Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Classic French Quiche with Spinach and Leeks

In his latest book, Michael Ruhlman has taken a very practical approach to defining all the ways in which the glorious egg can be used. He started with a flowchart. The book is Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World's Most Versatile Ingredient, and I received a review copy. The printed flowchart is included with the book, and it shows the categories that became the book’s chapters. First, the egg is considered whole and cooked in the shell and then whole and cooked out of the shell with recipes for each. Next, the whole egg, out of the shell, is covered with dishes in which the yolk and white are blended and then with the egg as an ingredient for doughs or batters. Last, recipes for each part of the egg appear with recipes for just yolks, just whites, and recipes in which eggs are separated but both parts are used. There are careful explanations for hard-cooked versus soft-cooked eggs and how to arrive at every stage in between. From that chapter, I want to try all three versions of egg salad. From the Cooked out of the Shell/Whole chapter, there’s a description of Eggs Benedict that will convince you to start making it regularly. And, in the Cooked out of the Shell/Blended chapter, there are step-by-step instructions, with photos, for a perfect omelet. I’ve made takes on shakshuka before, but I’d never thought of cooking eggs in Puttanesca Sauce for pasta. I’ll be trying that recipe soon. There are also recipes for pasta doughs, cakes, egg-rich breads, sauces, custards, and even cocktails with eggs. When it comes brunch, I make frittatas frequently. I’ve made them with all kinds of vegetable and/or cheese combinations. I’ve also made custard-filled pies and tarts both sweet and savory. But, for some reason, I had never made a true, classic quiche. When I saw the stately, tall, golden-brown, Classic French Quiche in this book, it was time to give it a go. 

For this quiche, Ruhlman suggests baking it in a parchment-lined, nine-inch cake pan. A big piece of parchment paper was pressed into the bottom of the pan and folded and creased up to cover the sides as well. The quiche was baked, cooled, and then chilled before being pulled from the pan with the overhanging parchment. Then, neat slices were cut and reheated for serving. I had memories of a spinach quiche I enjoyed at Bouchon at The Venetian in Vegas. That quiche was delightfully light and fluffy while still being deliciously rich inside the flaky pastry. That was my hope for this one. In the book, the quiche is shown with a filling of chorizo, roasted bell peppers, and cheddar cheese. Since I was making this for Easter brunch, I wanted something very spring-like for a filling. I visited the farmers’ market and found pretty, slender, young leeks; fresh, tender spinach; and of course, farm-fresh eggs. I sauteed the sliced leeks in butter and added a little finely minced garlic. I pulled the spinach leaves off the stems, steamed them, drained them, rolled the spinach in a towel to remove more moisture, and chopped it into small pieces. I stopped by Antonelli’s Cheese Shop to get advice on a good cheese to grate for this, and Holey Cow, a semi-soft Alpine-style cheese from California was suggested. It was perfect for the quiche. For the pastry, I used all butter and worked it into the flour by hand. The dough was left to rest in the refrigerator overnight before being rolled out and fit into the pan. It was blind baked with weights before the quiche was assembled in it. Milk, cream, eggs, and salt and pepper were whisked together, and the quiche was built in layers. Half of the sauteed leeks and spinach went into the bottom of the crust, half of the egg custard was poured over them, half of the grated cheese was sprinkled over the custard, and all those layers were repeated. It puffed up nicely as it baked, and the cheese baked to a lovely browned, crusty top. 

Just as I'd hoped, this quiche was somehow light and fluffy and rich-tasting all at the same time. And, the cheese was exactly right. I’m thrilled to have finally made a classic quiche. Once again, Ruhlman’s style of teaching cooking techniques goes beyond just recipes. But, there are some great recipes here too. 

Classic French Quiche 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Egg Copyright 2014 by Michael Ruhlman. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or printed without permission in writing from the publisher. Reprinted by arrangement with Little, Brown and Company. 

Serves 10 to 12 

I was a youngster in the 1970s when quiche made its appearance on the Midwestern scene, only to be quickly lampooned as girly-man food. It was a time when French food was beginning to make its way into American home kitchens, thanks to Julia Child and the popularity of French restaurants in New York City in the previous decade. But a lot of things got lost in translation. Spinach salad with bacon vinaigrette was the only way we Midwesterners could re-create a classic salade frisee aux lardons. And we cooked quiche in a piecrust—too thin to be of any deep pleasure. 

It wasn’t until decades later, when I was working with Thomas Keller and Jeffrey Cerciello on the Bouchon cookbook, that I learned all that a quiche might be. It is little more than an egg pie, a custard pie, but when it’s cooked at a proper thickness, it can become utterly seductive. Again, it’s all about the power of the egg to transform the ingredients it joins. 

