Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Healthier Croque Monsieur (Believe It Or Not!)--Barefoot Bloggers

I really think I could have a full time job, living in Ina's barn and following her around, just slashing the fat and calories from her recipes. I am sure I could add years to Ina and Jeffery's lives by just some simple substitutions that still taste great. Case in point, the Croque Monsieur, selected by Kathy of All Food Considered, I swear my arteries hardened just reading the recipe. Now I am by no means a perfect healthy cook and eater; I have my indulgences as well as my slip-ups, and I even enjoy the occasional grilled cheese sandwich, but something about slathering it in full fat butter, cheese and milk, just seemed to put it over the edge for me and the way I have been trying to eat lately. Also, I really enjoy the challenge that Ina's delicious recipes give me to make them lighter, while still keeping the great taste and as much within the "spirit" of the recipe as possible. In this case, that meant not giving up the decadent  "ooey-gooeyness" factor of Ina's recipe, but still making it a much healthier choice. 


I was stumped for a bit with this one, but I was flipping through the latest Clean Eating Magazine and found a recipe for Clean Mac 'n' Cheese by Devin Alexander. Having caught her Healthy Decadence show on FitTV a few times, I find her to be a bit perky and chirpy for my taste but she has some great ideas for cutting fat and calories from comfort-style food. In this case she makes the base for the Mac 'n' Cheese sauce out of non-fat milk and brown rice flour, which thickens well and doesn't have a gritty aftertaste and there is no butter needed. She also used a light Swiss Cheese, combined with low-fat Cheddar to make the sauce rich and cheesy. I thought I could take her ideas and adapt them for this sandwich. For my sauce, I decided to use 2/3 non-fat Swiss and 1/3 of the Gruyere, Ina's recipe called for. I subbed out the ham and added some Applegate Farms Organic Turkey Breast (I used the smoked one to get a more similar flavor to the ham), and used a multi-grain boule bread, with the crusts left on, (I like a good chewy crust!), and added some peppery arugula to get something green on there. Finally I made one sandwich for portion control and cut the total amount of cheese and cheese sauce on the sandwich down a bit. My changes are in red below and the taste test and the calorie/fat savings verdict are in the Notes/Results section. 

You can find Ina's recipe in the Barefoot in Paris cookbook (pg 48) and at the Food Network site, here.


(A Healthier) Croque Monsieur
Barefoot in Paris, Barefoot Contessa
(Makes 4-8 Servings)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter (omit)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (substitute brown rice flour)
2 cups hot milk (non-fat)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
12 ounces Gruyere, grated (5 cups) (use 1/3 Gruyere and 2/3 Non-fat Swiss Cheese)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
16 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed (multi-grain sourdough boule with crusts)
Dijon mustard
8 ounces baked Virginia ham, sliced but not paper thin (substitute smoked turkey breast)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 

(Cheese Sauce Ina's way): Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter–flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. Off the heat add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup grated Gruyere, and the Parmesan and set aside

(Cheese Sauce my way, adapted from Devin Alexander, Clean Living): Put rice flour in a small bowl and slowly whisk in enough milk to form a paste. Then add remaining milk, whisking as you do, making sure that no lumps remain. Place a medium, non-stick saucepan over medium heat and add flour-milk mixture. When milk is warm, add all grated cheeses and stir quickly and frequently with a wooden spoon until the cheese is completely melted and incorporated, the mixture begins to thicken and is warmed through. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg, set aside. (Note: If sauce should happen to separate, place in a food processor  or blender and process until smooth and combined, then place back in pan and finish warming).

To toast the bread, place the slices on 2 baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Turn each slice and bake for another 2 minutes, until toasted.

Lightly brush half the toasted breads with mustard, add a slice of ham (or two slices turkey) to each, and sprinkle with half the remaining Gruyere (Gruyere/Non-fat Swiss combo). Top with another piece of toasted bread. Slather the tops with the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere (cheese combo), and bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned. Serve hot.


Notes/Results: Deliciously decadent. The cheese sauce was thick, rich, creamy and very cheesy. The bread was chewy and good and I even managed to put 2 ounces of turkey in the sandwich, instead of the 1 oz of ham Ina's recipe called for, still for less calories and fat. In fact when I did a quick tally of both the calories and fat from the meat and cheese, (not knowing exactly what bread Ina used, I left it out of the equation), I found I shaved over 80 calories from each sandwich and more importantly well over half of the fat. That's enough for some guilt-free chocolate indulgence later! (I like to save my fat/calorie splurges for my favorite things). Even served with a simple salad, it did not feel like a "light' dinner and if I didn't mention the changes I made, I doubt anyone would ever suspect I was giving them a lightened up version. Although it has been awhile, I have had a couple Croque Monsieurs before, and I think this one was just as good. (It always helps to start with a good base recipe which Ina always provides). Although it was still so rich that I don't think I would make it often, it was a really yummy sandwich. I only wish the pictures turned out better. I was more interested in eating my sandwich hot, than plating it and getting a good shot!


