Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Last night I was going to make bacon and eggs for dinner (because it's something all of my picky little eaters will eat), and Mark suggested quiche. Mark is a real man. Also, he is a man who very rarely suggests something for dinner, though I pester him continually for ideas, so I wanted to make sure I took his suggestion in hopes of encouraging a habit.

When was the last time you had a quiche? I don't count the little pre-packaged 1 1/2" individual bites of quiche at parties. Better yet, when was the last time you made quiche? Because while it takes a significant amount of time more than bacon and eggs, it's so worth it. Who doesn't like a pie crust added to their dinner (or breakfast, or lunch, or midnight snack)?

First, we have to talk about this crust. You should know by now that I'm crazy about pie crust, and I also go a little nuts if my crust isn't perfect. Well, I have something to admit: I've never been good about blind baking pie crusts, which is important for a quiche. (Blind baking is also known as prebaking.) In the past, my crusts have shrunk considerably. I consulted Cooks' Illustrated on the matter. Actually, I consulted The Best Recipe, a book by the authors of the incredible magazine Cooks' Illustrated. I'd read what they said before, and I reread it, and lucky me! My crust barely, barely shrank. In fact, that's why I put this not-so-pretty picture up of a two-thirds eaten quiche...I'm so excited about the crust. Do other people have this problem?

Also, I didn't want to fiddle with the crust so much. I was trying to make dinner. So I altered my method a touch, and the result was ever so flaky and delicious as always.

As for the filling, I was going for the bacon and eggs mix, remember? But I decided to add some caramelized onions as well. My bacon stock was fairly low (4 pieces), and the caramelized onions would add a lot of the same rich flavor. Plus I like onions, and I thought I could trick my kids into eating them this way. (I was right.) Other than that, there was a really good supply of sharp Cheddar cheese and the milk and cream to complete the custard.

Maybe I should mention one thing: quiche doesn't have tons of eggs in it, as you're really making a custard. It does have cream, though, and that should make you happy.

So, here's the recipe. If you follow it pretty closely, you will also have a happy evening with your family.


Crust ingredients:
1 1/4 c. flour
1 T. sugar
1/2 t. salt
8 T. (1 stick) unsalted butter, refrigerated
1/4 c. ice water (I keep a glass of water with ice handy and measure the water out just before adding)
1/4 t. vinegar

Filling ingredients:
4 strips bacon, chopped
1 T. butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 T. flour
3 eggs
2 egg yolks
2 c. milk
1 c. cream
1/2 t. salt
freshly ground black pepper
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
5 - 6 oz. grated sharp Cheddar cheese

For the crust, whisk together the dry ingredients in a bowl. Slice the butter into about 1" wide pieces and add to the flour, then mash them into the flour a bit using a fork. After about 30 seconds of this, use the heel of your hand to smash the dough flat, making sure to keep your hand floured. Smash, then turn, smash then turn, making sure all of the butter pieces are flat. Do this quickly, and in only about 4-6 turns, so as not to warm the dough. Combine the vinegar and water; add to the dough, and stir together with the fork, until fairly evenly wet, then place in the freezer for five minutes.

Remove the dough from the freezer and quickly pull it together into one ball, then flatten into a disc. Flour a working surface and both sides of the dough, then gently roll out. Carefully transfer it to your pie dish and form the edges. Place in the refrigerator. Refrigerate for 30-40 minutes, whatever you have time for. This resting period in the refrigerator helps the elasticity in the dough to relax in the shape you've molded, rather than waiting to spring back to the ball of nothing it was when you started.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly prick the pie dough. Line the pie with extra wide, heavy duty foil, or two sheets of regular foil crossing in the center. Fill the foil with a pound of dry beans or pie weights and bake for 20 minutes, until the dough has mostly dried out. Remove the weights and foil and bake another 9 minutes (this is for partially baking, add another 8-10 for fully-baked dough if you're making something besides quiche).

In the meantime, set a pan over medium heat and cook the bacon until browned and a little crispy, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Remove all but just a lining of bacon grease. Add 1 T. butter, increase heat to medium high, and add the onions and a couple of pinches of salt. Cook, stirring, about 10 minutes, until lightly caramelized, reducing the heat to medium if they're cooking too fast. Taste to be sure they're properly salted. Stir in the 1 T. flour and set aside to cool to room temperature.

In a bowl, combine the eggs, yolks, milk, cream, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Whisk to be sure the eggs have mixed in evenly, then stir in the bacon and onions.

