Posts Tagged With: parmesan cheese

Croque-madames with Swiss Cheese and Dijon Mustard

Every once in awhile, someone will comment that they, “haven’t seen any new recipes on the food blog in awhile” – and I sheepishly look anywhere but in their eyes when I explain that I let scratchbatch slip off to the sidelines while I did “more important things.”  I’ve been cooking like the rest of us, but finding the moments to record those kitchen expeditions somehow became increasingly difficult.

In the time that’s elapsed since I discussed scones in all their glory, I have written many papers, earned a degree, lived abroad, and returned home.  With time on my side and a desire to jump back into my little culinary universe, I thought a second attempt to rejoin the blogosphere might not be such a bad idea.  To get back in the groove, I’ve got an easy and deliciously messy sandwich suggestion that might just redefine your concept of “breakfast for dinner.”  I present to you:  the croque (et oui, with a French name, it sells better !) or upscale, reinvented grilled cheese.

Doesn't look like a bonnet to me...

Perhaps this is a surprising choice – why make something that might equate diner food ?  The answer is fairly simple: it’s easy and you almost always have the ingredients hiding in the fridge to make it.  The other evening, I was sitting with the living room with my parents.  My mom looks up from her computer, pouts a little, and starts to brainstorm what to have for dinner.  A certain paresse has prevented any new groceries from entering the premises and creativity will therefore play a large role in whatever dish we dream up to devour.  Mom whines, “I have all this cheese just sitting in the fridge and I don’t know what to do with it !   Hey, maybe we can have grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner!”

I wasn’t impressed or tempted by the idea of hot soup on a hot night.  Voicing my opinion, we somehow started discussing the croque madames we’d eaten in France. I thought about it for a moment…when Mom declared, “If you can make it, that would be great !” Dad, behind two pairs of glasses, nodded his consent.

So off to the kitchen I went to make this classic, French-inspired snack.  Any bar/café in France will likely have a croque monsieur or a croque madame on their menu.  It’s standard quick eats, a sort of Frenchie fast-food that may have gained it’s popularity in the Paris of the late 40’s. The essentials stand as such: thick slices of bread, a little béchamel sauce, ham, and melted cheese.  The madame, in somewhat Gallic humor, is topped off with an egg (so named for the hat styles fashionable at the time…though I could think of other reasons…) while the monsieur touts but ham and cheese.

Usually, this sandwich is made with gruyere or emmenthal cheese, but those are less likely to be in an American refrigerator.  I used pecorino/parmesan, swiss, and provolone to great effect.  Don’t let the béchamel scare you off – it’s very easy to make and takes little time.  Put on the Amélie soundtrack, open a red wine, and whip up these fancy (and filling), French-inspired sandwiches.

The sauce: 

– 1 1/2 tbsp butter (unsalted or salted is fine)
– 1 1/2 tbsp flour
– 1 cup milk
– 3/4 cup grated cheese (I used parmesan and a little swiss)
– Salt and pepper to taste
– A few sprinkles of nutmeg

NB: Have the milk and cheese at the ready before beginning the sauce.

In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat.

Melted butter

Add the flour and cook, whisking, until smooth and lightly browned. It’s important to incorporate the flour and the butter; the flour will be the thickening agent for the béchamel sauce. You also want it to change color (becoming somewhat golden in hue) in order to remove some of the floury flavor. This will all happen fairly quickly, so don’t dawdle and keep mixing !

Photo Jun 24, 7 11 04 PM

Photo Jun 24, 7 11 25 PM

Pour in the milk, continuing to mix constantly. Let the mixture come to a boil before reducing the heat until thickened. I usually continue to whisk and before my sauce has begun to fervently bubble, it has adopted the viscosity of molasses (desired).

Photo Jun 24, 7 12 53 PM

Add the cheese by handfuls, mixing until smooth and melted. Taste – if you want more cheese, add it now.

Photo Jun 24, 7 15 52 PM

Season with a little salt, cracked pepper, and nutmeg. Be sure to sample before setting aside.

Photo Jun 24, 7 17 10 PM

Photo Jun 24, 7 23 56 PM

The sandwich:

– 6 slices of bread, toasted (I used a multigrain bread but anything that isn’t Wonder Bread should be fine…)
– Coarse-grain Dijon mustard (for spreading)
– 6 slices ham (any cold cut could substitute well)
– 6 slices swiss or provolone
– 3 large eggs

Heat broiler. On a large baking sheet (you may cover with parchment paper if desired – I did not, and had no trouble removing my toasts), place the 6 slices of toast. Spread a generous spoonful of mustard on each slice of bread. If mustard isn’t your favorite condiment, butter is a likely substitute…but really, trust me on the mustard front. It’s delicious). Top each toast with a slice of ham and a slice of cheese. We were cleaning out the fridge, so I did three with swiss and three with provolone. It was so good, I might always do it like that…but you may choose whatever cheese cocktail you like.

