News Flash: The Carolinas are a Hotbed of Blogging. There really are a ton of great people blogging in North and South Carolina. Some of them I know, and I'm sure that there are many I've not yet met. And some of the ones I know know others that I don't know, and so there is a vast Venn Diagram of bloggers.
About 8 of us had talked about getting together for lunch, and as many things happen, only four could get together on the Set Date. But that's okay, because a)things happen as they are supposed to happen and b)we will certainly be doing this again. And again.
So it came to pass that The Beloved and I made the 1 1/2-ish hour drive to Greensboro to meet Rebecca from Chow and Chatter, Lynn from Order in the Kitchen and Ilke from Ilke's Kitchen at a fairly swanky looking place called Print Works Bistro.
Ilke brought along her beloved as well, so we had the boys sit facing each other so the girls could all do Blogging things like giggling and taking pictures of food and laughing and sharing and snickering. (Turns out Ilke's beloved has done some brewing, so my Beloved invited him to brew in Charlotte later this month. And he's coming! Fun! I'm hoping that Ilke will be able to come as well to hang out with the Brewing Widows, chatting, snacking and drinking wine while the boys brew and do other Manly Things).
I could go on and on about what a great time we had. About how sincerely sweet and funny Ilke is. About how Rebecca is just as delightful and interactive in real life as she is on social media. About how Lynn is simply hilarious with a self-deprecating sense of humor. But that's not why I'm here.
I'm here to talk about the food.
Which was good. Not great. But my meal did give me an Idea, and for that, I thank it. Thank you, meal.
I ordered a Croque Madame. A Croque Madame is kinda like a Croque Monsieur which, like many foods with French names, is not quite as exciting as one might think. A Croque Monsieur is a grilled ham and cheese sammich. A Croque Madame is the same sammich topped with a poached egg and often some bechamel sauce. And Print Works offered a Croque Madame, complete with bechamel and home fries. And who doesn't like to cut into a beautifully poached egg so that the yolk helps to sauce the dish, right?
Well, they brought her out, and she was Huge. I mean, she was Enormous! I didn't exactly whip out a tape measure, but the bread was easily 4"x6". For those using the metric system, that qualifies as Big Ass Slices. And she was stuffed with about a 3/4" stack (2-ish cm) of thinly shaved mild ham. And she had a ton of melted cheese on top--not in the sammich with the ham, mind you. On top. And the egg--2 eggs!--which I had expected and becham...Wait a minute. You're not bechamel sauce. You're Hollandaise sauce! Quite the surprise. Not that I don't love Hollandaise, but it's mostly egg yolk and butter. On cheese. With egg. Yowza. The bechamel would've made the dish a bit lighter, but probably wouldn't have done much to relieve the overall Muchness of her.
Well, friends. I had Trained for this brunch. I had only eaten one small piece of cheese All Morning Long, so I was good and hungry when we got to the restaurant. And even with all that training, I was only able to eat half. Half! Because, did I mention, she was Huge?! We all decided that my Croque Madame was quite the letdown. I mean, she could've been alluring and voluptuous. But she overshot the mark and just went straight into Divine territory. Not like heavenly. This Divine.
I thought to myself yesterday, as we were pitching the other half--I mean, reheated Hollandaise? And not-completely-cooked egg yolk? Sorry. Divine, meet compost pail--that I could Prolly make a Croque Madame that would have a bit more zing. Something to cut through all the fattiness. So I did. And it was. Zingier.
Not that it was healthier necessarily. Don't think that. If you want healthy, don't make grilled cheese. But, as an occasional treat, it was filling and interesting and definitely hit the spot. Here's how I made mine.
I grated a bunch of cheese. Yes, that looks like a lot, but it was probably about 2 ounces per sandwich. Again, not diet. But good. I got the grating idea from an Alton Brown (RIP, Good Eats) cheese episode from 2003: For Whom the Cheese Melts. It's a good idea. Do it.
I used some very yummy bread and spread Mayo on what would be the outside sides of four slices of bread. I learned the mayo trick from a recent article by Ruth Reichl about how to make an Awesomer Grilled Cheese that has been making the rounds lately. It's a good trick. Do it. (She also recommends grating the cheese. Great minds).
And that's really it. We both thought it Far Superior to the Divine-esque Croque Madame from the restaurant. The hot sauce and the salty zing of the bacon provided a nice contrast to the rich melty cheese on the outside, and the crispy cheese layer on top.
Like I said, you can make yours however you like. You don't have to make yours just like mine, but I do recommend using Ruth and Alton's tips--those guys know what they're talking about.
If you want to make yours the way I made mine, though, here's how:
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 Tablespoon minced onion/shallot/garlic--your choice, or a mix)
- 1 Tablespoon flour
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 cup whole milk
- about 1 Tablespoon your favorite hot sauce, or to taste
- 1 or 2 poached eggs per sandwich
- about 4 ounces ofgrated cheddar and pepper jack cheese
- 5 slices of crisp bacon, chopped
- 4 slices bread (I used Early Bird Multiseed by 365 Organic--love it)
- a little bit of mayonnaise
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan.
- Add the onion/shallot garlic and cook until softened, a minute or two.
- Add the flour and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, about 2 minutes.
- Pour in the milk all at once. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer.
- Add the hot sauce, to taste. Adjust salt and pepper as necessary.
- Continue simmering until the sauce coats the back of a spoon pretty heavily. Keep warm.
- Spread mayonnaise on one side (the "outside side") of each slice of bread.
- Layer on grated cheese, half the crumbled bacon, and more cheese. Reserve a bit of the cheese if you'd like to try the Ruth Reichl tip.
- Put the tops on the sammiches and cook in a heavy pan over medium heat until darkly toasted, about 3 minutes.
- Carefully flip the sammiches and cook another 3 minutes, pressing down on top with a spatula just to even things out.
- If you reserved cheese, sprinkle half on the top of each sammich. Flip once more and cook another minute or two until the cheese is crisp and golden. Be careful not to burn it.
- Remove to a plate. Top with a spoonful of bechamel, 1 or 2 poached eggs and another spoonful of the sauce.
- Garnish as desired, or eat as-is.
If you don't make this version of Croque Madame, please make A version. Egg yolk is just sexy, and it makes whatever it is On sexy, too. See:
Enjoy and have a lovely day.