When my friend Youn from Toulouse called me on the eve of an out of town trip asking if he and a friend could come stay for a few days, I said yes even though it was inconvenient, because in my mind I want to be That Kind Of Person- the kind who has an open door policy for weary travelers, who can handle surprise visitors with aplomb, and (most importantly), someone who always has food and drink on hand to whip up an impromptu meal or refreshment for said visitors.
Mind you, this is what I strive for- the reality is somewhat different! Unlike Marvin, who grew up in a household where people were constantly dropping by, we rarely if ever had unannounced visitors. So although I wholeheartedly embrace the concept, I have to make a concerted effort to be prepared for this eventuality; it’s not something that comes naturally to me with my more Germanic upbringing.
As it happened, I had purposely NOT gone shopping that week in an effort to use things up before my trip, and the way things worked out, I had no opportunity to go to the store before picking up my guests. Luckily, Marvin came to the rescue in more ways than one- spending some time with them while I was at work, and taking them to the grocery store so that they could make dinner (Youn’s idea). We invited a couple more friends and Youn made traditional Breton buckwheat crêpes (although he has lived in Toulouse for over 20 years, Youn originally hails from Brittany). My apologies for the somewhat haphazard photos, we were enjoying ourselves and I didn’t feel like stopping to bust out a tripod! The two decent-looking pics are from breakfast the next day, when the light was much better.
Those of you who read this blog regularly may recall that, coincidentally, I just posted about buckwheat crêpes (galettes) a few weeks ago. Curiously, the recipe I was using called for apple cider vinegar in the batter, saying it was authentically Breton, but Youn had never heard of it. Just goes to show that “authentic” is a word that you should take with a grain of salt in the cooking world! He doesn’t even use a recipe, just does everything by feel, but he did give me some measurements so that I could share a recipe. Another interesting thing is that all the recipes I’ve seen call for half buckwheat and half white flour, but he uses all buckwheat which is a bit healthier. I actually preferred the texture and will be making them this way from now on. Last but not least, he uses beer in the crêpe batter instead of the usual milk, making the recipe friendly for the lactose-intolerant. For the vegetarians, there are infinite possibilities for veggie fillings (ratatouille comes to mind).
I like to use up leftovers for crêpe fillings, but obviously there were none, so we made the classic complète- ham, cheese and egg. The egg is fried right on top of the crêpe. Add a little grated cheese and some torn-up pieces of ham and you have a meal. Amanda, who up until this point had claimed a dislike of runny yolk, was converted by the oeuf miroir, so called because the yolk is shiny like a mirror. In addition to the buckwheat crêpes, Youn also made dessert crêpes with finely-diced apple in the batter, which we spread with confiture de cidre (cider jam) and sprinkled with powdered sugar (check out this post for a dessert crêpe recipe). We cooked up more crêpes the next morning for breakfast… miam miam! Next time I hope I’ll be able to spoil my guests instead of the other way around, but I was certainly grateful for the help and the opportunity to get crêpe lessons from a seasoned pro.
Crêpes Complètes à la Youn (Buckwheat Crêpes with Ham, Egg & Cheese)
1 lb buckwheat flour
1 cup beer (a lighter lager-style beer is best)
water- about 2 cups or as needed
1-2 Tbs neutral oil or melted butter
additional butter for spreading on crêpes (optional)
eggs- one for each crêpe you plan to make
thinly-sliced deli ham
Gruyère or Swiss-style cheese, grated
A couple notes: The directions for cooking up the crêpes may sound a bit fussy, but once you get the feel for it, crêpe-making is one of the easiest things in the world. You’ll learn by trial and error how to adjust things like the batter thickness and pan heat to get the results you want. Best of all, crêpe batter is a relatively inexpensive thing, so it’s not the end of the world to have a few failed attempts before hitting your stride. This recipe makes plenty of batter so you have room to screw up and still have enough for dinner! Also bear in mind that this “recipe” is very loose. Feel free to thin the batter with more beer instead of water, or only use 2 eggs, or whatever. Youn says that in Brittany the crêpe shops make their batter using only flour and water, so obviously it’s very flexible!
Place the flour in a bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and place the eggs and oil or butter in it. Gently whisk the eggs with a fork. Slowly pour the beer and 1 cup water into the well a little at a time as you stir, incorporating the flour, until the batter is fully mixed and has no lumps. (Alternately, whiz everything together in the blender.) Add more water a little at a time as needed until batter is the consistency of heavy cream. Let batter rest at least an hour.
