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Recession-Proof Recipes: La Crepe Complete

Last week's Recession-Proof Recipe examined stock and gave a fast variation for Pho. Pho is simple peasant food, and this week, I'd like to take an economical eating cue from yet another group of peasants.

Like yesterday's cassoulet, a humble country casserole that's often elevated beyond its original station, the sometimes pretentiously presented French crêpe is essentially just a thin pancake with tasty tidbits rolled up inside it. It's the peasant food of Brittany.

Several years ago I discovered I could afford a ticket to fly overseas and spend few days in Paris, but didn't have much money for lodging or food. So I ended up with a week of Paris hostels, student entry to museums and a host of street crepes.

For that week, my diet was primarily composed of the sweet crepe, or crêpe sucrée (it was supremely cheap and the whole transaction used up the only 15 words of French I could remember)... a charming banana-Nutella combo that I still remember fondly and order whenever I encounter it on a menu.

After traveling around with J a bit, I discovered his crepe preference invariably fell to the crepe complete, a classic buckwheat crepe filled with an egg (whites cooked, but with a runny yolk, please) with melted gruyere and ham. Simple. Filling. Complete.

Whether in Montreal...

crepe complete in Montreal

In Mediterranean Spain...

crepe complete in Girona

In Midtown Manhattan...

crepe complete in the Midtown CyberCafe

Or in Paris...

crepe complete in Paris

Across the universe, la crepe complete is his crepe of choice.

As you may notice in those photos, my crepe is generally in the foreground, and I always order something else. The vegetable crepe. The goat cheese and fig crepe. The ratatouille crepe. And then I find I'm always jealous of J's hearty, savory crepe. He's made a convert of me.

By using just the slightest bit of ham and cheese with the egg, this meal manages to be simultaneously inexpensive and satisfying. And the construction of the dish is somehow magically classier than some lowly pancake and egg with skimpy slices of ham and cheese.

Though you may have encountered sweet crêpe batters before, I must insist on the buckwheat in this recipe. The earthy flavor really does something special alongside the cheese and ham. Those Breton peasants knew something about flavor on a budget.

Ladies and gentlemen of the blog-reading public, may I present:
The Crêpe Complete (Serves 2-4)
For the crêpes
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

For the filling
4 eggs, warmed to room temp
4 pieces ham, thin-sliced (or skip it, if you're vegetarian)
4 pieces gruyere or Swiss cheese, thin-sliced

1. Whisk together the water, milk, eggs, flours, salt and butter or whir in a blender until uniform. Cover and chill for 1 hour (or up to two days).
2. Place an oven-proof plate in the oven and turn the oven on to 200° F. Remove the crepe batter from the fridge and stir it up to unite everything.
3. Heat a large (12-17") crepe pan or skillet over moderately high heat. Melt a dollop of butter in the pan, swirling to cover the surface.
4. When butter sizzles, add 1/4 cup of the crepe batter and, again, swirl to cover the pan surface. Cook several minutes until the bottom develops a golden texture. Then flip the crepe over with the aid of a spatula/pancake turner.
5. Gently break one egg into center of the newly flipped crepe (try to keep the yolk intact).
6. Cook the crepe and egg just until the white is set. Top with one slice of ham and one slice of cheese. Gently fold two sides (or four sides, as you prefer) of the crepe in to overlap the egg, cheese and ham.
7. Use a hot pad to remove the warmed plate from the oven, then move the cooked crepe to the warm plate with a spatula.
8. Keep your completed crepes warm in the oven while you repeat steps 3-7 with the remaining crepe batter, eggs, ham and cheese. Serve crepes hot with a crisp green salad and a cold mug of dry cider.

Bon appétit!

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4.16.2008

The Eastover Potluck

It was too cold, too drizzly and too long since our last convivial food gathering. We needed another office potluck to bring cheer to our cubicles. But what's the food holiday that falls between Easter and Passover?

Well, Eastover, of course. An opportunity to use up some of that leftover ham. A time to clean out the excess Peeps. An excuse to munch matzo. The Eastover Potluck!

Peeps go for a Dip

Since Easter is such a ham-heavy holiday and Passover is, well... not, there was some definite sacrilege going down at our potluck table. But we're a spiritually apathetic bunch of Jews, Christians and Agnostics, so it was all in good fun.

Ryn made latkes (not that those really work for Passover, but hey... everybody loves a latke) with the requisite apple sauce and sour cream, Kate brought rugelach and hamantashen and Mike scored hummus and pita. Tomi made spring-y little cucumber tea sandwiches. Marc inexplicably brought bottles of Orangina and Anna Bollocks ponied up the Girl Scout Cookies.

The best in show prize for dramatic presentation went to Suzy Hotrod's Platter o' Peeps Fondue. (Because nothing compares to a Peep dipped in chocolate...) I'd share the recipe, but it doesn't really require one. Just follow along with the photo below: assorted Peeps and whole strawberries displayed on a platter with a side of thick chocolate sauce for dipping.

Peeps Fondue

For my part, I dedicated my potluck offering to bringing peace between vegetarians and the meatheads. Thus: egg matzo with two spreads: one, a zippy deviled ham; the other, a spicy roasted carrot dip based loosely on a recipe I found in Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon.

The deviled ham spread is a bit ugly, so I really recommend some garnish to make it look tasty, but once people give it a try, it's always wildly popular. The carrot spread scored many fans as well, and it would actually make a welcome dip at Passover (even the reverent tables), since it requires no grain, dairy or meat products.

Spicy Roasted Carrot Spread on Egg Matzo


Dip 1: Spicy Roasted Carrot Spread (Makes about 2 cups)
1 5-6 medium carrots, peeled and trimmed
1 large red onion, quartered
1 head garlic, unpeeled, cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons hot paprika (or a combination of sweet paprika and cayenne pepper)
2 Tablespoons orange juice or tomato juice (or water)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Chopped parsley, to garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 375° F.
2. Place the carrots, onion pieces and garlic in a baking dish. Toss the vegetables with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Arrange the onions with the cut side down.
3. Bake until the carrots are soft and browned, about 45 minutes. Let cool.
4. Remove any papery skin layers from the onion. Place the carrots and onion in the food processor or blender. Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins. Add pour in the last tablespoon of oil, cumin, coriander and paprika.
5. Pulse, adding the juice a little at a time to help make a smooth blend.
6. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill. The flavor will improve overnight. Serve cool or at room temperature, garnished, if desired, alongside crackers, crudités, pita or matzo.

Dip 2: Deviled Ham Spread (Makes about 1 3/4 cups)
1 1/2 cups cooked, diced ham
1 egg, hard-boiled
2-3 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp mango chutney
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped celery
Sweet paprika, for garnish
1 Tbsp sliced scallion or chopped parsley, for garnish

1. Pulse ham, egg, mustard, chutney, mayonnaise and cayenne pepper in blender or food processor until smooth.
2. Transfer to a bowl and stir in celery. Season to taste with more cayenne, if desired.
3. Sprinkle spread with paprika and greenery, if desired. Serve with toast points, pita wedges, crackers... or matzo, if you're nasty.

Cheers, ya'll!

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4.08.2008