The croque madame is a quintessential dish in the French culinary canon. Essentially a ham and cheese sandwich, this beauty is elevated by two generous layers of creamy béchamel, broiled until bubbly and golden, and topped with a perfectly fried egg. With a little help from our friends at Le Creuset, we’ve used both their new recipe book and their bakeware to put together a perfect brunch dish.
We’ve mentioned before in the blog that there are certain kitchen items that we can’t do without. We just can’t, we’d be lost and flailing. A microplane for fine grating, a silicone spatula for mixing cake batter: these critical objects are non-negotiable. Another, of course, is a good, heavy, enameled cast iron skillet. You can pre-heat it on the stove to get it to a high temperature for quick cooking, you can transfer it to an oven or broiler for a finishing step, and if you take care of it, it will last forever. Also, if you choose well, it can be beautiful enough to be the centerpiece on your table.
We’re always keen to find new ways of using our pan, and when Le Creuset asked us to make a recipe from their new cookbook (which you can buy from their site through the link) our decision wasn’t hard: we wanted to make our favorite Parisian lunch, croque madame.
Shrimp and grits is a Southern standard which we in the Northeast are delighted to adopt. We tossed crispy shrimp with spicy, buttery buffalo sauce, and cooked up corn grits with plenty of salty, crumbly blue cheese. A match made in heaven! (Well, South Carolina.)
We’ll admit it: we don’t get out of New York State very often. Our combined day jobs and blogging responsibilities have us tied down to the homestead most of the year, and, let’s face it, NY is so damned big, and we’re barely halfway up the Hudson, so it takes half a day’s drive to get anywhere that’s not here. We do jaunt across to Connecticut every couple of months to do a warehouse shop run and marvel at their exotic blue highway signs before coming straight back, but that’s about it. A couple of winters ago, we made a concerted effort to break free of our routine, and almost at random decided to drive down to Maryland. It was there that we fell in love with (a non-traditional version of) shrimp and grits.
If you like to celebrate Fall by reaching for the pumpkin spice, try its sophisticated cousin, Chai. Complex sweet, spicy and peppery notes combine to flavor these Chai Cupcakes, topped off with decadent Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting and a sprinkle of pink peppercorns.
It’s easy to knock pumpkin spice. It’s the low-hanging fruit – early-dropping leaf, perhaps – of the autumn zeitgeist. But don’t worry, we’re not heading into a cliched diatribe about hipsters and their spiced lattes and something something Williamsburg gentrification. We’re here to celebrate something with more depth, more sophistication, more … panache. Chai is not a new flavor by any means – in fact, it’s one of the oldest spice combinations in the culinary palette, dating from thousands of years back in India’s history. The nineteenth century saw it added to black tea and given more of a global reach, but the essential spice base has lasting appeal beyond hot drinks.
This one-pan chicken wonder combines crispy-skinned chicken, baked directly on top of buttery, lemony orzo, studded with wild mushrooms, leeks and baby spinach. It’s a complete (and completely delicious) dinner, made in a single skillet.
There’s a reason we make so many one-pan dinners: in a small kitchen, it keeps the oven clutter to a minimum, simplifies the cooking process, and makes clean-up straightforward. The aim, of course, is to get everything properly cooked at the same time: with meat, achieving both the desired Maillard sear (aka; that burnished, dark brown skin) and safe internal temperature; with pasta or grains, getting the texture perfect without overcooking it into a limp mess. Our crispy chicken and orzo dish takes advantage of the pre-oven searing of the chicken and handles the orzo like a risotto, resulting in success on all fronts. The addition of plenty of mushrooms, leeks and spinach turns it into a healthy, one-pot meal.
Sticky toffee pudding is a hallowed British dessert which translates to American as “warm date cake drizzled with toffee sauce”. Either way you say it, it’s a deliciously rich and comforting treat, perfect for a chilly evening.
This is a line that (I will pretend) gets thrown at me on a regular basis by drive-by shouters at Nerds Farm: “Oy, mate! You, nerd with knife! I thought you were British! Where’s the sticky toffee pudding, eh? Call yourself a food blog?” Well, firstly, no, I don’t call myself a food blog, and secondly, ha, joke’s on you, fella, because I’ve been making sticky toffee pudding on a weekly basis, and damn good pudding it’s been, too, I just haven’t blogged any of it. I’ve been told this kind of churlish behavior is unnecessarily cruel to our readers, so at last, here is the proof of the pudding, be it both sticky and toffee-flavored.