Croque Monsieur

Croque Monsieur | Pinky's Pantry
I found out that today is National Sandwich Day. Who knew we had a day dedicated to sandwiches? I love sandwiches. They’re the easiest thing to pack for lunch, they’re adorable cut into dainty little shapes for tea, and our family road trips just wouldn’t be the same without a cooler of sandwiches and drinks in the trunk of the car.

It’s commonly believed that the sandwich was the invention of John Montagu who was the 4th Earl of Sandwich in England. I can’t vouch for the truth of that, but the story goes that Lord Sandwich was a notorious gambler. They say he spent long hours at the gaming tables and rather than get up to eat, he would ask the servants to bring him some sliced meat between two pieces of bread so he could hold the food in one hand and keep his cards in the other. His friends embraced the custom and when they got hungry, they would ask for “the same as Sandwich” and that’s how the sandwich got its auspicious beginnings.

Anyway, in deference to National Sandwich Day, I decided to make Croque Monsieur for dinner tonight. Croque Monsieur is typical French bistro fare. Fancy as its name is, it’s basically just a grilled ham and cheese sandwich topped with béchamel sauce and more cheese. It’s delicious served all hot and melty with a glass of wine or an ice cold beer. If you top a Croque Monsieur with a fried egg, you’ll have what’s called a Croque Madame. But that’s for another post.

CROQUE MONSIEUR
(Makes 6 sandwiches)

  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ¼ cup grated fresh parmesan cheese
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • 12 slices firm white sandwich bread
  • room temperature butter for spreading on the bread slices
  • 1 jar dijon mustard
  • 6 ozs. thinly sliced Black Forest ham or Virginia ham
  • 8-10 ozs. Gruyère cheese (can substitute Emmental, Comté, or Swiss cheese)
  1. Slice enough Gruyere to make 6 sandwiches (6 or 7 ozs.) and grate the rest to use for topping. Set cheese aside.
  2. Make béchamel sauce by melting 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat in a small saucepan.
  3. Add flour, whisking until well combined.
  4. Gradually whisk in milk, parmesan cheese, and nutmeg.
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Cook until sauce thickens, whisking constantly, about 2 minutes.
  7. Set béchamel aside and preheat broiler to high. You’ll broil the sandwiches later.
  8. Butter one side of all 12 slices of bread.
  9. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat on the stove.
  10. Place 3 of the bread slices, butter side down, in the skillet.
  11. Brush some mustard on top of each slice of bread in the skillet.
  12. Top each with a slice of ham and a slice of Gruyère.
  13. Cover sandwiches with 3 slices of bread, butter side up.
  14. Cook until deep golden brown, then carefully flip over and cook other side.
  15. Transfer to a baking sheet and repeat with remaining bread.
  16. Spoon béchamel sauce over each sandwich.
  17. Sprinkle a little grated Gruyère over béchamel.
  18. Place under broiler until cheese is melted and light brown.
  19. Serve hot.
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Chili con Spam

Spam con Chili | Pinky's Pantry
At work a couple of weeks ago, two of my friends and I were reminiscing about Spam. Verna is Hawaiian-Filipino and Kaileigh is Mexican-Filipino. Besides having Filipino blood in common, we all share a love of Spam. Anyway, Kaileigh was telling us about this really easy dish she makes called Chili con Spam and she shared her recipe with us.

Fast forward to today. School is officially over and 3 of my kids came home this morning. I decided to fix a late breakfast to feed everyone…. bacon, eggs, hash browns…. and then I thought it would be a perfect time to try the Chili con Spam recipe. I searched everywhere but couldn’t remember where I saved it! I decided to google it, but only ONE recipe for Chili con Spam came up. It was a recipe submitted by a lady in Guam named Jane Certeza who apparently took 2nd Place for it at The Great Spam Cook-Off Island Style. I looked at it but it had way more ingredients than I remembered Kaileigh’s recipe having so it couldn’t be the same one.

I decided to text Kaileigh and ask her for her recipe again which she promptly sent off to me. Ah…. that was the one I remembered! Super easy with just 4 ingredients. But then another obstacle came along. Kaileigh’s recipe called for yellow wax chilies which I didn’t have. Great. I didn’t want to drive all the way down the hill just for chilies and none of the kids did either. So with wails of, “But I just drove hours to get here, Mama. You want me to drive some more?!?” ringing in my ears, I turned back to the Guamanian recipe which I happened to have all the ingredients for in my pantry.

