1. Ground pepper does not go down well with the Then-Boyfriend. He choked right before my eyes. Not once, not twice, but till the very last strand of fettucine on his plate. It must be love.
2. The Then-Boyfriend's mother is a highly experienced cook, being a home economics teacher in her entire career. While most of us measure precisely when baking, my Maman eyeballs 100 grams of flour. You don't see her working in the kitchen often. But all our meals are complete 3-course ones.
3. Today's entry - Béchamel Sauce.
In our kitchen, we use it for gratin, lasagne, croque monsieur, puff pastry tart - these are just off my fingertips. I've been putting off writing about it because I have not found a foolproof proportion for it.
The Husband would always say that when we're back in France, I should really observe carefully how my mother-in-law does it. Indeed I paid attention. But it is much like driving. You can have someone show you how it is done, but once you're in the driver's seat, it all boils down to how you do it.
So here's my turn to share how I do mine. I hope it'd help you do yours better.
1. Get all that you'll need ready: a small saucepan (1qt or 1L), a whisk, a butter-knife, a tablespoon, butter, flour and milk.
2. Cut 2 tablespoons of butter. If you think of it as a cube, it would measure 1.25", or 3 cm. With the butter in the saucepan, heat it over very low fire, swirling the butter gently as it melts.
4. Add 1/2 cup milk, preferably not cold. Incorporate the milk into the butter and flour mixture with gentle whisking. If you whisk too roughly, you risk splattering the milk on your stove.
6. When do you stop? Simple: when it is no longer runny and is able to hold its own. Look at the side of the saucepan: see how a layer of sauce stays behind even as you whisk? It's done.
7. Nice work. But give it a taste. Creamy. But a little bland, isn't it? Not to worry. Just remove the saucepan from the fire.
9. A final whisk to mix the seasonings well into the sauce and you now have a lovely, thick and tasty white sauce for a vegetable gratin.
1. Croque monsieur: use the above recipe and you'll have more than enough to pour over 4 croques. If you're only making two, be generous - invite two other friends over.
2. Puff pastry tart (9" x 13"): you'll need 1/2 cup more milk, to obtain a greater volume. But bear in mind the consistency should be about the same, or at most, only a teeny-weeny bit runny.
3. Lasagne (for 6): you'll have to start with more than just 2 tablespoons each of butter and flour. Use at least 4 tablespoons each. Naturally you'll also need more milk, almost 1qt (or 1L). And a bigger saucepan, just to be safe.
As a rule of thumb, start with a 1:1 ratio of butter and flour. Add the milk gradually, say 1/2 cup each time. Whisk, add milk, whisk, add milk... till you obtain the volume and your desired consistency. Above all, be patient and don't give up. It took me five years to get it right. I hope you get there faster.