Sunday, November 27, 2016

Monte Cristo Sandwich

Thanksgiving dinner arrived at the door along with the hugs and warm greetings of family. They brought it all, everything, the entire dinner. Everything even included the turkey fryer for an 18-pound bird! (Note: I was allowed to contribute my Zesty Cranberry Relish.) What a thoughtful, caring present from this cast of characters; Seattlites Niece Hilary and Dave plus Californians Meg and Brother Mike. For hours the house was filled with conversation, friendly teasing, suspected tall tales and humorous stories, wedding plan updates and endless laughter. All in all, a terrific family celebration and a delicious meal. 
Photo: The Thanksgiving Cooks 2016

On Friday RL and I revisited Thanksgiving memories, surveyed the many containers of leftovers in the fridge, and nibbled on a rerun of Thursday's feast. 

Turkey sandwiches, enjoyed late night or next day, are always a major highlight of this holiday meal. Some years we favor simple sliced turkey on white bread, other years we crave Kentucky Hot Browns with cheese sauce or turkey gravy. This year we opted for Turkey and Ham Monte Cristo Sandwiches. Possibly a variation of the Croque Monsieur, this batter-dipped, butter-fried sandwich is an over-the-top and delicious use of leftover turkey meat. Ooey gooey, salty, savory decadence... sigh, but so worth every artery clogging bite (and a reason to return to healthier eating the very next day).  

My Monte Cristos are a cross between French Toast and a grilled cheese and meat sandwich, occasionally with some crispy bacon added... just 'cuz. No recipe required, just freeform it.

1. Use 2 slices of bread per sandwich. Slather one side of the bread with mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. Add some chutney or cranberry relish if you like.

2. Alternate layers of thin-sliced meat (ham and/or turkey), cheese (Havarti or Swiss) and bacon (optional) on the bread. Close the sandwich and press top gently to compact slightly. This will help hold it all together when you flip it in the  pan.

3. Beat an egg and a bit of milk in a pie pan or shallow, rimmed plate. Dip each side of the sandwich briefly in the egg mixture, long enough to coat thoroughly but not get soggy. You want a crisp exterior and soft, gooey middle. 

4. Melt a pat of butter in a heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Place coated sandwich in frying pan and cook until bottom is golden brown. Flip the sandwich, adding more butter as needed, and cook until the second side is golden brown and the cheese is melted. This takes 4 to 5 minutes per side in my kitchen.

5. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool briefly to set cheese a bit. Cut into wedges, plate and serve.

Note: It is traditional to dust the sandwiches with powdered sugar and serve with a side of jelly. I skip that feature, relishing the salty, savory richness of the sandwich without the distraction of an added sweet. For a flavor pop, I would prefer a swipe of Zesty Cranberry Relish rather than powdered sugar and jam, but that's just me. 

Don't wait for Thanksgiving to enjoy a Monte Cristo. They are delicious using deli-sliced cold cuts or meat pulled from a deli-roasted chicken. Get creative and add some roasted green chiles, or substitute thin waffles for the bread. Go for it! 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Joe's Special - a classic scramble

What do you cook when you're busy and don't want to mess with multiple courses? It's one-skillet recipes to the rescue! This dish, the iconic scramble Joe's Special, is especially welcome during the busy week before a holiday. My version of Joe's Special is quick and easy to prepare, calls for ordinary pantry ingredients and the finished dish is satisfyingly delicious. Win!

We first encountered Joe's Special in the late 60's at  Thirteen Coins Restaurant, a hidden Seattle treasure. Hidden? the restaurant eschewed streetside signage but was well-known for 24/7 service, upholstered swiveling captain's chairs at the counter, an open exhibition kitchen and an extensive menu. Some 40+ years later Thirteen Coins still lists Joe's Special on the menu; that's the staying power of a good restaurant and a classic dish!

Joe's Special has its own history, originating in San Francisco perhaps during the 1850's following the Gold Rush... or in the 1920s... or maybe the late 30's... depending on which source you believe. (link), (link), (link) Most recipes include onion, hamburger, spinach and enough eggs to hold it all together in a scramble. My version adds mushrooms and Parmesan cheese to the mix plus some green Tabasco to pop the flavor. 

This classic scramble is not a pretty dish, but Oh! My! It's! Good! Good for breakfast, brunch, lunch, a light supper or occasional late night meal; it's even a proven beat-the-hangover choice. Lately Joe's Special was a welcome solution to serving a tasty meal when the schedule overflowed with too many things more important than cooking. Definitely a one-skillet recipe coming to the rescue!

Joe's Special

4 eggs (or 1-2 eggs per person)
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning (or use dried basil and oregano)
salt and pepper
hot sauce to taste (Green Tabasco recommended)

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, small dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound small mushrooms, sliced
4 cups fresh baby spinach (or 2 cups julienned kale)
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan shreds plus more for topping.

  1. In a small bowl beat together the eggs, nutmeg, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, and a generous splash or two of hot sauce. Set aside.
  2. Use a large skillet and heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook the onions until they just soften, then sir in the garlic and cook until the onions turn golden.
  3. Add the beef and mushrooms. Stirring occasionally, cook until the meat is no longer pink and the mushrooms give up some liquid.
  4. Add the spinach (or kale) and cook until the greens wilt and the liquid in the pan has evaporated.
  5. Lower the heat to medium-low; add the beaten eggs and cook, stirring often, until the eggs are done (slightly dry but still tender). Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan.
  6. Serve immediately with extra cheese to sprinkle on top.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Apple Quick Bread with Hatch Chiles & Nuts

What is sweet/hot/salty/nutty delicious?
Everything baked in the Fall when apple season and chile harvest overlap... or maybe it just seems that way. Apples, green chiles and nuts are meant to mingle in so many tasty ways.

