Mushroom and Leek Quiche

Take a leek.

Being able to make that joke each and every time I make this may in fact be the only reason I like leeks. It’s hard to dislike food that so easily lends itself to 12-year-old humor. In fairness to the leek, though, this is quite good even without the lame jokes. Leeks are milder and sweeter than onions, and are a great way to impart an onion-like flavor without the tears and inevitable halitosis. They also contain less of the sulfur compounds that make onions difficult for some people to digest, and thus make a good substitute for people who don’t tolerate them well. And that is why the leek shall inherit the earth.

Okay then. Now that I’ve indulged my insatiable need to pun, let’s move on. This quiche is a weeknight staple for us – although the total prep-and-cook time is close to an hour and a half, it’s easy and extremely satisfying. And I’m saying this as somebody who isn’t really a quiche person – my general rationale is along the lines of “if you’re going to throw a bunch of eggs together and call it dinner, why not make an omelet and save us all the hassle?” But this isn’t a quivering three-inch-high egg pile like some quiches. The rich flavors of the roasted mushrooms and leeks are the real stars here – the eggs just quietly hold it all together. Serve with a simple green salad and as many bad leek puns as you can think of.

Mushroom and Leek Quiche
1 pound mushrooms, quartered or diced (I use a combination of cremini, shiitake, and portabello)
1 bunch leeks, washed and sliced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup half and half or milk
1.5 cups grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese (about 4 ounces)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme (or 2 teaspoons dried)
3 eggs
1 9-inch pie crust
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Combine mushrooms, leeks, salt, pepper, and olive oil in a large bowl and toss to combine, making sure everything is well coated with the oil. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes. Return to bowl and stir in cheese.

Prick pie shell with fork and prebake for 10-12 minutes or until slightly browned. Remove and lower oven temperature to 350 F.

Lightly beat eggs in a medium bowl. Add the half and half and thyme, and more salt and pepper to taste. Spread mushroom mixture into the pie pan in an even layer and pour half-and-half/egg mixture on top. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until lightly browned and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.


Homemade Creme Fraiche

Creme fraiche, in case you’re not fluent in French like I am, translates roughly to “outrageously overpriced soured dairy product.” In its pure form, by definition, it is nothing more than unpasteurized cream left to culture at room temperature for anywhere from a few hours to several days. Yum, right? But it’s actually kind of amazing. It has a hint of nuttiness and a bright tang, and is perfect in all of its many applications – it makes a great pan sauce because it doesn’t break down and curdle like milk or regular cream, it can be sweetened and whipped to be dolloped on fresh berries, or it can be added to mashed potatoes for a rich flavor that buttermilk can’t quite hit. But since we’re in Amurrka, you can’t just buy unpasteurized cream and let it sit out all willy nilly – you have to either go buy a 6 ounce container of premade creme fraiche for approximately one zillion dollars, or you have to culture it yourself.

Anyone who knows me can vouch for the fact that I have an iron gut and a fearless appetite. I’d be proud of that, if it wasn’t for the fact that those qualities are born entirely from a pathological hatred of wasting food. I eat week-old leftovers, I stretch the five second rule beyond recognition, and I consider expiration dates to be merely arbitrary suggestions. And yet even I found myself cringing in mild disgust at the idea of setting a jar of heavy cream on my radiator and letting it just sit there. Intellectually, I understand how it works – yogurt and buttermilk are staples in my kitchen – but there’s just something about watching a jar full of souring dairy sweating and culturing right in front of you that just seems like an intimate evening with the porcelain god waiting to happen. On top of that, if you’ve ever bought creme fraiche at the store, you’ll be concerned about how you’ll be able to mix the ingredients without the arm and leg you left at the cash register. But I can honestly tell you that this will be the easiest recipe I’ll ever post, and it has a lot of upsides:

1. People will think you’re some sort of domestic genius when you tell them you made your own creme fraiche.
2. You can put the money you save in your kids’ college funds, or just use it to buy something frivolous online.
3. It tastes like the patron saint of dairy descended from the heavens and laid his hands upon it.
4. It has zero calories (okay, this is just a lie. A huge, huge lie).

Creme Fraiche
2 cups heavy cream (not ultrapasteurized, if possible)
3 Tbsp buttermilk
No, seriously. That’s it.

Pour heavy cream into a glass jar. Stir in buttermilk. No, seriously. That’s it. If your kitchen is dust and bug proof, leave uncovered. If you’re a normal person, cover with a paper towel and secure with a rubber band. The good bacteria you’re cultivating needs to breathe, so you don’t want an airtight lid. Put the jar in a warm place until thickened – this can take anywhere from 12 to 36 hours. I have trouble finding cream that’s not ultrapasteurized, so I often leave mine for 36.

