My Croque Monsieur Challenge

Each month this year (so far) I've set myself a food challenge. These are things I've wanted to make for a long time but have been kinda scared to try. So far I've baked a Kouign Amann and made Banh Mi. This month: Croque Monsieur.

I was fortunate to travel when I was a kid (with parents of course), and we loved Paris. I have a distinct memory of getting a square croque monsieur from a food truck parked on a Paris side street. It was fantastic. Simple, savory, cheesy. It's basically a glorified grilled cheese, but because it is imbued with Frenchness (and meat), this grilled cheese becomes magnifique.

To make croque monsieurs, I combined 2 recipes from 2 domestic goddesses: Martha Stewart and Ina Garten. Mostly I went with Martha's recipe, checking Ina's for support now and then.


The main ingredients--fresh crunchy bread, ham and cheese.


I wanted to make sure all the bread slices matched up well. I laid them out first just to check.


Next step is to butter the outside of the bread, and put cheese and ham and mustard on the inside.


Into a skillet to brown. Or if you're following Ina, you would have toasted the bread first and could skip this step.


If it doesn't have the sauce on top, it is not a croque monsieur (*cough* AHEM certain downtown Brattleboro bakery).


Then into the oven. Remove when bubbly and browned. (Too browned here? Probably, but that's typical for my oven.)


All done, halved to see inside. With spring asparagus!

These were really good. But, like my other 2 challenges so far, I was far from nailing this one. For one thing, I used Alpine Lace cheese because I was trying to save money. Next time I'm going for proper Gruyère.

Also I used Serrano ham because I had (previously frozen) extra. I'm not sure what kind of ham is best for croque monsieurs (do you know?) But it is probably not Serrano. The Serrano had a kind of... rich, fruity flavor rather than the usual salty umami that I'd expect from ham. And it looked like a thick prosciutto, not a thin ham slice. It wasn't bad, but I'd like to try again with something more "hammy." (I'm sure it is some kind of sacrilege to use Serrano ham in a croque monsieur. Spanish and FRENCH? Street snacks and TAPAS?! But that's just how I roll. Use it up!)

SO, I'll probably be trying these again sometime in the future. But at least now I know the steps involved--not that hard!

Marchin' in

First an announcement--please tune in to tomorrow's Beef Jerky Time show (March 24, 7pm Eastern) to hear Sethums talking about his solo project Older than Hours CD release, and playing us some tracks. He says it's "gorgeous and twisted electro dream pop." If you're local, tune in to 107.7fm, Brattleboro. Otherwise stream live from CD release party is at The Loft in Brattleboro on Friday night (see Facebook page "events" for more).

Musical observations from the past month:

I can't stop listening to "Garden Friends" by Kissy Sell Out. I am fascinated by Kissy Sell Out--that he is a BBC Radio One program host, that he is also a club DJ with great mixes floating around online, that he has a podcast, stuff like that. Anyway, "Garden Friends" is amazing--electro and new, but also with heavy tinges of The Cure that make me feel very comfortable. Take a listen at the end of this long, informative post about DJing from Uh Oh Disco.

Phantogram, the duo from Saratoga that recently relased Eyelid Movies on Barsuk Records, seems to be everywhere these days--interwebs-wise anyway. Their sound is being described variously as swirly, electronic, shoe-gazer, beat-based, trip-hop. My favorite track so far is "When I'm Small," which builds up many gentle "ooh"s into something gorgeous and hypnotic. And swirly. Our smallest listener agreed she like the "ooh song."

I'm excited about The Miracles Club--mainly because "Light of Love" has a nostalgic 90s UK girl-singer sound that I like. It reminds me of Lush, or even better, St. Etienne. So good! It makes me want to be back in college putting off my Classics homework by lolling around the apartment until it's time for (heated) patio hopping... just for a day or so.

May I recommend the work of Tanlines? Their youtube stuff is just as solid as their musical stuff; both are somewhat peculiar and the sounds insanely catchy. The song "Real Life" was OK at first listen, then I had to hear it again very soon after, and then again and again. What do you call that? Addictive. The video for Bejan took a bit to figure out... like I KNOW that guy, he looks exactly like Flea, oh, he IS Flea. I can't believe anybody besides me actually watches Funky Monks in their spare time. I found this Pitchfork interview instructive.

