All The Things I Eat




Chicken Crepes With Béchamel Sauce

By on Friday, November 5th, 2021 at 1:17 pm

Savory chicken crepes

Savory dinner crepes are an underrated food. What I love about them is they seem fancy, but are actually rather simple to make.

The first time I had a savory chicken crepe was in college at the North Star Bar, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It was one of the more upscale bars in the downtown intended for the business people and young professionals in the city rather than college students. At happy hour though the drinks were cheap enough and the bar menu discounted, so we could pretend we belonged.

The crepes were filled with chicken, an assortment of vegetables including asparagus and red peppers, and a creamy sauce. I’m sure the memory of these crepes were far better than they really were, or maybe just relative to the other types of things I was eating in college, they seemed especially good. I think about those crepes every time I make savory crepes for dinner. It is not that I am trying to to replicate the dish, nor would I be able to.

For the crepes, I started with a basic recipe. I don’t have a specific goto that I prefer for crepes and usually just pull the top listing off of Google. The essentials are Eggs, flour, milk, and melted butter. Some recipes suggest adding sugar, but I avoid these recipes even if I’m making sweet crepes. I also like recipes that suggesting thinning out the batter with water.

The most important step in making crepes is allowing the batter to sit. Some recipes will insist the batter needs to sit overnight in the refrigerator. Generally I think a thirty minute rest period is enough. That is enough time for thin batter to spread easily across the pan. Mixing in a bit of water at this point can help thin the batter out too.

The longest part of the whole process is cooking the crepes. Each crepe will cook relatively quickly but the time adds up when it comes to the volume of crepes. And a smaller pan means smaller crepes, and ultimately more crepes to make.

Sometimes I wish I had a crepe specific pan or even a professional grade crepe hotplate. Both tools create extremely thin crepes. On the other hand, I don’t need the extra equipment clogging up the kitchen.

I could have started the filling while the batter was resting, but I wanted to finish watching the last twenty minutes of Sideways. The film mostly holds up, although the portrait of a man willing to bang his way through Napa Valley three days before his wedding seems tired and outdated. Anyway, I waited until the crepes were cooking to get to work on the filling.

The filling started with olive oil and onions. Once they were translucent, I added in slices of a chicken breast. You can argue about how much more flavorful dark meat is, but béchamel is a rich and fatty sauce anyway. After lightly browning the chicken, I tossed in some mushrooms and simmered those for a few minutes. I continued flipping out crepes.

A good crepe maker can flip a crepe with a simple flick of the wrist. I’m not good enough to do this perfectly every time and so I use the assistance of a spatula.

One the meat arrived at a stable place in the cooking process, I could start on the white sauce. I would love to pretend like I’ve memorized the béchamel ratios, but I’m not a French trained chef, and the internet is in my pocket. In addition to the butter, flour, and milk, I also added some garlic powder. Once the sauce was thickened, I added about half of it to the chicken and mushrooms, reserving the rest for the top of the crepe.

To assemble them, I laid a crepe out flat, added some filling, and rolled it over on itself. I plated two each and then drizzled some sauce over each one. One recipe online suggested topping the crepes with gruyere and then baking them briefly. I had forgotten to get gruyere and the cheddar I had in the refrigerator just didn’t seem a good match. Instead, I shaved some Parmigiano-Reggiano over the crepes.

Cross section of a crepe

As you can see in the above cross section, the sauce inside the crepe was gooey and creamy.

I debated stuffing in some green beans that I had prepared as side dish, but thought the texture would not be quite right. I also think a roasted sweet potato would make an excellent substitute for the chicken for vegetarians, but then that’s probably a different post altogether.





Cassoulet Is Never Quick

By on Friday, October 29th, 2021 at 7:21 pm

A cassoulet using Rancho Gordo beans and d'artangan duck sausage

Subscribing to the Rancho Gordo bean club can sometimes feel oppressive when you are sitting on a stockpile of beans and know another box just around the corner. I knew we needed to use up some of the beans we’d been accumulating so I pulled out the box of white beans to assess what we had. Sure enough, a full bag of cassoulet beans ready and waiting.

What I love about this dish is that it’s basically impossible to screw up. Sure, you can try to rush a cassoulet and that isn’t going to help it much. You need time in the oven to crisp the top. But as long as you can braise it for four or five hours, it pretty much cooks itself.

At this point I don’t even bother looking at cassoulet recipes. Maybe I should have. I made a few mistakes on this, but it sure turned out fine just the same.

