Flaky Grilled Indulgence

Grilled Cheese Croissant

Perhaps the best and yet worst thing about working at the coffee shop is the proximity to amazing baked goods, particularly the croissants. In general try I avoid everything we sell at all costs… but some nights when we have them left over after we close and they’re going to be thrown out anyway, it can be hard to resist.

Recently I was feeling a bit indulgent and decided there must be something I could do with these delicious croissants at home. Something delicious, something that could go really well with tomato soup, something….. GRILLED CHEESE. But not just an ordinary grilled cheese. No no. I love the creamy salty goodness of Kraft American singles when I’m using whole wheat bread from the grocery store. But somehow slapping cheese product on a delicious, elegant croissant seemed somehow wrong. A grilled cheese with ham and egg made with smoked Gouda and Gruyere – now that is croissant worthy.

But where can a starving artist find such lavish ingredients at an affordable price? Why, Trader Joes of course! A pack of pre-sliced smoked Gouda: $2.99. A pack of minimally processed rosemary ham: $2.99. A block of Gruyere: $3.99. 1 dozen eggs: $1.99. Croissants: free. Spicy brown mustard: already in my fridge. Having enough for at least five sandwiches but making only two and eating the rest of the ingredients out of the fridge in the middle of the night: priceless.

Cast Iron Sandwich Press
There’s a sandwich under there!

Basically you make this like you would any other grilled cheese, with a few minor adjustments. Because croissants are like 90% butter, you only need to put a very thin layer in your pan to grill it. And the real key, as you’ve probably deduced from the picture, is that you need to weigh it down while it cooks. I happen to have two cast iron pans, one smaller than the other. Perfect. Just top it with a can or two and let it do its thing. You want to cook it for a bit longer than you think you need to make sure the middle gets hot, about 5 minutes per side. Watch your heat and make sure it doesn’t burn. For the sandwich itself I spread a thin layer of spicy brown mustard on the bread before layering the Gouda, ham, egg, and Gruyere. And speaking of the egg, you want to scramble two eggs and spread them out in a thin layer across your egg pan, almost like you were making a crepe. Put it on low heat and cover it until the whole thing is just set. Slide it onto a plate and cut it up into pieces that will fit onto your croissant. Lovely.

We all need to indulge from time to time. This was certainly mine. When I bought all that cheese and ham I also bought a bunch of vegetables to juice and make salads the next day. Balance.

Heirloom Tomato Soup: Cheap and Guiltless

Heirloom Tomato Soup

As the weather gets cooler I find myself craving warm comfort. I’ve said it before and ill say it again, soup is the starving artist’s secret weapon: low cost, high yield, mega satisfying. Lately I’ve been eating my stress, which is never good. This weekend I decided I needed to make something warm, satisfying, and completely guilt free. I had grilled cheese on the brain (more on this in another post) and so I naturally thought of tomato soup. I tell you I was tempted to buy a box of Trader Joe’s tomato soup. Like, whatever, I just want soup, I don’t care. And then I came to my senses and realized that for a few more dollars I could make a big pot of my own soup that would knock the pants off of TJ.

So here is what I purchased:

  • 1 package of TJ mini heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 24 oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 box vegetable stock or broth
  • 1 cup of chopped fresh basil

And here’s what I used from my own pantry:

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Kosher salt, crushed red pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Sugar
  • Tomato paste (in a tube in my fridge)
  • 2 tsp dried basil
Heirloom Tomato Soup
Heirloom Tomato Soup

All I did was get my big enamel soup pot over medium high heat with just enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Toss in the heirloom tomatoes and let them heat up while you dice half the red onion (be sure to stir them around occasionally). Once the tomatoes have been heated for 8-10 minutes, add the onion with a good pinch of kosher salt, a few pinches of crushed red pepper, and the dried basil. Once the onions soften, use a garlic press to press in two cloves of fresh garlic right into the pot. Then add a good squeeze (about two tbsp) of tomato paste. Stir and cook for one minute then add the two cans of tomatoes, about 2 cups of the vegetable broth, bay leaves, and about two teaspoons of sugar. Bring to a boil, then cover and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove the bay leaves, add the fresh basil, and use a stick blender to puree to desired consistency. Feeds 4-6 people easily. Delicious, healthy, and totally homemade.

Serving suggestions/variations:

  • Adding a can of fire roasted tomatoes will add a new dimension of flavor to your soup
  • Using diced carrots along with the onions will contribute to sweetness and add more flavor
  • Try topping your bowl with some sliced avocado. Or, if you’re feeling indulgent, some grated gruyere cheese. Mmmmmm.

One Pot Pantry Raid Pasta

Pantry Raid Pasta

Last night I had one of those nights where I didn’t really want to go out, nor did I want to buy more groceries, nor did I particularly care to be overly healthy. It was a night where the starving artist looks at what he has and figures something out: pantry raid.

