Archive for savory

Recipes: Quiche, a Basic How-To

Posted in Recipes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2014 by KarenElizabeth

When I was in university, I made my first vegetarian friends — and I had no idea how to feed them.  My high-school girlfriend’s brief flirtation with vegetarianism had consisted mostly of grocery-store-brand veggie lasagna, vegetarian chili-cheese fries at the cafeteria, and eating a lot of raw veggies & dip.  I’d never had to cook an entrée that didn’t include meat, before, and wasn’t entirely sure where to begin.

A search online for vegetarian recipe ideas led me to a food I’d never tried before:  quiche.  I figured that something which looked essentially like an omelette in a pie crust couldn’t possibly be half bad, and whipped up a quick version with broccoli, mushrooms, and three kinds of cheese.  It was a success, and quiche entered my cooking arsenal as an easy, quick, and crowd-pleasing piece of comfort food.

quiche

These days, while quiche remains an easy default for vegetarian-friendly meals, it’s something I make more often as a portable lunch-option for work, or as something I can quickly reheat when I’m too busy to cook for a few days.  It’s also a great way of using up leftovers, since you can throw pretty much anything into a quiche and it’ll come out tasting pretty good.  I usually do, in fact, use meat in my quiches — today’s version includes pork sausage — but they’re an incredibly flexible food that you can easily tailor to your particular desires.

 

The Crust

The most labour-intensive part of a quiche is the crust.  I generally use my basic pie crust recipe as the starting point, but since a quiche doesn’t require a top crust I’ll just whip up a half-sized batch.

Cut a half-cup of vegetable shortening into 1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour and a pinch of salt, until you’ve got a crumbly mixture with no big clumps of shortening.  At this point, since quiche is a savoury dish, you may want to add a few herbs — I like to toss in a sprinkling of dried Italian herbs for visual interest and a bit of a flavour-hit in the crust.  Sprinkle cold water in, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough just comes together into a slightly-crumbly ball.  Refrigerate the dough for 15 minutes or so before rolling out into the bottom of your pie dish (or a round cake pan will do, if you want a deeper quiche with a more straight up-and-down edge — a springform pan will allow you to make a deep-dish quiche without the difficulty of removing it at the end).

Alternatively, you can either use a store-bought crust, or puff pastry.  Either is perfectly acceptable (although everyone should really make a scratch-made crust at some point in their life).

 

The Filling

As I’ve already mentioned, you can put pretty much anything you like into a quiche.  Meat should be pre-cooked (for today’s quiche, I browned the sausage & some onions in a frying pan for the filling), but vegetables can be either cooked or raw — I tend to prefer raw veggies, since they retain more of their individual flavour and texture within the cooked quiche.  Frozen veggies are perfectly acceptable, here — just give them a rinse to get rid of the “freezer taste”.  Dark green veggies like broccoli, asparagus, and spinach are classic quiche ingredients, but don’t feel limited; use whatever you like.

Leftovers are a great option for quiche, so this is the perfect place to use up the last bits from your roast or chicken dinner.

Depending on the texture you prefer, you can use large or small pieces in your filling.  I like the texture & flavour variations provided by using larger pieces of veggies, but it’s entirely up to you.  Smaller bits will give a more uniform flavour throughout the dish.

quiche filling

Where I differ from many classic quiche recipes is that I like there to be a LOT of stuff in my quiche.  While custard is delicious, I prefer to add just barely enough egg & cream to hold the whole thing together, to make a more hearty meal.  So as you can see in the photo, I fill my dish right up.  Meat, veggies, and plenty of cheese, with just a few little spaces in-between for the egg to fill.  Putting the majority of the cheese on top (use any kind you like; my quiche today has a combination of Parmesan and sharp Cheddar) makes for a nice toasted, crispy top that both looks and tastes delightful.

