Sunday, March 1, 2015
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!
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
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.
Until next time,
Thursday, February 26, 2015
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.
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!
Thursday, February 19, 2015
Leg of Lamb. This dish intimidates some cooks because its a relatively expensive cut of meat, and we just don't eat that much lamb here in the States. But if you don't roast a leg now and then, you are denying yourself one of the world's great culinary traditions. Lamb has a wonderfully succulent flavor and roasting a leg of lamb is simple and virtually foolproof, as long as you don't overcook it. Yes, lamb, like a good steak, is better enjoyed on the rarer side of things.
You can usually get a nice 3-5 pound leg at even a common grocery store these days.
Just check the date--lamb can go horribly wrong if its past its date. You can do bone in or boneless. Bone in might give you a little more flavor, but its a bit more difficult to carve. Today we'll be going with boneless.
Remove it from its plastic wrap, and if it is in a webbing, like here,
Remove the web and unroll the leg.
You can see where the bone ran quite easily. We're going to spread some whole grain mustard inside the cavity where the bone was.
Then we'll roll it back up and tie it off with some butcher's twine.
This mustard will give a nice subtle tang to the flavor of the lamb, but otherwise it doesn't need much. Lamb, even the leg, is inherently tender, and needs pretty much no marinade.
Once she's all tied up, pierce the outside all over with the sharp end of a knife to a depth of about a half inch.
Slice a couple of garlic cloves into thin strips.
Insert these strips in the incisions you've made in the lamb.
Next, brush with olive oil (light or pure, no extra-virgin here, it has too low of a smoke point)
Then sprinkle some herbs de Province all over.
Heat your oven to 450F. While it is heating, peel a potato, slice it in half, and then cut it into half-inch thick crescents.
Yes, we're gonna roast some taters in the pan drippings of the lamb. They will make an outstanding side.
Place the potato slices in a plastic bag, pour in some olive oil, then a tablespoon or so herbs de Province, then shake well.
Toss the potato slices in the bottom of a roasting pan.
Place a rack over them, then place the leg of lamb on top of this.
Roast at 450 for 5 minutes, then reduce the oven to 325F and roast for around 15 minutes per pound, but to be safe use a meat thermometer and remove the lamb when it measures 125F in the center for rare, or 135F for medium. I wouldn't go much over that, as a well-done leg will be dry and tough and will have lost much of its flavor. Oh, and keep an eye on your taters. If you're doing a 4 pound roast like I have here then the hour or so roasting time should be perfect for the thick potato slices. If you've got a bigger leg, you might need to pull the taters when they turn golden brown
and continue to roast your lamb.
Wither way, pull the lamb out when it is done and let rest five minutes or so, letting the juices redistribute.
When ready, carve it in nice thick slices. It should have a nice healthy pink color in all but around the edges.
Plate and serve simply, as I've done here.
If you must, feel free to add a side of mint jelly, as that is the traditional accompaniment. But, I really don't care for it...feel it covers up the lamb's naturally wonderful flavor.
Until next time,