Thanks Kathy for a great pick! I really had fun experimenting with this one and was very happy with how it turned out. You can see how the other Barefoot Bloggers liked this recipe at the BB site here.

29 comments:

  1. Looks tasty - the words healthy and croque monsieur just are so unbelievable in the same sentence :)

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  2. I am always so impressed with your substitutions. Your sandwich looks every bit as good as the full fat version if not more so. We couldn't finish ours they were so rich.

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  3. I love the way you've lightened this up!

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  4. Just from looking at your sandwich, I would never guess that it was healthy. It looks like a mass of cheesy deliciousness! The hallmark of a great healthified recipe is when you can't tell the difference and you have definitely done that! I think Ina and her husband need to hire you as their personal nutritionist. Seriously.

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  5. I am so incredibly impressed by what you did here, Deb, and it doesn't look like you sacrificed even one tiny bit worth of flavor. I really enjoyed this sandwich, but I am definitely going to try it your lighter way next time. If you get the job in Ina's and Jeffrey's barn, will you sneak me onto the property one day for a tour?

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  6. I had a hard time getting good pictures of this meal since I just wanted to eat it right then! I love your changes. I know what you mean about lightening Ina's recipes. I think they usually take it really well and that's part of why I love her recipes. Great job Deb!

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  7. I love the substitutions you've made. I'm going to try the cream sauce as a stand alone and see what can be done with it.

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  8. Looks great.

    I used the full fat version....

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  9. I love croque monsieur and also croque madames! This looks so delicious, I love that you lightened it up.

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  10. I think your health-a-fied version looks fantatic. I also used fat free milk, half the cheese called for, only ONE tablespoon of butter and ONE tablespoon of flour for the entire recipe, and it was still too much. That woman needs you following her around -- no question about it. Nicely done, I'll try this with turkey next time.

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  11. Turkey seems like a natural & healthy substitute in this sandwich. Kudos to you for making it healthy. I couldn't resist.

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  12. I don't know how you do it, Deb...you always manage to make things healthy and they still look amazing!! You need to hold some classes...and I need to get to Hawaii!

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  13. Nothing wrong with making something a bit healthier. At least you can indulge with a bit less regret. It looks delicious.

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  14. Hi Deb, Love the time and effort you put into lightening up this recipe. I felt guilty eating mine. Would love to join you in the barn. Surely there is something I could do. Wash Dishes?

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  15. Wow - healthy and delicious! If anyone could do it - it would be you!

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  16. You are the master! A healthy croque monsieur, who'd a thunk it?
    Looks tasty, and I am a big fan of the cherry tomatoes. Nature's candy.

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  17. Wow, this sounds tasty in and of itself. Love arugula. Great touch!

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  18. Deb, if Ina calls you, I'd be happy to be your assistant. I can forward my WW credentials....This looks and sounds delicious. I lived on Croque Monsieur last visit to Paris, but there they have very little filling and you don't have to listen to your arteries harden as you indulge. I've been seeing rice flour in a lot of recipes lately. I'm going to look for it so I can try it for my bechamel.

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  19. love the healthful changes you made! it looks great!

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  20. You did an awesome job of lightening it up. It still looks comforting and delicious!

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  21. you did a great job on this!! Her recipes scare the bejesus out of me unaltered...

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  22. You are so wonderful with your changes! I look at Ina's recipes and I can't even imagine making them healthy, especially this one!

    You did such a good job!

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  23. Your version looks just as good as Ida's! Great substitutions...I am going to try your version next time! Thanks for sharing!

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  24. Love your adaptations to this recipe. Looks totally fantastic!

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  25. Oh thank you! Woman after my own heart. I LOVE croque monsieurs--they were one of my favorite sandwiches when living in Paris and for some reason I have never made them since moving home. I really must do that. These look wonderful

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  26. I really like the changes you made! When I have had a croque monsieur the cheese sauce has always been a thin layer in the middle, but I think I prefer the way the cheese browns on top.

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  27. What an amazing transformation, and yours looks amazing! I wouldn't have believed this recipe could be lightened up, but you did it!

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  28. i'd totally sign up to hangout in the barn and cut fat and calories! To the Hamptons we go :)

    Good modifications btw!

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  29. Great compare and contrast post. Never thought anyone would be brave enough to make croque healthy. Definitely a favorite sandwich of mine.

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