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Croque Monsieur

Croque mr

Croque Monsieur

I had my first Croque Monsieur when I lived in France during culinary school. To this day it has remained my favorite sandwich.

Basically, a Croque Monsieur is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. But the French have elevated what would be a simple sandwich into a work of art! A classic ham and cheese is slathered with a béchamel sauce to make it even more indulgent.

The key to a good Croque Monsieur is the ingredients. Since the ingredients are few, you need to use good ones. Traditionally, a nutty Gruyère or Swiss Emmental cheese is used. Most markets carry these cheeses, but in a pinch, a good Swiss cheese could be substituted. As for the ham, this sandwich is a wonderful way to use up the leftovers from your Christmas baked ham.

The béchamel sauce is what makes this sandwich. Considered a “mother” sauce in French cuisine, a béchamel is very simple to prepare. Butter and flour are cooked together over low heat before milk and cheese are added to make this traditional cheese sauce. Thanks to the cheesy goodness that the sauce adds, it really is a knife-and-fork kind of sandwich.

This classic French treat is perfect for supper, lunch or a weekend brunch. They are so rich, serve them simply with a salad or soup. However you choose to serve them, I bet they will become your family’s favorite ham-and-cheese sandwich too.

Croque Monsieur

Serves 4

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 slices white sandwich bread, lightly toasted
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 pound baked ham, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. When the butter starts to foam, add the flour. Cook, whisking until thickened, about 1 minute. While continuing to whisk, gradually add the milk. Cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened, about 2 to 4 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and add the nutmeg, Parmesan, and 1/4 cup of the Gruyere. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

To assemble the sandwiches, place 4 slices of the toasted bread on a baking sheet. Lightly brush each of the slices with 1 tablespoon of mustard. Top each with 1/4 of the ham and 1/8 of the remaining Gruyere (about 1/4 cup). Top each with one of the remaining toasted bread slices. Pour the cheese sauce evenly over the tops of the sandwiches and sprinkle each with 1/4 of the remaining Gruyere. Transfer to the oven and bake until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned about 3 to 5 minutes. Serve hot.

Variation: Feeling indulgent? Top your Croque Monsieur with a fried egg and you will be enjoying a treat the French call a Croque Madame.

From Simply Suppers by Jennifer Chandler.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken Tortilla Soup copy

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken tortilla soup is the Southwestern cousin of mom’s chicken noodle soup, just with a little more kick and a crunchy topping. And, like it’s relative, it warms the soul and makes you feel good all over.

This quick, no-fuss soup has loads of flavor and uses ingredients that are typically on hand. The soup doesn’t take long to make. In fact, it can be on your table in less than 30 minutes. It’s also an ideal way to transform leftover chicken into a tasty and satisfying dish.  It has become a favorite in my house since my good friend Melissa Petersen of Edible Memphis shared this recipe with me.

Much healthier than it tastes, this broth based soup is loaded with tomatoes, lean chicken, and heart healthy avocado. The cumin and oregano add a richness and depth to the dish without any fat. If you want a little extra kick, add a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce.

I like to top mine with a few homemade corn tortilla strips, which are surprisingly easy to make. Just cut corn tortillas into thin strips and fry for about 1 minute in a skillet with vegetable oil. If short on time, use crushed tortilla chips instead. Baked tortilla chips would be a heart-healthy alternative.

Serve with a side salad or a slice of cornbread and you have a satisfying meal.

Enjoy!

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Vegetable oil, for frying the tortillas
4 small (4-inch) corn tortillas, cut into 1/4-inch strips
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion (1 small onion)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 can (28-oz.) diced tomatoes with juice
3 cups chicken stock
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
3/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 avocado, peeled, seeded, and cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

To prepare the tortilla strips, pour enough oil into a large stockpot so that you have a quarter-inch layer of oil. Warm the oil on medium-high heat until a few droplets of water sizzle when carefully sprinkled in the pot. In batches, fry the tortilla strips until golden brown on both sides, about 30 seconds to 1 minute per side. Use metal tongs or a slotted spoon to lift the tortilla strips out of the pan, draining the excess oil as you do so. (The tortilla strips should be fairly stiff and crisp. If not, the oil is not hot enough.) Transfer the tortilla strips to a paper towel-lined plate to absorb the excess oil. Lightly season with salt and pepper while they are still warm.

