The grand thing about cooking is you can eat your mistakes. -Julia Child

Monday, April 27, 2009

Spinach and Gouda Quiche with No-Roll Crust


As promised, AZEats recipe #2.

I like quiche a lot - how can you go wrong when there's eggs, cheese, and pastry involved?! But I have a confession to make. I used to use storebought crust. I just felt like my minikitchen with its two square feet of counter space wasn't conducive to rolling out dough. (I'm not exaggerating about the lack of space, either - my old apartment's counter was exactly 1 foot wide and 2 feet deep.) But after several weeks of eating processed premade pastry stuff for recipe constest entries, the last thing I wanted to do was bring some premade pie crust in my house. Plus I just got a brand new Pyrex pie plate that I needed to break in. So it was time to make my own crust.
But this recipe is for my friend, and I'm not going to make her roll out crust in her minikitchen, either. So - the hunt for a no-roll crust recipe began. Most recipes I found called for vegetable oil to be used, sometimes shortening, too. I wanted to stick with butter, so I kind of made up my own recipe. I also wanted to minimize the amount of dishes she (and me) had to wash, so this recipe can be made right in the pie dish. Pretty cool, no?

As for the selection of spinach and gouda, well - I tend to make broccoli quiches but wanted to branch out a bit so spinach it is (plus it has been on sale at the stores around me lately - notice a trend in my recipes?). And Gouda, well, my friend told me that she basically has available three kinds of cheese - something salty and white, something mellow and melty and yellow, and gouda. Gouda it is.

A quick preparation note - Gouda is fairly soft and might not shred well. Try freezing it for 30 minutes or so first to harden it up a bit. If the Gouda just crumbles - don't worry, that will work just fine. And note to anyone who tries to cheat and use the food processor to crumble the Gouda - just use the "pulse" setting and don't process it too long or you'll have something that looks like the inside of that nut-encrusted cheese & wine ball that is ubiquitous at parties... I learned this firsthand, yes. It still works in the recipe, just will require that you manually break it up into "pieces" so you don't have a giant blob of gouda in your quiche. Also - fluff up the flour a bit in the bag before using it. The reason a lot of baking recipes seem to work for one person and not for another is due to how flour can settle during shipping, causing one cup of flour used by one person to weigh a lot more (and thus contain a lot more flour) than someone else's. To combat this, stir the flour in the bag to fluff it, scoop out more than your measuring cup can hold, and then use the back of a table knife to push off the excess, taking care to not pack more flour in your cup than it naturally picked up. I will also give weight measurements for those of you with kitchen scales.

Spinach and Gouda Quiche with No-Roll Crust
by Me
Serves 4-6

No Roll Pie Crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (about 7.25 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 stick salted butter, melted (1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons milk (plus more if needed)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Add flour, salt, and sugar to your pie dish. Stir with a fork to evenly distribute the salt and sugar.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the melted butter. Stir to combine (this will be a sort of half-stir, half-mashing motion).
Add the milk a tablespoon at a time and stir. Mixture should have the appearance of large crumbs but be able to be molded almost like clay. Add up to another tablespoon of milk if needed.
Using your hands, gently press the mixture flat against the bottom and sides of the pie dish. It will seem like you won't have enough dough, but you will - extra dough hides in the corner between the bottom and sides so be sure and shape that area carefully.
Shape the top edges if you want to be fancy about it. (I just kind of did a quick semi-pinch thing.)
Using a table knife or fork, make about six small cuts in the bottom of the crust (to prevent air bubbles from forming under the crust).
Place an oven-safe plate on the inside of the crust to weigh it down (you can also cover the crust with foil and use about two cups of dried beans or rice to weigh it down).
Bake the empty crust for 20-25 minutes, or until edges are light golden brown.
Remove from oven and let cool.

Quiche filling:

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon salt (divided)

10 ounces fresh spinach, roughly chopped into 1 inch ribbons
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (divided)
3 large eggs
1 cup milk
6 ounces Gouda cheese, shredded or crumbled

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until beginning to soften. Stir in the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cook until onions are fully soft.
Add the spinach and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all the spinach has wilted. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs and milk together. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and the Gouda. Stir until combined. Stir in the spinach mixture.
Pour the egg and spinach mixture into the cooled pie crust, ensuring that the spinach is spread out evenly.
Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes, or until center of quiche is slightly firm to the touch, and a knife inserted in the center of the quiche reveals no uncooked egg.

