The Monte Cristo

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Photo Credit: Jocelyn & Cathy at FoodishFetish, 2014.

 

The “Monte Cristo” is thought to be a tribute to the French novel, “The Count of Monte Christo” by Alexander Dumas, and as such, the sandwich’s name suggests its French origins.

Basically, a Monte Cristo is a fried ham and cheese sandwich, which can be considered a variation of the French croque-monsieur. Recipes for the sandwich abound, with regional variations.

In the Southern United States, versions of the Monte Cristo calls for dipping it in egg and then heavy breading, like corn flakes, rice cereal or bread crumbs. The egg battered sandwich is then deep fried, resulting in an all-over very crusty exterior. ANd because everything is not for every body, as my Grand would say, most people prefer the more traditional grilled sandwich, as it is lower in fat than its deep fried versions.

 

Some Monte Cristo sandwiches also vary ingredients, and may include baked chicken, turkey as well as ham and Swiss, or may add several types of cheeses. Some restaurants combine the traditional triple-decker club sandwich of turkey, ham or bacon, and Swiss, dip in it egg and present this as a Monte Cristo. This is not the traditional sandwich, but many argue that it is an improvement. In some areas of the contiguous United States, it is served grilled; in other regions, it served as  an open sandwich with only the bread battered and the assembled sandwich heated slightly under a grill or broiler. A finished Monte Cristo tends to be topped with a small amount of powdered sugar and is most traditionally served with raspberry or strawberry jam. In some cases, maple syrup is served in place of the jam. Though many think the combination unusual, the flavors actually seem to work well together, accounting for its continued popularity for modern diners of today.

 

 

brown derby cookbookIn the 1930s–1960s, American cookbooks had recipes for this sandwich under such names as “French Sandwich”, “Toasted Ham Sandwich”, and “French Toasted Cheese “. The first know written recipe was found in the 1949 cookbook published by the Brown Derby Restaurant in Los Angeles, California. Although it may be speculated that the sandwich had been previously served at several other Los Angeles restaurants, there is no definitive evidence on its precise origins or who really invented the sandwich.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brown_Derby_on_Wilshire_entrance_1956Opened in 1926, the original restaurant at 3427 Wilshire Boulevard was the first and most famous of these distinctive eateries, shaped like a man’s derby hat, an iconic image that became synonymous with the Golden Age of Hollywood. Whimsical architecture was popular at the time, and the restaurant was designed to catch the eye of passing motorists. The Brown Derby name originated from a Malverne, New York-based restaurant of the same name that had been a popular hang-out for vaudevillians in the 1920s. The Los Angeles based resturant was founded by Wilson Mizner as a small cafe, across the street from the popular Hollywood hot spot the Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel. Wilson was the front man; Herbert K. Somborn, who was a former husband of film star Gloria Swanson, owned the property and movie mogul Jack L. Warner put up the money for the initial investment of the restaurant. Wilson Mizner sat in booth 50 almost every day.

The cafe was successful enough to warrant building a second branch later. Soon after its opening, the Brown Derby chain was started by Robert H. Cobb and Herbert K. Somborn. The original, derby-shaped building was moved in 1937 to 3377 Wilshire Boulevard at the northeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Alexandria Avenue, about a block from its previous location and directly across the street from the Ambassador Hotel.

 

 

brown derby menuOver the years, the sandwich gained great popularity in the United States in the 1960s, when the Blue Bayou restaurant in Disneyland began serving it on a regular basis. Disneyland’s version deep fried the sandwich, which some people feel results in an overly greasy result.

In September 1980, the original Brown Derby restaurant closed without warning Local preservationists unsuccessfully tried to stop the building from being bulldozed. Unfortunately, the demolition was completed in November and replaced by a parking lot. It should be noted that a Disney-backed Brown Derby national franchising program revived the brand in the 21st century and brought the Monte Cristo sandwich back to the public.

The Monte Cristo has appeared on various menus, including the Cheesecake Factory and Denny’s. I really love this old-time classic version listed here. It is the prefect sandwich for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. Traditionally served with a side of jam or jelly, to make this a savory treat you can add a dab of Dijon mustard, if you like. Although this sandwich can be quartered and deep fried separately, many of the earliest recipes like this one adapted from the Brown Derby Cookbook, calls for frying the sandwich in a skillet, much like French Toast.

 

 

Serves 2

Ingredients:
2 eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
Salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, taste
5 tablespoons butter, softened
6 pieces thinly sliced white bread
4 thin slices cooked turkey
4 thin slices cooked ham
4 thin slices Swiss cheese or Gruyere Cheese
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Strawberry Jam, Raspberry Jam or Red currant jelly, for dipping

 

Directions:
To make the egg batter, lightly beat eggs and milk in a shallow bowl. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

For each sandwich, lightly butter 3 slices of bread on both sides. Place 2 slices of turkey and 2 of ham between 2 slices of bread. Top with 2 slices of cheese and add last slice of bread.

Trim crusts, secure with toothpicks, and cut in half on the diagonal.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat.

Dip sandwich halves, top and bottom, in the egf batter. When butter foams, place sandwiches in skillet and fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to skillet, turn sandwiches, and fry for 2 minutes more.

