Monthly Archives: April 2012

Croque-Madame

I was up early this morning with a plan for murder on my mind. The victim: an orange-crowned warbler. For two weeks now my vehicle has been under assault by said bird. Mr. Warbler (it must be a Mr. as a Mrs. certainly wouldn’t behave in such a violent manner) has been launching himself viciously into my windows and side mirrors leaving bird crap all over the place. At times there’s been so much bird poo on my side mirrors that I couldn’t drive safely. On Thursday, after washing my truck for the fourth time in two weeks, I began parking down the street until I could hatch a decent plan. I’ve tried everything humane up to this point (lying in wait with the pool skimmer with a “catch and release” plan in mind, for example. Neighbors have gotten a real kick out of watching this approach), but enough is enough. So after my weekly trip to the farmer’s market, I went to the hardware store and purchased rodent sticky traps.

My nemesis, Mr. Warbler. Don’t let his charming appearance fool you…he’s pure evil.

I attached the traps to my truck this morning (see picture below) and you know what, not one attack so far. It’s been three hours now. I’m telling you, this bird is absolutely diabolical! You can be sure that once I remove the traps he’ll resume his assault on my innocent Nissan. This means war.

Well, enough discussion on my war with Mr. Warbler. Time to move on to the croque-madame.

My kids LOVE breakfast sandwiches (this was born from their love of Dunkin’ Donuts breakfast sandwiches after early morning hockey games. Those from back East know what I’m talkin’ about). And I try to make them breakfast at least once during the weekend. Ever since my lunch with friends in Chicago last week at The Pump Room (shout out to Ade and Shay!), I’ve had a hankering for making croque-madame. Someone ordered the croque-madame and it came with a sunny-side up quail egg. Since I found myself fresh out of quail eggs, I used my fresh farmer’s market hen eggs instead. It’s been a while since I’ve made these sandwiches for the kids, and I knew they’d really appreciate the effort.

The first thing you need to do is to make a béchamel. In culinary school I made béchamel (a white sauce that’s one of the five “mother sauces” in French cuisine) so frequently that it’s not necessary for me to measure my ingredients anymore. I work solely with my eyes. For those of you who have not slaved over a béchamel over and over and over again, I’ve provided an easy recipe below from culinary school.

BECHAMEL SAUCE (makes approx 1 ½ cups)

  • MELT 1 OZ to 3 TBSP CLARIFIED BUTTER
  • ADD 4 oz FLOUR TO BUTTER TO MAKE ROUX
  • ADD 1 1/2 CUPS OF WHOLE MILK
  • BRING TO A SLOW SIMMER UNTIL RIGHT CONSISTENCY. WHISK CONSTANTLY.
  • SALT, PEPPER & NUTMEG
  • ADD GRUYERE, PARMESAN, AND BUTTER TO MAKE A MORNAY SAUCE, OR ADD CHEDDAR CHEESE TO MAKE A CHEDDAR SAUCE

I began with making my roux, which is a mix of melted clarified butter and flour.

This is what your roux should look like. Be sure to cook it slowly for a minute or so to to remove the flavor of flour.

As you can see, I’ve added the milk to the roux. From there I brought it up to a slow slimmer and the sauce thickened up nicely. You can also see the freshly grated nutmeg sitting on top of the sauce.

I added a small handful of grated parmesan cheese to add some saltiness and more flavor. Once I integrated the cheese into the sauce, I seasoned it with salt and pepper. Done!

Freshly grated gruyere cheese for topping the sandwich. About 1.5 cups. 

Foccacia with some of the bread removed. Too much bread will make the sandwich too thick and difficult to eat. You can save the leftover bread to make your own bread crumbs.

The foccacia was toasted in the panini press.

Spread some Dijon mustard on one of the slices and then pile it high with black forest ham.

Pour some béchamel over the top.

Add some gruyere cheese.

Begin cooking your sunny side egg for the top of your sandwich. Once you’ve cracked your egg and seasoned it, get your sandwich under the broiler. Once the gruyere turns golden and bubbly, pull it from the broiler.

As you can plainly see, this is NOT a low calorie sandwich. I had enough for two sandwiches and since Greg is a picky eater, they went to Monica and Jeffrey. Roger, sadly, was given an egg white omelet with feta, mint, asparagus, and chopped cherry tomatoes. He did look longingly at the sandwich, but he needs to keep his cholesterol in check and we’d like him to stick around for a while.

This makes two posts in a row on sandwiches and I promise to do something different next week. But I got to be honest with ya,’ I love a good sandwich and I’d choose a fabulous sandwich over fussy food any day.

I’ll keep you posted on the bird tale.

“Vegetables are a must on a diet.  I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.”  – Jim Davis

Bon appétit!

April

Belgian Dubbel and Clawson Cotswold

This past Sunday was the last day of spring break for the kids so, naturally, we spent the entire morning putting the house back in order. There were piles of laundry to be done, floors and sheets to be washed, bathrooms to be sanitized, and a pool to clean. We had experienced a LOT of rain and wind on Saturday and, as usual, along with the mass of floating leaves in the pool, I also found multiple rigid rats and mice no longer doing the backstroke. It happens so often when it rains here that I’m beginning to wonder if it actually rains mice and rats in Southern California. Oh, and sometimes bunnies, too…I do feel badly for the bunnies.

