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.

  

Cauliflower and Cornmeal Crust Pizza

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My Pinterest feed is always flooded with cauliflower crust recipes, as they are supposed to be a chewy, delicious gluten-free alternative to pizza crust. Since my recent success with the polenta fries I have wanted to up the ante and do a cauliflower-cornmeal crust.

I researched some recipes and tweaked it to suit my tastes. I could not imagine cauliflower on its own coming out crispy, and I love the crunch cornmeal adds.

Here’s what I came up with:

CAULIFLOWER-CORNMEAL PIZZA CRUST
1 bag frozen cauliflower
2/3 cup cornmeal
1 egg
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup shredded mexican blend cheese
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried basil
salt and pepper

  1. Steam the cauliflower until tender. Drain, allow to cool, and run through a food processor. Do not over process, leave some texture in the vegetable. Place cauliflower in a kitchen towel or cheesecloth and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
  2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a mixing bowl combine all ingredients – mix with a spoon then knead dough into a ball. If it is too dry and crumbly, add a touch more oil.
  3. Roll out into a disc shape and flatten as thin as you wold like. Mine was about 1/4 inch thick.
  4. Bake for 10 minutes until golden brown and edges are slightly more brown.
  5. Remove from oven and add your pizza toppings. Bake for another 5-7 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

   
  

   

Hand Ground Chicken Meatballs

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So I had taken some chicken breasts out of my freezer to thaw, but left one behind, figuring I would get to it later in the week. Later in the week came and I wasn’t in the mood to grill it or make a cutlet or so whatever it is people do with a single chicken breast. I was really in the mood for meatballs to go with my polenta fries.

I realized I do not own a grinder, and a food processor would probably destroy the meat’s texture. So I decided to see what I could do with a knife. As I started to chop, I remembered I have a meat mallet for pounding cutlets. I decided to use that on the breast, combined with chopping, and I was really pleased with the results. It was then time to put the meatballs together.

CHICKEN MEATBALLS
1 chicken breast (4 – 5 ounce piece)
1 egg
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Dash of Hot Sauce (I used Sriracha)
Salt and Pepper

  1. “Grind” the breast by the method of your choice
  2. Mix all ingredients together, first stirred with a spoon, then knead by hand
  3. Portion out the meatballs to the size of your choice, I used an ice cream scoop to make balls slightly larger than a golf ball
  4. Chill the meatballs for about half an hour to set
  5. When ready, pour oil in the vessel of your choice (I like cast iron), heat to about 350 degrees
  6. Fry meatballs 2-3 minutes on each side. Depending on the size, you may want to finish in the oven to ensure they are thoroughly cooked
  7. Serve with marinara for dipping


  

Polenta Fries

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There’s a chain restaurant in Clifton called Spuntinos. It’s a yummy tapas restaurant and every time I go I make it a point to order their polenta fries. They have a crisp texture on the outside, some nice chew on the inside, and usually seasoned well with herbs and grated cheese.

I decided to try and replicate them at home. I played around Pinterest and most potenta fries “cheated” with tubed polenta. I prefer to make something from scratch.

In pantry project fashion, I assumed I had polenta on hand, but in fact I didn’t. I did, however, have cornmeal. It’s honestly the same thing! My only advice is if you want a smoother texture, pulse the cornmeal in a food processor a few times.

The production was pretty easy, but for best results this should be a two day event so the polenta can set and stiffen.

POLENTA FRIES
1 cup cornmeal
2 cups broth (I used chicken ut veggie works)
1/8 cup chopped parlsey
2 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons dried chives
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter
salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

  1. Bring broth to a boil, add cornmeal and stir constantly until full incorporated. Reduce heat, cover, and allow to cook about 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Remove from heat and add seasonings, cheese, and butter – mix until well incorporated.
  3. Lightly grease a cookie sheet (one with sides) or jelly roll pan, spread polenta mixture evenly in pan. Smooth top.
  4. Allow to cool about 30 minutes, transfer to refrigerator and allow to stiffen overnight.
  5. When ready to fry, heat a generous amount of vegetable oil, about 1-2 inches deep in a heavy bottom pot or skillet (I use cast iron) to 350-375 degrees.
  6. Cut the polenta to desired sized strips. If the mixture falls apart or feels too loose you can coat with a bit more cornmeal.
  7. Fry several pieces at a time (do not overcrowd), turning once, until golden brown. Place on paper towels to drain and sprinkle with some hard cheese, like Parmesan, while still warm.
  8. Serve immediately with a favorite sauce, I chose marinara but you can do a Belgian style mayo as well.

   
    
   

Summer Corn Chowder

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My years of living in New England made me a chowda lover. In addition to the regional cuisine, I had a roommate who was obsessed with the dish, especially corn chowder.

Now that summer is here I am taking advantage of all the fresh beautiful produce out there. This afternoon I picked up corn, potatoes, and bacon for the soul purpose of transforming them to soup.


I also love any reason to use my Staub coquette.


The soup is really easy to prepare once all the chopping is complete.

