It’s school vacation week here and as families head out of town to warmer, beachier weather and seem to document it daily on Facebook, we’re stuck home. By “we” I am referring to me, my pregnant belly and my lack of bikini and toes in the sand! Fortunately the cuisine world allows us to take savory journey’s every night without the stress of flying, staying in hotel room beds, or spending more than $10 for a gourmet meal for two! I decided to take my current condition (plus one and able to eat without remorse!) and give my husband and I a culinary flash back to our 1 year wedding anniversary last July in Paris.
One of my favorite questions to ask whenever anyone I know returns from vacation is ‘What’s the best thing you ate?’ While it is certainly difficult to choose, with options like world-famous macaroons, salty, creamy Camembert, loaves of perfectly baked french bread, garlicky broiled escargot (yes, it was delicious!), or pastries one will dream of for the rest of their lives, tonight I decided to go with a dish I knew I could find the ingredients for and may stand of chance of imitating. Croque-Monsieur. After setting the mood with Edith Piaf playing in the background and breaking out our Eiffel Tower plates, I gathered my ingredients and got ready to play my best Jacques Pepin.
Now, I know there are probably many ways to make Croque-Monsieur. It seems to be a sophisticated Parisian’s version of the classic American grilled cheese or Monte Cristo (my Mom’s favorite!). A combination of fresh baked (even if it’s from the local bakery) bread, creamy Gruyere (or Swiss if you can’t find it!), and salty ham all topped in a rich bechamel like sauce, this sandwich works for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and seems to be a Paris cafe staple. With many different variations, I chose a basic way to chef up this traditional french dish and it must have been good because we were both members of the clean plate club! Here’s the recipe I used.
2 TBS butter
2 TBS all purpose flour
1 cup of milk
Dash of ground nutmeg
1 bay leave
4-8 slices of white bread (you can use fresh baked sandwich bread or I had a loaf of Italian that I sliced on a bias. Since the pieces were smaller, I cut 8 and made two smaller sandwiches per person. Work with what you’ve got!)
4-8 slices of Black forest ham
6-8 ounces sliced Gruyere cheese (if you can’t find gruyere, try a Swiss cheese instead)
1/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese
A few extra TBS butter
For the sauce, start with a rue. C’mon, I’ve given you this one before! Melt 2 TBS butter in a pan over medium heat, whisk in the flour and let it bubble for a few seconds. Slowly whisk in the milk. Toss in the bay leaf and nutmeg. Let the mixture come to a boil and thicken while stirring constantly.
For the sandwiches, layer the bread with the sliced gruyere and ham, topping with the second slice of bread (See? Like a grilled cheese). Over medium-high heat, toast until golden brown on both sides in a pan swirled with butter. Place on a baking sheet and top with sauce and grated cheese. Broil for about 3-4 minutes until bubbly and toasty on top. Serve with greens to make yourself feel better about the calories!
This taste-bud travel hit the spot for us on our stay-cation. It brought back memories of one of the best trips of our lives. The wonderful feeling sitting on the green below the sparkling Eiffel Tower at dusk with my husband snacking on traditional culinary Parisian treats and sipping wine and champagne will forever be in my heart, and tummy! Every place has its own unique flavor to take advantage of, but if you’re stuck at home like me, why not bring the dishes to you? Where will your culinary travels take you tonight? Wherever you go, Enjoy! Or in the words of Julia Child, Bon appetit!
Stephanie a.k.a. The Foodetarian