Creative Cooking: Crepes

“Sorry we tried to kill you and your students. Do you want a job with us?”

Several weeks ago I had a terrible experience at a banquet I helped to host for the music students of our high school. Several conversations and in-person meetings with the chef and the functions manager of the facility to ensure that the students from our high school would have no worries regarding their food allergies didn’t yield the expected results . Despite having put together a completely allergy friendly menu ahead of time, on the day of the banquet, the chef cooked the food with all the ingredients he was supposed to leave out which caused no end of stress as we learned that fact literally minutes before several students put the food into their mouths! Fortunately, we did get to the students before their forks touched their lips, and new meals were made, but as you can imagine, I was not at all pleased.

Laughably, all my mother’s etiquette training must have worked, because at the end of the event, the onsite coordinator actually took the time to thank me for being the most polite angry person he’d ever had the pleasure of working with to deal with an issue. More incredibly, he also told me that he and the chef had taken a liberty in having a piece of the gluten, dairy, soy, nut free chocolate mousse cake I had brought for the students with allergies and that it was the best cake either of them had ever eaten. Most unbelievable, though, was the next day when the manager, who had called to see what she could do to keep our school’s business after the unfortunate event, asked me if I wanted to work for them, making cakes for their weddings!

As a writing facilitator, I always tell the folks who attend my writing groups that truth is stranger than fiction and that they only have to look at life for creative writing ideas. My experience above bears out the truth of what I’ve been telling them!

The fact is that while there’s more recognition around gluten and nut sensitivities, there’s still a long way to go for the world to think proactively about accommodating people with food allergies in general. Our allergy friendly menu fell off the radar for the chef and the manager because they simply don’t think about it regularly. Fortunately, now the manager has revamped all of their forms so that allergies are actually the first item on the form — and in bright red now! So, hopefully no other folks will have to deal with the issues we went through on that day.

As for the job offer, the chef was surprised that my cake was actually good! The site coordinator went on and on about how the chef couldn’t believe how much the texture and the taste was like a “real” cake. As he spoke, I kept thinking that my cake WAS a REAL cake. It wasn’t “fake”. It wasn’t made of air. All the ingredients were ingredients you can buy at the store, made from real, natural foods like tofu and garbanzo beans and oats and flaxseed.

I was thinking about all this the other day as I made crepes….

Like the cake I made, crepes are misunderstood to be something they are not. Most folks I’ve spoken to seem to believe crepes are complicated to make. Crepes are actually wonderfully easy to make and are very versatile. They are basically just flour, eggs, and milk — all of which people can be allergic to. This, however, isn’t a problem, because it’s so easy to substitute ingredients for crepes. And it’s worth doing, because you can make crepes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert in just a matter of minutes. And if you have guests, they’ll be highly impressed because they’ll think you did a lot of work when you didn’t!

What you need to know about crepes:

