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Food + Recipes

Croque Monsieur With Cheese Bechamel for #letslunch

August 12, 2011

Open-faced croque monsieur is delicious hot, cold or in-between.

Just like revenge, sometimes dinner is best served cold — or at least at room temperature. It’s pretty comfortable here in California, but for the rest of the country, the idea of heating up the kitchen with the oven sounds pretty unappealing.

So the bloggers in the #letslunch group decided to share our favorite cold dinners this month. Whipping up a salad makes for a cool and easy meal, but I decided that that makes it too easy.

Croque Monsieur, the French grilled ham and cheese sandwich, is one of my favorite meals to eat lukewarm or hot from the oven. It takes a little time to whip up the bechamel, but aside from that, it’s as easy as toasting cheese on bread and so much more satisfying. There are lots of ways to present it, but I like Croque Monsieur open faced and topped with juicy summer tomatoes.

Croque Monsieur

4 slices of crusty levain bread
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup cheesy bechamel (recipe follows)
12 slices thin smoked black forest ham
4 slices ripe tomato seasoned with salt and pepper
8 tablespoons shredded melting cheese like fontina or swiss
2 teaspoons hard grating cheese like Pecorino Romano or parmesan
2 teaspoons olive oil

Slice bread about 1/2 inch thick. Drizzle with olive oil and then flip over. Spread top of each with 1/8 cup cheese bechamel sauce, being sure to take sauce to the edges of the bread. Top each piece of bread with 3 thin slices ham and a slice of ripe tomato seasoned with salt and pepper. Crown each slice with 2 tablespoons shredded melting cheese and then 1/2 teaspoon hard grating cheese. Drizzle each with a little olive oil.

Bake at 400 til brown and bubbly on top and crisp on the bottom, about 15 minutes. Let cool to room temperature or just warm, and serve. Makes a great lunch with poached or pickled asparagus or green beans.

Makes 4 servings

Cheese Bechamel Sauce

Makes 1-1/2 cups

4 tablespoons butter
4 T flour
3 cups warmed whole milk
salt to taste
a few grates of nutmeg
1/2 cup to 1 cup shredded cheese swiss or gruyere

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan over low-medium heat. Whisk in the flour. It will be bubbling. Let the sauce cook for several minutes. Watch it and keep whisking it keep it from browning.

Remove from the heat, pour the milk in all at once and continue to whisk. Now you can add more milk to make it thinner. Let it keep cooking until it doesn’t taste like flour any more. Once it’s nice tasting, add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of Swiss or gruyere and stir until it’s melted in.

Bubbly Events

Grower Champagnes – Drink Up at Dr. Champagne’s Feb. 23 Dinner at Picco

February 15, 2010
Jean Vesselle's Oeil de Perdrix, a blanc de noirs champagne, is one of the grower wines featured at Dr. Champagne's dinner on Feb. 23 at Picco in Larkspur.

Jean Vesselle's Oeil de Perdrix, a blanc de noirs champagne, is one of the grower wines featured at Dr. Champagne's dinner on Feb. 23 at Picco in Larkspur.

With Valentine’s Day behind us, it means that the unofficial but traditional Bubbly Buying Season that started with Thanksgiving is over. But really, why does the fun have to stop? There are plenty of ways and reasons to enjoy sparkling wine and champagne, especially with events like these coming up. This year, expect to see lots of events highlighting grower champagnes which are made by Champenoise families who grow the grapes and make it into small quantities of finely crafted champagne.

Grower champagnes with names like Pierre Gimmonnet, Henri Billiot, Gratien and Vilmart are sought after in Europe and they’re what savvy sommeliers sip at home. Their reputation is growing here thanks to the work of people like Terry Theise of importer Michael Skurnik who believes this “fun family fizz” offers a much more interesting flavor experience than a mass-produced bubbly. This year the Independent Champagne & Sparkling Wine Invitational – first large U.S. event devoted to exploration of grower champagne – pops off from April 15-18, 2010 in New Orleans with classes, pairing dinners and tastings.

Here in California, Dr. Champagne aka Jerry Horn is presenting a champagne-soaked four course dinner showcasing grower wines at Picco in Larkspur on Feb. 23. The dinner created by chefs Bruce Hill and Chris Whaley starts with hamachi crudo with tarragon, blood orange and crispy onions paired with Egly-Ouriet Premier Cru Brut, a family owned winery with vineyards in Ambonnay and Bouzy, some of the best areas for pinot noir. Next comes poached lobster and caviar with another grower champagne, the Jean Vesselle Brut Oeil de Perdrix, an elegant wine blanc de noirs Dr. Champagne introduced me to. It has a hint of rosiness, like the eye of a partridge.

The dinner starts at 6:30 p.m. cost is $150 per person, plus tax and gratuity. To RSVP, call 415-924-0300 or visit the Picco web site to download a faxable reservation form.

Bubbly Events

Days of Wine & Chocolate: A Valentine Dinner Feb. 11 in San Diego

January 20, 2010

Valentine Feb 11 flyer cropped small

Every year as we approach Valentine’s Day, you hear the word aphrodisiac tossed around. Spanish fly, bananas, potatoes, strawberries, chili peppers – you name it – has been considered an aphrodisiac at one time or another in human history. But this year, I decided to research the foods that have a documented scientific effect on arousal.

Two foods that just happen to have an actual effect on pleasure and libido (the goal of most aphrodisiacs when you get down to it): wine and chocolate!

Come indulge in some of both and pick up some romantic tips on Feb 11 as I team up for a dinner class with LA chocolatier Susie Norris, the author of the hot little book Chocolate Bliss and chef Isabel Cruz of Isabel’s Cantina. I’ll be making cocktails from my book The Bubbly Bar: Champagne & Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion (Clarkson Potter, 2009) and sharing a couple new ones for this event; for tickets and info visit

In case you’re curious about how these foods work to get things heated up; let me share some science. Chocolate causes women to release endorphins, those. In fact a 2007 study at the University of Sussex in Great Britain found women release four times as many endorphins – the body’s natural opiates – after eating chocolate as they do after when making out.

Wine grapes – specifically the skins – contain the antioxidant resveratrol. Researchers at Northwestern University (my alma mater – Go Cats! ) found in a 1997 study that resveratrol – most present in red wines – acts in the body like an estrogen which is a key component in sex drive and arousal.

Wow, just think what will happen after eating those two at the same time!

Even without the science, there’s something tantalizing and romantic about sparkling wine and champagne- another reason why I think these wines should be enjoyed much more often.