Tag Archives: Milk

What a Croque – A Recipe

There are certain things, in a culinary sense, that you just should not fuck with. One of those is: Croque Monsieur.

Originally a beautiful accident, the story goes that French workers had left their sandwich on a radiator and by lunchtime the cheese had melted. As time moved on a chef in a Paris café, a genius no doubt, saw fit to sauté the sandwich in butter. Anyone who has any interest in the history of  ‘Le Crouque’ will know that Proust makes reference to it in ‘À la recherche du temps perdu‘ – first published in 1918:

Or, en sortant du concert, comme, en reprenant le chemin qui va vers l’hôtel, nous nous étions arrêtés un instant sur la digue, ma grand’mère et moi, pour échanger quelques mots avec Mme de Villeparisis qui nous annonçait qu’elle avait commandé pour nous à l’hôtel des «Croque Monsieur» et des ufs à la crème…

The Croque has thought to been in Paris and on menus since 1910. There are many ‘Croques’ that appear on menus nowadays (list below) but the original is undoubtedly the best:

The addition of a fried egg served on top – a Croque Madame

The addition of tomatoes – a Croque Provençal

The substitution of  blue cheese for Gruyere – a Croque Auvergnat

The substitution of smoked salmon for the ham – a Croque Norvégien

Some of you may have bravely got to this point and be thinking ‘ seriously, what is this guy on – it is JUST a toasted sandwich’ it would be at this point that I kindly direct you to the back door of the internet and zap your hard-drive.

Along with Macaroni and Cheese the Croque Monsieur really gets me going. I had a conversation with @MathildeCuisine not too long ago about Béchamel Sauce, she like me knows that to be a true Croque you must have Béchamel. I have been to countless restaurants (in the UK) and ordered a Croque and have had to send back my order. The most memorable of which was some years ago in Café Bohéme in Soho, the Chef personally came to the table and I told him that if I had wanted a toasted cheese and ham sandwich I could have gone to a sandwich shop and not have had to pay £6.95 for the privilege. He proceeded to shout at me and I ordered something else. I am sure that they spat in my soup.

It is really simple to get correct – Cheese (gruyère), Ham (wet cured, thinly sliced), Béchamel Sauce (cold and thick), Bread (Pain de Mie) – that is it four items – You then sandwich the cheese, ham and a bit of Béchamel in the bread – butter and grill each side – take some more cheese and Bechamel and pop it under the grill till golden and bubbling , not that hard to get right is it?

I used to live in Chambèry for a year when I was younger. There was this little bar on a backstreet near the Palais de Justice that backed onto the river that made the best Croque that I have ever had. The bread was rectangular and not square, which automatically gave you about 50% more surface area for browned cheese and Béchamel. The best bit about it was that it cost 10 francs which at the time was £1, I ate far too many of them over that year and when I was leaving the owner’s wife who toiled out back showed me her process and how she did it. The secret was a little grill/oven that had elements both above and below. This meant that you did not have to get all technical and turn things over etc. They never had those in the UK and I took one home with me, it lasted about 10 years before I gave it a good send off.

Now, the observant, non vulgar readers who would not have approved of my earlier profanity, will now all probably never read my blog again. After whining on about my love and adoration for ‘Mr Crispy’ and how I think that it should be left alone to shine on a plate – unadorned, crispy, gently browned and tantalisingly silken – I have just, uh, well – gone and fucked with it.

After reading @MathildeCuisine post on Leek Bechamel Pasta I thought that maybe, just maybe it was time to try and improve upon perfection. There were some leeks in the fridge and I had found this little bakery in the middle of nowhere (Wembley) it is run by a very nice Japanese lady and it has great baked goods – the best of which is a white sandwich bread that is a cross between a Pain de Mie and a Pain au Beurre – PERFECT for a Croque. I had some regular Gruyère and some cave aged as well – after a bit of searching I found a Jambon de Paris that came up to scratch and that was thinly sliced.

Croque a Leekie (I know, I know!)

2 Slices of Great White Bread.

30g Gruyère (mild)

25g Aged Gruyère

2 Slices Jambon de Paris

6tbs cold Béchamel sauce (thick)

1/2 Medium Leek

Butter

Method

Thinly slice and soften the leeks in a pan for 25 mins. Season.

Grate both cheeses into a bowl.