Some Beef Jerky Time playlists from the past month follow. More new and old and in-between music in store for March and beyond, so please keep listening!

Bicycle: Rafter
Finish Line: Fanfarlo
I Lost My Colour Vision: Burning Hearts
Like I Can: The Secret Machines
VCR (Matthew Dear remix): The xx
Pom Pom: Matthew Dear
Paradise Circus (f. Hope Sandoval): Massive Attack
Exotic on the Speaker (f. Rye Rye): Soulico
O.N.E.: Yeasayer
Odessa: Caribou
Lion in a Coma: Animal Collective

Laura Palmer's Prom: You Say Party! We Say Die!
Eat That Up, It's Good for You: Two Door Cinema Club
Take It In: Hot Chip
Logic: Operator Please
Sole Brother: Born Ruffians
Dream City: Free Energy
When I'm Small: Phantogram
Daydream: Beach Fossils
Giving Up the Gun: Vampire Weekend
Best of Love: Emotions
Answer to Yourself: The Soft Pack
Turnpike Ghost: Steel Train
Me and the Devil: Gil Scott Heron

Set Yourself on Fire: Stars
Dragon Chasers: Wax Tailor
Careful with That Hat: Citay
You're the Reason I'm Leaving: Franz Ferdinand
Dance, Dance, Dance: Lykke Li
Feeling Good: Samirah Evans
Woman King: Iron & Wine
Strange Form of Life: Bonnie "Prince" Billy
That's Just the Way It Is: Bruce Hornsby & the Range
Mixed Bizness (Nu Wave remix by Les Rhythmes Digitales): Beck

Real Life: Tanlines
Little Girl (f. Julian Casablancas): Sparklehorse & Danger Mouse
Light of Love: Miracles Club
Sleep Paralysist: Neon Indian
Take It In: Hot Chip
No Logic: White Hinterland
Garden Friends: Kissy Sell Out
Your Hands (Together): New Pornographers
Albatross: The Besnard Lakes
Flash Delirium: MGMT
As Far As I Can See: Phantogram
Stick to My Side (Four Tet version): Pantha du Prince

Spring at last

First crocus bloomed on the first day of spring.
(So did the 2nd-5th crocuses. Or is it crocii?)

What a relief that winter is officially over. Is it possible that every year I hate winter even more than the year before? I think so. My mother, who is slightly older than I am, now hates winter so much that she must leave snowy climes altogether for a month or so. I find that winter makes me physically tense. It is exhausting to be cold, and clenched against that cold, for weeks on end. Fortunately a gorgeous warm sunny day like yesterday (first day of spring!) can be very rejuvenating. I feel like I've had a week's vacation. PHEW.

So I decided to celebrate by grilling. Problem: An hour before lighting time, I remembered we'd burned the last of our charcoal in a "farewell summer" barbecue last year. What to do?

Fortunately I also remembered that this "wood" stuff can be a decent substitute for a bag of charcoal. I happened to have a pile of sticks (above right) picked up from around the yard as the snow melted away. They made a perfect little fire in our hibachi!

For the first grill of the season I made chicken souvlaki.

Quick chicken souvlaki recipe

  • 3 breasts chicken cut into cubes
  • generous pour of olive oil
  • generous shake of dried oregano (because the herb garden isn't awake yet)
  • juice of 1/2 lemon (or more)

Put the first three ingredients together and refrigerate for 3 hours or more. Then add the lemon juice, combine thoroughly, and refrigerate (or just leave out) for another half hour or more. Thread the chunks onto skewers and grill. My grilling took maybe 20 minutes tops, turning occasionally. (I used soaked bamboo skewers, but the ends charred and singed anyway.)

We ate the souvlaki rolled up in lavash with tzatziki. (My dining companion also added jalapeños and Sriracha hot sauce to his. He has special needs!)

