COLUMBIA — Eric Ford, the executive chef at both Upper Crust restaurants in Columbia, believes food is inherently passionate. If it wasn’t, he suggests, people wouldn’t go to such great lengths to obtain it.
“Today people eat with their eyes,” Ford said. “If it looks nice, it will be more likely to please the palate. Whereas, the same food without garnishing wouldn’t taste as good.”
French Crêpes from Valerie Wedel
Combine in medium sized bowl:
½ c flour
½ t salt
1 T sugar
In a separate bowl, beat
2/3 c milk
1T melted butter or oil, beat until well combined
Add milk mixture gradually to dry ingredients and beat until smooth. Make sure you whisk out all the lumps (grumeaux in French). If you have a hard time with them, you can pass batter through a sieve.
Coat frying pan with a little butter over medium high heat. Pour 2-3 tablespoons batter into pan and tilt and rotate pan to cover with a thin layer of batter, about 1/8-inch thick. If there are any small holes, you can fill them in with a little extra batter. Cook until you see gold around the edges of the crêpe, turn over carefully with spatula and fingers. Cook until slightly browned. Continue, buttering pan prior to each crêpe. You may have to adjust heat throughout the cooking.
If you have the filling ready, there are several options. One is to place the filling in the center of the crêpe while it's still in the pan. Fold the four sides into the center and flip it over so the seams are on the bottom and the crêpe is square shaped. Or, you can fill once the crêpe is placed on a plate and either roll or fold.
You can also prepare all the crêpes ahead of time, stack them on a plate, cover, refrigerate and reheat when ready to use.
· One technique calls for putting a few tablespoons of cooking oil in a little bowl, putting a cork on a fork, and then dipping the cork in the oil to then grease the pan.
· When you use sugar as a filling, be sure to roll or fold immediately so as to save the heat and melt the sugar. You can also sprinkle sugar on top of the crêpe in the pan once it's turned over and then fold it in the pan.
· You can make savory crêpes by omitting the sugar.
· Among the sweet filling options: Nutella, jam, chocolate syrup, apple butter, butter and sugar, chestnut cream (Creme de Marrons, available in gourmet stores), fresh berries marinated with a little sugar and Grand Marnier, or the caramelized bananas featured below
· Savory fillings include: Grated cheese such as Gruyere, sliced ham; egg (broken and cooked in the crepe); sautéed spinach, sautéed mushrooms in cream sauce; mushroom and chicken in cream sauce; shrimp and shelled mussels in cream sauce; ratatouille (a vegetable mélange made with eggplant, red peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, and onions); cooked sausage; sliced green, leafy salad with vinaigrette
Here is how to make one of the filling options:
4 ounces (one stick) unsalted butter
6 ripe (but firm) small red bananas or 4 yellow bananas (2 cups), sliced 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick
1/2- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
Sliced strawberries for topping (optional)
Whipped cream (optional)
In a large heavy sauté pan over high heat, melt butter until bubbling. Add bananas and toss gently. Gradually add sugar, stirring gently until melted and starting to change to a light brown. Turn heat to low, and cook until golden brown, about 1-2 minutes. (Banana slices should remain whole.)
Fill crepes and top with strawberries and whipped cream, if desired.
If you are planning a special meal for your loved one this Valentine's Day, Ford and two other food enthusiasts encourage you to stop stressing and recognize that any food can be romantic.
Originally a chemistry student at Southwest Baptist University, Ford was sick of the long labs and difficult homework, so he switched to the culinary program at Johnston County Community College in Overland Park, Kan. A career in culinary arts satisfies Ford’s need to be a people-pleaser. Through food, he believes, he can make people happy.
“I like to see the look on people’s faces when they taste a sauce that is perfect, that has the right consistency and the right flavors," Ford said. "I get a lot of pleasure out of the wow factor.”
Ford has put a lot of thought into creating food for couples on Valentine's Day. To set the mood with food, he has considered integrating reputed aphrodisiacs such as chocolate, almonds and oysters into his recipes. However, he thinks that if prepared correctly, all food can be sensual.
“There are a lot of foods that are allegedly aphrodisiacs," Ford said. "But I would like to think that the perfect meal, created for a loved one with patience and care, is going to be an aphrodisiac.”
But if you are looking for a romantic dessert to share with your loved one, Ford suggests a flaming dessert such as bananas Foster or cherries jubilee.
Valerie Wedel, a Columbia artist, teaches pastry and dessert classes at the Columbia Area Career Center. Wedel’s love for sweet treats began in the 1980s while she was an exchange student in France. As a part of this program she took weekly culinary classes, and ever since, food has had an immense impact on her daily life.
“Food is an art,” Wedel said. “It adds an aesthetic quality to our lives and improves our well being. When we share a special meal, we take note of these experiences and we remember them.”
Back in the United States, Wedel missed the foods she had in France and wanted to share her experience with others. After extensive research and a great deal of trial and error, she came up with recipes that closely matched what she had eaten in France. Teaching at the career center enables her to share these recipes with others.
For Wedel, food is meant to be fulfilling and should not be eaten haphazardly. In fact, food is so important to her that it can set the atmosphere and mood for romance.
“I think that food can help develop a bond between two people because there is this idea of breaking bread together," Wedel said. "It’s almost a sacred thing to share a meal with somebody.”
For holidays such as Valentine's Day, Wedel suggests cooking a meal with your significant other instead of going out. “The making of a meal together is extremely intimate," she said. "It’s a different kind of communication between two people.”
Ben Clay, the executive chef at Les Bourgeois Winery and Vineyards since 2007, gets excited for Valentine's Day, because it marks the start of the restaurant's busy season, and he gets to begin making lighter meals and experimenting with pink food.
“It’s kind of that butterfly coming out of the cocoon thing, where spring is around the corner and we start to ditch the heavier winter foods,” he said.
While at the restaurant, Clay conjures up innovative foods that will impress his patrons. However, at home, he feels that a simple meal is more intimate.
“If I was going to share a special meal with my significant other, I would make a big bowl of something simple, like a salad or a bowl of pasta, like in the movie the 'Lady and the Tramp,'” Clay said. "I think sharing a bowl of food is more sensual than each having your own plate.”