Beggars' Pocketbooks and Scope Creep


I set out to make Beggars’ Purses. Three hours of scope creep later, I had Beggars’ Pocketbooks.

It began innocently enough. There was a holiday mixer after work, 5:30 on a Thursday. The invitation read, “Bring an appetizer.” Now there are certain expectations that go with being the author of “May it Please the Palate.” Everybody else can bring cheese and crackers, or shrimp, or chips and dip. But Roumel? No! He has to bring something homemade!  Oh, I’m sure I could get away with something store-bought. People would be polite. They’d understand the time demands of my practice. They’d nod, then turn away, whisper and shake their heads. “Did you see what Roumel brought? It still has freezer burn!”
So I left work early and got home at 3:30 PM, planning to finish these puppies in an hour. Then I’d go for a run under a rare December sun, shower, nap, and hit the party around six. It seemed doable. The recipe said, “Prep 15 minutes, cook 20.” I had shopped the night before, and laid the food out. Because I was quadrupling the recipe, I knew to expand the time estimate, but even 4:30-4:45 would still leave me plenty of time - right?

Then I read the recipe. Why the heck do you need leeks “for the crepes?” Warily, I followed step one, cut the leeks, rinsed them, and filled a bowl with ice water. On to step 2: “Boil a large pot of water.” IT WOULD HAVE MADE A LOT MORE SENSE TO BOIL THE WATER FIRST. (Please don’t remind me I could have read the recipe before starting. You won’t be my friend anymore.)

So I moved on to step 3, and actually zipped through making the crepe batter and salmon-cream cheese filling, then blanching the leeks in the water that had finally boiled. But I stalled when it came time to fry the crepes. I read that each one would take a minute on one side, and twenty seconds on the other. I was making 32. If I used one pan, that would be about one hour alone, when you factor in the additional time to pour the batter, turn the crepe, and remove it to a rack to cool. Then I still had to fill them and cutely tie the little purses with a strip of the blanched leek.

My stove has two gas burners on the right and a flat grill on the left. The problem is when I use the grill, the fan turns on automatically and plays havoc with the gas flames, so if I use both sides, I have to block the fan with a baking sheet jammed sideways. At least now I can pour four crepes at a time.

Then I faced another challenge. When you pour crepe batter, you’re supposed to swirl the pan so the batter spreads. Tthat meant grasping both ends of the flat grill and trying to tilt it, without batter spilling over the edge.

During this process, I’m also watching the two crepe pans on the right side, and I never quite had the heat at the right level. I had vaguely recalled that the first few crepes one makes are supposed to be throwaways, until the pan tempers. In my case, “few” was a generous underestimate.

Eventually I got the crepes made, then set about filling them. Problem: the crepes were too small to make the purses, which are more accurately folded up and tied at the top like a stereotypical hobo’s bag. I went to cooking triage, and rolled them into cylinders instead. Then I cut them into three pieces, and still managed to tie a pretty strip of blanched leek around each one.

I skipped the run and the nap and got to the party around 6:30. I called them “Beggar’s Pocketbooks,” because, well, they sure as hell didn’t look like any purse I’d ever seen. More like those decorative, tiny cylinders women carry with formal wear, that maybe hold a car key and lip balm.

That image hints at the irony of the name. The recipe originally called for sour cream and caviar; not exactly beggars’ cuisine. Today they may be filled with anything, and instead of crepes may be made with phyllo, puff pastry, or wonton wrappers. It’s an easy enough recipe, relatively, compared to (say) building a bridge over the frozen Bering Strait from Alaska to Russia.

But at least people won’t whisper and point when you bring them to a party.

Smoked Salmon Beggars’ Purses Michael Chiarello, Food Network
Ingredients - For the crepes:
1 leek
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt, preferable gray salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
2 tblsp butter, more for cooking
1/2 bunch chives, minced
For the filling
1 cup diced smoked salmon
4 oz. cream cheese, room temp.
4 oz. mascarpone cheese
2 tblsp minced red onion
1 tblsp capers, chopped
3/4 tblsp chopped fresh dill
2 tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, as above
1 tsp lemon zest


1. Split leek in half lengthwise. Rinse under cold water to remove any dirt, remove white bottom end and peel layers apart. Fill large bowl with ice water.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add leeks to boiling water and cook for about 20 seconds; remove and plunge into the ice water. Remove leeks to a tray lined with paper towel to dry. When dry cut each leek layer lengthwise in strips 1/8-inch thick and reserve.

3. In a medium mixing bowl combine the flour, salt and pepper. In another small bowl whisk together the eggs and milk until well combined. Add the milk mixture to the dry mixture, whisking to prevent lumps, being careful not to overwork. In a small saute pan melt the butter until lightly browned and mix into the batter along with the chopped chives. Let batter rest while you make the filling.

4. In a medium mixing bowl combine all of the ingredients for the filling, folding salmon in last and mix until just combined.

5.    Melt a small amount of the butter in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 ounces, about 1/4 cup, of the crepe batter to the hot skillet. Remove from the heat and tilt slightly to coat the entire pan evenly with batter. Return to the heat and cook until lightly browned on the bottom side, about 50 to 60 seconds. Using your fingertips or a rubber spatula, carefully turn the crepes over and cook on the second side for 10 to 15 seconds. Set the cooked crepe aside on a baking sheet to cool and repeat this process with the remaining batter. Should make 8 crepes.

6. When the crepes are cool lay out on a flat surface and with a spoon place some of the smoked salmon mixture in the center, dividing evenly. Pull the crepe together to form a little purse and tie the top of the crepe with one of the blanched leek strips. Makes 8 “purses.”

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He recently returned from a sabbatical to retrace a journey he took forty years ago. Follow his adventures at FortyYearsAcross or on Twitter @nickroumel.