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.

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Not Your Bubbie’s Chicken Soup

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity. In case you missed it, I announced plans earlier in the week to start a food truck here in Seattle. Getting ready to go big has made life busier than usual, especially between travelling to the East Coast for a wedding and kickball season starting.

Also, it’s June in Seattle now so you know what that means–cold, rainy days with sweaters and mugs of tea.

I’m being 100% serious right now. I am wearing a sweater and thick socks as I write this. If it wasn’t that it’s still light at 9:30 it would be just like…fall. Us locals sometimes refer to June as “Juneuary” and for good reason. Tonight’s game is going to be very muddy.

I’ve been meaning to share this soup for a while. I figure that now is as good a time as ever, since I made it again very recently for a friend who’s been going through a hard time with her health and has had to cut out gluten very suddenly. She declared the soup to be very good, and I promised her the recipe. In fact, I’ve never had anyone tell me that they didn’t like this soup.

Take your time with the stock and you won’t have to do anything else to make the soup good. The stock is a treasure box of spices, but nothing that is too spicy unless you want to make it so. I really do suggest using a roasted chicken to make the stock, for a deeper, meatier flavor. When I made the soup for the photos you see here, I didn’t have a roasted chicken on hand–just one I had cut most of the meat off of to grill–and the soup was not nearly as good. Don’t skimp on the spices either–nobody likes a thin watery broth when they could be eating soup robust enough to knock you back in your seat. Taste as you go, and if it isn’t spicy enough add another pepper, and more cumin to balance if necessary.

Use the sweetest carrots you can find, but don’t use fresh tomatoes unless it’s actually tomato season. You’re not going to add many so you want them to actually taste like tomatoes. I keep a stash in my freezer that I pull out for occasions like this, but I know that’s not something everybody has. Canned ones are fine, just look for cans that say BPA free, because the acid in the tomatoes really will leach the chemical into your food.

Mexican Inspired Chicken and Rice Soup
Serves 6–Gluten Free

For the stock:

1 roasted chicken carcass, either leftover or roasted just for this
2 large carrots
1/2 yellow onion, peel and all
2-3 medium stalks celery
1/2 tsp whole coriander
1/2 tsp whole cumin
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1-3 dried habanero chilies, or more if you use a milder variety

For the soup

3 cups brown or white basmati rice, cooked
2 cups shredded chicken
1 1/2 cups chopped canned or frozen tomatoes (from 1 can is fine)
1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini, from about 1 lb fresh squash
salt to taste

Whether you are using a chicken you roast just for this soup or are using a chicken that was leftover from another dinner, you will want to remove all the meat from the bones and boil the entire carcass. I usually also boil any leftover skin and drippings from the roasting pan. Shred the meat into small bites and set aside.

Chop the onion, celery and carrot into large, rough pieces. Along with the chicken, put them in a large stock pot and add the spices. You don’t need to tie them into cheesecloth because you will have to strain the whole thing anyway. Cover with enough water to submerge entire chicken. Bring to a boil over high heat and then turn it down and let simmer for 2-3 hours, the longer the better.

While the stock simmers, prepare the other ingredients. If you don’t have leftover rice, cook it now and set aside until the broth is ready. For extra oomph, cook it in stock too if you have some already sitting around. For my soup, I used tomatoes and zucchini frozen last summer, which helps the process of removing as much water as possible. I don’t expect you to have stuff just hanging out though, so you can use the following: Drain the canned tomatoes thoroughly–if it’s short of the cup and a half, that’s totally Ok, or you can add another can. Up to you. For the zucchini, shred it on the largest holes of a box grater and add about 1 tsp of salt. Toss to coat and leave in a colander to drain the liquid off as the salt releases it from the zucchini. Occasionally, stop by to press on the solids–this will help release as much water as possible. If you don’t end up with exactly 1 1/2 cups, that’s OK. Better to have less water than more bulk.

Once you are satisfied that the stock has cooked for long enough, drain out all the solids and discard. Put the stock back in the pot and add in the carrots, zucchini and tomatoes. Simmer until the carrots are just tender, then add the rice and chicken. Cook, stirring occasionally and tasting as you go. When the rice has expanded and absorbed all the liquid it can absorb and everything is starting to really meld together, it’s done.

Garnish with sour cream (we use Tofutti brand which is certified kosher-parve), limes wedges, fresh cilantro, tortilla chips, hot sauce, and anything else you might eat in a taco or burrito.

Heading South for the Winter

We spent most of this last week vacationing in San Francisco, which might be about as far south as we get this year. (I’m still going through the 600 or so photos we took in 4 1/2 days, so this post is going to be just a recipe.) It was beautiful and so much fun and I really hope we get to go back soon.

We’ve been trying to get there pretty much since we met, and now, 6 years later, we finally found an excuse to go. We have lots of friends down there, and Joe’s been several times, but I’d never been. Then, in August, some very close friends of ours moved there and we decided to head down for a visit pretty much as soon as they could be settled in. 

Since the plane ride was pretty short, having Lilli in tow wasn’t a big deal, but we were on the plane right at lunchtime. We all know how abysmal airplane food is, if you are even lucky enough to get any, so I wanted to prepare some good snacks ahead of time. If only I could have had more time! I guess hastily made peanut butter sandwiches and sliced apples are better than nothing. Oh, plus I was a little bit hungover. Turns out I’m getting to old to mix champagne and tequila and then pack until midnight. 

I made some peanut butter cookies, as a sweet treat. Mostly because I saw that post and COULD NOT STOP thinking about how good those sounded and how long it had been since I’d had a peanut butter cookie. But, I forgot them. I did remember the present I made for our hosts, green tomato bread. I made a gluten free version since Mathew is gluten intolerant.  

I used a recipe for zucchini bread, and added extra spices. I didn’t take pictures, because it was that kind of weekend. 

The bread is spicy in a very subtle way. It’s got a moist, tender crumb, like most quick breads, but it also sports a nice crunchy exterior. It’s superb with butter of course, but try it with almond butter or sharp cheddar and then you really have yourself a snack. Apparently it is some of the best gluten free bread our friends had ever encountered, because they were raving about it. Anyhow, I hope you enjoy it as much as they did.

Green Tomato Bread with Yogurt and Ginger
adapted from Bon Appetit, makes one large loaf or two smaller loaves

2 cups grated green tomato, excess liquid drained off
3 large eggs or 4 smallish ones
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup greek yogurt
1/2 vegetable oil (you can use all yogurt if you like)
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour or gluten free all purpose flour mix (if you use GF mix, follow the directions on the xantham gum for adding it)
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp allspice

Heat oven to 350ºF. Coat your pan or pans with butter or a non-stick baking spray.
Combine the last 7 ingredients and whisk to combine. Set aside.In the bowl of your stand mixer, or with an electric beater, whip the eggs until foamy, then slowly add the sugar and continue to whip until the mixture is thick and light in color, about 4 minutes. Add the yogurt, and oil if you are using it, and mix until completely combined. In 3 batches, mix in the dry ingredients on low speed. Fold in the tomatoes and pour into your prepared pan(s).
Bake for about 35 minutes then check, rotating if necessary. Continue baking until your loaf or loaves pass the toothpick test. The top will be a nice golden brown, and look sort of dry and crusty. Cool on a rack for about 5-10 minutes, then turn out of the pan and cool completely. Store wrapped in foil.