Friday, June 25, 2010

Grilled Vegetables

"Zemblanity" is a new favorite word of mine. It's not totally new- I've known of its existence for about 10 months, but I don't know it well enough to use it (other than when it happens to pop up in my head, which doesn't technically count if we're keeping score).

It seems to be an extremely useful word, but when I think to use this particular word I can't seem to remember it. I do, however, remember the actual word on a rare occasion every now and then when I don't need it.

It's terribly obscure, yes. It's also fun to say.

By definition,"zemblanity" is a noun meaning the accidental discovery of something bad (or something you would rather not know). See? Great word.

I personally think of those times when you might find out about a situation or something about another person which would cause you to (internally) roll your eyes, shake your head, sigh, and WISH you hadn't just learned what you did. Zemblanity happens all the time...

It's the opposite of serendipity in case you were wondering.

It also has nothing whatsoever to do with vegetables. I'm not implying anything here.

Anyway, I think grilling may be the most perfect ways to cook vegetables.
Nothing too fancy, just fire.

Another outdoor-cooking lesson for the summer...
Not a lot of preparation is needed, you can have a large and colorful variety, cooking at the same time and the same place, and the only thing you really have to do is pay attention to when each variety is finished cooking. Not too hard! It's pretty much like you would do with anything you were grilling- if something is finished you take it off the fire or turn it, if not, you leave it there to cook longer.
Plus, vegetables taste great when they're grilled.

Make sure to have everything prepped and ready to go- this will make things much easier.
You also want to have some long-handled tongs to make it easier to move the veggies around and so you don't get burned.

Grilling baskets are an option, but not everyone has one (and they're really not necessary).

Grilled Vegetables

olive oil
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper
vegetables of your choice such as bell peppers, thick asparagus (so they can be skewered without breaking), portobello mushrooms, onion, eggplant (small ones taste better)...

Clean vegetables.
Remove stems from mushrooms, ribs and stems from peppers, stems from eggplant. Cut eggplant into rounds about 1/2 inch thick and onion into rounds 1/2-1 inch thick. Cut peppers into 6 to 8 strips, depending on the size of the pepper.
If using asparagus, it's easiest if you can make a "raft" with the asparagus and two skewers- this way you can turn them easily and you don't risk them falling between the grates of the grill rack. This "two skewers raft" option is also useful with onions... then again, you could also just have onion "steaks"- but be careful because they'll eventually end up falling apart into rings.
Drizzle vegetables with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Place vegetables on grill that has been pre-heated to a moderate heat.
Cover and check after a few minutes, turning as necessary.
Continue cooking until vegetables have grill marks and cooked to desired doneness.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Rhubarb Strawberry Crisp

One thing about summer is that no matter what, there will be bugs.
Mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, spiders, flies, June bugs...
We recently had some Japanese beetles move in, and they seem to really enjoy fruit trees, as well as magnolias, and almonds. Over time I think they'll eat just about everything.
However, they seem to have a penchant for cherry trees, which is too bad because I like them too.
Japanese beetles are very pretty bugs, and look almost like jewels- but they do a lot of damage.

Although I have recently honed my beetle fighting skills, I don't think "beetle hunter" could ever become a lifetime occupation for me. I don't think I have the tenacity for the full-time endeavor, and I can't say I really enjoy having bugs flying at me. Japanese beetles seem to be a bit clumsy and almost like they might be too bulky to support themselves in flight- like a June bug.
I remember when I went to camp (maybe I was 10 years old), and my bunk happened to be on the top (not by choice) and in the center of the room. I think I might have been the last in the cabin to arrive. Not horrible, or so I thought at first.

Well, the center of the room happens to have an overhead light, and the bunk was right under the light. June bugs are attracted to light and I found myself fighting them from around and on my face and pillow more than once.
They don't do too well with general avoidance! This was not the all-time favorite experience.
And so, just another reason bugs aren't always fun...

Anyway, to exterminate the Japanese beetles I had to get a jar with some rubbing alcohol, find the intruders, and drop them into the alcohol. I will say I have a very difficult time just picking beetles off trees. Upon being touched they surprise me, usually by flying in my face or on my arm. I'm not fond of this practice. They're also big enough that if you are close enough to touch or inspect them in any way, you are able to see details quite clearly. I know my imagination was working because they are now reminiscent of Goliath beetles, which I have no intention of having anything to do with.