Verdict? Really yummy. In fact, I can't wait to have the leftovers for lunch today! (I even ate some cold when I was preparing my lunch last night.) Seasoning the spinach well ensures that the seasoning is spread throughout the whole quiche (instead of getting lost in pockets of egg as happens with some quiche recipes that mainly have you season the egg mixture). Gouda's subtle tang is a good mix for the earthy spinach. And that crust? Nice and flaky and better than anything I'd have previously bought in a store. So it isn't perfectly thin and I totally lack the skills to make the edge pretty, but - I think you'll like it and appreciate the ease as well as the taste. Next time I'll try and press it out even a bit thinner, though. Isn't that cross-section pic with its spinach ribbons pretty?!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Intro to AZEats


So a good friend of mine is in the Peace Corps in Azerbaijan. I miss her lots, but admire her dedication and willingness to go quite out of her way to do good stuff for others.

Anyhow, a few days after I started this blog we were chatting and I asked her if there was anything I could send her from the U.S. Her request was not for stuff, but for recipes - in particular, recipes that could be made with the foods available where she is. I loved the idea, and thought it was a good way to kind of steer this blog in an actual direction from time to time as opposed to just random (but yummy!) recipes.

(Image above is of a market in Baku, Azerbaijan, taken by Flickr user LOOMstudio, used pursuant to Creative Commons license, and making me hungry for megastrawberries.)

So - look for recipes tagged with "AZEats"; those recipes contain only ingredients on the list of foods my friend said she has available. I'll also likely only select recipes that aren't terribly fussy; i.e., nothing that requires any special equipment or annoying preparation techniques.

I actually already have my first AZEats recipe posted, the carrot, spinach, and rice stew. Look for recipe #2 to be posted soon!

(Second image is of white cheese, I think of the same kind that my friend was telling me about. Taken by Flickr user Loomstudio.)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Carrot, Spinach, and Rice Stew


I spent the past weekend trying my hand at a few recipes for the Pillsbury Bake-Off. I've only entered a few recipe contests and have yet to win anything. I don't mind, though, as the contests provide me with motivation/inspiration to be more creative with my home cooking.

For the Pillsbury Bake-Off you have to use at least two of their products. That means that I've been eating way more than my fair share of breads, sweets, and other high calorie foods. "This week will be healthy eating week!" I declared at 4 AM Sunday night, after submitting one of my last recipes to the Bake-Off. Of course I follow that edict with a dinner out at my neighborhood Italian-ish joint for rigatoni with eggplant and a (probably not) healthy dose of smoked mozzarella.

But Tuesday night came. I was once again ready to set foot in my kitchen, and wanted something healthy to make. Enter this simple recipe. It is low-fat and low-calorie, having little more than veggies, rice, and vegetable stock as its ingredients. An online calorie counter estimates this recipe has 115 calories per serving - not bad, right? It is also pretty low cost, as spinach, carrots, and rice are all fairly cheap at the store, and you're making your own stock now, right?

Modifications from the original: Cardamom! I feel like I unearthed a secret by putting that in there. The original makes only loose suggestions for seasoning, suggesting cumin or dill, and a lemon finish. I opted for cumin as it is one of my favorites (and I'm still satiated with dill from the zucchini pancakes). The lemon juice squeeze at the end gave the stew a bit of tart brightness and the cardamom served as the perfect bridge between the cumin and the lemon. But try it for yourself and see! I also used brown rice and a bit less spinach because that's what I had on hand, and simmered everything in stock instead of water. The recipe also calls for a tablespoon of butter to be added at the end. The butter does help a bit, but it doesn't alter the flavor or mouth feel of the stew terribly much, so feel free to use olive oil in its place or omit the butter/oil entirely.

Carrot, Spinach and Rice Stew
Adapted from Mark Bittman
Serves 4

6 cups vegetable stock
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and chopped
Salt, to taste
1/2 cup rice (white or brown)
10 ounces spinach, roughly chopped (if using baby spinach, don't chop it)
3 small cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon salted butter
1 lemon

Bring the stock and carrots to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir in the rice and a pinch of salt. Return the mixture to a boil and then reduce heat so the mixture simmers. After about 15 minutes, add the spinach, garlic, and spices. Simmer another 15 minutes, or until the rice is fully cooked. Add the butter and taste for salt. Serve with a lemon wedge or top each bowl with a generous squeeze of lemon juice.

