Thursday, September 4, 2008

Crêpes, Part 1

I've always loved the idea of crêpes, ever since I heard about them on the Patty Duke television show in the early to mid 1960s. After all, the show's theme song introduces the two characters with with the following:

"Where Cathy adores a minuet,
the Ballet Russe,
and crêpes Suzette;
Our Patty loves to rock 'n' roll,
a hot dog makes her lose control—
What a wild duet!"

I must have been four or five when I first saw that television show, and I had no idea what crêpes Suzette might be other than it was something more worldly than you'd normally find in home town America. You see, in the television show, Patty and Cathy were identical cousins from different backgrounds; Cathy was the more cultured of the two, being raised in Europe. Patty, on the other hand, was your normal, every day rock 'n' rolling American teenage girl. Laughs galore when the two cultures collide!

Anyway, my mother wasn't the kind of person to cook crêpes—especially for a picky eater like me, even if she knew how to do so. In addition, I never found crêpes Suzette on any menus of any restaurants that I visited with my family, either (not that I'd know where to look, actually, thinking back).

I'm not sure when I discovered exactly what crêpes Suzette was, but it was probably from reading an encyclopedia or dictionary. It's a French dessert made with a thick orange sauce. Even after I figured out what it was, I believe that I have never had the opportunity to taste this dessert, even during the many times I visited France. (To tell you the truth, I'm not very big on desserts.) Still, the idea of crêpes was ingrained in my mind at a very early age thanks to American popular culture.

When I was in high school, I started cooking for myself (and my family), and found a recipe for crêpes in a recipe book. It was a dessert recipe, and (again) I'm not a big fan of desserts, and I didn't make them, but was intrigued enough to learn more about them. I discovered that they weren't just for dessert; there were savory styles for main courses or entrées as well as the sweeter ones for desserts. Still, I wasn't that familiar with them enough to try to cook them on my own.

After I started dating Sandra, she wanted to cook a special meal for me. She was going to prepare what she considered her special dish: Manicotti. Now, I had that before, and considered it to be (basically) the same as lasagna using a rolled pasta instead of the long, flat, layered pastas required for lasagna. Since both dishes had a lot of cheese (especially Ricotta, which I never seemed to have liked), I didn't think it would be anything special. Sandra and her mother also pronounced it noticeably different—almost like "MAN-i-gawt." I always considered myself a good boy friend, though; if Sandra wanted to cook me something special, then I would enjoy it.

I watched Sandra make her recipe, and the first thing I noticed was that she didn't use pre-purchased manicotti shells. Instead, she made flat pancakes, and rolled her mixture into those. Those "crêpes" that she made for her manicotti were, therefore, the first crêpes that I ever tasted. For the record, they were delicious: Sandra makes a good Italian sauce, and the small crepes didn't hold too much ricotta cheese. I had a few of them, and Sandra has made them occasionally ever since.

After I moved to Miami, I discovered a restaurant in nearby Dadeland Mall called "La Crepe Bistro." It was located just outside the mall's food court, and I believe it was there that I encountered my first restaurant crêpe face to face. That would have been the late 1970s—about thirty years ago. I'm not sure what I chose to be my first crêpe; I do know that I enjoyed it and visited that place many times with my mother, and then (after I got married), I went there a lot of times with my wife (and my mother would occasionally join us).

When we moved to Boston, there was a similar restaurant in Quincy Market near Fanueil Hall called the Magic Pan Crêperie. While this restaurant had sweet and savory crêpes, including a hot fudge ice cream crêpe for dessert that Sandra just loved, I still missed the ones from that little place in Miami.

Today, when I think back on the savory crêpes that I've had, my favorite (other than Sandra's manicotti, of course!) would have to be a chicken crêpe. This would be a savory crêpe, with boneless chicken in a sauce rolled into a crêpe; something like a chicken a la king in a crêpe. While I've ordered Magic Pan's dessert crêpe, I am still a savory crêpe kind of guy.

I haven't done much with crêpes over the years; they never were part of my cooking repertoire. However, I've recently seen some cooking shows on the Food Network that incorporated crêpes, and it suddenly occurred to me that crêpes would be a perfect "meal for two" to make now that my daughters are once again in college. Also, I no longer thought of them as exclusively French; Sandra's manicotti definitely used crêpes, and I realized that there is a lot of Asian foods that fit the pattern of a stuffing inside a roll (egg rolls and spring rolls come immediately to mind).

While up in Canada during Labor Day, I decided to jot down three "Crêpe Ideas for Two" which I put into my private recipe archive. These were just ideas that struck me at the time: Chicken Crêpes (of course!); Asian Crêpes (using either crêpes or egg roll wrappers) filled with pork, ginger, green onions, etc.; and an attempt to merge Sandra's manicotti recipe with something that I'd enjoy a little better—half "regular" manicotti, half meat-filled. I intend to experiment with one or more of these over the next few weeks, and will tweak the recipes until both Sandra and I are satisfied with them.

Of course, once that happens, I'll be happy to share my recipes here. (Which is why I entitled this entry as "Part 1.")

Bon Appetit!

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