Dec 31 2014

Time to Quiche 2014 Goodbye

Published by Christine under Uncategorized

I have been ignoring you. All of you. That’s what it must look like, from the other side of the screen where you are seated, reading this blog post. I wish it were that simple.

It’s not that I haven’t been busy cooking (I have), or that I don’t love my readers (I do!); it’s just that I’ve been preoccupied with a lot of other things (a.k.a. “life”) that somehow got in the way of my writing about food. And then, Christmas came, and just like that, another year has gone by. Seriously? I wish someone would do something about this 24-hours-in-a-day thing. It’s just not working for me.

So, where were we? Last time I checked in was also in the winter; a time for comfort foods and warm, lovely things. Our annual Christmas Eve dinner this past week was filled with such: potato latkes; spinach and mushroom bread puddings; classic ratatouille; rib-eye roast with horseradish cream; roasted broccoli; sautéed kale with butternut squash; chocolate Kahlua cake; and a flan, made by one of our guests, that was just ridiculously good.

And then, there was the roasted-tomato and -zucchini quiche with a cheddar crust. From the reviews given by the twenty or so attendees at the dinner, it seems that particular dish was the clear winner for the night – outside of that flan I just mentioned, because sugar, let’s face it. I can’t imagine why this deep-dish, custardy, savory, creamy, extremely and deliciously cheesy quiche was such a crowd-pleaser. No siree, I have no idea.

S'wonderful, really.

The foundation for this recipe is a basic buttery pie crust enriched with cheddar and a little bit of rosemary. Tomatoes and zucchini are a natural pairing and work particularly well with eggs and cheese, but (BUT!) they must be oven-roasted before finding their way in the custard, unless you want to end up with a soggy, watery mess. Last, but not least, make sure you use generous amounts of goat cheese in the filling, and whole milk or cream instead of a low-fat variety. Trust me, it’s worth the extra bit of exercise you swore you’d be doing this year.

With this, I bid 2014 farewell, and welcome 2015; with any luck, I’ll be back before another year has gone by!

In the interim, carry on, y’all.


Cheddar-Crusted Quiche with Roasted Vegetables

For the crust:
1.5 cups flour
1 stick very cold butter, cut in 10 to 12 pieces
1/2 cup grated cheddar
1 pinch rosemary (fresh or dried)
1 pinch salt
about 1/2 cup half cold water and half ice cold vodka; note: the alcohol will evaporate during baking.

In food processor, pulse together the dry ingredients until mixed. Add butter and pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal. While the machine is turned on, add liquid mix, a little bit at a time, until the dough comes together in one mass. This will take more or less liquid depending on the ambient humidity in your kitchen. Gather the dough, pat in a thick, flat disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for about 30 min.

For the filling:

4 plum tomatoes, cut in 1″ slices
2 medium zucchini, also cut in 1″ slices
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Toss the vegetables in olive oil, and spread in a single layer on a couple of cookie sheets. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake at 350 until they begin to caramelize a bit. This might take 30 min or less. You want to make sure your vegetables are quite dry, but not crispy. There may be a few spots that look really dark, but that’s fine. Let cool.

Next, beat together:

4 eggs
1 cup milk or cream

Add this to the vegetables along with 1 cup crumbled goat cheese and pour in the crust, which you have by now rolled out, placed in a greased, deep-dish pie pan (mine has fluted sides and a removable bottom; makes for a nice presentation), and pricked a few times with a fork to prevent bubbling while it bakes.

Bake at 350 for about 40 min., or until the top is golden, the crust looks flaky, and the custard is set – you will know it is by inserting a knife down the center of the quiche: if it come out cheesy but otherwise clean, you’re done.

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Feb 02 2014

Cauliflower Bisque

Published by Christine under Lunch,Soups

If anyone asks, tell them cauliflower is officially my favorite year-round vegetable. Truth be told, there are few vegetables I do not care for (green peppers are a nemesis of mine), but of all the ones left to choose from, cauliflower wins. It’s available year-round (unlike tomatoes, for example, which are really sad-looking in the winter), fresh or frozen, and it’s delicious raw or cooked, hot or cold, in both light meals and heartier dishes. I’d be hard-pressed to think of another edible plant that is as versatile as this one.

I had a few people over for dinner yesterday, lured as they were by the promise of a slowly oven-cooked, lusciously rich boeuf bourguignon. As I was staring into the refrigerator, planning the rest of the menu (which included a sinful chocolate and whiskey cake), the head of cauliflower that was sitting on one of the shelves gave me a come-hither look I could not resist. What can I say? I’m easy, apparently.

The beauty of the recipe I’m about to give you is that it really came together as it was being made. There was no planning, no laying out of things, no making sure I had whatever I needed on hand; all I could manage was a creative outburst that dictated what the next move should be only seconds before it happened, using whatever was available in my kitchen. There are no pictures of the process itself because I never paused long enough to even think that it might make a nice blog post. I told you there was no planning involved. All I have is a picture of the finished product:

It's a bisque (not a soup) because it's thick and creamy.

I began by sautéing the cut up and washed cauliflower with a diced onion in a mixture of peanut oil and butter, with a sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground pepper, until those vegetables started to turn the kind of caramel color that made me want to just eat the whole thing like that, all by myself standing in the kitchen, dinner with friends be damned. I am, however, a responsible adult (on Thursday afternoons), and so I carried on. Still, I need everyone to know it was an ordeal, as there is little reason in being so well-behaved if no one is there to acknowledge the deed – cf. tree falling in forest + noise.

