Tag Archives: croque monsieur

CROQUE MONSIEUR AND CROQUE MADAME

I have been away from my blog for awhile. First, I spent some time with family at Thanksgiving. That was a lot fun. What has not been fun is frustration in uploading my images to Word Press. Over the last several days, I have worked closely with the folks at Word Press. They demonstrated remarkable knowledge and incredible patience. Together, we were unable to solve the problem. Then I changed to an old wireless router I had replaced a while back and everything – well, nearly everything – worked again. Frustration over.

Recently I wrote about baking pain de mie for the express purpose of making croque monsieur and croque madame sandwiches. That is exactly what I did with the bread. If you are a big fan of these sandwiches, you already know that there are many, many recipes  some of them not much more than an American grilled cheese and others very elaborate

There are, however, some absolute essentials: good bread (hence the pain de mie), the best sliced ham you can find, and Gruyère cheese. Of course for the croque madame, you will need a perfectly fried egg.

You can sauté the sandwiches  in a pan, broil them, toast them in a panini press, or use a traditional French sandwich mold that makes them look a bit like a giant madeleine.  Then you have to decide whether or not you want to go to the trouble of making a béchamel to moisten the contents and provide a topping  – with more Gruyère, of course – that can be browned under a broiler.

This, then, is only one version, but it was fun to make. I chose to use the French sandwich press that has been hanging for years on our kitchen wall as a sort of decoration. I also added some béchamel.

RECIPES

Béchamel

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • salt and white pepper

Method

  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and then stir in the flour. Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, to make a light roux. Be careful not to brown.
  2. Stir in the cream and bring to a simmer. Stir until the sauce is thickened. Remove from heat.
  3. Adjust seasoning with slat and white pepper.  Set aside.

Croque monsieur

Ingredients

  • 4 slices pain de mie
  • 4 tablespoons béchamel
  • 4 thin slices ham
  • 2 slices Gruyère
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • béchamel
  • sliced Gruyère

Method

  1. Spread béchamel on one side of each slice of bread
  2. Arrange one slice of ham on each slice of bread. Then place a slice of Gruyère on two of the slices. Form into two sandwiches.
  3. With a pastry brush, paint both sides of both sandwiches with the melted butter and arrange the sandwiches in the sandwich mold.
  4. Close the sandwich mold and heat over an open flame on your range, turning once or twice until the sandwiches are well-toasted on both sides.
  5. Place the finished sandwiches on oven-proof plates, top with more béchamel and Gruyère, and place briefly under a broiler until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is lightly browned. Serve immediately.

Croque madame

Ingredients

  • 1 croque monsieur sandwich
  • 1 fried egg

Method

  1. Top the sandwich with the fried egg.
  2. Serve immediately

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PAIN DE MIE

For some now forgotten reason I decided that I wanted to make croque monsieur and croque madame sandwiches. I realized that I didn’t have the right bread. American white sandwich bread is such a lump of dough that it wouldn’t hold up to the other ingredients. Artisanal breads also didn’t sound right. The only thing that would really work is French sandwich bread – pain de mie (“soft-in-the middle bread”). It also goes by the name of a Pullman loaf in the USA. I grabbed onto that idea, because my pain de mie pan, complete with lid, had been gathering dust. There really is no bread that will substitute for pain de mie: if has a fine crumb, the crust is soft and brown, it cuts so easily that you can turn it into thin Melba toasts,  it toasts beautifully, and it has a delicious flavor not remotely the same as American sandwich bread.

Besides all that, it is a kitchen gadgeteer’s dream because of the special bread pan with a lid. Of course, if you don’t have such an implement, you can fashion your own with a regular bread pan and some sort of lid – a tile or small metal pan that can serve as a lid. You will also need a weight. I used a piece of flagstone from our yard.

If you want to make the investment in the pan, you may have a hard time finding it at your local kitchen store. Fortunately the pans are readily available by mail order or on the internet. I bought mine from King Arthur Flour . They sell two sizes of the pain de mie pans complete with lids. The smaller size measures 9 x 4 x 4 inches and sells for $29.95. The larger pan measures 13 x 4 x 4 inches and sells for $34.95. This recipe is designed for the larger sized pan.

Notes:

The crumb of this bread is amazingly soft. At the same time, the crust is brown and, well, crusty. All of this is due to the ingredients::

You should use a flour with lower protein content. Don’t use bread flour. All-purpose flour will work, but Southern lower-protein flours like White Lily, Martha White or Gladiola, are even better.

Potato flour, made from ground dried potatoes and also called potato starch, adds moisture.

Powdered milk also adds moisture along with a little sweetness, but it may prevent the dough from rising as fully.

