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Monte Cristo is the sandwich of choice

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It wasn't the recipes that got me excited when I turned the pages of "Minnesota Lunch: From Pasties to Banh Mi," a new book edited by James Norton and published by Minnesota Historical Society Press.

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Norton, editor of The Heavy Table, a wonderful food website focused on the Upper Midwest that I read regularly, stayed at my house one night while he was doing research on pasties and collecting stories for "Minnesota Lunch: From Pasties to Banh Mi."

That's not what got me excited. And it wasn't the fact that I discovered my name in the index and my recipe for Not-So-Traditional Pasties on pages 72 and 73 of the book.

My excitement stemmed from the fact that here in my hands was a new resource to use for planning short trips around the state of Minnesota.

My trips are most often planned around food -- new restaurants to check out, coffee shops to visit, ice cream shops to investigate, bakeries, sausage shops, farmer's markets -- it's all about food.

"Minnesota Lunch" is an inviting soft-covered book, easy to toss into the car as you get behind the steering wheel and head off for a drive. Wherever you wind up, there's certain to be a Minnesota sandwich along the way.

"Minnesota Lunch" is a compilation of the best sandwiches in Minnesota, with recipes, photographs, historical and cultural information, interviews with the locals and even restaurant tips.

Whether you have a yearning for a fried walleye sandwich or a meatloaf sandwich, a Mexican torta or a Somalian sambusa, a pasty or a hot dago sandwich, "Minnesota Lunch" offers recipes to make your own as well as where to go when you want someone else to prepare your hand-held meal.

On a recent Minnesota road trip, I drove through Sauk Centre at lunch time. I stopped at a cute cottage-style house where Main Street Coffee Company has settled into. It is filled with antiques, tables and chairs and aromas of just out-of-the-oven homemade sweet rolls and freshly brewed coffee. The lunch menu included homemade soups and sandwiches.

The Monte Cristo was the sandwich of choice that afternoon. Filled with layers of thinly sliced ham and lots of Swiss cheese, the sandwich is slathered with butter and toasted on a griddle. The bread is one of the things that sets this Monte Cristo apart from any other. Owners Mike and Pamela Borgmann use Raspberry Fritter Bread made in Nelson Bros. Baking Co. at the Clearwater Travel Plaza in Clearwater, Minn. If you're on a road-trip that takes you along Interstate 94, you can veer off at the Clearwater exit to get a loaf of Raspberry Fritter Bread at the Travel Plaza. Until then, you can make a Monte Cristo that tastes similar to the one at Main Street Coffee Company by following my easy recipe.

Raspberry fruit filling or jam gives a flavor similar to the raspberry fritter bread. I gave the raspberry a jazzy zing with an addition of mustard. Spread the sweet and zesty mixture on the inside of the sandwich bread and load it up with ham and Swiss cheese. Butter the outside of the sandwich and toast it in a pan on the stove. This method is another way that differentiates this Monte Cristo from the more traditional version that is often dipped in an egg and milk liquid mixture and then deep-fried. This sandwich will get rid of all that leftover Easter ham in no time.

The Monte Cristo sandwich didn't make its way into "Minnesota Lunch: Pasties to Bahn Mi." But just like all of the recipes for hand-held meals in "Minnesota Lunch," Last-of-the-Ham Monte Cristo Sandwich calls for no hard-to-find ingredients and doesn't take any special cooking skills to create.

And it's delicious.

Last-of-the-Ham Monte Cristo Sandwich

6 tablespoons raspberry fruit spread or jam

2 tablespoons mustard

Whole wheat or multi-grain bread, sliced

Smoked ham, thinly sliced

Swiss cheese, thinly sliced

Butter, room temperature

Mix raspberry jam or fruit spread with mustard in small bowl.

For each sandwich, lay two slices of bread on work surface. Generously coat the top of each slice of bread with jam mixture. Arrange cheese slices on one slice of bread, top with ham, another layer of cheese, more ham and, finally, a layer of cheese on top. Cover with remaining slice of bread, jam side down. Butter top of sandwich. Lay sandwich buttered side down in pan or on a griddle on medium-low heat. Butter the top of the sandwich. Cook until buttered bottom side is golden brown. Carefully flip sandwich over and cook until golden brown. Serve raspberry-mustard spread on the side as a dipping sauce.

Tip from the cook

--Add a dash or two of hot pepper sauce to the raspberry jam-mustard spread for some spicy heat.

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