Take half the Béchamel and mix with the leeks. Sandwich 1/2 the cheese, the ham and the leek Béchamel inbetween the slices of bread. Butter the outside of the bread and grill on each side until golden brown. if you have a good heavy based frying pan, fry on a medium heat in a little butter until golden.

When done, mix the remaining sauce and cheese and spread thickly over one side of the toasted sandwich and put under a very hot grill until golden.

Serve immediately and eat as quickly as the molten topping allows.

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Filed under Food Experiments, Food History, GC Recipes, I Love, Rants

Macaroni and Cheese Challenge – A Recipe – An Entry

Day two. Entry Two.

I don’t think I have been this excited since I realised that if you had a bit of bum-fluff on your top lip at the age of 13, the local newsagent would sell you cigarettes. I have stopped smoking since then but, as I may have mentioned yesterday in my first entry into The Ultimate Macaroni Cheese Challenge, I still love Mac ‘n’ Cheese and will never quit making it.

It has been tough 24 hours. I have recounted every version of Mac ‘n’ Cheese that I have ever made, trying to enter a recipe  is going to be tough. I have gone through many stages of my life and along the way the recipe for Mac ‘n’Cheese has changed with me.

As a young boy the recipe was pure and simple, unadulterated  - nothing but short pasta and bechamel sauce with a generous handful of maturing cheddar melted in, baked with a sprinkling of cheese atop – slowly melting and releasing its oils, browning the dish. The little spiky edges of macaroni popping out of the thickened hot cheese sauce, crispy and dark.

As I grew older, I discovered new cheeses and experimented with them, I added all manner of ingredients to the mix and I used all manner of shapes of pasta. There was the 3 month period at the end of 2006 where I thought that  Elbow Macaroni was better than Ditali  when Mac ‘n’ Cheese was to be an accompanying dish to something a little meatier, and also more of a spoonable affair – less baked. I was completely wrong, I don’t know what happened to me.

I now have an handful of recipes that I use, tried and tested, a version for any occasion – a quick snack/ a side dish/ a meal on its own/ a special occasion/ to impress/ for a group/ for a lover – Some are adaptations of dishes I have tasted and some have been honed over time.

Whilst ambling down this cheesy path I have been reminiscing about the many Mac ‘n’ Cheese’s I have eaten in restaurants, many are not worth mentioning but the good the bad and the downright ugly made it out of my head and onto the page:

Adam Street – I still think it is the best Mac ‘n’ cheese I have eaten in London town – Simple, strong cheese kick and (although not my preferred topping, i have grown to love it) three slices of tomato on top.

Canteen – Disappointingly dry (unusual for the venue) and reminiscent of Kraft packet Mac ‘n’ Cheese (which is not a bad thing)

Bob Bob Ricard – A vile, distressing mess. Overcooked pasta, cheese-less tasting sauce and breadcrumbs on top!

Hawksmoor – I know that this is a Food Bloggers fave place to eat, but they should stick to the steaks and burgers.

Bumpkin – A decent attempt, worked well as a side dish to a steak. Creamy and Cheesy.

Black Calvados (Paris) – Late night Mac ‘n’ Cheese with truffles – Probably a little too worse for wear to remember how good it was! I do remember it being perfectly cooked and flecked with black truffles which really released their perfume in a late night club.

Jamin (Paris) – Post Robuchon – Benoît Guichard (his protegé) made the most amazing Macaroni Gratin, pasta cooked in milk, Gruyère crust. Amazing – had it with veal fillet.

L’atelier Joel Robuchon (Monaco) – The ultimate and most revered Mac ‘n’ Cheese with truffles. It is sublime and the master does make it exceedingly well. Tho’ when had in London recently it was only good, not great!

After all that, I still have to enter a recipe. Mac ‘n’ Cheese á la Garlic Confit, if I get a decent camera from the insurance company before the 18th I will enter a picture of this dish.

Mac ‘n’ Cheese á la Garlic Confit

250 gms Good, Straight Macaroni/ Maccheroni (not elbow or short ditali)

150 gms Pancetta

75 gms Sundried Tomatoes

6 Big Cavolo Nero Leaves

675ml Full Fat milk

150 ml Double  Cream

75 gms Good Mature Cheddar (Keen’s, Isle of Mull)

5ogms Hard Alpine Cheese not too aged (Gruyère, Beaufort and even Emmental)

10gms Butter

1 large heaped tbs of plain flour

10gms Parmesan

4 Cloves of Garlic

1 Bay Leaf

6 Peppercorns

1 Small Shallot

Nutmeg

Method

This may seem a little involved but once you start it just all fits together.