First I had to boil off the beans. We had some old rosemary in the back of the refrigerator — just enough to toss a sprig in. What I forgot to do was boil the carrot and the celery with the beans, but honestly with five hours for braising, it was fine to add them later.

When the beans were cooked, I started cooking the pork belly. I wanted a little brown on the meat and render some of that fat for frying everything else. I also cut up a few strips of bacon. before adding in some duck sausages from D’Artagnan. I used these instead of the more traditionally duck confit for two reasons.

First, The Meat Hook didn’t have any in stock. I’m not even sure if they still stock duck confit. The last time I had to go all the way to Dicksons Farmstand in Chelsea Market.

The second reason is duck confit is really heavy. The duck fat is great and I love using it for roasted potatoes to go along with the cassoulet, but there isn’t anything light about it. The sausages were a perfect substitute, especially since there should be sausages in the dish anyway.

Once I browned off the meat, I chopped an onion, garlic, celery, and carrot browning in the rendered fat. I added in the beans. I wasn’t too worried about layering properly because I was only using a pound of beans with a wide brimmed pot. Having extra surface area really helps develop that great cassoulet crust. I topped off with a cup of chicken broth. Twenty minutes in I realized I forgot to add the can of tomatoes.

The pot when in the oven. After half an hour I took off the lid to allow the browning to start. About four hours later she was ready to come out with a nice crusty top. The single pound of beans and swapping out duck sausage was a great choice for two people. We had a filling dinner and lunch the next day with a little left over for the weekend.





Rabbit Stew

By on Thursday, April 4th, 2013 at 8:21 am

Rabbit Stew

I wanted to save the rabbit meat for easter dinner. Nobody else was really into that idea.

Rabbit isn’t as common a protein as it once was. Rabbits are breed quickly, are relatively easy to maintain, and don’t take up too much space. They are great peasant food.

My grandfather loved rabbit meat. In Italy as a child, his family raised rabbits in their small patch of land. This shouldn’t be romanticized.

Most southern Italians didn’t own the land they worked, instead working for padroni, the bosses. If they did have access to a patch of land as my grandfather’s parents had, also paid taxes to the government on the food they raised themselves. Its not all that surprising then that so many Italians left their homeland during the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

Rabbit was popular in the United States at the time, also. Beef prices did come down through the 20th century, and as the beef got cheaper, alternative meat like rabbits grew less popular. Ironically, it has a low fat content making it a relative lean meat that probably would be very appealing to people interested in the various fad diets today.

Finding rabbit meat is not always easy. In New York City, Dickson’s Farmstand Meats receives a few rabbits on Saturday mornings. They can be bought whole and usually sell out by the end of the day. At the various green markets around the city, I’ve found rabbit meat available from some of the tables.

One of the drawbacks of rabbit is that it can have tiny bones. They are small animals after all. Braising a rabbit in a stew is one way to separate the meat from this tiny bones, but its still possible of course to come across a choking hazard.

I didn’t follow much of a recipe on this. I chopped up some basic vegetables: onions, garlic, celery, and tossed in some large carrot chunks. I saved the mushrooms for the end to keep them from totally disappearing in the broth. After covering it with chicken broth, it braised for a few hours until the meat fell off the bones.





Bone Marrow

By on Friday, September 14th, 2012 at 4:54 am

Hunter gatherers prized bone marrow for its high calorie content; in the modern world, its more like a form of gluttony.

Marrow has slowly crept towards the territory of latest gastronomic fad appearing on an increasing number of menus. While all bones have marrow, the best for eating tend to be large and thick; even these have little substance to them.

The bone is split and cooked leaving a gelatinas substance that can be eaten with a spoon or spread across toast. Calorie rich, its like eating butter.

Brooklyn Star
593 Lorimer Street
Brooklyn





Salteñas

By on Thursday, September 13th, 2012 at 5:42 am


This is not an empanada, the sign warns.

I was out on the boardwalk at Rockaway Beach with some friends. After a day in the sun, we were looking for some food. The area has been undergoing a virtual gastronomic revolution with new restaurants and offshoots of existing city based restaurants opening in the pavilions along the water. The new offerings are a far cry from the funnel cakes and french fries of a place like Coney Island.

There were a number of options in each of the boardwalk’s pavilions, like a miniature beach oriented food court.

Casa de Camda is offering up these Bolivian pockets filled with savory meat and egg. A vegetarian option is also available. Sliced open and served with a bit of hot sauce, they were a little unexpectedly sweet. While tasty, one alone was not actually all that filling, making it a good snack but a poor meal.

Casa de Camda
Boardwalk pavilion
97th Street
Rockaway Beach, New York