Monday, July 20, 2009

Crunchy Lady

Since Lil' Bit and I have been without our personal Chef for the past ten days we have been doing our own cooking. One of the greatest aspects of having a chef as a life partner is that he is like a living recipe encyclopedia...and he can make anything ten times fast than the average human.

I decided I wanted to write a post about cooking a simple meal completely out of local ingredients that would be easy for anyone to find in their communities. Without Chef here I didn't have my culinary sounding board, so I began to rack my brain for an idea...and then it hit me...the classic french sandwich...the crunchy lady...aka la croque madam.

Now, the saying goes "Ladies first" but similar to Adam coming before Eve in the Jewish book of fairy tales, the croque monsieur is the impetus for the madam. The origin of this classic ham and cheese sandwich stems from the lunches of French factory workers in the early 1900's. The story goes that because they did not have any refrigeration for their mid day meals, they would leave them near the radiator and the cheese would melt.

The croque madam is the same hot ham and cheese sandwich, only with a fried or poached egg on top. It is told that this sandwich got its name because the fried egg on top resembles ladies hats of yesteryear.

While finding local ham is a bit tricky, every other ingredient in the croque madam is fairly simple to source. Uncle George, Lil' Bit and I set out to gather our ingredients and managed to collect all of them in just a few hours. We started with a trip to the local bakery.

First we drove to the Berkshire Mountain Bakery which is located in a old brick building down a state road. We went inside where a small display case set up beside the door showed their goodies of the day. Behind the little counter was a bakery in full force...big tables with dough being needed and rolled, big stainless steel shelves being wheeled about, flour everywhere. I couldn't help but wonder how long most of the people there had been awake. Bakers keep strange hours. We scanned the breads and settled on a lovely loaf of French peasant bread, and also bought a pan au chocolate for dessert.

Next we headed to Rubiner's, the acclaimed Berkshire cheesemonger paradise. Here you can find the finest cheeses you will ever put in your mouth, some of which come from faraway places, but many also from dairy farms across the USA. We asked the cheesemonger on duty what local cheese he thought would melt the best and he recommended cheese from Cricket Creek Farm. He cut us a nice wedge from the wheel and off we went to Guido's for eggs.

Guido's is the local gourmet grocery store in Great Barrington, and it was here that we purchased the last four ingredients to make our meal complete. First we chose our eggs. Rather than using a chicken egg, which is the traditional topper for a croque madam we decided that duck eggs would make the sandwich just a little bit more glamorous. We bought eggs from Lucky Duck Farm, and in each carton they slip a little downy duck feather in with the eggs.

Then we grabbed a stick of artisan Vermont butter. This is some of the most delicious creamy butter I have ever put in my mouth. Vermont is only about an hour and a half away, so we counted the butter as a local item.

Last but not least, we wanted to get some accouterments for our pan au chocolate dessert. Raspberries from a local farm, and a pint of creme caramel ice cream from SoCo Creamery, which sources their ingredients from local dairies, did the trick.

I decided in order to stay true to my mission to eat an entirely local sourced meal to forgo using ham on my sandwich since we were unable to find any local ham. Uncle George swung by Taft Farm and picked up a 1/2 pound of ham that is cured and smoked there, but they were not sure where the pig was from. He then hustled on over the The Berkshire Brewery for a growler of beer. A growler is a large glass jug of beer, and if you bring your own jug it only costs about $8 for a refill. Not a bad deal.

We arrived home with all of our goodies and decided to wait until Lil' Bit went to sleep before we began to cook. It turns out that the croque madams make for great late night snacks. We It was 9:30 before we sat down to eat. After frying the sandwiches, Uncle George, who had been sipping on various adult beverages since about noon was unable to eat the steaming sandwich mainly because he found the glorious duck egg yolk unappetising to look at in his lushy state. However he had no problem helping me polish off dessert.

Here is a quick recipe for the croque madam. It is truly one of the easiest hot meals you can make from local ingredients, and I recommend you try it! It is deliciously rewarding!

Good Life Recipe #8 / Croque Madam, local yokel style

  • loaf of bread from a local bakery
  • cheese (Gruyere is what is traditionally used) and butter from local dairy (Local Harvest)
  • eggs from local farm - check Local Harvest for farm near you
  • ham, again check Local Harvest, but this can be option
  • Smear butter on both sides of two pieces of bread.
  • Melt butter in frying pan.
  • Stack cheese and ham on bread (sandwich) and fry in pan
  • Remove sandwich, and add more butter to pan
  • Fry egg in pan
  • Top sandwich with egg and season with salt and pepper
  • If you want to get fancy with it you can make a bechemel sauce. You can find a recipe for it at Epicurious


Anonymous said...

Julian & I were just near your neck of MA in Northampton for a quick trip. I oh so wanted to visit you & Lil Bit but time did not permit. I love that part of the country & I'm glad you're enjoying it too. The little lady might like the Eric Carle museum & the Dr. Seuss sculpture garden in Springfield if y'all are looking for a day trip (they're both from this area of MA too). Love to you & the fam, and say hello to George! Claire

Malinda said...

Looks delish! Sorry I missed that little adventure! Got to love Uncle Georgie boozing it up :)