In another large stockpot over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil until a few droplets of water sizzle when carefully sprinkled in the pot. Add the onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, and oregano and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, and shredded chicken. Over high heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the flavors have melded, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the fried tortilla strips, cheese, avocado, and fresh cilantro. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Do-Ahead: The soup can be made the night before or frozen in advance. Just be sure to add the garnishes (tortilla strips, cheese, and avocado) just before serving.

Freezes well.

 

Recipe from Simply Suppers by Jennifer Chandler

Story excerpted from Jennifer Chandler’s bi-weeky Commercial Appeal newspaper column Dinner Tonight.

Photo and Food Styling by Jennifer Chandler.

 

Vegetarian Gumbo

veggie gumbo

Vegetarian Gumbo

“Vegetarian Gumbo with Beans?!” – You may question.  I did too … but my friend Justin Fox Burks insisted I give his recipe a try.

Well … as usual … Justin’s recipe was some darn good stuff.  His concoction of veggies and spices offers a tasty gumbo that had everyone at our table asking for seconds.

Justin and his wife Amy Lawrence are co-authors of the fabulous vegetarian recipe blog “The Chubby Vegetarian.”  Their blog has become my go-to for all things veggie.  It is a great resource for dishes so delicious and creative that you will never miss the meat. This recipe is also featured in their new book “The Southern Vegetarian” (May 2013, Thomas Nelson Publishers).  I was lucky enough to get an advance copy and am loving everything I have made so far. It’s a must for vegetarians and meat-eaters both!

Back to the gumbo … Justin’s recipe calls for liquid smoke. An ingredient I had never used before.  But since it was at Whole Foods I figured it was safe to eat! I used the Hickory smoke flavor. It gave the gumbo that depth that a smoked sausage adds a traditional gumbo.

Enjoy!

The Chubby Vegetarian Gumbo

Click here for the original recipe.

2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped tomato (1 medium)
1 1/2 cups chopped onion (1 medium)
8 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons creole mustard
1 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 tablespoon vinegar
10 dashes Tabasco
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 quart vegetable stock
4 cups sliced okra (1/4 inch slices, stem-end discarded)
1 1/2 cups red beans (1 16 ounce can, drained and rinsed or makes your own)
10 ounces crimini mushrooms (quartered)
1 1/2 cups diced zucchini (1 medium)
1 1/2 cups diced  green pepper (1 large)
1 1/2 cups diced red pepper (1 large)
1 cup thinly sliced celery (2 ribs)
4-5 cups cooked jasmine rice
1/2 cup sliced green onion (for garnish)
5-6 sprigs baby dill (for garnish)

To make the roux, place the canola oil and the flour into a medium-sized dutch oven. (This is the pot in which you will eventually make the gumbo, so using it now saves on dishes later. A heavy pot like this is essential when making a roux because of its ability to distribute heat evenly.) With the oil and flour in the cold dutch oven, turn the heat on medium. Whisk the mixture constantly until you notice that it has become nutty (it’ll kind of smell like — gasp! — fried chicken) and fragrant (both of which happen about five minutes into the process). At this point, turn the heat to low. Keep a close eye on your roux, and whisk the mixture about every minute so no part of the roux burns. Continue in this fashion for about another twenty minutes or until the roux has taken on the color of an old penny. Remove the pot from the heat. Congratulations — you just made your first roux!

Place the tomato, onion, garlic, worcestershire sauce, mustard, liquid smoke, vinegar, Tabasco, soy sauce, thyme, red pepper flakes, paprika, nutmeg and oregano into the work bowl of your food processor. This is quite an unconventional method for making gumbo, but it works beautifully. Blend mixture until smooth. This is your flavoring agent for the whole dish. Now return the dutch oven with the roux still in it to a burner set to medium-high heat, and immediately add the mixture you just made in the food processor. Stir to incorporate. Continue cooking and stirring the resulting mixture until most of the liquid has evaporated, and it resembles a paste. Add the vegetable stock and stir. Once the mixture is heated through, turn the burner to medium-low. Add the okra, red beans, mushrooms, zucchini, green and red peppers, and celery to the pot. Cook uncovered for about 20 minutes until everything is heated through, but not mush.

To serve, ladle out some gumbo into a bowl and top with about 1/2 cup of rice, a few green onions, and a sprig of fresh dill. Have plenty of crusty french bread and butter on hand for sopping up the amazing broth.

Serves 6 to 8.