Quick tzatziki recipe

  • 1/4 cucumber, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • generous shake of dried dill (because blah blah see above)

Combine all ingredients and put into a fine-mesh strainer. Refrigerate in such a way that the strainer can slowly drain without sitting in its own juices (I rigged it up over a pint glass--got about 1/2 inch of liquid after an hour.)

How are you celebrating spring?

Kiwifruit conundrum cheesecake

My conundrum was this: too many kiwifruits. How many is too many? WELL, that would be two. I buy fruit with good intentions, but I have trouble liking it. Especially these green, cold, sour babies. When I saw Jim Harrison describe them as something like "bunions on a snail," I forgave myself for not being all that crazy about kiwifruit. So how to use them up? My solution: use them to garnish mini cheesecakes.

I've blogged about mini cheesecakes before. This time I tried a new trick from my mini cheesecake mentor, ValleyWriter, which is to use some type of Nilla Wafers (I used Mi-Del Lemon Snaps) for the bottom crust. The cookie exactly fits in the bottom of each section of the pan. 12 cookies and 20 seconds later, your crust is done. (Part of her advice was "make sure you buy the cookies that come IN THE BAG." I passed by several types of boxed Nilla Wafers before settling on the bag of Lemon Snaps, which were indeed perfect.)

Last time I made mini cheesecakes I overfilled the sections and the cheesecakes got an unattractive popover look. They puffed up over the rim of the pan and started to crack and fall apart. Wary this time, I left about 5 mm at the top, which I think was underfilling (they shrank with baking). Whatever. (That is my baking motto.)

Topped with thin discs of kiwi fruit.

All done. Later, I glazed some with melted apricot preserve. This makes it shiny (and helps the kiwifruit stick to the cheesecake). Result: My kiwifruits are now transformed into protein-rich and calcium-laden desserts for the week.

Potato chowder with bacon and corn

Here's an easy recipe from a lazy Sunday afternoon.


2 slices bacon
1 T butter
2 ribs celery, diced
1 small onion, diced
3 yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 cups stock (veggie or chicken)
1.5 cups milk
1/2 cup frozen corn
salt and pepper

Ingredients--container in upper-left is still-somewhat-frozen stock.
The round thing bottom right is butter.

  1. Cut the bacon up so it is in small squares or pieces, then fry it up in a Dutch oven until thoroughly crispy. Drain on a paper towel and pour off the grease. Don't wash the pot!
  2. Next, melt butter in the same pot and sauté the onion and celery until glassy--maybe 5 minutes.
  3. Add the potatoes and stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 1/2 hour until the potatoes are soft. At this point you can turn off the heat and let everything sit for a few hours if you like. Or, go straight to step 4.
  4. Put the crispy bacon bits back in the pot. Also add the corn and milk. Bring everything back up to a very low boil. Once boiling, turn down very low (use a heat disperser if possible) and cook for another 10 minutes or so. Salt and pepper to taste.

Soup at the end of step 3 (I added the bacon already).

This was the main/only course for dinner. I made Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits to go with the soup. (That biscuit recipe is AMAZING by the way. Fluffy. Cheesy. Addictive. And I found it randomly because I needed to use up 1/2 cup buttermilk.)

Almost spring 2010

March makes me feel like we might really win against this snow thing. Even if it blizzards again, it won't have the same spine to it. The snow will know, and I'll know the snow will know, that it won't last long. I am beginning to have hope that spring (and then summer) may really come.

I was going to do a whole post about my collection of pans, but I would really be angling to rave about my new 12" cast iron Lodge skillet with lid. OH my goodness this thing is fabulous! I have a different (Le Creuset) non-stick skillet that I really like, but the coating is starting to come off in places. I've read that a well-loved non-stick skillet can last just a few years, maybe only 2. But a well-cared-for cast iron skillet can be an heirloom. I tried out the Lodge this morning.

3 eggs and (precooked) sliced sausage, with an extra slice of sunshine. Maybe I am just in love, but these eggs seemed to cook perfectly. They didn't stick and they didn't get too brown too fast. Amazing.

Lodge did not pay me to rave about this. It is just awesome.

Another exciting thing happened today. First snowdrop. Take THAT old man winter! (Sorry about how the stuff behind the flower is in perfect focus...)