Monday, July 21, 2008

Puff-Pastry Quiche Lorraine

I just spent the weekend eating in Charleston. Sure, we did other things like shop and lay out on the beach and play Celebrity 2-Word Tango with only musicians for an hour on the way home while translating rap lyrics into non-rap language, but we mostly ate and drank our way around Charleston. Let's just say that by the time we had our lunch of "fried" on Sunday afternoon, calorie content had stopped mattering completely, and we were hoping that some combination of fried pickles, fried shrimp, french fries, and fried flounder would absorb some of the leftover liquor that was probably in our systems and give us enough energy to make it home.

So, I resolved to try to eat healthy foods this week, and to make it to the gym. I didn't really accomplish either of those things today. Nor did I work on the proposal. Last time I tried to work on it, I sat there for 20 minutes, stared at it, and cried a little bit. If you've ever written a dissertation, you understand. It is kinda funny.

Dinner tonight ended up being healthy in that it used romaine hearts, spinach, and eggs. It was unhealthy in that it used eggs, a large amount of cheese, puff pastry, heavy cream, and pork fat, in solid and liquid form. I came up with:

Puff-Pastry Quiche Lorraine and Hearts of Romaine Salad with Dijon-Bacon Vinaigrette

For the quiche:
1 sheet frozen puff-pastry, thawed
4 eggs
about 1/2-3/4 cup milk (I didn't measure)
couple of tablespoons of heavy cream
1 10 oz package frozen spinach, thawed and liquids squeezed out
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt & pepper to taste
dash of nutmeg
3 strips bacon, cooked on the stove top and crumbled, bacon drippings reserved

Preheat oven to 350. Unfold puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and roll with rolling pin until stretched large enough to fit a pie plate. In a 9 inch pie plate sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, arrange the sheet of puff pastry, on the bottom and up the sides, mashed into the plate gently.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, cream, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in cheeses. Stir in spinach. Pour in prepared pie dish, and top with freshly grated parmesan. Bake for 35 minutes, cool for 10 before eating.

Dijon-Bacon Vinaigrette

Drippings from 3 slices of cooked bacon (about 2 tablespoons of rendered bacon grease)
2 teaspoons (approximately) Dijon mustard
2 Tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

Whisk ingredients together, pour over salad.

This was by far the best quiche I've ever made. It tasted like it had butter in it, and there was no butter except for what was in the puff pastry. The bacon added a nice crunch, and it was more spinach/cheese than egg, which I loved. The puff pastry got nice and crispy on the top, providing an adequate and flaky crust. Next time, I think I will make my own crust, or just pour it in a pre-bought pie crust.

The dressing was my first attempt at using bacon grease for anything, really. It did not disappoint! I considered using maple instead of honey, but I have a severe honey fetish, hence the use of it in the dressing. The white wine vinegar really balanced out the flavors nicely. I would have used red wine vinegar, but I think the bottle I have has gone rancid.

More posts later about the Charleston trip - especially about the deconstructed bruschetta that Veganne created for dinner last night. We have pictures. MMMMM.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Curried Chicken Salad

Without question, my all-time favorite band is the Dave Matthews Band. I was slightly obsessed with them back a few years ago, and I still love them, know all the words to all their songs, and see them live at least once a year. DMB concert day is kind of like Christmas to me; I always have a great time, they never disappoint musically, and I leave feeling inspired by all the positive energy that radiates from thousands of people dancing and singing together, all getting along, for 2 1/2 hours, sharing a night of incredible music.

Dave (Milam, not Matthews) was my date to the show, and we got there early enough to do some pre-event tailgating. Call us cheap, but beer is $10 a pop inside the stadium, and the only food options are incredibly unhealthy and equally as expensive, so I packed us a picnic that we ate out of my trusty cooler sitting on the back of the CR-V. I intended to serve Giada's Antipasto Salad as a main course since it involved no mayo and seemed substantial, but I was not crazy about the taste of it after I'd created it. Of course, I did add honey to the dressing, probably didn't put enough Dijon in there, and added artichokes and more roasted red peppers and left out turkey. Either way, unsatisfied with that as a main course, I whipped up a chicken salad to bring along as well.

Curried Chicken Salad (for two servings)
1/4 cup mayo
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon curry powder
juice of half a lemon
one chicken breast, cooked and diced (I prefer to roast mine in a soy sauce bath)
handful of chopped pecans
1 celery stalk, diced
small handful of dried pineapples, chopped (or fresh pineapples, diced)
couple of tablespoons of craisins
couple of tablespoons of raisins

In a bowl, whisk together first 4 ingredients. This will be the dressing - taste it, and adjust seasonings using salt/pepper or adding more of either of the dressing ingredients based on your personal taste. Stir in the diced ingredients, chill, and serve with a crusty baguette, in a pita, or on any sort of bread/cracker.

