Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Simple Meal

I recently saw the movie "It's Complicated." This is not a movie review blog so I won't go in depth about it, but food-wise, it made two big impressions on me: 1) One day I'd like to have a vegetable garden as amazingly awesome as that of the heroine; and 2) I needed to find out what croque monsieur was, and then I needed to make it and eat it.

Croque Monsieur & Caesar Salad

It turns out that croque monsieur is a very simple, no-fuss affair, easy to prepare and even better to eat. It's what the French consider fast food. You really can't go wrong with a croque monsieur, unless you don't like bread. Or cheese. Or ham. But how could that possibly be?

Putting it together is simple. There's some debate about whether the croque monsieur is made with two slices of bread (similar to a grilled cheese sandwich, sometimes with additional cheese melted on top) or one. In the movie, from which I derived my inspiration, it was served as an open-faced sandwich, so that's how I made it. I used part of a baguette from the best bakery I know (West Seattle's Bakery Nouveau), slicing that in half to make two croque monsieurs, but any thick, hearty bread would work. I placed a slice of ham on each half, and topped with Beecher's Reserve (a very sharp white cheddar). Traditional croque monsieur is made with gruyere or emmenthal, but I wanted to use what I had on hand. The two halves were then baked until the cheese was melted and starting to brown. Next time I'll have to use the broiler instead; I think that would have browned the cheese much faster and with better results.

You can play with ingredients. Rub a garlic clove on the bread before adding the other ingredients. Place a fried egg on top and you have a croque madame. Include some tomato slices and you've got yourself a croque provencal. The sky is the limit! Though I think simplicity is really the key.

Finally, I had to have something to accompany the heavy bread/cheese/ham meal. A Caesar salad sounded just right. The recipe I used made a dressing that was tangy and light and flavorful -- and very unlike most restaurants' Caesar dressing. Paired together with the Croque Monsieur, it was a simple meal, but packed with delightful flavor explosions that made me look forward to the next time I could have it again.

Croque Monsieur (open faced)


  • 2 slices of thick, hearty bread (such as a portion of baguette sliced on the horizontal then in half on the vertical)
  • 2 slices of ham
  • 2 slices of cheese (gruyere, emmenthal, or cheddar)


  1. Preheat broiler, or oven to as high as it will go, with a rack placed on the top shelf.
  2. Layer ham on top of the bread, followed by the cheese. Place on a baking sheet, preferably lined with foil, to catch cheese drips.
  3. Broil or bake for 5-10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and has started to brown.

Caesar Salad (adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything)


  • 1/2 garlic clove
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp minced anchovies
  • 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/2-1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 heart of romaine lettuce, washed, cut, and dried*
  • croutons, if desired
  • additional protein, if desired (chicken, steak, shrimp, etc.)


  1. Rub the inside of your salad bowl with the garlic (discard when done). Seems like a waste of perfectly good garlic to me; next time maybe I'll just crush it into the dressing.
  2. Bring a small pot of water to boil. Pierce the broad side of the eggs with a pin/needle. I don't know why that's necessary but I did it ... and let me tell you, piercing an egg shell with a pin/needle without breaking the whole thing open is more time consuming than it should be!
  3. Boil the eggs for 60-90 seconds. Crack the eggs into the salad bowl -- they'll have only just started to firm up. Scoop out the white clinging to the shell. Beat well with a fork.
  4. Gradually add the lemon juice, then the olive oil, whisking with the fork the whole time.
  5. Add the anchovies and combine. You could also skip them entirely ... apparently the original Caesar salad didn't have anchovy in it; it only had that slight flavor from the Worcestershire sauce. I didn't have any W. sauce on hand and I do like anchovies, so I used them and skipped the W.
  6. Add W. sauce, then add salt and pepper to taste (be pretty generous with the pepper).
  7. Put the romaine lettuce into the bowl and toss well. Add the parmesan cheese over the top. I like mine totally incorporated so I tossed it again once I added the cheese.
  8. Top with croutons, chicken, steak, shrimp, etc., if you're making this into a substantial meal.

* I found that there was actually way more dressing than needed, so next time I'll either double the amount of lettuce or cut the recipe in half. I prefer my salads to be lightly dressed.