By which I mean: staying in is the new going out again. And also: I heart the 'burbs. Another one: I am so lazy/poor that I prefer to have pals over to my house so that we (actually, lets be honest, I) can eat as many portions as hunger/greed demands and refill endless pots of coffee and tea without having to fork out for the very unhardcore (but not without its own perils) substance addiction that is caffeine. Sitting chatting and eating for as long as time and responsibility allow is one of my favourite things to do. This is an activity that takes place primarily at weekends, and many of my weekend eating hours have been spent in pursuit of the perfect croque monsieur. C'est parfait comme brunch food: bread - check; cheese - check; eggs - check; meat - check. No invasion from healthy, green foodstuffs here, just carby, dairy, processed meatsy indulgence. It can be pretty hard to get an aw-fen'ick croque monsieur round these parts. I do love the cheese and ham toastie that they call a CM in Fallon and Byrne, but it just lacks the essentials (incidentally, those who think that a CM is 'just a toasted cheese and ham sandwich' need a good KICK). The beaut of a CM in Chez Max is certainly the real deal, but the €7.90 pricetag is only the start of it - add the price of at least two coffees and then a tip to that and you're talking the guts of €20 - OUCH! Non, merci. So when I saw that Nigella, ever the friend of the greedy lady, had come up with this beauteous wonder of a croque monsieur bake I was more than a little excited. It's low maintenance, squidgy weekend perfection. It'll even do for those times when you want the best of both worlds: a bit of a mad one on a Saturday night, without missing out on crucial home entertaining catch-ups over Sunday brunch. Get your shizzle together before you head out on Saturday night and it'll be sitting there ready to crack into the oven on Sunday morning, filling the house with smells that will warm you right to the core.
I am a huge fan of mustard, as evidenced by the massive amounts of my homemade jam that ends up in jars that were formerly home to mustard. The sheer heat and full flavour are brilliant for adding a little frisson to anything and everything...mashed potato salad, cheese...mmmmm, I do love eating lumps of cheese with mustard slathered on. Dijon, wholegrain, Colemans...my fridge is well stocked, and none of it hangs around for long.
Bring it ON! But do be considerate of your guests' limits and preferences; dijon can make the eyes, ears and nostrils water if it's layered on thick enough, and it will completely spoil the rest of the sambo if it's too full-on.
I am not a major consumer of processed meats, but now and then I can be convinced to make room in my life for a bitta hang. Also, a crucial point here: gruyere is what we make the glorious croque monsieur with, people, it is one of the elements that takes it out of so-so-cheese-n-ham-toastie-ville and into the land of amazing.
Les sandwiches are, mais of course, cut into triangles. Is it still considered a little bit posh to cut sangers into triangles? It's far from the cut-into-quarters neglected cheese numbers of my primary school lunchbox these are.
The triangles are squished into a pyrex dish, ready to soak up six beaten eggs mixed together with a dollop of milk and some salt.
Go forth and juicey up, bread.
When your alarm goes on Sunday morning, all you need to do is head to the kitchen to heat the oven to 200 while you grate either some more gruyere or some emmenthal on top of the concoction and sprinkle some worcestershire sauce on there too. When the oven has heated up (you should have plenty of time to make yourself a nice strong coffee) it all goes in for 25 minutes, perfect for hopping in the shower and making yourself presentable.
Joy and glee and the smell - the SMELL!
Ordinarily it would take more than one sandwich to fill me, and, indeed, I would generally be horrified at such a portion size, but this is a satisfyingly plump beauty, not only in volume but also in flavour.
I feel that all meals should have both savoury and sweet components. I will graciously acknowledge, though, that not only is this not always entirely healthy, it is not really feasible. At the weekend, though, anything is possible, ANYTHING! Including every meal being a three course one. So, when I was busy at work with my CM bake the evening before, I took the time to throw together some brioche dough. It's a recipe that I'm still perfecting, and this time round I panicked that it was too moist and threw in a load of flour, so it didn't have that essential butteryness. On the offchance that it was truly horrible I had also made up some lemon curd, something that I have discovered is not just for Christmas but is, in fact, for life, and is also rather difficult to mess up.
The brioche didn't quite bowl me over, though it certainly was perfectly pleasant - but where it really came into its own was as a vehicle for spoonfuls of lemon curd. Sunny, yellow, lemony joy, punctuated by that loveliest of sounds: hot tea and coffee being poured into mugs, with an endlessness to match the chat.