In France, a common quiche is Lorraine, with bacon and onions—and if you’re sticking with its peasant roots, no cheese. Or Florentine, with spinach. Here, to show off the versatility of quiche, I’m using sausage, onion, and roasted red peppers. But you can use any flavorings you wish as long as you bake the quiche in a 2-inch/5-centimeter ring mold or cake pan (alas, a springform pan will leak). I treat a quiche like a cake, pressing the dough into a parchment-lined cake pan, so even if it does leak through the crust, you’ll still have a thick, creamy quiche. The amount of dough in this recipe will fit a 9-inch/23-centimeter mold with plenty left over for patching should you need it. If you have only an 8-inch/20-centimeter mold, you’ll have even more dough left over, which can be frozen for later use, or you can reduce the amounts of the crust ingredients by one-third if you’re measuring by weight; you’ll also have some custard left over, which can be baked separately in a large ramekin (it will take 20 to 30 minutes to cook). 

For the crust: 
3 cups/420 grams flour 
1 cup/225 grams cold or frozen butter, lard, shortening, or any combination thereof, cut into small pieces 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 to 1/2 cup/60 to 120 grams ice water (The quantity depends on the fat—whole butter has water in it so you need only a couple of ounces; shortening and lard do not contain water and thus need more.) 

For the quiche: 
Vegetable oil for sauteing 8 ounces/225 grams cured Spanish chorizo, cut into medium dice 
1/2 Spanish onion, diced 
3 teaspoons salt 
1 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, charred, peeled, seeded, and cut into medium dice (see note below on roasting peppers) 
2 cups/480 milliliters milk 
1 cup/240 milliliters heavy cream 
6 eggs 
1 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
5 to 6 gratings of nutmeg 
2 cups/170 grams grated cheddar cheese 

To make the crust, combine the flour, fat, and salt in a mixing bowl and rub the fat between your fingers until you have small beads of fat and plenty of pea-sized chunks. Gradually add the ice water and then the salt and mix gently, just until combined—if you work the dough too hard it will become tough. (If you’re making a bigger batch, you can use a standing mixer with a paddle attachment, but remember not to paddle too much after you add the water, just enough so that it comes together.) Shape the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes or up to 24 hours. 

The dough can be used raw for some recipes, as with an apple pie (it’s enough for a double-crusted pie). But for a quiche or other pie with a liquid batter, you’ll need to bake the shell first (known as blind baking). 

Preheat the oven to 325˚F/165˚C. Line a 9-inch/ 23-centimeter cake pan (or a ring mold placed on a baking sheet) with parchment. Roll the dough into a circle about ¼ inch/6 millimeters thick. Roll it over the rolling pin to lift it and unroll it over the parchment-lined cake pan, pressing the dough into the corners (use a scrap of dough to do this to avoid tearing the dough with your fingers). 

To blind bake a crust, you need to fill the shell with something heavy to prevent the bottom from buckling up. Pie weights are made specifically for this, but a layer of aluminum foil and a pound of dried beans or rice reserved for this purpose does the job just as well. Line the bottom of your shell with another layer of parchment, then add the pie weights or beans and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the parchment and the weights or beans and continue baking until the crust is golden brown and cooked through, another 10 to 15 minutes. Cool completely. 

To make the quiche, heat 2 teaspoons of the vegetable oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add the chorizo and sauté for a few minutes till warm; remove to a plate lined with paper towels. Add the onions to the same pan with the chorizo fat, along with a four-finger pinch of salt, and sauté until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the roasted peppers and stir just to combine (they don’t need further cooking). Remove from the heat and add to the plate with the chorizo. (The filling can be made up to 1 day ahead, as can the quiche shell—either raw or blind-baked). 

Preheat the oven to 325˚F/165˚C. Use raw leftover dough to patch any cracks that opened in the quiche shell as it baked. Place it on a baking sheet. 

In a large liquid measure or mixing bowl, combine the milk, cream, eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg and, using a hand blender, blend until frothy. This can be done in a standing blender as well, though you may need to do it in two batches, depending on the size of your blender. Or you could even mix the batter in a large bowl using a whisk—in this case, beat the eggs first, then add the rest of the ingredients. The idea will be to add the ingredients in two layers, using the froth to help keep the ingredients suspended. 

Layer half of the chorizo mixture into the shell. Pour half of the frothy custard over the mixture. Sprinkle with half of the cheese. Layer with the remaining chorizo mixture. Refroth the batter and pour the rest into the shell. (You may want to put the baking sheet with the quiche shell into the oven and pour the remaining batter into it there so you can get every bit into the shell. You can even let it overflow to make sure it’s up to the very top.) Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Bake until the center of the quiche is just set, about 1 1/2 hours (it may take as long as 2 hours, but don’t overcook it; there should still be some jiggle in the center when you take it out of the oven). 

