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.)
Just over a year ago, I was talking to Stéphane at Zen Can Cook via email apropos this post, in which he and fellow bloggers Claire (Colloquial Cooking) and Marc (No Recipes) smoked homemade knackwurst to make the Alsatian classic choucroute garnie from scratch. In this email I lamented the fact that, although I know lots of folks who like to cook, I didn’t know anyone who was nearly as enthusiastic and dedicated as this, and expressed my envy that he had this crew of people with whom to embark upon these types of challenging cooking “projects”.
Fast-forward one year and I’m happy to report that through the miracle of Twitter, I have stumbled on a group of folks here in Detroit who may well be just as nutty (and I mean that in the best possible way) for DIY food as Stéphane’s New York pals. Detroit is really not that big a town, and these are all people who were only one degree of separation away from me in the first place, but Twitter facilitated the discovery that we had these common interests, and got us chatting on a regular basis.
We decided it would behoove our palates to take our Twitter friendships a step further, so this past Friday I got an invitation to attend a “meeting” that evening. I knew there would be gustatory hedonism involved, but little did I know the extent to which these guys are committed to their food and drink- after getting the tour of our host James‘s house, I felt like a rank amateur! This is a guy who, in addition to several casks of homemade wine in his basement, has a few choice hunks of pork casually hanging from the rafters to cure, no big deal.
As well as being hardcore food aficionados, these guys are also serious about their beverages: Todd and Evan co-author the blog Swigs, and Todd brews his own beer and kombucha. James, in addition to being an all-around connoisseur of wine and spirits, is the coffee roaster at Great Lakes Coffee. Jarred is a wine buyer at Western Market in Ferndale (where, incidentally, he is pushing to get more local, healthy and affordable choices on the shelves).
Due to the last-minute nature of this meeting, I just ended up bringing what I’d planned to make for dinner that night: buckwheat galettes (i.e. savory crêpes) with a ham/leek/crème fraîche filling. I had some extra Swiss chard to use up so I also made a little chard/shallot/ham filling. I whizzed up the batter in the blender, brought it with the fillings and my crêpe pan, and cooked them sûr place.
I’m already planning ahead for the next get-together so that even if it’s a last-minute affair I can be prepared with something semi-impressive. Not that anyone is competitive per se; it wasn’t that kind of vibe. But I actually enjoy feeling an element of challenge and upping the ante- it’s an excuse to try something that goes above and beyond my usual repertoire. In spite of their humble simplicity, I think my galettes were well-received though. In fact, I already got a request for the recipe, so let me oblige:
For another take on galettes, see this post, in which my French friend Youn gives his recipe!
Buckwheat Galettes with Ham & Leeks (Galettes Bretonnes au Sarrasin, Jambon & Poireaux)
For the galettes:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
2 cups milk
½ cup apple cider vinegar (see notes)
½ tsp salt
2 Tbs melted butter, cooled
additional butter to grease the pan
For the filling:
3 large leeks
6 oz good quality ham steak, diced small (feel free to substitute lardons or pancetta)
2-3 Tbs heavy cream or crème fraîche
a knob of butter (about 1 Tbs)
a few grinds of nutmeg
salt & pepper to taste
If your buckwheat flour is very dark or if you prefer a milder taste, you can use a higher ratio of white flour, such as 1 1/3 cups white & 2/3 cup buckwheat. Cider vinegar is a traditional Breton twist and will give your galettes a tangy flavor that nicely offsets the ham and cream. Again, you can play with the proportions, using more or less vinegar (or none at all) according to your taste (if omitting, make up the difference with more milk or water). For fillings, the sky’s the limit- I often use up whatever bits of meat or veg I have in the fridge to create different fillings (as you can see in the photos, I added some leftover asparagus to these). Ham and eggs are probably the most popular filling for galettes in France (speaking of eggs, the leek & ham filling is delicious in an omelette if you happen to have any left over). This is a great make-ahead dish because the batter actually improves as it sits; I love to keep it on hand for quick weeknight dinners.
Make the batter: Put the flours and salt in a blender and pulse a few times to combine. In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the milk and butter; with the blender running, pour this mixture into the flour. Add the vinegar if using (putting the vinegar in separately will keep it from curdling the milk) and pulse until blended, scraping down the sides if necessary. Check the batter and add more milk, water or vinegar until your batter reaches the consistency of light cream. Transfer to a bowl and put in the refrigerator to rest, covered, for at least 2 hours.
