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.
In Detroit’s Eastern Market, there is a restaurant called Russell Street Deli, a space twice as tall as it is wide, with about 8 tables where people sit communal-style, elbow to elbow. They come faithfully for lunch to indulge in classic deli treats like corned beef on rye, or vegetarian delights such as the roasted vegetable sandwich. On Saturdays, the line for breakfast (with specials culled from the market’s seasonal offerings) winds out the door and spills onto the sidewalk. In addition to their above-par sandwiches and omelettes, Russell Street is particularly known for its wonderful soups. I should know, because years ago I worked there for several months, first at the soup station, and later as a waitress. Back then, a cup of soup often stood in for breakfast, and provided fuel for the frantic pace of busy lunch shifts.
The soups are typically made vegetarian or vegan, with the option of meat for those who want it, so they are appreciated by all. One of the soups, Black-Eyed Pea with Collard Greens (with or without ham), was a combination that I had never tried before working there, but has since become a favorite and something I make at home fairly regularly. I do make the non-veggie version more often at home, but I’ll give the recipe both ways. (Recipe is my approximation and does not reflect the actual restaurant recipe, although to my taste buds I have come pretty darn close.) Given the recent spate of warm weather here, I hesitated to post this, thinking no one would give a hoot about soup at this point (and apparently I’m not alone in thinking this could be the last soup of the season), but then I remembered that this is Michigan, and for all we know it could be snowing or sleeting tomorrow and a hot bowl of soup could be just the thing.
I served this with cornmeal drop biscuits from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, and they were wonderful for sopping up the broth. I never thought I’d be the type to whip up biscuits for a weeknight supper, but these were super easy and fast (I cheated and used the processor instead of cutting in the butter by hand). We also ate the biscuits as part of dessert, with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, as a rustic sort of substitute for shortcake.
Black-Eyed Pea & Collard Green Soup à la Russell Street Deli
1 lb dried black-eyed peas, rinsed and picked over
2 bunches collard greens, washed, stems removed and cut into 1-inch ribbons (you want about a pound after they’re all trimmed)
3 small or 2 medium cooking onions, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large celery stalk, diced small (not crucial, but I had some in the fridge)
3-4 quarts veggie stock, chicken stock or water+ ham hock (see notes)
salt & pepper to taste
optional: 2 cups diced ham
Notes: I made this just after Easter to use up some leftover Easter ham, but again, the veggie version is a worthwhile (and of course healthier) alternative. If you’re not vegetarian, but just don’t want to buy ham, I’d suggest using chicken stock for the cooking liquid. If you’re using the ham, I suggest using water plus a ham hock as the cooking liquid, but the other stocks would work fine too. The total amount of liquid you’ll need will depend on a couple factors, such as how dry your beans are and how low a simmer you can maintain. As for seasonings, the amount of salt you add will depend on your choice of stock, so just start tasting towards the end of cooking and add as needed.
Directions: Heat the bay leaf and stock or water + ham hock in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, in a stockpot or Dutch oven, sweat the onions and celery in a little vegetable oil, adding the garlic a few minutes in. When they begin to soften, add the beans and simmering liquid. As the beans cook, if you are using the ham hock, you may need to skim the surface occasionally to remove any scum. (I know, at this point the vegetarians are either laughing at us or going “ewww, scum?”…) Cook uncovered at a gentle simmer, stirring from time to time, until the beans are nearly fully cooked. If the liquid gets too low at any point, top it off with a little water or stock- you want the beans to be covered at all times, and the end result should be brothy, not overly thick.
When the beans are almost done, remove the ham hock and bay leaf, then raise the heat slightly and add the diced ham and collard greens. Simmer until greens are fully wilted and tender, about 10-15 minutes. (Collards can take a longer cooking, if you prefer to put them in earlier; just make sure not to overcook your beans.) Check for salt and pepper, adding as needed, and serve. I love to season this soup with a dash of Frank’s Red Hot and/or a sprinkle of apple cider vinegar.
There’s a soup I’ve made several times out of the Moosewood Daily Special cookbook that consists of sautéed onions, thinly sliced potatoes, and tomatoes on a garlicky broth. (This cookbook is a great resouce for vegetarian soups and hearty grain-based salads, although I have to cop to using chicken stock instead of vegetable in many of the soup recipes…)* The Moosewood recipe is good, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted a heartier soup and needed to use up some leftover ham I had from Christmas dinner. The Basque region of France & Spain is known for using ham, peppers and onions in a variety of dishes, so I was inspired by those flavors. I decided to cut the potatoes in chunks rather than slices to make the soup more rustic, and added the peppers for a bit more color and sweetness. The addition of smoked Spanish paprika, aka Pimenton de la Vera, was the final element. (There is another type of dried, powdered red pepper specific to the Basque region called Piment d’Espelette that would probably be great in this as well, but I didn’t have any on hand.) As long as we’re on the subject of spices, Penzey’s is a great resource. You can order online, or if you’re in the Detroit area they have a store at 13 mile & Southfield. The last time I was there, I picked up Szichuan peppercorns, kalonji, mustard seed, garam masala and more… But back to the soup! Here it is: hearty, simple, with warm Spanish flavors to ward of the chill of winter.
*Notes for vegetarians: To make this a vegetarian soup, simply omit the ham and substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock. The Moosewood book actually has a great garlic stock that is used in the original recipe. Also, smoked paprika is a great way to add a little “meatiness” without actually using meat (the smokiness emulates a bacony flavor).
Basque-inspired Peasant Soup/ Soupe Paysanne à la Basquaise printer-friendly version
3 medium sweet onions, such as Vidalia or Walla-Walla
6-8 small redskin potatoes, or the equivalent amount of larger potatoes (see notes)
1 head roasted garlic (see notes)
2 cups chicken stock
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 16-oz jar roasted red peppers, not marinated (I’d say two large peppers if you’re roasting them yourself)
2 cups diced ham
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
smoked Spanish paprika
Notes: For the potatoes, I used redskins, but feel free to substitute a starchier potato if you’d like a thicker soup. I would guess that two large potatoes would suffice if you’re using Russets or Yukons. If using either of these, I’d probably peel them. For the roasted garlic, if you don’t want to turn on the oven, you can “roast” the garlic in the microwave. It’s not quite the same, but it’ll do if you need to speed things along. Just peel away most of the outer skin, slice off the top, put in a small dish, pour olive oil to coat, and microwave on 30% power for 10 minutes, flipping it halfway through.
Directions: Slice the onions as thinly as possible, and cut the potatoes into bite-sized cubes. Remove all the skins from the garlic and cut all but the smallest cloves in half. Heat a few tbs. olive oil in a heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven, add the onions and lightly salt them. Sauté over medium heat until they begin to soften, and then add the potatoes and garlic. Cook for another 10 minutes or so while you slice up your peppers and dice the ham, stirring occasionally. When the onions are fully softened and translucent, add the 2 cups chicken stock and a large sprig (or 2 smaller sprigs) thyme, and bring to a simmer. Cook at a low simmer until the potatoes are tender. Add the can of tomatoes (juice and all), peppers, and ham and keep at a very low simmer for about 10 more minutes to warm through and allow the flavors to blend. When serving, garnish with a sprinkle of the smoked paprika and a scattering of fresh thyme leaves. To continue the Spanish theme, serve with crusty bread and slices of Manchego cheese, and a nice bottle of Rioja.