Cooking Tip: If you like okra but are not a fan of the sliminess that sometimes can occur with it, sauté the sliced okra in batches in one tablespoon of canola oil until lightly browned. Add the cooked okra to the gumbo. Problem solved.

Cashew Noodle Salad with Miso-Ginger Grilled Tofu Skewers

Cashew Noodle Salad with Miso-Ginger Tofu Skewers

I am a huge fan of the Cashew Noodle Salad at Whole Foods.  It is super delish.  That said, I think this homemade version is even better!

When I was writing my cookbook Simply Grilling, I asked my friend Justin Fox Burks (who was also my photographer for the book as well as author of the fabulous food blog www.theChubbyVegetarian.com) for a tofu recipe.  I knew tofu was tasty when grilled but I don’t have much experience cooking with it. Since Justin is my go-to guy for all things vegetarian, I knew he would have a great recipe for me. Little did I know, I would actually be getting two great recipes in one!

Let’s start with the Tofu.

Tofu on its own tends to be pretty bland.  Justin recommended that I marinate it in something very flavorful … like the Miso-Ginger marinade in this recipe. Other than the red miso paste and mirin, all the ingredients were items I already had on hand.  Luckily the miso and the mirin have a good shelf life, so I was able to find other uses for these Asian ingredients.  (Eggplant is excellent when marinated in miso by the way! There is a recipe for it in Simply Grilling.) A plus for this recipe, the marinade gets a second life as a sauce to brush over the cooked tofu. Nothing goes to waste.

Justin also passed along an invaluable tip about grilling and searing tofu … Lightly dusting tofu in cornstarch prevents it from sticking.  Worked like a charm!

Oh … and be sure to get the extra-firm tofu when grilling it.  Otherwise it will fall apart on the grill.

Now for part two of the recipe … the Cashew Noodle Salad.

As I mentioned before, I am a huge fan of the version at Whole Foods.  It’s a meal in itself or a tasty side. I had heard about Justin’s homemade version from friends, and was thrilled when I saw it in this recipe. It couldn’t be an easier to make and I think his version has more flavor and kick. (Must be that Sambal chili paste!) If it isn’t devoured right after making it, it does last for a several days in the fridge.

So, my first “Meatless Monday” recipe is really a two-for-one deal!  Make them together or separately.  But be sure to give them a try!

Enjoy!

Cashew Noodle Salad with Miso-Ginger Tofu Skewers

From Simply Grilling by Jennifer Chandler

For the Cashew Noodle Salad:
1 cup cashews
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons Sambal chili paste
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1/2 pound spaghetti or soba noodles, cooked per package directions and cooled

For the Miso-Ginger Tofu Skewers:
1 tablespoon red miso paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
2  tablespoons water
Dash of sriracha
1 block (14-ounce) extra firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
Vegetable oil, for the grates
Skewers (if using bamboo, soak in water for 30 minutes)
Corn starch, for dusting

To make the Cashew Noodle Salad: Place the cashews, soy sauce, sambal, sesame oil, mirin, rice vinegar, and garlic into a food processor and pulse until smooth.  Place the noodles in a large bowl. Add the cashew sauce and sliced scallions. Toss to until well coated. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To make the Miso-Ginger Tofu Skewers: In a shallow nonreactive dish just large enough to hold the tofu in a single layer, stir together the miso paste, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, mirin, ginger, garlic, sugar, water, and sriracha. Place the tofu in the marinade and gently toss until well coated. Cover, place in the refrigerator, and marinate for at least an hour or as long as overnight.

Preheat a clean grill to medium-high with the lid closed for 8 to 10 minutes. Lightly brush the grates with oil.

Remove the tofu from the marinade. Shake off the excess and pat dry. Thread the tofu onto the skewers. Lightly dust with the cornstarch.

Strain the marinade and place into a small pot over medium-high heat to reduce.

Allow mixture to reduce by half or until slightly thickened.

Place the tofu on the grill. Close the lid and cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes on the first side. Turn over and lightly brush with the reduced marinade. Cook an additional 4 minutes. Remove from the grill and brush again with the marinade.

To serve, place the tofu skewers on top of the cashew noodle salad.

Serves 4.

Cooking Tip: Lightly dusting the tofu skewers on both sides with corn starch will help prevent sticking and allow the reduced marinade to cling to the tofu.