Make the filling: Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and slice into thin half-circles. Place in a bowl of cold water, swishing them around to free any dirt. After the grit settles, lift the leeks gently out of the water and place in a colander to drain. Melt the butter in a 10 or 12″ skillet over medium heat. If using lardons or pancetta, fry them for a couple of minutes (use less butter or even skip it) until they render a bit of their fat, then add the leeks. If using ham, cook the leeks in the butter until soft, then add the ham to warm it through. When the leeks are cooked, add the cream, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste (I like to use white pepper for this).
Make the galettes: Warm your crêpe pan or griddle over medium 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), lifting the pan off the heat a few inches and quickly rotating 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 the galette until lightly browned on the bottom- about 30 to 60 seconds. Peel it off the griddle and flip it to color the other side. You want it to color, but not cook so much that it becomes crispy. If making several at a time, transfer it to a plate and cover loosely with a tea towel.
If the first galette seems heavy, thin the batter with a little milk or water. Continue to cook the galettes, re-greasing the pan if needed to prevent sticking. Pile the finished galettes on the plate to keep warm. When ready to assemble, spread a few generous spoonfuls of hot filling in the center of each galette and fold each side in towards the middle to form a square or rectangular packet (in the photos I did them in omelette shapes to accommodate the asparagus; you can also fold it in quarters for a triangular “cone” shape). Serve immediately with a simple green salad.
Although I’m a busy gal, I try my best to find time to do a little something special for my friends on their birthdays. My best friend recently turned *ahem* 23, and although I didn’t get to make her a cake or dinner, I offered to have her for brunch and then go shopping. Everything was rather last-minute, but I managed to throw together a decent little spread with what I had on hand. However, I felt like a birthday merited something a bit more special than your run-of-the-mill omelette. Rooting in the fridge, I had a burst of inspiration when I came across some Meyer lemons I’d impulse-purchased the week before- I’d make lemon curd. But what to pair it with? She was coming at 11:00 and time was of the essence. Then it hit me. Crêpes! I could throw the batter in the blender and they’d only take seconds to cook up. The lemon curd would be used to fill the crêpes.
Fabulous idea, but by the time we had eaten our omelettes (and consumed generous amounts of mimosas), we were too full to think about eating anything else. I figured maybe we’d have the crêpes as a post-shopping snack, but we ran short on time. Over the next several days I guiltily ate my way through them, feeling bad that my friend had been deprived of her rightful birthday treat. But even after finishing them off, I still had a fair amount of lemon curd left over. The wheels started churning again… lemon curd, plus the egg whites left over from making the curd, plus graham cracker dough in the freezer from this Daring Bakers challenge= lemon meringue tarts! Better yet, I was meeting up with my friend again that weekend, so I got to deliver her a tart as a belated birthday surprise. I had enough dough and curd to make three individual tarts, so one went to her, one went to another birthday friend (lots of Aries in my crowd!) and the third was eaten greedily by myself and Marvin.
A few cooking notes: The graham cracker dough worked beautifully as pie crust. It was slightly challenging to roll out because of the high amount of butter, but I ended up just pressing in into the pans and it was fine. I actually preferred it as pie crust rather than eating it straight as a graham cracker because it’s so rich. The lemon curd I had made was too thin to be pie filling as-is, so I just warmed it on the stove, adding a bit of cornstarch (dissolved first in cold water) to thicken it, and it was perfect. For the crêpes I just smeared it on, throwing in some shredded coconut I had on hand. I’m not going to print a tart recipe here because I kind of pieced together three different recipes and ad-libbed things, but the graham cracker dough recipe can be found in the aforementioned Daring Bakers post. If you want a recipe for lemon meringue pie, my fellow MLFB pal Mom of Mother’s Kitchen just posted one that looks good.
A lemon tangent: I’m still not convinced Meyer lemons are so superior in cooked dishes such as lemon curd, especially given the price difference, but that’s what I had on hand. I will say, though, that they seem to yield a higher amount of juice than Eurekas so you can use less of them. Also, as another update to last year’s lemon post, my preserved lemons turned out great, I still have a supply in the fridge that I’ve been working my way through slowly. I’m glad I didn’t use Meyers for those as some recipes suggest, because the part you use is the skin, and the skin on Meyer lemons is so thin that you wouldn’t end up with much of anything to use.
