Don’t forget dessert!
Brownies and bars are potluck staples for good reason: They’re quick, easy and delicious. Enjoy these two favorites.
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup walnuts, coarse chopped (optional)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-by-8-inch metal baking pan. With an electric mixer or whisk, beat the cocoa, sugar, vanilla, salt and hot melted butter for several minutes. In a wide but small bowl, whisk one egg at a time until it falls from the raised whisk like a ribbon. Beat each whisked egg into the batter for 1 to 2 minutes before adding the second egg. Fold in the flour using a broad spatula until just mixed. Gently fold in the nuts. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is slightly crusted and just a little of the batter sticks to a toothpick inserted in the center. Let the brownies cool completely, if you can, before cutting.
Perfectly portioned, these brownies are awesome frozen, brought to room temperature or warmed in the microwave.
RECIPE COURTESY OF CHEF LIBBY MILLS
1 cup butter
2 cups flour
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
2 cups sugar
¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1/3 cup lemon juice
Mix together first three ingredients. Press into 9-by-11-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until golden brown around edges. Cool. Mix together remaining ingredients and pour over baked shell. Bake the whole thing for 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Top will puff and then fall. Cool. Cut into squares. Dust with powdered sugar. Keep in refrigerator.
RECIPE COURTESY OF KATHY’S JUST DESSERTS
In France, croque monsieurs are served in cafes and bars as a snack. Every food seems to taste better in its French derivation and these grilled ham and cheese sandwiches are no exception. The difference is a rich bechamel, a white sauce made from a roux base (a cooked butter-and-flour paste) and flavored with nutmeg. I add fresh lemon, too.
You can serve this recipe, of course, as whole sandwiches for lunch, brunch or dinner. Or you can cut the sandwiches in quarters or sixths and serve them as appetizers, speared with toothpicks. However you choose to serve them, you’ll be transported to France with every mouthwatering bite.
Ham and Gruyere Croque Monsieur
Makes 6 large or 36 appetizer-size sandwiches
12 slices sourdough sandwich bread, crusts removed
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon chives, minced, plus more chives to garnish
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1½ cups (8 ounces) shredded Gruyere cheese
6 slices good quality deli ham, cut in quarters
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Place bread sliced on a sheet pan and toast in the oven for about 3 minutes to dry out the bread (or simply leave the bread out the night before so the slices dry out).
For the bechamel: In a medium saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter. Stir in the flour, until completely blended. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk until smooth. Bring the sauce to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until sauce thickens and no floury taste remains, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let the sauce cool slightly, stirring occasionally. Add chives, nutmeg, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper and let the sauce cool completely.
Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees.
Place about 3 tablespoons of shredded cheese on each piece of bread, top with a slice of ham, add another 3 tablespoons of cheese and then top with a second piece of bread.
In a large skillet, melt about 2 tablespoons of the butter over moderate heat. Cook the sandwiches, turning once, until browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer sandwiches to a sheet pan, leaving a little space between each one. Repeat with the remaining sandwiches, using 2 tablespoons of butter per batch. If making appetizer portions, cut each sandwich into 6 little square or rectangular sandwiches.
Top with bechamel, using 1-2 tablespoons of sauce for little sandwiches or 3-4 for larger sandwiches. Top with remaining cheese and bake until bubbling, 5 to 7 minutes. Garnish with a crisscross of chives and serve, speared with toothpicks.
Bibby Gignilliat is the founder of Parties That Cook, a San Francisco-based culinary event company; www.PartiesThatCook.com.