I think that grilled cheese falls right in the middle of one of those Venn diagrams where parent food and kid food meets: we all love them, how can you not? Take crisp bread + butter + cheese and you have comfort and deliciousness. And the variations on this equation are endless. Throw in some tomato soup and you have a marriage made in comfort food heaven. My mom actually always made my childhood grilled cheese sandwiches with muenster and a secret squirt of ketchup inside, which would warm up and mingle with the cheese when it was cooked in the pan–I still love it that way. But for a lunch playdate with my cousin Cathi and her little boy, Tony, I made it my favorite way–a croque monsieur.
I love this French-version of grilled cheese because I ate them all the time in my grandmother’s kitchen and also because it’s a perfect thing to serve when you’re making lunch for both an adult and a kid but don’t want to prepare two separate meals, that’s because they’re sophisticated yet still child-friendly. And I have studied this sandwich—Julia Child’s version, Jacques Pepin’s version, even Meryl Streep’s version in the movie It’s Complicated—and I think I have come up with a pretty good Croque Monsieur (or Mr. Crusty, if you want an unofficial translation). Here’s what I use:
-A loaf of fresh bread, white, and with a nice crust (what bread that’s leftover and stale will be perfect for making fresh breadcrumbs.)
-Emmental or Gruyere cheese.
-Dijon mustard (not the kind with the whole seeds)
I bake my croque monsieur in the oven–and preheat it to 400 before I start assembling my sandwich:
-Take two slices of bread and open it like a book so that they will matched up when you close it back up.
-Take the butter (better if it’s been left out a bit to soften, you don’t want it cold) and spread it evenly on the inside of both slices of bread. Then on top of the butter, swipe of the mustard.
-On one slice of bread I put the cheese slices, which are sliced thin and placed in an even layer. On the other slice of bread a piece of ham.
-Fold the two slices of bread together and press them so that they are snugly stuck to one another. Place the sandwich on a baking sheet and make another sandwich, if you’d like.
-Once your sandwiches are assembled then put another thin layer of butter on the outsides of both sides of the bread.
-Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Flip and bake for another 5 minutes, until the top is golden brown.
-Let sit for a minute or two before serving.For the kids I served it as is, but for me and Cathi I made a little salad to go on the side with a dijon-shallot vinaigrette.
If it wasn’t a playdate I’d say pour a nice cold glass of white wine, maybe a rose…but you can just save that for the playdate clean-up.