Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Caramelized Onion and Sausage Quiche

Since I haven't really cooked in a while,  I decided I needed a project.  This turned out to be a fun one, especially since it was my First Adventure With Pie Crust.  Mmm.  Crust.

There is definitely nothing healthy about this (eggs?  butter?  milk?  cheese?  sausage?  all here?  okay, we can start class).  But if you can use local ingredients, it veers slightly off the highway to the danger zone.  You really get what you pay for with standard factory-farmed supermarket eggs.  The hens that laid those eggs are fed a steady diet of grain, which they didn't evolve to eat, and the same is true of industrially-farmed meat.  That diet affects the egg and meat quality, meaning runny whites, pallid yolks, and fatty cuts.  Buying from local farmers, who generally graze animals for most, if not all, of the animals' lives, ensures that the meat and eggs you're eating have more to offer than cholesterol.  Free-range eggs and meat are also super-high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which would be on the current cover of Nutrient Vogue, if nutrients vogued. 

Here, I used eggs from Flora at Bluebird Farms (thanks to Aaron for hosting another successful market!  It grows a little more each week, which is encouraging), West Wind Farms beef kielbasa, swiss cheese from Fino's at the Gilmore, and some Florida Sweet onions my mom sent me (merci maman!).

This has a lot of steps, but don't get discouraged, because it is so worth it.

Caramelized Onion and Sausage Quiche
From The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

Pie Crust
1/4 cup ice cold water
1 cup AP flour
1/2 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes

Quiche part
2 tablespoons butter
2 large onions, peeled and sliced thin
big pinch of dried thyme
1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup shredded swiss cheese
pinch of cayenne pepper

To make the pie crust
Mix together the flour and salt, and cut or work the butter into the flour with your fingers.  The goal is to have some pea-sized pieces and some larger pieces.  The key is to use very cold (but not frozen) butter, so the dough stays firm and pliable.  This should take about 1-2 minutes.  Pour in most of the water a little at a time, stirring all the while until the dough begins to form clumps.  Keep adding water if needed.  Bring the dough together in a ball and wrap in plastic.  Stick it in the fridge for at least an hour.  To save time, you could do this the night before.

To make the quiche
Flour a work space on the counter and roll out your dough.  Line a pie pan with the dough and fold in the edges to make double-thick sides.  Press the sides in well and prick the bottom all over with a fork.  Back in the fridge it goes for about an hour.  But don't sit down!  Get to work on the other stuff!

Cook your sausage over medium heat in a skillet; when almost all the way cooked through, remove from heat, cut up into little pieces and drain on a paper towel.

Heat the butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet.  When melted, add in the onions.  You want to cook them very very slowly.  So leave 'em over medium heat, go read some stuff about landlords and tenants, and check back in and give 'em a stir every 5 minutes or so.  They should be nice and golden after about 20-30 minutes.  Season with salt, pepper and thyme.

Okay, is the pie crust cold yet?  Take it out of the fridge!  Heat your oven to 375 degrees.  Line your crust shell with a piece of foil (or parchment paper), and then fill in the space with a layer of dried beans.  This, Alice tells me, is called a pie weight, and will keep the dough from shrinking.  Bake for 15 minutes, or until it just starts to brown around the edges.  Take out the crust and remove the foil/beans (you can save the beans to use again, but no cooking with them).  Return the crust to the oven and cook for another 5-7 minutes, until it's an even browned color.

While all of that is happening in the oven, mix together the milk, the eggs, yolks, cheese, salt and pepper and cayenne.  Then once the crust is ready, line the bottom with the sausage, layer over with the onions, and pour the egg mixture on top of all that.  Bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes, or until the top is puffed and golden brown.

Then it's time to om-nom-nom!  Just be forewarned, if you take this to your office/school for lunch, people you don't even know will stop to say, "That smells so good!"  And it does.

Oh, perhaps enjoy with something to remind you that yes, spring is on its way?

This was worth the effort.  It is sweet, nutty, earthy, basically all-around delish.  So get busy and make one!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Vegetarian Biscuits and Gravy

My new dishwasher has arrived; no dishpan hands!  Hurrah!  The semester has really been speeding up, and a lot of things are happening at once, so I have been cooking pretty simply as of late.  But I wanted to share this recipe, which is very, very good and inexpensive.  And!  It features... lentils!  Only my most favorite pulse ever (pulse, seriously.  Look it up).  I was once referred to as an "eternal, bipedal, lentil-gorging glow" (hi, Zac), and it is a title I wear with pride.

Also, smoked paprika is awesome.  It is sweet on the front end, but it has a nice heated finish to it.  I can't wait to use it in other recipes.  Visions of ribs in a smoked-paprika dry rub, soaked in a sunshiny summer haze, are dancing...

Local star players here, besides basic Mediterranean Grocery lentils, include spices from Maggie's Pharm and, in place of the toasted English muffins the recipe calls for, toasted slices of sourdough bread from Cafe Eclectic.

Biscuits and "Gravy"
Adapted from Vegetarian Times

1 cup brown lentils, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon AP flour
1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp yellow mustard
1/4 chili pepper flakes (red pepper flakes, whatever)
1/8 tsp rubbed sage
2 cups milk
Toasted bread, your choice!

My friend Kevin taught me a new way to keep from crying while chopping onions: cut out the center first.  It worked pretty well; definitely a decent substitute for cooking in a hurry when you don't have time to put them in the freezer first (best cooking tip I have ever gotten).