Verdict? Comforting, earthy yet tangy, simple goodness.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Zucchini Pancakes with Garlic-Yogurt Sauce


I kind of went overboard when shopping for veggies last week. I hadn't made the effort to go to the food coop where I usually buy my produce in a while, and then I found myself there twice in one week. I can't walk out of there without buying something green, so I wound up with an overflowing veggie crisper. The more delicate things got eaten first - the chard, the asparagus, salad greens, kale, peppers, eggplant. Finally the most durable-seeming vegetable of the ones I purchased last week was up to be cooked - zucchini.

I usually just saute zucchini with onion and garlic(mom-style) and call it a day, but I was in the mood for something a bit more fun. I also had some feta I purchased in the aforementioned trip to Astoria, and some dill I bought for another recipe. Those ingredients were all I needed to make something I'd seen a recipe for a few days prior - zucchini pancakes. A quick word about the feta - it was a very smooth, creamy feta. Still salty and tangy, but more delicate than all the feta I'd had before. I have to get more!

Okay, they weren't exactly all I needed, but they were the only things on the list that I don't always have on hand. This recipe comes by way of a New York Times column called "The Temporary Vegetarian"; it suited this permanent vegetarian quite nicely. Serve this Turkish-origin dish alongside a salad with vinaigrette dressing to make a complete dinner out of it, or just serve it alone with the yogurt dipping sauce as an appetizer.

Wine: I'm no expert on wine, so don't look to me for pairing recommendations for everything. However, I did visit my neighborhood wine shop and ask them to recommend something to go with this meal; their choice was so good I thought I'd share it with you: a 2007 GrĂ¼ner Veltliner from Theirry-Weber (Austria). The guy in the store described it as having unripe pear and white pepper notes. I often enjoy a glass of wine with a meal, but rarely does a pairing work out so well. The flavors of the wine enhanced the flavors of the meal and vice versa. So if you want to go all out - look for this and enjoy it with the pancakes! Okay, back to the food...

Modifications from the original: None really. Actually, I'll say to reduce the amount of garlic in the yogurt sauce because it is super garlicky. Also - I actually only had two zucchini on hand instead of the three the recipe calls for, so I scaled down the rest of the ingredients accordingly. It still worked beautifully. This recipe also gave me a chance to attempt to season my new cast iron skillet by pan frying in it - hurray!

Zucchini Pancakes

Adapted from
Serves 4 (about 12 pancakes)

3 medium zucchini, shredded (use your food processor, it is worth hauling it out)
freshly ground black pepper
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 scallions, finely chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
1 teaspoon baking powder
vegetable oil as needed

Preheat oven to 250.
Mix zucchini with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Place in a cheesecloth and squeeze to extract as much water as possible from the zucchini (volume will shrink to about half the original).
Beat eggs in a large mixing bowl. Add zucchini and stir well with a large fork.
Add flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, olive oil, feta, scallions, dill, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Stir well.
Stir in baking powder.
Add enough vegetable oil to a large skillet to cover the bottom. Heat over medium heat until oil is shimmering.
Place heaping tablespoons of the batter in the skillet and press with a spatula to pancake form, about 3/8 inch thick and 3 inches in diameter.
Fry until golden brown on one side, then flip and brown other side. Pancakes should be slightly crisp when done.
Remove pancakes from skillet and place on a paper towel lined plate. Keep plate in oven until all pancakes are ready to serve.
Top with Garlic-Yogurt sauce below.

Garlic-Yogurt Sauce
2/3 cup plain yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix ingredients together and serve on the side or on top of the pancakes.

Verdict? Full of flavor. There is a hefty dose of dill and scallion flavor, mixed wtih the more subtle earthiness of the zucchini and pulled together with just the right amount of tang from the feta. These were so good I ate the leftovers cold straight out of the refrigerator. Please do try them with the wine pairing listed above - you'll be happy you did!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spaghetti with Chard in Tomato Sauce


I first had chard when I was doing a summer study-abroad program in Spain. My host mother asked me if I liked "acelga." She repeated the word twice for me and I had nothing but a blank stare to give her in return. I went for my Spanish/English dictionary and looked up the word to see the translation as "swiss chard." That might as well have been in Spanish, too - I had no idea what it was. Thankfully my host mother was vegetarian like I am, so I knew the mystery chard was safe to eat. She prepared it as a fresh soup, if I recall correctly; simply pureed with a bit of garlic, olive oil, and salt. I enjoyed it. And I promptly forgot all about chard upon returning to the U.S.

