Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dinner a la francaise

I am a recipe googler. I have a cabinet full of cookbooks, but 95% of the time I pull out the laptop to find my next menu. I think it has to do with finding multiple versions of the same thing and tweaking them to what sounds good to me. Or maybe I'm just the byproduct of a generation that doesn't know what the printed word actually looks likes and can only function with a mouse and keyboard. (Naw, can't be that... right?) Anyway, what's a girl to do when she has to cook dinner for a large group of peolpe and the internet has been down for several days??

Pull out the cookbook, I suppose. *gasp* I decided to find my meal in the pages of one of the first cookbooks I ever owned - Barefoot in Paris by Ina Garten. Really, I shoud do this more often, because the food was sooo good. But who am I kidding, with so many excellent recipe sites and food blogs at my fingertips, I could never give that up completely.

Dinner was Croque Monsieur sandwiches - a true french staple, basically a fancy grilled cheese. (put an egg on top and it's called a Croque Madame.) Sides were a potato gratin (the recipe was for zuchinni, but I had to make some changes, right?) and haricots verts (green beans). The real star of this meal was the Gruyere cheese. It has a real rich yummy flavor and really takes me back to my summer in Provence. The family I lived with used this cheese all the time. It's kind of expensive; I've found (at Publix at least) that getting it from the deli counter is cheaper than buying it from the fancy cheese case. I just had them cut of a half pound chunk rather than slicing it, and then I grated it at home. I also only used about half the gruyere the recipe called for, 1. because that's all I could afford, and 2. because it does have such a powerful flavor. I substitued mozzarella for the other half of the cheese only because I happened to already have some at home.

Croque Monsieur


2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups hot milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
12 ounces Gruyere, grated (5 cups) (I substituted mozzarella for half the gruyere)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
16 slices white sandwich bread
Dijon mustard 8 ounces baked Virginia ham, sliced but not paper thin


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter–flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. Off the heat add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup grated Gruyere, and the Parmesan and set aside.

To toast the bread, place the slices on 2 baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Turn each slice and bake for another 2 minutes, until toasted.

Lightly brush half the toasted breads with mustard, add a slice of ham to each, and sprinkle with half the remaining Gruyere. Top with another piece of toasted bread. Slather the tops with the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere, and bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned. Serve hot.

Zucchini (Potato) Gratin
(I made mine with potatoes, but I'm including Ina's original recipe with my changes.)


6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for topping
1 pound yellow onions, cut in 1/2 and sliced (3 large)
2 pounds zucchini, sliced 1/4-inch thick (4 zucchini) (substitute 2 pounds potatoes)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup hot milk
3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
3/4 cup grated Gruyere (again, I substituted mozzarella for half the cheese)


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

(First, I boiled the whole potatoes for approzimately 20 minutes, then sliced them.)

Melt the butter in a very large (12-inch) saute pan and cook the onions over low heat for 20 minutes, or until tender but not browned. Add the zucchini (potatoes) and cook, covered, for 10 minutes, or until tender. Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg and cook uncovered for 5 more minutes. Stir in the flour. Add the hot milk and cook over low heat for a few minutes, until it makes a sauce. Pour the mixture into an 8 by 10-inch baking dish.

Combine the bread crumbs and Gruyere and sprinkle on top of the zucchini mixture. Dot with 1 tablespoon of butter cut into small bits and bake for 20 minutes, or until bubbly and browned.

Haricots Verts (French String Beans)


1 pound French string beans, both ends removed
Kosher salt
1 red onion, large-diced
1/2 red pepper, large-diced
1/2 yellow pepper, large-diced
Good olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Blanch the string beans in a large pot of boiling salted water for just 4 minutes. Drain immediately and immerse in a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. When they are cool, drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl toss the onion and bell peppers together with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for about 15 minutes, tossing with a spatula from time to time to be sure the vegetables roast evenly.

Just before serving, reheat the string beans in a large saute pan drizzled with a little olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and arrange on a platter. Spoon the roasted vegetables over the string beans and serve hot or at room temperature.

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