Allow the quiche to cool, then cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate until it’s completely chilled. The quiche will keep for up to 5 days. 

To remove and serve the quiche, use a knife to cut off the top edges of the crust along the rim or simply break them off by hand. Tug the parchment gently and lift the quiche from the cake pan; if using a ring simply press gently on the bottom once the sides are loosened. 

Slice and serve cold or, to serve hot, slice and reheat for 15 minutes in a 350˚F/180˚C oven on lightly oiled parchment or foil, or cover with plastic and microwave for 1 minute. 

Note: To roast bell peppers, set them directly over a gas flame and cook all surfaces until they’re black. You can also halve them and broil them, cut sides down, till black. Remove them to a paper bag or put in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap till cooled. Remove the charred skin under cold running water. To use, remove the stem and seeds and cut as directed. 

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

White Chocolate-Macadamia Nut-Oatmeal Cookies with Dried Cherries

At some point last year, I was talking with my mom on the phone on a day when I was trying to decide what kind of cookies to bake. Her first suggestion was White Chocolate and Macadamia Nut Cookies. I ended up not making them at the time, but I did stop to wonder: why haven’t I ever made those? Fast forward to a year later, and I knew exactly what kind of cookies to bake for my mom after she fell and broke her ankle. It’s a proven fact that cookies help with all recoveries, I think. I had a recipe from the December 2012 issue of Saveur for exactly this type of cookie. But, I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I wanted chunky cookies with oats in them and maybe some dried fruit as well. In Alice Medrich’s Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies, there is a version with oats. However, in that recipe, the oats are chopped to bits in a food processor. I followed the recipe for quantities but stirred everything together by hand and kept the oats whole for maximum chunkiness. And, then I added dried sour cherries. The result was a dangerous thing. I like baking cookies to share, but I kind of wanted to keep all of these for myself. 

I started by roasting two cups of macadamia nuts. I sprinkled on sea salt, and it sticks to the nuts as the oils are released while roasting. They roasted at 350 degrees F for about eight minutes and then were coarsely chopped. This cookie dough is easy to stir together because melted butter is used. Two sticks, or 16 tablespoons, of butter was melted and set aside. One and a half cups of flour were sifted with a teaspoon of baking soda and a half teaspoon of salt. One and a half cups of oats were added to the flour mixture. In a separate bowl, the melted butter was combined with two-thirds cup of granulated sugar, two-thirds cup of brown sugar, and two teaspoons of vanilla extract. The flour mixture was added to the egg mixture and was stirred to combine. The chopped nuts, two cups of white chocolate chips, and two cups of dried sour cherries were added to the dough. Then, the dough was refrigerated for a couple of hours. Because of the melted butter in the dough, it needs some chilling time before baking. Heaping tablespoons of dough were baked on sheets at 325 degrees F for about 15 minutes, and sheet pans were rotated halfway through baking. 

These were indeed chunky cookies just as I’d hoped, and they were packed with great flavors. The salted, buttery macadamia nuts contrasted with the sweetness of the white chocolate, and the chewy pieces of dried sour cherries were a nice fruity addition. I can’t prove they’ll help Mom’s ankle heal faster, but cookies are always good medicine. 

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Artichoke and White Bean Dip

Today, I have for you, a tale of two artichoke dips. At Christmastime, I tried a new-to-me recipe for a baked artichoke dip. Shallots, garlic, and artichoke hearts were sauteed in olive oil and then simmered in white wine until it reduced. Softened cream cheese was mixed with grated Gruyere, lemon juice, and hot sauce, and the vegetables were folded into that mixture. It went into a little baking dish and was sprinkled with panko and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. The dip was baked until bubbly, and then topped with crispy, fried shallots. It was spooned onto pieces of toasted bread while still steaming. This dip was deliciously savory and layered with flavors; it was gooey and rich. In fact, it was so rich that after one bite, I was done. From now on, I’ll think of it as the extra-decadent, wintertime artichoke dip. For spring, I wanted something different. And, after learning how good for you artichokes are, I wanted something that I could enjoy more often. While flipping through River Cottage Veg, I found it. It’s Artichoke and Bean Dip, and there’s no heavy cheese in it at all. It’s not entirely spartan since the vegetables are sauteed in olive oil before being added to the dip, and some thick yogurt helps bind the mixture. But, it’s made up of things you can feel good about eating without feeling stuffed after one bite. 

