26 December 2013

Bacon and Cheddar Quiche


Quiche hadn't been on the menu for a while, so one day when I needed to figure out what I could make for dinner that wouldn't require a trip to the market, this was it. You can make a quiche out of anything, so I took an inventory of the larder.
 

I always have flour, butter and a few kinds of cheese; but what else did I have on hand? I had exactly 6 ounces of bacon, a little piece of onion, eggs and milk. Simple ingredients, wonderful flavors; resist the urge to embellish.

About "blind" baking or par-baking a pie shell: You can use pie weights if you want to, but I never do. And I never have trouble with the pastry sliding down into the dish. I think that is because I rest/chill the pastry before rolling it out. Then I roll it out and settle it into the pie plate without stretching it, do a nice crimped edge, and pop it back into the fridge for another rest/chill before baking. And it never bubbles up on the bottom or slithers down the sides; it comes out just the way it went in!

Bacon and Cheddar Quiche

(Makes one 9-inch quiche)

The Pastry (or my Gluten-Free Pie Crust)

1 1/4 dip-and-sweep cups (6.25 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, well chilled
4 tablespoons ice water
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon additional ice water, if needed

The Filling

6 ounces bacon, cut into 1/4-inch slices (I always use uncured, no added nitrates or nitrites)
1/4 cup chopped onion
4 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
4 large eggs
1 3/4 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon marjoram
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes

1 In medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking powder. With coarse grater, grate butter into flour bowl. With fingers, quickly work the butter into the flour, leaving some pieces the size of small peas.

2 In small bowl, combine water and vinegar. Sprinkle over flour mixture while stirring with large fork. Add a little more water, if needed.

3 Turn dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and flatten slightly into a 4-inch disk; double wrap; refrigerate for one hour or up to four days. May be frozen for up to a month; defrost, wrapped, in the refrigerator.

4 If dough is thoroughly chilled, let it stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling. Butter a 9-inch glass pie plate. On lightly floured surface, roll out disk to a 13-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Place pastry in pie plate, being careful to not stretch the dough. Crimp the edge. (Sometimes you need to chill the pastry a bit before crimping.) Cover loosely and refrigerate* for 30 minutes. During last 15 minutes, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prick the bottom of the crust all over with a fork. Bake the thoroughly chilled crust for 20 minutes.




5 *While pie shell is chilling and then baking, prepare filling. In skillet, sauté the bacon pieces until slightly crisp; drain on paper towel. Pour most of fat out of the skillet and sauté the onions for 5 minutes.

6 Remove par-baked pie shell from the oven; leave the oven at 375 degrees. In small bowl (I use a 1-quart glass measure), combine eggs, milk, salt, pepper and herbs. Scatter a third of the cheese over the crust, then the onion, half the remaining cheese, the bacon, half the remaining cheese. Pour in the filling, and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes or until crust is golden and knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Note: Vegetarians might like my Vegetable Quiche (Julia Child fans might enjoy the post because it includes one of my Julia stories). And there are lots of quiche recipes in Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking (2 Volume Set).

19 December 2013

Cutout Sugar Cookies - No Rolling


Whenever someone offers me sugar cookies, I'm always hoping they'll be my grandmother's thin, crisp and tender cookies. But they never are. It seems everyone makes the thick kind. No thanks. I know the thick ones are easier to make, not so tricky to handle, but they are not the sugar cookies of my childhood, the ones that go so perfectly with a nice cup of tea. 

My maternal grandmother, called "Ma" by all the family, was English and drank tea constantly throughout the day and even the night. Every night. Whenever she came to town, she stayed for about a month. If it was summertime (no school), I was allowed to get up with her in the middle of the night. We would sit in the kitchen drinking tea and talking about England.

Yes, I was allowed to drink black tea when I was a small child! (It's not the worst thing my parents ever did!) I've been drinking tea since I was four (actually probably two-ish) and, like Ma, I drink it constantly throughout the day and occasionally even in the middle of night. I seem to have inherited a gene from her that allows me to have a nice, strong cup of tea and go right to sleep. (Coffee is another matter entirely.)

She was a wonderful baker (My cousin Denise and I still talk about it!), as was my mother; so when Ma was in town, the two ovens in the old Wedgewood gas stove never got a chance to cool off. Like the day when they were baking these cookies ... all ... day ... long. I was six and the next sibling in line was 12, and we both kept "testing" cookies from each batch. I didn't eat nearly so many as my brother did, but he always could handle sugar better than I. I ended up being sick. And when I say "being sick," I mean that in the English sense (I ended up tossing my cookies!).

Of course, my grandmother rolled her cookies out very thinly and transferred them to the baking sheets without a problem. And I don't have a problem with the thicker cookies that are rolled out 1/4-inch thick. But I don't like those. I like the thin ones my grandmother made. So I came up with this easy no-roll method.

Without further ado, here are the cookies I tossed!

Unrolled Cutout Sugar Cookies

(Makes 42 cookies with my cutters) 

1 1/2 packed cups (7.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons (5 ounces) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature but still cold
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 In small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Of course, these days I'm using my Cuisinart stand mixer, something my grandmother never had. Beat in egg and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture a little at a time, forming a soft but not sticky dough. Put dough into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until the next day.

2 Instead of rolling out the dough and having to concern yourself with chilling the dough at several stages, just get out the bowl of dough, a flat-bottomed stainless steel 1/2-cup measuring cup that measures 2.5 inches* across the bottom and a #60 (1/2 ounce / 1 tablespoon) scoop and make it easy on yourself!

* Your measuring cup set might have different diameters than mine; use whichever cup is 2.5 inches or a little more.