 

The Custard

The defining ingredient of quiche is, of course, the custard.  Thoroughly beating the eggs is important to getting a nice, fluffy texture on your finished product.  For my 9″ pie pan, I use 3 eggs and about a cup of cream (5-10%, although whole milk will do if you’re concerned about fat content).  Add your herbs & spices to your custard — salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika (be generous with the paprika) are my usual “basic” mix, and then I’ll add other spices to compliment whatever filling I’m using.  Chili spice or cayenne for a spicier meal, parsley & sage to go with chicken, rosemary with beef, dill & thyme with fish — or, like today, a generous scoop of curry powder to compliment my pork sausage.  Make sure the herbs & spices are thoroughly mixed in, then pour your custard mix slowly over top of the filling in the pie shell.  A few light taps on the side of the pie pan will make sure that the custard has filled up all the holes between the filling.

quiche before baking

Note that your quiche should not look particularly “full” of custard at this point.  It will puff up during cooking — if the pie pan is full to the brim, you’ll get spillover as things cook.  You can see in the pictures that mine looks quite “shy” before going in the oven, but once things are cooked the eggs have puffed up to fill the remaining space.

Cooking, Serving, Storing, and Re-Heating

In an oven heated to 375 Fahrenheit, bake your quiche for about 40 minutes (until the crust is golden-brown).  Once you take it out, let it sit for 5 minutes or so before serving — this will let the custard solidify a bit more, and make it easier to slice & serve.

quiche toasty cheese

I like my quiche with a bit of hot sauce on top, or occasionally a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  If you’re feeling decadent, you can drizzle on a bit of hollandaise.  A 9″ pie pan makes about 4 servings.  A bit of salad on the side rounds out the meal, but certainly isn’t necessary.

Quiche will keep wonderfully for 3-4 days in the fridge — wrap tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, or store in an airtight container, to prevent it from drying out.  Or you can divide it into portions & freeze for 2-3 months.

Reheating is best done in an oven or toaster oven, to maintain the crisp & flaky crust.  If you’ve frozen your quiche, reheat it directly from frozen, don’t thaw it out first.  If you’ve just been keeping it in the fridge, it should only take about 10 minutes to be heated through & ready to eat.

Microwaving is faster, but your crust will get soggy.  3-5 minutes should do, depending on your particular microwave.

You can also eat quiche without reheating, which is often what I’ll do at lunch time.

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Pesto; Pistou; Pasta

Posted in Recipes with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2011 by KarenElizabeth

One of the greatest challenges of living alone is the simple fact that it’s often hard to motivate oneself to prepare delicious meals when there is no one else to impress.  The rewards of gourmet cooking are decidedly reduced when there’s no one ooh-ing and ahh-ing over your hard-wrought creations … and of course, cooking from scratch takes a lot more work and produces a lot more dishes than just simply throwing a frozen pizza into the oven.

Another trouble with cooking for one is that most things simply aren’t sold in single-sized portions.  Buying just one nice chicken breast, pound for pound, is two or three times the cost of purchasing an entire chicken.  And a lot of vegetables simply don’t come in smaller sizes — a bunch of celery is a bunch of celery is a bunch of celery, and damn that’s a lot of celery for just one person to eat before it goes limp.

Now, there are a lot of different solutions to these problems.  Cooking larger meals and then freezing the leftovers, buying frozen vegetable mixes to introduce more variety without having to buy a dozen different things, and making use of odds and ends in simple one-pot meals are all options that many of us single-types employ.  But one solution that I’ve found particularly useful, and somehow it doesn’t seem to be on most people’s lists of shortcuts, is the magic of sauces and spreads.

Making a large batch of, say, pasta sauce, is an easy way to use up vegetables before they go bad, and it also provides you with easily stored leftovers that can be re-heated and served very quickly.  In the 10-15 minutes it takes to boil water and prepare pasta, you can take a serving of sauce from the freezer, to a pan, and have it nice and warm by the time the pasta reaches al dente.  And there’s no need to get bored of eating the same thing all week long, because in the freezer the sauce will keep well for a month or two, allowing you to spread out your meals.  The same goes for many different sauces and spreads — even things that can’t be frozen can often be stored in the fridge or preserved in canning jars, in order to last much longer than the raw ingredients would on their own.

