Build-Your-Own-Gourmet-Sandwich Bar

A Build Your Own Sandwich bar is an easy way to please different appetites if you’ve got a house full of hungry picky eaters this summer.

First of all, a little giveaway business to take care of. The winner of Friday’s Cookie Butter Giveaway is Wen. (I swear we used a random number generator, but have to admit, there is a nice ring to Wen is the Winner!) Wen, we’ll email you to get an address where we can send your cookie butter. Congratulations!

Rachel, the daughter

It’s summer and many of us, either married to school teachers or with school age children, have extra mouths to feed at lunch. Most of the year, lunch is my meal, the meal that doesn’t have to make sense, or be well-balanced. It’s the meal no one’s going to comment on or scoff at because they don’t like what I’m serving. If I’m lucky, I even get to eat it alone while the baby is napping. It’s usually not planned and often just a plate of randomness, if I even actually put it on a plate. I like to have one meal a day that is mine, all mine.

Not that I’m even close to ready to send Jared back to work and into the dreaded long days of football season, but I admit sometimes during the summer I miss my lunch.

During these months, I get asked daily “What’s for lunch?” To which I spout off a list of things I know we have on hand. Somehow a handful of almonds, a bowl of leftover spaghetti, and a sliced avocado, does not sell well as a collective lunch offering. My well meaning husband will kindly decline and offer to make his own lunch instead, and by make, I mean open a bag of his jalapeno-flavored pretzels or serve up a plate of pistachios. I cannot, in good conscious, let this happen on my watch, so I either go in the other room and look away or pull a lunch together that the both of us can enjoy.

My go-to lunch this summer has been anything “Build-Your-Own,” sandwiches, pitas, salads, pizza, pasta. I can eat whatever I’m craving and Jared can choose to eat or not eat any or all of the toppings I’ve offered. Sandwiches don’t have to be boring and they are a familiar vessel to introduce your family to new ingredients and flavor combinations. Try offering roasted chickpeas instead of sandwich meat, avocados instead of mayo, lightly dressed dark leafy greens instead of romaine, hot peppers instead of pickles, roasted red peppers instead of (or in addition to) tomatoes, whole grain garlic toast instead of white bread. You can put out some of your favorite sandwich standby’s too, but my food philosophy with my family is to introduce lots of different foods and to keep trying until I’ve won them over (I’m persistent!). Jared didn’t eat a single thing on this sandwich bar when I first met him, but today he happily ate at least a little of everything except for the tomato (my work is never done around here.)

What are your favorite gourmet or out-of-the-box sandwich toppings?

Build-Your-Own-Gourmet-Sandwich Bar


  • Sliced Avocado
  • Roasted Chickpeas (see below), plain chickpeas work well too
  • Dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, and/or arugula) lightly dressed w/ a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper
  • Roasted Red Peppers (storebough or see below to make your own)
  • Spicy Peppers
  • Bread, buttered (Earth Balance for vegans) and sprinkled with garlic powder

Other Gourmet Ingredients you might want to offer on your BYOGS bar:

Hummus, grilled tofu, grilled or breaded eggplant, caramelized onions, mixed olives, shredded roasted chicken, smoked salmon, basil, cilantro, fresh mozzarella, different breads: Ciabatta rolls, hoagies or pitas

Roasted Chickpeas & Red Peppers

Heat oven to 400 degrees (I use my convection oven’s roast setting and it works great if you have one). Either line a baking pan with parchment paper or coat with olive oil or cooking spray.

Drain & rinse a can of chickpeas. Pat dry with a paper towel. Put them on the baking pan and rub olive oil (you don’t need much, maybe 1/2 tablespoon), and season generously with your favorite seasonings. I like smoked paprika, seasoning salt, and a touch of cayenne, but any combo of spice works.

Seed and cut a red pepper in half or thirds and put on a separate baking sheet. Put both pans in the oven and cook for about 15 minutes (the convection oven will cook faster, closer to 10 minutes). The chickpeas should be crunchy on the the outside, but still have a little chew in the middle. The skin of the red pepper should be charred and bubbling up in places. You can stick them under the broiler for a few minutes to char up quickly.

Immediately put the red peppers in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let sit for 3-5 minutes. The steam should loosen the skins and make them really easy to pull off.

Place roasted peppers in a bowl covered with plastic wrap. The steam loosens the skin and makes it easy to peel right off.

