I have finally had a successful attempt at baking a bit of bread! Randomly deciding to have another go at it the other day, I found that the only recipe I had on hand was the Brioche in my copy of the French Laundry Cookbook, and so that’s what I made. Above is a photo of all the ingredients required, with the exception of the yeast, which I didn’t realize had been excluded from the photo until deep into the rising process. It’s OK, though, as it was just your run of the mill yeast. In the past, I have tried and failed to make a decent loaf of bread approximately once a year, for the past five years, and have previously been so dismayed by the results that it would take the ensuing year for me to build up the courage to try again. However, that epoch has now passed. As can be seen below, it is basically perfect– the crumb, the crust–what more can I ask for? This is the bread that the Croque Madame is intended to go on, but in the past instead of just biting the bullet and making my own, I would spend hours trying to find a decent loaf at some bakery or another (a surprisingly difficult item to find.) Nevermore!
Well on Sunday, I had to come up with something to do while the bread was rising, so Gabrielle and I decided to venture on over to Mississippi Ave. (Portland, OR). We were delighted to happen upon the new food cart village, the Mississippi Marketplace that has sprung up over there. I had heard about it peripherally because a lot of folks were stoked about Jesse Sandoval’s cart Nueva Mexico being there, but I didn’t really give it much thought beyond that. However, the digs are pretty sweet. There’s a huge canopy tent down the center with tons of tables for adults and children, and the whole lot is out-fitted with some pretty incredible looking carts. I ordered the Carne Adovada Sopapilla from Nueva Mexico, because the suspense was killing me, and I just had to get it over with. Naw! The real reason was that last winter I tried to use ‘sopa’ as a word for a kind of sandwich in a game of Scattagories and was denied by a one Christy Linden who stated, if I remember correctly, that it was soup! Honestly, I didn’t know what a sopa(pilla) was either, but now I have to say that it could pass for a type of sandwich in a game of Scattagories. It’s basically a piece of fried, lightly sweetened dough that’s filled with things. It might depend on what your definition of bread is. I hear someone around here has a cheeseburger on on a glazed VoodooDoughnut, so where does that argument end? Anyway, it was a pretty good plate, all and all, but what really made it for me was the pinto beans. Those were killer. What happened was that now I’m going to have to chill out on all these canned beans and get off my duff and make some fresh beans from scratch. Simply incomparable.
Gabrielle visited the cart named Ruby Dragon. They served up a pretty awesome never-ending cup of maté, and the special that day was very tasty—ginger quinoa blueberry gluten-free pancakes with a side of yammies. However, I have to say that if circumstances dictate that your costumer will have to wait upwards of 30 minutes (1 of 3 costumers at the time), and then only receive a single pancake (for $8), thus rejecting almost everyone’s idea of the term ‘pancakes’, then in my opinion a bit of a strategic overhaul is in order. Gabrielle thinks that what happened was that they had run out of her first choice, and then she decided on the special as her second choice, and that they didn’t want to admit that they had run out of her second choice also, and therefore scrambled to make more, instead of simply admitting that they were out of the pancakes as well. My take is that if you are out of something, at least as a food cart, then that is a good thing. It means that people are buying your food in numbers greater than you expected them to, which is a totally awesome scenario for a couple of reasons, but one that stands out in these circumstances is that you will be able to exuberantly tell costumers that arrive after you have sold out that they were so popular that you SOLD OUT of them! Anyway, it was really good, but took way too long to arrive, and we were expecting at least two. That, and excellent maté.
