The impetus of this meal is friendship. I do a lot of thinking about the past, the present, the future. I can’t help it, I tend to be overly analytical and introspective, pretty much all the time. Sometimes it drives me to distraction. This meal has been weighing on my mind and somehow the timing of its cathartic creation worked out perfectly. The story continues…
I met my very dear friend Cath in Japan, shortly before meeting my wife. We bonded extremely well and became very good friends fairly quickly. Cath and I were having dinner together the night I met my wife. She was there when I had my first “date” if you want to call a night with me DJing and everyone else drinking and dancing a “date”. These were very formative times and her friendship was and still is extremely important to me. we don’t talk often but each of us know that when we need the other, we can reach out and we’ll be there. That’s the soul of a long term friendship in my opinion, knowing that the other person will be there for you.
Kinda deep for a cooking blog I know but I am eventually getting to the point about food. These early days in Japan, I was not exactly a gourmet. I could get around a kitchen and had a knack for food so I still by default was the one who cooked when no one else cared to… while in Japan, there were circumstances that brought Cath to live with my wife and I for a few months. She became a part of the family, along with a seemingly endless rotating cast of friends who wandered through. We quite often would go out on the town together and drink the night away, wandering aimlessly or more often than not landing in a bar called The Globe, owned by our Welsh friend Neil. Good times.
Often, after the stumble home to our blue beacon of hope (a lamp with a blue bulb that was visible through our front window), I would make grilled cheese for everyone. If there is a more perfect post-partying food that is so quick to make, I’d like to see it… they were simple affairs on white bread, cheese and seasoned pepper, grilled and served. A very welcome comfort food that never fails to remind me of those wonderful early years…
And so, years later, in a more developed fashion, I have decided to make a grilled cheese, dedicate to Cath.
But the story doesn’t end there… Balance has been upset here in Korea. I find it ironic that my life here has altered so much coincidentally on the same weekend that I had planned on making a meal based in friendship. You see, my dear friend and co-conspirator on the Feasts, Eddie, has had a family emergency and was unexpectedly flown back to the states, never to return. I have grown so accustomed to cooking for two, bouncing the ideas off of him, judging his reactions and then more often than not, swinging out for a few beers and some games of pool after that I am at a loss on how to continue. My first thought is of course for the health and welfare of Eddie and his family. I am glad he has escaped this trap and thankful he is able to address the issues that are impacting his family instead of being stuck here while it all happens a world away. But at the same time, I can say that I will really miss his presence, his companionship and contributions to the feasts. I mean, I had to buy my own beer this week! What the hell is that all about! 🙂
Ok, enough of the rambling. True as it all is, it focuses more on the why of the meal than the how and the how is what the blog is for. This week, I had originally slated three courses as usual, a tarted up grilled cheese (Croque Monsieur), a Roasted Tomato Soup and a Spiced Carrot Salad. Follow the link for the spiced carrots, I chose not to go with them given the audience of one… it looks like a tasty enough dish but soup and sandwich is quite enough for me on my own this week.
The Roasted Tomato Soup: I followed the recipe for this fairly closely but I did increase the garlic to 6 cloves and used about half of the chicken broth that was called for. I wanted the soup to be thicker, more of an almost chunky vegetable soup than the traditional view of an almost broth-like tomato soup. For a soup as tasty as this, it was extremely easy to make. I sliced my tomatoes in half, placing them in a large baking dish, cut side up. A few twists of salt and pepper and a spritz or so from my olive oil spray bottle, about 70 minutes in a 400 degree oven and that the most work you have to do. Towards the end of the broiling time, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a pot and brown 6 chopped cloves of garlic. When the garlic starts to caramelize, add in dried rosemary and thyme, just over a tsp of each. Add to this a bit of crushed red pepper and your broiled tomatoes. Hit that with the immersion blender to get it nice and chunky and add in two cans of chicken broth. Cover and let it cook down for about 25 minutes. Serve hot sprinkled with fresh basil (unless you are in a crappy place where the store doesn’t stock fresh basil all the time in which case you make due with dried basil. No, I’m not bitter about it.)
The Croque Monsieur: Ok, it’s a grilled ham and cheese topped with béchamel and cheese then passed under a broiler for a few minutes. If all that is clear to you, stop reading and go make yourself one. Otherwise, melt a knob of butter in a heavy pan over medium heat. When the butter is completely melted, add in 2 tbsps of all purpose flour. Stir together and let the flour brown a bit over the heat. Add to this about 3/4 cup of milk, stirring well to combine. Add flour or milk base on if the sauce is too thin or thick for you. It will thicken a bit during the cooking so don’t get too heavy handed with the flour. Add a bit of nutmeg and, in my case, some salt and white pepper. The original recipe called for a bay leaf and that would be good as well but my personal tastes on this particular evening called out for a béchamel with white pepper. Who can explain the universe and it’s mysterious ways?
Build a grilled cheese with thinly sliced sourdough bread and thin layers of gruyere and black forest ham. I did a layer of cheese, then ham, then cheese, then ham and finally cheese. I also ground some salt and pepper on the middle layer of the sandwich for good measure.
Thin layers and not too much inside the sandwich is the key to getting it heated all the way through before the outer surface of the bread is too “well done”. Brush with melted butter and grill in a hot pan until nicely browned on both sides. Transfer to a baking dish, top with béchamel and grated gruyere and broil for about 3 minutes until the cheese browns and starts to bubble. Serve immediately with the soup. You will need a knife and fork to eat this sandwich and it will be damned tasty.
This meal turned out good, especially alongside the Sam Adams seasonal, Noble Pils which is a damned fine beer. I’ve tried a great number of beers in my time but this one was love at first sip. Try it as soon as you can and mourn the fact that it is only available for a limited time during the early spring. The key ingredient missing from this meal should be obvious. There is not a dish in this world that doesn’t improve in the company of good friends.
Good luck Eddie and keep cooking.