Get your eggs, ham and cheese at the ready. Warm your crêpe pan or griddle over medium-high heat until very hot. Smear a bit of butter onto a paper towel and rub it on the pan. Test the heat with a few drops of batter; they should set immediately. Give the batter a couple stirs in case it has started to separate. Wipe the pan clean with the paper towel wad, and then rub it again with butter. Ladle batter onto the center of the hot pan (quantity will depend on your pan’s size) and quickly rotate the pan so it is thinly and completely covered. If there is excess batter (i.e. batter that does not instantly set), pour it back into the bowl. Cook until golden brown on the bottom- a minute or so. You want it to color, but not cook so much that it becomes crispy (although Youn says a little crispiness is OK). At this point, flip it over.
As soon as you flip the crêpe, you can smear it with butter if desired, then crack an egg onto the center. With the back of a spoon or a spatula, gently spread the egg white around the crêpe so it can cook. When the egg white begins to turn opaque, add pieces of the torn-up ham and sprinkle with some shredded cheese. When the cheese has melted, fold in the sides of the crêpe towards the center so it forms a square, and serve. (With this kind of crêpe, there really isn’t a way to serve everyone at once, but from my experience making them to order creates a casual, convivial atmosphere that is fun in and of itself.)
In Ferndale, my hands-down favorite breakfast place is the Fly Trap. Problem is, it’s the favorite breakfast place of many people, and on the weekends, the line usually spills out onto the sidewalk. Unfortunately, there aren’t many other good breakfast options in Ferndale worth mentioning. And please don’t say, “But what about Toast?” Sure, they have cute décor, but mediocre food, abominable service and high prices, and after my last experience there (it was a Monday and the Fly Trap was closed), I don’t think I’ll ever go back.
So what’s a gal to do on a weekend morning when she doesn’t feel like cooking and is too hungry to wait in line? Two words: Café Habana.
Café Habana is in downtown Royal Oak and is part of the Bastone/Vinotecca complex on the corner of 5th and Main. It’s relatively small, yet is never full on weekends despite its tasty (and cheap!) brunch menu. They score points over the Fly Trap and other breakfast places for ambiance- they have Cuban music on the stereo, and sitting amongst the exposed brick and wrought-iron chandeliers, it is a pretty pleasant place to relax and read the Sunday paper. The service is laid-back and friendly, not frantic, and you never get the impression they are trying to turn a table.
If you’re more the type to seek a “standard” breakfast menu with pancakes, eggs, bacon and the like, this probably isn’t the place for you. But for the more adventurous eater, Café Habana has some exciting offerings. Marvin and I have eaten here several times and our favorite dish is the Huevos a la Flamenca. The eggs are served in a tomato-based sauce that has little pieces of carrot and peas as well as ham and sausage. It’s served with a potato croquette that is browned and crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Another dish I like is the Huevos Habana, two eggs with a pork and plantain hash and poblano hollandaise. If I’m not in an eggy mood, I go for the Arepas (cornmeal pancakes), which you can either get sweet, with cream cheese and fruit, or savory, with herbed goat cheese, sautéed spinach and pico de gallo. Coffee is above average here, but if you’re not a coffee drinker, they have a good freshly-squeezed limeade, or you can order drinks from the bar at the adjacent restaurant, Bastone.
Café Habana can also be recommended for lunch and dinner- I’ve had the Flank Steak with Chimichurri and it was pretty darn good- but for some reason when we end up there, it’s usually for breakfast. Fly Trap, we still love ya, but on the days we sleep too late to beat the crowds, you can find us in a booth at Café Habana, divvying up sections of the New York Times and enjoying a leisurely meal.
Sometimes it’s lovely to live alone. No one to bicker with over a stray sock left on the bedroom floor, or to question your kooky choice of paint color for the bathroom, or to be bothered when your basement band practice runs later than usual. A nice, quiet house when you’re in the mood to curl up with a book and a cup of tea. No one to fight with over the remote when you want to watch something ridiculous on TV. Although I do appreciate these and other perks, living alone doesn’t feel to me to be a “natural” state of affairs. I grew up in a large-ish family, and had lots of roommates throughout my college years. And while there are definitely things I don’t miss, like my sister reading my diary or “borrowing” clothes, or a roommate filching all the quarters from my change jar to buy cigarettes, sometimes I just want some company. This feeling seems to surface the most when I’m in a cooking mood, since it seems so strange to make something special or out-of-the-ordinary just for myself. (For more on the subject, see this post about eating alone/ cooking for one…)
So, with that in mind, when the mood struck last Saturday to make a luxurious breakfast, I texted my friend Kate: “Are u up yet? Want to come 4 breakfast in a bit?” She didn’t waste any time in replying that she would be over shortly. (So shortly, in fact, that I was still in my sweatpants and hoodie when she got here!) We sipped coffee and kvetched about our jobs and significant others while I fried up bacon and stirred the eggs. The idea for the egg dish had been rolling around my head for the last couple days- I knew I wanted to use up some scallops, and scrambling the eggs in a double boiler seemed like the perfect textural backdrop. Bacon is a natural partner of both scallops and eggs, so it was the logical third component. Nowadays I’m at the point where I usually trust my culinary instincts, but I did google the combination, partly to compare notes and partly to validate myself (lame, yes, I know!). Here’s a similar recipe I found online, although I didn’t follow it. It was enough just to know a “real” recipe writer had come up with something very similar.
