Foods I Love: Croque Madame

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There is nothing better on this Earth than a really good Croque Madame.  I had my first Croque Madame via room service in the Sofitel Hotel in Chicago.  It was heavenly and I have been searching for one as good as that one in the US since.  They have since taken it off the menu at the Sofitel, so the search goes on.  (I did have a few while in France last year, and as with anything else, some were incredible and some were inedible.)  All in all, it’s a hard sandwich to screw up – as long as you use the right ingredients – since it’s basically a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich.

The original grilled sandwich, minus the fried egg on top, is known as a Croque Monsieur – which loosely translates into “Mister Crunch.”  The Croque Madame has the fried egg, which resembles a little hat, or so the story goes.  It is not true that a Croque Madame is made with chicken instead of ham or mornay sauce instead of béchamel.  The only difference between the two is the egg – but to me it makes all the difference in the world.

  • TRADITIONAL CROQUE MADAME
    Adapted from Williams-Sonoma
    Serves 4
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbs. all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
  • 8 slices sweet batard bread, each 1/2 inch thick
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 3 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 8 slices Black Forest or Jambon de Paris ham
  • 4 oz. Gruyère cheese, grated
  • 4 eggs
  • Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 Tbs. of the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is pale golden, about 3 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. Simmer, continuing to whisk, until the sauce is smooth and thickened, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the 1/2 tsp. salt plus black pepper and nutmeg, to taste. Set the béchamel sauce aside.
  2. Preheat a panini press to 375ºF or medium according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Brush one side of each bread slice with oil. Place the slices, oiled side down, on a clean work surface. Spread the mustard on 4 of the slices and top each with 2 slices of ham, folding the ham if necessary to keep it even with the edges of the bread. Spread the béchamel sauce evenly over the ham and sprinkle the cheese on top, dividing evenly. Top each with one of the remaining bread slices, oiled side up.
  4. Place the sandwiches on the preheated panini press and cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions until golden and crispy, about 5 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, in a large fry pan over medium-high heat, melt the remaining 1 Tbs. butter. When the butter foams, break the eggs into the pan, spacing them about 1 inch apart. If using egg rings, spray the inside of 4 rings with nonstick cooking spray, place in the pan and break an egg into each ring. Season the eggs with salt and black pepper. Cook until the whites are firm, about 3 minutes. Remove the egg rings, if using. Flip the eggs over and continue cooking until the whites are cooked through but the yolks are still runny, about 1 minute more.
  6. Slide an egg onto each sandwich, sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.  Enjoy!

France vs. US – it’s a Tie!

 

One of the fine hair dryers I came across in France.

One of the fine hair dryers I came across in France.

 

 

As you know, I just got back from a month in France, and although I have been to France before – being there for that amount of time made me realize a few things.  As with traveling to any foreign country, there are funny differences, albeit minor ones, that make you go hmmmm.  I’m not saying that one way is right, or one way is wrong… just different.  And, if you tally up my personal experiences, it seems that we are statisically tied – kind of like Obama and McCain!  Here’s what I learned:

THINGS WHERE FRANCE KICKS OUR ASS

  1. Food/Wine  Yes, it’s true what they say – the food in France is incredible.  Sure, I had some mediocre fare, but overall it was amazing.  I had a sole meunière that would literally make you cry in a tiny restaurant in Paris that was straight out of central casting.  I’m never going to order this dish again, as I know I will never find one as good as that one –  ever.  Oh, and the wine?  California wines are good, Italian wines are great, but France kicks all of our asses.  Sorry, but it’s true.
     
  2. Energy Conservation/Recycling  You know, as I made my way through France, I realized how really wasteful we are here in the US.  There were so many little things that are normal in France that would be thought of as revolutionary here as far as energy conservation goes.  Things like the fact that you have to use your hotel key card to turn on the lights in your room or that all the hallway lights are motion-activated.  I can only imagine how much money this saves the hotel with no a/c or lights on when guests are not there.  Also, everywhere we went I saw giant glass, paper and plastic recycling bins.  Not just at homes, but at restaurants and just on the street.  And, people actually use them! It’s not a joke like the “blue bag” fiasco here in Chicago a few years ago. (Google it.)  Plus, I saw tons of wind power generators and a few nuclear plants to boot.  We look archaic next to this.
     
  3. Flowers  I know that the French take their flowers and horticulture in general very seriously.  But, I was still amazed at the gorgeous flowers and plants available at the flower shops and markets.  I never saw a flower or plant that wasn’t just absolutely at its peak of beauty and perfect, no matter what town we were in.  Loving flowers as every good girl should, I thought it was very cool.
     
