My modern sweet and creamy take on the classic croque-madame.

The croque-madame is probably the king queen of all sandwiches (excluding, of course, hamburgers, Texas pulled pork sandwiches, Smørrebrød, Philly cheesesteak from that deli I stumble into after trivia night at the Brooklyn Tavern, any version of the hotdog, taco, or burrito, or Po’ boys).  Ok, so, it’s not the king queen per say, but it’s up there — like, the thing has egg and cheese on the outside — those qualities do not go unnoticed in my rankings.  (wait!! Bánh mì!  How did I forget Bánh mì!?  Can I go back and change my answer?)  Nevertheless, I always think a classic can be improved upon.  My inspiration for this “twist” on a classic comes from one of my favorite things to bring to or serve at a party.  Baked Brie with fig preserves and slivered almonds.  There isn’t a soul on this earth who doesn’t absolutely love to dig a cracker into the buttery crust of a chunk of molten cheese (except maybe vegans and the lactose-intolerant, who can just stop reading now, you aren’t, and I say this with all due respect, my “audience”).  So I took the Gruyère out of the inside of the traditional croque-madame recipe and replaced it with a creamy brie, spread on some fig preserves, and spent some otherwise productive time thinking of a name for it.

Brie and Fig Croque-Madam (Croque-Mademoiselle):

makes four sandwiches

8 slices of bread
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/12 cups milk
4 tablespoons fig preserves
12 oz. Brie, sliced
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 slices baked ham
2 tablespoons olive oil

In a saucepan, heat the butter and whisk in the flour to create a roux.  Add the milk and turn up the heat (do not boil) while whisking in the Parmesan cheese until you have a thick sauce (add more milk or flour to adjust the thickness, it should be the consistency of school glue, yummm).  Butter one side of each slice of bread and heat a cast iron skillet to medium-high.  On four of the slices (work on parchment or wax paper or this can get messy) spread the Dijon mustard and some cheese sauce on the non-buttered side of the bread (you’ll want to use a little more than half of the cheese sauce).  On the remaining four slices, spread a tablespoon of the fig preserves (again, on the non-buttered side).  Assemble the sandwiches with a cheese-bread slice, a fig-bread slice, ham and Brie.  Grill the sandwiches in a tablespoon of oil (or butter) in the cast iron skillet until each side is golden brown and crunchy.  Set aside the grilled sandwiches on a baking sheet and turn on your oven to the high broiler setting.  Gently cook four sunny side up eggs, which can be underdone, if you like a runny yolk.  Place a dollop of the cheese sauce on the top of the sandwiches, and gently slide the egg on top.  Brush any remaining cheese sauce on the top of the eggs.  Broil the sandwiches for 1-2 minutes.  Serve with a fork and knife.  I served mine accompanied by a broccoli-pea bisque.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Browned Thyme Butter

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Browned Thyme Butter

Are you as unabashedly twitterpated by Autumn as I am?  The leaves are changing, the air is crisp, and the list of things that happens gives me a chance to emphasize my love for the oxford comma!  Actually, I’m just happy I can walk from Rockefeller Center to my office without visibly sweating through my work shirts.  Oh, and the layers–love me some layers–scarves, vests, cardigans, and knitted oxford commas.  You’ll notice just about every seasonal menu item is going to have some sort of pumpkin, some sort of spice, or if you’re lucky…both!  So I’m just going to ride this cliché train right into advanced metaphor station–with a curried butternut squash stuffed homemade ravioli, finished in a browned thyme butter and pine nuts. It’s going to taste like Autumn!  Squash stuffed ravioli recipes usually use a sage butter, but I think it’s a little overpowering so I went with thyme–and instead of getting the sharpness of an aged cheese, I decided to use curry spices in the squash.

Like a hike through upstate New York in October


Homemade Ravioli:

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Curried Butternut Squash:

2 cups butternut squash
3 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon each of:
Chili powder
A dash each of:
Ground clove

Browned Thyme Butter:

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 1/2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons small diced butternut squash
splash of lemon juice

Homemade pasta is not that hard–and fresh pasta beats out dried pasta every time.  You can even make it without a fancy pasta maker, or a stand mixer with a dough hook.  On a large clean surface, shape the flour into a well. In a separate dish, mix the salt, oil, water, and two of the eggs–then pour this mixture into the well.  Using your fingers, gently incorporate the flour into the well until you start getting what looks like dough (that’s what you’re making here, isn’t it).  If all of the flour doesn’t incorporate, it’s fine, just spread it around on the counter so your ball of dough doesn’t stick.  Knead the dough for about ten minutes until it’s nice a shiny.  Wrap in plastic and put in the fridge for one hour.

For the filling, cut the squash into medium sized chunks and add it with the stock into a medium pot. Heat to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for about 20 minutes.  Strain the mixture through a colander and mash it, adding the spices (I swear, a dash is a unit of measure!).

Once the pasta has been in the fridge for an hour, take it out and use a rolling pin on a floured surface to roll it out until it is about an 1/8 of an inch thick.  This will take some working, the dough is elastic because of the gluten.  It also helps if you can roll it symmetrically, because the next step is to cut and gently set aside one half of the dough (for the top of the raviolis).  On the remaining half, use a teaspoon to spoon a dollop of the filling about an inch and half apart.  Brush the egg wash in-between the dollops (if you were smart, you made it like a grid, so you can have square ravioli) and place the other half of the dough on top.  Pressing down around the mounds of filling, work out the air bubbles ever so gently.  Cut around the mounds to free up the individual raviolis and press the edges together with a fork.  Depending on how thin you rolled the dough, how big a dollop you used of the filling, and a your spacing, you’ll end up with 25-40 ravioli, enough for 3-4 people.  If you want to make these beforehand, they can be stored between plastic in the fridge, but if you plan on cooking them right away, you should start boiling a large pot of a gallon of water.

