Thursday, October 29, 2009

junk swap quiche

Quiche is one of those things for which there are many varieties for both the crust and the filling. And having friends over is a great opportunity to try one. I typically use the recipe from The Best Recipe, a Cooks Illustrated collection of tested recipes. The quiche page from that book is tattered and worn from spilled egg yolks and cream. I was recently looking online at different food blogs, and was not surprised to find that quiche is a popular topic.

The Best Recipe calls for a filling base of 2 large eggs plus two yolks, one cup cream, and one cup milk. I decided that I wanted to use a springform pan in order to get a taller side and deeper quiche, so that it would feed more people. Naturally I would need more filling for that. Other recipes that I've read call for 6 whole eggs, two cups cream, and two cups milk. This seemed more like the amount of base that I was looking for.

Crust recipe:
  • 1 1/4 cup AP flour + 7 tablespoons butter + 1/4 tsp salt
  • pulse in a food processor until butter is encorporated.
  • drizzle in 2-4 tablespoons of ice water
  • run the food processor again until the crust begins to come together into a ball.
Some people are very intimidated about making crust. Trust me. It is not difficult. As in many other things, practice will make all of the difference to know what the correct consistency is at difference points.

After you put the crust into the pan you are using, layer it with parchment and dry beans. I have a ziploc bag of red kidney beans that I use for this purpose. Prebake crust at 375 degrees for up 12-15 minutes. This is when it starts to get exciting. The smell of pate brisee starts to waft through your kitchen and house, and you know you're in line for good eats.

Fillings are only limited by your imagination. There are, of course, the classics. Lorraine, Spinach, mushroom. I was looking for something a little more decadent. Earlier in the morning I carmelized three thinly sliced red onion. But I also thickly grated an aged gouda. I've recently discovered an aged gouda, produced I think by Beemer (I'll have to check on this one). It is strong, like a cross between sharp cheddar, manchego, and parmesan. It's got the lovely granular bit like these other cheeses, with the smooth flavor of a young gouda. It's really fabulous. I added almost two cups of this grated aged gouda, one cup of carmelized red onions, and two teaspoons of fresh thyme into the filling base. I used the ratio of 6 eggs, 2 cups milk, 2 cups cream. To additionally flavor the filling, I added two tablespoons dijon mustard, three or four grates of nutmeg, fine sea salt, and ground pepper (one teaspoon each).

Fill the blind-baked crust and bake for an additional 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from the oven when the center is slightly jiggly. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, or standing in front of the fridge with a fork in hand.

At any rate, this is not a quiche made for trading worn clothes, this is a 24-carat make-your-mouth-dance quiche.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Daring Bakers of October

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Mexican chocolate macaroons, filled with salted caramel.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The South: Part 3

I never journal quite as much as I intend, in the old fashioned format or in this tech savvy way. So sometimes I feel like blogging falls right in that gap. Oh well. A quick summary will have to do.

On this southern weekend, we had some great food, & some not so great. But that's how it is everywhere, I suppose.

As usual, I enjoyed the appetizers of almost all meals more than the entrees. There's just something about a bite sized starter that gives you a better sense about what a chef is about. I'd almost always rather have a sample of appetizers for dinner, than one big dish. There are fewer bites in which to convey an idea and it often leads to a fuller stronger flavor profile.

Here's one example. In the south people eat fried dill pickles. Who knew? Actually I did know that, but I've never had the chance to try them. These are from Uncle Bubba's Oyster house, which is a spin off of the Paula Deen empire. Obviously, this dish isn't about the concepts of one single chef, but it's consistently on all casual menus down there. I love a crisp new pickle, but won't touch a slimy old one, especially one that's looks like it's been sitting in a brine in the warm kitchen for about 20 years. However, these fried dill pickles are great even for non pickle fans.

The best starter I had was at Ye Old Pink House in Savannah. This place has very mixed reviews online regarding both the staff and the food. We found neither to be the case. We had the most attentive waiter ever, and the food was wonderful, especially the blue crab beignets. Surprisingly this was the only beignet that we had for the whole weekend, but its' texture was perfectly tender and eggy with chunks of crab and a complimentary dipping sauce.