To serve, put everything out on the table and let your family taste the ingredients and build their own combination. It could be super casual on a typical Tuesday afternoon or, with the right tablescape and ingredients, really elegant for a shower or reception. In fact, I think I just talked myself into doing a BYOGS bar for Jackson’s upcoming birthday party. There will be something for everyone from the pickiest of eaters to the snobbiest of gourmets.

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Pasta Arrabiata with Roasted Garbanzos & Kale Chips

One of our staple vegan meals: Roasted Garbanzo Beans and Kale and a Spicy Arrabiata Sauce served over whole wheat pasta with a side of extra roasted veggies and whole wheat garlic toast. Satisfies every time.

(Rachel – The Vegan-Eatin’ Daughter)

My husband had a few hours off this afternoon, so as I wrote a post for my literary agency’s blog, The Wordserve Water Cooler, Jared kept an eye on Jackson and helped out around the house. He was folding a load of laundry at the kitchen table with Jackson at his feet, and though Jackson can barely reach the table, he managed to grab a corner of one of the piles and pulled half of the folded clothes onto the floor. Looking up from my laptop, I knowingly grinned and said “I’m so glad you get to experience a little piece of my life every now and then.”

The other day, Jared came home and, for what seemed like the 100th day in a row, I was rocking our crying teething baby in the same clothes I was wearing when he left for work, the house a total mess, and no dinner on the table. I told him “Just once, I’d like for you to come home and me to be bathed & dressed, the house to be clean, blogs to be finished, my word-count to be completed, and dinner to be ready. I can usually get a couple of those done on any given day, but I think it would be a miracle to fit it all into one day and be present for our son.”

Here’s what cooking with Jackson looks like on a good night. Veggies are chopped, every piece of tupperware is on the floor. Next up, Arrabiata sauce and emptying the pots and pans drawer.

Never trust a tupperware container from the house of a toddler. It surely has been discarded onto an unswept floor, then thrown back into the cabinet without so much as a rinse.

I know Jared works VERY hard. In fact, I would probably cry every day if I had his job of taming teenagers in the classroom, followed by practice and games most nights and weekends. But it’s nice to know he understands that being a work-at-home mom is not all tickles and giggles either.

On this night, my house was a wreck and the closest I got to showering was sticking my feet in the tub while Jackson bathed and dotting my neck and wrists with a little “perfume” of coconut oil while I cooked. But dinner was on the table and it was delicious. And my husband kindly overlooked the yoga pants and tank top I was trying to pass off as an outfit and the ponytail I was trying to pass off as an intentionally messy updo.

I like to put the kale chips on the side and then crumble them into a tasty crunchy kale dust between every few bites. Jared loves his as chips and just eats them on the side. To each his own.

Pasta Arrabiata with Roasted Garbanzos

This makes a lot of sauce, enough to fill about 2 pasta sauce jars. You can easily freeze leftovers or store them in your refrigerator for up to a week.

Arrabiata Sauce


3 T. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 t. salt
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. Tomato Paste
1 28 oz can of whole peeled San Marzano Tomatoes
1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup red or white wine
2 T. brown sugar
1 T. Italian seasoning
1 T. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 c. fresh parsley, chopped & divided


Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large sauce pan. Add onions and salt and saute until translucent. Add garlic, saute for 2 more minutes. Add tomato paste and stir. Add the whole peeled tomatoes and break them up with a fork until nice and chunky. Add crushed tomatoes, wine, brown sugar, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes. Bring to boil and simmer for 30 minutes on low, stirring occasionally. Add 1/4 cup of fresh parsley before serving.
Roasted Garbanzos & Kale Chips

Makes enough to top 3-4 bowls of pasta


1 cans of garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas), drained and rinsed
2 c. kale, washed, dried very well, and torn into pieces
3-4 t. olive oil, divided
4 t. Italian seasoning, divided
1 t. crushed red pepper flakes, divided

Preheat oven to 325.  Coat a large cookie sheet with a little olive oil or cooking spray. In a bowl, toss garbanzos in half the olive olive oil until all are lightly coated. Add half of the Italian Seasoning & crushed red pepper flakes and toss again. Pour onto half the cookie sheet. Repeat same steps with the kale, making sure to massage the olive oil into the leaves. Bake for 20 minutes, shaking the pan half way through. They are done when the kale chips are light and crispy and the garbanzo beans have a slight crunch.

Serve Arriabiata sauce over pasta and top with a sprinkle of fresh parsley, chickpeas and kale. I actually like to put the kale chips on the side and crush them over the top as I eat them.

This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook
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The Title: Pasta Arrabiata with Roasted Garbanzos & Kale Chips
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