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbs rum, brandy, or other flavored liqueur that pairs well with your filling (optional)
2 Tbs butter, melted, plus 2-3 tsp for coating the pan
1 recipe lemon curd (see below)
sweetened shredded and/or toasted coconut, optional
Put all the crêpe ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth, about 5-10 seconds. Scrape down the sides if necessary and pulse 1-2 more times. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour (2 is preferable) or up to 24 hours. (Note: I made crêpes from the same batch of batter over the course of several days and they were fine.)
Heat a nonstick crêpe pan* or skillet over medium-high heat. Gently stir the batter (it likely will have separated). When hot, lightly butter the pan (the best method I”ve found is to quickly go over the surface with a stick of butter). Lift the pan a few inches off the burner and pour just enough batter to coat the pan, quickly tilting and rotating it to distribute the batter. The volume of batter will obviously depend on the size of your pan but try to use the least amount possible while still coating the pan. (This recipe recommends ¼ cup for a 9-10″ pan.) If there are “holes” around the edges you can dribble a little more batter in those spots with a spoon. Cook until the crêpe is just set (about 1 minute), then flip and cook until golden- this should only take another 15-30 seconds. I use my fingers to grab the edge of the crepe and flip it, I find it much easier than trying to use a spatula, but if you’re doing this just be careful not to burn yourself! Set the crêpes aside on a cookie sheet s you go, keeping them covered with a tea towel or piece of foil. When assembling, you want the crêpes to be warm but not so hot that they melt the lemon curd and make it too runny.
Spread a thin layer of lemon curd over half of each crêpe and fold it in half. Spread another layer of curd, again over half the surface, followed by a sprinkling of coconut if using. Fold in half again. Spread one last bit of curd over half the crêpe and do a final fold, this time bringing the edge of the crêpe only halfway over (see photos). Sprinkle on more coconut and finish with a light dusting of powdered sugar. (You can obviously put the curd on however you like and it will taste the same, but I like all the layers this creates.)
*I own this crêpe pan and I like it. I also use it to make omelettes; the low sides make it really easy to flip / roll the omelette.
Place all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Use a whisk to break up the eggs and moisten the sugar. Put the pan over medium-low heat and stir constantly until the mixture thickens (Dorie says 4-6 minutes but mine always seem to take longer). The curd is done when you can run your finger down a spoon or spatula and the curd doesn’t run into the track you’ve created. Don’t worry if it looks thin, it will firm up as it cools. Place plastic wrap on the surface of the curd and refrigerate. The curd will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 months. Makes about 1 ½ cups.
As part of Marvin’s job as the managing photographer at Model D, he is responsible for illustrating their Development News section. It’s basically a round-up of short news stories on recently opened small businesses in Detroit, or anything else related to business growth in the city. The nice thing about this is that I’m always one of the first to know when a cool new restaurant opens its doors!
Corktown has been buzzing lately with the addition of the Mercury Coffee Bar, Mudgie’s (a sandwich joint in the building that used to house Eph McNally’s), and now Le Petit Zinc, a tiny café/restaurant on Howard St. just west of Trumbull. Serving sweet and savory crêpes, sandwiches, salads and pastries, it’s perfect for a light (and inexpensive) breakfast or lunch. The space is small but the bright color scheme makes it seem open and inviting rather than cramped.
We showed up for breakfast but too hungry to just have pastries, so Marvin had a ham and brie crêpe and I had the “Poulet-Ratatouille”, filled with ratatouille (eggplant, squash, tomato) and pieces of what tasted like rotisserie chicken. The savory crêpes come with a small side of organic green salad dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. Also on the menu are a variety of sandwiches and salads (and a charcuterie plate- yum) that all looked good- I will be returning soon to try these. Our coffee was excellent- Marvin got a big bowl of café au lait, and I got a black coffee that was made fresh to order (I believe it was made Americano-style, by adding hot water to espresso, which I do at home all the time).
Overall, Le Petit Zinc has a lot to recommend itself- a cheerful atmosphere, a solid, inexpensive menu, and a friendly proprietor behind the zinc (bar). In warmer weather, patrons will be able to sit outside in an enclosed courtyard. The restaurant does not yet have a liquor license, but you are welcome to bring your own wine or beer until they do. (Update: the patio is open, and looks fabulous! Also, please note that there is a small “recycling fee” for those bringing their own alcohol.)