Friday, February 13, 2015

A Taste of Europe - Adding Some French Flair to American Fare

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Food with French Flair

We had such a good time studying France, and there are so many wonderful French foods to try, that it's inspired a couple more dinners. It might be just me, but just calling a dish by its French name seems to make it classier somehow - give it more gourmet appeal.  The two most recent dishes we tried are the classy French versions of some very basic American-style comfort foods.

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 Like many countries in Europe, France knows its cheeses. Grilled cheese is the popular straight-forward American favorite sandwich, and Croque Monsieur is just  a richer, dressier grilled cheese sandwich. The name (pronounced sort of like  this: krohk muhs-YOOR) means something like "crunchy sir", maybe because of its crispy toasted crust. It's fancied up a little, but it's not hard to make.

You will need to make a Bechamel Sauce, which isn't hard either. Not a lie - I have made Bechamel many times before, but had no clue how to pronounce it, having never heard it spoken. My monsieur made fun of me because I didn't know. He's lucky he didn't wind up crunched. *Ahem* In case I am not the only person who does not watch enough Food Network shows to know this, it is pronounced like BAY-sheh-mel. (Also, learn from my mistake - I did let my butter brown a little bit when I made this, and I shouldn't have. Don't get distracted!)
Food with French Flair

After grilling the ham and cheese sandwiches, you spread them with the Bechamel, sprinkle on some more cheese, and then put them under the broiler for a couple minutes.
Food with French Flair

Yummmm!!! (Even though they got a bit darker than ideal.)
Food with French Flair

To make a Croque Madame, just add a fried egg on top. I just slipped the fried egg on top of the Bechamel and cheese after broiling.
Food with French Flair
I adapted this recipe from Emeril's There's a Chef in My World!. A traditional Croque Monsieur would have Gruyere cheese, but  I was grocery shopping on a strict budget this week, and decided it would work fine with what I had on hand, which was sharp cheddar. And it was rich and delicious with cheddar, so feel free to use whatever cheese your family has on hand and enjoys.

Croque Monsieur
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
3/4 cup milk 
salt, pepper and ground nutmeg

8 slices white sandwich bread
Dijon mustard
thinly sliced baked or deli ham
slices of sharp cheddar (or Gruyere) cheese
1/4 cup grated cheese

For the Bechamel sauce, melt 2 tbsp butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and stir one minute, until bubbly, but don't let it brown. Add the milk a little at a time, whisking to combine. Turn the heat to medium-high and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Season with a little salt and pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Set aside while you prepare the sandwiches and preheat the broiler.

Spread one side of each slice of bread with Dijon mustard, then layer on slices of ham and cheese and top with another slice of bread. Lightly butter the outsides of the sandwiches. Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat, add the buttered sandwiches and cook until they are golden brown on both sides. Transfer to a baking sheet, and spread the top of each sandwich with Bechamel sauce, and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Heat under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and cheese is just starting to brown.

Serve immediately - with a fried egg on top if you'd like the Croque Madame version.

 And then for dinner yesterday... well, I was going to make simple hot hamburger sandwiches, but just as I was getting my ground beef mixture ready, I remembered that I had a recipe in my collection (that I very recently tidied up - see 34 Weeks of Clean - Recipes) for Bifteck Hache. Now you tell me which sounds classier - "Hot Hamburg Sammich" or "Bifteck Hache". Yeah, even if you mess up the pronunciation of the French one, it's still FRENCH. And that somehow makes it better. And less subject to criticism from the monsieur. Like this:

Monsieur: What's for dinner, and how soon will it be ready?
Madame: Bifteck Hache - dinner is at 6.
Monsieur: says nothing, because he is anticipating a fancy French dinner.

But I'm telling you - this is really just fancied up hamburger patties. 
Food with French Flair
What makes them special is the sauce, which is a buttery red wine deglazing of the pan juices. The original recipe that I found who-knows-where included finely chopped sauted onion in the beef patties (I don't do that because I and at least two children object to chunks of onion, no matter how small) and minced shallot cooked as you deglaze the pan. I left those out too.

Bifteck Hache
softened butter, about 8-10 tbsp
peeled and finely chopped yellow onion (optional)
1-1/2 pounds ground beef or chuck
1 lightly beaten egg
salt and pepper and other seasoning, if desired
1/2 cup flour
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 shallot, peeled and minced (optional)
1/2 cup red wine

If using the onion, melt about 2 tbsp of butter in a skillet and saute onions until soft. Allow to cool and then add to ground beef, egg, seasonings, and 2 tbsp of softened butter. Mix well and shape into six patties. Dredge the patties in the flour. Heat oil and 1 tbsp butter in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add patties and sear until well browned on both sides. Transfer patties to a warm platter and cover.

Discard fat from skillet and return to medium heat. Melt 1 more tbsp of butter and saute the shallots until brown, stirring constantly. Increase heat to medium-high, add wine, and cook, scraping brown bit stuck to the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon, until reduced by about three-quarters (about 2 minutes). Remove from heat and add the remaining 4 tbsp butter, one tbsp at a time, stirring constantly, until butter is melte and sauce is thick and velvety. Season with salt and pepper and fresh parsley if desired, spoon over patties and serve.

A Taste of Europe @

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