Wednesday, December 28, 2011

oh my, croque madame!

I love (love, love, love) croque madames. The french sandwich is composed of four of my six favorite foods: cheese, ham, bread, and egg (the missing two are chocolate and wine, but I think it's good that they were left out in this case). I had one for about every 3rd meal when I was in Paris earlier this year.

I have always considered the croque madame something to be ordered at a cafe. I'd never really thought of making one myself. Now that I have, I kind of want to whack myself on the head and say, "what were you thinking?" I've been seriously missing out.

Strangely, it was Swiss food that was the impetus for my try-to-make-a-croque-madame-at-home idea. My brother is visiting me in Zurich and yesterday for lunch we had a very traditional Swiss meal: raclette. Like fondue, raclette is one of those active meals where you do a little work at the table to enjoy the food. Ours came as giant plates of grilling materials: his with mini sausages, mine with farmer's ham, and both with mushrooms, tomatoes, pickles, mini-corn, and cocktail onions. And of course a generous number of cheese slices, to be melted one at a time in the cutest little square pans that heat under a small grilltop (on which you can grill the various bite sized treasures). All to be enjoyed atop the little baked pommes de terre (potatoes) that were kept warm in a small burlap sack.

You may wonder how this got me thinking about a croque madame. Honestly, it was the combination of cheese and ham. On top of a potato, it made me think of breakfast (raclette would be a great hangover meal). And somehow from there, my mind went to the croque madame. So when we were at the grocery store later, I made sure to pick up some ham in addition to the Gruyere that is consistently on my shopping list (I've been eating a lot of cheese here in Switzerland!).

This morning, when looking up a few recipes, the croque madame seemed a bit involved. But it actually comes together pretty easily. And it was amazingly tasty. I kind of want to make one again right now just thinking about it. I've also been fantasizing about raclette-inspired additions, like grilled mushrooms, caramelized onions, and tomatoes... But for now, here's the standard version, which I implore you to try:

Croque Madame
Serves 2

2 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. flour
1 cup milk
4 oz. gruyere - 1/4 c. grated and the rest thinly sliced
ground nutmeg
salt & pepper
4 slices rustic white bread
2 Tbsp. dijon mustard
2-3 slices of ham
2 eggs

First, the bechamel:
Heat 1 Tbsp. butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, stirring to combine. Whisk in milk. Increase heat to medium-high until milk begins to boil. Add grated Gruyere and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat and allow sauce to simmer until thickened, 6-8 minutes.

Next, the sandwich:
Meanwhile, heat oven broiler on high. Place 2 slices of bread in baking dish. Spread 1 Tbsp. of mustard on each. Top with ham and sliced Gruyere. Place under broiler until cheese begins to melt.

Remove from oven (leave broiler on). Top with remaining 2 slices of bread. Spoon a generous amount of bechamel sauce over each. Return to oven and heat under broiler until they're bubbly and brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from oven.

Finally, the egg on top:
While your sandwiches are browning, melt remaining 1 Tbsp. butter in a skillet over medium heat. When hot, add eggs, being careful not to break the yolks. Cook until the whites are fully cooked but yolks are still runny.

Carefully top each sandwich with an egg. Take a bite and close your feel like you're in a Parisian cafe, no?

Friday, December 16, 2011

garlic shrimp pasta in white wine butter sauce

Sometimes, we learn lessons the hard way. Yesterday, my lesson came via 44CFH ($47) shrimp.

I was treating myself to some fancy food shopping at the gourmet grocery store on the bottom level of the Globus department store. I knew it would be expensive: I bought marinated artichoke hearts, a beautiful jar of green olives, pulchritudinous prosciutto (is it ok to anthropomorphize prosciutto? I believe so), and some other great treasures. When the resulting bill was higher than I expected, I just assumed that everything was just a little more expensive than I had realized, factored in the bottle of wine, and simply thought, it's good I don't grocery shop here on a regular basis!

It wasn't until I got home and was unpacking my bag that I discovered my mistake. I should have realized that the 8,90 per kilo price on the shrimp was much too economical for Globus and for such beautiful seafood. But I swear that's what the sign said. The sticker on my shrimp, however, said 89,00 per kilo. I bought a half kilo. Yikes!

The only thing to do in a scenario like this is resolve to make the best shrimp dinner ever (after shaking my head a few times in disbelief at my naiveté and apparently lacking arithmetic skills - I guess it's good that I get paid to do complicated math and not the simple stuff). This worked out, as I was already planning something special. During my trip to Athens last week, I picked up some black (sepia) pasta colored with cuttlefish ink. Fancy pasta, meet the world's most expensive shrimp.

So, did I pull off the best shrimp dinner ever? Not quite. The flavors were great (and the garlic-butter smell that filled the apartment was amazing), but the shrimp ended up a little tough from overcooking. This is one of those dishes I'd like to make again - I am confident the slightest changes would turn it into the best shrimp dinner ever. Normally I'd try again with modifications before posting, but I'm not about to repeat my expensive shrimp folly. Rather, I've noted the modifications I would make in the following recipe. I'll give it another try after I'm back to the land of affordable crustaceans.

Garlic Shrimp Pasta in White Wine Butter Sauce
Serves 4

3 Tbsp. butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
about a pound of big shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/2 c. white wine
1 Tbsp. fresh flat leaf parsley, minced
about 2 cups dried pasta*
rustic bread
*As mentioned, I used black (sepia) pasta, but I was unable to detect any ink flavor. Some people find the black color off-putting, but I find it interesting. In any case, feel free to substitute your favorite pasta of choice. 

Cook pasta according to directions (when done, drain and set aside). Modification: cook only until al dente and finish cooking in the tasty butter-garlic-wine sauce.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until golden. Add shrimp and sauté 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add wine and simmer an additional minute. Stir in parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in pasta and cook until heated through. Modification: this overall cooking time was too long for my shrimp, which made them tough; instead I'd cook the shrimp one minute per side in the garlic butter sauce, then add wine, pasta, and parsley and simmer it all together just until shrimp are no longer pink.

Serve in bowls with crusty rustic bread that will help you get to every last drop of the butter-garlic-wine sauce, which I promise you'll want! 
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