robert Rose Inc. http://www.robertrose.ca. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
Christiana Roussel lives in Crestline and is a lover of all things food-related. You can follow her culinary musings on-line at ChristianasKitchen.com or on Facebook (ChristianasKitchen) or Twitter (Christiana40).