Once the pie dough has been removed from the oven, fill the bottom evenly with the cheese, then pour the filling on top. (I had enough left over to bake some extra in a small dish.) Place in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the center is just set, like gelatin. Remove and cool 5-10 minutes, then serve.

Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Green Bean Casserole

It's Thanksgiving week. Yahoo! This year, we're traveling to my in-laws in Utah, where Mark's mom will fix us a fantastic feast and I get to just bring the pies, which is my favorite thing to make at Thanksgiving, anyhow. Like most Americans, we love to eat, and Thanksgiving is no time to hold back. It's especially fun to eat at a very social occasion, such as this Thursday, when we crowd into a couple of rooms and enjoy a delicious meal.

Last year Mark and I decided on a variation of the traditional green bean casserole, which I only half explained in the blog, so I decided to post the recipe here today, in case anyone's looking for a great green bean casserole for Thanksgiving. Plus, my mother-in-law asked for the recipe, so I need to write a more detailed version and thought it was a good excuse to share it. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture. Sorry. (I really dislike not having a picture.)

Let me tell you what is SO fantastic about this green bean casserole. Even if you are a bit fond of the can o' cream o' mushroom, there are better avenues out there to enjoying creamed mushrooms, and it doesn't take much effort, other than chopping onions and mushrooms. Secondly, and more importantly (italicized because I had to think about it for a minute), there is nothing quite so delicious as deep fried shallots. We discovered this last year. It was very difficult to make enough so that we had plenty to snack on and plenty left for the casserole, but we managed. And fresh green beans compared to canned...well, you shouldn't have to ask.

For all of you Thanksgivingers out there, tell me what side dishes you like to make or eat on Thanksgiving, and what you're having this year. I love to collect ideas!

Green Bean Casserole

5 T. butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 lb. (or so) crimini mushrooms, quartered
1 1/2 lbs. green beans, cut into 2" pieces
3/4 c. (or so) flour
2 c. milk
pinch cayenne pepper
pinch grated nutmeg
1 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. (or so) canola oil
4 - 6 (or so) large shallots
Kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Melt 2 T. of the butter, then add the onions. Cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes, then add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Continue to stir and cook until all the moisture from the mushrooms has evaporated, another 5 or 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning and salt and pepper as needed. Melt 3 T. butter into the mixture, then add 1/4 c. of flour and stir in well, until you can't see any white bits anymore. Pour in the milk and cook, stirring, until the mixture thickens. Stir in the cayenne, nutmeg, and additional salt or pepper as needed to taste. Cool a bit. (Note: You can prepare the sauce and refrigerate it, then reheat it the next day and continue on from here.)

Set the remaining flour in a medium-sized bowl. Slice the shallots into 1/4" rings. Drop them into the bowl of flour, toss around to separate and coat, then remove them. Make sure they're separated, shake them off a bit, then drop them into the flour again and repeat. Heat the canola oil in a medium saucepan over medium to medium high heat. Fry the shallots in small batches in the oil, stirring, until golden brown. Remove to drain on paper towels and sprinkle lightly with salt. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375°. (Of course, if you're making this for Thanksgiving dinner, the oven will be on some other temperature already; that's okay, just watch the beans and vary the cooking time a bit.) Butter or spray a 9" x 13" baking dish.

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, then add the green beans. Cook for 6-8 minutes, until tender. (Usually fork tender is great for green beans, but you don't want them too firm for the casserole. Use your own judgment.) Strain in a colander and rinse with cold water to stop them from further cooking.

Stir the beans into the warmish mushroom sauce until thoroughly mixed, then pour into the baking dish. Top with an even layer of the Parmesan cheese and the shallots, then bake until heated through and the cheese is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

Thursday, November 15, 2007


My husband and I are crash dieting this week. This is my diet: smoothie for breakfast (a full 16 oz.) and nothing but Pacific Natural Foods tomato soup (mmmm, mmmm) or some nicely cooked black beans the rest of the day. It's a very, very low-calorie diet that has led to a lack of fuel for my brain, so I don't have much to say that's interesting until this is over...probably on Monday. Nevertheless, that won't stop me from going on.

First, I want to plug the soup. This is my fourth day on the diet and I still love this soup. It's delicious. If you can get it, get it. It doesn't have any amazing flavor that pops out at you in it, but it's a terrific tomato soup: smooth, creamy (but not high in fat), and slightly sweet. And it's ready to go, so I just pour out what I want and zing it in the microwave. If, perchance, I'm hungry enough that I can't stop eating, I can finish the whole container and still only consume 400 calories. And I love the black beans. Black beans simmered at home are four times better than those in a can. At least. I do cheat a bit and add a touch of low-fat sour cream to my beans, as well as a squeeze of lime and some Sriracha hot sauce if I'm feeling spicy.

