pie beta kappa

this blog is for the servantless but professional overachiever who is concerned with assignments, deadlines, and changing the world, and still wants to find the time to enjoy producing something wonderful to eat.

Category: breakfast

croque madame

DURING THE YEAR of my life that I spent in DC, I didn’t splurge much. I tried to keep meals at five dollars or less, without resorting to the peanut butter and jelly solution. I did a lot of the classic cooking-one-pasta-dish-to-be-dinner-for-the-week technique, I balanced a lot of home-brewed cups of coffee on very crowded metros, and I knew everything that was on sale at Safeway every day.  That said, there were a few occasions for loosening the purse strings: the Super Bowl and the world’s greatest seven-layer dip, my roommate’s birthday, and the weekends when M. would visit.  Those were the luxurious weekends when I got my fundamentals from Safeway but wandered the wonderland of Whole Foods for everything else.  On those weekends, I felt rich.

The very first time M. visited after I moved to DC is the one I remember most, gastronomically speaking. I puttered around the kitchen (as much as one can putter in a tiny apartment kitchen) while M. slept off his red eye flight and created a daunting Saturday brunch with cinnamon blueberry muffins, hash browns, and asparagus and leek frittata, all homemade, with mango blueberry fool for dessert. I couldn’t afford a test run, so I was as careful as I could be and prayed it would all work out. And it did, for the most part.  As much effort as I put  into it, though, my brain remembers the recipes but my senses don’t remember  the taste.

No, it was the one-dish Sunday morning breakfast that my taste buds remember from that weekend.  There are some cooks who find a very difficult meal with lots of preparation to taste better than if the same meal was made by another.  There are others for whom all that work somehow psychologically detracts from the meal, as though the labor has tired their taste buds.  I am neither here nor there. Good food is good food.  I live to eat.

And so, when I tell you that the croque madame that I made (and made, and made, and made) was just perfect, I am not telling you this from behind butter-tinted glasses.  Yes, I made it, but the making does not enhance the taste.  And yes, butter is a key ingredient.  You might not want to eat this every day, three times a day, for the rest of your life.  (Well, you might want to, but you shouldn’t.)  But taking a classic French grilled cheese (croque monsieur) and adding a roux-based cheese sauce and fried egg on top is absolutely brilliant for an occasional and delightful breakfast/brunch/lunch/dinner.

A few words of advice.  As the cook, you have the singular benefit of having all the ingredients at your disposal while you create.  If you have a recipe whose sauce recipe makes more than you will use, and a crusty loaf whose ends are not sandwich material, seize the day and do what any self-respecting cook would do.  Dip crusty bread in wonderful roux-based cheese sauce and nibble while you cook.  Consider it the home field advantage.

CROQUE MADAME, adapted from Gourmet

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese
small loaf freshly-baked artisan bread (recommended: sour batard)
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
8 slices black forest ham
4 large eggs

Preheat broiler, and lightly oil a shallow baking pan large enough to hold four sandwiches. (This will depend on the size of your loaf.)

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over moderately low heat. Add flour and whisk constantly for no more than three minutes. Add milk, bring to a boil, still whisking constantly.

Reduce heat, simmer for five minutes while whisking on occasion. Whisk in salt, pepper, nutmeg, and 1/2 cup shredded Gruyere. Stir until cheese is entirely melted. Remove from heat and cover.

Cut eight slices from the loaf approximately 1/2″ thick each. Spread mustard on four of the slices and top mustard-covered slice with two slices of black forest ham.

Spoon roux-based sauce on the remaining four slices of bread. Sprinkle approximately 1/4 cup cheese on top of each sauce-laden piece of bread. Invert mustard-and-ham slices onto sauce-and-cheese slices to form sandwiches.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet on moderately-low heat. Cook sandwiches in skillet, approximately three to four minutes per side, until cheese is melted and bread is golden-brown. Transfer sandwiches to baking pan.

Remove skillet from heat.

Spoon sauce on top of each sandwich. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top of sauce and place in oven inches from broiler for several minutes until sauce is bubbly and top cheese is melted.

Heat remaining tablespoon of butter in skillet over moderate heat and crack eggs into skillet. Season with salt and pepper. Fry until whites are set and yolks are still runny.

Place an egg on each sandwich and serve immediately.

maple banana pecan bread

TO CALL IT BREAD feels like cheating, somehow.  Sure, it has that quintessential loaf “shape.”  They contain those essential building blocks of baking: flour, sugar, salt, eggs, butter.  But banana bread is so thick, so moist, so sweet.  So fundamentally different from crusty baguettes and rounded sourdough and whorled rye.

And yet.  When I tried some standard banana bread recipes, it just didn’t quite hit the spot.  First I made a loaf of the Cook’s Illustrated The Best Banana Bread.  Then I took the recipe for Ina Garten’s Banana Crunch Muffins and poured two thirds of the recipe into a loaf pan and baked it for a lot longer than the muffins would have required.  And then I decided that, while the former may be the best banana bread I’ve ever eaten, I wanted something more.

My inspiration was butter pecan ice cream.  And the thing is, I didn’t even eat the ice cream recently for it to inspire me.  Its siren song was that strong.  And so I substituted toasted pecans for the walnuts, topped it with whole pecans, and coated the whole thing with a layer of maple syrup for added sweetness.  And it was better than the best banana bread.  It was maple banana pecan bread.

And then it was gone.

MAPLE BANANA PECAN BREAD, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Best Banana Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups toasted pecans, all but 8-10 coarsely chopped
3 large, very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs, beaten slightly
6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4-1/2 cup pure maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees after adjusting rack to middle of oven.