Guess I’ll have to save Kaileigh’s Chili con Spam for next time. Sigh……. By the way, the Guamanian Chili con Spam was a hit. Everyone loved it and it quickly disappeared.

CHILI CON SPAM

  • 1 can (12 oz.) spam, cubed
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can (15 oz.) stewed tomatoes
  • 2 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp. cumin (I only used 1 Tbsp.)
  • dash of black pepper
  • 1½ tsp. sugar
  • 1 can (15 oz.) tomato sauce
  • 1 can (15 oz.) dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  1. In skillet, fry spam until light brown on all sides.
  2. Add onions and garlic; sauté until onions are softened.
  3. Stir in stewed tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, black pepper, and sugar.
  4. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add tomato sauce and kidney beans.
  6. Simmer over low heat for an additional 10 minutes or so.

Cuban Picadillo

Cuban Picadillo | Pinky's Pantry
Growing up, my Mom always made us Picadillo, but it was a soup. It had ground beef and potatoes swimming in a tasty broth and it was absolutely delicious. So the first time I went to a Cuban restaurant and saw Picadillo on the menu, I was very surprised to learn that their version was not a soup at all! It was completely different, but equally delicious. Served with white rice, black beans, tostones (fried plaintains) and mojo (garlic sauce), it was different and to die for. I asked a couple of my Cuban friends at work what spices go into Picadillo and was surprised to learn that both of them put cumin and cinnamon in it! Well, cumin wasn’t surprising, but I only ever use cinnamon in sweet stuff like pies and desserts. So… here’s my attempt to recreate the Picadillo I had at the Cuban restaurant. I think it turned out pretty darn good!

CUBAN PICADILLO

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 lbs. lean ground beef
  • 1 tsp. salt (add more or less, to your taste)
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 large green bell pepper, seeded and cut in cubes
  • 1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
  • 1 small can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 3 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup pimento stuffed olives, sliced
  • 2/3 cup raisins
  1. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy pan set over medium high heat.
  2. Saute onions and garlic for about 2 minutes, then add ground beef.
  3. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until beef is browned through.
  4. Stir in green bell pepper, diced tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, vinegar, cumin, cinnamon, oregano, and bay leaf.
  5. Lower heat and let simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Stir in olives and raisins and let simmer for another 8-10 minutes more.

Mango Lassi

Mango Lassi | Pinky's Pantry
Mango Lassi is a popular drink in India where the climate is frequently sweltering. The yogurt-based drink makes a great treat on a hot day and is perfect for cooling down those spicy Indian curries. My understanding is that traditional lassi is actually a savory drink, made by blending plain yogurt with water, salt, and spices like cumin or mint. I’ve only ever had sweet lassi which is made by blending yogurt with sugar, fruit, and sometimes rosewater. My favorite is mango lassi, though you could use other fruit if you like.

Mango Lassi is so refreshing and addictive. It’s also very easy to make. The hardest part is getting your hands on some good mangoes like the ones from the Philippines. They’re thin-skinned and juicy and very sweet, unlike the fibrous ones that come from South America. Alphonso mangoes are a good choice and can be found more easily in the U.S., especially in Asian food stores.

MANGO LASSI

  • 2 cups mango puree (3 to 5 mangoes, depending on how big they are)
  • 6 ice cubes
  • 2 cups plain yogurt (not Greek yogurt – it’s too thick)
  • ¼ cup sugar (omit if mangoes are very sweet)
  • pinch of cardamom powder
  • mint leaves and extra mango cut into cubes, for garnish (optional)
  1. Peel mango and cut into pieces.
  2. Put mango in blender and puree until smooth.
  3. Add ice cubes, yogurt, sugar, and pinch of cardamom, and blend all together well.
  4. If it seems too thick to drink, add a little water to thin it out to the consistency you want.
  5. Garnish with a mint leaf and 2 or 3 little cubes of mango, if desired.

Prajitura Desteapta (Romanian “Smart Cake”)

Prajitura Desteapta | Pinky's Pantry
Prajitura Desteapta. Nope, it’s not a disease or some Amazonian jungle plant. It’s actually a Romanian custard cake. I had to bring dessert to my sister Helen’s house for dinner last night so I went searching through my recipe box for something to make. I wanted to bring something different. Maybe make something I hadn’t made in a long time. Lo and behold, I came across this recipe that was given to me years ago by my friend, Lyudmila.

