Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Welsh Rarebit

You all know I love cheese, so how could I not love Welsh Rarebit: an utterly British dish of toasty bread slathered with rich melted cheese thinned with ale then broiled.  I first tried this dish on a pub crawl during a sojourn to London, but I’d heard of it years earlier, when I was a kid.  I still remember the place I first heard of Welsh Rarebit—it was of course the place where one usually hears of Welsh Rarebit:  The Gomer Pyle TV Show. 

Admit it, you watched it.  We all did.  We didn’t know any better back then.  Well, there was this one episode where Gomer started sleepwalking and doing crazy things (well, crazy for Gomer) like yelling at his Sergeant and generally not being himself.  It turned out that the cause of all this was that he had been eating Welsh Rarebit every day for dinner.  Apparently there’s been a long-standing belief that eating Welsh Rarebit causes strange dreams. 

Where did that come from?  How could melted cheese on toast cause strange dreams?

To the Internet, Robin!  Turns out that there was a very weird comic strip in the early part of the 1900s that was called Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend.  This strip, which prefigured The Far Side by three-quarters of a century, presented the bizarre, surreal dreams of people who had eaten Welsh Rarebit before bed. 

This strip was apparently the source of the notion that Rarebit causes weird dreams.  The author of the strip (Winsor McCay) originally drew a one-shot comic strip called Dream of the Tobacco Fiend.  His Editor liked it, but apparently he didn’t want to offend the tobacco fiends of the world, thus he suggested McCay replace the word ‘tobacco’ with something completely innocuous and innocent.  Their choice:  Welsh Rarebit.  I have to admit that the juxtaposition is funny because of its absurdity.  But of course Rarebit got a weird reputation ever since.

Well, reputation be dammed!  This is a delicious dish that one shouldn’t miss. 

Welsh Rarebit, dispite the ‘Welsh’ moniker, is not from Wales (my ancestral homeland, no less) but in fact the dish is quintessentially English.  The name may have originally been ‘Welsh Rabbit;’ it is speculated that this was either a slight against the Welsh in that they couldn’t afford a real rabbit, and that they had a supposed fondness for cheese. 

Welsh Rarebit

4 Tablespoons Butter
1/4 Cup Flour
2 Tablespoons Dry English Mustard
1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
2 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
12 Oz Beer, Preferably an English Ale or Bitter
2 Cups English Cheddar, Grated
Several Slices of Crusty Bread, Toasted

Melt Butter in a large skillet.  

When it has melted, sift in the flour 

and allow to cook for a couple of minutes.  Add the Cayenne 

and the English Mustard.  

Add the Worcestershire Sauce 

and then the beer.  

Allow this to simmer for a few minutes, 

then add your cheese.  

Stir over medium heat until the cheese is melted. 

Toast your bread slightly (not too dark, as it’s going back under the broiler in a moment with the cheese)  You can use slices of ‘white bread’ if you want, but I find some nice slices of baguette or Italian bread work best, and make a nicer presentation. 

Slather the toasted bread with the cheese sauce.

Make sure you cover the tops of the bread slices completely.  

Place the slices under the broiler.  Keep a close eye on them.  Pull ‘em out when just start to turn golden brown and bubbly. 


Serve immediately, but watch out, they’ll be hot. 

Until next time,

Sweet dreams….

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Croque Monsieur

I think we'll declare this month Melt-y March, and not just because of the snow (which is now melting) that appeared unseasonably late here in Texas, but because we will feature two delicious melted cheese dishes this month, one French, one British.  First up, the French.

At its heart, a Croque Monsieur is basically a ham and cheese sandwich, but it is a ham and cheese sandwich gussied up with the culinary excess that only the French can provide.  It is succulent, savory and delicious.  If you've never had one right out from under the broiler, you simply must try it.  Magnifique!

Croque Monsieur

4 Pats Butter
3 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
2 Cups Hot Milk
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Nutmeg
1 Teaspoon Herbs de Province
Dijon Mustard
6 Oz Gruyere, Grated
4 Slices Country Ham
4 Slices Emmental or other Swiss Cheese
8 Slices Sandwich Bread, Toasted and Crusts Removed

Melt Butter in a large skillet.

Meanwhile, gently heat your milk in a sauce pan

Sift in the Flour into the skillet with the butter

Stir until combined.

Add your hot milk

Stir into no clumps of flour remain.

Add the salt, nutmeg and Herbs de Province.

Add 4 ounces of the Gruyere.

Remove from heat and stir until cheese melts.

Add a heaping teaspoon of the Dijon mustard and stir.

Meanwhile toast your bread slices and remove the crust.

Slather four of the slices with Dijon mustard.

Top these four with a slice of ham.

Top that with a slice of the Swiss Cheese

Top those with the rest of the bread.  You've now got four pretty decent ham sandwiches.  But, we're now gonna go one step further.  Make 'em a little more decadent.   Slather the tops of each sandwich with a generous helping of the cheese sauce you made in the skillet.

Top this with the rest of the grated Gruyere.

Turn on your broiler and place the sandwiches under it.  Broil until the cheese is melted and starting to turn golden brown.

Pull out of the oven and admire.

Serve immediately!

Until next time,

Bon Appetit!