Food Fact: Miso paste is a traditional Japanese seasoning made from fermented soybeans. There are two main varieties available: Red (aka) or White (shiro). Look for it in the Asian foods or refrigerator sections of your local market.

Do-Ahead: The cashew noodle salad will last up to a week covered and refrigerated. In fact, it is one of those dishes that some say tastes even better the second day.

Vegetarian and Vegan.

The photo was taken by the talented Justin Fox Burks.

Outrageous Chocolate Cookies

Image

 

I have to confess! I am a chocoholic!

I don’t think a day goes by without a bite of this sweet treat. My philosophy is the richer and chocolatier the better.

So when I discovered these cookies, they quickly became a favorite of mine.

They have all the prerequisites of a truly great cookie:

  • Lots of chocolate
  • Ooey gooey center
  • Crispy exterior
  • Simple to make

The first time I made them, the batter made me a little nervous. It is more the consistency of a brownie batter than a traditional cookie dough. I quickly realized though that this is what makes them so gooey and delicious in the center. I use a small ice cream scoop to portion them out onto the baking sheet.

Enjoy! I dare you to try to eat just one!

Outrageous Chocolate Cookies

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Melt the chopped chocolate and butter in the bowl of a double boiler. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla on high speed until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the melted chocolate. Mix in the flour mixture until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

In batches, drop heaping tablespoons of dough 2 to 3 inches apart on the lined baking sheet. Bake until the cookies are shiny and crackly yet soft in the center, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes; transfer to racks to cool completely.

Makes 2 dozen cookies. 

Adapted from a Martha Stewart Everyday Food recipe.

BBQ Chicken Salad

When I was on Martha Stewart Living’s Everyday Food Radio Program today talking to host Betsy Karetnick talking about Summertime Salad Suppers, this tasty salad came to mind. 

With the grilled chicken, black bean & corn salsa, and sliced avocados, this salad satisfies as a main course without being too heavy.  It is the perfect summer time meal!

I like to make the black bean & corn salsa and the buttermilk dressing in advance, so when dinner time comes around…I can just sit on my back porch and enjoy the summer evening while my chicken is grilling.

Enjoy!

BBQ Chicken Salad with Black Bean and Corn Salsa
From Simply Salads by Jennifer Chandler

Cowboys look out! This salad combines the best of the Southwest all in one dish.

For the Black Bean and Corn Salsa:
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels, cooked as per package directions, drained, and cooled
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1/2 red onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For the Buttermilk Ranch Dressing:
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sour cream
1/4 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/8 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salad:
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
3/4 cup your favorite BBQ Sauce
1 bag (12 ounces) American or Romaine salad blend
2 ripe avocados, halved, pit removed, peeled, and thinly sliced
2 cups tortilla chips

For the Black Bean and Corn Salsa:
Combine the black beans, corn, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, red onion, cilantro, oil, vinegar, and cayenne in a medium-size mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 1 day in advance.

For the Buttermilk Ranch Dressing:
In a small bowl whisk together the buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream, cider vinegar, garlic, mustard, thyme, and chives.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the salad:
Place the chicken breasts in a large bowl and coat with BBQ sauce.  Cover and marinate in a refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Heat a clean grill to medium-high.  Season the marinated chicken with salt and pepper.  Grill until no longer pink in the middle, 6 to 8 minutes per side.  Remove the chicken from the grill and let rest for 5 minutes.

Divide the salad blend equally among the individual plates.  Drizzle with the dressing to taste.  Arrange on top a generous spoonful of the black bean and corn salsa, the sliced avocados, tortilla chips, and a chicken breast.  Serve immediately.

Makes 4 dinner salads.

Cooking Tip:  The black bean and corn slaw is such a versatile…and tasty… condiment.  Serve as a dip with chips, serve it with fajitas, or bring it to a barbecue as a side dish.

Fish Tacos with Mango Slaw & Avocado Crema

If you travel to Mexico’s Baja region or sunny southern California, you will find hundreds of restaurants and food stands offering fish tacos. Most often the fish is beer-battered and fried. This version using marinated fish is a lot easier, and in my opinion, even more flavorful.

Plus I just love the extra boost of flavor from the crunchy mango slaw and the avocado crema. 

Enjoy!