Our apple-plus-chile cravings developed during a New Mexico road trip, spurred on further with the purchase of Santa Fe Hot & Spicy Recipe.

Cookbooks and local specialty food items are my favorite souvenirs when we travel and I hit the jackpot with this collection of nearly 400 original recipes from Santa Fe's restaurant chefs. Chef's comments and cooking tips add an additional wealth of information. Often I would rather read a cookbook than a novel. You too?

The recipe for Green Chile Pecan Apple Pie (from chef Maggie Faralla at Zia Diner) launched me into full-blown apple/chile baking love. What's not to love about sweet and semi-spicy apple pie with a pecan crust?! Now it seems I want to tweak any apple recipe, savory or sweet, and add green chiles. We may live in the Pacific NorthWest, but we still relish spicy SouthWest flavors. 

This apple/chile quick bread recipe is still a work in progress; the first two batches were too moist and fall-apart crumbly to be quickbread, but were not quite cakelike either. I'll add some cornstarch to the dry ingredients in the next batch to see if it will work as a thickener and create a tighter crumb. If not, then cake pans might replace loaf pans and the result will become a coffeecake instead of a sliceable quickbread. (grin) I forsee a lot of taste tests coming up soon.

Apple Quick Bread with Hatch Chiles & Nuts

1-1/3 cups AP flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon Penzey's Apple Pie Spice
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
2 cups apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped (2 medium Granny Smiths)

3 Hatch chiles (about 1/4 cup), roasted, peeled, deseeded, chopped and tossed with 1 Tablespoon of flour (or use a well-drained 4-oz can of roasted chiles)
1/2 cup dried currants (or golden raisins)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans or pine nuts)
1 teaspoon sugar mixed with 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon (for topping)

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 F.
  2. Use cooking spray to coat 4 small loaf pans. Cover the sides and bottom of the pans with strips of parchment paper to help with pan release and lifting out. Spray the parchment paper.
  3. In a small bowl combine the flour, salt, baking soda and spices.
  4. In a larger mixing bowl combine the sugar and oil. Beat in the eggs, vanilla, almond & lemon extracts until well blended.
  5. Stir in the apple chunks, chopped chiles, dried currants and chopped nuts.
  6. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients; mix with a large spoon until the flour is thoroughly incorporated.
  7. Pour the batter evenly into the 4 prepared pans.
  8. Bake on the middle rack in the preheated 325 F oven for 20 minutes. Slide out the oven rack and sprinkle the mixed sugar and cinnamon topping mixture over the top of each loaf. Bake for an additional 40 to 60 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
  9. Remove to a baking rack to rest before removing from the loaf pan. Let the loaves cool completely before slicing. Wrap tightly in waxed paper to hold for several days without drying out.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

In My Kitchen - November 2016

Autumn continues to speed by at breakneck speed. Leaves have changed from green to a bright neon palate and then poof! disappeared in the blink of an eye. Or so it seems from my kitchen windows as I spot more and more bare branches. 

October brought increased kitchen activity as I exchanged the walker for a cane and reclaimed the coveted role of Head Cook. This month I favored soups, salads, sandwiches and a lot of one-pot/one-dish entrees; relying on more familiar recipes rather than new and challenging dishes. For example...

Photo: Chicken Tortilla Soup
Photo: Veggie Frittata with chiles, mushrooms, onions and cheese
Photo: Greek Shrimp Taverna with a side of pasta

Lucky for me, RL retained his position as Head Butler and Dishwasher. (hooray!) Friend Charlene sewed two colorful tote bags, making it easier to carry more than one item at a time. These bags have saved a lot of steps and proved more practical than a backpack in the kitchen.

Easing back into action, I browsed through cabinets and drawers to see what was stored where - yes, RL had "organized" the kitchen once again. What a treat to rediscover this lovely fish serving set, seriously under-utilized since its purchase ages ago in some now-forgotten antique shop. Stainless fish spatulas are common utensils, but these serving pieces deserve a special outing or two. I see a bit of polish and a few dinner invitations coming up in the future.

In my kitchen old accessories rotate in and out of storage seasonally. Mom lives 1190 miles away and is no longer able to travel, but her presence is felt daily through various kitchen treasures. Salt and pepper shakers are special favorites, more decorative than functional but full of memories. Pumpkins claim center stage currently.

Do you have a favorite olive oil? Ever since the surprising olive oil kerfluffle, California Olive Ranch has been my oil of choice. It's now easy to find at local groceries. While curious about the taste differences of various other fresh-pressed olive oils, I'd much prefer a taste-test experience at a winery or distillery instead. No surprise there! 

Kitchen comfort food has featured Fall crop apples, mushrooms and Hatch chile peppers.

Even a recent ladies lunch with friends at Cafe Flora included an meatless French Dip sandwich with portabellas. And since you're probably wondering, no, I couldn't finish all of the crispy yam fries by myself. The sandwich was so delicious, it prompted a return visit to the restaurant with Hilary for another taste.

Fresh apple bread with chiles continues as a work in progress. So far we love the flavor, but the quick bread is too moist and crumbly; it's been more of a messy loaf cake. Rather than give up on the challenge (use a round cake pan or muffin tin and call it a cake), I am determined to produce a firmer apple/chile quick bread in loaf form. Eventually.

To see what's happening in other kitchens this month, click over to Lizzy's wonderful blog, Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things. You'll find links to an interesting international group of food bloggers.

Update on Nov. 11: after reading Sherry's comment about buying local olive sourced directly from producers, I wondered about my local producers (if any). I found one in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon Olive Mills, an olioteca in Oregon with 17 acres of olive trees adjoining their winery vineyards. Now I can plan a road trip and taste test both. Win!
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