According to Lyudmila, “Prajitura Desteapta” means “Smart Cake.” I guess they call it that because it’s super easy to make which is pretty smart in my book. The ingredients are all things you usually have in your fridge and pantry. While it’s baking, the cake separates into two layers – a thick, cake-like layer on the bottom and a softer custard layer on top. Lyudmila’s original recipe gave metric measurements for the ingredients. I’ve noted the American equivalents for those who want them. By the way, in America, this cake is called “Magic Cake” and it’s easy to understand why.

PRAJITURA DESTEAPTA (SMART CAKE)

  • 250 gm butter or margarine (1 cup)
  • 8 eggs, separated
  • 300 gm sugar (1½ cups)
  • 2 packets vanilla sugar (1 tsp. vanilla extract)
  • 225 gm flour (2 cups)
  • 1 liter warm milk (4 cups)
  • powdered sugar, for dusting on top
  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour a 9×13 rectangular pyrex baking dish.
  2. Melt butter in microwave and set aside to cool.
  3. In an extra large bowl, beat egg yolks and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  4. Add melted butter and vanilla and continue beating.
  5. Beat in the sifted flour until well blended.
  6. Slowly add milk, beating on low speed. Batter will be very thin and watery.
  7. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
  8. Carefully fold beaten egg whites into the batter just until incorporated.
  9. Pour into prepared pyrex baking dish and bake 40-45 minutes. Do not open the oven door while baking!
  10. Cool to room temperature, then place in refrigerator to chill.
  11. Sprinkle top with powdered sugar.
  12. Cut into squares and serve.

NOTE:

  • It’s better if your eggs are at room temperature when you start.
  • The butter should be melted but not hot. Make sure to cool it to room
    temperature before using.
  • Vanilla sugar is a very popular baking ingredient in Europe. Dr. Oetker is a very
    well-known brand, but unfortunately is not easy to find in the U.S. However, you
    can easily substitute vanilla extract for the vanilla sugar in this recipe.

Aebleskiver (or Ebelskiver)

Aebleskiver | Pinky's Pantry
Aebleskiver (pronounced ey-bluh-skee-wuh) are puffy little sphere-shaped Danish pancakes. The name literally means “apple slices” in Denmark where they were traditionally filled with pieces of apple or applesauce. Since the 1600’s, aebleskiver has historically been served in Denmark at Christmas time accompanied by glogg or mulled wine. Nowadays you can find them pretty much year round. They’re often made plain, then sprinkled with powdered sugar, and served with jam. You also find them filled with a variety of sweet or savory fillings like chocolate, peanut butter, cookie butter, fruit preserves, fresh fruit like blueberries or raspberries, cheese, bacon, or sausage.

They’re cooked over the stove in an aebleskiver pan which looks like a deep frying pan with several round wells in it. You can easily find cast iron aebleskiver pans on the market or non-stick cast aluminum ones like the one made by Nordicware (which is the kind I have). The trick to making aebleskiver is to be patient. Take your time turning the little pancakes one by one in quarter increments so you end up with a perfect little round ball. It takes some patience, but with practice you’ll have the hang of it in no time! Have fun!

AEBLESKIVER

[Makes about 30 aebleskiver]

  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 4 Tbsp. melted butter
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  1. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks, buttermilk, and melted butter.
  3. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar, whisking until smooth.
  4. Gently fold in beaten egg whites, taking care not to deflate.
  5. Heat aebleskiver pan over medium heat until hot.
  6. Generously brush each little well in aebleskiver pan with butter. You want a little pool of butter at the bottom.
    Aebleskiver | Pinky's Pantry
  7. Pour batter into each cup, filling to just below the top. They’ll puff up a little as they start cooking.
    Aebleskiver | Pinky's Pantry
  8. Cook till they start to get bubbly around the edges.
  9. Carefully lift and turn a quarter turn using aebleskiver turners, bamboo skewers, chopsticks, knitting needles, or even a fork will do.
    Aebleskiver | Pinky's Pantry
  10. After a minute or so, lift and turn a quarter turn again.
    Aebleskiver | Pinky's Pantry
  11. Continue cooking, lifting and turning each ball a quarter turn, until completely done. You’ll want to turn the balls a total of 4 to 5 turns each.
    Aebleskiver | Pinky's Pantry
  12. After the last turn, let cook a couple of minutes, then keep rotating them in the wells to ensure they cook evenly and don’t burn.
    Aebleskiver | Pinky's Pantry
  13. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
  14. Serve with jam or syrup on the side.

NOTE:  If you want to see the traditional way to cook aebleskiver, watch this. It takes a little practice but you can do it!