Invariably, the toughest food critic at any table is the one clutching the sippy cup. Recognizing the unique challenge of appealing to pint-sized gourmets, these kid-friendly crowd-pleasers start by upgrading the basic grilled cheese sandwich. Layered with ham, cheese, and a shortcut béchamel, our speedy oven-baked croque monsieur translates beautifully from the French bistro to the family dinner table. Avgolemono, Greece’s lemony twist on chicken soup with rice, should appeal to even the most finicky eaters. And taking another cue from a French classic, our easy-measure yogurt cake is simple enough that even a child can make it.
Oven-Baked Three-Layer Croque Monsieur Sandwiches
Makes 4 servings
During a trip to Paris and a visit with master fromager Laurent Dubois, we were reminded just how delicious a well-made croque monsieur can be. Dubois’s version of the iconic French ham and cheese sandwich inspired us to develop a simple, fuss-free recipe that’s doable on a weeknight.
A béchamel, or flour-thickened white sauce, is classic, but we take a shortcut and stir together crème fraîche, shredded gruyere cheese (or another nutty-tasting French Alpine cheese such as Comté), a couple tablespoons of mustard, and a small measure of nutmeg. The mixture mimics the sauciness of a roux-thickened béchamel. And instead of griddling the sandwiches one or two at a time, we cook four at once on a baking sheet in the oven. They’re finished with a final slather of “sauce” and a blast of broiler heat for browning.
Sliced sandwich bread with a sturdy crumb rather than a soft, cottony texture is best. We modeled our recipe on Dubois’s three-layer creation, so you will need a total of 12 slices to make the four sandwiches.
Sour cream is not a good substitute for the crème fraîche in this recipe. Crème fraîche is higher in fat and will stand up to high heat; sour cream is leaner and will curdle under the broiler. Also, keep a close watch on the sandwiches as they broil because they can scorch in a matter of seconds.
1/2 cup crème fraîche
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
6 ounces gruyere or Comté cheese, shredded (1½ cups)
6 ounces thinly sliced deli ham
12 slices sturdy white sandwich bread
4 tablespoons salted butter, room temperature
Heat the oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the middle position. In a small bowl, whisk together the crème fraîche, mustard, nutmeg, and æ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Stir in the cheese; set aside. Divide the ham into 4 stacks to make portioning easier.
Spread one side of each of 8 slices of bread with the butter. Place 4 slices, buttered side down, on a broiler-safe rimmed baking sheet, then spread 1 tablespoon cheese mixture onto each. Top each with half of a ham stack. Place a slice of unbuttered bread on top of each ham layer. Repeat the layering of 1 tablespoon cheese mixture onto each sandwich, followed by the remaining ham, then top with the remaining buttered bread, with the buttered sides facing up. Bake for 10 minutes.
Using a wide metal spatula, flip each sandwich. Bake until the tops of the sandwiches are lightly browned, 7 to 9 minutes.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven, and heat the broiler. Spread each sandwich with the remaining cheese mixture, dividing it evenly. Broil until the surfaces are bubbling and spotty brown, 1 to 1½ minutes.
Transfer the sandwiches to a wire rack and cool for about 5 minutes. To serve, cut each sandwich in half.
Greek Egg-Lemon Soup (Avgolemono)
Makes 4 servings
This Greek soup gets its name, avgolemono, from the egg-lemon mixture used to thicken the broth. Some versions are simply broth that’s thickened and seasoned, while others are more substantial and include rice and chicken, as we do here. To boost the flavor of store-bought chicken broth, we poach bone-in chicken breasts in it, then shred the meat and add it to the soup just before serving. Grated carrots lend sweetness and color, while lemon zest deepens the citrus notes.
To prevent the eggs from curdling, keep these tips in mind: Temper the eggs first by slowly adding a small amount of the hot broth to the bowl before whisking the mixture into the pan. And after adding the mixture, don’t let the soup reach a boil or even a simmer.
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
1 12-ounce bone-in, skin-on chicken breast, halved crosswise
3 2-inch strips lemon zest, plus 3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded on the large holes of a box grater
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
¾ cup long-grain white rice, rinsed and drained
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
3 large eggs
Chopped fresh dill or chives, optional, for garnish
In a large saucepan, combine the broth, chicken, 2 cups water, the lemon zest strips, carrots, and onion. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce to low, cover, and cook until the thickest part of the chicken reaches 160 degrees, 15 to 18 minutes.
Using tongs, remove and discard the zest strips; transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside. Return the broth to a simmer over medium heat, then stir in the rice, ¾ teaspoon salt, and æ teaspoon pepper. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring once halfway through, until the rice is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, remove and discard the skin and bones from the chicken and shred the meat; set aside.
When the rice is done, remove the pan from the heat and uncover it. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and lemon juice. While whisking constantly, slowly ladle about 1 cup of the hot rice-broth mixture into the egg mixture, then slowly whisk this mixture into the pan. Stir in the shredded chicken.
Return the pan to low and cook, stirring constantly, until the soup is warm and lightly thickened, 2 to 4 minutes; do not allow the soup to simmer. Off heat, taste and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with the herbs, if using.
1-2-3-4 Yogurt Cake
Makes a 9-inch loaf cake or 9-inch round cake
In France, gâteau au yaourt is a cake that uses an entire container of yogurt, then cleverly employs the empty container as the measuring cup for the flour, sugar, and oil. It’s easy to throw together and a perfect recipe to make with children.
If you’ve got a 4-ounce container of yogurt, bake the cake in a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan; if it’s a 5.3-ounce container, use a 9-inch round cake pan. Either way, the number of eggs and amounts of both baking powder and salt remain the same. The cake is very forgiving this way. It’s also a blank canvas, so feel free to flavor it to your liking with vanilla or other extracts, ground spices, or grated citrus zest.
Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.
1 4-ounce or 5.3-ounce container plain whole-milk yogurt
1 container grape-seed or other neutral oil
2 containers white sugar
4 large eggs
3 containers all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
Honey-Apple Compote, optional, for serving (recipe follows)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle position. If using a 4-ounce container of yogurt, mist a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray. If using a 5.3-ounce container, mist a 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray. Dust the pan evenly with flour, then tap out the excess.
In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, oil, sugar, and eggs. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt; whisk gently until well combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, then spread it in an even layer and smooth the surface.
Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes for a loaf pan or 60 to 65 minutes for a round pan. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 30 minutes. Invert the cake out of the pan, then turn it upright. Cool completely, then top with Honey-Apple Compote, if using, to serve.
Makes about 3 cups
This quick compote is delicious with our yogurt cake. It also can be enjoyed atop pancakes or rice pudding or served with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream.
2½ cups (4 ounces) firmly packed dried apples, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup mild honey
In a small saucepan set over medium heat, combine 2 cups water with the apples and the honey and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until almost all of the water has been absorbed, 6 to 8 minutes.Transfer to a bowl and let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days (or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week). Bring to room temperature before serving.
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