Anyway, after a long morning of clean up I decided that Roger and I should have a tall cold beverage to enjoy with our lunch by the pool. I pawed through our locked “adult” beverage fridge and found some Rochefort 8. I knew we had Clawson Cotswald cheese on hand and I felt the Rochefort 8 would compliment the bold flavored cheese.

Rochefort 8 is brewed by Cistercian monks known as Trappists. There are only seven breweries in the world run by Trappist monks and this particular brew, also known as a Belgian Dubbel, is made at the Abbey of St. Remy (which was founded in 1230 and began brewing in 1595), which is located in the southern part of Belgium.  A Belgian Dubbel (a Belgian Trappist beer naming practice) is a rich malty beer with flavors of caramel, apples, figs, and other dark fruits. The color is deep brown with a reddish hue. It should be enjoyed with full-flavored meats and cheeses, or alone, of course.

Clawson Cotswold cheese is named after Cotswold shire (county to you and me) of Britain. The cheese is made with cow’s milk and it’s reminiscent of a rich and buttery cheddar. The cheese is aged with chopped chives and onions which adds to its robust flavor profile. It’s great for enjoying alone, or in a sandwich.

I decided to make a toasty panini with the cheese, some apples, caramelized onions, Dijon mustard, and arugula. You can get creative and omit/add any ingredient you wish based upon your taste buds. I used the ingredients listed because that’s what I had lying around the house.

Cippolini onions for caramelizing

Add a little butter, salt, and sugar to your sauté pan (I used a non-stick) and slowly caramelize your onions. I wasn’t going for onion soup so I only lightly browned the cippolinis.

I used my hand-held mandolin for thin slices of green apple.

A wedge of Clawson Cotswold.

Foccacia.

Add a smear of salted butter to the bread, then the onions, then the sliced apple, and finally the Cotswold slices. Dijon can be spread on the top piece of bread.

Top with arugula and then your bread lid.

Spray your panini press with baking spray, or brush on some EVOO. Toast your sandwich in the press until the cheese is melty. I place a brick (wrapped in aluminum foil) on top of my panini maker to add more crunch.

Finished product.

Lunch!

If you don’t have a panini press you can fill a tea kettle with water (for setting on top of the sandwich) and use a non-stick pan. I’ve used this method while traveling and it works just fine. The only thing you’ll be lacking are the toasted ridges in the bread. You just add a little butter, or oil, to the outside of your bread before toasting. And be sure to toast both sides.

Heading to Chicago for a convention in a couple of days and I’ve got reservations at several foodie joints.  I’ll take some pictures and upload them when I get a chance. I’m looking forward to some city life…miss it!

Happy eating,

April

Charcuterie

I’ve been wanting to tackle the ancient craft of preserving foods for quite some time. I’ve done a bit of canning in the past, but never have I dabbled with the magic of charcuterie. The origins of charcuterie can be traced back some 6,000 years and it became popular during the Roman Empire; however, it didn’t really make its mark on history until the Middle Ages in France.

Preserving meats was the only option available before the advent of refrigeration. Moreover, if it looked vile, you were too poor and hungry to throw it away. There was no way in hell you’d eat it standing alone; you made it into a smoked and cured sausage. No part of an animal could be pitched, proving, yet again, that necessity is the mother of invention.

The word charcuterie comes from the French words “chair” (flesh) and “cuit” (cooked). I can’t help but wonder if this era also gave birth to the vegetarian movement. Nothing sounds less appetizing to me than a food that contains the word “flesh.” Thankfully, I didn’t know the roots of the word “charcuterie” until my love of cured, salted, and smoked meat products had already taken root.

In most fine restaurants, a brigade de cuisine (kitchen staff) will employ a garde manger chef (pantry supervisor) and he/she is responsible for all charcuterie, salads, and hors d’oeuvres. When I was in culinary school, and we students opened our restaurant, the garde mangers (Chef chose two students rather than the usual one) were slammed for the better part of the evenings. They had all of the appetizers, soups, and salads to prepare and garnish. It’s a big job.

I recently purchased a great book by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn on charcuterie. I was excited to try a lot of the recipes and techniques I saw, but as I was flipping through the pages my eyes landed on a recipe for beef jerky. Since my kids love beef jerky (and whose kid doesn’t?), that’s where I decided to begin.

Here are the ingredients.

  • 2 1/2 pounds boneless beef, eye of the round or lean round, all fat trimmed away
  • 3/4 ounce of kosher salt
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (I removed the seeds prior to chopping the peppers in an effort to tame the heat)

Cut the beef into strips about 1/8 inch thick and 1inch wide. In a dish or bowl, combine the remaining ingredients, add the beef, and toss to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Place the strips of beef on a rack set over a baking sheet, so that all sides dry. Turn the oven to 90 degrees and put the pan in the oven. Dry the beef for 16 t0 20 hours (if your oven cannot be set so low, try the lowest setting with the door propped open, and check every so often as it may take less time. Depending on the climate and conditions where you live, the beef may even dry well at room temperature.). The beef should be completely dry to the touch, dark, and very stiff.

Stored in an airtight container, the jerky will keep for several months or longer at room temperature. We stored our jerky in a plastic freezer bag (I knew it wouldn’t stick around for long) and found that we enjoyed it more after it sat in the bag for a day, or two. We live close to the ocean in a moist environment, so my theory is that the jerky became hydrated and slightly chewier.

I’ve also started preserving a lemon confit and some pork belly. More on that later, so stay tuned!

“Preserve the old, but know the new.”
(Chinese Proverb)

We Are What We Eat

April