But, I did find that they do not tend to immediately fly horizontally or up when they have been disturbed and feel the need to leave the tree. They seem to do a slight dive-bomb... and if you are holding the jar at a good angle under a leaf and shake the leaf or use the lip of the jar to dislodge the beetle, they will often fly right into the trap. Great news, no bug-touching necessary!
However, it was not until day three that I realized I could use the top from the jar to assist the bugs in making their way into the jar.
Yes... brilliant.

Just a tip for anyone else who might have a problem with these beetles...

Another thing (other than bugs) that is usually prolific in the summer is fresh fruit. It's much more pleasant, too. A great way to use fresh fruit is in a crisp.

Crisps are much faster and easier to throw together than pies (no crust making or rolling necessary), and I guess in some ways healthier because of the oats normally added to them.
In fact, they can be EXTREMELY healthy with fruit, oats, and nuts. In fact, they're practically NOT dessert. It could be breakfast, right?

So easy, and so good. They don't take too much time, and people probably have most of these ingredients around anyway.

This recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman of the New York Times

Rhubarb-Strawberry Crisp
Serves 6 to 8

6 T cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (plus more for greasing pan)
2 1/2 lb. rhubarb, trimmed, tough strings removed, and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 lb. strawberries, cleaned, stemmed, and cut in quarters
1/3 c granulated sugar
1 T orange juice
1 t grated orange zest
3/4 c packed brown sugar
1/2 c all purpose flour
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/8 t salt
2/3 c rolled oats
1/2 c pecans, chopped OR 1/2 c sliced almonds, crushed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8 or 9 inch square baking pan or gratin dish with a little butter. Toss rhubarb with granulated sugar, orange zest and juice, and spread in baking dish.
Put 6 T butter in a food processor along with brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt. Pulse for 20-30 seconds, until mixture looks like small peas and is just beginning to clump together. Add oats and pecans and pulse a few times to combine. (ALTERNATIVELY, you could do this by hand, with a pasty cutter, or two knives)
Crumble the topping over the rhubarb. Bake until golden and beginning to brown, 45 to 50 minutes.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Grilled Pineapple

Summer can be too hot for cooking- especially indoors.
Dinner isn't usually a problem since you've got the grill, but sometimes you want something sweet.

Baking indoors is too hot, and you have tried baking a pie on the grill because you were told you were not allowed to use the oven- the grill is the only option, naturally (so you are told).
Well, actually, it turns out NOT to be a good idea, and although it was years ago it happens to be something you would rather not revisit.

You still want something sweet, but ice cream or a popsicle just aren't what you want.
Instead, you could try grilling fruit. ESPECIALLY if you already have the grill heated for steak or something!
You'd definitely want to try firm fruit such as stone fruit... peaches, plums, nectarines.
Another very good option is pineapple- it will hold it's shape, take on some nice caramelized grill marks, and can be dressed up a bit with other flavors.

Fresh pineapple is so nice, and the texture and flavor are better than something canned- so I would definitely have fresh.
Make sure you have a ripe pineapple! Scent would be a good indicator, as would the fact that a leaf comes out of the top of the pineapple without pulling very hard. If you have to wrestle the pineapple for it to give up a leaf, it's not the one you want.
But, I suppose if you can do nothing else, you could use canned pineapple (not that I really condone this type of behavior).

The original recipe here called for curry powder. Well, I didn't happen to find any when looking through the spice cabinet, and I wasn't really sure I wanted curry powder with my dessert. Time to make some changes...
I decided the other ingredients could imaginably be along the lines of a "Caribbean" theme. There is an option of jerk seasoning for the authentic Jamaican flavor, but not for dessert.
So, I decided on some spices that grow in the general Caribbean locale for my marinade.

I realize that many people have never peeled a whole pineapple.
I didn't take photos as I was cutting! I thought about adding a video here, but I couldn't quite find what I liked- they were too lengthy, too "fancy" in cutting style, cut in a way we really don't want a pineapple cut for this particular recipe...

You can find something on YouTube if you like, but I will try to explain a little here.
First you cut off the top and the bottom of the pineapple. Stand the pineapple up, and using a large sharp knife cut off the skin in strips following the curve of the pineapple, turning the pineapple as you go. Make sure it's just a layer of the skin, but enough so you don't have "eyes" left in the fruit, but please make sure not to cut off too much of the pineapple. If you have any "eyes" left in the fruit you can use a small paring knife to cut them out.

