Sunday, October 01, 2006

What's in the Fridge? – FB2B, post 35

I knew from the first minute I woke up this morning that it was raining outside. I could hear the sloshy sound of cars traveling on the streets, water spitting out from under their wheels. What a great excuse to lie around in bed all day.

Then, my stomach started to grumble a little. Obviously, it had other ideas for what I should be doing at that moment. I threw back my fluffy duvet and rolled myself out of bed, literally. I knew that I really had too much to do today to waste all of it sleeping.

Stumbling to the kitchen, still a bit bleary-eyed, I opened the fridge. Hmm, let’s see, there’s ham, cheese, milk, butter, eggs, and I know I have bread in the freezer. Inspired by something that was on the company cafeteria’s menu last week, I realized I had on hand the ingredients to make Croque Monsieur.
Although bit unorthodox for breakfast, this is one of my favorite all-time, top-5 sandwiches. Toast (how could one go wrong with that?), ham, melted cheese, and béchamel, then lightly grilled. Add an Orangina, and one could almost feel as though it was lunchtime in Paris.

So, I was cheating just a bit to be eating this in the morning. To make it more brunch-y, when I was done cooking, I made a huge cappuccino, poured a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice and fried an egg to make it into a Croque Madame.

Croque Madame

Croque Monsieur/Madame
Prep Time: 45 minutes (with making béchamel)
Serves: 4 people
Ingredients:
8 slices white bread, crusts removed (can save for another use)
8 slices ham, thinly cut
1 1/2 cups Gruyère cheese, shredded
1 cup Béchamel (see recipe below)

Assembly:
The first thing to do is to prep the sandwich. Toast the bread. Place a slice of ham on one of the pieces of toast. Place 2 Tbsp of the grated cheese on the ham. Add another slice of ham on top of the cheese. Put the other piece of toast on top. Set aside.
The next step is to make the béchamel (explicit directions and photos below). Add the rest of the shredded cheese to the hot white sauce. Preheat oven to 400o Farenheit (200o Centigrade, Gas Mark 6).
Butter the outside of each sandwich. Place them on a baking sheet. Spoon one-quarter of the béchamel-gruyère mixture on each sandwich, spreading it out to the completely coat the top of the bread. Put baking sheet under the broiler for 4-5 minutes, watching carefully to make sure that they do not burn. When golden brown, remove from oven.
Look at the results. Enjoy!
[If making the Croque Madame version, fry an egg and add it on top after removing the Croque Monsieur from the oven.]
Croque Monsieur
A classic white sauce or béchamel is one of the building blocks of any culinary repertoire. It is incredibly versatile. I think I’ve been making this in one form or another since I was in my teens. I can remember my mom making this when I was a child, whether as a base for macaroni and cheese (pre the blue boxed version) or for that Lenten staple in our household – Tuna Tettrazini.

Béchamel (classic white sauce)
Prep Time: 15-20 minutes
Serves: 4 people for recipe above
Ingredients:
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk (do not use low-fat or skim)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper(white is preferable but not mandatory)
1 tsp dry ground mustard
Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Stir in flour and let cook for 2-3 minutes until it is completely incorporated into the butter, and the mixture is very light golden brown, do not let it get too dark. This is a roux (see photo).

Roux (flour and butter mixed together)
Gradually add the milk, at first one tablespoon at a time. Whisk into the roux. Let all the milk get absorbed into the butter-flour mixture. It will start to resemble the paste that you used in elementary (primary) school. Please don’t do what I did and let it stick to the bottom of the pan (this is not a tragedy but it will leave darker brown flakes in the final dish). Using a non-stick pan is not necessary, but paying attention to it is.
A paste-like consistency
Then, continue to add more milk, still one tablespoon at a time. Whisk constantly. As it is soaked up into the roux after each addition, it slowly becomes creamier and smoother. At this stage, it looks like a purée.
Purée-like
At this point, it is possible to start adding the milk in slightly greater amounts, until all the milk has been added. Continue to stir thoroughly after each addition of milk or the sauce will develop lumps. After all the milk has been added, continue to whisk mixture and let cook for 2-3 minutes more until it starts to bubble. Remove from the heat.
Add salt and pepper. Taste. For this recipe with the Croque Monsieur/Madame, I added the dry ground mustard. For other recipes, nutmeg or no extra seasoning is preferable.
The finished product

If the mixture seems too thick (remember for this version it will go on top of a sandwich and be grilled), you can add more milk to thin it out. If you do decided to do this, you will need to add the additional liquid by tablespoons again and completely incorporate so that your sauce does not fall apart.

This is how much this recipe makes.

Buon appetito!

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