This salad is amazing because you can put whatever you have in the fridge as part of the salad. My dressing is the only thing that stays the same when I make this time after time - that, and the addition of chicken. This is a great way to use leftover chicken. Other ingredients that are yummy here are grapes, apples, or even oranges. I originally found this recipe in "Calling All Cooks," an old-lady cookbook that was put together by the phone company years ago as a compilation of recipes from women who referred to themselves as "Mrs. So and So" instead of "First Name, Last Name." The original recipe called for just about a half jar of mayo, which was too much for me, and I found out you can reduce the mayo amount drastically and still form enough dressing.

Those two salads, with crusty bread and brownies for dessert, made a perfect little picnic dinner.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Raspberry Lemon Drop

You know, people don't share often enough the things they try in the kitchen that just don't work out. Take, for instance, my first attempt at making, step by step, an actual recipe with no substitutions, something from Mastering the Art of French Cooking - Julia Child's masterpiece cookbook. Last night, still on a high from submitting a draft of a proposal and secretly hoping my advisor never gives it back to me so I don't have to look at it ever again, I decided to be brave by cooking a fish dish, and a fancy one at that. My bacon wrapped scallops turned out well; I should not be so afraid of the fishes.

I attempted the very French technique of poaching fish fillets in white wine and water. I followed, to the letter, Julia's instructions on how to do so, following a variation of the master recipe that included a sautee of mushrooms, carrots, onion, and carrot julienne, baked with a cream sauce made with the poaching liquid, cream, butter, and flour, topped with swiss cheese and dots of butter. Sounds amazing and simple, right? For some reason, I hated it. I loved the sauce - could have stuck a straw in it and drank it - but hated the dish. Dave said it was the celery that threw the flavors off. I think it may have been the cod. For whatever reason, I couldn't eat more than 5 bites, which was truly a shame considering I invested about 2 hours of my life on the dish, counting prep time, cook time, studying the recipe time, and cleanup.

If you know me, you know that I don't handle failure very well at all. And I saw dinner last night as a failure; subsequently, it ruined my night and put me in the foulest of moods for the remainder of the evening. Bless his heart, Dave tried to make it a learning experience, and help me articulate what it was that went wrong and what I learned from whatever mistake I made. I was having none of it. I think I gave him "a look." I just wanted to reheat my pizza and sulk and forget about white wine poached fish fillets, no matter how amazing they sounded or their sauce tasted.

Anyway. The last huge kitchen failure I had involved tilapia, that were supposed to be sauteed and ended up inedible. The one before that involved coconut shrimp, and I think I scared Jonathan from ever wanting to come over for dinner again. Let me say it here, now, I cannot cook a fish to save my life. There was one stellar performance involving Paula Deen's parmesan tilapia a few weeks ago, and the great scallops dinner, but that's about it over the course of my culinary adventures. Other things I consistently fail upon attempting in the kitchen are: biscuits, chocolate & biscuits especially, yeast breads, and bread puddings (including French toast). I don't get what I'm doing wrong in these areas; they just don't work for me. I think that there should be a once-weekly show on Food Network where they showcase the chefs making things that fail. This would truly make the home cook feel better about her accidents, mistakes, and shortcomings in the kitchen, and I bet it would be quite a learning experience as well. Instead of showing us what we do right, why not focus on what happens when things go wrong, and how to bounce back from such a disaster?

So tonight, I had to make up for last night's lackluster dinner performance. I made a version of Giada's Steak Salad, keeping the steak, cheese, and vinaigrettes but placing them atop a bed of bagged greens, adding toasted walnuts and caramelized onions (and I don't like blue cheese so I swapped out goat cheese crumbles on mine). For dessert, we have Giada's limoncello cheesecake squares. And, *finally* I was able to create a martini involving limoncello that is chuggable. Cause, you know, that's how I like my martinis.

Raspberry Lemon Drop
1 oz limoncello
1 oz cranberry juice cocktail
1 splash vodka
1 splash raspberry vodka
1/2 Tablespoon lime simple syrup (which is just 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, and zest of one lime combined together over medium high heat until the sugar dissolves, then chilled)

Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with crushed ice. Shake vigorously, strain into a sugar rimmed martini glass.

Dave actually came up with the name, and the drink tastes like summer. It is pink and pretty and delicious. Very refreshing after a day of painting, laying out, cleaning, and cooking.