They go together like good ham and gruyere cheese; Croque Monsieur

4 May

JP wedding


This weekend I was l honored to witness and celebrate the marriage of my very close friend’s Jamey and Phil. After 15 years of sharing their lives together, it couldn’t have been more special. With over a hundred friends and family of the couple, we celebrated over many drinks and delicious food at the Proximity Hotel. And, a lotta dancing. By the look of the photos, we had a blast. It was just as everyone could expect – a party that no one would forget! Thanks to J&P for including me in so many special moments throughout the years and this very special occasion.

In honor of things that go together just perfectly, I present the most amazing sandwich – the Croque Monsieur. Jamey and Phil go together like good ham and gruyere cheese…over buttery toast and bechamel sauce. Classic, luxurious and timeless!

I enjoyed this recipe with my mom and her BFF Debbie a couple weeks ago for Sunday supper. Enjoy with a light salad and good crisp white wine.

Croque Monsieur

Makes 4 servings

For the Bechamel, melt:
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4th Cup all purpose flour
Whisk in:
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
  • 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
For the Sandwiches
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 4 slices artisan-style white bread
  • 8 slices good cooked ham
  • 4 oz Shredded Gruyere (about 2 cups)
  • Chopped parsley
Preheat broiler to high with rack 6 inches from the element.
For the Bechamel, melt the butter in a saucepan, heat until foamy, whisk in flour and cook roux 1 minute.
Whisk in milk, combine completely, Whisk in Dijon and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper.
Cook until slightly thickened.
For the sandwiches, spread butter on both sides of bread and toast on both sides.
Cover one side of the bread slices with 2 Tbsp bechamel, ham, and Gruyere cheese.
Broil until brown and bubbly! Garnish with parsley!!!!

Caramelized Onion & Blue Cheese Twice Baked Potatoes

30 Apr



I love twice-baked potatoes as a make-ahead item for parties. I could never host a Monday night dinner party without some advance preparation. And, you can make all kinds of twists with twice baked potatoes – spring pea, bacon, blue cheese, you name it!  Make everything in ahead and heat them at 350 until warm. Easy, as, that!


Caramelized Onion & Blue Cheese Twice Baked Potatoes


  • 2 medium baking potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons butter
  • 2 cups vertically sliced yellow onion
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • blue cheese crumbles


Pierce potatoes with a fork; arrange on paper towels in microwave oven. Microwave at high 10 minutes or until done, rearranging potatoes after 5 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes. Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sugar; sauté until browned (be patient, this will take a long time).

Cut each potato in half lengthwise; scoop out pulp, leaving a 1/4-inch-thick shell. Combine potato pulp, onions, sour cream, salt, and pepper. Spoon potato mixture evenly into shells. Top with cheese. Return potatoes to the oven and broil until toasted!


Sugar Snap Pea Salad

29 Apr



This salad is so delightful. Crunchy sugar snap peas and radishes with silky and salt feta cheese with a tangy lemon dressing and fresh mint. Hello Springtime! It’s perfect for a Spring dinner or picnic lunch. Dig in!

Sugar Snap Salad

  • 1 1/2 pounds sugar snap peas, trimmed, stringed
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 bunch radishes, trimmed, thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces feta, crumbled
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint

Fill a large bowl with ice water; set aside. Cook peas in a large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Drain; transfer to bowl with ice water to cool. Drain peas; transfer to a kitchen towel-lined baking sheet to dry. Whisk oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, vinegar in a small bowl. Toss peas, radishes, and cheese in a large bowl.  Add dressing to salad and toss to coat. Season salad with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice, if desired. Garnish with mint.

Peanut Butter Brownies

28 Apr


Last night I had the pleasure of hosting the planning committee of the 2015 Guilford Green Foundation Gala. After almost a year of planning, the Gala committee became a little like family. Constant text messages, jokes, witty (and snarky) banter plus a whole lotta work. We couldn’t be more thrilled with the results of our efforts. And, relieved that it’s behind us.

In honor of our hard work, we all gathered on Mendenhall for a no-business dinner. I made a spread of easy make-ahead dishes for an easy Monday night dinner party. I’ll share the recipes this week and will kick off the series with these most delicious Peanut Butter Brownies from Smitten Kitchen. Like the gala, they are time intensive but totally rewarding. Here is the recipe and a little recap video with the entire team!