Refrigerate for up to two weeks. Your creme fraiche will continue to thicken and culture in the fridge and will only get more delicious with time. Enjoy on fresh berries, in pasta sauces, or in giant heaping spoonfuls applied directly to your mouth.

Roasted Tofu with Wasabi Dipping Sauce

I might need to rename this blog. I’m starting to see a theme. I wonder if “” is already taken. First the brussels sprouts, and now tofu – maybe next time we’ll tackle lima beans.

Tofu and I do not go way back. When I attempted vegetarianism as a teenager, I successfully cut out meat from my diet; however, in doing so, I also invented an entirely new dietary classification known as “pizzatarian.” I wanted nothing to do with anything remotely healthy, let alone anything that contained the words “fermented” and “soybean.” I did suck down an alarming amount of processed fake meat (the creepy bacon that even has the fake fat marbling), but that was as close as I got to tofu until a few years ago.

At some point I will post the tofu recipe that won me over. This is the recipe that’s won a lot of other tofu skeptics over, though, and it’s so good and so deliciously simple that you should really probably make it tonight. The high-temperature roast gives the tofu the pleasing texture of the deep-fried tofu you often see in restaurants, without the fat and grease. The outside is perfectly browned and crispy, the inside chewy and soft. And with a side of wasabi dipping sauce, it’s nothing less than addictive. Pop out a plate in the afternoon as a quick snack, or serve for dinner with broccoli and rice. And enjoy – if I’d known how to make this in high school, Mama Celeste pizza would’ve gone out of business.

Roasted Tofu with Wasabi Dipping Sauce
For the tofu:
1 package extra firm tofu (not silken)
4 tsp olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper (freshly ground, if possible)

For the dipping sauce:
4 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp rice vinegar
1/8 tsp prepared wasabi
1 tsp sesame oil

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray.

Cube the tofu into 1 inch squares. In a large bowl, toss with salt, pepper, and oil, coating evenly. Toss the cubes in a single layer on the baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the tofu cubes over and roast for an additional fifteen minutes, until outsides are browned and puffy.

While the tofu is roasting, combine all ingredients for the dipping sauce in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Serve tofu warm or at room temperature.

Cranberry Orange Muffins

There are two things I always seem to have around: dried cranberries (because I impulsively bought a five pound bag at Sam’s Club last year) and at least one pathetic-looking orange that I bought weeks ago with the best intentions of juicing/zesting/otherwise providing with a good home. And you know the saying – when life hands you a pathetic-looking, abandoned orange, make cranberry-orange muffins.

I first tried this recipe a few months ago when a good friend had her first baby. I was trying to fill her freezer for the next week or two while she adjusted to life with a newborn, and had already made cupcakes, peanut butter chocolate chip muffins, pizza, and mac and cheese – I was down to staple ingredients and a few stray pieces of produce in my fridge, but I was on a roll and didn’t want to quit yet. After digging out my steadfast sad orange and a bag of dried cranberries, I went looking for the perfect cranberry orange muffin recipe and found it on the first try. These are truly divine – they’re perfectly sweet, balanced by a lovely contrast of tartness from the sour cream and zesty orange topping, and they freeze beautifully for a quick and easy breakfast down the road. I can tell you that since I found this recipe, I have far fewer oranges languishing in the bottom of my produce drawer – and these muffins are even better with new, happy oranges.

Cranberry Orange Muffins
Yield: 12 standard-size muffins

For the Muffins:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/4 cups sour cream
3/4 cup dried cranberries

For the Glaze:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange juice

For the Orange-Sugar Topping:
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.

Make the glaze and orange-sugar topping: Combine 1/2 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon orange zest in a small bowl and set aside. In a small saucepan, combine 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup orange juice. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thickened and syrupy.

Make the muffins: Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and stir to combine.

In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), beat the egg, sugar, and orange zest together at medium speed until combined and thickened. Add the cooled melted butter and sour cream in separate additions at low speed until just combined. Add the flour and beat at low speed until combined. Fold in the cranberries with a rubber spatula.

Divide batter into prepared muffin tin. Fill cups 1/2 – 2/3 full. Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for five minutes. Brush the top of each muffin generously with the sugar/orange juice glaze, then dip into the orange-sugar topping. Serve, and pat yourself on the back for not having to throw your sad orange away.

Source: Barely adapted from Bakingdom

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

roasted brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts get a bad rap (rightfully so, for the most part). If you’ve ever been assaulted by the distinctly unpleasant aroma of a giant boiling pot of them, you know why. These tiny little cabbages share the unfortunate smell of their larger family members when prepared in the conventional way (boiling, steaming). But when you crank up the oven, toss them with some olive oil, salt, and pepper and let them slow-cook in that dry heat? Oh, that smell seems like a bad dream that couldn’t possibly come from these crunchy little morsels. The edges caramelize and bring out the natural sweetness (I know!! I didn’t know it was there either!), and the outer leaves detach when tossed on the baking sheet, forming salty, potato-chip like bites that you just may end up frantically shoveling into your mouth over the hot oven before anyone sees you.