Fish Tacos

For the Mango Slaw:
2 cups finely shredded green cabbage
1 1/2 cups finely shredded red cabbage
1 cup small-diced mango
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion (about half a small onion)
2 tablespoons seeded and finely diced fresh jalapenos
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

For the Avocado Crema:
2 large ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup sour cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Fish Tacos:
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
4 tilapia fillets (6 ounces each)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 small (4-inch) flour tortillas, warmed

To make the mango slaw: In a large mixing bowl combine the green cabbage, red cabbage, mango, red onion, and jalapeno. Add the lime juice and olive oil and toss until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Fold in the cilantro just before serving.

To make the avocado crema: In a food processor puree the avocado and lime juice until smooth.  Blend in the sour cream. Place the crema in a bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To make the fish tacos: In small bowl whisk together 1/4 cup of the olive oil, lime juice, garlic, and chili powder until well blended. Place the tilapia in a shallow dish, and pour the marinade over the fish. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour. Remove the fish from the marinade, drain off any excess, and discard the marinade. Season both sides of the fish with salt and pepper to taste.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the remaining tablespoon of oil until a few droplets of water sizzle when carefully sprinkled in the pan. Sear the fish on one side until the meat is well browned and releases easily from the pan, about 4 to 5 minutes. Turn and cook until the fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes more. Transfer the fish to a plate and break into large pieces.

Assemble the tacos by placing the fish (approximately half a fillet per taco) in the center of the tortillas. Garnish with desired amounts of the mango slaw and avocado crema. Serve warm.

Serves 4.

Time Saving Tip: Instead of shredding the cabbage for the slaw, pick up a package of shredded Angel Hair Cole Slaw in your produce department.

Do Ahead: The slaw can be made up to 2 hours ahead. Store covered in your refrigerator until ready to serve.

Variation: For a kid friendly version, melt cheddar cheese on a tortilla and top with the seared fish.

Praline Bread Pudding

Known as “poor man’s pudding,” bread pudding was originally created as a means of salvaging stale bread.  In my opinion, there is nothing poor about this rich-ly decadent dessert. In fact, it may be one of my favorite treats.

Every ooey gooey bite reminds me of my Grandmother’s New Orleans kitchen.  She used to make a pretty straight forward version from stale French bread, eggs, milk, sugar, and a little orange zest.  What made hers divine though was the whiskey hard sauce she whipped up to garnish it.  

Bread pudding is a pretty versatile dish. It can be made with pretty much whatever bread you have on hand…some of the popular choices being brioche, challah, croissant, panettone, French, and Italian. You can also add whatever flavorings you prefer. Some folks even make savory bread puddings. (Oyster bread pudding is one savory Louisianan version that I find irresistible.) Bread puddings are even more insanely richer with the addition of a decadent sauce like my Grandmother’s, chocolate fudge or the Praline sauce in this recipe.

One of my new favorite flavors is Praline Bread Pudding. When I was writing Simply Suppers (release date Sept 2010), it was one comfort food that I knew had to be included in my dessert chapter.  Remembering a dessert I once enjoyed at a restaurant, I turned to the talented pastry chef Heather Bugg Ries (owner of the Lady Bugg Bakery) for some inspiration. This is my simplified rendition of her to-die-for bread pudding.

Enjoy!

Praline Bread Pudding

For the bread pudding:
Unsalted butter, to grease the baking dish
6 day old large croissants, cut in 1-inch cubes and set aside in a large mixing bowl (about 8 cups)
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups coarsely chopped praline pecans 

For the praline sauce:
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon dark corn syrup
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cubed
Pinch of salt

To make the bread pudding: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 9- X 13-inch baking dish with butter and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine the milk, cream, brown sugar, eggs, egg yolks, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Whisk until combined. Pour the custard over the croissants and to coat evenly. Let stand until the croissants have soaked up the custard, about 5 minutes. Stir in the praline pecan pieces.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. 

Place the dish in a roasting pan with at least 2-inch sides. Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven. Very carefully pour enough hot water around the dish to come half way up the sides of the baking dish. Slide the rack into the oven, being careful not to slosh water onto the bread pudding. Bake until set, about 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the bread pudding is puffed and golden brown on top, about 15 to 20 minutes.

 To make the praline sauce: In a medium saucepot with tall sides, place the brown sugar, baking soda, vanilla, corn syrup, buttermilk, butter, and salt. (This mixture tends to boil over if not watched).  Whisk to combine. Place over medium heat and cook, without stirring, until the sugar starts to bubble, about 3 minutes. Whisk until well combined. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, whisking occasionally, until it starts to thicken, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve warm.