Before you drop the ravioli in the water, start your browned thyme butter. Each portion is enough for 10-15 ravioli, so adjust the recipe to your needs.  Add all the ingredients to the pan and heat on medium low, until a drop of butter on a white surface (like a plate) is more golden brown than clear.  To stop the browning and keep it from burning remove from the heat and add the splash of lemon juice.  Add the ravioli to the boiling water and gently stir to make sure they don’t stick to each other.  After about a minute or two (or three, depending on how thick your dough is and how large you made each ravioli), the ravioli will start to float to the surface.  With a strainer, remove the ravioli and let the water drain off. Heat the thyme butter until it just starts to bubble, and add 10-15 ravioli.  Toss until coated and plate.  Garnish with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.

You can really taste the greens, the oranges, the yellows

Chirashizushi aka “Scattered Sushi”

Chirashizushi aka “Scattered Sushi”

I hosted a dinner party this last weekend and, among other things generally grilled and cheese, I made sushi.  I love making sushi, particularly sashimi (without rice) and makizushi (rolled) because you can do so much with the presentation.  I also enjoy having the leftovers to make chirashizushi, seared tuna, baked salmon, etc. On the day of the party, I headed down the street at, as my mother would call it, “the buttcrack of dawn,” to visit Blue Moon Fish at the Ft. Greene Park Green Market and ended up picking out some fresh Boston mackerel (not pictured…too delicious, ate ALL the mackerel).  Later, I visited my favorite local fish monger Fish Tales and at their suggestion picked up salmon, yellow fin tuna, and large sea scallops (not pictured).  My best bit of advice, find a fish monger you like, ask him what’s fresh, or sushi grade, and always tell him how good the last suggestion he made was.  My second bit of advice, learn to make good sushi rice.

That’s tuna and salmon and love

Sushi Rice:

3 cups short-grain white rice
3 3/4 cups water
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt

Rinse the rice in a colander until the water runs clear and not foggy.  Let the rice drain for 45 minutes to an hour then transfer to a large heavy pot. Add cold water to the rice and turn on high.  Once the rice is boiling–watch the pot, it will boil–give it one last good gentle stir, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Wait 25 minutes.  In a separate small saucepan warm the vinegar and mix in the sugar and salt.  When the rice is done, scoop it on to a flat nonreactive surface and slowly pour on the vinegar mixture while fanning the rice.  Cut through the rice to mix with a wooden spatula, be gentle because you don’t want mushy rice, you want each grain to be it’s own little grain, don’t you?  You don’t want the grain growing up to think it has to smush in with all the other grains, that grain might decide it’s time to have pink hair, a nose ring, and baggy pants!  Nobody will eat pink-haired rebellious grains of rice! Get a job rice!!  Finally, top with leftover fish from your sushi party, hardboiled egg, avocado, fish roe, pickled vegetables, seaweed…whatever, I’m not telling you how to make it, I’m creating a framework, top it with cooked fish if you want (don’t).  Drizzle with some soy sauce and enjoy.  If it turns pink, reevaluate your life choices.

Steak au Poivre with Cognac Pan Sauce

Steak au Poivre with Cognac Pan Sauce

I had some friends in from Boston this weekend and although that usually means drunk brunch, street festivals, and walking the Brooklyn Bridge, it also means a night in, cooking, and catching up over a few bottles of wine.  I really had my heart set on lamb, but Brooklyn Fare was fresh out.  No worries–we picked up some vegetables and I headed over to the local butcher where I picked up some grass-fed beef filets.  I only eat red meat once in a blue moon, so when I do, I like to “do it up” right.  The French–gourmonds, chemists, builders of towers Eifel–know how to “do it up” right.  A filet crusted with peppercorns, cooked medium-rare topped with a sweet and creamy cognac pan sauce; a side of asparagus with prosciutto, and some greens wilted in garlic and onion.  I tried to go a little too fancy with some crispy fried fennel fronds on top, but ended up burning most of them and setting off the smoke detector.

Dinner with a view of Downtown Brooklyn/Fort Greene/New York Harbor

Steak au Poivre:

1 1/2 inch thick beef filet
handful of lightly crushed peppercorns
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 ounce of cognac
6 ounces of heavy cream
Let the filet sit outside of the fridge for about 15 minutes before starting.  While letting your cast iron skillet screaming hot (we need a little Milliard action going), press the filet on each side into the crushed peppercorns.  Add the butter and oil to the pan and let them get to temperature.  Cook the filet 3-4 minutes on one side, flip, and an additional 3-4 minutes on the other, until medium rare.  Set the filet aside to rest and while the pan is still hot, turn off the burner and quickly pour the cognac into the pan and ignite the steam (YES, there will be a fireball.  YES, you should stand back a little bit.  It’s called flambé, which is French for fireball).  This should thouroughly deglaze the pan and now it’s time to start scraping vigorously to loosen up all the fond at the bottom of the pan.  Let the cognac reduce a bit, then slowly stir in the cream, whisking until thick.  Add salt to taste.  Pour pan sauce over filet and serve with a side of tinged eyebrows.  Or a side of asparagus with prosciutto, and some wilted greens – those aren’t hard.  Caramelize some red onions over low heat for 20 minutes, toss in some garlic and turn up to medium.  In about 5 minutes, toss in the greens and wilt.