After I won this hard-fought battle against my own gourmandise, a decision had to be made regarding the future of the golden mixture in the pot: which liquid would go in? which flavoring would be used? would there be light at the end of the tunnel and if so, would that indicate that John Irving has quit messing around already and finally written another novel as worthy of his talent as A Prayer for Owen Meany? These are all important questions. Time being of the essence for the cauliflower, however, I chose to answer the liquid and flavoring questions first, in the following manner: roasted coriander, cayenne pepper, turkey stock (made and frozen at Christmas time), and a little bit of cream. Some rice was added to thicken things up, and my work here was done. [riding off into the sunset]

The results? How’s wow, brown cow?

As far as John Irving goes, you got me there.


Cauliflower Bisque

1 head cauliflower, cut up and washed
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp peanut oil
1 Tbsp butter
6 cups stock or broth of any kind
1/2 cup arborio rice (the kind used for risotto)
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large dutch oven, sauté the cauliflower and onion in the oil and butter over medium heat (be careful: the butter might splatter a little in the oil as it heats up). Sprinkle on some sea salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the vegetables turn a lovely golden brown; this could take 10 min. or so. Add the coriander and cook a minute or two more, until fragrant.

Pour stock in the pot and bring to a boil. Add rice, cover, lower the heat and let simmer for 30 min or so, until the cauliflower is very soft and the rice is cooked.

Turn off heat and let cool for a little while. Use an immersion blender to mix until very smooth and creamy. Add cream and cayenne pepper, taste and adjust for salt and spice, reheat if necessary, and serve! A chilled glass of unoaked Sauvignon Blanc would be perfect with this, or a dry Riesling.


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Sep 17 2013

Stuffed Pattypan Squash

Published by Christine under Uncategorized,Vegan

The story goes like this:

First, one of your friends says she is going to the Indian spice market in Brooklyn. Then, you ask her to bring back a few things (the kind you don’t typically use very often). Next, you get some spices from her and nearly faint from the sensory overload brought on by the many fragrances. Last, you go home and cook. And cook. And cook some more.

That’s what happened to me over the weekend. My friend Sana brought me some fresh asafoetida, cardamom pods, fenugreek (in three (3!) different forms) and barberries last Saturday, and my head nearly exploded. The smells are enough to make you want to open up your own restaurant, cook from morning to night, and renounce all else. As if I’d ever forgotten it (not a chance), this experience truly reminded me of how much good food depends on flavorings: no spice, no dice. Imagine a musician composing with one note; you might listen politely for ten minutes, then promptly decide to remember that root canal appointment. Conversely, cooking with a variety of spices produces a symphony; now, everybody’s listening.

This is only half of my spice cabinet...

Cooking with vegetables involves some savoir-faire (a few techniques such as roasting, sautéing and braising are useful), and a lot of flavoring. I happen to think vegetables are wonderful on their own, raw and barely seasoned, particularly during the summer months when the crops are plentiful and the sun turns all manner of plants into a delicacy; however, most people still need a little coaxing when it comes to eating their colors, be it the lovely purple eggplant, the green kale, the orange yam, the white turnip, the yellow squash. Spices provide an incentive to add more plants to your plate, in and so doing, to bring healthier life to your years.

And so it was that yesterday evening, as I was looking at (and burying my nose into) some of my new acquisitions and wondering what I should concoct for dinner, I was inspired to try a new blend of spices and some seasonal greens to prepare a stuffing for some lovely pattypan squash I had acquired over the weekend at my favorite local farm stand. The squash are small and thus ideal for a single serving. They are easy to hollow out and quick to prepare, and their firm yet smooth texture and mild taste makes them the perfect foil for a flavorful (and colorful) filling. I balanced the bite of the kale in the filling with some sweet potato and carrot, and added black beans for texture and protein – a must in this vegan meal. I used cumin, fenugreek and cinnamon, which combined to give a savory-bittersweet kick to the mix, with just enough black pepper to provide a little heat.

A festival of colors and tastes

I had an idea it would be good, but I was altogether stunned by how luscious it was; I had to write down the recipe right away in order to ensure I would remember exactly what I did. Having said this, I might never follow my own recipe to the letter anyway, as I tend to walk the wire without a net when I cook; I relish falling prey to my imagination and to the caprice of inspiration, stoked as they are by the sizzling sights and scents of spices.

And the story, one more time, goes like this:


Stuffed Pattypan Squash

4 pattypan squash, top removed, and hollowed out
2 Tbsp vegetable or light olive oil (or ghee)
1 medium sweet potato, diced small
1 large carrot, diced small
1 small red onion, diced small
1 small bunch kale, center vein removed, washed, dried, and thinly sliced
1/2 can black beans, lightly mashed
1 tsp cumin seeds (whole)
1.5 tsp crushed fenugreek seeds
1 large stick cinnamon
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground (or more to taste)
salt to taste
olive oil for baking pan and to drizzle on squash

Preheat oven to F350.

Over medium heat, sauté cumin, fenugreek and cinammon in oil until fragrant. Add onion, sweet potato and carrot, and cook for 5 minutes. Add kale and cook for another five minutes, until the onion is soft and the kale is wilted. Add beans, salt and pepper, mix well, and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.

Place the hollowed out squash in a oiled baking dish. Sprinkle the inside with salt and pepper, and drizzle with oil. Stuff the squash, and place the cutoff top back on to cover. Bake for about an hour. The squash will be done when a sharp knife easily pierces the skin and flesh.

Who ever said vegan had to be tasteless had no clue.

Serve with a side of red quinoa, and a crisp, cold glass of unoaked Chardonnay.

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