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.

Pay Day Ahi

Ahi Avocado SandwichI know it’s common practice to associate “starving artist” with poverty. And rightfully so – I mean, they call it “starving” for a reason. This is no different for me, though, as you can see in this blog I am never *really* starving. And that’s because much of my life is spent being creatively frugal with what I find. But one of the things I love most about being a starving artist is that, every now and then, all the hard work and struggle pay off. The stars align, the paychecks roll in, and suddenly you find yourself with a bit of extra cash to spend. It’s a wonderful feeling. What’s even more wonderful is when you have enough cash to catch up on your bills and still have a bit left over to treat yourself to some divine cuisine.

July has found me in this very position and true to form, I have wasted no time in making a higher end food investment. Those of you who are loyal readers should be not at all surprised to find that it is seafood. One of my best friends, whether I’m rich or poor, is Costco, and one of the things that I’ve always looked longingly at is their fresh seafood counter. A bargain, yes, but still an initial investment beyond my normal budget… until a few days ago. I made two purchases. A beautiful large whole filet of wild caught sockeye salmon for $35. And a pack of two sizable fresh wild ahi tuna steaks for $20. Honestly, considering the purchase, these prices are a steal. Hefty, but not so much that I’m going to be totally broke and have nothing to do with it. And, what’s better, because there is so much, that means I have lots more to play with. Bargain AND multitasker? The starving artist’s dream.

For this post I’m focusing on the ahi. First, because I saw no point in freezing this gorgeous fish for later use, I decided instead to cook it right away and use it over the next few days in various ways. Cooking ahi is best kept simple – super super high heat, brush with a thin layer of olive oil, sear for two minutes on each side, done. No seasoning  (that comes later), no fuss, nice rare tuna with an even sear layer on all sides. Gorgeous.

Tonight I was inspired to make a sandwich. It turned out to be one of the best things ever created. The key? Simplicity. Above you see the fruits of my labor: seared ahi tuna sandwich with avocado and wasabi spread. Are you freaking out? You should be. Here’s the run down.

  • 2 slices of toasted Ezekiel bread (it’s flourless and low glycemic – try it)
  • 3 slices of ahi, cut against the grain, seasoned with kosher salt
  • sliced avocado, seasoned with kosher salt
  • 4-6 paper thin slices of cucumber (shave it with your vegetable peeler or use a food processor)
  • wasabi spread (1 tbs soy free veganaise, 1 tsp prepared wasabi, few drops soy sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, mix all ingredients thoroughly)

And that’s all there is, friends. Toast the bread, cover both slices with generous amounts of wasabi spread, layer on the tuna, the avocado, then the cucumber. Simple, elegant, and utterly divine. I won’t lie, I ate two of these, and also gave one to my roommate. It was so good that I felt he needed to experience it. And the best part? I still have another tuna steak!

Grilled PB & J

So I was feeling in the mood for something a bit indulgent, but I was not in the mood to buy anything that would inevitably cause me to overindulge. I wanted to indulge while maintaining my self respect – always important. The local gourmet has grilled cheeses on Wednesday nights, but one of those were not in the budget for me this week (despite how gooey and delicious they are). At home I had a loaf of bread in the fridge… but I was in the mood for something sweet. And besides I had no cheese. Further perusing of the fridge revealed a jar of organic peanut butter as well as a jar of blackberry preserves. Grilled PB & J? I think so. The only thing different from making a regular grilled cheese (that is, in a cast iron skillet with plenty of butter) is that once each side was sufficiently browned and buttery, I sprinkled on some cinnamon and sugar, flipped it over, and cooked it for an additional minute just to caramelize the sugar a bit and blend in the flavor. Not gonna lie, it was absolutely outstanding – a true starving artist treat. I could do an entire week of posts on creative grilled sandwiches… but for the good of my health and well being I’m going to stop here… for now.

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?