Sunday, November 04, 2007

What a Long, Strange Crepe It's Been

Over the years, I've learned a lot about cooking. That seems obvious, but considering that over thirty years ago I was afraid to slide a pan into the oven because I was afraid of burning myself, I think I've traveled a long, long way.

And over the years, I've taken on some challenging tasks that I would snap my fingers at now. I've explored various exotic ethnic cuisines, rolled out paper-thin pasta, made pie crusts and croissants so light and flaky that even the Chef Mother couldn't top them, and baked flatbreads at blast-furnace temperatures that would have sent the younger me into my room, bawling.

But there are still some cooking techniques that intimidate me, and it's taking me a while to confront and overcome some of them.

Take crepes, for instance. I've loved them for years, but I'd never quite worked up the courage to make them on my own. Yes, I can make pancakes like a pro, but it's so much easier to flip a smaller, thicker cake than it is a thin sheet that covers the bottom of a skillet.

During one of my recent shifts at the Inn, though, the Innkeeper served crepes for breakfast and had me whisk together a second bowl of batter in case we ran out. We didn't, but she then wanted to cook and store the crepes for later use. Once she started cooking, though, she was interrupted by the guests, leaving me to stare in horror at the empty kitchen and the steaming skillet.

Well, I survived that trial by fire, managing to flip that crepe successfully and then finishing off the rest of the batter with very little ado. So I thought, why not try making crepes at home sometime?

The weather turned downright gloomy today, so instead of following my initial inclination to make a pasta dish or a pot of soup, I decided to make an Indian dish of paneer, potatoes, zucchini, spinach, jalapenos, and assorted spices that I could use to stuff buckwheat crepes.

After making a batch of fresh paneer, the rest of the filling fell together with little effort, and I was able to set it aside to cool while I took a break. When I returned, I whisked together the batter for the crepes, using local buckwheat and spelt flours, local maple sugar, and all local dairy (milk and butter) and eggs. I pulled out my trusty cast iron skillet and got down to work.

Whether it was due to the cast iron skillet, the different batter, or even the time change, I'm not sure, but I had difficulty in making the crepes as thin as they ought to be, though after the first crepe I had no trouble in flipping each one as they cooked.

Pretty soon, I'd scraped the last of the batter into the skillet and finished cooking the seventh crepe, so I decided to assemble my dinner. I added a generous scoop of filling to two crepes, rolled them up, and coated them with an easy tomato-mustard sauce.

I'd forgotten how satisfying crepes could be, especially when stuffed with plenty of good vegetables from the farmers' market, homemade cheese, and warming spices. Even though none of the elements of the meal turned out quite as I had hoped, they worked so well together that their imperfections seemed irrelevant.

And after such a filling meal, I had little desire for dessert aside from the smallest crepe rolled up with cinnamon sugar leftover from this morning's baking, plus a cup of chai.

I haven't quite perfected my crepe-making skills, but at least now I'm not afraid to try!


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