Croque Monsieur 

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Last night I attempted one of my French bistro sandwiches, the simply elegant Croque Monsieur. It’s a fancy sounding name for an elevated ham and cheese sandwich, but once you bite into one, you have to call it by name.

  
Assembled open faced, finished in the oven, including the broiler should you dare.

I cannot recommend exact quantities on this, as I feel you just assemble and make it look pretty. The quick bechamel I made was probably enough for two sandwiches, so I will go into a bit more detail with the sauce.

For the sandwich, I used two medium-thick slices of semolina bread, but any heart sliced bread or baguette will do – Italian, French, you could even go rye, though I prefer a milder tasting bread. I spread a thin layer of super grainy mustard and topped with ham. I then preheated my oven to 400 degrees and got started on the bechamel.

  
This was not a true bechamel. Instead a made a roux by melting two tablespoons butter and whisked in two tablespoons of flour. When the roux was cooked to a light blond color I added more grain mustard, a pinch of garlic powder (I would have preferred onion powder but I was out), a few dashes of nutmeg, salt and pepper. While whisking over low heat, I added 2/3 cup milk, added slightly more, thinning the sauce a bit more. You want the consistency to fall somewhere between mayo and gravy – thinner than mayo, but not so thin that it drips everywhere. I then added about two heaping tablespoons of Parmesan cheese and a teaspoon of Colman’s mustard powder.

  
I removed the sauce from heat and continued to assemble the sandwich. I spread about half the sauce I made over the ham on each slice.

  
I topped the sauce with Swiss cheese (you may also use Gruyere), and placed my sandwich in the oven.

  
I baked it for about 5 minutes, then switched on the broiler to melt the cheese even more for another two minutes. The result? Heaven.

  

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Salmon Cakes with Lemon-Chimichurri Aoli

what's cooking

At work we have a lot of One Day Sales. I often find myself taking advantage. This past weekend we had a ODS on Coho Salmon, so I bought close to two pounds of filet. After I got home to cook one of my favorite recipes (Salmon with Mustard-Dill crust), I inspected the package more closely. It had a use-by date of today (January 27) but then I didn’t realize that when I made my purchase the product had been previously frozen. I reserved half of the package and decided I would figure out today what I was going to make.

I thought of all the ways I enjoy salmon, such as smoked, sushi, broiled, etc., but half those options I cannot feasibly do at home safely or affordably. I started tinkering around some websites and saw a photo of salmon cakes. Duh! Why didn’t I think of that sooner? I played around with ingredients in my fridge and pantry and came up with this recipe.

The first thing I decided to do was cook the salmon. Whenever I have made crab cakes, the crab meat is always ready-to-eat, so I felt it wise to do the same with the salmon. I decided steamed or poached would be best in keeping the fish moist and flaky. Poaching seemed smarter.

To poach I used some water, dry white wine (Pinot Grigio), dill, and onion. I brought the liquid to a low boil and then reduced to barely a simmer and then added the fish filet, whole. I poached the fish about 10 minutes, to the point it was opaque but had a little give.

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Poached salmon cooling on cutting board

Poached salmon cooling on cutting board

For the rest of the recipes…

SALMON CAKES
12 ounces salmon, poached and cooled
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup dill, chopped
1 heaping teaspoon Colman’s mustard powder
1 heaping tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
2 eggs, raw
Vegetable oil for pan frying

  1. Remove skin from salmon and discard. Crumble the meat into a bowl.
  2. Add onion, dill, mustard powder, paprika, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice. Stir ingredients until well incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Add bread crumbs and mix thoroughly. Taste the mixture and adjust any seasonings. The mustard powder may make the mixture taste very hot/spicy, but that heat will be muted in the cooking process.
  4. Add eggs and knead the mixture with your hands. If it seems a little dry, you can add more lemon juice.
  5. Form the mixture into 8 patties (approximately two ounces each).
  6. Allow the patties to rest as oil heats. In a large skillet, coat the bottom of the pan with oil. Heat to about 350 degrees for frying. If you do not have a thermometer and are not sure if the oil is hot enough, use a small piece of one of the cakes or a piece of onion to test.
  7. When the oil is ready, fry the cakes, four at a time, two minutes per side. The color should be a deep golden brown. Remove from pan and place on paper towels to remove excess oil.
  8. Serve cakes with the Lemon-Chimichurri Aoli and garnish with lemon wedges and fresh dill. Salmon Cakes can be enjoyed hot or at room temperature.

LEMON-CHIMICHURRI AOLI
Make as little or as much as you would like with store-bought ingredients. I used equal parts ready-made chimichurri and low fat mayonnaise and thinned the mixture with lemon juice. For an even brighter, more lemony sauce, add some lemon zest.

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Oil-Free Chicken Tetrazzini

what's cooking

For some reason I have several varieties of mustard in my home and in significant quantity. I decided I wanted to make a mustard flavored sauce, and then I remembered how my mom used to make turkey tetrazzini on occasion. Her recipe was light and used grain mustard. I researched a few recipes, but did not quite find what I was looking for, especially as most of the recipes had a lot of cream and were baked in a casserole. So I decided to experiment and was quite happy with the results.

As I started cooking I took things a step further and did not use any oil in the recipe. When necessary, I substituted water or broth.

The dish is made in three parts, utilizing a large saute pan in all three steps – chicken, then spinach, then sauce. Serve over egg noodles or your favorite pasta.

OIL-FREE CHICKEN TETRAZZINI

CHICKEN:
1 pound chicken breast, pounded thin and cut into two-bite pieces
salt and pepper

SPINACH:
2 or 3 10-ounce packages baby spinach
1/2 small onion, finely chopped

SAUCE:
2 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup grain mustard
2 tablespoons flour, mixed well with water
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup Greek yogurt
3/4 cup finely shredded Jarlsberg or Swiss cheese

  1. Heat a large nonstick pan (only use nonstick) and add chicken ( you may need to two this in 2-3 batches). Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook on each side about 2-3 minutes. If chicken sticks to pan, add about a tablespoon of water. When cooked through, remove from pan (do not overcook, if chicken is slightly pink in the middle it is ok) and set aside.
  2. Using same pan, add onions. There should be a little chicken fat in the pan. Saute, add a little water, and cover for two minutes until onions soften. Add spinach and cover again for about 30 seconds to wilt spinach. Cook the spinach about one more minute, and remove from pan. Set aside with chicken.
  3. Deglaze pan with chicken broth. Add mustard and bring mixture to a boil.
  4. Add flour mixture and reduce heat to low. Simmer the sauce for about five minutes, stirring frequently to ensure no lumps – sauce will thicken and become slightly opaque.
  5. Add nutmeg and yogurt. Once yogurt is mixed in thoroughly, add cheese. Cook sauce about two more minutes – taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
  6. Add chicken and spinach back to the pan and mix thoroughly with sauce. Cook all ingredients together about two more minutes (this will ensure chicken is cooked through without overcooking it). Remove from heat, and serve immediately, or reserve for later.

Sauce can be cooled and reheated.

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