Serve the bread pudding warm with the sauce on the side. 

Serves 8.

Cooking Tips:

Praline pecans are pecan halves that have been candy-coated. They are sometimes also called candied pecans or bourbon pecans.

Dark brown sugar and dark corn syrup lend a rich molasses flavor to this dessert. It is fine to substitute light brown sugar and light corn syrup if that is what you have on hand.

Variation: Ideally you should use day-old bread for this dish. It is ok to use fresh bread in a pinch. Day-old brioche or French bread can be substituted for the croissants.

Do-Ahead: The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Reheat in a double boiler or a microwave.

Time-Saving Tip: It’s not as rich in flavor, but you can use store-bought caramel sauce in place praline sauce.

Cuban Sandwich

In the early 1900s, the Cuban sandwich (known as “a sandwich Mixto” in Cuba) became a popular lunch food for workers in both the cigar factories and sugar mills of Cuba. When Cuban immigrants came to South Florida, they brought their favorite sandwich with them. To this day, these tasty, toasted sandwiches have remained the favorite snack of Tampa and Miami.

But you don’t have to head to Miami to enjoy this Cuban favorite. It’s easy to make this popular pressed sandwich at home.

Enjoy!

Cuban Sandwich

1 1-pound loaf of ciabatta bread, ends trimmed and cut into 4 pieces
4 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
4 teaspoons unsalted butter
8 slices Swiss cheese
1/2 pound thinly sliced baked ham
8 ounces roast pork, sliced
1/2 cup sliced dill pickles

Cut the bread in half lengthwise and place on a work surface. To assemble the sandwiches, evenly spread the insides of each sandwich with 1 tablespoon of the mustard and lightly butter the outside of each sandwich with 1 teaspoon of the butter. Inside each sandwich, layer 2 slices of the cheese, 1/4 of the ham, 1/4 of the pork, and 1/4 of the pickles. Close the sandwiches. 

Heat your panini maker or sandwich press to medium-high. Place the sandwiches inside, press down, and grill until the cheese is melted and the bread is toasted, about 8 minutes. Serve warm.

Serves 4.

Cooking Tip: If you don’t have a panini press, you can cook the sandwiches on a griddle or skillet. To create the “pressed” sandwich, place a heavy skillet on top of the sandwich and press down as it cooks.

Variation: Ciabatta bread is an Italian white sandwich bread. If you can’t find it at the bakery, use crusty sandwich rolls instead.

Asparagus with Browned Butter

Fresh asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables. Not only are asparagus delicious, their appearance signals that the seasons are finally changing. They herald the beginning of Spring. Warmer weather is on the way. 

Whereas imported asparagus is available year-round, the stalks of a tender, freshly-picked asparagus offer a flavor far more sublime than the out-of-season variety. 

When buying asparagus, look for firm, bright green stalks with tightly closed tips.  The ends of asparagus spears tend to be tough and woody. To trim, simply bend each stalk and it will naturally break off in just the right spot.

I think aparagus are best when they are simply prepared. I cook them in salted water just until they are vibrant green yet still crisp tender. I then drizzle them with butter that has been slightly browned to give it a nutty flavor.

Enjoy!

Asparagus with Browned Butter

Brown butter is one of my signature cooking “tricks.” I use it to season vegetables, as a sauce for roasted fish, and have even drizzled it into cake batter. The classic French term for this cooking technique is beurre noisette, which literally translates to “hazelnut butter.” By slightly browning the butter, you give it a delicious nutty flavor.  Be careful though, this sauce is ready the moment it starts to brown. If you overcook it, it will taste burnt.

Kosher salt
1 bunch (about 1 pound) asparagus, tough woody ends snapped off and discarded
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper

Over high heat, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook until vibrant green and crisp tender, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Drain the asparagus. Set aside.

Wipe the pot dry. Add the butter and over medium-high heat, cook, swirling the pot occasionally, until the butter stops foaming and begins to brown. Remove from the heat. Add the asparagus and toss until well coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Do-Ahead: The process of par-cooking a vegetable in boiling salted water is called blanching. Blanching prevents the vegetable from being over-cooked when reheated, or in this case, tossed with the brown butter. You can use this same technique to cook vegetables in advance. When you drain the blanched vegetable, immediately immerse it in an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Drain again and refrigerate until ready to serve.


Jennifer Chandler

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