Tonight we'll be doing a scene from a thousand Hollywood movies, the scene that always symbolized the Good Life . . . Sophistication . . . Class. The camera pans around a large room low-cut gowns, wine bottles in silver buckets, a small string orchestra, tuxedos. Now the close-up -- the white linen tablecloth, the crystal goblets, a waiter's hand touching a match to a pan, setting off a small explosion, and the whispering of one knowledgeable moviegoer to another: "Crepes Suzette!"
That was class, vintage 1948. But in France today the street-corner crepes stand is as common a sight as the hot dog stand in this country. Ah, it's the story of our times -- from class to junk food in less than a generation.
Why the international popularity of the crepe? Because it's an all-purpose food, welcome as an appetizer, a man dish or dessert.
It's as versatile as on omelet, easier to make and it can be made in advance and reheated.
We'll try three different crepes. Incidentally, it might be a good idea not to have them all on a single evening.
Ingredients for the Basic Crepe: 3 eggs, 1 1/2 cups flour; 1 cup milk; 1/2 cup water; 2 tablespoons melted butter; dash of salt; pinch of sugar.
Ingredients for Cheese Crepes: Parmesan Cheese (3/4 of a cup); parsley; thyme.
Ingredients for Ham Crepes: Boneless cooked ham (1 pound); beef bouillon (1 1/4 cups); 1 onion; mushrooms (1/2 pound); butter; sherry; flour.
Ingredients for Crepes Suzette: Sugar cubes; butter; vanilla; 2 oranges; Grand Marnier; cognac.
The Basic Crepe: The batter for the crepes should be made at least an hour or two before the actual cooking.
We'll be using an electric mixer at medium-low speed. Begin by heating the eggs until they're well blended. Then add about half the flour and mix that in well. Now the rest of the flour, the salt and the sugar. Then the milk, a little bit at a time. Then the water and then the melted butter. The batter should have the consistency of heavy cream.
If there's a crepe pan on the premises, by all means use that. Otherwise a six-inch frying pan should do nicely. Use a small ladle -- a couple of tablespoons of batter should make one crepe.
Put a pat of butter on a hot pan over medium heat and as soon as it's melted add the batter and tilt the pan to allow it to spread evenly over the entire pan.
Stay on your toes now. To make a proper crepe requires about a minute on the first side, half that time for the second side. Peeking is allowed; the first side should be a nice even pale brown.
If you're making the crepes ahead of time, place a piece of waxed paper between them as you stack them. Butter the pan as it dries out.
The Appetizer -- Cheese Crepes: To make the cheese crepes, you simply add a few ingredients before cooking Before adding the milk to the batter, add the grated cheese, a small handful of ground parsley and a pinch of thyme. Cook as you would cook any crepe and serve hot, with butter or melted cheese.
The Main Dish -- Ham Crepes: Chop the union and the mushrooms and cut the ham into small cubes, heat 1/2 a stick of butter in a skillet over medium heat and cook the chopped onion until soft. Then add the ham and the mushrooms and a splash of sherry and cook together for a few minutes.
Now add 2 tablespoons of flour and a small splash of beef bouillon. Mix together until smooth and then add the rest of the bouillon and cook until the sauce is thick.
Put some of the sauce into each crepe, roll them up and arrange them in baking dish. Drape the rest of the sauce over the crepes and bake in an 350-degree over for 20 minutes.
The Dessert -- Crepes Suzettes: There are many recipes for this dish most of them extraordinarily complicated. This is one of the less elaborate versions. In making the crepes for this or any other dessert, you can replace some of the water with a few tablespoons of cognac, a dash of vanilla and a little more sugar.
Once the crepes are made, we'll move on to the sauce. Begin by squeezing the oranges and grating 3 tablespoons of orange rind.
Place a large skillet over medium heat. When pan is hot, add some sugar cubes, about 16 of the small-sized cubes. As the cubes began to melt, add 1/4 cup of cognac. Light this with a match and allow it to burn for a moment. Then add 1 stick of butter and as it melts, stir it in with the sugar.
Add 1/2 cup of orange juice and 1/2 cup of Grand Marnier. As this is cooking, fold each crepe in half, then in quarters, and douse it in the hot mixture. When all the crepes have been done, add 1/4 cup of cognac and light it a second time. Skilled chefs will serve the individual crepes in full flame but my feeling is there's no need to press your lucky immediately.