As I stared forlornly at my cabinets I came across a ziplock bag full of bow tie pasta that had been sitting in there for roughly two years. I rarely eat pasta anymore, hence why it has been kicking around for so long. Of course I love it, but it’s just too easy. Too easy to cook an entire pound and eat all of it in one sitting. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. I decided it was time – I was simply in the mood. And it turns out there was just enough pasta for one (three) servings. I was put even more in the mood when I realized I had grated Parmesan in my fridge. Destiny.

Here’s how it went. Boil 2 cups of pasta in heavily salted water according to package directions. I just used my two quart saucepan with lid. While the water heats up, use a strainer to rinse two cups of frozen peas under very hot tap water until they soften. Set the strainer over a bowl to let the peas dry off while the water boils. When the pasta is cooked, strain thoroughly, do not rinse, and return back to the hot pot you just boiled it in. Add two tablespoons of butter and two tablespoons of olive oil to the hot pasta. Stir to melt the butter. Using a garlic press, mince one or two cloves of garlic directly into the pot along with the peas, 1 cup of grated Parmesan, two teaspoons of Italian seasoning, and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Stir to combine all ingredients. Add more cheese, butter, and pepper to taste. Devour immediately directly from the pot using the wooden spoon you used to stir the boiling pasta. Starving artist class.

There are of course 10000 variations you could do for this dish. And the best part is that I made it entirely from ingredients that were already in my kitchen. If you’re not in the habit of keeping frozen peas in your freezer, you should start. It is one of my top go-tos when making meals on the fly. And if you happen to have leftover chicken or sausage in your fridge that would send this quick humble little dish right over the top. And for you heat-lovers, try some crushed red pepper flakes mmmmm.

Raid your pantry. Tell me what you find.

Smoked Salmon Snow Peas

Smokes Salmon Snow Peas

Have I ever mentioned how much I love Trader Joe’s? Roughly 3000 times you say? Well, brace yourself, here’s yet another reason why TJ’s is my favorite starving artist go-to. I love me some smoked salmon. In heaven I will eat a toasted bagel with cream cheese and lox every single day of eternity. Unfortunately, back in the mortal realm, smoked salmon is one of those pricey pay day items that requires a paycheck and some serious convincing. At least that’s what I thought until I discovered Trader Joe’s smoked sockeye salmon in a single pack for $4.99. At around 100 calories for the entire pack, it’s small enough to eat as the star of one’s dinner, but big enough that you could stretch it out for a tray of appetizers for a few friends.

For me I would just eat it straight from the package for an afternoon snack or throw it into some scrambled eggs for a light and protein-filled dinner. As an appetizer my default would be to reach for the Carr’s table water crackers, Philadelphia cream cheese, and capers… but I am far more conscious of my health these days and am always looking for ways to snack without too much danger (i.e. dairy and wheat). So, when I discovered that I had a bag of snow peas (also from TJ’s) in my fridge I thought, yes: crunch, flavor, nutrition, zero guilt, done. I simply took one or two peas and wrapped them in one of the thinly sliced pieces of fish. Cheap elegance. Now of course you very well could smear some cream cheese on these bad boys and no one would be upset. Or you could skip the cream cheese and dip them into soy sauce just like sushi…. or both…. mmmm….. And the good news is if you have more than a few friends to feed, it’s only $5 to buy a second pack. How could you go wrong? This is all yet more evidence that Trader Joe’s is likely a front for human trafficking or giant drug empire, but it’s so fantastic and affordable that we’re all just not questioning it.

Any other quick healthy snack ideas out there?

**Disclaimer: TJ’s is notorious for randomly not having items for indiscriminate spans of time (at least at the location near me). I’ve definitely gone for weeks without seeing the single, but it always comes back. The price may also go as high as $5.99 – still a bargain in my book.

The Blonde Cuban

Blonde Cuban

So it’s about time I tell you about my new job…. my new job that I’ve had for almost 4 months. Yes, your favorite starving artist has done the cliche starving artist thing and got a night job working as a barista at a local hipster coffee hang known as the Bourgeois Pig. I have to say, I really lucked out. The shop is literally on the same block as my apartment. I walk 20 seconds to the end of my street and I’m at work. I make people coffee, sass them up, get some laughs, and generally have a great time while making some extra cash. I’ve even met a few producers and film makers – hot damn. It really is the perfect job both for my life (bank account) and my personality. And of course, I get hands on experience in a whole new culinary realm.

Funnily enough I’ve never been a big coffee drinker, particularly not espresso (we are exclusively and espresso bar btw). Generally it’s too intense and bitter for me, but I do love things that TASTE like coffee… like ice cream… and ice cream…. It should come as no surprise that a few weeks in I began to experiment with my own concoctions. The single life-changing discovery that I owe to the Pig is the Cuban Coffee – a shot of espresso that is made with cinnamon and raw sugar layered into the actual espresso. It’s divine. But, being the coffee wuss that I am, I needed to make it into a latte to really be able to enjoy it. Thus, my signature drink was born: the Blonde Cuban. It’s an iced double shot Cuban latte with two pumps of vanilla made with almond milk. Refreshing, a little sweet, with that essence of cinnamon running through. Yum. Stop on by and I’ll make you one. More to come I’m sure…