Obviously, the point of this diet is to consume as few calories as possible. Sometimes you just get in a lull or plateau and you need something to boost you a bit, and that's where I was, so that's why I'm doing this insane feat this week. I know, I know...if you starve yourself, you typically gain that weight back, but it's not going to happen! Besides, if I don't take care of this right now, I'm absolutely doomed for the next month and a half, what with Thanksgiving, our Christmas party, Christmas, and New Year's (Eve and Day). Four or five feast days in a month and a half...crazy.

So, whatever you're eating today, think of how delicious it is and enjoy it for me. Just keep the calories for yourself, please.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pecan Pie

I love pecan pie.

This is interesting, because I couldn't stand pecan pie when I was little. It wasn't until I married Mark that I learned pecan pie is supposed to be soft, rich, and caramely rather than dry, overbaked, and flavorless. It's actually Mark's favorite pie, and if it hadn't been, I probably wouldn't have taken so much time to perfect it. He chose it as his birthday dessert, because as much as he loves a really good chocolate cake, he loves good pecan pie more.

Sunday, I worked on refining the recipe. In 4-oz. ramekins, I made 6 variations of pecan pie fillings, varying the type and quality of sugar, the amount of butter, and the eggs. We tasted each of them and to our great surprise preferred more butter over less and more expensive, unrefined sugar to ye olde C&H golden brown. Okay, not to our great surprise.

I'll tell you what I know about good pecan pie. Toasted pecans are better than raw pecans. Overbaked pie is dry and certainly not worth the calories (because, in case you're wondering, it does have at least a few calories). You need to prick your crust before adding the filling. It should be served cold, though for most pies I prefer room temperature since the crust is more flavorful that way. It should be served in small slices since it's very rich. It's best with whipped cream, but also good by itself. I should not be left alone for a whole day with the leftovers and be expected to save a piece for someone else. And, of course, you need to start with a fabulous crust, which I already have.

So, what is the perfect pecan pie recipe? Well, I don't exactly know yet, but I'm very close. I would say very, very close. So close I can taste it.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

To Sous-Vide and Beyond!

I'm sure you feared I'd dropped off the face of the earth, but I didn't. I did attend a wedding, my husband had knee surgery, and we took our son to the ER for a nasty-looking black eye - on Halloween, no less (the picture is from 2 days later). And throughout the last couple of weeks, we've had some really good food that I haven't had a chance to write about. Now it all seems so overwhelming, so I'm just going to start with pictures and tell you about them as I go along.

These first few pictures were from my laughable attempt at sous-vide. I only say "laughable" because I didn't have a vacuum sealer or a thermal immersion circulator; other than that, I would actually call it a success. It's kind of like the boil-in-a-bag method, except I kept the water temperatures just below where I poach, which means it was more like a poaching-in-butter method, but without using a pound of butter.

First, I combined some softened butter with fresh thyme and Kosher salt. I took each of the chicken breasts (I had four) and placed them in their own Ziploc plastic bag (I used the freezer variety, since they're thicker, which may not make any difference whatsoever). Then I divided the seasoned butter between the four bags, pressed the air out, and zipped them shut. After massaging them in the butter, I dropped them into my water bath, which I kept between 165°F and 173°F, for about an hour. Once I'd removed them from the water, I let them set for 10 or 15 minutes before opening them up. And when I did open them up, I was very happy. They were not just tender the way poached chicken usually is, but very moist and flavorful.

So, I will definitely be using this method in the future, and I also highly recommend it. It has several advantages: obviously, the chicken is delicate and delicious; cleanup is very easy; and the chicken doesn't need to be completely thawed before adding it to the water bath. I'll likely double up the chicken breasts in the future, but aside from that and playing with different seasonings, it's a pretty good system the way it stands.

Alongside the chicken I served gnocchi and tomato cream sauce, which were both as lovely as I expected them to be. It was a delicious meal all-in-all, and now that it's been two weeks, I'm wondering how soon until I make it again. Of course, I'd have to use grocery store tomatoes, since we've had a few good frosts here, and it wouldn't be the same.

In addition to this meal, I'm anxious to tell you about my Mexican sopes and also my pork chops and polenta. But maybe I'll have to make the pork chops again first, since I don't have a picture of those or the polenta. Not that you need a picture, unless you're just like me and love food.