Peanut Butter Brownies from Smitten Kitchen 
Adapted from Butterwood Desserts, West Falls, New York via Gourmet, October 2007

Makes 32 brownies, more or less, depending on how you cut them

For brownies
2 sticks (1/2 pound or 225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups (350 grams) sugar
1 cup (255 grams) creamy peanut butter
2 large eggs plus 1 large yolk
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces or 255 grams) bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon table salt, see note**

For ganache
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces or 255 grams) bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream
1 tablespoon (15 grams) unsalted butter, softened

Make brownies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with rack in middle. Butter a 13- by 9- by 2-inch baking pan, then line bottom of pan with parchment paper and butter parchment.

Beat together butter and sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until mixture is light and fluffy, then add peanut butter and beat until incorporated. Beat in whole eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla. Reduce mixer sped to low, then mix in flour until just combined.

Mix in chocolate chips (1 1/2 cups) then spread batter in baking pan, smoothing top. (It will be thick, almost like cookie batter.)

Bake until brownies are deep golden, puffed on top and a wooden pick inserted in center come out with some crumbs adhering, 40 to 45 minutes.

Cool completely in pan on a rack, about 1 1/2 hours.

Make ganache: Put chocolate chips (1 1/2 cups) in a heatproof bowl.

Bring cream to a boil in a small saucepan, then pour over chocolate chips and let mixture stand for one minute.

Gently whisk in butter until it is incorporated, chocolate is melted, and a smooth mixture forms.

Spread ganache on cooled brownies and let stand until set, about 15 minutes.

Brownies keep in one layer in an airtight container three days, and we hope much longer if hidden waaay in the back of the freezer.


Mother’s Day Chicken Salad

27 Apr


A couple weeks ago I spent some time kicking my standard chicken salad recipe into a new gear. Extra herbs – dill and basil – plus really good sweet pickles and pickled beets for an extra flavor and color. My how it turned out – despite the interesting pink color, this salad full of moist chicken, crunchy celery and scallions had an extra boost from the sweet, herby, spicy and fresh additions.

I enjoyed mine in an open faced sandwich over watercress. However, it’s perfect on it’s on it’s own, in a full two-sided sandwich or in a salad with baby greens.

I think this recipe is perfect for a Mother’s Day lunch. It’s also perfect for a picnic or a lunchbox.

Mother’s Day Chicken Salad 

  • 2 whole split chicken breasts, bone-in, skin on
  • Good olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup good mayonnaise
  • 1 cup small-diced celery 
  • 4 scallions, diced
  • 2-3 tablespoons dill, minced
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped sweet pickles
  • 1/4 cup chopped pickle beets

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the chicken breasts, skin side up, on a sheet pan and rub them with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Set aside to cool.

When the chicken is cool, remove and discard the skin and bones and cut the chicken into 3/4-inch dice. Place the chicken in a bowl and add the mayonnaise, and remainder of ingredients. Mix well and taste for seasoning. At this point, add more components you may want more of!


Grilled Rack of Lamb with Blackberry Balsamic Reduction

26 Apr


Tis the season for lamb chops. We enjoyed rack of lamb on Easter weekend to celebrate the come of spring. In an effort to put a different spin on them, I made a sweet and tangy blackberry and balsamic reduction to pour over the medium rare individual chops. They were messy and juicy – just perfect. We ate them with our hands – like any lamb lover would do.

Grilled Rack of Lamb with Blackberry Balsamic Reduction 

  • 2 racks, lamb
  • olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 spring rosemary, minced
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 1/2 cup blackberries
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

Pulse rosemary, kosher salt, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a food processor to form a coarse paste, scraping down sides. Rub oil all over chops, then coat evenly with rosemary mixture. Allow to sit for 4-6 hours.

Oil grill rack, then grill chops in 2 batches, covered only if using a gas grill, turning once, 4 to 6 minutes per batch for medium-rare. Remove the lamb from the grill when internal temperature is 135-140 for medium rare. Allow to rest for 10 minutes and then slice into individual chops. 

While grilling, boil balsamic and blackberries together with a whole sprig of rosemary. Once reduced (to cover the back of a spoon), remove the rosemary. Spoon over lamb chops.


