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Mary Berg's croque monsieur.

Lauren Vandenbrook/Handout

It’s been three years since Toronto’s Mary Berg became the first woman to win MasterChef Canada and since then, the former insurance broker has been on a roll, starring in her own television show, Mary’s Kitchen Crush, on CTV, as well as publishing her first cookbook, Kitchen Party: Effortless Recipes for Every Occasion.

The effervescent redhead says she named her book Kitchen Party because it’s her favourite room in the house and the place where her family’s best memories have been made. “The kitchen is the heart of the home and it’s always been where we’ve gathered to celebrate every occasion – big or small – with lots of laughter and lots of food,” she says.

Berg’s goal was to pull together a medley of dishes that are sure to be crowd pleasers, such as the accompanying French classic croque monsieur, as well as easy to make. Her goal is to make entertaining as stress free as possible. “With every dish I picked, I thought of my mom, who is not the world’s best cook,” she says. “She loves to follow recipes, but she gets so frustrated when they’re too difficult.

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“There are a lot of [cook] books out there that expect a lot,” Berg says. “In my mind, recipes should be 20 per cent effort and 80 per cent payoff.”

Croque monsieur

Ingredients (Serves 8)

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 4 1/4 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated or ground
  • 1 cup grated pecorino Romano cheese
  • 5 cups grated Gruyère cheese, divided
  • 16 slices country bread
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons smooth Dijon mustard
  • 10 ounces thinly sliced ham or smoked salmon (optional)

Preheat your oven to 400 F and position an oven rack in the centre of the oven.

To make the béchamel, melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. While the butter is melting, heat the milk in a separate pot over medium-low heat or microwave it for one to two minutes, or until it’s quite warm but not boiling.

When the butter is melted, sprinkle the flour over top and whisk in. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, for two to three minutes, until the mixture just starts to turn a light golden colour. Continuing to whisk, slowly pour in the warmed milk and season the mixture with the salt, pepper, herbes de Provence, and nutmeg. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick, creamy and coats the back of a spoon.

Once thick, whisk in the pecorino Romano and 1 cup of the Gruyère. Keep it over low heat so that it stays warm.

Meanwhile, very lightly toast the bread and lay it out on a baking sheet. Spread the Dijon over half of the slices and top with ham or salmon (if using). Spread about 3 to 4 tablespoons of the béchamel on top and sprinkle each with 1/4 cup of Gruyère. Top each with a plain slice of toast, 3 to 4 tablespoons of béchamel and another 1/4 cup of Gruyère. Bake for four minutes.

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Turn on the broiler and, leaving the baking sheet in the centre of the oven, broil for three minutes, or until the top of the sandwiches are golden and bubbling.

Serve hot from the oven, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste.

Note: The béchamel can be made up to four days in advance if stored in an airtight container in the fridge and the sandwiches can be fully assembled and placed in the fridge for up to five hours before they go in the oven. If you have premade the béchamel or preassembled the sandwiches, increase the initial baking time to six to eight minutes, followed by a three-minute broil.

Excerpted from Kitchen Party by Mary Berg. Copyright © 2019 Mary Berg. Photography by Lauren Vandenbrook. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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