Photo Jun 24, 7 28 49 PM

Photo Jun 24, 7 32 25 PM

Top each toast with a generous dollop of béchamel sauce. Place tray in oven for 1-3 minutes or until the cheese sauce is bubbling and evenly browned. Please note that it is wise to cover the toasts as completely as possible so as to prevent them from burning when facing the heat of the broiler.

Photo Jun 24, 7 38 10 PM

Photo Jun 24, 7 53 37 PM

Remove from oven and get ready to fry some eggs.

Heat butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add salt and pepper to melted butter. Once the pan is hot (I test this by flicking a bit of water at the pan. If it sputters madly, it’s ready to go), crack an egg into the pan. It will cook fast – I like to run the edge of the flipper under the egg about midway through the cooking process to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Cook until the whites are set but the yolk is still runny…maybe 3 minutes in the pan. If you prefer the over-easy approach, go for it.

Photo Jun 24, 7 57 13 PM


I placed ours on a bed of greens (like arugula) but one may just as easily leave those out. Take one toast and place it on the plate. Top it with a second toast. Just as the egg is cooked, place it on top of the sandwich and devour right away !

Photo Jun 24, 7 58 27 PM

The best part is watching the yolk drip down over the combination of melted cheese, bread, and béchamel. Bon appetite !

Photo Jun 24, 8 04 09 PM

Categories: English | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wild Mushroom Risotto

Recently, a close friend of mine visited from France and as she left our lovely campus before celebrating her 21st birthday, an American landmark, we decided to celebrate it a few months late with a fancy dinner and framboise lambic.  One roommate prepared an excellent salad and chicken dish, but as another roomie is a vegetarian, I made a risotto dish that could double as a main and a side in order to keep everyone satisfied.  It was altogether adorable – we all sat at our little round table in the kitchen, with “fancy” plates and wine glasses, noshing away like the dignified college students we are.  🙂

Ingredients :

4 tbsp butter
1 1/2 lbs wild mushrooms (I used regular mushrooms this go-around, as that’s all I had in the fridge.  One and a half Trader Joe’s packages.  🙂 )
7 cups vegetable broth
3 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup chopped onion
1 1/4 cups arborio rice
1/2-3/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Pinch rosemary

Melt 2 tbsp butter to a large skillet over medium high heat.  Once the pan is nice and hot (and the butter is beginning to brown), add about 1/2 the mushrooms and cook until tender and slightly brown.  I like to put them in the pan in slices, and then quarter them about halfway through cooking.

I find that this releases more water from the mushrooms and helps them cook better.  Transfer mushrooms to a medium bowl.  Continue (adding butter !) until mushrooms are all cooked and sprinkle with rosemary.

Add olive oil to a large saucepan – I recommend using the SAME PAN as the mushrooms as it will add lots of delicious flavor to the risotto – and sprinkle with salt.  Add the onions and cook until translucent and tender.

Add the rice, stirring until toasted (it will turn somewhat clear and a few grains will have a light brown color.)  Add the broth and continue to stir stir stir.  I usually just add broth until the rice is tender, but 7 cups should be enough.

Add the broth one cup (or so) at a time, and remember to KEEP. STIRRING.  This is very important – if you stop, you could burn the rice, and that would be ever so disappointing, wouldn’t it ?

When the rice is about halfway cooked (you’ll have maybe 2ish cups of broth left), add the mushrooms.  Once the broth is out, the rice is essentially cooked, add the wine and the parmesan cheese and rosemary/salt/pepper/seasonings that you enjoy.

Stir stir stir until the cheese is all melted and serve !  Pairs very well with chicken and a glass of white wine – or as a dish on its own.  🙂

Bon appétit !

Categories: English | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Ratatouille Tarte

So it’s my birthday today (exciting !) and since food seems to be my favorite item of conversation, I decided that a potluck event would be appropriate to fete the addition of another candle on the proverbial birthday cake (so to speak…).  Naturally, I wasn’t going to let the event go by without making a dish – what if no one brought anything ?  What if college kids just brought cookies or chips ???  WE HAVE TO EAT SOMETHING, RIGHT ?

Right.  Sort of. Not really ?