Next we meandered down Mississippi weaving in and out of specialty shops, reading menus here and there, wandering through the ReBuilding Center (which helped us realize that we know nothing about houses, among other things) with our ultimate destination being The Meadow. Ahhh, where to begin with this one. Gabrielle is still mulling it over. We learned many things about salt on Sunday at The Meadow, a salt specialty shop, but specifically we discovered that the universal acceptance of kosher salt (an agent of dessication) as Salt was equivalent to the universal acceptance of, say, “infanticide”. When asked if that might be a bit of a stretch, Mark Bitterman, owner, Selmelier, and crusader for overexageration replied with a “hmmm. . . I don’t think so.” Later on we learned from a second source, a one General Patrick Ripton, that “people who use kosher salt are indeed not like Hitler, but in fact are Hitler.” I’d like to remind everyone that we’re talking about salt here, or rather, Salt and Sodium Chloride. Where does that leave us? From now on, every time I blanch vegetables or boil pasta will I have to face the consequences of essentially being a baby killer? That’s a lot of guilt, and I’m so desperate that I actually bought some of the fancy salt.
When we got back home the brioche was bursting over the rim of the bread pan, begging to be baked, and so I obliged its need. For the next 35 minutes I drank a cup of coffee, and did a lot of nail biting. You’d think I’d reinvented the zipper or something, I was so ecstatic to pull such an awesome loaf from the oven. To celebrate, I made this Grilled Ham & Cheddar Sandwich on it:
1 This isn’t actually the first full slice from the loaf it’s the 3rd. With the first full slice I tried something that had intrigued me when I saw it on the daily board at Addy’s Sandwich Bar: Chocolate, Sea Salt, and Olive Oil. While the bread was still warm, I broke off 3 pieces of a Chocolove Toffee & Almonds 33% Milk Chocolate bar (a brand of bar which comes packaged with a love poem), laid them out width-wise along the bottom of the slice, drizzled them in Olive Oil, and sprinkled a bit of the fancy salt, namely the Fleur de Sel de Guérande from my Finishing Salts starter kit from the Meadow, folded it in half, and ate, polishing the half-sammy off in three bites, one for each chocolate square. The experience was sweet, and savory with just the right amount of textural crunch from the toffee bits and salt. Addy prepares hers on a small baguette from Little t bakery, which I suspect is probably a better bread match for the combination, being that baguettes are much chewier and crustier than a brioche could ever hope to be, the chewiness and crustiness of which I can’t help but think would lend a textural component that would be unparelled in this paricular combination of ingredients.
2 The cheese used here is Black Diamond White Cheddar, the sharpest that was for sale at Pastaworks. It was good, but not any different than Tillamook, really, which I think I’ll stick with in the future because it has a better price point, and is a bit more local than Canada.
3 The onion slices are from a Purple Torpedo, which I could not help but try because of it’s fantastic shape. Surely, these must be a cross between a shallot, and a red onion, because indeed it resembled a shallot multiplied by a factor of 4 or 5, and sported a coat somewhere in between the purple skin of the red onion, and the bronze skin of a shallot. The flavor profile leaned more towards that of a shallot, however, being quite strong, and pungent. Recommended for those who truly love a powerful onion.
4 A good smoked ham is hard to find. I can’t even count on three fingers the times that I have eaten truly unforgettable ham, and here I’ve been able to purchase some of the best caliber from the butcher at Pastaworks, just across the street from me, and I hadn’t even realized it. In the past I have bought Boar’s Head, which is fine, I guess, but nothing special. It’s your basic deli meats. The difference is that the ham pictured above is extrordinary, and it is less expensive. It’s sourced from Voget Meats in Hubbard, OR, a mere 30 minutes outside of Portland. I’m tempted to make a trip down there on my next day off work, but I’d be hard pressed to eat a 16 lb smoked ham on my own. But still, I am indeed tempted.
