Ham-and-Cheese Strata

June 24, 2007


Ham-and-Swiss sandwiches for breakfast? You bet! Especially when you bake them like this! You can put together the sandwich part the night before, seal it with plastic wrap, and set it in the fridge. When morning comes, all you have to do is pour on the eggs and cream and pop it in the oven. Not exactly like having someone else do breakfast for you—but it’s close. You know, I’ve been thinking … my next boyfriend had better be a cook! SAM

14 (1/2-inch) slices Italian bread
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 pound honey-baked ham, roughly chopped
1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced
2 ounces Swiss cheese, shredded (1/2 cup)
2 green onions with tops, thinly sliced (1/2 cup)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
Freshly ground white pepper to taste

Spread one side of the bread with mustard. Arrange half the slices, overlapping, mustard side up, in the bottom of a lightly greased 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Top with ham, tomato, cheese, and onions. Place the remaining bread slices on top, mustard side down. Combine the eggs, half-and-half, paprika, and pepper and pour evenly over the bread. Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 to 50 minutes, until golden brown and puffy. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before serving.
Makes 4 servings.

Espresso Crème

June 17, 2007


This is one fantastic dessert. Don’t freak out at all the steps. All it takes is a little patience and an electric mixer. Pour yourself a glass of wine or a cup of coffee or tea, crank up your favorite work-along music, and settle into the routine. You’ll be happy you did—so will everyone you love. SAM

6 eggs, separated
1/4 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar, divided
Dash of salt
2 cups freshly brewed espresso coffee, warm
2 (1/4-ounce) envelopes unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons light rum
1 cup whipping cream
Confectioner’s sugar and chocolate curls for garnish

In the top of a double boiler off the heat, beat the egg yolks slightly. Stir in 1/4 cup sugar, the salt, and coffee. Sprinkle the gelatin over the top and let stand for 2 or 3 minutes to soften. Place the double boiler over simmering water and cook the egg mixture for 10 minutes, stirring constantly, until the gelatin dissolves and the mixture coats a spoon. Remove from the heat. Through a fine sieve, strain the mixture into a large bowl and stir in the rum. Place the bowl in a pan of ice water and chill, stirring often, until mixture is the consistency of uncooked egg whites.

With an electric mixer on high speed, beat the egg whites until foamy and doubled in volume. Beat in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the sugar dissolves completely and the meringue stands in firm, glossy peaks. In a clean, dry bowl, beat the whipping cream on high speed until it stands in stiff peaks.

Into the thickened gelatin mixture, gently fold first the meringue, then the whipped cream, until no streaks of white remain. Spoon into a greased 8-cup mold and chill 6 hours or until firm. To unmold, run the tip of a sharp knife around the top of the mold, dip quickly into hot water, cover with a plate, turn upside-down, and lift off the mold. Garnish with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar and chocolate curls.
Makes 8 servings.

Noodles and Cream

June 11, 2007

Noodles and Cream is another of those dishes so simple they’re almost magic, and like any good magic trick, timing is everything. As soon as you get it together, you have to serve it. And make sure you have lots of bread for sopping up extra butter and cream. No one will want to waste a smidgen. SAM

1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound wide, flat noodles
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 pint heavy cream
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground white pepper to taste

In a large kettle of salted, boiling water and cook the noodles al dente, 9 to 12 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large skillet or chef’s pan over medium heat, melt the butter. As soon as the noodles are done, drain them and dump them into the butter, shaking to coat. Turn off the heat, add the cream, shake again, transfer to shallow soup bowls, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and pepper, and serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.

Caraway Chicken

June 10, 2007


Seasoning with caraway seeds dates at least to ancient Egypt. The ‘seeds’ are actually fruit, and they’re said to be the first herb used in Europe. Like so many old, old seasonings, they started out as a—gulp!—health food, supposedly an to aid digestion. That’s why you find them in traditional Northern European recipes for cabbage, cauliflower, sauerkraut, and rye bread. But don’t hold healthiness against them. Their strong, clean, nutty bite is a perfect foil for rich meat dishes, like this creamy chicken Parmesan. SAM

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh minced parsley
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

Dip the chicken breasts in the egg and roll them in bread crumbs. In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil until a test drop of egg sizzles. Brown the chicken on both sides, 4 to 6 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and place in a lightly greased 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan. Combine the half-and-half, Parmesan, parsley, caraway seeds, salt, and pepper and pour over the chicken. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 or 30 minutes or until bubbly.
Makes 6 servings.

Scalloped Potatoes with Garlic and Rosemary

June 7, 2007


There’s nothing like a creamy potato casserole to make your troubles disappear. This one is a slight twist on an old, old French side dish, guaranteed to sooth the soul and lift the spirits. Soaking the potatoes in cold water removes starch, which allows them to soak up the cream, which makes them divinely creamy. This recipe is supposed to make two generous servings. Then, again, you might want to keep the whole thing for yourself. SAM

1 pound new white potatoes (3 to 4 medium)
1 clove garlic, pressed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon snipped fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
1/2 pint heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 1-quart casserole and set aside.

