September 25th, 2013

Crepes and the Cover

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A leftover shank of baked ham and looming potluck dinner: this was my dilemma, my quandary, my challenge last week.

Surely the two could intersect–one should be able to be used in some fashion to satisfy the need of other.

But, what to make?
Deviled Ham Salad? Big Ham Biscuits? A creamy ham and mac-cheese casserole?

None of those seemed very exciting.
What would you make? I asked a friend.
A shrug, and
What was I doing with a big leftover bone-in baked ham anyway,
was her response.

I would have to try another method.
Sometimes you have to plant the notion or request in your mind and let it go. Wait and see what might come up to inspire you.

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It took about a day, but for whatever reason while on an errand driving across town, a pleasant memory from almost 10 years ago bubbled up:

I was with Bill and my daughter in Paris. We had strolled the Luxembourg Gardens early one morning and were ravenous. Our meander led us down a narrow street with a row of vendors—Look, Crepes!

We watched greedily as the creperie chef combed the batter over the special griddle, deftly flipping the great thin round when the edges became golden and crispy, then splashing it with melted citrus butter, a rapid fold and shower of powdered sugar, and Voila!

Madeleine got one with fresh bananas. Bill’s had egg and cheese. And mine….

Ham.

There, it is called a complete–a buckwheat flour crepe filled with ham, gruyere, and egg. Absolutely luscious, and substantial enough to sate a powerful hunger.

My potluck plan was set in motion.

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The versatility—and ease—-of crepes is what makes them so appealing. The batter can be whipped up in minutes. The impossibly thin pancakes can be swirled and flipped in a small skillet–and stacked until ready to fill. And the fillings?

All manner of savory and sweet.

With sweet crepes, I’ll put a little sugar into the batter. With savory crepes, a combination of flours–all-purpose and buckwheat is nice. I didn’t have any buckwheat flour, but today’s crepe batter uses buttermilk to give it distinctive tang.

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I made the batter early in the morning. In the afternoon, I began The Cook. It didn’t take long to pour, swirl, and flip. The crepes were thin and elastic, yet golden. Filling them with ham, cheese, and spinach-artichoke was like assembly-line work–a nice rhythm or repetition.

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I decided to make a mornay sauce to bake onto the crepes in the casserole dish. This would add an enriching element, while keeping the crepes moist in the oven.

For other splendid crepe ideas and recipes, check out Cooking Light’s page here:

Oh, and here’s Why I had that big leftover Ham.

The Cookbook Cover! We are now at the stage of shooting the images for the Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook.

On our first day, we (I say we, because I helped the team–photographer, food stylist, art director, editor—by making the dishes) shot the cover–a cool overhead of a potluck feast–along with 8 interiors. We have many more to go. I will keep you posted as the process unfolds—and I have something to show you.

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BUTTERMILK CREPE BATTER
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons melted butter combined with
1 tablespoon olive oil

You can make the batter in a blender or food processor. I have found that this is the simplest way to achieve that smooth-smooth mixture that resembles heavy cream. The batter also should be made up ahead of time and allowed to rest–at least an hour, and up to overnight, covered and refrigerated.

I used a 6″ stainless steel skillet—easy to handle. I like the small size of the crepes for filling and serving. I think you will, too.

Place the flour, eggs, buttermilk, water, and salt into the blender or processor. Mix until well-combined, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl. Pour in melted and slightly cooled butter and continue to process. The mixture will be thinner than traditional pancake batter–but will coat the back of a spoon like cream. Cover and let the mixture rest for a minimum of an hour.

Heat the skillet on medium. Brush it with the butter-oil mixture. Pour approximately 2 tablespoons of batter into the skillet, tilting and swirling the skillet to move the batter as it covers the surface. In a minute, the edges of the crepe will become golden–time to flip. The other side cooks–browns–in half the time of the first side. Remove the crepe to a plate or platter, and continue the process.

You don’t need to brush the skillet with the butter-oil mixture each time—every 2-3 times works fine.

Makes 16-20 6″ crepes

HAM-SPINACH-ARTICHOKE FILLING
1 tablespoon soft butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 lb. fresh spinach
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces quartered artichoke hearts, chopped
pinch of salt and cayenne
1 lb. thinly sliced ham
1/4 cup coarse grain mustard
1 cup shredded parmesan
1 cup shredded gruyere

Coat a baking dish or casserole with butter.

Place a large skillet on medium heat. Add the olive oil. Then, mound the spinach into the skillet. Stir, as the leaves collapse. Sprinkle in the minced garlic pieces and cook for a minute. Add the artichoke hearts and stir-fry them into the spinach mixture. Season with a pinch or two of salt and cayenne. Remove from heat.

Lay the crepe rounds out onto the work counter in rows. Cover half of the crepe with slices of ham, dab of mustard, tablespoon or 2 of spianch-artichoke mixture, and a sprinkle of the cheeses. Beginning with the ham side, roll the crepes and place them into the casserole dish(es).

