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.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bankers Hill Restaurant and Bar

It was one of those post-MCAT meals when I knew I should be working on my application, but was too burned out and worried to focus. As it turns out, the MCAT score was fine. Actually, quite good.

It made me mad.

Y'see, my undergraduate GPA is not my strong suit, so I needed a better-than-good score to offset it. Bah. However, I'm not retaking the test and I submitted the primary application. Woohoo!

One of these days, I'll touch on why I suddenly switched from chemistry to medicine, but let's just say that I've waited a very long time to do this. Maybe it's a gut feeling, old age, whatever... but I had this corny idea that I can't possibly look my hypothetical children in the eyes and tell them to chase their dreams when I didn't do the same.

At some point during the post-MCAT haze, D. and I headed to Bankers Hill Bar and Restaurant for a much-needed night out.

A new restaurant by Carl Schroeder of Del Mar's Market, Bankers Hill is more casual and the menu leans more towards classic and simpler dishes. On a side note, I've grown addicted to these menu-on-the-table shots... sometimes it's just easier than trying to photograph the restaurant's exterior.

Speaking of, the exterior looks great, but the interior rocks. Dark wood chairs and tables, tea towels as napkins, and this spectacular succulent mural above their patio.

Ah, iPhone pictures. I haven't purchased any photography apps yet, so if y'all have any to recommend, let me know. Thanks to the bright natural light pouring into a dark space, the pictures turned out vaguely dark and dramatic. I thought it looked artsy and cool, but then again, it's probably just a poorly lit photo.

Duck confit... one of my favorite foods. Served on a bed of mushrooms and peas and topped with a dollop of mostarda. The mostarda was made of currants, but that's an estimation on the part of my tastebuds. Salty from the duck, sweet from the currants, tangy from the mustard, woodsy from the mushrooms... I licked the plate.

Oh, I wanted to talk about the duck confit so much that I'd forgotten that we had an appetizer. D. had chips and I had beer.

Housemade potato chips with a delicious herbed buttermilk dip. The chips were overseasoned to the point where the potato was obscured, but they were nice and crunchy. Went well with this:

With the mood I was in at the time, I might have pulled out a funnel and a tube to drink it. Yes, it was needed. Propriety be damned.

Dessert was predetermined, as I read on Chowhound that the cherry pie was amazing. Amazing is a mild word for Rachel Going's pie. The iPhone's camera clearly does it no justice. I might be blaspheming when I say that I don't particularly care for pie crusts... it's all about the filling for me. Rachel's crust, with it's rustic flakiness, brought new appreciation into a proper pie crust.

That ice cream? Delicious and served on a little bed of butterscotch with crumble topping. Butterscotch. Forget the beer... reserve funnel and tube for vat of butterscotch.

I had to take another menu shot when the dessert menu came out. Something about them just made me really happy and I think it's because they used a typewriter font, which we used for our wedding invites and other signage.

Well, no matter what happens with med school, at least I know I'm going to eat well in the meantime. Check out other reports on Bankers Hill by Alice, Two Foodies, and Gourmands' Review.

2202 4th Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101