SUMMER CORN CHOWDER
5 ears fresh Corn
3 Potatoes
1 sweet Onion
5 strips Bacon
1/4 cup Flour
1/2 stick Butter
2 Tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning
2 quarts Chicken Stock
1 cup Greek Yogurt
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Cheese and Scallions to garnish, optional

  1. Prep the corn, potatoes, and onions. Strip the corn from the cob, using either a knife or corn stripper. Dice the onion to a medium chop, and peel and cube the potatoes into one inch pieces.
  2. In a heavy bottom pan, render the bacon. Once browned, remove the strips, leaving the grease.
  3. Sauté the onions until soft and starting to brown. Add corn, flour, and butter. Cook, stirring constantly, about two more minutes until ingredients are well incorporated.
  4. Add chicken stock and potatoes. Bring soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer about 25 minutes until potatoes are fork tender.
  5. Ladel out about 2-3 cups of soup, process in a blender until smooth and creamy. Mix in to the rest of the soup.
  6. Chop the bacon and add to the soup. Adjust seasoning to taste preference. Serve with cheese, scallions, and fresh ground pepper, if desired.


  
  

French Onion Soup Empanadas

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On numerous occasions on this blog I gushed about my love of French Onion Soup. It’s somewhat of an obsession.

One of my other loves in any food that’s wrapped in dough – be it puff pastry, filo, pasta, etc. I’ll travel the culinary world for a good dumpling, pierogi, patty, lumpia, pita, etc. Of course, empanadas are no exception.

Last weekend a good friend of mine sent a snapchat of some empanadas he was frying up, and I was smitten, realizing it had been a long time since I made them myself. His sister’s Ecuadorian in-laws noddingly approved of his frying skills. I instantly knew I wanted to achieve similar greatness.

Apparently the secret was Goya empanada wrappers. I bought some the next day and saved them in my freezer until inspiration struck.

A few days later the idea of French Onion Soup Empanadas came to mind. I had two additional inspirations on top of that snap chat – a French Onion Soup Casserole I saw on Pinterest and the famous French Onion Soup Dumplings at The Stanton Social.

By not making empanada dough from scratch, these were super easy to make.

FRENCH ONION SOUP EMPANADAS
3 large Sweet or Vidalia Onions, sliced thick
1 stick Butter
1 tablespoon Herbs de Provence
1 teaspoon Thyme
1 tablespoon Beef Better than Bouillon (or 1 Beef Bouillon Cube)
2 tablespoons Flour
1 cup White Wine (or Brandy)
Salt and Pepper, to taste
4 ounces Jarslberg Cheese, sliced into small squares
1 packet (12 each) Goya Empanada Wrappers
Vegetable or Corn Oil for Frying
Sugar and Parmesan Cheese

  1. Remove wrappers from freezer and allow to thaw while you prepare onions.
  2. In a heavy bottom stock pot or dutch oven (I used my Staub coquette), melt the butter. Add onions and spices. Cook onions, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until onions are brown and a little syrupy.
  3. Add flour and stir for a couple of minutes until well incorporated.
  4. Add wine and cook mixture for about five more minutes, until onion mixture has thickened and excess liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and spread on a cookie sheet or pan to cool.
  5. Meanwhile, heat oil in pot (I cleaned and re-used my coquette). Use a candy thermometer and allow to heat between 320 and 350 degrees.
  6. Assemble empanadas – use about two tablespoons of onion mixture and 1-2 squares of cheese. Fold in half and crimp edges closed with fork.
  7. Fry empanadas for about 3-5 minutes, until golden brown to brown.
  8. Remove from fryer and drain on a paper towel. While still hot, sprinkle with a pinch of Parmesan cheese and sugar.

 

Vegan Creamed Kale

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Months ago I tried a vegan version of creamed kale and it stayed with me – I really wanted to replicate the side dish. In usual fashion I bought too much kale recently and pondered what to do with it, so I decided to take a stab at it. I picked apart some recipes on Pinterest and came up with my own.

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The first thing you need is your cream sauce. I do not know why these ingredients combined together mean magic, but they just do:

VEGAN CREAM SAUCE

1/4 cup homemade cashew butter
1 cup unsweetened plain almond milk (I prefer almond breeze)
1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes (I use red star)
Nutmeg, Salt and Pepper – to taste

In a medium sized saucepan, melt the cashew butter over a low flame – do not allow to scorch. Add almond milk and whisk mixture together until well incorporated and smooth. You can raise the heat to medium and add yeast flakes and seasonings – adjust to your liking. Personally, it needs a good amount of salt. Cool and set aside to use in recipes immediately, or you can refrigerate for up to one week – makes a great pasta sauce as well!

VEGAN CREAMED KALE

1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon coconut oil
4 cups baby Kale
1/2 cup – 1 cup Vegan Cream Sauce

Over high heat, heat coconut oil in a large, heavy bottomed skillet. Add onions and lightly saute, until softened and slightly translucent. Add garlic and kale and mix with onion. Lower heat and cover skillet for about two minutes, allowing the kale to steam. You can steam longer if you prefer softer vegetables. Remove lid and add cream sauce, mix until all the kale is coated and hot, about one minute. Serve with your favorite vegan entree or just enjoy on its own!