  4. Transportation  Yes, they have traffic jams just like everyone else, but overall I really noticed all the transportation options available in all the different places we went.  I took the TGV, the French supertrain that got us 450 miles in 2 1/2 hours.  It was clean, comfortable, and easy.  I took the metro in Paris, the new trams in Bordeaux and noticed the cool rental bikes in Paris, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Aix en Provence.  The bikes work like the luggage carts at the airport – you put some money in, take the bike and turn it in at your destination at one of over 100 different locations in the city – it works and it’s a great idea.

 

THINGS WHERE WE KICK FRANCE’S ASS

  1. Inane TV  I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but they have very serious TV in France.  It wasn’t a language problem, but it was rarely that I could find something on the main France TV stations that wasn’t some sort of roundtable discussion, news program, or documentary.  Yes, I saw their version of Big Brother, a couple of game shows and some Simpsons dubbed in French, but these were few and far between.  We do much better with our 10,0000 channels of crap – because sometimes you just need to watch some crap and not think so much.
     
  2. Hair Dryer Technology I’m not sure how French women get to look so stylish and polished with the absolutely horrible hair dryers they are given.  I can’t tell you how many different hair dryers I tried to use over the course of the month in the hotels that all had one thing in common:  They toally sucked! (or blow, as the case may be.)  They were either powerless, made in 1945, broken or, in one case, so strong I couldn’t use it (it was called the Jet 5000 – and it was!)  I’m not sure what the hell is going on there with the hair dryers, but something needs to be done and pronto!  Because of this, I look like Jerry Seinfeld in the “low flow” shower head episode in most of my vacation photos. (I don’t like the sound of that!)
     
  3. Cocktails  I don’t know if it is because they perfected the wine thing so long ago, they kind of gave up doing anything else in the liquor category.  I’m not talking about apertifs or digestifs – they’ve got that covered.  I am talking about the good old fashioned cocktail.  The French simply cannot make a decent cocktail.  And, it seems that cocktails are all the rage right now, as all bars and cafes seem to have extensive cocktail lists.  The problem is in the execution.  No free-pours (always a very exact, very miniscule 4cl), paltry ice (two cubes at most), warm mixers.  Plus, they’re damned expensive!  Check mark for us for the good old fashioned shit-facer cocktail!
     
  4. Ice I already touched on this above, but what up with the ice, F?  The French don’t like ice.  No ice in your water.  No ice in your soft drinks.  Limited ice in your cocktail.  No ice for sale at the store.  No ice buckets or ice machines.  Oh… wait.  They do like ice for one thing – order a bottle of champagne or rosé and watch all the ice that comes in the bucket! Maybe that’s what they’re saving it all for… 

Beaa or Moou?

 

Anyone who spends a lot of time overseas will tell you that the English TV pickins (thanks Gov. Palin!)  are slim to none for most European hotels.  Most of the hotels I stayed in over the last month in France only had one English station – CNN.  So,  after the novelty of trying to watch the French version of Wheel of Fortune wore off we watched CNN… a lot of CNN.

After watching countless hours of CNN while on the road, I noticed two things.  One, they have no programming.  We saw the same five pre-packaged stories over and over no matter what the hour, day, night, weekday or weekend.  It’s a fucking NEWS station – don’t you have news?  Don’t you have anything NEW to say about the NEWS?  Second, they have no advertising.  We literally saw about six commercials for the entire trip.  Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over.  But, there was a silver lining.  I give it to you above.

This commercial played about four times per half hour. I found myself mesmerized by it… everything about it. At first it was trying to figure out what the hell it was for.  Okay, something about feta cheese – got it.  Then, it was trying to figure out what it meant.  Why is the guy a caveman with one eye?  Why is the one cow in a sheep costume? Why did he knock the milk over? Why is he embarrassed about it?  What the FUCK IS GOING ON????  

Then it was the details:  the bad computer animation, the strange editing, the red laser beam, the poor graphics – the overall oddness about it.  I was obsessed.   Every time I watched it, I would see something new. The song stuck in my head and I found myself humming it all day long.  My husband and I began to just randomly say “beaa” and “moou” during the day and giggle.  I looked forward to seeing it when we got back to the hotel each night.  I loved my beaa feta/moou feta – it was like a comforting friend in each new strange town we came to.

Then, it happened.

After being on about 10,000 times a day, suddenly it wasn’t on at all.  It was gone.  Totally gone! Where is my beaa feta/moou feta????   I was a beaa feta/moou feta junkie who had to quit cold turkey.  Each day I looked for it, but it was never to be seen again. I had serious withdrawal issues.  I got depressed.

Thank god for the internet.  After a lengthy search, I found their website and now have my beaa feta/moou feta forever!  Do what I did and just watch it about 10 times in a row – – I know you’ll get hooked.  

Now, can someone please tell me what the hell this ad is for?