  1. Ratios: Google crepes recipes, and you’ll discover that the only consistency lies in the three basic ingredients: eggs, milk, and flour. The ratio of the three to one another varies from recipe to recipe. For every one cup of flour, some will call for 1 cup of milk; others 2 cups. For that same cup of flour, some recipes will call for two eggs; another four. What you need to know is this: crepes are supposed to be thin, so your liquid ingredients combined – the milk and eggs – should be more than the flour, unlike in pancakes where the dry to liquid ingredients are usually one to one. How much milk versus eggs you add is really all about your preferences. More eggs makes slightly thicker, custardy crepes. More milk creates lacier, more delicate crepes. If you are making crepes for the first time, I’d suggest using one cup of flour, one cup of milk and two eggs as a basic recipe and then experiment from there to see which texture you prefer.
  2. The Flour: You are not limited to white flour for crepes. You can use wheat; you can use gluten free; you can even use nut flours. What’s important to know is that because you want your crepes to be light, if you are going to use a heavier flour like garbanzo bean or whole wheat or sorghum, you should opt to use less than you might with typical white flour – more like 1/2 cup. If you want to use the same one cup amount, opt for a lighter flours like rice or tapioca or arrowroot.
  3. The Milk: Once again, your options are unlimited. You can use other types of milk for crepes besides cow milk. Almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, quinoa milk, etc… they all work! And unlike the flour substitutions, these can all be substituted one to one for the regular milk.
  4. The Eggs: If you are watching your cholesterol, you can opt to use only egg whites. Just remember that you need two whites to replace one whole egg, or if you’re using liquid egg whites, that about 1/4 cup is equivalent to a large egg. If you are allergic to eggs, you can also simply leave the eggs out. You can simply increase the milk amount to replace the liquid you’re losing from the eggs — again about 1/4 cup of milk for each egg you omit. You can also mix one tablespoon of ground golden flaxseed with three tablespoons of water to replace one egg.
  5. The Fat: Crepes usually have one other important ingredient: a fat. Usually one tablespoon of butter or olive oil or melted coconut oil or almond butter or whatever you decide is enough, but it’s good to choose a fat because it helps the crepes to stick less to your pan, as well as adds some flavor.
  6. The Flavor: Crepes are usually made so that you can fill them with savory or sweet fillings so you don’t really need to add anything other than a pinch of salt, but as always, tailor the crepes to your taste. If you want something sweet, add a bit of honey or agave to the batter. If you want something savory, add some herbs. Want something distinctive? Substitute orange juice for part of the milk. Experiment and see what you like.
  7. The Batter: Okay, I promised you that making crepes was easy, and it is. Whatever you’ve decided to use for your crepes, you simply mix all the ingredients together. You can whisk them, blend them, shake them, food process them, and in a matter of minutes you have a nice batter. What’s key is that you want your batter to be very smooth. The smoother, the better. If you are making crepes with flour, you should let the batter rest because this relaxes the gluten in the batter. If you’re making gluten free crepes, then you have no such worries.
  8. The Cooking: People think making crepes is difficult and takes time, but I make enough crepes for a family of five in less than ten minutes. Crepes cook very quickly. You simply grease your pan, pour a scant amount to just cover the bottom, let the crepes begin to solidify (usually only about a minute), flip, let the crepes finish cooking on the other side (usually about thirty seconds), transfer to a plate, and you’re done with a stack in just mere minutes. You simply need to follow a couple of easy steps:
    1. Don’t use a large pan. A pan sized for an omelet is the perfect size. It allows you to easily flip the crepes without worrying about tearing them.
    2. Cook over medium heat. Too low and the crepes won’t cook quickly enough. Too high and the crepes will burn.
    3. Don’t use a large scoop. You only want enough batter to just cover the bottom of your pan. Usually a quarter cup works just fine.
    4. Invest in a wide spatula. A spatula which allows you to get completely under the crepe to flip it quickly is best.
    5. Make sure your crepes won’t stick to your pan. Use your favorite spray or oil in between each crepe if you don’t have a nonstick pan. You don’t need a lot – a quarter tsp will work – but you do need something to make sure the crepes don’t stick because otherwise they’ll tear or burn.
  9. The Filling: Crepes are great because you can fill them however you want. You can keep them simple and spread jam on the crepes and roll or fold them over. You can put fresh fruit on top. You can make a creamy vegetable filling (I like to make a white sauce with spinach and mushrooms which I roll the crepes around). You can fill the crepes with ice cream or a vanilla custard. You can spread cheeses like ricotta or marscarpone and fold the crepes. You can fill them with pureed pumpkin or squash. You can use a lemon curd. You can roll chicken salad inside crepes. The list is endless. Experiment and see what you like!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Menu Munching: Avocados

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

“The best is an orchestra.”

At a recent event for writers, a gentleman shared a story about his grandfather who said that people should be like an orchestra, each complementing one another in harmony to make the world a better place for everyone.

I thought about this when I received an email this week asking me about the hype around super foods. If you look at the list of super foods, you’ll see that they’re fruits, nuts, veggies, beans, whole grains, fish, and spices – essentially and simply an orchestra of naturally existing, non-processed, complementary foods which when eaten make for better health.

It’s not that they’re super. It’s that we unfortunately have fallen away from eating them, and our bodies are craving them. For some folks, it’s the cost. The fact is that the natural foods are a lot more expensive than processed. For others it’s the maintenance. Fresh foods don’t last as long, so they need to be eaten quickly and replaced more regularly which requires more trips to the store. For many it’s that our lives are busy, and we need food which have longer shelf-lives because we’re simply not home to eat the fresh food in the fridge.

