5 weeks ago
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Barefoot Bloggers: Croque Monsieur, and Craving Ellie:
Balsamic White Wine Chicken with Spinach and Couscous Brown Rice
Kathy of All Food Considered chose this week's Barefoot Bloggers dish, Croque Monsieur. This recipe appears in Ina's book "Barefoot in Paris," which, as luck would have it, I recently bought for myself to celebrate the fact that I hadn't bought myself a cookbook in a couple of months. All you Ina and Jeffrey fans out there will love flipping through this book and reading about those two crazy lovebirds flitting around Paris with their tent, feasting on fine bread and cheese for a mere five dollars a day. Love this book!
While there are a lot of enticing dishes in Barefoot in Paris, it was the croque monsieur that called my name when I first read through the book. Casual French bistro food is my kind of French food, and to me, the croque monsieur, which is essentially a pimped out ham & cheese sandwich, epitomizes casual French bistro food.
The recipe calls for Virginia Ham. I knew immediately that I was going to have to hunt down some Boar's Head ham. I had Boar's Head deli meat for the first time when I was a student in Charlottesville. There was a really great deli close to where I lived called . . . actually, I don't know what it was really called. We all called it Fancy Exxon, because (1) it was fancy, and (2) it was in an Exxon station. Creative bunch, we law students. Anyway, they served Boar's Head meat, and their superb sandwiches stood out even in a really great sandwich town. If Boar's Head ham is not the best deli ham in the world, please don't tell me, because it would completely shatter my entire worldview in a way that I might not be able to put back together. Thanks. Anyway, for my croque monsieur, Boar's Head ham it was!
Start out by making the cheese sauce - melt butter, add flour, pour in milk and whisk until thickened. Off the heat, add in salt, pepper, gruyère, parmesan, and nutmeg. Confession: I skipped the nutmeg. I have tried to like nutmeg over and over again, but I just can't live a lie anymore. If it is not on eggnog between December 23 and 26, I don't like it.
Spread some toasted white bread with dijon mustard and top with ham and gruyère. Assemble sandwiches and slather with the cheese sauce. Top with yet more gruyère, bake for 5 minutes, then broil for another 3-5 minutes until topping is bubbly and browned.
Results: I loved this sandwich. The gruyère adds a sophisticated note to it (or, at the very least, it ensures that nobody in your house under the age of 7 will eat it), but at its core it is a comfort food. David liked this as well, although probably not quite as much as I did, because he's not as much of a fan of gruyère. Same old story with the kids -- my youngest gobbled it up, my older two refused it in highly dramatic fashion. Yawn. Great pick, Kathy -- this one totally lived up to my high expectations!
Marthe of Culinary Delights chose this weeks Craving Ellie dish, Balsamic Chicken with Baby Spinach and Couscous. I wasn't 100% sure until I got going, but I'd actually made this one before. I remember reading Ellie's intro to the recipe: "As a busy mom who is really cranky when she's hungry, I need delicious rush-hour meals I can get on the table fast" and feeling an instant kinship. Of course, we all know there is a new word for the "cranky when hungry" phenomenon, "hangry." I think that hangry is destined to enter the OED within the next five years. Some words that recently entered the English language, as determined by the Oxford English Dictionary, include "bahookie" (n., a person's buttocks), "celebutante" (n., a celebrity who is well known in fashionable society), "crunk" (n., a type of hip hop music characterized by repeated shouted catchphrases - a combination of "crazy" and "drunk"), "obesogenic" (adj., tending to cause obesity), and "Yogalates" (n., fitness routine that combines Pilates exercises with the postures and breathing techniques of yoga). Actually, I changed my mind -- hangry will be in the dictionary within three years.
Well, Ellie is not joking - you really can get this one on the table quickly, thereby minimizing the consequences of your hanger. Put a little salt & pepper on the chicken and saute in a tablespoon of olive oil. Remove from skillet. Wilt some baby spinach in garlic and a little oil. Remove from skillet. In the same skillet, make a sauce of balsamic vinegar (I used white wine vinegar because I was out of balsamic. Who runs out of balsamic?), chicken broth, and diced canned tomatoes, and deglaze the pan. Put the chicken and spinach on couscous (I used brown rice) and top with the sauce.
This is undeniably quick, but I think there has got to be a way to jazz up that sauce a bit without adding a whole lot of extra time. I realize that by definition we are already in a foul mood when we are making this one, but nobody is going to get hurt if we take the few extra seconds to throw in few red pepper flakes or some kalamata olives. I love the basic idea of this recipe, but for me, the vinegar, broth and canned tomatoes alone just don't provide enough flavor. There are a thousand different ways to amp up the flavor in here, and I will try one of them next time. But you can't go wrong with the chicken, spinach and tomato foundation of this dish. I bet that my CEiMB pals did all kinds of creative things with this, and I can't wait to read everyone's posts. I will definitely make this again with a few changes. Thanks for the great pick, Marthe!