Entrees were good (but not as good as the appetizers). See below, crab stuffed grouper (both local- which is what caught me) and seared scallops. Not the best pictures b/c the flash was acting up.

Otherwise, I must have had crab cakes three different times because I wanted to try many variations as I could. To be honest, all were good, but none as good as the ones at the Roadhouse. And I'm not just sucking up.

Lastly, dessert. For my daughter's recent 10 year old birthday she requested a red velvet cake. Being one always to rise to the occasion, I accepted and conquered. And it was pretty darn good, for a yankee. Following that occasion last week, we made a pact that when we were down south, we would find a real red velvet cake and compare. For four days, at every meal, we searched menus to no avail. We searched for bakeries. Closed on Sundays. We were totally out of luck. Until this morning. A quick stop to Gallery Espresso for pre-airport coffee, found us staring into a bakery case holding a lovely red velvet cake. They all stared at me with wide eyes. It was 8am. They didn't dare even ask. It was breakfast, for goodness sake. So you can imagine what a hero I was when I suggested cake for breakfast. We could not break our pact. A happy ending to a wonderful family trip. Red velvet cake... and pecan pie. We couldn't pass up the pecan pie, now could we?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dinner @ Hanks

Tonight, our first full meal in Charleston took place at Hank's. Seemed a little bit too fancy for the kiddos at first, but once we settled in we were fine.

she-crab soup

grits (made with heavy cream and asiago)

crab cakes

low country shrimp and grits

from the land of biscuits and sweet tea

Sometimes I daydream about what my life would be like had we not ended up in Ann Arbor. Some of it's good, some bad. There are so many things about AA that I love, but I think often about the romanticized version of living in the south.

In order to partially prepare me for this weekend that my family is spending down south, I've read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Sure, it's fiction, but as I see it, if I'm romantically involved with the fictional south, I might as well solidify the myths. It's a decent movie based on a great book, based on a real life story of a Savannah scandal. A large part of the plot of this book is the parties thrown by Jim Williams in the Mercer mansion, catered by the famous Lucille Wright with decadent spreads of low country food.

My affections for Savannah are partially grounded in my latent desire to be a daughter or granddaughter of Paula Deen. It's not that every recipe she makes on her show is fabulous, or that she's not annoying once in a while. From her TV personality (because I'm not naive enough to think there's not another one) she seems like the kind of woman that anyone would want to be nurtured by. I missed out on the whole grandmother experience, never meeting either of mine. As a result, I often covet the idea of having an older wiser stronger woman, slightly removed from disciplining you, but close enough to guide you and love you with a fierce maternal love. For some reason Paula Deen strikes a cord with this internal desire. But before this turns into a self-psychology blog, I'm going to turn back to the food.

I love the decadence of southern food and what I perceive to be an unabashed connection between food & socializing and comfort. Up north, food had its times when it was emphasized, but I didn't quite get the feeling that social gatherings revolved around food in the same way that I think they do in the south. Perhaps in certain ethnic settings, like with my Italian relatives, food was an axis, but it wasn't culturally accepted as a whole. When I think of hospitality, I think south. And I like to think that I've been establishing these "southern" traditions with my own family, some very literal, like always having simple syrup in my fridge to sweeten iced tea, to the more abstract, emotional connections with food.

This weekend, my family is going from Charleston to Savannah, hitting a few family destination spots, but equally important will be the times when the six of us sit down to eat a meal. My kids are psyched for the biscuits and grits, and so much more. We might try to do the Deen place, but even for my fictional grandmother I will not wait four blocks and 2 hours, so we'll see. We've got several other places in mind, some which are a bit out of reach with four little ones. On a large scale my goal is simply to eat as many southern cliches as possible in the next four days.

Please indulge me as I use this as a bit of a food diary for my weekend. Indulge and drool.

