Saturday, July 31, 2010

Croque Monsieur

I'm a big fan of Ina Garten's. When I started cooking, she was one of my favorite TV chefs to watch. As I became proficient, I began to understand the difference between good recipes and bad recipes. Hers were usually good and the show's episodes always had little tidbits about basic techniques. Fast forward nearly a decade later (eek!) and I'm still using her recipes.

It was the World Cup final and I wanted to make a simple and delicious lunch for the game. Along came Ina with her croque monsieurs and I almost had all of the ingredients on hand. So, with that, we settled in to watch whether Paul the Octopus was correct about the outcome.

Ham and cheese sandwich, drenched in bechamel and more cheese, and baked until bubbly and golden brown. Fresh sliced honey ham, Gruyère and sharp white cheddar, Dijon mustard, and a little fig jam are the key players. Bread is Honey White from Charlie's Best Bread. The fig jam was something I had on hand and I thought it balanced the Dijon mustard nicely.

I knew the sandwiches needed some kind of side and I had the ambitious idea of doing sweet potato fries. Right. Frying during the World Cup final... as if. I went for one of my favorite cheats: the local McDonald's. I love their fries and any time I want fries as a side dish, I run over for a couple of orders. It's really close, so the fries don't become soggy as long as I serve them right away.

This little trick was definitely not my idea and I picked it up from someone who appears on Food Network. Oh, c'mon, do you think I heard it from Ina? I don't think fast food is très elegant enough for her. I picked it up from, of all people, Jeffrey Steingarten of food writing and Iron Chef America-judging fame. He wrote in The Man Who Ate Everything that he needed fries for one of his food projects and stalked the local McDonald's for a fresh batch.

It's the best idea ever. Really, do homemade fries ever come out as good as when they come out of an industrial deep fryer?

Here's the recipe with my little adjustments... I should add that I feel more ham would have made this sandwich much better, so go for two slices per sandwich instead of one.

Croque Monsieur
(adapted from Ina Garten, Barefoot in Paris)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups hot milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
2 cups grated Gruyère
3 cups grated sharp white cheddar
12 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
Dijon mustard
Fig jam (available in many grocery stores or specialty markets)
8 ounces baked Virginia ham, sliced but not paper thin  

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter–flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. Off the heat add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup grated Gruyère, and 1/2 cup grated sharp white cheddar and set aside.

To toast the bread, place the slices on 2 baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Turn each slice and bake for another 2 minutes, until toasted.

Lightly brush half the toasted breads with mustard, add two slices of ham to each, and sprinkle with the remaining Gruyère (if you run out, grate more or use the cheddar). Spread fig jam on the other piece of toasted bread and place it on top, jam side down. Slather the tops with the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the remaining cheese, and bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned. Serve hot.

2 bites:

The Food Librarian said...

Yum! This looks perfect!!

Darlene said...

I love Ina Garten. I think she's one of those Food Network personalities that teaches you correct techniques that you can apply to every day life. Plus I've made so much of her food that I'm always confident using her recipes.

I McD's fries too but have resolved to only eat them once a year and only when I'm on the road. They are addicting.

2 bites