Cut the pineapple lengthwise into 8 rounds (if it's easier you can cut the fruit in half, each half in half, and then each quarter in half). Remove the core from each slice, either with a paring knife or a small round cookie cutter.

You don't need a grill, you could use a grill pan on the stove instead.

Grilled Pineapple
Serves 4 to 8

1 3-4 lb. pineapple, "peeled", cut into 8 rings, and cored
1/2 c shredded coconut
1/4 c rum, preferably dark
1/2 c packed dark brown sugar
1 t allspice
1/4 t cloves
1/4 t nutmeg (fresh ground if possible)

lime wedges and vanilla ice cream for serving (optional)

Whisk rum, brown sugar, and spices together in a shallow pan. Place pineapple rings in pan and marinate 30 minutes to an hour, turning occasionally.
Toast coconut in a dry frying pan over medium heat, tossing and stirring until it is browned (5-10 minutes). Remove from heat and pour coconut onto a plate to stop the cooking.
Preheat grill to medium-high. Place pineapple slices on grill, turning at least once, and cook until heated through and grill marks appear (5-10 minutes).
Reserve the extra marinade.
Serve pineapple with extra marinade, toasted coconut, lime wedges, and vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


"Escolanet" means altar boy in Catalan, which is spoken in some areas of Spain.

These tapas are named after altar boys because of their (somewhat) resemblance to them: dark cassock and light surplice. You may have to squint a little to see this resemblance.
Yes, the surplice isn't so white as it is pink...

These are very easy, and the sweet and chewy date contrasts very nicely with smoky bacon.
They're a great addition to a tapas party, antipasto, or on one of those nights when you just nibble on little appetizers for dinner.

Most people in the American midwest don't just keep dates around for snacking on, and many may not be familiar with them at all. However, if they are at all familiar it would probably be with their appearances in fruit breads and granola.

Remember that bacon will shrink as it cooks!

makes 24

24 dates, pitted
24 whole almonds (blanched if you can find them)
8 strips of bacon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Toast almonds in a frying pan over medium heat about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally OR for about 10 minutes in the oven on a baking sheet. Let cool slightly. Cut bacon into thirds so you have 24 small pieces of bacon. Slit each date lengthwise (so that it opens like a book). Stuff each date with an almond, wrap with bacon, and secure with a toothpick. Bake 20-30 minutes until bacon is cooked and crispy. Remove to paper towels to drain and cool slightly. Serve warm.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cherry Jam

I read a story once about a French girl who made a mistake when she was making cherry jam, but went ahead and finished the recipe. Instead of regular cherry jam she made caramelized cherry jam. No, that wasn't really the point of the story, and it wasn't really all about this girl and her serious jam-making issues. I just thought it sounded really good and decided to try to make caramelized cherry jam accidentally on purpose. The end.

As much as I like cherries and regular cherry jam, a caramelized version sounded like it would have much more vanilla-y-ness and depth and flavor to it.

Well, it was ok... but nothing to write home about. It didn't turn out as I had imagined.
It wasn't awful, just a little different- and I can't quite put my finger on what it was!
Caramel and cherries can't be all that bad! So, what happened?

I wish I knew what the girl in the story did!
In the recipe that I used for cherry jam there was a warning about caramelization and over-cooking the cherries... apparently this is not a great idea and does not taste good.
Because of this, I decided to cook the cherries, caramelize the sugar separately, and then add the cherries to the sugar.
But no, it didn't work as I had hoped.

One thing about jam is that it can be sort of an ordeal to make, but it doesn't take that much extra time or effort to make a larger amount. I figure that I should just increase the fruit and make more while I'm at it. With cherries it depends on how many you're willing to pit! A cherry/olive pitter makes quick work of the task, but not everyone has one of those around. I know some people use a paper clip, but I have never tried it. Apparently you have to un-bend the paperclip into an "S" shape and then use the "U" part of one end to scoop the pit out from the stem end. I hope that makes sense!

I've made some "decisions" in the recipe here (of course), as it was originally a "no-recipe recipe"- and no, it's not caramelized. It's just cherry jam.

It's easily halved if you don't want all that jam.
This is another "soft" jam- not stiff, and would once again be good on whatever you choose- toast, pancakes, crepes, waffles, yogurt, between layers of a cake, as a filling for a rustic free-form tart...

