This summer, I’m going to be posting a series of fifteen low-cost, tasty, and easy-to-prepare meals that are literally straight from my own kitchen.
Hey, look, homemade crepes!
OK, before we get going, it should be noted that this meal is pretty much as easy to prepare as you want it to be – and at almost every turn, we chose the more difficult route.
Actually, to be more specific, Sarah chose the more difficult route. She did most of the preparation of this recipe and was the one that made most of the difficult choices. I’ll be using the adjective “we” to describe the effort because there was some trade-off here and there, but she did most of the effort for this recipe.
What difficult choices did we make? Rather than buying a package of crepes at the store, Sarah chose to make the crepes from scratch. Rather than buying a package of pre-shredded Swiss cheese, Sarah chose to buy a chunk of Swiss and shred it herself. In both cases, the result was a tastier and healthier and less expensive meal, but it certainly added to the prep time. Those two things alone more than doubled our prep time, turning a meal that could probably be in the oven in fifteen or twenty minutes into something that involved more than an hour of work.
So, let’s dig in and see how we got there.
The inspiration and model for this meal came from this cookbook, Low Cost Cooking, that we came across in a yard sale for $0.25 (the cover has a $0.50 sticker on it, but we came late to the sale). Can you guess when it was published by the cover design and heavy use of earth tones? If you guessed “late seventies or early eighties,” you’re a winner! It was published in 1980 and is apparently long out of print.
Yes, we shop at yard sales and consignment shops for cookbooks. They’re actually great sources for cookbooks. I’d estimate half of our cookbook collection is from such sales.
Anyway, on to the recipe…
Here are the ingredients for everything including the crepes. One of the advantages of making things like crepes on your own is that you can choose what goes into them – organic milk and farm eggs, in this case.
I’m going to mark off the making of the crepes in their own section. If you wish, you can simply buy a package of crepes at the grocery store instead of making your own.
Here’s what you need just for the crepes.
1 cup all-purpose flour ($0.15 or so)
1 1/2 cups milk ($0.30 or so)
2 eggs ($0.15 or so)
1/4 teaspoon salt ($0.02 or so)
1 tablespoon cooking oil ($0.05 or so)
In other words, you’ll be making about 16 crepes for about $0.65 – or about $0.04 per crepe. If you buy them, they’ll be substantially more than that.
Making crepes is really easy. Just mix all of the ingredients in a bowl until they form a batter, then heat a small skillet over medium heat with just a drop of oil spread all over the surface of it. Put about two tablespoons of the batter in the middle of the skillet, then lift the skillet and tilt it to spread the batter evenly. Let it cook over medium heat for about a minute or so (or until the top face looks solid instead of liquid), then flip the pan over on top of a paper towel and (maybe, depending on how it cooked) scrape the crepe from the pan with a spatula.
Now just repeat it about fifteen times or so and you have your crepes. You might ruin one or two along the way as you get used to the right heat setting, but don’t sweat it – you’ll have plenty of crepes.
Now for the filling…
Here’s an ingredient list for the filling. Obviously, specific choices vary a lot in price, so I’m just using the prices we paid for this stuff. If you aren’t hitting a sale or are buying premium items, the price per ingredient might be higher.
1 10 oz. package frozen broccoil ($1.19)
2 tablespoons margarine or butter (about $0.05)
2 tablespoons all purpose flour (about $0.02)
1/4 teaspoon of salt (about $0.02)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (about $0.02)
1 1/2 cups milk (about $0.30)
3/4 cup shredded Swiss cheese (about 3 oz.) (about $0.60)
2 cups finely chopped cooked chicken (we used roughly a pound) (about $2.50)
So, our cost per crepe – assuming we make 16 of them, which we did – is about $0.34 per stuffed crepe. We’ll talk about that again at the end.
The sauce Melt the margarine/butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, then add the flour, salt, and nutmeg. Stir it a bit to make a nice roux, then add the milk all at once. Cook and stir this until it’s thick and bubbling a bit. Keep cooking and stirring for about another minute, then add the Swiss cheese and keep stirring it until all of the Swiss cheese is melted. Sit the sauce aside.
We like to grate our own cheese, even though it takes a bit longer than buying a bag of pre-grated cheese. You have much more control over what kind of cheese you buy and what ingredients are in it, plus with freshly grated cheese, it’s actually fresh and much more moist (bagged cheese often has corn starch to prevent it from sticking to itself over a long shelf life). Even better – it’s usually cheaper, too.
The filling First, cook the broccoli according to the directions (you can use fresh if you wish – if you do, just steam it after chopping it into small pieces). You’ll also need to cook the chicken – we cooked up some chicken breasts for this dish, though you may want to use other portions of the chicken.
You can see a bit of spilled crepe batter on the stove top there, as well as one of the finished crepes off to the side. (I think that was the one we sampled as we made the crepes).
Anyway, once you’ve cooked the broccoli and cooked and chopped the chicken, combine the chicken and broccoli and one cup of the cheese sauce in a big bowl and stir it until it’s consistent.
Then just lay out a crepe with the unbrowned side up, spoon about 1/4 of a cup (or a bit less) of filling into the middle of the crepe, and roll up the crepe and put it in a 13″ by 9″ baking dish. Repeat with all of the crepes that you can fit in there (we fit in about 16):
Then, pour the remaining cheese sauce on top of the crepes. Preheat your oven to 375 F (about 190 C), cover the crepes with foil, and bake for 20 minutes or so.
Here’s our pan of crepes, freshly pulled from the oven:
… and here’s what my final dinner plate looked like:
The fruit side dish was incredibly simple: we just had some blackberries that we bought in bulk that we washed, put a few in a small dish, and spooned a bit of raspberry yogurt on top. It was a delightful side.
As I mentioned, each crepe cost somewhere around $0.34 to make. Thus, three crepes would cost about $1 in ingredients – I ate two and was perfectly happy with dinner. Add in the fruit and yogurt and even the small glass of wine and the cost of that meal for me was about $1.
Yes, it took some time, but you could greatly reduce the time (and add a bit more cost per meal) by simply buying your own crepes.
Was it tasty? Our usual rule of thumb is that if all four of us – myself, my wife, my four year old son, and my two year old girl – all enjoy the main course, we’ve got a recipe we’ll use again in the future. We all liked it. In fact, the kids each ate two crepes – they requested more crepes instead of more fruit after their plate was empty, a completely unexpected result.