Archive for category Recipes

Another Taste Into My Past

On my first trip to Europe, I visited Paris, France. My grandfather was born in France, his parents were born in Belgium. The family hopped back and forth across the line between the two countries as work was available. Although I don’t consider myself any more than a brief dash of French, I managed to find several dishes in France that were worth adding to my family favorites.

Although this recipe is a bit lengthy to prepare, it is so very worth the time. The French really know how to do a ham and cheese sandwich. My very first taste of a Croque Monsieur was at a sitting outside at a bistro table at a small restaurant near Sacre Coeur. La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre, Sacred Heart Church, is favorite location, and I made a special trip back to see it again this past October when in Paris. This time I climbed the stairs up towards the beautiful white church, passing the antique double decker carousel at the bottom.

I had two things that I knew I wanted to do, buy another painting from Behras and have a Croque Monsieur for lunch. I had lunch under the tent at Au Cadet De Gascogne that is surrounded by painters. Wedged into a long table, elbow to elbow with other travelers, I watched the world go by and lunched on my sandwich and wine. It was as I had remembered it from before, warm and cheesy on the top with the salty taste of the ham to follow.

I found Behras right where I had left him in 2010. He was working on a painting and had sold his last two before I got there. I said hello and he told me that he remembered me from my previous trip and purchase. He must not get a lot of short redheads that buy paintings! He gave me his email address on a piece of card board to contact him about a painting and I headed back towards Sacre Coeur for one last look.

Croque Monsieur

French Ham And Cheese Sandwich

2 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp flour

1 1/2 cups milk

A pinch each of salt, freshly ground pepper, nutmeg, or more to taste

6 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 cups grated)

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (packed)

8 slices of French or Italian loaf bread

12 ounces ham, sliced

Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 400°degrees.

Make the béchamel sauce. Melt butter in a small saucepan on medium/low heat until it just starts to bubble. Add the flour and cook, stirring until smooth, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking continuously, cooking until thick. Remove from heat. Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in the Parmesan and 1/4 cup of the grated Gruyère. Set aside.

Lay out the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven, a few minutes each side, until lightly toasted. For extra flavor you can spread some butter on the bread slices before you toast them if you want. You can also use an electric toaster to toast bread.

(Alternatively, you can assemble the sandwiches as follows in step four and grill them on a skillet, finishing them in the broiler with the bechamel sauce.)

Lightly brush half of the toasted slices with mustard. Add the ham slices and about 1 cup of the remaining Gruyère cheese. Top with the other toasted bread slices.

Spoon on the béchamel sauce to the tops of the sandwiches. Sprinkle with the remaining Gruyère cheese. Place on a broiling pan. Bake in the oven for 5 minutes, then turn on the broiler and broil for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, until the cheese topping is bubbly and lightly browned.

If you top this sandwich with a fried egg it becomes a Croque Madame.

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A Taste of the Past

I have been lucky enough to be able to get in touch with my heritage by visiting the places that my ancestors came from. Work has taken me to Europe twice so far and allowed me to not only see where they lived, but, on the first trip, meet not so distant relatives.

One of my favorite parts of visiting is returning home with favorite new recipes. On my first trip to Brussels, Belgium, my cousins introduced me to Belgian Beef Stew. When we sat down in the restaurant they ordered for me, beer and stew. What was sat before me was a wonderful mix of tender beef in a heavenly sauce with a bit of onion and carrots. All of this topped off with a cold Belgian beer and the best French fries ever, crispy on the outside, soft, warm and tender on the inside. The aroma was heavenly and I dug straight in. When I returned from my travels, I went straight into researching that wonderful meal.

The cubed beef had been slow cooked in beer for several hours, rendering it moist and tender. The flavor of the sauce was dependent on the richness of the beer, plus mustard slathered on bread that flavored and thickened the sauce the last part of cooking time. I don’t know if my Belgian great-grandmother had this on her favorites to cook list, but it sure is on mine. Recipes from her were never handed down through the family.

I purchased a couple of Belgian cookbooks and searched on line for a recipe that would match the flavor of that first experience. It was called Carbonade Flamandes, French for Vlaamse Stoverij, stew from Flanders. This is the recipe that I have been using to make this hearty meal.

Vlaamse Stoverij

1 ¼ lbs. stewing beef or chuck steak (we use chuck roast), cubed

3 tbsp. all-purpose flour

4 tbsp. butter

1 large onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

4 carrots, peeled and sliced

11 ½ oz. bottle dark Belgian beer (the darker the beer the better the broth, enough to cover the beef)

Bouquet garni (6 parsley sprigs, 2 bay leaves, and 2-3 sprigs of thyme tided together with kitchen string)

2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 tbsp. light brown sugar

4 large carrots chopped

2 slices of rustic bread – white, dark brown, or spice cake)

2 tbsp. Dijon mustard

Handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Salt and ground black pepper

Generously season the beef cubes with salt and pepper, then coat in flour.

Heat a large, heavy cast iron kettle (oven safe) that has a tight-fitting lid. Melt the butter and the oil over medium to high heat. Add the cubed beef in batches and brown over fairly high heat for about 4 minutes to seal. As each batch browns, remove cubes from the pan and place them on a plate.

Add the onion to the fat remaining in the pan and cook gently for 6-8 minutes, until translucent, then add the garlic and fry for 3 minutes more. Return beef to kettle.

Return the meat to the kettle and stir well to combine with the onions.

Pour in the beer and bring the mixture to just below boiling point. Add the bouquet garni, vinegar and brown sugar. Cover the pan and place in a preheated 325 degree oven for 1 ½ hours or until the meat has become tender.

Add carrots to the meat and spread the bread thickly with mustard and place it on top of the stew, mustard-side down. Replace the lid and return to the oven for 30-60 minutes more. The bread will absorb some of the pan juices and dissolve to thicken the stew. (I found I had to stir it into the stew)

Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Remove the bouquet garni and stir in the parsley. Serve with fries, potato puree or breads, also good on egg noodles or rice.

A comment from a Flanders native on a blog site called the original beef-in-beer stew, Gentse Stoverij, Stew from Gent. It is a poor man’s dish of beef, white bread and stale beer. His recipe was cooked on the stove top, not oven and included beef liver, a pound and a half of old white bread and a gallon of beer.

From personal experience, the darker the beer the better the sauce, so go for a dark rich lager. While in Brussels, this past October, I talked some of my coworkers into trying the local stew. It didn’t take much nudging once I mentioned that the beef was cooked for hours in beer. It was interesting for me to taste the difference in this version over my first experience, although slightly different in flavor, was just as good.

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