3 Right on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, place the scoops of dough and flatten them with the measuring cup, dipping it in flour between cookies. Press the dough to 1/8-inch thick. Cut out cookies with metal cutter(s), dipping the cutter in flour before each cut. With cutter still in place, peel away the dough around the cutter; toss it back into the bowl. When the sheet is filled, place it in the freezer for 15 minutes before baking; this is to keep the cookies from spreading while they bake. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

4 Place cookie sheet with cookies on parchment paper in preheated oven and bake for about 8 to 9 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly colored on top and just starting to brown slightly around the edges. Let cookies cool on the pan for 2 minutes before transferring them to wire rack to cool completely. 

5 Decorate them or not. I prefer not. Sure, they're cuter decorated, but I don't like the added sweetness. Store completely cooled cookies in airtight container for up to two weeks.

12 December 2013

Gingerbread - The Cake


Gingerbread is one of those things that always tastes even better the next day, so it's a great thing to make when you really need to get some of the cooking done the day before. Spicy and sweet, gingerbread is often too sweet for my taste. If you're looking for a sticky and cloyingly sweet gingerbread, this isn't it.

A lemon sauce is classic with gingerbread, but I think it is too assertive for the spicy cake. I prefer a lovely Custard Sauce or a dollop of not-too-sweet whipped cream or even a mere dusting of powdered sugar. A cake worthy of the most accomplished bakers, it's also perfect for novices. Requiring no real technique or special equipment, just a big spoon and bowl, it's virtually foolproof.  

Gingerbread cookies, tasty as they are, are something I never make. I prefer my chewy Molasses Ginger Cookies. About the only rolled cookies I ever make are vanilla-scented all-butter rolled sugar cookies, which I have not yet posted. Note to self: Get on it! What are you baking?

Gingerbread

(Makes one 11x11x2-inch or 13x9x2-inch cake)

2 1/2 dip-and-sweep cups (12.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks / 6 ounces) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsulphured molasses
1/2 cup hot water (from the kettle, not the tap)
Fine grated zest of an orange
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk*
2 teaspoons vanilla, optional

* Or put 2 teaspoons vinegar or lemon juice in 1-cup measure and add milk to make 1 cup; stir and let stand for 5 minutes.

1 Prepare an 11x11-inch square or 13x9x2-inch pan. If you'll be serving gingerbread directly from the pan, just grease it or spray with cooking spray. If you'll be turning it out of the pan, grease and flour it. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2 In large mixing bowl (you won't need a stand mixer or even a hand mixer for this), whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and spices.

3 In 2-cup glass measure, melt the butter; add the molasses and hot water to the cup (don't bother to stir). Pour into the dry ingredients, and with large spoon mix just enough to moisten. Sprinkle orange zest over the batter.

4 In same 2-cup glass measure (no need to wash), whisk together the eggs and buttermilk. Stir into the batter in fourths, mixing well after each addition, then beat rather vigorously by hand for 1 minute.

5 Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Run a knife through the batter a few times to break up any large air bubbles. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until it is pulling away from the sides of the pan and tests done with a toothpick.

6 If serving from the pan, let cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes before cutting. If turning out, cool in pan on wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes, then turn out and continue cooling on wire rack. Will keep at room temperature, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or foil, for up to 4 days. Can be frozen, double-wrapped, for a month. Thaw, wrapped, at room temperature.

PS Let's talk spice storage options. I've never been a fan of those attractive spice racks that either go on the wall or sit on the counter and require you to transfer every spice you buy into the attractive bottles that come with it. And I'm not keen on giving up counter space or drawer space to spice storage. So when we remodeled the kitchen nearly seven years ago, I hunted down just what I wanted! Here it is:


It is fabulous! The SpiceStack Flip-Down Cabinet Organizer holds 27 to 54 herb and spice bottles, depending on whether they are the tall or short ones (comes in other sizes as well). And it is so inexpensive, you can buy two if you like!  I have it sitting on the bottom shelf of the wall cabinet of what I call my baking center.

05 December 2013

Potato-Leek Soup


Potato-Leek Soup, thick and creamy, is the classic winter soup of the British Isles. A lot of people in the US (like the grocery checker who asked me what they were) have never even had leeks. Probably one of the reasons is that any time you see them mentioned anywhere, such a fuss is made about how difficult they are to clean. Well, I'm here to tell you, that's just not true.

Nobody is more concerned about cleaning their produce properly than I am, and I've discovered the easiest way to do it is to slice them up first and then wash them. Just trim off the green part and the root end. Slice the leek in half the long way. Cut each half in half the long way and slice thinly. Then put them in a salad spinner and add water, swirl them around, lift out the strainer basket, pour the dirty water out of the outer bowl; repeat. If the leeks were particularly dirty, repeat again. 

If you like a perfectly smooth, really thick and creamy soup, you can puree it with an immersion blender and use half and half or cream in place of some of the milk. But I like the little chunks I get with the potato masher. And I like to add the garnish at the last minute and watch the cheese melt into the steaming soup. 

Potato-Leek Soup

(Makes six 12-ounce servings)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white part only
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 quart lower sodium chicken broth
2 pounds potatoes, chopped in 1/2-inch dice (4 cups)
2 cups milk (I use Organic Valley 2%)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dill
Garnish: coarsely shredded cheddar (about 1/2 ounce per serving) and sliced leeks


1 In 4-quart pan (I use my 5.5-quart Le Creuset French oven), saute the leek and celery in butter over low heat until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. 

2 Add broth and potatoes, bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. 

3 Using potato masher, coarsely mash potatoes. Put back over heat. Add milk and seasonings. Taste and adjust seasoning. Ladle into bowls and garnish each bowl just as it's served (so everyone can watch the cheese melt into the soup!). 
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