The fact, though, is that our bodies need certain vitamins and nutrients to function optimally, and eating a wide variety of fruits, veggies, nuts, whole grains, beans, fish and spices provides what our bodies need in ways that processed foods simply cannot.

In the email, the question was specifically about avocados and why the hype and how to incorporate it into one’s diet.

Avocados are high in fiber, nutrients like potassium, vitamin K and folate, and the good monounsaturated fats our bodies need, so yes, people are advocating it as a super food. Like all the foods on the list, though, it needs to be a part of a healthy varied diet to have any benefit. If you’re eating unhealthy all the time, simply adding avocado to your menu isn’t going to make your body super.

As an addition to a healthy diet, though, avocados can add variety if you’re in a food rut. You can add them onto salads and sandwiches, make soups with them, stuff them, put them into smoothies, and you can even add them to cake recipes. For most folks, avocados mean guacamole, though, so I’m going to focus on that today.

Guacamole often gets a bad rap because it’s most always associated with the tortilla chips people tend to eat with them. It’s the tortilla chips that are unhealthy; not the guacamole. Guacamole is actually a combination of super foods: avocado, garlic, onions, citrus juice, jalapeno peppers, and sometime tomatoes. So, eating it is a good thing, though one should eat it as a veggie dip or a sandwich spread as opposed to a tortilla chip dip.

Making Guacamole:

1. Purchase good avocados: You want avocados which are dark green, soft to your touch, but without any brown, overly soft spots. When you go to the store, though, the avocados are almost always unripe. So, look for ones which are green with no brown and/or soft spots in them, firm to the touch and heavy in your hand. When you bring them home, put them into a paper bag, and check them after a day or so. When they’re ripe, they’ll be soft when you press into the skin with your finger. If you have the time to wait, you can also simply leave the avocados in a bowl on your counter, and they’ll ripen over time.

2. Prepare the avocados: Avocados are easy to cut. You simply cut in half around the pit and twist. When the avocado is ripe, the seed will simply slip out with very little aid from a spoon or knife. If the pit is sticking to the avocado flesh, it’s a clear sign that the avocado isn’t ripe. When avocados are ripe, you can put a spoon around the edge between the skin and the flesh and the avocado flesh will simply fall out of the skin. If the flesh is sticking to the skin, it’s either unripe or overly ripe.

3. Decide on the ingredients: Guacamole is usually a combination of avocados, citrus juice, garlic, onions, and jalapeno peppers with folks sometimes adding tomatoes, too. You can decide what you want to use. Since I don’t always have fresh jalapeno peppers and onions in the house, I often use dried red pepper flakes and onion powder. I also prefer to use Meyer lemons over lime juice, and since my children don’t like tomatoes in their guacamole, I don’t include it. You can decide whether you want to use all fresh ingredients or some dried like me. You can choose whether you prefer the taste of lime or lemon juice. You can decide whether to be a purist or to add tomatoes or even experiment with other additions. Some folks like to add herbs like basil to their guacamole. Most add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Begin with a basic recipe: A basic recipe I follow is:  Put the flesh of two avocados into a large bowl. Begin with 2 tablespoons of squeezed citrus juice, 2 tsp of minced garlic, and 1/8 tsp each of onion powder, black pepper, salt, and red pepper flakes. Mash the ingredients into the avocados so everything is combined but the avocados are still chunky. Taste and see what you need to add more of to your liking. If you’re using all fresh ingredents, start with 2 tsp of minced onions and seeded, jalapeno peppers and then see if you need to add more or not.

 

Cooking Techniques: Potato Salad

website potato salad

“I’m turning into you!”

A couple of weeks ago, my oldest was home from college, so I asked her to help me at a concert my middle child was performing in. At the end of the concert she came to me in the concession kitchen and said, “I’m turning into you! I just did a sweep of the auditorium, cleaning up everyone else’s trash, and now I’m behind the counter serving cake to everyone!”

A parent who overheard my daughter’s remarks, commented on what she had said, and it sparked a conversation among a few parents about the types of folks who helped behind the scenes. At one point, someone said, “No one thinks much about the custodian until he’s out sick, and the trash isn’t emptied.”

I was reminded of that comment this weekend as I prepared food for a cookout we were going to have. I had asked my middle child what she thought I should make to go with the burgers, hot dogs and chicken, and she replied, “Potato salad.” Her answer surprised me because she doesn’t like potato salad.

