Cooking inspiration can come from the most random places.
Several weeks ago, I was watching Girls. Specifically, the episode "One Man's Trash", where Hannah has an affair with a rich, hot, brownstone-owning doctor. While she's sitting in his gorgeous kitchen, she looks around and remarks, "I feel like I'm in a Nancy Meyers movie."
I thought to myself, "Man, I love Nancy Meyers movies. I don't have places to go or things to do. I should watch It's Complicated, then Something's Gotta Give, and then It's Complicated again, all in one evening." So I did. For those of you who aren't familiar with her films, Nancy Meyers is known for her impeccable attention to detail in every tiny aspect of each scene. Every home in her films is stunning and beautifully decorated, but the particular detail that always sticks out to me is - what else? The food.
It's Complicated is definitely the food-porniest of all Meyers' movies. Meryl Streep's character, Jane, plays a chef/bakery owner, and several scenes heavily feature food preparation. From the scene where a slightly stoned Jane makes pain au chocolat from scratch, to her preparation of her ex-husband's favorite meal of roasted chicken, sauteed string beans, mashed potatoes, and double fudge cake in anticipation of their evening rendezvous, to her admission that she makes ice cream (of the lavender-honey variety) when she can't sleep, food is ALL over this movie.
My favorite food-related scene in the movie occurs when Jane prepares Croque Monsieur and a salad for her architect and love interest, played by Steve Martin. She tells him that Croque Monsieur was the first thing she learned to cook for herself when she lived in France. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm pretty sure that one of the first things I learned to cook for myself was grilled cheese. Croque Monsieur is basically grilled cheese on crack. Gruyere, ham, and dijon mustard get sandwiched between slices of white bread, topped with a Mornay sauce and more gruyere, then broiled.
The day I made this, I mentioned over on Facebook that it's really not fair to all the other sandwiches how good this is. This takes about 30 minutes to make. Any quicker, and I'd be in BIG trouble since I pretty much want to eat this every day, while imagining that I'm cooking it in a kitchen painstakingly designed by Ms. Meyers herself. Until I can live inside a Nancy Meyer's movie, I'll settle for just cooking like her characters. Trust me...the rest of that food is coming. Roasting a chicken has been on my culinary to-do list for far too long!
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup hot milk (I used 1 %)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
2 1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese, divided (look for a block of cheese that weighs around 9 ounces)
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
8 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
4 ounces baked Virginia ham, sliced, but not paper thin
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a medium, deep-sided skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour all at once, and stir with a wooden spoon. Cook the mixture for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly. Cook for 5-7 minutes, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the kosher salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in 1/4 cup of the grated Gruyere, and all of the Parmesan until melted. Set aside.
Place the bread in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Toast in the preheated oven for 5 minutes, then turn the bread over and toast the other side for an additional 2 minutes.
Remove the bread from oven, and brush half with the dijon. Divide the ham evenly among half the bread slices, and sprinkle each with half of the gruyere. Top with another piece of the toasted bread. Slather the top of each sandwich with the cheese sauce and sprinkle with the remaining gruyere. Return the sandwiches to the oven, and bake for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler, and broil for 3-5 minutes, until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned. Serve hot. These are best served immediately, but I heated the leftovers in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, and they were still delicious!
Yield: 4 small sandwiches
Baby Arugula Salad with Creamy Dijon Vinaigrette
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove minced fresh garlic
1 egg yolk, room temperature*
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Baby arugula for 6-8 people (I buy the arugula that comes in a plastic box. You can probably dress about 2 boxes of arugula with this amount of dressing.)
In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, dijon, garlic, egg yolk, kosher salt, and pepper. Slowly add the olive oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly, until emulsified. Toss with greens, and serve immediately.
*If you're pregnant, or old, or a baby you should probably omit this. Use at your own risk! Pasteurized shell eggs are sold at many grocery stores now and are great for this recipe.
Source: Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Family Style (salad dressing) and Barefoot in Paris (sandwich)
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