Lighten Up, Already

You might be noticing that there aren’t a whole lot of pictures from this trip to France I’m sharing with you. Part of it is because I had one of my cameras stolen at the very end of the trip.

Another part of it is that I was such a novice photographer then. I was using a camera I borrowed from my mom for the trip. Not only did I not know how to use it very well, at some point I realized it was taking terrible pictures because the lens was incredibly dirty in a place I could not clean. I didn’t have much experience with the DSLR format, and I had by no means learned anything about making my camera an extension of myself.

The third, and last part, is that I was so overwhelmed by how awesome everything was that I just plain forgot to take pictures. I was too busy living it.

Which is how it’s supposed to be on vacation anyway. Just like how when you’re on vacation you probably also do things you didn’t intend to do, you often forget to do the things that were on your list of “must-do”s. I definitely had a list like that, and probably didn’t do half of the things on it. I did however do amazing things I never would have thought of, like crawl through abandoned German Pillboxes from WWII, or swim in a chilly river to cool down from the 95º heat, or tour the Hennessy distillery.

I definitely also had a list of things I wanted to eat in France. In this case, I probably ate all of them. Bread, cheese, wine. Dessert. Sausages and classic roast chicken. More wine. Oh, and Pastries.

One thing I don’t specifically remember eating is quiche.

I was probably drinking too much wine…

Anyway. I do remember eating quiche with my Grandmother many many times in other places, however, so I’m sure we must have eaten quiche at least once. It was probably nothing like this quiche.

In France you don’t have to ever feel like you should be eating lighter. You never have to make excuses to yourself about why you just ate that crème brûlée after consuming some other rich thing for the main course. It’s because you ate a hearty, veggie laden salad for lunch and you walked halfway across whatever city you are in to do something spectacular like play pétanque or window shop.

You might be doing your normal thing, eating yogurt and toast for breakfast, and suddenly you realize you have eaten half a baguette smeared with thick, sunny gobs of salty french butter along with your full fat yogurt and delicious fruit straight from some quaint farm further south than you are. And then you go march up some steep hill to visit a tiny church with a gorgeous window and it totally doesn’t matter.

Here at home though, I’m not as active. Mostly because I’m on the lazy side when I’m not working, and also partly because I have a small kid and it’s kept me home and sort of stagnant a lot more than I’ve been used to in the past. Not that that’s an excuse, but I am not the slimmest I’ve ever been.

So lately, I’ve been attempting to lighten things up a bit. It’s been hard because the weather has been very reminiscent of a time other than summer, so the food part of that longed for season hasn’t exactly caught on all that strong yet. There’s been a few picnics and light summer suppers, sure, but so few that I can still count them on 2 hands.

I wanted to make this quiche with all cream and an all butter crust.

But I resisted.

It was kinda easy actually, because I knew it would be just as good as regular old rich French style quiche. Just…lighter. Rose would be proud. The peas get so sweet when they are baked into the custard, it’s really a treat. The tang from the buttermilk adds a layer of depth that you can’t get from just plain milk, and it plays so nicely with the eggs and the thyme. Just enough spicy (veggie) italian sausage to add a bit of heat, and just enough fat to make the whole thing seem indulgent and you’re set.

The polenta crust is a little different. When I saw this recipe from The Wednesday Chef, I put that on my list of things to try. Of course, I didn’t follow the recipe at all when I made it, I just made polenta like I would if I was going to cut it up and broil it so that it would be thick enough to mold into a crust. You could try adding an egg like she does, but I didn’t think it needed it. I would probably add cheese next time though, so if you give it a whirl let me know how it goes. The whole thing has a nice soft “this feels good to me” texture. The flavor is more delicate than a more traditional flour pie crust, and definitely won’t weigh you down as much.

Eat it with a salad and it will be good to you.

Then you can go back to eating richer things for dessert. I promise.

Buttermilk and Snap Pea Quiche with Polenta Crust
serves 6-8

For the Crust:

(I used Mark Bittman’s recipe from How to Cook Everything. It’s very straight forward and comes out great ever time, even if you can’t pay as much attention to it as you should. I’m going to repost it here with the adaptations I made for this recipe. It makes enough for 2 quiches or 1 quiche and some polenta to broil and serve with something else spectacular)

3 1/2 cups water or half water half broth (the original calls for 4, I reduced it to make the polenta set up thicker)
1 tsp salt
1 cup medium-grind cornmeal
fresh ground pepper
2 tbsp olive oil (or butter as the original recipe calls for)

Bring the water to a boil in a heavy bottomed medium sized pot. Salt the water and turn down the heat to medium. Add the cornmeal slowly while constantly whisking. Once you’ve added all the cornmeal, turn the heat down to low. Continue cooking while whisking once every minute for the first 5 minutes.

Switch to a flat bottomed wooden or silicone spoon and stir frequently (at least once a minute) until all the liquid is absorbed. It should begin to pull away from the sides of the pot, which will take about 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and taste for salt and pepper. Divide the polenta into 2 cake pans and allow to cool enough to handle before moving on to the next step. You can also use a larger pie plate if you are planning on making only one quiche, but the recipe will not make enough for 2 regular sized pie plates (9″).