When I questioned her about her reply, she said, “It’s a barbecue. If you don’t have potato salad, people will ask where it is.” As I thought about what she said, I realized, she was right. No one has ever asked me to actually make potato salad, but there have definitely been plenty of times when I’ve had a barbecue without potato salad where someone has said something like, “Oh, no potato salad, huh?”

It may be because people are just used to potato salad being at barbecues. It may be because potatoes have always been a tasty complement to meat, which is what usually serves as the main course at barbecues. Whatever the reason, potato salad is the humble dish, which like the sick custodian is usually only noticed if it’s missing.

Potato salad, however, is a dish which folks should consider with more thought. Potatoes are high in fiber if you eat the skin, have nutrients like potassium and vitamin C, and are a good source of complex carbs. Potato salad in particular is nice because it can be inexpensively made, easily stretched to feed a crowd, and can be made in a variety of ways to suit different tastes. Potato salad is also very allergy friendly because unless you’re allergic to potatoes, how you choose to dress it and what additions you add can easily be done around any food allergies you might have.

Potato Salad Tips:

1. Type of potato: The choices abound for potato salad. Traditionally, potatoes are categorized as starchy (think Idaho potatoes), waxy (think red potatoes) or all-purpose (think Yukon-Gold potatoes). Starchy potatoes fall apart easily, so if you prefer a creamier, more mashed type of potato salad, these work best. Waxy potatoes hold their shape well, so if you prefer a firmer potato salad with squares of potato to bite into, you’ll want to use these. If you’re looking for something in between, all purpose potatoes are just the thing. You can also mix different types of potatoes which is what I do, because the starchier potatoes form a creamy base for the firmer waxy potatoes which provide something to bite into.

2. Potato cooking method: There are basically three ways to cook potatoes for potato salad – boiling, baking or high heat roasting. If you prefer your potatoes to be a little wetter, boil them. If you want them to be fluffier, bake them. If you want a concentrated potato flavor, roast them.

If you want your potatoes to have a firmer texture while boiling, mix the water with vinegar, about 2 tbsp for every 2 cups of water you’re using. If you bake the potatoes, you can choose whether you want to scoop the insides out of the skin or make the potato salad with the skin. If you roast the potatoes, the crunchy skin adds a nice complexity to the potato salad.

3. Additions to potato salad: Anything goes with potatoes. You can add vegetables of any type – celery, zucchini, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes…. You can add meat – sausage, bacon, chicken, eggs…. You can add fruit – apples, pears, mangos…. You can add cheese. The only limit is your imagination. Experiment and see what you prefer taste-wise.

4. Seasonings: Potatoes are versatile. You can flavor them as you’d like. Dill, oregano, thyme, rosemary are more traditional. Cumin or coriander or turmeric add a new and different taste. Paprika and black pepper and parsley and dry mustard are always good favorites. As with the additions, experiment and see what your taste buds like. Adding leeks or chives or garlic punches up the flavor. Sticking with just salt and pepper allows more of the potato to come through. Adding something like a zucchini relish adds a twist to the flavor. What’s great is that you can choose.

5. Dressing: Dressing the potato salad is always fun. You can make a creamy dressing which usually utilizes ingredients like mayonnaise or yogurt or cream cheese or creamy salad dressings or sour cream. You can also make a vinaigrette dressing which uses plant-based oils like olive oil or safflower oil mixed with vinegars like red wine or apple cider or white. Sometimes I like to simply add fresh lemon juice to slightly mashed potato salad, and it’s quite lovely.

Dressings can be tangy or sweet or zesty or mild. You choose and change it up as you want. What’s important is to mix your dressing with the potatoes while they’re still slightly warm so the flavors will meld with the potatoes while the potato salad is cooling in the fridge. If you making a creamy dressing with yogurt or mayo, let the potatoes cool slightly longer so the dressing doesn’t melt and separate.

6. Garnishes: When you’re ready to serve your potato salad, it’s always nice to add a little something because the flavors, though, they meld in the fridge, do tend to flatten out a bit. So, give your potato salad a good mixing after you remove it from the fridge, and add a little something to freshen the flavor, whether it’s a little bit of mint or chopped up pieces of bacon or a little more dressing or a drizzle of fresh lemon juice. And then enjoy!