Monday, September 26, 2005

Spinach & Gruyere Quiche

Originally uploaded by rachelita2.
I've been having a craving for quiche lately. I wanted to see if I could make one myself, and despite the potential intimidation factor of producing a successful pie crust, I didn't want to buy one. Not that I have anything against them, but I wanted to try doing everything from scratch before I start adding shortcuts.

I found a recipe on Epicurious for Easy Pie crust, which I made a few hours ahead of time. With the food processor, it was easy: I blended together 1 1/3 cups flour, 6 tablespoons butter, cut up, 2 Tblsp. shortening, a teaspoon of sugar and a half teaspoon of salt. When it formed crumbs, I added three tablespoons of ice water through the feeder until it all clumped together. I then dumped it on a large piece of plastic wrap, flattened it into a disk, and refrigerated it for an hour. It took less than ten minutes to do this.

The trick was rolling it out, and it was a bit unwieldy. I took the dough out first and let it soften for about ten minutes, then rolled it out on a floured surface until it was big enough to fit in a pie dish that I'd coated with cooking spray. I fitted it in, then folded the edges over, pre-baking it for 7 minutes in a 375 degree oven. This is necessary because otherwise the crust might become soggy under the weight of wet ingredients. I tried weighting the empty crust down with a piece of tin foil coated with cooking spray and some rice, then had the mishap of the rice getting stuck in the dough when I tried to remove the foil.

It came out alright, though. You could skip all that and just buy a frozen crust instead.

As for the quiche itself, after reading many, many recipes for quiche, I began to realize that quiche is infinitely variable and that you can substitute at will for whatever ingredients you might want for a weeknight meal. Again following a couple recipes, one from epicurious, I decided upon the following ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter
1 vidalia onion, chopped
1 10 ounce bag fresh spinach
1/2 cup grated gruyere
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano
4 eggs (or 2 eggs and 1/2 cup egg substitute)
1/2 cup lowfat ricotta (could also use cottage cheese)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Melt the butter in a nonstick skillet, saute the onions until translucent. Then add the spinach little by little, until it cooks down and all its water evaporates. Remove from heat and cool slightly, adding spices-- salt, pepper and nutmeg. In a food processor, mix together eggs and ricotta. Add to cooled spinach mixture and mix in cheese. Pour into prepared pie crust, bake 45-50 minutes until set. It will be slightly moist in the middle, but resist the temptation to overcook.

The quiche was really delicious and smelled amazing while in the oven. I think I could accomplish it with a more beautiful crust next time, and I might try some feta for a little more bite, or some artichoke hearts. Or you could make it into a Tex-Mex-style quiche, adding cheeses like cheddar and monterey jack and canned chili peppers. Either way, I don't think it's possible to go wrong.


Originally uploaded by rachelita2.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

chicken with apple juice

This summer, while visiting with my friend Jenny in Morocco, she told me about a dish she often makes for her husband and daughter after a long day at work when she wants to pull something together quickly. I was intrigued when she said that apple juice could be a good substitute for wine in cooking, because I like to cook with wine but don't always have it on hand or want to open a bottle (One way around this is to buy those little mini bottles of wine, but this is another solution).

Basically, this recipe is infinitely variable and will turn out well no matter how you adjust it. What I did tonight: I took a rather large, boneless chicken breast and diced it up. Then I dredged it in flour, salt, pepper, and paprika, and sauteed it in a bit of fake butter (Smart Balance- ), browning it on all sides. I took the chicken out, and then in the same pan sauteed mushrooms, chopped onions, and garlic. When those softened, I put the chicken back in, added 3/4 cup apple juice and 3/4 cup chicken broth. I simmered it uncovered for 20 minutes, then added about a half teaspoon of dried tarragon. I let it cook another five minutes (it had cooked down considerably at this point), added salt and pepper to taste, then stirred in two small spoons of plain yogurt. It didn't separate, and my friend said you can use sour cream or cream if you prefer. I brought it to a boil and turned it off, serving it over mashed potatoes. It made a really nice, sweet & savory sauce.

This was comfort food at its best, but the sweet richness was reminiscent of a dish that used wine. I might use slightly less apple juice and slightly more chicken broth if I make it again, but it was still delicious...

I would like to develop an efficient repertoire of recipes that I cook whenever I'm tired from work and can't think of what to cook-- the kinds of recipes that are easy but taste good. The weekends can be for assembling elaborate lasagnas or complex desserts... Last year, while getting used to my first full-time teaching job, I was not very efficient about this-- I tended to get lost in cookbooks and magazines trying to decide what to make at the last minute, picking elaborate, time-consuming dishes, wasting time at the supermarket to get extra ingredients, and going to bed exhausted. This year, I've resolved to cut down on this inefficiency considerably...

Sunday, September 18, 2005

new Orlando restaurants

I've tried two restaurants recently, one new, one new to me. The one that's been around for awhile is Lupita's, which a number of people have mentioned is the closest thing we have here in Central Florida to authentic Mexican. It's in a strip mall, but once you're inside, you forget that fact with the colorful decor of bright primary colors. I tried chicken enchiladas with mole sauce, their signature dish, which was pretty good-- mole sauce is with chocolate*, for those who don't know. The dish was very complex and smoky, with just a hint of sweetness to take away the bitterness of the chocolate. We also had some chicken tamales, which were a good appetizer. It's the type of restaurant where the owner and his wife (wearing a traditional sort of house dress) wander around talking to customers throughout the evening, making sure everything is acceptable. I definitely found myself wanting to go back and try more of their dishes.

The other new place was a chain creation, but it was pretty good. Pei Wei owned by PF Chang's, and they call themselves an Asian diner. This isn't a very descriptive phrase-- it looks nothing like a diner inside, but in fact has a sleek, dark, and modern Asian decor. Unfortunately it's located on a stretch of Colonial Drive that is one of the blights of Central Florida-- close to a Target and a Payless shoe store, in an area characterized by discount furniture shops, auto detailing, car stereo shops, and roads that haven't been repaired since the Eisenhower era. But never mind that fact. Once you're inside, you forget about Colonial. Everything was very clean, and you can see the guys cooking your food in tremendous woks behind the counter. You place your order, sit at a table, and someone brings you the food, which I enjoyed very much. It is a big step up from the cheap Chinese places around here, meaning less greasy, no MSG, and a good ambience, all for about the same price. And they have more than just Chinese food on the menu-- Thai and Japanese cuisines are also represented. We had a terrific lo mein with chicken, with very sticky, slightly sweet noodles, crisp vegetables, and mushrooms. The spring rolls were also excellent-- perfectly fried, not greasy, and with each vegetable inside holding its integrity. Their version of "General Chu's" or General Tso's chicken was just OK-- less greasy than the strip mall version and nicely spicy, but nothing out of this world. I'll definitely go back, though. It's affordable and clean, and they also have beer, which is a nice extra.

*The combination of chocolate with sugar is a Western invention, related to the increased consumption of sugar after the discovery of the New World. Until that point, sugar was a rarity, something only the elites and royals could afford, but plantations and slave labor changed all that. Sugar cane was actually imported to the Caribbean; it wasn't indigenous. Until the late 18th century or so, sugar was used in medicine, in small quantities as a spice, or as a way for the wealthy to show off their wealth in giant sugar models they displayed at parties. All of these facts are courtesy of Sidney Mintz' wonderful study, Sweetness and Power.