Experiments in cooking: Sunday Brunch Part 2

Crepes with sautéed spinach, mushrooms and ham in béchamel sauce with gruyère 

For Sunday Brunch (part deux), I was going for simplicity… a sort of “all components of the meal in one pretty little package” kind of thing.

After picking Alia up at the train station, we headed to the Logan Square Farmers’ Market. My first stop is usually the mushroom guy from River Valley Ranch, and this trip was no different. It appeared we were going to be cooking with shiitake mushrooms until he, sensing my general disappointment that he had no oyster mushrooms left, reached under the table and pulled out a “mushroom medley” bag which he sold me for $10. Inside were the remains of the day’s oyster mushrooms along with some shiitake. After passing the crepe stand, it was pretty much a done deal, savory crepes were gonna happen.

After spending a questionable amount of time wallowing in the grass and applying those helicopter leaves to our noses like the mature, grounded and poised adult we are…

 

 

 

 

…. we collected our belongings and went back to Lincoln Park to cook.

 

I give you my “simple” crepes with mushroom, spinach and ham in a béchamel sauce with gruyère

Ingredients:

1 bag of miscellaneous mushrooms (I’d say there was about a pound of mushrooms)

1 small bag of spinach

3 cloves of garlic

Eggs (let’s say 2 large ones)

Flour (about 3 cups)

Butter (1 stick)

Whole Milk (3 cups)

——————————

So this is a meal that has multiple steps, but they are all quite easy, so fret not.

Step 1: The crepes

I was once told by a French woman that making crepes was almost like a game of tug of war. She said it was a constant battle between flour and milk, that is to say whether the batter needed more flour or milk. When you overcompensated with one you just add a little more of the other. Generally speaking I’d say start with 2 eggs and try to mix in as close to 1 cup of flour and slightly more milk than you’ve put flour (give or take 1 1/4 cups).

Beat the eggs and add some salt. I’ve been told to add the flour little by little first then gradually mix in the milk. Essentially what will happen is you’ll get a big ball of fairly dense dough to which you’ll add milk to until you get the desired consistency (runny).

Once you’ve achieved that, you’ll notice there will be some bits of dough that haven’t gotten fully dissolved… instead of driving yourself completely insane trying to blend them in, pass the mixture through a strainer and let the stuff that made it through the strainer sit while you prepare the filling. Needless to say, discard the stuff caught in the strainer…. unless you can think of something really clever to do with tiny nuggets of chalky flour in a runny egg and milk mixture. I’m not holding my breath.

Step 2: The Filling

a) Béchamel Sauce:

Melt your butter over medium heat (about 1 stick) in a pan and whisk in 3 tablespoons of flour. Gradually add the milk (3 cups) stirring until it becomes a lovely, frothy and thick mixture. I added about 2 teaspoons of salt, ’cause I like things salty. That’s Alia making her first béchamel sauce… it’s enough to bring tears to my eyes! She seems pleased with herself, too. Gabrielle is lending her emotional support.

b) The veg:

I just sautéed the mushrooms (which I cut into fairly uniform pieces) with some olive oil, a splash of white wine, a healthy pad of butter and salt. I don’t know why I always say this, but I say that you should salt your mushrooms until you feel like you’ve overdone it with the salt and then add a little more for good measure. There could be no rhyme or reason to this, but I think they taste much better when they are given enough salt to actualize and not just taste like gummy little pieces of fungus. Also, I want to note that mushrooms may very well be my favorite thing to eat, so please don’t think I’m dissing mushrooms… unsalted mushrooms are just gross.

So after transferring the mushrooms to a plate lined with a paper towel, I sautéed the spinach in the same pan with a bit more olive oil, some pressed garlic (which is discarded after cooking the spinach with it) and salted accordingly. I transferred the spinach to the same plate and pressed out the excess oil.

That would be the béchamel, sautéed spinach and mushrooms…

and the corner of Gabrielle’s purse.

In the spirit of keeping things simple, I wiped off the same pan and threw in the chopped up ham (the same junky deli meat I used for the baked eggs I made the previous week with Alia), the freshly sautéed materials and the béchamel. I put that on low heat and let that heat up while I made the crepes.

 

Step 3: Cooking the crepes

Crepes might seem daunting, but if I can make them using a nonstick skillet that has no business being a crepe pan, then so can the rest of the world.

I essentially put a small pad of butter in before each crepe. On medium to high heat, once the butter has melted pour the crepe batter into the pan (about 2/3 of a cup) and tilt the pan in all direction to lightly coat the entire pan with the batter. It should take about 45 second for the batter to cook through (the top or uncooked side will dry up). Once that happens, flip the crepe (they flip really easily with a spatula) and finish on that side for about 20 seconds or so.

All that’s left to do is spoon the filling into the crepes and add copious amounts of grated cheese. Et voilà!

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