Thursday, May 28, 2009

Croque Monsieur

I was going through my odds-and-ends box on my desk one day, trying to thin it out a bit, and I came across this postcard from my brother. It was from one of his trips to Paris and just in case you can't make out the writing, I will translate:

Bonjour! I spent yesterday at the Palace of Versailles and you didn't! Today, maybe I will go to the Louvre...and you won't! See ya, sucker!

That was a little rude, wasn't it? I'll show him, though. I'll make my own ham and cheese sandwich, French style. The Croque Monsieur. It's a delicious hot sandwich made with ham and lots of swiss and topped with a creamy bechamel sauce. It's a little taste of France in the middle of Arkansas.

Croque Monsieur (original recipe from Ina Garten)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups hot milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
12 ounces Gruyere, grated (5 cups)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
16 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
Dijon mustard
8 ounces baked Virginia ham, sliced but not paper thin

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter–flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. Off the heat add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup grated Gruyere, and the Parmesan and set aside.

To toast the bread, place the slices on 2 baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Turn each slice and bake for another 2 minutes, until toasted.

Lightly brush half the toasted breads with mustard, add a slice of ham to each, and sprinkle with half the remaining Gruyere. Top with another piece of toasted bread. Slather the tops with the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere, and bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned. Serve hot.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Poke Salad

Once upon a time, when my daddy was a boy, he walked all the way into town to see a movie with a friend. But before they could set off for the matinee, his friend had to pick a mess of poke salad for his mother. So the kid grabbed a bag, quickly stuffed it full of dead leaves and then put some poke salad on the top. He left it for his momma to find and they took off down the road heading into town. Sneaky, huh?

I'm not sure what kind of punishment the kid ended up getting--maybe he wasn't allowed to watch Howdy Doody for a week, or worse, maybe he had to give up Dragnet altogether--but I do know he missed out on some yummy greens for dinner.

We're fortunate to have quite a bit of poke growing in the backyard out by our burn pile. It's very poisonous so don't pick it if it's too big--you want to make sure that the leaves are from young shoots, less than 6 inches long, and don't have any red color to them. I've heard that you can peel the stalks and fry them like okra but I'm not brave enough to try it. I'll just stick to the leaves, thank you.

Poke Salad

a mess of poke
1 or 2 eggs
bacon fat
salt and pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add poke. Let boil for 10 minutes. Drain. Rinse leaves in a colander and rinse out the cooking pot. Add more water to the pot and bring to second boil. Add poke and boil for another 10 minutes. Drain. Rinse leaves again and squeeze out the excess water like you would with spinach. Add to a skillet with some bacon fat, scramble an egg into the greens, and season with salt and pepper.