Butter should be unsalted, and it should be softened to room temperature so that it can be readily incorporated into the dough.

Be sure to pre-heat the weight so that baking of the bread is even.

 

RECIPE

Pain de Mie

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup milk (110° F, 43°C)
  • 1 cup water (110° F, 43°C)
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened at room temperature
  • 2¼ teaspoons salt
  • 1½ tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ cup dry milk
  • 2 tablespoons potato flour
  • 1 package instant dry yeast
  • 4¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Method

  1. In a large bowl, combine the milk, water, butter, salt, and sugar. Then add the dry milk, potato flour, and yeast, stirring with a whisk until well mixed. Add 4 cups of the flour, one cup at a time, stirring until the flour is completely incorporated and the batter pulls away from the side of the bowl.
  2. Turn the dough onto a clean work surface dusted with the remaining ¾ cup of flour. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Then place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1½ to 2 hours.
  3. After it has risen, turn the dough onto a lightly oiled surface, deflating it gently. Let rest for 10 minutes. With the palm of your hand, flatten the dough into a rectangle that is the length of the pan and about twice as wide. Fold in half lengthwise, and pinch the seam closed tightly. Place the dough, seam side down, in the well-greased pan. Also, make sure the under-surface of the lid is well-greased.  The dough should come up to no more than 1/3 of the height of the pan. Place the lid on the pan, leaving it open several inches. Cover the opening with oiled plastic wrap and let rise for the second time until the dough comes to about ¼ inch below the lip of the pan, about 1½ hours.
  4. In the meantime, pre-heat the oven and the lid weight to 375°F
  5. Remove the plastic wrap, carefully close the lid, and let rest for another 10 minutes. Be very careful not to deflate the dough with the lid.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes in the middle of the oven at 375°F with the weight placed on the lid. After 30 minutes, remove the weight and lid, and bake for an additional 15 minutes. The loaf should register 190°F with an instant read thermometer. Remove from the oven, let rest for 10 minutes, and then turn onto a cooling rack. Cover with a clean cloth and let cool completely.

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EATING OUR WAY THROUGH DEATH VALLEY

This last week we were visiting our daughter in Los Angeles. For some time, we had wanted to see Death Valley, so it turned out to be a pleasant turn of events when we learned that Carol and her children had already made plans to go there over the weekend.

Susan collected a whole stack of guide books before the trip and had plotted out an itinerary. Unfortunately we could not leave before school got out on Friday, so we steered across LA in the midst of early rush hour traffic (When isn’t it rush hour traffic in LA?) and got out to the desert just as it was turning dark.  Clearly it is better to stay in the park at Furnace Creek, but that would have been another two hours of travel at night so we wound up staying in the little town of Lone Pine.

We arrived after 8 o’clock, and the already limited choices for dinner became even more limited as most closed at 9 PM. We chose the Mt. Whitney Restaurant even though there were no other customers. That was our first clue that this would not be a transcendent dining experience, but with two very tired, hungry kids that seemed secondary.

Mt Whitney Restaurant green chile buffalo cheeseburger

Mt Whitney Restaurant green chile buffalo cheeseburger

The menu was extensive, including meatloaf, open-faced meatloaf sandwich, clam chowder (in the desert?!) and regular, ostrich, or buffalo hamburgers. In my misguided quest for the perfect green chile cheeseburger, I ordered the buffalo version. The server, with some heavy ink and dressed in his cut-offs, high school T-shirt, and Converse low-tops, strongly recommended that the burger should be cooked at least medium. I complied with his suggestion, although since then I have wondered whether there might have been some motive to his advice. The adults ordered wine, and soon enough we were all brought a mini-screw-top bottle and an empty wine glass. The meals arrived, and although the French fries were good, we saw that our overall expectations had been realized.

The next morning we loaded up and headed to Death Valley. The drive was long and dusty, and although the map showed stops at Panamint Springs and Stovepipe Wells, there was not much until we arrived at Furnace Creek. There, crowds milled around the restaurants, bars and gift shops at the Furnace Creek Ranch. We had a pleasant lunch in the busy but not crowded café. Service was fast, efficient, and friendly. The food was surprisingly good, plentiful, and not too expensive. I got the curry chicken salad wrap, and it hit the spot.

Furnace Creek curried chicken salad wrap

Furnace Creek curry chicken salad wrap

The real pleasure palace at Furnace Creek, though, is the Furnace Creek Inn. The elegant inn sits up on a hillside surrounded by an oasis of palm trees, flowers, and green lawns. After an afternoon of sight-seeing, we stopped in for cocktails for the adults and ice cream for the children. We sat in the beautiful lounge with amazing vistas of the desert floor. The staff was very pleasant to us even though we looked like desert rats. However, we also learned that shorts and T-shirts are not permitted in the dining room for dinner. The Inn is clearly the place to stay, just make sure your credit card is paid up before you book a room.

