Wednesday, July 7, 2010


A croque-monsieur is a French grilled cheese sandwich and, like anything whose main ingredients are bread and cheese, it's really incredibly delicious.

Though I lived in Paris for three months, in the south of France for another five weeks, and have visited France numerous times, I somehow managed to get through all those visits without ever eating a croque-monsieur. On my last trip to Paris, en route from Malta to San Francisco, I decided I really should try one, as they're such an essential part of French culture, and I was blown away!

Though I kept telling myself it was just a glorified grilled cheese sandwich, the croque-monsieur I had at a beautiful café in the sixth arrondissement was far better than any grilled cheese sandwich I'd ever eaten. What made it so good? Well the location certainly helped, but I would also say the excellent quality bread and cheese, the addition of ham, and of course, a generous portion of butter!

As soon as I came back to California I made my own, and I plan to make many many more in the future!!

1 or 2 medium-thin slices of bread*
High-quality french cheese**

* Though many recipes call for pain de mie, which is basically French sandwich bread (soft & white), the croque-monsieur I had in Paris was on a more crusty rye bread, and I really liked it that way.
** Emmenthal is the most common cheese used, and that's what I used, but a similar cheese like Gruyère would also work.

If you have a toaster oven, that's perfect for the croque-monsieur. If not, a regular oven or a pan on the stovetop will also work. Assuming you're using a toaster-oven, preheat it to around 350º F/180º C and prepare the croque-monsieur while it's heating:

Butter the bread thoroughly and place the ham in an even layer on top of the bread. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then spread the cheese in an even layer on top of the bread. Though most versions of the croque-monsieur have you add another slice of bread on top (decked with béchamel for a fancy version or with an egg to make a croque-madame), my Parisian croque-monsieur was served open-faced, and I enjoyed it very much that way. Either way, place the croque-monsieur in the heated oven and let cook about 10 minutes until the cheese is melted and the bread is toasted.

Serve warm with some fresh, lightly dressed salad.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Menemen - Turkish scrambled eggs

I cannot think of a better way to spend a Sunday morning than eating these delicious Turkish-style scrambled eggs while sitting at a café in Istanbul's Bebek quarter and looking out at the ships sailing down the Bosphorus.

But even if you're not in Turkey, menemen is a great way to start your day - or end it!! Though it's traditional to have menemen for breakfast, I think it works wonderfully for lunch or dinner as well. It's very simple, and you can add whatever vegetables you want, though tomatoes and peppers are the traditional ones. I made mine with feta and some extra spices like oregano and sumac, but again, this dish is very flexible, so make it in the way that will best please you!

Ingredients (for one generous portion or as part of a bigger meal shared with 3 or 4 people):
2 eggs
1 red pepper
1 large tomato
1 onion
A handful of fresh parsley
75-100 g. feta or other soft white cheese
Chile flakes or ground cayenne pepper
Olive oil

Wash and chop the pepper, tomato, and parsley, and dice the onion. Beat the eggs well and set aside. In a large pan, heat the olive oil and when it's odd, add the onion. Let the onion cook until soft, and then add the pepper. Let cook about 5 minutes and then add the tomato too.

Cook the vegetables several minutes more, gently crushing the tomato with a wooden spoon to make it more sauce-like. Then add the eggs, and let cook a few minutes more while stirring constantly. Turn the heat to low, and add the cheese then the parsley and all the spices. Cook a few minutes more, stirring continuously, and serve hot with bread. Though it's traditional to eat menemen with pide, a soft Turkish bread, any type will do (but pide is really good, so if you can get some, then definitely use it!)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Melanzane al funghetto

This is an eggplant dish from the town of Bari, in Southern Italy. I was introduced to it when a friend of mine from Bari brought it to a dinner party, and in fact it's a great dish to bring to a party because it's extremely easy to make, and it is best if you let it sit for several hours before serving it, so you can prepare it in advance - even a day before you plan to eat it. And of course, it tastes wonderful!

1 large eggplant
2 or 3 ripe tomatoes
Large green olives
A clove of garlic
Fresh basil
Fresh parsley
Olive oil

Wash the eggplant, and peel the skin in strips so that some is left on. Cut the eggplant into disks a few centimeters thick, and then cut those discs into squares. Crush the garlic and then chop it up. In a large pan, heat some olive oil and then add the garlic. After 15-20 seconds, add the eggplant, stirring quite often. If necessary, add a bit more olive oil, but don't add too much or else the eggplant will get too soft.

Wash the tomatoes and cut them into cubes, then add them to the eggplants (which should have cooked on their own for about 5 minutes). Then wash the olives and capers and add them in as well. Wash the basil and parsley and chop them finely. Add the basil, parsley, and oregano, and sprinkle everything with salt and pepper. After a few minutes, turn the heat down to low, and let everything cook another 15 or 20 minutes, stirring every so often, until the eggplants are soft but not mushy.

Let cool, and serve at room temperature, or else refrigerate and serve after several hours.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Banana nut bread

I know I haven't updated this blog in forever - not because I haven't been cooking and eating lots of delicious things, but just because I've been so busy with other stuff like studying, dancing, and traveling! However, the second I bit into this bread/cake I knew I had to post the recipe, if only so that I can remember it to make it again!

And again and again and again...

For some reason, I've suddenly started making all sorts of American dishes that I've never made even once in my life before. I suppose it all started a couple weeks ago when an Italian friend asked me for a recipe for chocolate chip cookies (which I have made, plenty of times) and followed up with a request for a recipe for brownies (which I never have made, not even once). I immediately emailed my mom for both recipes and, as I was translating them into Italian, I thought "hmmm, these sound really good..." and a few days later, there I was, scouting out my local grocery store for baking chocolate, butter, and vanilla extract!

The banana bread was even less planned than the brownies, but several days ago my housemate bequeathed a couple of medium-ripe bananas on me, and as I already had several bananas of my own, the obvious solution was to wait a few days for these new bananas to get super-ripe and then turn them into delicious banana bread! Having never baked banana bread before, I scouted around for some recipes, and finally settled on a recipe by David Lebovitz, which I then tweaked quite a bit to fit my tastes/available culinary options! The original recipe can be found here. My own version is given below. It's a bit breadier than most (uses whole wheat flour, yogurt, etc.), but it still tastes quite sweet, and the nutmeg really adds a kick.

2 very ripe bananas
125 g. cake flour
125 g. whole wheat flour
125 g. sugar
A largish spoonful of vanilla sugar
A small spoonful of salt
A small spoonful of baking soda
A spoonful of baking powder
175 g. plain, whole milk yogurt
50 g. unsalted butter + extra for buttering the pan
2 eggs
75 g. walnuts
Half a nutmeg
A spoonful of cinnamon

Leave the eggs out until they are at room temperature. Then preheat the oven to 180º C / 355 º F, and butter a loaf pan.

Melt the 50 g. butter and let cool a bit. Grind the nutmeg, and sift together the two flours, the salt, the baking powder, the baking soda, the nutmeg, and the cinnamon. Stir the sugar and the vanilla sugar into this mixture.

Chop the walnuts into small bits and mash up the bananas until they are very soft. Beat the eggs and combine them with the melted butter, the yogurt and the bananas. Stir the liquid ingredients together thoroughly, and then make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring until just combined but no longer (until you can no longer see any bits of flour or anything). Stir in the walnuts, and spread the whole mixture into the loaf pan.

Bake for 40-45 minutes until the top is browned and a fork stuck into the middle comes out clean. Let cool and then eat!