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Home cooking: Movies as a Muse

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Posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 9:30 am

Several weeks ago I, like so many unfortunate others, was laid up with the flu. The sole advantage of this was that it gave me time to vegetate with Netflix.

One of the movies I decided to watch was Tortilla Soup. Apart from being a charming story, what really won me over was the food in the movie. The lead character, played by Hector Elizondo, is a chef, and the scenes featuring the food prep and presentation were inspiring. What piqued my interest was a child's request for "Porcupine Cookies." I found a recipe and was happy to find the cookies are gluten free. A few modifications and it was a perfect choice to make and share with a friends (including one on a gluten-free diet) visiting a week later.

A more recent movie weaving food through the plot was It's Complicated. I didn't run out to make lavender ice cream or chocolate croissants afterwards. I did want to move to Santa Barbara and open a shop like Meryl Streep's character owned (come to think of it, I wouldn't mind her house and garden as well). The food item that intrigued me was Croque Monsieur. Turns out it's a fancy French ham and cheese sandwich with Bechamel Sauce - add a fried egg on top of it and you have Croque Madame. If you want to try it without going through the effort of making it, Hillside Spot here in Ahwatukee Foothills offers it on their breakfast menu. We've made it at home several times now, sometimes modifying a bit on the ingredients to suit the kids' tastes.

I don't really watch movies for the food, but it's a happy coincidence to walk away from one thinking: "I have to make that."

Porcupine Cookies

1 cup chopped pecans

1 Tablespoon butter, melted

2 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup chopped dried apricots

1/2 cup semisweet mini-chocolate chips

7-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Toss the pecans in the melted butter until coated. Spread on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake 10 minutes. Cool. Once pecans are cool, combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix until well combined and moist. Spoon batter onto parchment lined cookie sheet and lightly flatten into circles. Bake 10 minutes or until coconut turns a pale golden color. Be careful not to over-brown. Cool on a rack.

Croque Monsieur (four sandwiches)

2 Tablespoons butter

2 Tablespoons flour

1 1/2 cups milk

A pinch each of salt, freshly ground pepper, nutmeg (optional)

6 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated

1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Extra butter, softened

8 slices of French or Italian loaf bread (I like Trader Joe's Tuscan Pane)

12 ounces of thin sliced black forest ham

Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Béchamel sauce: Melt butter in a small saucepan on medium/low heat until it just starts to bubble. Add the flour and cook, stirring until smooth, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking continuously. Cook until thick. Remove from heat. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in the Parmesan and 1/4 cup of the grated Gruyère until well blended. Set aside.

Lightly butter bread. Lay out the bread slices on a baking sheet and lightly toast in the oven, a few minutes for each side. Spread mustard on half of the toasted bread slices. Add the sliced ham and layer the remaining Gruyère cheese over the ham. Top with the other toasted bread slices. Spoon the béchamel sauce on top of the sandwiches. Sprinkle with the remaining Gruyère cheese. Place on a broiling pan. Bake in the oven for 5 minutes, then turn on the broiler and broil for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, until the cheese topping is bubbly and lightly browned. If a Croque Madame is desired, top each sandwich with a fried egg.

Ahwatukee Foothills resident Lori Rossi began collecting recipes at age 14, but her real love affair with cooking started after picking up a December 1989 Bon Appetit magazine. Today, she shares her love of the kitchen with her two kids, Nathan, 11, and Nicole, 8. If you'd like to get in touch with Lori with a question or idea, e-mail her at azlrossi@gmail.com.

 

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