Cheesy Sloppy Joe’s, Another Fun Summer Dish

Cheesy Sloppy Joe's

A few weeks ago, I happened to notice one of these cheesy Sloppy Joe’s recipes on a blog somewhere and of course, I didn’t save it and I should have. Needless to say, it’s been hanging around in my brain since. So a few days ago, I decided to make some from scratch and see if I could pull them off. Turns out it was pretty easy and the results were way better than I expected. I may have to do these more often, for a quick dinner or lunch.

If you look at the recipe, you’ll notice that there are no tomatoes and only a little ketchup and a bit of beef broth. I tried this with the tomatoes and the cheese really get’s lost, so my advice is to stick with the beef broth, which really makes the cheese stand out. I also used shredded sharp cheddar cheese (which I grated myself) and that was perfect, but I may want to try some other cheeses in the future, just to see what happens.



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Thanksgiving Mac and Cheese

thanksgiving mac and cheese

Thanksgiving mac and cheese is one of the best after holiday dinners or side plates you can get to the table in a reasonable hurry and with a ton of smiles on the faces of those about to eat.

The thing about mac and cheese is that it’s good to start with. Done right it’s creamy, with just enough stick-to-it-ness to make a real meal out of it, if you want to. Add in some leftover Thanksgiving turkey and you’ve got a real winner. And there is really no trick here, guys. Add in the turkey with just a little mayo, combine with the mac and the cheese — I use a smoked Gouda as well as some sharp cheddar (roughly about half and half) and you’re pretty much done. 

Of course, there are plenty of other things you can do, as well, but be careful. Sometimes doing too much really can spoil a good dish. And believe me, I know how that happens.


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Cheesy Broccoli Soup

cheesy broccoli soup

I told you we’d be having a lot of soup, the past few weeks and yes, we’re still at it. This time around it’s a very cheesy broccoli soup, and this is one of my all time favorites.  It’s got plenty of broccoli and cheese, of course, but it also, strangely, doesn’t need much of the way in seasoning. It’s one of those soups that just, plain, stands for itself.

They key, of course, is the cheese. I like using Gouda and sharp cheddar, which gives a nice lovely flavor without overwhelming the broccoli, but you can indeed use all cheddar or just about anything that seems to fit your mood on a given day. And apart from the little bit of bay leaves (and the celery and carrots), there is no other seasoning required for this soup. That’s because good fresh broccoli provides really all the flavor you could ask for. 

Honestly, guys, THIS is the soup you’ve been waiting for.


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Twice Fried Fries with Bacon and Cheese

twice fried fries

How do you make a great french fry? I’m gonna guess, despite the simplicity in frying potatoes, that there are plenty of answers to that question, but I’m gonna offer up my best guess — it’s twice fried fries. I know, probably about half of you out there already knew that, and the rest are using frozen fries (I’ll come back to those) or good old, once fried fries.

If you’re just trying to figure out why twice fried fries works, there’s a great piece at Serious Eats, which explains it pretty well. But I happen to like a story told to me by a French colleague, in which a chef on a train was trying to make some potatoes, somehow lost power and then had to restart them. What he found was that the new potatoes were more interesting and far more crunchy, which became the eventual story for french fries, as well. 

And then there are frozen fries, many — or some of them, anyway — have already been fried even before you get them. At least the good ones do that. 

The recipe below is for my twice fried fries done with a nice hot cheddar cheese and a pile of bacon bits. In the best world, I could just live on these things year round. They are very good and a perfect example of why twice fried fries really does work. They are just gooey with tons of bacon bits. I love them.


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Still More Small Thanksgiving — Brussels Sprouts Gratin

Brussels Sprouts Gratin

One of the difficult things about our small-scale Thanksgiving is that I want to offer a variety of side dishes that are both seasonal or local, but can work well reheated among the inevitable leftovers. One of my favorites for that role is this Brussels sprouts gratin, which combines the mild cabbage-like flavors of the sprouts with the nutty flavors of Compte or Gruyère  and Parmesan cheeses and a little crunch from panko bread crumbs. If you’re like me, and hate the idea of dumping a can of mushroom soup on some green beans, you’ll almost certainly enjoy this one.

The only requirements for this side dish are good fresh sprouts (get them from a farmer’s market if you can still do that) and good quality cheese. Compte is my choice, when I can get it. If you don’t want to click the link, the scoop is that only the best cheese, from a particular region in France, and made from the milk of a particular kind of cow can be called Compte. Cheese that doesn’t meet the strict standards is called Gruyère. What I find interesting is that a small amount of Parmesan actually makes both cheeses taste a little better. Go figure. 


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Croque Monsieur — The French Bistro Sandwich

Croque Monsieur

Had it been invented here in the U.S., the croque monsieuer would be considered “bar food,” but since it was created in one of the many bistros in Paris sometime around the turn of the 20th century, the name is much fancier. This version is slightly modified from the French classic to take advantage of some wonderful ingredients I happened to come across.

The ham came first. The traditional croque monsieur would use boiled ham, much like the ham you can get at just about any deli in any supermarket. Just a short drive from where I live, however, is Virginia ham country, and so I sometimes get my hands on some excellent thin-sliced lightly smoked country ham from Surry Farms. If you really like ham and you want a real treat, you can order it online. You’re not likely to find anything better.