Anyhow, back to the almost present. I'm a sucker for pretty colors, and the bright magenta, yellow, orange, white, and red stems of the chard caught my eye one day while walking through a farmer's market. This variety is apparently known as "rainbow chard." Attached to those stems were big, beautiful green leaves. I asked the guy running the stand how he recommended cooking the chard. His recommendation? Saute it and add it to spaghetti sauce. Two years later I'm still making chard this way. (Rainbow chard image taken by Flickr member Trillbilly, used pursuant to Creative Commons license.)

Chard season is not yet here, so expect to see another recipe or two using it in the future, and likely showcasing its rainbowy beauty better. This meal, however, is all about being simple, hearty, and comforting...oh yeah, and tasty.

There is a lot of flexibility with this meal. If you already have a favorite spaghetti sauce, then just add some chard to it and call it a day. You can saute it separately ahead of time and then add the cooked chard to the sauce, or add it raw. The advantage of cooking it separately is that you can give the chard more of its own flavor - you can make it garlicky, for example. The advantage of doing it all in one pot is fewer dishes to wash. I went with fewer dishes to wash, as this is supposed to be a simple meal. You can also use any kind of pasta you happen to have on hand; the heartiness and strong flavors of this preparation mean that the sauce can hold its own when served atop whole wheat pasta as well. One last note - I used fire roasted canned tomatoes; the fire-roasted tomatoes just add another layer of flavor to the whole thing. If you can find them, please try them, but just plain old tomatoes will work as well. I know this picture I have does the dish no justice, but here goes:

Spaghetti with Swiss Chard in Tomato Sauce
by Me

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1 25 oz can Fire Roasted Crushed Tomatoes (I recommend Muir Glen brand)
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon basil
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Add olive oil to a large skillet. Add the onion and garlic and cook over medium heat until softened, but before the garlic begins to brown.
Stir in 1/4 tsp salt.
Add tomatoes and herbs/spices. Stir. Cover and let simmer.
Meanwhile, wash the chard carefully and trim the stems. Cut the chard horizontally into 1/2-inch wide ribbons.
Create a well in the middle of the skillet and add the chard a bit at a time, allowing the previous batch to wilt before adding more. Once all the chard has been added and has cooked down a bit, stir to incorporate the chard throughout the sauce.
Cover and turn heat down to medium-low. Let simmer for an additional 10 minutes or so. You want the mixture to reach a nice thick consistency.
Remove bay leaves. Taste for salt; add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt if desired. Serve atop pasta of your choice.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lavender Tea Bread


I was in Astoria this past weekend for brunch with two friends. For those of you outside of NYC, Astoria is a neighborhood in the borough of Queens which has the largest population of Greeks in the city. On the way back to the subway we stopped at this great Greek market. The highlight of the store was the feta counter in the back, boasting six different types of feta at least, possibly more. In addition to a half pound of a mild, creamy feta, I bought some special baking powder that I'd been on the lookout for, a sheet of dried apricot paste that I have no idea what I'm going to use it for, and a bottle of dried lavender.

I'd messed around with lavender in food a few months ago but didn't do much beyond make lavender butter. (For those of you who aren't familiar with the taste of lavender, to me it tastes like a mix of lemon and flowery herbal notes.) I tried to do some googling to find some specifically greek recipes making use of the stuff, but saw this recipe and knew I had to make it. That night.

Okay, I made it the next night. I shouldn't have waited - it was wonderful.

Modifications from the original: I keep forgetting I have cake flour on hand. Thankfully I remembered and used it in this recipe (use just 2 cups of flour if you're using all-purpose). I think I can thank the cake flour for the wonderfully light texture and relatively fine crumb. I can probably also thank Bakewise, as a quick read through the section on creaming suggested that longer and colder is better. I also used less lavender, since I was working with dried and not fresh. Feel free to use up to 3 tablespoons of lavender if you are working with it fresh. And the part you want is the little flowery buds, not so much the leaves.

By the way - Many people say a good substitution for a cup of cake flour is to use a cup of all-purpose flour, minus 2 tablespoons, plus 2 tablespoons of corn starch. Feel free to give that a whirl here, but remember that the recipe itself calls for 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons, so adjust accordingly.