Step one should be to finely chop a few garlic cloves and let them sit for about ten minutes while prepping the other ingredients. (Chopped garlic should sit for ten minutes before being cooked to allow time for allicin to form which is a very good for you antioxidant.) Meanwhile, finely chop a small onion. I used a small amount of red onion, and some young shallots from my CSA as well. Seven ounces of artichoke hearts in brine should be drained. The onion and shallot were sauteed in a small amount of olive oil, and the garlic was added. Next, chopped fresh oregano leaves were added, and I was happy to get to use some from my herb garden where it’s growing like crazy. Rinsed and drained, canned cannellini beans were added next and just cooked until warm. The entire mixture was transferred to the food processor. I chose to hold back the artichoke hearts rather than add them with the bean mixture at this point. My thinking was that I wanted a somewhat smooth bean mixture with larger chunks of artichoke hearts. So, I pulsed the bean mixture until it looked almost smooth, and then added the artichokes for just a pulse or two. Lemon juice, chile flakes, and a couple of tablespoons of yogurt were added and folded into the dip. The vegetables should be seasoned while sauteing, but taste for seasoning after adding everything. In the serving bowl, the dip was topped with chopped, toasted walnuts. 

I baked some pita wedges for scooping up the dip and enjoyed a snack that lasted for more than one bite. It was a tasty mix of flavors while still warm, but it got even better after all those flavors mingled while it sat in the refrigerator for a few hours. It’s perfect for dipping pita wedges, tortilla chips, or vegetables, and this would make a great filling for a wrap or a spread for a sandwich. Now, I have a go-to artichoke dip for spring or anytime I want something a little lighter. 

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Friday, April 4, 2014

Brown Sugar Angel Food Cake

Can we talk birthday cakes? Choosing what cakes to bake for Kurt’s birthday and my birthday is a lot of fun, and this year, the two cakes kind of worked together. I went with classics this year. For Kurt’s birthday in February, I made a Boston Cream Pie from the Baked Explorations book. It was filled with both vanilla and chocolate pastry cream and required seven egg yolks. At that point, I already started planning ahead for my birthday which was last week. I saved the seven egg whites, whisked them together in a small container, and stashed them in the freezer. I knew they’d come in handy for making my angel food cake. As my birthday approached, I just had to decide exactly which kind of angel food cake to make. There’s a Black and White Angel Food Cake in Barefoot Contessa at Home that’s made with chocolate chips and topped with a chocolate ganache. I want to try that one someday, but it wasn’t what I wanted for my birthday. In the book Flour by Joanne Chang, there’s a Toasted Coconut Angel Food Cake that became a serious contender. In Ruhlman’s Twenty, he shows a classic angel food cake covered in whipped cream and topped with chopped homemade toffee and shards of chocolate. I always veer toward toffee, so that one had my attention. But, I had visions of fresh, local strawberries on the plate with each piece of cake. For a moment, I thought maybe I should stick to a lemony angel food which is one of my favorite cakes. No, wait, hold everything, I thought I remembered from years ago on an early version of the Martha Stewart show, she made a Brown Sugar Angel Food Cake. I’d never made one or tasted one before. That needed to be my birthday cake this year. The recipe I used is found in The Martha Stewart Cookbook, and that version is cut and layered with whipped cream and blackberries. The same recipe for the cake itself is also online where it’s served with candied citrus. I did neither of those things because strawberries simply had to be involved. 

The most difficult thing about this cake is sifting the brown sugar. I don’t know if my sifter is too fine or if my brown sugar was particularly coarse, but it took a bit of work to get it all sifted. The cake flour needs to be sifted as well, but that was much simpler. Half of the sifted brown sugar was then combined with the cake flour, and that mixture was sifted together twice. Next, fourteen egg whites were needed, and I was glad to have seven ready and waiting that I had pulled from the freezer and thawed. To bring the egg whites to room temperature, I set the mixing bowl into a larger bowl of hot water and stirred the egg whites around until they warmed up some. The room temperature egg whites were whisked using a stand mixer until foamy, and then cream of tartar was added. The mixer speed was increased, and the egg whites were whisked until very thick. Half of the sugar was added, and the whisking continued. The remaining sugar was added and whisked until the egg whites were stiff. The flour and sugar mixture was folded in in three additions. Lemon zest was to be added with the last addition of the flour mixture, and I worked the zest into the flour to be sure there were no clumps before adding. The batter was spooned into a tube pan and baked for about 45 minutes. I hulled and chopped strawberries and sprinkled them with vanilla sugar to get the juices running. The cake was served with whipped cream and those sweet, juicy berries. 

The light, airy texture of this cake is the same as any other angel food, but the crumb has a delightfully honey-like color. The lemon flavor is subtle here, and the brown sugar gives the cake just the slightest hint of butterscotch. It’s like a sweet angel food cake with a little something extra. It was exactly what I wanted for my birthday cake. And now, I want to try all those other versions too. 

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