Cherry Jam
Adapted from David Lebovitz

4 lb. fresh cherries
about 6 cups sugar
juice of two lemons (to add pectin and help the jam gel)
zest of one lemon

Rinse the cherries, remove the stems, and pit the cherries. Chop 2/3 to 3/4 of the cherries into smaller pieces. In a large nonreactive pan (not aluminum) cook pitted cherries, lemon juice, and zest over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the cherries are soft and release their juice (about 15-20 mintues).
Measure the amount of cherries and juice add 3/4 that amount of sugar with the cherries in the pan. So, if you have 8 cups of cherries, use 6 cups of sugar (you need this much to keep them from spoiling).
Place a small white plate in the freezer.
Continue cooking cherries and sugar over medium to high heat, stir frequently and scrape the bottom of the pot to make sure your cherries do not scorch.
Once the bubbles subside and the jam looks as if it is thickening and beginning to gel, turn off the heat and place a small amount of jam on the "frozen" plate and return it to the freezer. After a few minutes if you nudge it and it wrinkles, it's done. If not, cook a bit longer, turn off the heat, and test it again. Be careful that it does not over cook because you can't salvage it (sort of like a haircut- you can't put it back).
Once gelled, if you would like you could add some kirsch.
Ladle the warm jam into clean jars, cover, them cool to room temperature. Place cooled jam in refrigerator where it should keep for several months.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Matambre and Chimichurri

This is an Argentinian recipe...

"Matambre" means "hunger killer"- a fitting name, and the chimichurri is a traditional sauce which there are a million recipes for. Chimichurri is to Argentina what ketchup is to America, and it's used with grilled meats and various other dishes. It includes vinegar, oil, garlic, and parsley, as well a various other herbs and spices. This particular recipe happens to be a red version as it contains some tomato.

I was attempting to do a purging of cooking magazines, which is pretty much always useless for me. I can't seem to do it- nothing is purged.
However, it does help to give me some options for cooking. I thought this recipe looked really good and decided to try it.
It's a different use of the grill (not just burgers, steaks, and brats) and makes a nice meal for summer.

I must say my roulade rolling skills are fairly sub par.
In fact, I'm so great at it that today if there had been an "ugliest roulade rolling competition" I probably would have won, hands down. No contest.
I could use practice.
It may be that my hands aren't quite massive enough for the task.
OR maybe I just over filled the flank steak!

I ended up having to roll-tie-roll-tie-roll-tie down the length of the meat since it wouldn't stay put. It's ok though. It's acceptable.

One thing to remember is that if you plan to photograph your meat and it looks like a roulade massacre, you can dress it up a bit by tucking onions under the kitchen twine (and don't photograph the worst-looking part).

I didn't have exactly what I needed, so I had to substitute (not enough spinach, so I used some of the Swiss chard from the garden- no problem, they act the same).

The steak I bought was on the small side, so I did not actually end up using all the vegetables since they wouldn't all fit. I think I could have done without at least one of the carrots and half of the onion (it was not a small onion)... so I made some changes in the recipe here. I ended up using the part of the onion I didn't use for the chimichurri. Also, mine turned out somewhere between medium and well-done... I would have liked it more medium-rare. But, of course, grills aren't really the easiest to control.
It actually makes a pretty light dinner; the vegetables are all there and there's not TONS of meat.
I made some cous cous and the meal was complete!

The recipe is adapted from a now defunct publication called Taste (Summer, 2001).

(serves 6)

1 1/2 lb. beef flank steak, trimmed
2 c (4 oz.) spinach
3 carrots peeled, quartered lengthwise and parboiled 5 minutes
4 hard boiled eggs, quartered lengthwise
1 meduim onion, thinly sliced into rings
1/2 c finely chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 t paprika
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare a fire in a charcoal grill. Butterfly the flank steak by slicing horizontally from one long side to within 1/2 inch of the other side (good thing a flank steak is boneless and relatively rectangular). Open meat out like a book, cover with plastic wrap, and pound with a mallet to an even 1/2 inch thickness.
Spread spinach leaves over the meat. Arrange carrots and eggs at regular intervals. Scatter onions over the meat and sprinkle with parsley, garlic, paprika, salt and pepper.
Starting from long side, roll the meat tightly like a jelly roll. Tie with kitchen string and 1 1/2 inch intervals. Wrap tightly in 2 layers of aluminum foil.
Cook over medium fire, turning occasionally, until the internal temperature of the meat reacher 135 degrees F on a meat thermometer, 1- 1 1/4 hours for medium-rare meat.
Let the meat rest 10-15 minutes. Remove foil, cut into slices between strings, and serve.