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Potatoes Anna

French cuisine can be so decadent.  Delightfully so.  Deliciously so.  It almost wouldn’t be French if it wasn’t redolent with calories and butter and carbs and sugars and so on and so on and so on. 

Well, health foods be damned, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Pommes Anna, or Potatoes Anna, has got to be one of the more decadent potato dishes that I’ve ever encountered, rivaling my own mashed potato recipe for decadence, for it is swimming in butter and layered with cheese.  But it is, my friends, perhaps the finest potato dish you will ever have the pleasure to taste.  It seems like a lot of trouble and yes, it does take a little time, but it’s well worth the effort, and I don’t think you’ll find a Frenchy-er potato dish than this one. 

Potatoes Anna

4 Extra Large Russet Potatoes, Peeled and Sliced Paper-Thin
4-6 Oz Melted Butter
6 Oz Gruyere Cheese, Sliced Thin
Thyme, Salt and Pepper to Taste

Preheat your oven to 375˚F

First, we’ve got to deal with the taters.  To generate the many hundreds of paper-thin slices of potato that you need for this dish, you really need a mandoline, like the one pictured here.  

You could use a knife, but it will take you forever, and you’ll never get the slices thin and even enough unless you are some sort of ginsu-ninja master.  Before I got a mandoline, I used my food processor’s slicing blade to do this dish.  That worked okay, but I had to halve the potatoes to get them down the processor’s chute, and so I didn’t have nice pretty round slices like I get with a mandoline. 

Anyway, if you’ve got a mandoline, use it, but also use caution.  I cringe when I see pro chefs on the food network using their bare hands to shotgun-fast a paper-then piece of veg back and forth, their fingertips a scant centimeter from the sharp blade.  

Sure, they’re pros, but you, yes you there, please don’t do this.  I speak from experience.  Mandolines come with a cutting guide for a reason. I used to not use it, but of course one never thinks that the wet, slippery potato that one is holding will slip out of one's hand just as they make their downstroke, causing one to shave the side of their thumb off. 

Because of such things, I use both a knife glove, 

which is are thick, cut-resistant gloves often made of Kevlar or chain-mail, and I use the guide as well. 

Okay, consider yourself warned. 

I peel the potatoes, cut them in half, then knock off the rounded ends of each half, making a nice stable flat on each end for the mandoline to slice. 

The Mandoline really cuts 'em paper thin.  So much so that you can see through the slices.

If your potatoes are large enough, four will probably suffice to get you enough slices for this dish.  But I always get more than I think I’ll need.  I can always find a use for an extra tater later.

When you’ve got your taters sliced, it’s time to make the Anna.  I like to use a nice, heavy cast iron skillet, 

as it conducts heat quite well and gets the Anna nicely browned.  Of course you can use just about any shallow, oven-safe dish for this—a pie tin, cake pan, hell, even a casserole dish.  Something round is preferred, as I think it looks nicer and more traditional.  If money is no object, get ya one of these:

That there is a cocotte à pommes Anna, a French-made cooking dish that exists specifically to produce Pommes Anna.  It’s made of copper, so it conducts heat even better than cast iron, and it is basically two halves that buckle together so that the dish can be flipped for cooking on both sides evenly.  The Eat’n Man would sorely love to have one, but have you seen the price of copper these days?!?

So, no worries, cast iron works fine. 

First, we’ll spray it with some cooking spray so that the Anna releases easily when she’s done cooking. 

Next, find a nice, perfect slice from your bowl of potato slices and place it in the center of the dish.

Arrange five or so more perfect slices in a larger, overlapping circle around this center slice. 

Continue with a larger and larger circle until you get to the edge of the pan.  

Try to pick only nice, pretty, perfectly round slices for this layer, as this will be the top of the Anna when we flip it to serve. 

Once this first layer is complete, brush it with melted butter.  

Put down another layer of potatoes.  On this one, place four or five thin slices of Gruyere—you don’t need total coverage here.  The cheese will melt and spread out. 

Place another layer of potatoes down.  Brush with butter.  Sprinkle a little thyme on this.  

Fresh if you have it, but dry works fine. 

Add another layer of potatoes, then more slices of Gruyere.  Repeat this process, alternating between brushing with butter and layering in Gruyere each time you make a potato layer.  Every few butter layers, sprinkle a little salt and cracked pepper down.  

Repeat the thyme application every few butter layers as well, but don’t do this or the salt and pepper on every butter layer or you’ll over season this dish. 

Once you get potatoes layered pretty much to the top of your dish, you’re done.  Brush butter on the last layer. 

Pop the dish into your 375˚F oven 

and bake for 30 minutes.  Increase the temp to 425˚F and go for another 30 minutes.  Increase oven to 475˚F and continue to bake until the potatoes turn a deep golden brown.  Remove from the oven at this point. 

If you used the cooking spray the Anna should release from the pan or dish easily.  Just to make sure, I usually run a spatula around the edge of the pan to make sure the crusty edges have released.  

I then place a serving platter upside down over the pan and, holding both tightly, flip them over so that the Anna drops on the dish.  I then lift the pan off and hopefully, the Anna has released beautifully. 

Note how the edges have crisped up nicely.  

They will be crunchy while the inside will be nice and moist.  

She can be cut into wedges and should be served immediately, preferably with some additional decadent French dishes. 

Until Next Time,

Dig ya some Taters!