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!

40 comments:

pinkstripes said...

Oh, I get hangry all the time. Not good.

I love melty cheese and adding it to anything brings it to heaven.

Elyse said...

Cathy, all your food looks great, as usual. Especially that croque monsieur! Oh man, looks soooo darn good. By the way, hangry has to be the best word ever. I'm going to start using it in conversation in hopes that it will catch on faster. By the way, did you go to UVA? My boyfriend Todd went there and has a slight (read: obscenely large) obsession with the school and Charlottesville. Having gone to Chapel Hill, I can't quite condone that obsession, but I can appreciate it :) I visited Charlottesville for the first time two years ago. It was beautiful!

Marthe said...

Yum, that croque monsieur looks really good! I liked the chicken but agree that it could use a little bit more oompfh, thanks for cooking with me this week!

applecrumbles said...

Interesting "word play". :)
We enjoyed the recipe,but it lacked a little pizazz...or is that pizzazz?

Audrey said...

Yay! It's Thursday and time for your two-fer. (Is that in the OED?) I am trying very very very hard here not to use my first new vocabulary word (well, the second, after "hangry") - I truly did not know that one - in reference to what the first course will enhance and the second course is probably designed to reduce. Trouble is, I would want the first one, especially if I had been good and chosen the second one. Sorry it wasn't your cup of tea, but it looks good! I made a CL chicken with broth and vinegar that was about the worst thing I have ever tasted (rare for CL recipes!) so I would have been scared of it anyway.

Engineer Baker said...

Mmm... bubbly and browned cheese - now I really need to make that sandwich. Where's the deli? My sister goes to UVA, so I visit her from time to time :)

Jessica said...

I grew up with Boar's Head deli meat because that's what my mom used to buy and I'm fanatical about it, too. I love a croque monsiuer and I plan to head over to Amazon after I post this to see if they have a good used price on BFiP. I wouldn't eat swiss cheese (and certainly not gruyere) until I was about 20 so I probably would have been right there with your oldest kids. Oh well, more for the people who can appreciate a good sandwich, right?

Aggie said...

I ran out of balsamic AS I was making this dish...I literally had just enough and was getting every drop out of the bottle! ;)

Love your improvisations ... and I still haven't been able to make the BB recipe this week...aaahhh...you made it look and sound much easier by using Boar's Head! my favorite!!

Great job girl!

farah said...

The sauce does need a little something but its a great, simple, quick dish :)

Leslie said...

These both look great! I love your ideas for upping the flavor on the chicken. And I will eat anything with melted cheese on it, so the croque monsieur was a hit. Am I the only one who sees the irony of posting BB and CEiMB on the same day??

Sara said...

Agreed that the chicken dish is definitely a solid foundation for a meal. But how you can you concentrate on a healthy meal like that when you have that ridiculously tempting picture of a sandwich slathered in cheese in the same post!

Anne said...

I totally agree with you about the Boar's Head. I think I could convince my husband to do anything with some of that ham. Your kids' taste buds will catch up sometime and appreciate all your work in the kitchen!

Mary Ann said...

The sandwich looks unbelievable! I wish I would've made it. I like how you modified the Ellie dish. That is what makes her recipes so great. You can make little changes and the end result is still yummy!

Jen said...

I completely agree with you Cathy! The CEIMB recipe needed something to jazz it up. I added red pepper flakes and salt and pepper, but it just didn't do the trick. I like the whole idea of the dish, but in actuality, it fell a little flat in the taste department.

Katherine Aucoin said...

I love them both but I'm think I really wanr to try more of Ellie Kriegers recipes. I've done a couple and they have all turned out fantastic. I like the changes you made to Ellie's recipe.

chocolatechic said...

We, too, loved this sandwich.


I am going to make this again and again!

Pamela said...

yum...that BB recipe sounds like my kinda snack, I mean sandwich! Nice job on the Ellie recipe, too. I think the fire roasted tomatoes helped brighten the sauce a bit.

Pam said...

