Thursday, January 15, 2015

Croaked monsieur

That's how I feel, anyway -- croaked -- as the deep of winter settles into the Hudson Valley, the mercury hovering around zero each morning. So it's time to whip up some comfort food, French style.. My go-to meal when the going gets rough is a croque monsieur, the French version of a grilled cheese with ham. Yes, it's a bit more work than an American-style grilled cheese, but SO worth it. These are sold in France everywhere, but usually are reheated and dry. You can make one better than anything you'll get in Paris, so follow along:

Croque Monsieur
(serves 2)

4 slices good, firm white bread such as Arnold Brick Oven or Pepperidge Farm
1/4 pound good ham (if you can get French ham, great; if not, black forest will do), sliced
6 ounces French or Swiss gruyere cheese , coarsely grated on a box grater
1-1/2 TBL butter
1-1/2 TBL flour
1/2 cup of milk (low fat or whole, it doesn't matter)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Make the béchamel sauce (don't worry, it's easy, and almost foolproof): 
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat until foaming subsides. Add the flour and stir for about a minute.
Dump in all the milk and start whisking. Continue whisking more or less continuously for several minutes until the mixture starts to bubble and thicken. Reduce heat and cook, whisking for five minutes. If mixture doesn't thicken, turn heat up and cook some more. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool a bit.

Arrange 4 slices of bread on a a baking sheet covered with foil or parchment.
Spread béchamel over each slice, going right to the edge.
Top only 2 of the slices with ham
Distribute cheese over all 4 slices
Finally, place the two slices that don't have ham on top of the slices that do, cheese side up (that is, don't flip).
Bake until cheese is bubbling and just beginning to brown, about 10-15 minutes
Serve with French cornichons.

Bon appétit!

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