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.

Healthy Goodness in Eagle Rock

Mushroom and Wild Rice Soup Four CafeBeyond the 5 freeway towards Pasadena lies a mystical land called Eagle Rock. Charming, hipster, and increasingly trendy, it’s a fun little place filled with lots of unique little boutiques and restaurants that I always remember I’m dying to try when I drive through. This past week I got to one of them – Four Cafe on Colorado Blvd, a fully organic restaurant boasting seasonal dishes made from exclusively local-bought ingredients. Structured like many restaurants are in Los Angeles these days,  you order at the counter, pay, then take a number and your food is brought to you. I’m not sure how I feel about this apparent fad in restaurant dining, but I guess I don’t have much choice. Besides, I’m a big fan of the earth-toned decor in this place. Rustic wooden tables, earthy wall treatments, plenty of outdoor seating, and an absurdly friendly girl behind the counter who had thorough knowledge of everything she was selling and was more than happy to chat us up about it – big points there. Nothing more attractive than a place that is proud about what they serve.

Now when one hears that a restaurant is fully organic and local, it can often lead to thoughts of boredom and salad and… vegans. But such is not the case at Four Cafe. Yes, there is plenty to choose from if you’re a vegan or gluten free, but they also have items like the short rib grilled cheese made with braised short ribs, gruyere, onion, and horseradish, served on foccacia. My friend Kevin got this and was not at all disappointed. A quick peruse of yelp and you can find huge praise for their fish burger, house-made with fresh mahi mahi served on a brioche bun. My mouth waters just typing this. But on the day I visited I was not super hungry, so I opted for a bowl of soup. For those of you trying to watch your weight, soup is always a good go-to in restaurants, particularly when they are house made and vegan like they are here. Supremely earthy and satisfying with just enough wild rice to add a pop of texture. It warms you up and makes you feel good about yourself for making such a good decision. In fact I felt so good that I opted for one of their vegan gingersnap cookies. Moist, spicy, and absolutely delicious. I deserved it. On my list of things to try are the fish burger (of course) and the roasted veggie root salad, which comes with a chili mint dressing. Also – brown butter apple pop tarts!!! Mmmm.  I have to say, I love when a restaurant like this isn’t afraid to have some indulgent food along side all their vegan local wholesome creations. It shows they aren’t pretentious – they really want to attract everyone, which is really important for a starving artist. Sometimes I want vegan soup, and sometimes I want an apple pop tart.

I think what gets me about these “take-a-number” kind of places is that at the end of the day I don’t feel like I’m saving any money by not having to tip a waiter. My bowl of soup and cookie came to $10.36. Worth it, yes, but I know if I had gotten a full salad or sandwich I would have been well over $15, which is not really a starving artist friendly kind of lunch. But in this case I’m ok with it because for one I know the ingredients are of the highest quality, and for another I am getting a meal that I can feel really good about eating. Let’s face it, eating out healthy is not cheap, but a place like Four Cafe is your best bet for getting a good healthy bang for your buck.

So, if you find yourself in Eagle Rock in the mood for a meal you can feel really good about (or a short rib grilled cheese!!), then definitely give Four Cafe a try.

Four Cafe
2122 1/2 Colorado Blvd.
Eagle Rock, CA 90041

Click here to read my review on YELP

Get Well Grilled Cheese

So even though I was ill, I still had to eat… a little… One perk to being sick is that you pretty much get carte blanche to eat whatever horrible, comforting foods you want. I have to confess I was kind of glad/excited that one of the side effects to one of the meds I was on was reduced appetite – is that bad? I remembered fondly the line from Emily Blunt’s character in The Devil Wears Prada: “I’m just a stomach flu away from my goal weight.” Oh good times. But at the end of the day I had to eat something and I wanted to be comforted. So, after my second trip to the pharmacist I went to the grocery store. I stocked up on orange juice, crackers, and Velveeta slices. I’m a firm believer that a true, classic grilled cheese needs American cheese. Normally it’s Kraft singles, but I love me some Velveeta and they were on sale. So there. I also happen to be a whole wheat bread kind of guy, though I know many would argue that white is the way to go. I always keep sprouted wheat bread in my fridge, so that’s what I used here. When I do a grilled cheese, there’s two things I like to add: thinly sliced tomato and a smear of spicy brown mustard. I tell you I cannot remember the last time I made grilled cheese. It was a glorious event. And of course I didn’t make just one. As you can see from the pic, I topped this one with a fried egg, another of my all time favorite comfort foods. Delish. And of course, you always fry in butter in a cast iron skillet.

Sorry this picture is so boring. Clearly my photography skills suffer when I’m ill, but luckily not my culinary prowess. What’s your go-to food when you’re sick?