Firstly take 425ml of the Milk, half the cream, the peeled shallot, peppercorns, bay leaf and garlic. Put in a saucepan and bring just to the boil. Take of the heat and set aside to infuse.

Take the Cavolo Nero leaves, remove the spine and chop into 1 inch slices. Cover in a bowl with boiling water and stand for 5 minutes then drain.

Slice the pancetta into short, thin slices. Pop in a frying pan on a high heat and cook till crispy, set aside the fat in a bowl and add the Pancetta to the Cavolo Nero.

Strain the milk into a jug. Remove the bay leaf from the strainer and discard. Put one clove of garlic, the peppercorns and the shallot into a blender with the parmesan, the reserved pancetta fat and the sundried tomatoes and pinch of salt. Blitz till it is a rough paste. Then mix in with the Cavolo Nero and Pancetta.

Put a large pan of water on to boil add a stock cube and the remaining milk, cook the pasta for 3/4 of the packet timing. Drain and refresh immediately in and ice cold bowl of water. Drain and make sure the pasta is cool. Set aside.

Put the butter in a saucepan on a gentle heat, when melted add the flour. Incorporate the flour and continue to cook until you have a breadcrumb like substance in the pan – do not let it brown. Over a low heat slowly add the reserved milk a glug at a time, always making sure you have incorporated the milk before you add more. When all the milk has been added continue to cook for about 5 minutes, until the taste of flour has disappeared. While still warm but off the heat add 60gms of the Cheddar and the Alpine cheese to the sauce, fold until it is all melted in. Then add a good grating of nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

Cool and add the remaining cream to the sauce and then the cooled pasta.

In an oven dish about 2inches deep and approx 30cm x 25cm – layer the bottom of the dish with the Cavolo Nero mixture and then Macaroni mixture, sprinkle the remaining cheese on the top.

Place on the middle shelf of the oven at 190c (fan) for 15-20 minutes (depending on how good your oven is) and then pop under a grill for a minute to brown off the top. The sauce should be still slightly wet, the Cavolo Nero should colour the underside of the pasta red and green when you spoon it onto your plate and it should just all hold together.

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Late Night Chai – A Recipe

As I left the in-laws on Boxing Day, a VHS sized package of foil (amongst other food based items) was shoved into a Sainsbury’s bag for life. When the various leftovers were unpacked the ‘Video’ was not a classic film but a chunk of Christmas cake.

The Mother in-law is a master baker. Our wedding cake was VERY pretty and moist, in addition to the actual cake there were also little boxes with a chocolate cake inside. The Christmas cake was icing and marzipan-less and very fruity. Light enough to actually be eaten and not consigned to an old biscuit tin for the month of January and then fed to the birds.

After the cinema last night the Mrs needed a cup of something hot and a bit of cake, mainly to counteract the unsatisfying ‘return to form’ of the Coen Brothers new release, A Serious man. We were out of fresh mint and had no more fresh ginger either (I must do some shopping) and so I thought I would make a variation of my Masala Chai. Traditionally Masala Chai is sweet and rich, so not the ideal thing to have before bed, especially with the old stomach problems.

I have a constant supply of Black tea from Nilgiri in the house and I always use it for Chai as it is perfect, big rolled leaves, none of this dusty rubbish you get from the big manufacturers. If you can get some real tea use it, otherwise use a good Assam varietal or blend. As it was a late/lighter alternative I thought it best to use the milk of the devil, Semi-Skimmed, and to use a little less sugar but a bit more spice. The cumin makes it ever so savoury and a totally different drink. It works very well with Christmas cake and as a bedtime soother.

Late Night Chai

A good handful of Black Tea leaves

500ml water

250 ml Semi Skimmed Milk

12 Cardamom pods

1/4 nutmeg

6 Cloves

6 Black Peppercorns

A pinch of Cumin Seeds

2tbs of Brown Sugar

Peel of half a clementine

Method

Pop all the ingredients except the milk in a pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15mins. Pop in the milk bring back to the boil, Strain to serve.

spicy tea

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Filed under GC Recipes, Stomach Problems