Chimichurri Sauce
(The flavor will improve if made in advance. Chimichurri can be stored in a jar in the refrigerator 3 days)

1 c olive oil
1/2 c red wine vinegar
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely chopped*
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/3 c finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 t dried oregano
1 t chili powder
1 t paprika
1/2 t dried cumin
1 bay leaf, crumbled
1 t salt
freshly ground black pepper

In a bowl, whisk together oil and vinegar. Add onion, tomato, parsley, oregano, chili powder, paprika, cumin, bay leaf, and salt. Mix well. Season with pepper to taste.
Let sauce stand for at least 2 hours before serving.

*To peel tomatoes:
Heat water in a small saucepan to boil. Cut a small, shallow "X" in the bottom of the tomatoes. Place tomatoes in boiling water for 3o seconds. Remove tomatoes to a bowl of ice water with a slotted spoon. Peel tomatoes by hand starting at the "X" incision.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Watermelon Granita

Hamlet was a good production- I liked it very much (and I might even go again). However, on the day we went there were about a million boy scouts in Forest Park, tents and all!
I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it.
It was hard to find a place to park, but luckily all those 10-13 year old boys did not attend the play (otherwise no one would be able to see). I don't think the boy scouts would have been too interested in Hamlet anyway. They weren't speaking REAL English, there wasn't enough action and there was too much drama!

Although there weren't boy scouts present, watermelon granita went to see Hamlet. With me.
And we became friends. It's a refreshing sort of friend to have- cold, slushy, and not too sweet (sweet is not always so great on hot days).

I read somewhere about someone making something out of watermelon (I know I'm terribly specific here- sorry, I can't remember everything)... but they mentioned that it didn't taste as watermelon-y as it should have. They attempted several times with different adaptations, but it was never quite right.
Then whoever this person was decided to make it with some ground-up seeds... and it was perfect.

Additionally, the seeds make it LOOK like watermelon.
Sadly, due to my inattentiveness, I bought a seedless watermelon. Bad news.
BUT, if I HAD bought a watermelon with actual seeds, I would have used said seeds.

Watermelon seeds are edible and some people DO eat all the seeds (others prefer to have seed spitting contests). Apple seeds are apparently not so edible. It's something a co-worker mentioned at one point and none of us had ever heard of it. They contain cyanide!
Swallowing isn't as much a problem as chewing them, but you'd probably be unlikely to ingest as many as you would need to cause an accidental fatality in one sitting.
I don't think you'll be flirting with death here people, but if you find it death-defying to swallow apple seeds be my guest.

The recipe is easily scaled down... what you do is dependent on freezer space. It has great color, and it's a very light and refreshing dessert (or midafternoon snack).
I think next time I may try with lime juice, lime wedges for serving, and tequila instead... maybe a little salt, too?

Watermelon Granita

Approximately 10 cups watermelon (pink part only, cut into cubes and frozen on a sheet pan at least several hours or overnight)
1/2 cup vodka (so the watermelon does not freeze solid!)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
4 T lemon juice

Make a simple syrup: combine equal parts sugar and water. Heat in small saucepan until sugar melts. Simmer 2 minutes, remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
Place half of frozen watermelon in food processor fitted with blade. Add half of sugar syrup, 1/4 c vodka, and 2 T lemon juice. Process until watermelon is broken down and the mixture is slushy and well combined. Pour into 9x13 inch pan. Repeat process with remaining ingredients. Stir both batches together in the pan and place in freezer until ready to eat.

Watermelon granita is best the day it's made, as it remains more slushy than solid. However, if you want to save it you could leave it out to thaw a little before serving.

If you plan to wait a while to eat the granita, you may want to stir it and break up the large clumps of ice occasionally.

If didn't happen to find a very sweet watermelon and you would like it sweeter, you could make extra simple syrup and drizzle the granita with the syrup before serving (I currently don't know what extra syrup added to the granita in the food processor might do to the consistency of the finished granita, so I won't recommend it right now).