Slice the potatoes 1/8 inch thick, soak for 5 minutes in cold water, rinse thoroughly, and spread out between paper towels to dry. Combine the garlic and olive oil. Layer the potatoes in the prepared casserole, seasoning each layer with the garlic mixture, rosemary, parsley, salt, and pepper. Pour the cream on top and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour, or until liquid is absorbed and the potatoes are tender and browned.
Makes 2 servings.

Cucumber Bisque

June 6, 2007


Butter, cucumbers, chives, sherry, cream … Who wouldn’t love such a cool soup? Tim, maybe? Hmmmm … SAM

4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)
1 leek, white and yellow parts only, chopped (1 cup)
4 small cucumbers, peeled and chopped (3 cups)
1 medium waxy potato, peeled and finely diced (3/4 cup)
3 (10-ounce) cans chicken broth
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, divided
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives, divided
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
1 cup half-and-half or heavy cream

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and sauté the leek until tender. Add the cucumber, potato, chicken broth, sherry, 1/2 cup parsley, 1 tablespoon chives, mustard, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Set in the fridge to cool, then puree in a food processor fitted with the metal blade or with an immersion blender. Cover and chill. Just before serving, stir in the cream and garnish with the remaining 1 tablespoon parsley, 1 teaspoon chives, and paprika.
Makes 6 servings.

NOTE: Don’t puree this while it’s hot. You could seriously burn yourself.

Dilled Cream Cheese

May 21, 2007



Sometimes the things we love the most we take the most for granted. Take Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese. It’s been around since 1880. It’s cheap. It’s everywhere. Add a shredded cucumber or a handful of chopped green olives and you have an elegant sandwich. You can melt it into spicy tomato aspic or whip it with confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice for a killer cake icing. My grandmother—who never cooked a day in her life—used to mix it with heavy cream and chopped pecans and stuff it into celery sticks. Cream cheese is something you should keep in your fridge at all times. That way, when the unexpected guest wanders in at cocktail time, you can conjure up the ghost of my grandmother’s celery or make this snappy dill spread. SAM

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/4 medium red onion, finely grated (2 tablespoons)
Juice of 1 small lemon (2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Celery sticks, crackers, or country bread

In a small bowl, mash the cream cheese with a pastry fork and stir in the dill, onion, lemon juice, olive oil, and pepper. Serve on crackers or country bread or stuff into celery sticks.
Makes 1 cup.

Leek-Potato Soup

May 19, 2007



Here’s something else you can stir cream into, as long as you DON’T TELL TIM. Leek and potato is one of the all-time classic combos. Serve it for a weekend lunch or as a soup course before your pissaladière swirled with generous spoonfuls of crème fraîche or heavy cream. You could even use half-and-half, if you’re counting calories—but I wouldn’t. Toast the cumin seeds in a heavy, dry, hot skillet until they turn fragrant and start to darken; then grind them in a coffee mill. Chicken stock gives the soup more depth, but the flavors are so well balanced no one will notice if it’s made with water—and your vegetarian friends will adore you. SAM

4 large leeks (1 1/2 pounds after cleaning)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons toasted, ground cumin
1 tablespoon Marsala wine
1 pound new potatoes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken stock or water
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
Crème fraîche or heavy cream for garnish

Discard the dark green leaves of the leeks. Pull off and discard the outermost layer of green and white. Wash thoroughly. With a sharp paring knife, cut the leeks into quarters from root end to tip, leaving roots intact. Wash again and soak upside-down in a large bowl of cold water for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, rinse the potatoes and cover with cold water in a small saucepan. Cover the pan, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer until tender, about 25 minutes. Peel and press through a ricer on the fine disk or mash with a fork. Add 2 tablespoons oil.

In a large chef’s pan over medium heat, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Cut the leeks into 1-inch pieces. Reduce heat to low, add the leeks, and sweat, covered, until soft, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Raise the heat to medium high, add the cumin and sauté until fragrant, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes. Add the Marsala and reduce, about 2 minutes.

Add the potato mixture to the leeks, along with the butter, bay leaf, stock or water, salt, and pepper. Bring to a low boil and simmer, uncovered, until reduced by 1/3. Discard the bay leaf. Serve hot with generous spoonfuls of crème fraîche or heavy cream stirred in.
Makes 2 quarts.

Crème Fraîche

May 15, 2007



Crème fraîche is a wonderfully rich and versatile cream that’s slightly thickened. The French translation is ‘fresh cream,’ but it’s actually heavy cream lightly soured with live culture. You can whip it, cook with it, pile it on anything from Tomato-Onion Pie to pizza to chocolate pudding. I’ve been known to eat it off a spoon. Even the cheapest chain-store brand in France is good. In the US, unless you have a good, local diary, it tends to be sticky and dense. Happily, you can make your own. Here’s how. Sam

1 pint heavy cream
2 tablespoons cultured buttermilk

In a one-pint glass jar, combine the cream and buttermilk. Cover tightly and shake thoroughly. Set in a warm place, outside in summer or on a sunny windowsill, and leave for 6 to 8 hours. Once the crème fraîche has congealed, store it in the fridge.
Makes 1 pint.

NOTE: You can substitute live-culture sour cream for the buttermilk, but commercial sour cream has no live bacteria and will not work.