Butter bottom and sides of 9″x5″ loaf pan and set aside.

Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and chopped pecans in large bowl, mix until combined and pecans are coated.

Mix mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter, and vanilla in a medium bowl with a wooden spoon.  Lightly fold banana mixture into dry mixture until just combined.  Batter will look thick and chunky.

Scrape batter into prepared loaf pan.  Place remaining whole pecans on top of batter.  Drizzle maple syrup across top of batter until thinly coated.

Bake until loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, approximately 55 minutes depending on the temperament of your oven.  Cool in pan for a few minutes, then remove and cool on cooling rack.

Serve warm if possible.

savory spring vegetable and goat cheese tart

WITH AN ENTIRE EXTRA DAY in the weekend, Memorial Day seemed like a good morning to spend some quality time fixing brunch.  I had been eyeing the recipe for a savory spring vegetable and goat cheese tart in the May 2012 Bon Appetit since I first leafed through the issue, and thought, what better way to spend an hour or two in the kitchen?

Three hours and fifteen minutes later, I had a beautiful tart cooling on a wire rack.  I use the past tense, because it’s gone.  Deliciously, wholeheartedly, gone.

To be fair, the extra time was my fault.  Bon Appetit was trying to be helpful when it suggested store-bought pie pastry for the crust.  But, if you’re going to go all in, you go all in.  And I’m of the firm opinion that, while there are many times in life that it should be the first step, a food blog article should never begin, “Take the store-bought pastry and follow the instructions on the box.”

On that note, it turns out, pie pastry is incredibly simple to make.  With four simple ingredients (plus ice water), homemade pie pastry is… an hour and forty five minutes away.  It’s not particularly work-intensive.  But plan ahead.

BUTTERY PIE CRUST, from Bon Appetit, May 2012


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup ice water
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes


Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium-sized bowl.  Add the butter, and rub the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until it resembles coarse meal.

Add 1/4 cup ice water and work into the mixture until the dough comes together.  Gather the dough into a ball, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill for approximately one hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Roll out the dough to a 12 inch circle and transfer to a 10 inch diameter tart pan.  Press dough into the bottom and sides of the pan and trim excess dough.  Prick all over the bottom of the crust with a fork and chill again for 20 minutes.

Line the inside of the crust with aluminum foil or parchment paper and fill with dried beans or pie weights.  Bake crust until sides are set, then remove the foil/parchment paper and beans/weights and bake until bottom is set and a light golden color, approximately 18-20 minutes depending on your oven.  Cool on a wire rack.


I initially found the concept of pie weights a bit boggling.  It’s pastry crust, and it will eventually be laden with lots of delicious contents to keep it down.  But it turns out, blind-baking (when one cooks crust without the contents) serves several important purposes.  It can cook the crust when the crust will take longer to cook than its eventual contents.  It can cook the crust when the filling is an unbaked filling.  And it can prevent crust from becoming soggy, which is an experience that I think is worse in retrospect than it is in the eating.  The weights, or the beans, prevent the pastry from puffing before it gets its filling.

Also, regarding the use of the fingers in this recipe… I felt like a gleeful six-year-old playing with playdough.  And it works!  I was skeptical that rubbing the butter into the flour would result in a coarse meal-like mixture, but it really, truly does.

SAVORY SPRING VEGETABLE AND GOAT CHEESE TART, adapted very slightly from Bon Appetit May 2012


1 store-bought pie crust (or homemade, see above)
all-purpose flour (for surface)
2 bunches asparagus (approximately 1 1/4 lb.), trimmed
5 spring onions or 12 scallions
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
8 ounces soft fresh goat cheese
1/4 cup crème fraîche
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon
3 large eggs


If store-bought pie crust: Roll out pie crust to 12 inch circle, transfer to tart pan and follow instructions.  If homemade, see above.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Cut off top 1 1/2 inch of asparagus tips and reserve, then slice stalks into 1/4 inch rounds, discarding any hardened areas of the stalks.

If using spring onions, cut white bulbs from onions, then trim and quarter; if using scallions, do the same but halve, not quarter.  Slice pale green parts into 1/4 inch pieces.

Toss asparagus tips and sliced white onion bulbs in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.  Place in a single layer on the foil-covered baking sheet and roast, turning once, until the onions begin to brown and the asparagus is turning bright green and tender, approximately 12-15 minutes.  Transfer to a small bowl, and turn down the oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add sliced asparagus stalks and sliced pale green onion parts, and season with salt and pepper.  Saute, stirring often, until the onions are soft and the asparagus turns bright green and tender, approximately 6-8 minutes.  Let cool slightly in pan, then spread evenly over bottom of crust.

Whisk goat cheese, crème fraîche, heavy cream, chives, parsley, and tarragon in a medium bowl, then season with salt and pepper.  Whisk in eggs, then pour egg mixture over vegetables.  Distribute asparagus tips and sliced white onion bulbs evenly on top of egg mixture.

Bake tart until edges of the crust are golden brown and the filling is set, approximately 20-22 minutes.  Let cool for 20 minutes or up to 4 hours.

Remove sides of tart pan and serve warm or at room temperature.


Be very careful which parts of the asparagus and onion go in the oven and which go in the skillet.  I’ve broken the instructions up visually a bit more than Bon Appetit did.  I may or may not have gotten fairly far into the recipe before I realized I’d mixed up the two.  On a happy note, it didn’t have a negative effect on the taste!

So, if you have a couple hours to spare, I would highly recommend this recipe.  It actually lived up to its glossy food magazine promise, which is a feat unto itself.