Transfer to plates, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, and serve with jam or jelly.

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Shrimp Risotto

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Serves 4

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons butter, divided
½-¾ pound shrimp, uncooked, peeled and deveined
½ cup diced onion
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
¼ cup frozen artichoke hearts, drained and finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
1 cup Arborio rice
½ cup dry Chardonnay
5 ½ cups chicken stock
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Kosher salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
Fresh  Italian flat leaf parsley leaves, for garnish

Directions:
Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Toss in shrimp and cook until pink. When done, remove and set aside.

Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in the same pan over moderate heat, then cook the onion, bell pepper and artichokes until translucent. Add the salt and white pepper. Pour in the rice, stirring to coat it with oil.

Pour the wine into the pan and turn the heat up to moderate-high, stirring gently to allow the rice to absorb the wine. After the wine evaporates, add stock in ½ cup increments and simmer while stirring, again until the liquid is nearly absorbed. Repeat for 15 minutes until rice is al dente, then remove pan from heat.

Stir in Parmesan, remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve,  place a 2 inch, greased ring mold in the center of the plate. Add risotto and smooth out the top with an off set knife. Remove the ring mold and place two interlocking shrimp onto of the risotto timbale. Garnish with a single parsley leaf.


Feta Stuffed Pork Chops

 

This recipe makes for pork chops that a are flavorful, juicy, and tender. This oven-baked technique will ensure that your pork has a delicious crust and a perfectly cooked interior. Just follow these simple tips below and prepare yourself to reconsider everything you know about this weeknight-friendly cut. The recipe follows.

Tips on Cooking the Perfect Pork Chops

1. Buy the pork chops bone-in and thick.
Typically, bone-in pork chops are thicker than those with the bone removed. A thin pork chop is difficult to cook perfectly with this method, because of the hard sear you give both sides before it goes in the oven. If a chop is too thin, by the time you’ve seared both sides, the thing is practically overcooked! Choosing a thick chop allows you to get a nice golden sear on both sides and a perfectly cooked tender center.

2. Get your skillet HOT.
The goal of this initial sear is to get a golden, crisp crust on your chop without really cooking the center. I find that using a cast iron skillet is the best for cooking pork chops. A hot skillet is so CRUCIAL. Let your pork chops cook a couple minutes undisturbed, then take a peek and see how that golden crust is forming. When you are pleased with the desired golden sear, flip the chops over and brown them again, to get golden on the other side.

3. Brush with butter.
This classic restaurant trick—basting with butter while cooking—makes a great dish worthy f five stars. However, if you are trying to keep it healthy and watch the cholesterol, this step isn’t required, but it will definitely make the pork chops extremely delicious though. For the recipe below, you will be brushing a garlicky rosemary butter on the chops.

4. Use a meat thermometer.
Yes, many parofessional and home cooks will say that you will known the meat is done by instinct, but let’s be real, that takes years of experience by being the kitchen. But if you are not familiar with the “doneness” of your proteins, using a meat thermometer will make your life just a tad bit easier. I know, I know. This is the extra step that often seems fussy, but trust me, it’s worth it. Using a meat thermometer takes the guess work out of cooking pork chops, and that’s “a good thing.” The temperature you pull your chops at is totally up to you, but here’s a quick guide to choosing the right temperature for your taste. As always, give the meat some time to rest before digging in. Five to ten minutes should do the trick.

  1. 120°-130° F: This is comfortably at medium rare. Warning! You will see pink, and that’s is perfectly fine (See the USDA tips for cooking pork). The pork chop will be rosy-pink on the inside and super juicy.
  2. 130°-140° F: For those who are not comfortable with pink pork, this might be the right temperature zone for you. There will be a touch of pink in the center, but for the most part the flesh will be white. The meat will still be nice and juicy.
  3. 140°-145° F: No pink here! The meat will be completely white all the way through. Pork chops at this temperature will still have the potential to be juicy, just be sure to pull them from the oven on the lower end of this spectrum, as the chops will continue to cook even after they’re out of the oven. Anything past 145° F is the danger DRY zone, so keep a close watch.

Other than that, good luck and happy eating!

Serves 4

Ingredients:
For the Feta Cheese Filling:
3 tablespoons feta cheese (crumbled)
2/3 cup diced sun dried tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, minced
1 teaspoon olive oil

Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, taste

For the Pork Chops:
4 bone-in pork loin chops
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, taste

For the Glaze:
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375° F.

Mix feta cheese, tomatoes, parsley and olive oil in a bowl. Use the tip of a sharp boning or paring knife to cut a 3-inch slit in the side of each pork chop, 2 inches deep and 1/4-inch away from the bone, to make a pocket for stuffing. Stuff pork chops with feta cheese filling and secure with toothpicks.

Season pork chops with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl mix together butter, rosemary, and garlic. Set aside.

In cast iron or oven safe skillet over medium-high heat, heat olive oil then add pork chops. Sear until golden, 4 minutes, flip and cook 4 minutes more. Brush pork chops generously with garlic butter.

Place the skillet in oven and cook until cooked through, 10-12 minutes. Serve with more garlic butter, if desired.

pork-chop-verticalPhoto Credit: Ethan Calabrese, 2018.

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