I was an immediate convert from the moment I first had brussels sprouts prepared this way, to the point where I actually crave them. And I’ve witnessed lifelong brussels sprout haters widen their eyes in happy surprise after trying one (maybe after I virtually forced one down their throats, but that’s not important). Give them a shot, especially right now, when they’re in high season and you can buy them right on the stalk. You won’t regret it.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
1 lb brussels sprouts (raw or frozen)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Grated parmesan cheese (optional)
Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Trim off the very end of the sprouts and pull off any outer leaves that have yellowed. Cut in half (or quarters if sprouts are larger than ping-pong ball size).

Toss in a large bowl with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Shake sprouts in a single layer onto a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast for 30-40 minutes or until tender and dark brown on edges, tossing halfway through. Sprinkle with grated parmesan (if using) and serve.

Portabella Steaks

There’s something about the first juicy, toothsome bite of a portabella mushroom that truly is reminiscent of meat. I never understood this and didn’t give it much thought until I learned about umami (disclaimer: I’m about to be a big nerd).

Umami is the fifth taste category that the human taste buds can discern – the one that doesn’t fit neatly into the previously defined sweet/sour/salty/bitter packages. Translated simply, it means “delicious,” but the umami flavor is generally defined as meaty, robust, or savory. Umami’s discoverer, Japanese researcher Kikunae Ikeda, identified the broken down form of the amino acid glutamate (L-glutamate) as the source of the umami taste. Guess what’s super-rich in glutamate and hence, really delicious when cooked? Yep – mushrooms. This is why mushrooms are so often used as a meat substitute, and why the texture and mouthfeel of a grilled portabella is so very steaky.

Got all that? Okay, now you can forget it, because you’re not going to be thinking about glutamate or taste buds or century-old Japanese research when you make this. You’re just going to be thinking about how something so quick and easy could possibly be this good. We had these with roasted asparagus and fresh watercress on the side, and the entire thing went from grocery bag to table in under 45 minutes. Not too shabby for umami.

Portabella Steaks
1 ½ lbs whole portabella mushrooms (about 6)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the broiler or fire up your grill. Or, if you’re me, put a grill pan on your stove and coat it with an equal mixture of Pam and your own tears, because you don’t own a grill and your oven is so old that the broiler is actually a drawer underneath the stove that licks tongues of hungry flames upon your food as soon as you open it, charring it beyond recognition and causing a cringing Pavlovian response every time someone says “broil.”

Place the mushrooms in a large, shallow dish (either a large baking dish or rimmed baking sheet will work well) Combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, and parsley in a bowl and mix well. Pour over mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Marinate for 30 minutes, turning once.

Place the mushrooms on a grill grate (or aforementioned grill pan) or broiler pan (gill side down if grilling, gill side up if broiling) and cook for 4-6 minutes per side. The mushrooms should give off some of their natural liquid and be mostly firm to the touch. Serve hot.

Source: adapted from Williams Sonoma

Let’s Start With a Drink: Watermelon-Thyme Cocktail

Whenever I have people over (rare, since my apartment is approximately the size of the a shoebox), the first thing I do is offer them a drink. Aren’t you sad that I can’t have people over more often? Me too. But since this is my first post here, I can’t think of a better way to start than with a cocktail.

Since I can’t have people over much, I often do the next best thing, which is to go to my friends’ homes and have them offer me cocktails. I had this particular one at a get-together at my friend Wendy’s home, and loved it so much that I made it at least three times over the ensuing months, twice for parties and once for no occasion at all. I’m not normally a tequila drinker, but found that the watermelon and simple syrup gave it a pleasing sweetness that muted the tequila’s…well, tequila face factor (you know what I’m talking about. We all have a picture from college that someone impeccably timed while we were taking a tequila shot. Um, right?). And though I haven’t tried it yet, I’m certain that vodka would make a more than suitable replacement. Cheers!

Watermelon-Thyme Cocktail
Yield: about 6 healthy pours
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup water
2 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
6 cups diced watermelon, seedless or seeds removed
1 cup ice
3/4 cup tequila (or vodka)
2 Tbsp orange liqueur (we used Triple Sec)
Fresh thyme sprigs (to garnish)

First, make the simple syrup. Combine sugar and 1/4 cup of the water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir frequently to dissolve the sugar. When boiling, remove from heat, add thyme, and stir for 1 minute. Let cool.

Place the watermelon, 1 cup water, and ice in a blender on high for 2 minutes or until smoothly pureed. Add cooled simple syrup, tequila, and orange liqueur and blend until thoroughly combined. Pour into martini or margarita glasses and garnish with thyme sprigs.
Source: Adapted from Chef Marcela’s Mexican Made Easy.