julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

I Just LOVE Surprises!

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“This is an amusing presentation.” – Julia Child

When I was in high school, my family took a trip over the holidays to Albuquerque and then jetted over to Las Vegas for a couple of days. It was by far the stand-out family vacation in our history of family vacations. We had a blast, and still talk about it to this day. One of the highlights I’ll never forget was sitting at a fast food drive-thru and seeing “Brownie Surprise” on the menu. Our interest piqued, we placed an order for one Brownie Surprise, only to be told by the voice in the speaker, “Uh…we’re out of brownies.” SURPRISE!! This is now one of the longest running family jokes in our repertoire.

So while I was looking for a relatively easy meal for last night’s dinner, I couldn’t help smiling when I saw Julia’s recipe for Epinards en Surprise (spinach hidden under a giant crepe). The entire recipe was about three easy steps: blanch spinach, make a filling, and make a crepe. Done. 

Evaporating the excess moisture...so I can add beef stock. I don't get it either, I just do what I'm told.

I blanched an entire bag of spinach in salted boiling water, then drained it before it got too mushy (I’m learning!). I gave it a rough chop on the cutting board, then tossed it into a pan with a little butter to get rid of its excess moisture. Meanwhile, I sautéed some diced ham, because I felt that would give this meal a little more body. A tablespoon of flour went into the spinach and I stirred it around, then added a couple of cups of beef stock. I let the pan boil so that most of the stock was absorbed by the spinach, and turned off the heat when the mixture had thickened and not much liquid remained. 

I'm getting pretty good at these!

Meanwhile, I heated a large pan rubbed with oil and quickly made some crepe batter (eggs, water, milk and flour). I poured a half-cup of batter into the pan and swirled it around so it covered the bottom and let it cook for a couple of minutes. Using a large spatula, I flipped it over and cooked the other side. Julia is right…you pretty much have to sacrifice the first one before you can get a really good one done. My first one was pretty sad, but the second one was nearly perfect. I set it aside and finished the spinach mixture. 

"Now, when the diners show up, we're going to jump out and yell 'SURPRISE!' Got it?"

I tossed the diced ham and a half-cup of shredded Swiss cheese into the spinach and mixed it all together, the heat from the spinach melting the cheese and forming a well-blended filling. I emptied the contents onto a serving dish and covered it with the crepe. I used a pizza cutter to slice the dish and added a few slices of turkey bacon on the side, and we were in business! 

I have to admit, I was a little skeptical – individually, the parts of this meal didn’t always taste very good on their own. The crepe could come out a little oily, and the spinach (while I liked it) wasn’t big on Ben’s list. But this meal was definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. All of the flavors worked really well together! The crepe was cooked perfectly, and created a light bread crust for the moist, tender spinach underneath. The ham gave the spinach a little saltiness that it needed, and the melted cheese held it all together and gave the filling a nice body. This meal was so easy to make, it was laughable, and yet it turned out to be really tasty. It could just as easily work as a breakfast/brunch dish. It was light yet filling, and relatively healthy (no cream and hardly any butter). Another culinary victory! 

Sshh...don't look now, but there's spinach filling hiding under that crepe!

It’s nice to know that a delicious meal doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Anyone (and I mean anyone) can make this and it’ll turn out just as good as though Julia herself had done it. Give it a try! 

Happy eating!
– Jessica

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