~ signing out from my hotel room with a pitcher of iced tea

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

brussel sprouts of the future

I confess. I used to hate brussel sprouts as a kid. They were bitter, and, blech, the texture was terrible. It might have been how my mother prepared them, but I think it also had a lot to do with buying them from the ShopRite. It wasn't until Tantre Farm brussel sprouts arrived at my door many autumns ago, that my mind was changed.

These things are fantastic, especially if they've been picked after a frost. The deep cold temperatures soften and sweeten the already nutty flavor. They're awesome sauteed in butter, or roasted with pancetta, or just steamed and drizzled with a ginger laced soy sauce.

Here's how I did them up this week.

Brussel Sprout Salad

1. Finely shred quart RAW brussel sprouts with a mandoline, enough for your family or a couple of meals for yourself.

2. Shave about 1 cup of pecorino romano using a vegetable peeler. Add to the brussel sprouts.

3. Add 1/2 cup of toasted pine nuts.

4. Drizzle with the best balsamic you've got. You'll have to play it by ear a little bit, depending on the viscosity of your vinegar. Somewhere between 2 tbsp and 1/8 cup. Then drizzle with good olive oil (this is one of my favs), about the same amount of the balsamic. Again you'll have to test this; it shouldn't be super greasy, just well coated.

5. Season heavily with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. Toss until coated.

This is one of those things that is SO simple, it's crazy not to make it. All of the flavors meld together into an unami-filled crunchiness that is so fabulous. I had designed it as a salad, but once I started eating, it was all I wanted.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Autumn is here

We all talk about the change of weather affecting our food patterns. It's not news. But it sure is truth. As soon as I find myself donning my long sleeve shirts and reaching for a scarf, my food desires start to adapt to the weather. After pining for and savoring the fresh foods of summer, it's hard to believe that I welcome the change. If I look down deep, I've got to be honest with myself. It's there. The cravings for more autumnal flavors and textures run deep.

Of course, it doesn't help that the Dexter Cider Mill is alive and hopping. Fresh cider and cinnamon sugar donuts, warm, and waiting two miles from my house.

For the past three weeks my Tantre Farm share has included a lone winter squash, one week it was butternut, the next a sweet dumpling, and just yesterday a buttercup squash. (which is a very odd looking one. Odd, but yummy.)

This afternoon I had an opportunity to prepare dinner earlier in the day because I knew that my evening time would be crunched from kids activities. Since fall flavors have been calling, and the butternut squash is two weeks old, I decided to go with:

Butternut squash soup

1. Roast one butternut squash in a 375 degree oven for approximately one hour. Don't make this more complicated than necessary. All I did was quarter the thing and put it flesh side down on a lined baking sheet with one sprig of rosemary and a half cup water.

2. When squash is softened, take it out of the oven. Wait until it is cool enough to the touch, then peel the skin off, cut the stem off, and scoop out the seeds.

3. Drop chunks of roasted squash into a stock pot full of two quarts of homemade chicken stock. Here's where you can add your own variations. I had made homemade stock last weekend after I roasted a chicken, so I had some in the freezer. If you don't have any stashed, used a box of stock from the grocery store. If you're a vegetarian or vegan, use homemade or store bought vegetable stock.

4. Bring to a slow boil. Puree with an immersion blender to make a homogenous soup texture. If you don't have one, use a standard blender, but be aware of the dangers of blending a hot liquid. (Then consider buying an immersion blender.)

5. Simultaneously boil one package of noodles in salted water. This morning I found a bag of imported Betchle spaetzle at Sparrow market (why they're selling these on Amazon, I'll never know). I knew I wanted a thicker noodle than a plain egg noodle because the broth would be thicker than plain stock.

6. Because I wasn't eating this soup right away, I gently rinsed the noodles and generously drizzled with olive oil. That way they wouldn't be stuck in a big clump when I went to serve dinner a few hours later.

7. To serve, place a nest of the reserved spaetzle in a bowl. Pour the hot soup over the noodles, until they're swimming in a golden pool of autumnal heaven.

8. Serve with soft pretzels from Zingermans', sharp cheddar, and fresh honeycrisp apples, from Michigan, of course.