Monday, July 1, 2013

Mr. Crispy

Lunchtime, originally uploaded by michele wynne.
I can noodle away hours and hours searching for that next best recipe, seeking inspiration and making list upon list of new ingredients to try, cook books to reserve and peruse, restaurants and food shops I want to check out. I hit up my favorite foodie blogs and make more lists. I love lists...making them and then crossing things off them.
A few weeks ago I came across Smitten Kitchen's post about her recent vacation in Italy and I've been thinking about it ever since. She posed this question:

"Where are you going this summer and what can't you wait to eat when you get there?"

I'm not going anywhere, sometimes I think I'll never go anywhere again. But I started a list anyway. Things I would eat in Paris which morphed into Places I would like to eat in Paris. I Googled and Google mapped my way through Paris' eateries.
I couldn't stop thinking of all the travelling I used to do and all the food I didn't eat. I was not an adventurous eater. I dug out the journal from a 1997 trip to Paris that I unearthed during my latest Feng Shui purge. 
I subsisted on a diet of baguettes, brie and beer. There was the occasional addition of  salami (if I came across something that resembled the super-thin slices found in a package of Gallo) when I felt like a splurge. The ultimate indulgence was the rare Omelette Fromage. It's embarassing now to think how delighted I was with myself and my travel saavy resourcefulness, when one day I wandered into a little bistro in the Bastille, later writing, "Where else can you get a sandwich and beer for $4.00!?!?!" Yes, part of it was frugality but I was also the pickiest eater ever. That was my biggest challenge when I travelled. In the Greek Islands, when all of my friends were gorging on calamari, I was eating French fries dipped in Tzatziki sauce.
 What I wouldn't give now to be able to eat my way through Paris. Trying as many classic dishes as I could.  As things stand now I'd have win the lottery or charm a wealthy patron. I have this ridiculous illusion that one of my moneyed chums would be so desirous of my personally tweeked guidance through the arrondisements of Paris that they would insist on our funding a gastronomic assault on its bistros and brasseries.
I would start simply. My current obsession with the Croque Monsieur would be my jumping off point.

#1 Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame: I wouldn't have touched either of these with a ten foot pole back then because I didn't like ham and the whole egg deal in the Croque Madame grossed me out...and the béchamel sauce? What the hell was that all about? Sheeesh!

#2 Boeuf Bourguignon: It was probably out of my budget range back then but even if it weren't I would have been afraid of biting into big fatty hunks of meat. That would have totally grossed me out.

#3 Coq au Vin: see #2
#4 Ratatouille-well...the eggplant.
#5 Yes! I would eat Escargot now! I've never eaten it but if I were ever to get to Paris again, I would do it.

I have been inspired to prepare some of these classic French dishes. First up:

Le Croque Monsieur
(this translates as the Crispy Mister)
It's still a work in progress (I've yet to attempt the béchamel version I've bookmarked in The Barefoot Contessa in Paris) so far, it goes a little bit like this:

2 slices of bread
1/2 cup cheese (gruyere, emmentaler, gouda-anything flavorful that melts well) grated
2 slices of smoked ham-I've also used smoked turkey
caramelized onions
Dijon mustard
Turn on the broiler and on the stove top heat up a skillet on medium high heat. Butter  a couple of slices of bread and place the slices butter side down onto the hot skillet and pile on some grated cheese and cook until the underside of the bread is toasty and golden brown. Transfer the cheesy toasts onto a broiler proof pan and broil a few minutes until the cheese is all melty and bubbly.
Toss a couple slices of cooked Virginia ham into the still hot skillet to heat through then lay the slices on one side of the sandwich and caramelized onion on the other half, just as you remove the pan from the broiler. Spread a little or a lot of Dijon mustard on the ham side and sandwich your two melty slices together and slice in half and you're good to go.

I've made this a couple of times now and it's off-the-hook good. So good I failed to get a decent picture of it. The meal in the photo is a simple grilled cheese sandwich. The Scallion Ramen soup was a concoction I came up with when cleaning my pantry and discovering 3 packages of Top Ramen. I tossed out the flavor packet and made my own starting with a base of Chicken Better Than Bouillion and adding miso, fish sauce, caramelized onions and scallions then tossing in the noodles to absorb all of those great flavors.
The Orzo Salad is topped with a brilliant Salad Booster from 101 Cookbooks.

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