We drove back to Lone Pine in the twilight, cleaned up, and then went out to dinner. Our first choice, Seasons, clearly had the best menu along with white linens and a good wine selection, but reservations would have helped. After a long wait with two impatient kids, we left for the restaurant next door – the Merry-Go-Round.

Merry Go Round won ton soup

Merry Go Round won ton soup

That turned out to be a good choice. Otherwise we would not have gotten some of the laughs we enjoyed over the next couple of days. We walked into the circular dining room covered in mirrored tiles to be ushered by the young server to a too-small booth. Suddenly a stout, grey-haired older man with an apron appeared from the kitchen and announced that the booth would not do. He sent us to two tables in the middle of the room. We pushed them together only to have the old man declare loudly that we needed to pull them apart again so that he could cover them with two white tablecloths. After that, he plopped a stack of menus on the middle of the tables and announced that one menu was for Chinese while the other was for American, depending upon our wishes – and for that matter, we could order from both.

The young server then finished the table with paper placemats depicting the Chinese zodiac and promptly disappeared into a small room where he got into a loud discussion with another person accompanied by startling crashes. He reappeared but no longer had any interest in us until Susan called him over and asked him to take drink orders. I ordered some Chilean wines. He then asked, “Are you familiar with that wine? I would not recommend it.” He suggested another wine, but I chose a red from Paso Robles. Obviously, he was convinced that I had still made a bad decision, because when he brought out the wines – filled completely to the brim, he set a second glass at my place with just a swallow of the wine he had recommended. He pointed out to Susan that there was a bit of cork in her glass, but that the extra protein would do her good.  After a bit of a skirmish with the young waiter about the menu (Carol asked what vegetables were in a particular dish, and he asked in reply, “Do you really want me to have to go back into the kitchen to find out?”) – we ordered Chinese, which turned out to be surprisingly good. It was prepared by the mother in the kitchen. The gray-haired man was the boss, and the reluctant server was their son.

Throughout the entire evening, Susan kept saying, “I feel like I am in ‘The Twilight Zone'”. At one point I even thought I saw Rod Serling sitting in one of the booths. Since he died in 1975, that seemed unlikely. On the other hand, everything seemed possible by then. We finished our meal just as a couple in a nearby booth were getting ready to leave. The asked for a carry-out box for a huge plate of unfinished food. The waiter brought a tiny box which didn’t work, so he tossed it from about 10 feet onto a towering pile just behind the hapless couple.  Our bill was paid, and we returned to the motel marveling at our experience.

Still Life Café

Still Life Café

The next day we toured the Alabama Hills where all of the western movies of my childhood were made. I think I even recognized a rock where Gene Autrey hid from the bad guys. Then we drove as far as we could up the road to Mount Whitney. A tour of the National Historical Monument devoted to the Japanese internment during World War II completed the morning. The exhibit was worthwhile, and even the children got a lot out of the visit. But everyone was hungry so we stopped at a recommended restaurant in the tiny town of Independence. The Still Life Café is run by a French couple, and the menu is definitely French but also definitely good. My croque monsieur was outstanding, and the pommes frites were a cut above McDonald’s.

Still Life Café croque monsieur

Croque monsieur

With all of this food, I have failed to mention our itinerary:

First stop was the Mesquite Sand Hills. Although they are not as big as either the White Sands or the Great Sand Dunes, they are still impressive and quite beautiful in the desert setting.

Mesquite Sand Dunes

Mesquite Sand Hills

Next stop was Salt Creek where we strolled along a boardwalk, watched the pup fish swimming in the salty stream, and enjoyed the desert scenery.

Salt Creek

Salt Creek

Badwater is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere (-282 feet) so we had to go there, along with tourists from all over the world. The formations of mineral crystals on the surface of the water were impressive and beautiful.

Badwater (282 feet below sea level)

Badwater (282 feet below sea level)

We drove through the narrow, colorful canyon of Artists Drive and made it to Zabriskie Point just as the sun was reaching a good angle for photos. Zabriskie Point may be the most famous place in Death Valley because of the movie, but it is also one of the must-see stops.

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point

Our visit to Mount Whitney (highest point in the contiguous 48 states – 14,505 feet above sea level) was our final photo-op before we headed back to LA.

Mount Whitney

Mount Whitney

But we definitely plan to visit Death Valley again.

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