Here’s my version, which will make a sumptuous breakfast for two ladies. Call a girlfriend and indulge. If you’re really being decadent, Prosecco or mimosas would be an excellent beverage choice.
slow-scrambled eggs with scallops and bacon
5 large eggs
1/4 cup half and half, or milk mixed with heavy cream
1 small shallot, minced
3 slices bacon, cut into 1-cm strips
about 1 cup (8 oz) scallops (I used some frozen scallops from Trader Joe’s and used about 6 per serving)
something green- I only had parsley on hand, but I think a little fresh thyme would work well here, or some minced chives
Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Once it’s hot, add the bacon- I just take my kitchen scissors and snip it right over the pan. Give it a stir, and reduce the heat to medium, stirring occasionally. When the bacon is done to your liking, remove it with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel to drain (I like it mostly crispy with just a little chew left). Pour most of the bacon fat off, leaving just enough to coat the pan. Return the pan to medium heat and cook the shallot in the bacon fat. When it begins to soften, turn the heat up a smidge and add the scallops to the pan. Cook undisturbed for 2-3 minutes (depending on the size of your scallops), and then turn and brown on all sides (another 2 minutes), taking care to remove from heat as soon as they are opaque in the center.
Meanwhile (assuming you can multi-task), put a large, shallow pot of water to simmer on the stove. Whisk the eggs and cream together. If you have a metal bowl, you can use the same bowl to mix and cook the eggs, or put the eggs in a smaller saucepan that you can fit inside the pan of water (if you have a double boiler, even better, but I don’t). Place the pan or bowl containing the eggs in the simmering water and cook gently, stirring with a wooden spoon, until eggs are still moist but cooked through. They will have an almost custardy texture. Stir in the bacon, scallops and shallot, leaving on the stove a moment more if necessary to re-warm the scallops. Divide between two plates and sprinkle with the fresh herb of your choice. (If using thyme, add it to the eggs as they are cooking so it can release its flavor.)
One of my favorite foods for its sheer versatility is the egg. Whenever the fridge is bare and I’m at a loss for what to cook, I can always count on eggs to be there for me. Take Monday night, for example- I was staring at a fridge full of not much, wondering what the heck I was going to eat. I had a bunch of eggs to use up that were left over from my Daring Bakers cake (I couldn’t use them because one of the yolks had broken into the whites) but no veggies or anything to make an omelet. I remembered when I was a kid, my mom used to make egg drop soup a lot, but I had never tried making it myself. I thought, how hard could it be; you just simmer a broth and then whisk the eggs in, right? I didn’t have any stock though so I used miso. I grated some carrot into the soup, smashed a garlic clove and threw that in there too, and cut up a couple sheets of nori to add something green. Pretty soon I had a soup that (I’m not gonna lie to you) looked sort of like vomit, but tasted really good. I used a lot more egg than I think would be typical, which gave the soup this unctuous, velvety texture. I stirred a little hot sauce into my bowl and dug in. I did not take any photos because it was seriously kind of scary looking but now that I know how tasty and easy it is to throw together, I plan to come up with a proper recipe that will use less egg and consequently (I hope) look more presentable.
The other egg dish I present to you was much more photogenic! Last Friday Marvin invited some friends over for dinner and made a delicious veggie ”lasagna” that used slices of eggplant in place of noodles. (It turned out really well, by the way.) The next morning, I made eggs, incorporating a bunch of leftover odds and ends from the previous night’s dinner: fresh locally-made ricotta, some spinach, roasted red peppers, and best of all, these luscious oven-roasted tomatoes he’d picked up as part of an antipasto course. Imagine tomatoes with super-sweet, concentrated flavor, marinated in olive oil with herbs… somewhere between sundried and fresh. I could have eaten them all single-handedly, but restrained myself. [Update: check out this post for a recipe for roasted tomatoes and a roasted tomato tart.] Anyway they were great in the omelet because I just chucked them in the pan, marinade and all, and used that as my cooking oil. I made the omelet quasi-fritatta style, where the veggies were cooked in with the eggs and then the whole thing got folded around a filling of ricotta, a little parmesan and some basil. I make omelets quite frequently and never bother to write about them, but those marinated tomatoes and the fresh ricotta turned this into something special. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
I’m working on some other projects at the moment that are keeping me out of the kitchen, but hopefully I’ll be able to post some new recipes soon. I’m planning on re-creating the chicken enchiladas from El Azteco, a restaurant in East Lansing where I worked in college. I went there the other night for dinner and it stoked my craving for their chile verde sauce!