Once the polenta has cooled so that you can touch it, cover it with a sheet of plastic wrap and slowly begin pressing the polenta out to the corners of the dish, continuing up the sides. You want the polenta to fill in the corners and to be evenly spread across the bottom and sides of the pan. For a 7″ pan, half of a batch will go all the way up the sides, for an 8″ pan it will be a little shallower. Allow the polenta to chill a few minutes in the fridge while you prepare your fillings.

For the filling:
(for one 7-8″ quiche–easily doubles)

3 eggs
1/3 cup lowfat buttermilk (up to 1/2 cup for a larger quiche)
1/3 cup whole milk (up to 1/2 cup for a larger quiche)
3-4 oz italian sausage (I use veggie to keep it kosher/vegetarian)
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup sugar snap peas, roughly chopped
leaves from 1-2 springs fresh Thyme
2-3 oz shredded sharp cheddar, gruyere or similar cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375º F.

In a large skillet, brown the sausage and onions until the meat is well browned and the onions have softened. Pour into the crust(s) and top with the chopped peas. Sprinkle the thyme, salt, and pepper over. Mix the eggs and milk well in a separate bowl, then pour over the other fillings, being careful not to splash the mixture over the sides of the crust. Top with the shredded cheese and a bit more salt and pepper.

Baked until the mixture is completely set in the middle and the cheese is well browned, about 40-50 minutes depending on your oven. Allow to rest for 10 or so minutes before cutting, or it will be very loose.

Brown Sugar Was Made For Me

Last week I ran out of sugar. And by “ran out” I mean the white stuff that is good for baking and putting in coffee.

I put brown sugar in my coffee instead of going to the grocery store. No biggie.

I happened to have just received a very odd cake pan as an impromptu gift from my mother. She’s good at giving gifts that are seemingly practical and yet I never seem to actually use them. What can I say? She’s a mom. (Love you, Mom!)

And I had all those freaking oranges and things.

I decided I wanted to make a pound cake. When I was a kid, someone told me that pound cake was made using a pound of butter and a pound of sugar and something else. I can’t really remember. And I don’t even think that was true. Ever. Pound cake does not use an entire pound of anything, really. But it does weigh a lot, so I guess that’s why I believed that crazy lie.

What pound cake does use though is white sugar, usually.

But, I’m good at switching things up. I started with a recipe from Alton Brown. He let me down a couple of weeks ago, so I was gave him a chance to redeem himself. I took a recipe from his book I’m Just Here For More Food, which I use a lot when I need a basic recipe to use as a jumping off point for something more adventurous.

Like when I decided to bake a cake in this weird old ceramic pan, which made the cake bake FOREVER.

Cake batter spread into the pan, ready to go in the oven.

Anyway, redeem himself he did even though I took his recipe and pretty much made it an all new thing. I added blood orange zest and juice and used only that brown sugar.

To top it off, I lined the top of the pan with some candied blood orange slices.

The brown sugar and the blood orange are pretty much a match made in heaven.

Or at least, for me.

Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Blood Oranges

1 cup unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
3 blood oranges
3 cups all purpose flour (I used 1 cup ea: whole wheat, AP and oat. It was goood.)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 scant cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Grease a regular sized tube style pan or 2 small loaf pans. Line the bottom of the pan(s) with candied orange slices (recipe following), making sure some of the slices go up the sides of the pan at least a little bit.

Zest all three of the oranges. Juice 2 of them and add the juice to the buttermilk. Make supremes of the last orange. Chop up the supremes pretty small and set aside.

Cream the butter, the sugar and the orange zest until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape the bowl as necessary. While the butter creams whisk together the flour(s), baking soda, and salt

Alternate the dry ingredients with the buttermilk/juice mixture. After the last addition of buttermilk let it mix just barely, then take off the mixer and fold in the chopped up orange segments, mixing just until everything is an even consistency. Pour into the pan and bake for about an hour, or until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, then tip out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

Once it’s cool use a pastry brush to paint the outside with the syrup you reserved from candying the oranges.

Definitely serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

For the Candied Orange Slices

Heat equal parts water and granulated sugar in a wide, shallow sauce pan. Bring to a boil. You will need about 2 cups of syrup total to candy an orange.

Slice an orange very very thinly. The absolute best way to do this is on a mandoline. If you don’t own one, I suggest you go buy one. Seriously. It will make your life so much easier. Failing that, use a very sharp knife and be patient. You might need to slice more than one orange to get enough good slices, or, don’t be a perfectionist like me.

Once the syrup is boiling, turn down the heat and add the oranges. Try to spread them out so there aren’t too many layered on top of each other. Simmer the slices until the peels start to turn translucent, then remove them to a cooling rack to dry overnight. When I do this, I judge each slice individually, because some slices might take longer than others, especially if they were not cut on a mandoline and they are not all the same thickness.

Reserve the syrup for the cake.

That’s it! Once they are dry, store them in an airtight container. Don’t let your toddler get ahold of it or she will eat them all. For real.