To my pleasant surprise, I was surrounded by such lovely people that I had no reason to fret – worms and dirt, croissants, pita chips and hummus, bean and chicken salad, sweet potato homefries, hungarian and indian style fajitas, multiple bottles of wine and my own tarte set the stage for a fantastic evening between friends.  I am quite lucky to know such people – I think it’s safe to say all tummies were satiated.

In any case – the ratatouille tarte turned out quite well (if I do say so myself).  A recipe hailing from the archives of Food and Wine magazine (My mom clipped it many years ago but dared not make it until many hands were present in the kitchen), this tarte combines the fantastic flavors of the traditional French dish of ratatouille (yes, like the film) with a nice crust of phyllo dough and parmesan cheese.  It’s great fresh out of the oven and perfect as lunch the next day.  It reminds me of late, indian summers that occur here on the east coast with its strong flavors of zucchini, roma tomato, and eggplant.

Allons-y !

For the filling :

1 3/4-pound eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 can tomato paste
A sprinkling of oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350F.  Peel and cut the eggplant into rounds, then cut those rounds into chunks.  Place these on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes or until just SLIGHTLY browned.  This will help get some of the moisture out of the eggplant.

Once toasted, place in a large pan with the onion and the bell pepper and a nice dollop olive oil.  Cook until the eggplant is soft – it takes about 10 minutes.  I put the eye on medium, but make sure to stir so that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.  Add the thyme, salt, and pepper and stir.

When the onions are translucent, add the tomato paste (the whole can !) and stir to combine.  Cover and cook until the moisture has evaporated.  This can be prepared in advance (lovely perk).  Let sit on the stove until the crust is ready to go.

For the crust:

10 fresh phyllo pastry sheets, thawed
LOTS of parmesan cheese
LOTS of olive oil
Provolone cheese

SIDE NOTE : Trader Joe’s now sells phyllo dough !  Make my day !  It’s thin and delicious…I’m quite pleased.  In a tart pan (I used a brownie pan because that’s all I have here….), place a sheet of phyllo dough.

Drizzle olive oil and parmesan cheese on top of the phyllo dough sheet.

Cover with another sheet of dough.  Continue this for 10 layers.  Or more.  It’s delicious, so put the effort in.  It’s well worth it.  🙂

Place the filling on top of the final layer of dough and smoosh down until nice and flat.  Cover in slices of provolone cheese.

For the topping:

6 small plum tomatoes cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 medium zucchini cut into thin rounds
Sprinkling of oregano and parmesan cheese

In concentric circles, layer the zucchinis and tomatoes on top of the provolone cheese.  Feel free to arrange the zukes and tomatoes as you like – this is the moment of CREATIVITY !  Go wild !  Sprinkle the top with oregano and parmesan cheese.

Bake in the oven for about an hour or until the zucchinis are soft.  Let cool for a little while before cutting (or it will be a cheesy mess.)

Eat as a main dinner (or lunch the next day) and pretend you’re in the south of France…or at a birthday party surrounded by friends.

Bon appétit !

Categories: English | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


I don’t really know WHEN I made risotto for the first time.  It just sort of…happened.  My mom bought arborio rice and we figured we’d just follow the instructions on the back and BAM we’d have delicious and authentic risotto.

Lucky for us, we figured right.  Risotto is probably one of the easiest dishes to make (and it sounds kind of impressive…) SO ever since, I’ve been the risotto queen, stirring away at the stovetop for three years now (I think), so well-versed in risotto lore that I don’t even use a recipe.

Sort of.

If you’re up for 40 minutes of prep for this delicious side dish (that can double as a main if you add some fun extras), then drag out your large saucepan and get stirring.  The quantities written here will make enough for 4 people who really like risotto.

Ingredients :

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 cup arborio rice
4-6 cups chicken OR vegetable broth (I give a large margin because some folks prefer a more al dente risotto.
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Assorted spices (herbes de provence are my fave)

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and the oil and mix together.  Add the onion and cook until transparent and just starting to brown on the sides/tips.

Add the cup of rice, stirring constantly to avoid burning the rice.  Cook like this for about 2 minutes, or until the rice begins to brown and toasts a bit (it will smell wonderful).

Pour in two cups of broth and keep stirring.  The constant movement of the risotto is very important – you are helping to heat it evenly and moderate the starch release, which causes the rice to thicken.

Make sure to taste your rice as it cooks – when it is just a little bit chewy, add the extras – in this case, the parmesan cheese.  You can also add tomatoes (like I did in the current batch !) or zucchini orrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr chicken or mushrooms or white wine…the possibilities are endless.  🙂

Buon appetito !

Categories: English | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at