I love that cookbook...I've checked it out from the library so many times I think I need to just go buy it. I am so glad you made this - now I know I should too. Looks great!

Jamie said...

Eveything looks so delicious! Well done, Cathy!

leanne said...

Everything does look great. The sandwich...mmmmm. I amped up my sauce with the chicken and found it really good. The foundation was good but when I added red pepper, rosemary, garlic and italian tomatoes it was great.

n.o.e said...

I'm glad that you have reached the point in your food blogging where you can come out about the nutmeg. Living a nutmeg lie is undoubtedly stressful. As for me, I would run out of balsamic on purpose so I could use a different vinegar. I'm not living the balsamic lie any longer! Actually I am very suspicious about vinegar + chicken in general; my first blog post was about a chicken dish with vinegar and it was ungood.

C-ville did not have the Fancy Exxon when I was there from 1974-81. Just the Foods of All Dollars, which has pretty incredible sandwiches, imo. I think on our last reunion weekend we purchased some food at the Fancy Exxon though (is it on 250 near FoAD?)

Anyway, your sandwich looks great; gruyere is the magic word, and Boar's Head just seals the deal. Great job!
Nancy

Gudrun from Kitchen Gadget Girl said...

thank goodness I am following your blog! I had no idea there was a Barefoot Bloggers group. My friend Suzy is a big fan, and gave me my first book, which happens to be the Barefoot in Paris book. I also bought the Back to Basics book, which I am enjoying equally as much.

Now I will have to seek out the rest of the Barefoot Bloggers!

spike. said...

sadly, I run out of balsamic all the time. I have a problem and may need a balsamic vinegar support group. Glad you liked the sandwich!

Debinhawaii said...

Your croque monsieur looks great. I agree about the Boar's Head too, it is good stuff. I am not a big nutmeg fan either, I just but a little in but would have been fine without it.

Natashya said...

I am loving this croque monsieur, I will have to try it soon. Good call on the ampin up ideas for the chicken.. nothing wrong with adding a little extra flavour to a dish!

Jaime and Jen DISH said...

This croque monsieur looks amazing and the cheese looks so gooooooey! Bravo on making such a wonderful dish!!

Your fellow foodie blogger,

Jenifer

The Blonde Duck said...

Anything that translates to pimped out ham and cheese is right up my ally. I'm drooling in anticipation.

Barbara Bakes said...

I have never heard of croque monsieur before, but it sounds perfectly delicious!

Di said...

I've never had a croque monsieur (though I've heard of it--5 years of French), but it sounds tasty. Brianna, I'm sure would find a reason not to like it. Gillian might be okay with it, since it has "white cheese". Brianna prefers to eat "orange cheese" (i.e. sharp yellow cheddar). Gillian will eat cheddar, but only if it's "white." *sigh*

vibi said...

Yup! I could have gone to numerous places to comment this... but c'mon, here is the nicest to read! lol lol Oh! well others as just as great bakers and cooks and photographers (no offense guys!)... but hummm... writing is hard to beat, here!

Nice Croque-monsieur, yes... but even nicer read. Thanks for that "Great day break", Cathy!

Heather said...

i think you need to have your italian heritage rights revoked for running out of balsamic vinegar...
everything looks so yummy, though! especially that cheese sauce! mmmm.

Shari@Whisk: a food blog said...

I love your description of your new cookbook by Ina. I'm going to have to check it out now! Looks so comforting and delicious!

kelly said...

Enjoyed your post so much! You'll appreciate this: Just returned from Paris and can now confirm that Ina and Jeffrey are not living on 5 bucks or even 5 euros a day! (lol) I must have dropped 20-30 euros on cheeses, bread, fruit, cornichons, saucisson, etc. etc. while dragging my husband through the Boulevard Raspail street market (page 230). (Granted, it was a lot of food) It was the best experience of the trip and we ate nearly everything while picnicking at the beautiful Luxembourg gardens. As you can tell, I'm still dreaming about it...

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