I'm bewitched with eating outdoors. Every year around this time, I get an itch - call it cabin fever - to go outside regardles off the fickle weather. It feels very European to me to have a meal outside. I always picture myself at the seaside in the South of Wales, or roaming the hills of Provence when I eat outdoors.
Alongside my cabin fever, I've had a serious case of wanderlust - a fortunate side effect of the books I've been reading recently on the culinary culture of France. Today, I turned on some French cafe music and made a Croque Monsieur and a Croque Madame.
CROQUE MONSIEUR [Adapted from Jody William's recipe]
2 Tablespoons unsalted European-style butter
1/8 cup white whole wheat flour (*all-purpose flour can also be used)
3/4 cup whole milk
1 Tablespoon mustard
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
4 slices of fresh artisan country bread
3 oz. pastured ham
3 oz. Gruyere, grated
Salt & pepper to taste
Melt butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat until foamy. Add flour and cook, stirring, until mixture is pale and foamy, about 3 minutes. Gradually add milk until mixture is smooth. Cook, stirring, until sauce is thick and somewhat elastic, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in mustard and nutmeg; season with salt to taste. Note: Bechamel can be made 1 day ahead.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spread bread slices with bechamel sauce on one side, dividing evenly and extending all the way to the edges. Place bread slices bechamel side up on a parchment-lined baking sheet; top with ham and half of cheese. Add additional bread slices on top of the ham & cheese. Sprinke remaining cheese and salt & pepper on top of sandwich. Bake until cheese is brown and bubbling, 10-15 minutes.
To make a Croque Madame: add 1 tablespoon of butter to a medium skilletover medium heat. Once the butter is melted and starting to bubble crack an egg directly into the pan. Wait until you see the bottom of the egg start to turn opaque then cover the skillet with a lid. Check on the egg frequently until all the white of the egg is opaque but the yolk is still raw then top the sandwich with the egg.
*I use white whole wheat or spelt flour in all my recipes. White whole wheat flour has the same healthy benefits as whole wheat flour without the extra dense baking results.