5 I try not to buy too many products sourced from other countries (with the exception of salt, haha), but in the case of this avocado, I was hoodwinked. The sign said it was of Californian variety, but later on as I peeled off the ‘Purity’ tag I read there in tiny font that the source was instead Chile. I’m don’t feel as much guilt about this misstep as I do about my decidedly suspect support of infanticide, but there is a pang, meaning that I think about it, but then let it fall from concioussness, and try to do better next time. I did a search in order to try and find the correct term for the outer layer of the avocado, be it the skin, or peel, or what have you, and came upon this page, hosted at avocadosource.com, “dedicated to the dissemination of avocado knowledge” (this being the type of statement which always kills me, because it never ceases to amaze that there is always someone to disseminate any information that you could ever dream of.) In the article they refer to the avocado as a berry, which surprised me a great deal, and that the scientific term for the outer layer is the exocarp, but the skin or rind are acceptable for layman’s terms. What struck me most in the article (from the 1940’s) was that there was a participant by the name of Haas A.R.C., and what I thought was, well, Haas, that is the leading seller of avocado’s right? The Haas Avocado. But right now, I’m having trouble coming to terms with the idea that a ‘Haas’ Avocado doesn’t exist, and that I am just one of many, many people who have fallen for the common misspelling, as the ‘Hass’ Avocado wikipage, and website are leading me to believe. There is an incongruity here that I need to solve, and only close observation at the grocery stores will be able to solve this for me. In any case, I web searched the ‘Haas’ avocado, a search I made because the study lists 5 varieties of avocados that were included in the research, and in my mind, I can only think of one variety by name (the Haas), and the first hit was the Hass site, a company whose flippant motto (for any one who cares about seasonality, or at least the grossly absurd idea of a winter tomato) , or slogan, is “Always in Season.” Is it? Are they. . . always in season? They can’t possibly be, and if they are, at what cost? The avocado season is spring. That means that in the Northern hemisphere they fruit and ripen sometime around April, give or take a few months. I just learned that myself, so we’re together here, unless of course you are a seasonality wonk. For the normal, everyday grocery shopper, the idea of seasonality doesn’t exist. If it’s in the store, it means that it’s growing somewhere, and that’s the end of the thought process–it’s available, so lets eat it. Which brings us around to the fact that the avocado I bought was shipped here from Chile, a distance of 5,500 miles by sea, where it is Spring now, so that I, and many others in this hemisphere, could eat one in the fall. Is all that matters is that it is in season somewhere?
6 More cheese, with a sprinkling of fancy salt.
7 I butter the bread before it goes in the pan. I did the same with the first slice, too. I used to heat the pan up and butter it just before I laid the sandwich into it, but those days are gone. It always led to inconsistent toasting, and to rebutter the pan in between the flip was always a pain to me. Once I discovered the joys of spreadable butter, that antiquated technique fell from the repertoire.
8 The consistent result of pre-buttering is pretty evident in this photo
9 Sometimes I have trouble deciding what I’d like to go with my sandwiches. In this case, I went with a handful of Kettle Chips, and fresh black radish chips paired with a sprinkling of Turkish Black Pyramid salt. I think that in reality it should be one, or the other. Choosing both is a product of my inability, at times, to make simple, sound decisions, instead opting to bounce between one option and the next until they become so blurred and indistinct that the only course is to choose either all or nothing. So I’m left considering all my choices in an interminable debate with inconsequential results. Gabrielle thinks that this carries over into a lot of my blog posts, her prime example being the one concerning our cat, Rigel. In other words, she called me long-winded. So in response, I decided to footnote this post so that I could further articulate some of the things that were on my mind without them impinging on the general trajectory of the post-prime. I think that there are readers who read footnotes, and readers who don’t, which is surely an important distinction in readers, and an important decision that those individual readers have made for themselves. I had a roommate who read Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and skipped all the fancy parts, and loved it, where as I found the book an unreadable bore, and I’m a fan of footnotes. One of the reasons that I’m doing this, I think, is that I just read The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker, and it renewed my admiration for the footnote. I had been living under a false assumption (perhaps the second that I’ve recognized this week!) that David Foster Wallace revolutionized the use of footnotes, but how untrue. While he certainly didn’t invent the footnote, it would seem that Baker is reponsible for elevating them to a higher status as a literary devise. DFW simply took it and went fucking crazy with the idea.
