I found out that today is National Sandwich Day. Who knew we had a day dedicated to sandwiches? I love sandwiches. They’re the easiest thing to pack for lunch, they’re adorable cut into dainty little shapes for tea, and our family road trips just wouldn’t be the same without a cooler of sandwiches and drinks in the trunk of the car.
It’s commonly believed that the sandwich was the invention of John Montagu who was the 4th Earl of Sandwich in England. I can’t vouch for the truth of that, but the story goes that Lord Sandwich was a notorious gambler. They say he spent long hours at the gaming tables and rather than get up to eat, he would ask the servants to bring him some sliced meat between two pieces of bread so he could hold the food in one hand and keep his cards in the other. His friends embraced the custom and when they got hungry, they would ask for “the same as Sandwich” and that’s how the sandwich got its auspicious beginnings.
Anyway, in deference to National Sandwich Day, I decided to make Croque Monsieur for dinner tonight. Croque Monsieur is typical French bistro fare. Fancy as its name is, it’s basically just a grilled ham and cheese sandwich topped with béchamel sauce and more cheese. It’s delicious served all hot and melty with a glass of wine or an ice cold beer. If you top a Croque Monsieur with a fried egg, you’ll have what’s called a Croque Madame. But that’s for another post.
CROQUE MONSIEUR (Makes 6 sandwiches)
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup whole milk
¼ cup grated fresh parmesan cheese
pinch of ground nutmeg
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
12 slices firm white sandwich bread
room temperature butter for spreading on the bread slices
1 jar dijon mustard
6 ozs. thinly sliced Black Forest ham or Virginia ham
A soufflé is one of those dishes that inspires fear in people. I think it has something to do with the fact that people view it as this temperamental dish which will collapse if you shut the oven door a little too hard or sneeze while you’re carrying it from the oven to the table. What people don’t realize is that soufflés always collapse within 5 to 10 minutes of being removed from the oven. That’s just what they do. You haven’t done anything wrong. In fact, the name soufflé comes from the French verb soufflér which means to blow or puff which is basically what happens when it’s in the oven. The dish puffs up airy and high above the rim of the ramekin or soufflé dish, then slowly starts to fall after it’s removed from the oven.Whether savory or sweet, soufflés are all made from 2 basic components — a base which provides the flavor, and beaten egg whites which provide the lift. Savory soufflés have a base made from meat, fish or vegetable purees, and sweet soufflés have a base of pastry cream or fruit purees. The exception is chocolate soufflé which can be made by simply combining beaten egg whites with a chocolate ganache. As far as equiment, all you need are ramekins or a soufflé dish which has tall, straight sides, an electric mixer or balloon whisk, and a rubber spatula. It’s a lot easier to make than you think. The trick is not to forget the old adage, “The diner waits for the soufflé; the soufflé does not wait for the diner.” Have your guests seated ahead of time and serve the soufflé straight from the oven to the table as quickly as possible. With just a little practice, you could be turning out this impressive and sophisticated entrée which is guaranteed to wow your dinner guests every time. Et voilà!
4 leeks, about 1-1/2 lbs. total, trimmed, cleaned and chopped
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
salt and pepper, to taste
5 tbsp. flour
2-1/2 cups half-and-half
6 eggs, separated
Preheat oven to 400°. Coat a 14-inch oval gratin dish or large souffle dish with 2 tbsp. butter and sprinkle the bottom and sides with 1/2 cup of the cheese.
In a large frying pan set over medium heat, warm the olive oil.
Add the leeks and thyme and cook until the leeks are tender, about 12 minutes.
Remove from fire, season with salt and set aside to cool.
In a heavy saucepan set over medium heat, melt the remaining 5 tbsp. butter.
Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute until combined.
Whisk in the half-and-half and cook, whisking until the sauce is smooth and thick, about 4 minutes.
Remove from heat.
Whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time.
Stir in the remaining 1-1/2 cups cheese and the leeks.
Season with a little salt and pepper.
With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
Using a rubber spatula, fold 1/4 of the beaten egg whites into the leek mixture.
Working quickly but carefully so as not to deflate the whites, fold in the remaining egg whites until no white streaks remain.
Pour into the prepared dish. You want the dish to be about 3/4 full.
Bake until the soufflé is golden brown, about 25 minutes. To check if the soufflé is done, lightly shake the dish. If the center jiggles, it’s not done. If the whole thing moves back and forth as one mass, it’s done!
Take the soufflé out of the oven and serve it immediately.