Bring lentils and 3 cups water to a boil in a 2-qt saucepan.  Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer 30 minutes or until just tender.  Drain, and set aside.  Combine your spices in an oh-so-photogenic manner.

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet.  Add onion and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the carrot and garlic and cook 5 to 8 more minutes, or under vegetables are tender but not mushy.  

Stir in flour, black pepper, paprika, mustard, chili flakes, and sage; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Gradually add milk, stirring after each addition.  Cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly (the flour will stick to the bottom of the skillet, so be vigilant!) until gravy comes to a gentle boil.  Remove from heat and stir in the drained lentils.

Cute, no?

Toast up some bread, place on a plate, and top with gravy!  Maybe top with some green herbs if you're into presentation.  I used parsley, which I wouldn't recommend... maybe some cilantro would be good.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I Am Not Okay With This

My dishwasher is B-R-O-K-E:

And I would get all "O Pioneers!"ey if washing dishes weren't my absolute most hated household chore ever.  But it is.  So I will eat PB&Js and take-out straight from the container until I get a new dishwasher installed (soon!), and then more yummy things will commence.  Oh, and there will be a new arrival in my kitchen soon... and there will be delicious, celebratory steak to mark the occasion.  Check back soon!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

PSA: Where to Get Your Winter Greens

Hello!  Today is just beautiful.  I spent the morning at Cafe Eclectic and the afternoon watching squirrels frolic in my backyard.  Is is too soon to start dreaming of the markets re-opening?

Well, maybe it is.  In that case, fret not, for there are industrious Memphians working out how to eat locally even in what is technically still winter.  Case in point: Memphis Locally Grown.  This is an online market that connects local growers/artisans with customers.  I met Aaron Shafer, who runs the market online and out of his home, a couple weekends ago while buying winter greens from Van Cheeseman, and he explained how it works:  you log onto the website and see what local growers are offering for sale this week.  For example, right now Van is offering his greens, and it looks like there will be some eggs and bread items up soon as well.  Aaron said he expects more growers to join in over time.  When you decide what you want, you place your order, and then pick it up at Aaron's home on Thursdays or Fridays.

This seems like a nice option for those of us seeking to keep our food dollars in the community, even when the markets aren't running.  I'm not sure how it will work when they do re-open, but I'm sure that being able to pre-order is a boon to people who can't make it to the markets (or who show up late and miss all the good stuff!)  I am pretty excited for a regular supply of pastured eggs!  (From my last score, I've made french toast, chocolate cake, a frittata, and eggnog---post-seasonal what?!)

Oh, yes, you'll be wanting the website!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

White Bean and Acorn Squash Soup

Or, another squash bites the dust.

Seriously, y'all.  Beans.  They're What To Eat At The Recession.  I stocked up on lentils, split peas, lupini, cannellini, pinto and chickpeas at the Mediterranean Grocery (you know, I think it really is just called Mediterranean Grocery, but I feel compelled to use the article) on Park last week.  $10 spent just might see me out the winter.

Also, I *heart* the Mediterranean Grocery.  You can get hummus, glass teacups,  lamb's tongue, many, many dried beans and a copy of the Koran all in the same place.  It's just east of Highland on Park, if you want to venture over.

This is definitely a make it on a weekend and let it simmer all day kind of deal.  Mainly because dried beans take a verrry long time to soften.  I followed the recipe's recommendations, and my beans were still a bit crunchy after about 2-3 hours on the stove.   If I were to make this again, I'd simmer longer and use another big pinch of thyme on the onions, or maybe some sage, to give them a bit more flavor.  

The original recipe doesn't call for greens, but I'm glad I threw in the arugula, because it tasted more spring-y that way!

White Bean and Acorn Squash Soup
Adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

1 cup dried white beans (cannellini, navy, lupini...)
3 cups chicken broth
4 cups water (I would use 6, though; a lot of it boiled off)
2 tablespoons olive oil or duck fat (should you have duck fat lying around...)
2 onions, sliced thin
2 big pinches of dried thyme
1 medium acorn squash (or whatever squash needs to be eaten)
A handful of arugula, rinsed

Soak your beans in 4 cups of water overnight.  Or longer.  I don't think it really matters; I'm suspicious of the efficacy of presoaking.  The next day, drain them and put them in a large pot with the chicken broth and water.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, and simmer until the beans are tender.  Start checking after 45 minutes... but don't get your hopes up.  Season to taste when cooked.

Cut up and peel your squash, into about 1/2 inch cubes.  

Heat the olive oil/fat in a heavy-bottomed pan, add the onions and the thyme.  Cook over medium heat until tender, about 15 minutes.  Stir in the squash and salt to taste (remember your chicken broth might be salty as well).  Cook for 5 minutes.

Add the onions and squash to the beans; cook at a simmer until the beans are at your preferred tenderness.  About 5 minutes before you're ready to eat, throw in the greens!

Definitely enjoy with toasted bread brushed with olive oil.  Perhaps... bread from your neighborhood bakery??  Quoi?!


Cafe Eclectic, on McLean and Faxon, has opened a bakery adjacent to their cafe, and it is wonderful.  You can buy the ciabatta loaf they use for their sandwiches, and also baguettes, lemon tarts, croissants, donuts, sourdough bread, and when I was there last weekend, I got to see some Key Lime tartlettes in action.  Or you can just sit in the bakery, read cases, and inhale sugary goodness all morning.  You must go.  And smell.  And forget about the recession and buy a lemon tart.

Fluffy, crunchy, amazing.