Then the cheese. In Paris, it would be gruyere or ementhaler, or maybe Compte for this sandwich, but I also had on hand some Balsamic Bellavitano from Wisconsin’s Sartori Cheese, so in the interests of making this an all-American version of croque monsieur, I figured I’d give it a shot. Good choice, it turns out. It complimented the ham well and wasn’t overpowered by the rich bechamel.

Finally the bread. The classic version uses slightly sweet bread called pan de mie, which resembles brioche. If you can get your hands on brioche, great. I’ve found that challah works well and is close to the French pan de mie. Some versions of this sandwich call for using what Americans call French toast — bread dipped in whipped eggs and fried crisp. Feel free to do that if you’re making this recipe. Personally, I like the crunch of grilled bread.

If you’re not familiar with French sauces, bechamel is one of the so-called mother sauces. It’s just a white roux of flour and butter, with some milk whisked into it, flavored with a bay leaf and a bt of nutmeg, salt and pepper. For this sandwich, I also add a tablespoon of Dijon mustard. I’ve included a small-batch recipe for the sauce that makes enough for two or three sandwiches.

Croque monsieur is perfect for a nice lunch or even better as part of a more elaborate brunch. It pairs well with a rich chardonnay.

Croque Monsieur
Had it been invented here in the U.S., the croque monsieuer would be considered "bar food," but since it was created in one of the many bistros in Paris sometime around the turn of the 20th century, the name is much fancier. This version is slightly modified from the French classic to take advantage of some wonderful ingredients I happened to come across.
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  1. Thin-sliced smoked Virginia ham (or boiled ham from the deli), enough for 2-4 sandwiches.
  2. Gruyere, Ementhaler, or Sartori Balsamic Bellavitano, enough slices to cover the ham on the sandwiches plus 1/4 cup grated for each sandwich.
  3. Two slices soft-crust slightly sweet bread such as brioche or challah per sandwich
Small Batch Bechamel
  1. 2 Tbsp. butter
  2. 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  3. 1 cup milk at room temperature
  4. 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  5. 1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
  6. 1 bay leaf
  1. Prepare the bechamel by melting the butter in a small saucepan, and when it has clarified and just begins to bubble, add the flour all at once. Stir and cook for several minutes, until the roux is nearly dry. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and then continue to cook until the sauce is thick and creamy. Stir in the nutmeg, mustard and bay leaf and cook for 2-3 minutes more. Set aside.
  2. Butter all sides of the bread slices and assemble the sandwiches with the ham and sliced cheese. Grill on a hot griddle until nicely browned and cheese begins to melt, turning once. Place the sandwiches on a non-stick cookie sheet or broiler pan.
  3. Top each sandwich with enough bechamel to just reach the edges and sprinkle 1/4 cup grated cheese on each sandwich. Run under a preheated broiler until the sauce on top is bubbling and browned.
  4. Serve immediately.
Discovery Cooking
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Croque Frere

croque frere

For some reason, I was craving a sandwich the other day while researching some egg recipe ideas that were bouncing around in the back of my head. That’s when I stumbled on a French-themed brunch sandwich dubbed croque mademoiselle. A quick tour around the net turned up a croque monsieur, and a croque madame, too. These sandwiches all had a couple of things in common: grilled bread, ham, some kind of cheese and an egg on top. So for fun, I decided to make my own version, which has been dubbed croque Frere, in honor of my little brother, who has a birthday coming up shortly. 

The idea was to use what I happened to have in the fridge, which consisted of some leftover honey-glazed ham, a little compte cheese, and a partial container of crème fraîche. Rather than use bread, I opted for breakfast biscuits I’d made that morning, just because they were handy. 

The sandwiches were fantastic and will likely be a goto for late breakfasts and lunches around the house. The cheese sauce, which was inspired by the croque mademoiselle featured in my favorite egg cookbook, Eggs on Top, was the star. The comte cheese, which subbed for the Gruyère in the original, gave the sauce some nutty flavor that worked very well with the tang of Dijon and shallots. And those did well with the sweetness of the ham. 

Give this one a shot. It’s worth the little bit of effort.

Croque Frere
Croque frere is a take on the French sandwiches that feature various combinations of bread, ham, cheese and are topped with a fried egg.
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  1. For each sandwich, a large biscuit (about 3 inches across), sliced
  2. Sliced, baked ham (honey glazed is best)
  3. 3 Tbsp. creme fraiche (or sour cream)
  4. 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  5. 1 Tbsp. minced shallots
  6. 1/2 to 1 cup grated Compte cheese (Gruyere or even Parmesan will work, too)
  7. Softened butter
  8. Salt and pepper to taste
  9. A fried egg (over easy)
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Generously butter the biscuits and grill them on a griddle until the surface is browned and crunchy. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, stir together the creme fraiche, mustard, shallots and grated cheese. If it's too thick, thin with a little milk.
  4. On a baking sheet, place the ham on the bottom biscuit slice, top with the cheese sauce and the biscuit top. Bake for 2-3 minutes, or until the cheese sauce is hot and bubbly.
  5. Place the sandwich on a warm plate, top with the fried egg and serve immediately.
Discovery Cooking
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