Grilled Asparagus and Cherry Tomato Salad with White Truffle Vinaigrette

25 Apr


A couple weekend’s ago I was preparing a fancy meal for friends and wanted a different vegetable side dish idea with lots of luxury. This is it! Grilled seasonal asparagus with sweet grilled tomatoes with salty cheese and an truffle oil vinaigrette. So delicious and perfect for this time of year. Everything becomes sweet and salty and drizzled perfectly with the stand out truffle oil.

Grilled Asparagus and Cherry Tomato Salad with White Truffle Vinaigrette

  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 lb. asparagus, tough ends trimmed
  • 2 pints (4 cups) cherry tomatoes
  • 7 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped shallot
  • 2 Tbs. apple-cider vinegar
  • 1/2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs. white truffle oil
  • 1/2 oz. finely grated pecorino (1/2 cup using a rasp grater)

In a small heavy saucepan, boil the balsamic vinegar until reduced to about 3 Tbs., about 15 minutes.

Heat grill. Drizzle asparagus and tomatoes with  2 Tbs. olive oil, 1 Tbs. reduced balsamic vinegar, and season with 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper. Skewer tomatoes for easy grilling – or use a grill basket.

Grill until asparagus is tender and tomatoes begin to char and pop.

In a small bowl, whisk the shallot, cider vinegar, lemon juice, and 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in the remaining 3 Tbs. olive oil and the truffle oil until blended.

Arrange the asparagus and tomatoes on salad plates. Drizzle with the remaining 1 Tbs. reduced balsamic vinegar, and then the truffle vinaigrette. Sprinkle the pecorino on top.



Domino Potatoes

20 Apr


I know it’s Monday morning and you’re probably forcing yourself to think about salads, but a potato will always make a chin up. Especially when they are sliced super thin, doused in butter and seasoned with salt, pepper and fresh rosemary. This is basically a classic Pommes Anna with a funny vertical twist. It’s easy and crowd pleasing. Make note for your next search for a non-boring side.

Domino Potatoes

  • 4 Idaho (baking) potatoes
  • 4 tablespoons chilled clarified butter
  • coarse salt
  • pepper
  • fresh rosemary sprigs

Preheat your oven to 400F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a Silpat, use a nonstick baking sheet or a medium-sized baking dish.

Cut off the two ends of one potato and reserve them. Trim the 4 sides of the potato to form an even brick. Slice of potato about 1/8 inch thick on a mandoline, keeping the slices in order if you can (just like a line of shingled dominoes). Stack in a casserole dish vertically.

Drizzle with butter. Season with salt and pepper. Add a sprig of rosemary for aromatics.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until the potatoes are browned on the edges and tender in the middle when tested with a skewer. Serve immediately.

Spring Pea Crostini

15 Apr



While in the mountains, I couldn’t resist making this really springy appetizer. I made it last year and felt that I didn’t share it enough. So, I made it again with mountain views and grilled (not broiled) bread. It was the perfect treat for Happy Hour at 6pm after a long week and drive to the mountains. As you can imagine, they didn’t last long.

You must try this bright green crostini!

Sweet Pea Topping

  • About 2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese
  • small handful of basil
  • 1 sprig of fresh mint
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

Pulse everything together into a nice chunky paste. Taste for seasoning.


  • good crusty bread
  • more olive oil
  • prosciutto

Slice the bread into thick pieces. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Broil until toasted. Top with pea mixture, a slice of prosciutto and more pepper. And, a splash of lemon olive oil, if you have it.

Grilled Serrano Ham Wrapped Shrimp

13 Apr



It’s beautiful outside. Tulips are blooming and the snow ball tree in my neighbor’s yard is bouncing in the wind like fluffy clouds.  It’s a perfect night to grill this delicious appetizer of fresh shrimp, wrapped in Spanish Serrano and drizzled (heavily) with red hot chili oil. So simple, yet so tasty and perfect. Well, a sprinkle of fresh parsley could help….but it’s too much work when staring at the shrimp.

But, it’s Monday. I actually just finished a chicken salad sandwich paired with an old glass of wine and a good amount of Netflix. This appetizer is worth dreaming about…for the weekend to come.


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