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A Morning to Indulge
Hi, my name is Heather, and this is my (sometimes daily, mostly weekly) attempt at journaling about my love affair with food, passion for all growing things, challenges & joys raising a 5-year-old in my 40’s, favorite places & things in Lancaster County, PA.
It seems fitting that I start at the beginning, which to me means a nice hot cuppa and breakfast.
Of course, morning priorities dictate getting an exuberant little man to eat breakfast while I pack his lunch, doublecheck his attire for weather appropriateness (no, Jack, you can NOT wear your glow-in-the-dark pajamas to school this morning, even though they’re the “awesomest”!), and inspect his backpack for contraband. Yep, actual contraband, as in, just for example…a dead beetle in a jelly jar. But more about that later: back to breakfast.
This morning I had my usual mug of hot tea – I’m really enjoying Assam lately for its eyes-wide-open hit of fragrant astringency. It’s lovely on its own, but stands up really well to cream. The water has to be hot enough - right off the boil - for its flavor to really “bloom”. After we closed the café in January, my home kitchen inherited some pieces of equipment. One of my faves – and one I will NEVER again be without – is the Zojirushi hot water heater.
This little miracle of modern technology runs on a tiny amount of electricity per day, and keeps your hot water at a constant temperature – you choose from three different temp. settings. One of those is 208 degrees F – spot on for an absolutely perfect cup of black tea. They sell them on Amazon, and my first one lasted me for over ten years before it gave up the ghost. I keep mine on all day long, since I am an absolute tea addict, and they are also great for instant noodles & soup, packets of hot chocolate, instant coffee (perish the thought!) ;) etc.
If you drink as much tea as I do, you really need one of these. You REAlly do. Come on, it’s cold outside, there’s snow on the ground, (at least SOMEwhere), treat yourself. You deserve it.
….So, on those mornings I want to indulge, (with the promise to exercise sometime in the near future) I make one of these. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Croque Madame. She’s regal, she’s decadent, and most importantly: she’s delish. Very simple to make, she is in essence a grilled ham and cheese sandwich cloaked in béchamel sauce, crowned with gloriously-browned cheese and topped with an egg.
What’s not to like? Our version at the café started with the béchamel sauce, laced with French Comte cheese (for a great price on this pricey cheese, I go to Costco!)
Here’s the lowdown on a classic French sandwich:
- ¼ cup butter (half stick)
- ¼ cup flour
- 2 – 3 cups milk
- ½ tsp. salt
- Freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
- Freshly-ground nutmeg, to taste
- ½ cup grated Comte cheese
In skillet on medium heat, melt butter – (chop into small chunks first for quicker melting). Whisk in flour until thick paste forms. Slowly whisk in milk a bit at a time, being sure milk is incorporated into sauce before adding more. Season with salt and pepper, nutmeg (if desired), stir in grated cheese, and cook for 3-4 minutes to thicken. If sauce is too thick, add more milk, ¼ cup at a time, to thin sauce as needed. Consistency should be such that it will flow down over the sides of the sandwich, but not be watery.
By the way, this sauce is the foundation for a fantastic homemade macaroni & cheese, as well as the base sauce for fettucini primavera! The sauce will keep for almost a week in the fridge – and microwaves beautifully!
Keep your béchamel handy, and make yourself a nice ham and cheese sandwich – remember to butter the outside of the bread, not the inside. I prefer plain ole’ white bread on this one, with Swiss cheese and just a thin piece of ham so it doesn’t overwhelm the other flavors. Toast in a skillet ‘til cheese is melty. Meanwhile, get your oven broiler heated up. Pop the sandwich into an ovensafe dish (I use a piepan). Be sure that your béchamel is warm, and pour it over the top of the sandwich, completely coating it and letting it cascade over the sides. Top with a piece of Swiss or Comte and broil to a yummy golden-brown. Hungry yet? Keeping an eye on the broiler, fry or poach your egg – the key here is that the yolk remains liquidy, so it can mingle with the béchamel. Pull the sandwich from the broiler, top it with the egg, and voila! Mmmm….
If you don’t feel like using the broiler, and you happen to have a handy-dandy heatgun, they work wonders to melt the cheese to a toasty brown! Just be careful – those things get HOT! (Credit where due: this was my hubby’s idea, thank you Brad!)
Thankyou so much for reading, hope you enjoy your day, and pssssst: kindness matters – pass it on! ;)
Heather (a.k.a. the Cookie Lady)