Gene's Croque Monsieur and Arugula Salald from The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.
There are some books that start off with a character so over the top that you immediately either love or hate him or her. Refreshingly, this is not one of those books. Second in the series, I enjoyed this softer, quieter, more gentle book and its hero, Judge (Detective) Antoine Verlaque. Please don't read that as insult to the author. I'm being honest here in that even though I am a fan of fast-pased high profile thrillers and mysteries, I'm also a fan of quieter books as well. Let me explain.
At first, Detective Verlaque reads a bit cool and removed, definitely not a hot-headed maverick of a detective but throughout the book bits and pieces of his background come out, his love of food and cigars, his loyalty to his opera-loving partner Bruno Paulik, and well as, his depth of emotion for his girlfriend, Marine Bonnet. And that's not even mentioning his dogged persistence, intuitiveness, and compassion in solving the mystery of who murdered Dr. Moutte, director of the theology department at the University d'Aix. (Aix-en-Provencer in southern France) where Marine's mother is also a professor.
For foodies and "mental travelers who have no need for luggage" (Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen) the book inspires smile after smile with descriptions of food and towns so unlike my small midwestern American city that I feel that I'm vicariously traveling. Even the sound of the beef and chicken roasts with potatoes and carrots that Antoine and Marine make, that we eat often for Sunday dinners here at home, seem exotic in the setting of southern France. One of my favorite of the book's meals was the Croque Monsieur Antoine treats his friend and crime-solving partner, Bruno, to in a small family-owned restaurant while they're out tracking down leads in the case.
I first wrote about Croque Monsieur after seeing the movie "it's Complicated". The "Crispy Mister", fried ham and cheese sandwiches or what we would call grilled ham and cheese, first appeared on Paris menus around 1910 and has variations as plentiful as there are chefs: plain, with mornay sauce, with a fried egg or fresh tomato slices on top, etc. My favorite version is with thick cut ham slices and mornay sauce, which I've included a recipe for here..
To cut to the chase, did I like the book and its characters? So much I've already ordered its predecessor, Death at the Chateau Bremont, and am eager for the summer 2013 release of the next in the series, Death in the Vines.
Recipe by Julia Child as printed in the Boston Globe, Aug 2004
- 2 thin ( 1/4-inch) slices fresh white sandwich bread of best
- 2 to 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 thin ( 1/8-inch) slices mozzarella cheese or rather soft
Swiss (Glenna's note: Also gruyere and havarti are wonderful)
- 1 thin ( 1/8-inch) slice cooked ham, cut in the same dimensions as
the bread (Glenna's note: can use thin deli-style or ham steak cut)
1. On your work surface, lay one slice of bread, brush it
with butter, cover with a slice of cheese, a slice of ham, and another slice of
cheese. Brush one side of the second slice of bread with butter and lay it,
buttered side down, to top the sandwich.
2. In a frying pan, add 1/8 inch of the butter, heat it to
bubbling, and brown the sandwiches rather slowly, 2 to 3 minutes on each side,
so the cheese will melt. Add more butter as needed. For appetizers, cut the
sandwich into quarters or eighths.
Adapted from "From Julia's Kitchen"
To serve bistro style, before making sandwiches in oven proof skillet, make mornay (cheesy white sauce). Make sandwiches, cover with sauce, and finish under the broiler for a couple of minutes until sauce is browned and bubbly (watch carefully). Eat with knife and fork. Serve with simply dressed greens.
If extra sauce is leftover, save to serve over steamed vegetables or over scrambled eggs at another meal.
Classic Mornay Sauce
Recipe from Foodnetwork.com by Emeril Lagasse
- 2 1/2 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups warmed milk
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
- pinch freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
- 2 ounces grated cheese, such as Gruyere
- Steamed vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower or baby carrots, for accompaniment
In a medium saucepan melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the roux is pale yellow and frothy, about 1 minute. Do not allow the roux to brown. Slowly whisk in the milk and continue to whisk until the sauce thickens and comes to a boil, about 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer and season with the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Allow to simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. This is now called a bechamel sauce, and may be used as is to top any number of dishes.
Stir in the cheese and whisk until melted. If the sauce seems to thick, thin with a little milk.
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