The Croque Madame is a decadent, luxurious sandwich which I learned about in Thomas Keller’s cookbook Bouchon. This is indeed the preparation from that book. This sandwich is a grilled ham and cheese, with a fried egg on top, and smothered in Mornay sauce. Mornay is a basic traditional white sauce from French cuisine called a Béchamel with shredded cheese added to it—-essentially it’s a boojey alfredo sauce. Croque Madames are an addiction for me, and every time the urge strikes me to make them I simply go into auto-pilot and let the madness take over. I was inspired to make them this time during the course of our first visit to the Portland Farmer’s Market, where I came across a vender selling farm fresh eggs with his son, promoted as being no more than 4 days old. Now, I’m no egg expert, but that’s a fresh egg! I have read that eggs in the supermarket can be up to a month old before they are even put on the shelf, and those are mainly the eggs I use, because, well, they’re cheap! So I know about supermarket eggs: pale yellow yolks, and watery whites. These eggs from the farmer’s market were a different story with vibrant, deep orange yolks, and wholesome, substantial whites. The difference was palpable in every way, and it has to do with many more factors than shelf-life, but this is meant to be a post about a sandwich, so moving on. . . .
The Mornay Sauce
click on picture for weights and measurements
To make the Mornay Sauce you will need the following ingrediants: milk, heavy cream, onion, flour, whole cloves, peppercorns, nutmeg, white pepper, a bayleaf, salt, and Comte cheese or a similar variety.
To begin, melt the butter over medium heat in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan set on a diffuser. This is to prevent scorching. I don’t have a diffuser, so I set the saucepan over a second, larger pan.
Once the butter has melted, add the diced onion and cook until almost translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes, being careful not to fry them.
Next, slowly sprinkle in the flour, stirring continuously to avoid burning, cook for about 3 minutes longer on low heat. This is called a ‘Roux’.
Up the heat and slowly add the milk and heavy cream, whisking constantly, and bring to a simmer. Once the sauce begins to simmer lower the heat, throw in the bay leaf, peppercorns, and cloves and allow to cook for 30 to 40 minutes, or until it reduces to a rich, creamy consistency. Move the saucepan around on the diffuser occasionally to prevent any scorching. If it does begin to scorch, transfer the sauce to a different saucepan, and continue to simmer.
Once the sauce has reduced to the desired consistency, remove from the heat and add a few gratings of nutmeg, a pinch of white pepper, and salt to taste.
Stir it up, and then strain it into a separate container large enough to hold at least 4 cups.
Finally, throw the cheese in and stir it up again, really well this time, so the cheese melts and distributes evenly.
And there you have it: Mornay Sauce!!
Putting It All Together: The Grilled Ham and Cheese and the Fried Egg
The cookbook calls for Brioche bread, boiled ham, and swiss cheese to make the sandwich, but realistically you could use any combination of similar items, and it would still be good. I’m pretty sure most every one knows how to prepare a grilled cheese sandwich, and fry an egg, but I’m going to do the rundown on how they do it at Bouchon, because that’s how I do it every time at home.
Here goes: Preheat oven to 375º. Heat a large skillet and a small non-stick frying an on the stovetop. Butter 2 slices of Brioche, place butter side down in the skillet, and layer as much or as little ham on the slices as you desire, then top with cheese. Once the bread has evenly browned to a golden crisp, place the whole pan in the oven and bake until the ham is thoroughly warmed and the cheese is melted. Next butter the fry pan and crack the egg. Cook until the white has set, and the egg can slide around freely, then place the pan in the oven to finish cooking off the top of the white. The two should finish in the oven at about the same time. And that’s how they do it at Bouchon. I don’t know anyone else who’s doing it this way. I do it because they charge 17 dollars for this sandwich, and I want the full effect!
All that remains is assembly. Plate one half of the sandwich, and then flip the other half on top of that, top it with the fried egg, and cover it with the Mornay sauce, leaving the yolk exposed (obviously!) Finish it off with some fresh ground pepper and some parsley, and you’re good to go. I think Owen Lightly over at Butter on the Endive said it best when he called this a “fork and knife” sandwich. It is indeed. Dig in!!