One of the fruit & vegetable shops near my house sells large bunches of fresh herbs for really excellent prices, but generally an entire bunch is much more than I could possibly use in a week.  I have a particular love, though, for fresh basil, and this week I just couldn’t resist picking up a bundle.  Enter: the magic of sauces and spreads.

Image by Paul Goyette, used under Creative Commons license

One of the ways in which most people are introduced to basil is through pesto, a popular spread with its roots in Genoa, northern Italy.  Pesto’s popularity is a testament to its deliciousness, and you might be surprised to find out just how easy it is to make:  a traditional pesto contains only 5 ingredients.  Fresh basil is ground up with pine nuts, garlic, a little bit of coarse salt, and some Parmesan cheese.  Sometimes olive oil is added to improve the consistency.  The ratios of various ingredients may change (the Internet is full of “secret recipes” for the “perfect” pesto), but the basic method remains the same.  Put it all together in a food processor, blend until smooth, and serve over noodles or spread on fresh bread (or add it to other dishes).

I’m not actually a particular fan of pine nuts, and so I tend to make the less-well-known French version: pistou.  Pistou is even simpler to prepare, being prepared only with basil, garlic, salt, and olive oil.  Sometimes cheese is added, but I prefer to leave it out — I’ll generally add cheese to the dish later, if I want it.  Pistou goes extremely well with goat cheese, feta, Swiss cheese, or just a simple Canadian cheddar.

The ratio that I use in preparing my pistou is:

  • 2 cups roughly chopped fresh basil
  • 8 to 10 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp coarse sea salt (you can leave the salt out if you’re looking to monitor the sodium in your diet, but remember to add a touch of salt in later if you’re going to be using it on its own or in a dish that doesn’t already contain salt, as this does enhance and round out the flavour).

Start with a smaller amount of olive oil, and add more as things are blending if you find that the food processor is having trouble integrating it all into a paste.  I find that the amount of oil used can vary quite a bit, depending on factors like the moisture content of the basil and the humidity of the air.  The final result should be about 1 to 1-1/4 cups of fragrant, delicious pistou, ready to be used as-is (it’s delicious spread on fresh bread), or combined into other things.  Store your pistou in an airtight container, and it should keep in the fridge for a month, or freeze it in an ice-cube tray and then keep frozen (in a ziplock bag, to prevent freezer burn) for up to three months.

Ideas for using your pistou include:

  • Add a tablespoon of pistou and some grated cheese to warm pasta for a delicious, quick lunch or dinner.
  • Alternatively, make a pasta salad by adding pistou and fresh lemon juice to cold cooked noodles.
  • Add a tablespoon or two worth of pistou to cream or cheese sauces for extra zing
  • Put a teaspoon of pistou inside a stuffed chicken breast with bacon, asparagus and asiago cheese for something fancy and delicious — this is a meal I use when I really want to impress somebody, as most people get really excited about food-stuffed-inside-other-food.
  • Add a bit of pistou to a creamy risotto dish for extra flavour.
  • A scoop of pistou in a vegetable or chicken soup adds a nice hit of flavour and some pretty green flecks (this is a very traditional way of using pistou in Provence; pistou soup is usually prepared with summer vegetables and spaghetti noodles)
  • A tablespoon of pistou, a tablespoon of whole-grain mustard, a splash of lemon juice, and a cup of olive oil (well-shaken) makes an easy and delicious salad dressing.
  • Add a generous amount of pistou to some sour cream, cream cheese, or greek yogurt  to make a yummy dip.
  • Add pistou to a hummus spread for a non-traditional flavour.