A couple of months ago I had some frequent flier miles burning a hole in my pocket, and decided to plan a trip to visit friends in Seattle. When my old college roommate Kathy heard I was going out that way, she insisted I swing by Portland and stay with her for a couple days. We hadn’t talked in about 10 years but had recently reconnected on Facebook… I have to admit I was a little hesitant about whether it would be awkward after all that time, but I noticed from her Facebook page that she was into cooking and good food in general, and she won me over with the promise of teaching me how to make her mom’s recipe for guo tieh(aka potstickers)! I was sold.
My first day in town Kathy had to work, so I trekked all over downtown Portland. My first stop was Powell’s Books, where I spent most of my time in their HUGE cookbook section (4 enormous, beautiful aisles…) I found a book on baking that I had been wanting (on sale, no less) as well as a handful of non-fiction food writing/ memoirs/ etc. It amazes me but even after working in a bookstore all those years, I can still find room on the shelves for just a couple more books…
Kathy had told me that due to the temperate weather, there were outdoor food carts in various spots throughout downtown (in at least one spot, they take up an entire city block!), some of which I saw but alas did not get a chance to sample. All types of nationalities and foods are represented and you can apparently get any number of great meals for cheap. One of many reasons to come back for another visit.
Kathy met me for lunch at the Bijou Café, a cute little breakfast/lunch spot on the Eastern side of the downtown area (132 SW 3rd Ave, to be precise). Apparently Portland is known for being a “breakfast” town (there are several websites and blogs devoted solely to Portland’s first meal), and with lots of competition there’s no room for slack. I chose an omelette that was on special, with chanterelles (a local product) and smoked gouda. The omelette was amazingly fluffy and came with great hash browns; my only issue was that the smoked gouda kind of buried the flavor of the delicate chanterelles. Kathy ordered a mushroom panini which looked fabulous; I was actually a bit jealous looking at her mushrooms since I couldn’t really taste mine. I couldn’t believe I ate my entire omelette plus the muffin it came with AND Kathy’s green salad, but I guess that’s what walking all morning will do for your appetite!
We had designated Friday as our “potstickers” night, so Thursday we decided to go out for dinner. Kathy and her boyfriend are fortunate enough to live mere blocks from what is known as “Restaurant Row”, a 3 or 4 block stretch of NE 28th St. just north of Burnside. After getting a haircut at the neighborhood outpost of Bishops, a local chain of hair salons whose gimmick is to give a free Miller High Life with your haircut, I was feeling good, and ready for a nice meal.
We decided to stick close to home since we had lots of good restaurants to choose from right in the neighborhood. We ended up at Navarre, a wonderfully authentic tapas restaurant at 10 NE 28th St. I always lament the fact that there are no “real” tapas places in the Detroit area; everything is more like small plates or appetizers, and usually priced so that you would have to spend an ungodly sum to sample more than a few items. Not so here!
The à la carte menu featured several items in the $5 range and it would have been completely do-able to assemble a filling meal for under $20 per person. As it was, we opted for the “We Choose” menu at $25 per person, where the chef sends out a variety of dishes. The wonderful thing about this is that if you have more than one person, they don’t duplicate dishes (at least not that I’m aware; there were three of us and we all ordered the “We Choose” and didn’t get two of anything). So, happily, I was able to sample many more items than if I had been dining solo or ordering à la carte. The only request we made was that the game bird paté (see above) be included in our menu, and they happily obliged. It was served with a country bread and a little dish of sweet pickled vegetables. Kathy and I had to restrain ourselves not to polish it off before Garrett arrived- it was one of the creamiest, most delicious patés I have ever tasted (outside of France, no less).
After the paté we were served a plate of beets and spinach, both lightly dressed and with toasted breadcrumbs for garnish. Those were followed by trout cooked in parchment paper, which would have been delicious had it not clashed with our wine
choice, a 2004 Andrew Rich Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley (my favorite region for domestic Pinot). After discussing this with our waitress, I was kindly informed by Kathy that the local pronunciation is “Wuh-LAMM-it” (rhymes with dammit), not “Will-uh-METTE”, as I’d been saying. (Weirdos.)
After the fish and veggies, there was a slice of meatloaf in a delicious sauce with an egg baked in the center, as well as two types of legumes: a dish of lentils and a dish of white beans with parsley. Both were very good, but I was running out of steam at that point. We sat and chatted and digested; then rolled ourselves out the door, but not before I tried to snap a couple last tipsy photos of the décor (in my defense, it was incredibly low lighting in there and difficult to shoot without flash!). I was glad for the walk home; the fresh air was refreshing and it was nice to feel like I was burning a couple of the calories off…
Stay tuned for Day 2 of my visit to Portland, and the potsticker recipe!
(Note: all photos in this post were taken by yours truly EXCEPT the Bijou Café photos, which I found on the world wide interweb.)