When you are ready to bake and serve them, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour the Gruyere Mornay sauce over the crepes. Sprinkle extra cheese, if you like, or dot the surface with strips of sundried tomatoes or sage leaves.
Place in the oven and bake until bubbly–25-30 minutes. Serve

GRUYERE MORNAY SAUCE
3 tablespoons butter
1 bunch green onions, chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded Gruyere
salt
white pepper
sundried tomatoes or fresh sage leaves (optional)

Place a 2 quart saucepan on medium heat. Melt the butter, then stir in the green onions, cooking to soften–about 1 minute. Stir in the flour, allowing it to coat the green onions, absorb the butter, and make a light roux. Stir constantly, and don’t let the flour brown.
Pour in the milk. Stir-stir-stir! Over the next 10 minutes, the mixture will thicken. When it comes to a simmer, stir in the cheese and remove from heat. Stir until the cheese is melted throughout and incorporated into the sauce. Season with salt and white pepper.

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Food-stylist Teresa Blackburn at work on set at photographer Mark Boughton’s studio. At this time, we were working on placement of dishes to fit within the format of the book.

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This does little justice to the final image that Mark captured–but gives a peek at the process.

Posted in Breakfast, Casseroles, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Recipes | 26 Comments »




December 4th, 2010

Spinach Souffle, simply

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Dramatic, but daunting. The ideas we have about souffles, these grand poofs, these amazing gastronomic feats of egg magic, are indeed lofty. Unreachable. With the risk of failure seeming so great (oh no! deflated! defeated!) souffles are the stuff of the Cordon Bleu, the men in towering toques, reserved for the creme-de-la-creme.

Why bother?

But making a souffle is really not as mysterious or difficult or time-consuming as you might believe. Mais non, mes cheres. A French woman assured me of this.

A mother of three, Francoise has lived in many places around the world, due to her husband’s job. During her two years in Nashville, Francoise worked with us in the Culinary Arts Center at Second Harvest. We had fun cooking together, and I would ask her about the kinds of meals that she liked to make for her family. I was stunned when she told me that a favorite dinner was cheese souffle.

“It is so simple, my daughter often makes it,” she said.

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Her daughter was fourteen at the time.

Noting my wide eyes and dropped jaw, she smiled. “I’ll give you the recipe.”

Inspired by Francoise (and her daughter!), I made her cheese souffle. It was a dream, and all negative thoughts about the dish vanished.

Today, I had some fresh spinach from the market, and a lone leek snatched from Gigi’s garden. I also had a small piece of Comte’, an artisanal cheese crafted in the Jura Mountains of France. It is similar to Gruyere, but creamier. It was one of Francoise’s favorites; when I saw the cheese at the store yesterday, it made me think of her. And, Souffles!

A souffle recipe is very adaptable, and with a little preparation, you can transform kitchen staples–eggs, butter, milk, cheese–into something savory and cloudlike.

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The flavor base of all souffles is a roux, expanded with milk into a thick white sauce, or bechamel. To this, you add whatever vegetable saute or puree you would like. As I write this now, I’m imagining a roasted artichoke souffle or puree of asparagus, come spring. Hmmm.

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Once you’ve created your base, it’s time for egg magic! Beating the yolks into the cooled bechamel mix helps form a rich custard. And beating the whites into soft wavy peaks is the trick to expanding that custard into a cloud.

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A light hand is needed for folding the whites and custard together, but it does not have to be perfectly mixed. Some traces of white are bound to remain–it’s not a big deal.

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Do remember to have the oven preheated. And, you’ll enjoy the crust made from the breadcrumbs and grated parmesan on the sides and bottom of the souffle. When it’s time to serve, be sure to scoop out some of the soft interior with the crusty edges.

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Francoise also told me, “You must wait for the souffle, but it will not wait for you.” Patience is a factor, and yes, the souffle is best enjoyed right out the oven. But, no worries gathering everyone to the table. They will be eager to see your triumph, and dig their spoons into the savory ethers.

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SPINACH SOUFFLE with LEEKS and COMTE’ CHEESE
4 Eggs, separated
4 Tablespoons Butter, plus 1 Tablespoon Butter
2 T. grated Parmesan
2 T. Breadcrumbs
1 Leek, sliced
1 clove Garlic, minced
4 T. All Purpose Flour
1 cup 2% Milk
2 c. chopped fresh Spinach leaves
1/2 c. shredded Comte or Gruyere cheese
1/4 t. each Salt and Pepper
pinch Nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 2 qt. souffle dish or casserole with 1 T. (or so) butter, and dust with grated parmesan and breadcrumbs.

In a saucepan, melt 4 T. butter. Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Saute leeks and garlic for two minutes, until soft and translucent. Stir in flour and cook the mixture like a roux.

Slowly pour in the milk, and continue cooking until it becomes a thick, glossy white sauce. Stir in spinach and cook until the it is collapsed throughout the mixture.

Remove from heat and stir in the shredded cheese. Allow to cool somewhat before beating in the egg yolks, one at a time.

In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. The whites should be stiff, but smooth, pliable—not chunky or granular. ( This happens if they are overbeaten.)

Add a couple of dollops of whites to the spinach mixture to lighten it.
Then, using a spatula, fold the spinach mixture back into the remaining whites in a gentle circular motion, until well incorporated.
(It’s okay if a few streaks or tiny lumps of white remain.)

Spoon into prepared souffle dish and bake in the center of the over for about 30 minutes.

Serve immediately! Serves 4.

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Posted in Breakfast, Casseroles, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Recipes | 25 Comments »