Lavender Tea Bread
Adapted from AllRecipes

3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh lavender
6 tablespoons butter, slightly below room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups plus 2 Tbsp cake flour (approximately 6.5 ounces on my cheap Ikea scale)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325.
Put mixing bowl, beaters, and sugar in the freezer to cool.
Grease and flour a 9x5 loaf pan.
Chop the lavender into smaller bits, as best you can (it will go flying, try to keep it in a pile). Or, if you have a mortar and pestle, use that to crush the buds into smaller pieces.
Add milk and lavender to a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Heat until milk simmers, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
Remove items from freezer and, using an electric mixer on medium-high, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth - at least 5 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time and continue beating until mixture is light and almost fluffy, about 3 minutes (mix should hold a shape for at least a few seconds).
Place the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together for 30 seconds to distribute leavening evenly.
Add the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the main work bowl in small amounts, alternating between the two. Stir just enough to blend the ingredients.
Pour batter into the loaf pan.
Bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out with only minimal, fully baked crumbs.
Let cool on a wire rack.

Verdict? This is a wonderfully light cake, a refreshing change from the usually heavy things that come out of my loaf pan (banana bread - I'm talking to you!). Do try to make this with the cake flour if you can (or the substitute). Now if only I could score an invite to someone's house for tea to share this bread...otherwise I'll be eating the entire loaf myself!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Mom's Potato Salad


I had a barbecue at a friend's house to go to this weekend. When asked what dish I wanted to bring I had to think about it for a while. There were too many options - vegetables, salads, appetizers, desserts...I couldn't decide!

So I decided to base my decision on this: What is the one BBQ food I'd rather be made by myself than anyone else in attendance (or bought from a deli)? The answer - potato salad.

This wasn't because I think that mine is the best, but rather because I look at potato salad as a very personal food. Everyone has their own idea of how it should be made. Some like mustard, some say no way. Some use mayo, some use (*shudder*) Miracle Whip. Some use egg, onion, pickle chips, relish, other veggies (I've seen carrots and peas used!) get the idea. I wanted to eat potato salad made my way.

Today's me-recipe is really a mom-recipe. This is how my mother made her potato salad, and I won't eat it any other way. I take that back - I'll eat potato salad whenever it is around, but I probably won't enjoy it unless it at least bears some resemblance to this recipe. We use both mayo and mustard, celery for crunch, cayenne and dijon mustard for kick. Mmmmm. (Apologies for the bad picture today, by the way - I didn't have my digital camera and the BlackBerry pic is much worse than I imagined it would be!)

A few notes about this recipe. First, use a more waxy (as opposed to starchy) variety of potato. Avoid Idaho/"baking potatoes"; I used "Yukon Gold." Use a sweet onion such as Vidalia if possible. Use real mayonnaise - I swear by Hellman's, their "light" variety with the light blue lid is also good if you want to save a few calories. Avoid the "low fat" green lid one at all costs. You may prefer less salt in your potato salad; add about half and taste before adding more. Use regular yellow mustard for a more smooth potato salad; use dijon mustard such as Grey Poupon if you want to give the dish some tang (I like it, but I don't think everyone does).

Mom's Potato Salad
By Me!
Serves a small army (about 8-10)

6 medium potatoes, boiled
6 eggs, hard boiled
3 stalks celery, finely chopped (about a generous 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup chopped onion
7 Tbsp mayonnaise (about a scant 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 Tbsp mustard
2 1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp sweet paprika (i.e., regular paprika, not smoked), plus more for garnish
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Peel the potatoes and cut into cubes, about 3/4" on each side. Add to a large bowl.
Peel the eggs and cut into smaller cubes, about 1 cm on each side. Add to the bowl.
Stir in the mayonnaise and mustard.
Sprinkle the seasonings on top. Stir the whole thing together until it is well blended.
Refrigerate for at least an hour but preferably overnight to allow the flavors to settle.
Transfer to serving dish and sprinkle more paprika on top to garnish.

Verdict? It should come as no surprise that I like this after reading the intro to this post. So I'll just write what a friend of mine said - this is a very egg salad-like potato salad, with the hard boiled eggs giving the whole thing a bit of smoothness, while the celery and onion add crunch. If I'm making this for myself sometimes I'll add almost twice as much celery because I love the crunch. But that's just me. :)