Friday, June 4, 2010

Mushroom and Leek Quiche

We had plans to go to Shakespeare in the Park tonight and I wanted to take something for a picnic instead of buying dinner... this way we're also more sure to have a seat since it's Friday night!
Go early, maybe find a parking spot at least remotely close- but you can be sure you WILL be walking, find a place on the lawn and have a picnic.
It's free and in Forest Park (in St. Louis)- and this year they're putting on the happy play Hamlet.
Actually- not so happy. It's sad. It's a tragedy.

I had an English professor in high school who was a little different personality-wise. Some of the things she said were said for what was most likely shock value, are extremely quoteable (for those who knew her), and real doozies...
For instance, when she was talking about sentence structure she had examples she would give such as:

Simple sentence:
The deer ran from the forest.

Compound sentence:
The deer ran from the forest for he was running from the fire.

Complex sentence:
Fleeing from the raging brushfire, Bambi ran from the forest onto the freeway and was hit by a car.

I think she had quite the imagination, but she was always very serious.
The woman also had an intimidation factor like no other- totally unmatched, and she was completely unapologetic about it. I think she had a reputation to keep and it seemed that what she REALLY enjoyed was scaring underclassmen in the hallways who were yet to be students of hers.

Anyway, one day we were reading something- obviously a tragedy of some sort. She had a habit of suddenly stopping, looking up from a book, making eye contact with the class- the classroom completely silent, and giving us pearls of wisdom. Oh, yes.
The mini-diatribe on "tragedy" was that when something happens in the news and they call it a tragedy it's more often than not NOT a tragedy.
She said, "Ladies, it's only a tragedy if someone dies."

Point being: the people who give us the news are complete idiots and I don't want to hear any of you call something a tragedy unless someone is dead.

So, because it's a tragedy, people will be dying in Hamlet tonight.

Quiche, tarts, galettes... all are great warm or room temperature. Since it happens to be so warm and humid we'll go for "room temperature" in this instance. In addition, they travel fairly well- especially if they are totally set, cooled, are not eaten before it's time to travel.

They tend to be particularly good fare when you happen to be present for a tragedy every now and then (along with some wine and strawberries maybe).

Mushroom and Leek Quiche
1 9-inch pie or 10 inch quiche

1 pre-baked crust in a quiche or pie pan
(for this one I baked at 375 for 20 minutes, removed the pie weights, and baked a further 3 minutes)

2 medium leeks, white part and some of the green- halved lengthwise, cut in 1/2 inch pieces and washed well
8 oz white button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
3 T butter
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 t fresh thyme, leaves only, chopped (or 1/2 t dried)
1 t kosher salt
1/2 t fresh ground pepper
1/8-1/4 t fresh ground nutmeg (optional)
2/3 c grated Swiss cheese

While the crust bakes, melt butter in large pan over medium heat. Add leeks and saute 5-10 minutes or until soft. Add mushrooms and saute another 5-10 minutes, or until they are cooked and liquid has mostly evaporated. Let vegetables cool slightly.
Whisk eggs with milk in a medium bowl until combined. Add thyme, pepper, salt, and nutmeg and mix well.
Spoon leeks and mushrooms into pre-baked crust and spread evenly. Sprinkle Swiss cheese evenly over the top of the vegetables (or stir it into vegetables before spooning them into the crust). Pour egg mixture over the vegetables and cheese, and place quiche in preheated oven and bake approximately 30 minutes, or until filling is set and browned in some areas.
If you're using a pie pan instead of a quiche pan you may have to cook the quiche longer.

For a quick and cool dessert, I decided to make a watermelon granita... but I'll save that for another day!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Strawberry Pie

So, the washing machine recently broke.
It would fill and agitate, but it wouldn't spin or drain. It was about a week before the Sears repair man could come and fix it. Stagnant washing machine water is not a pretty sight, and the smell was a lovely bleach and perm combination (yuck).

I know, the photos don't really match the story.

We had to get the laundry room cleaned up before the guy came. A Chernobyl-like laundry room- a complete disaster area (I'll say no more). But, honestly, I have a theory that there aren't many pristine American laundry-rooms out there. I think I would need to see some statistics if anyone feels he can argue this point. I don't think that anyone really wants to invite guests into the laundry room for one reason or another.
"Oh! Please do come in. May I take your coat? Would you care to see the laundry room?"

The day the repair man came (we called him Mr. Sears, but he said his name was Phil), I made strawberry pie. Mr. Sears was invited to have some pie after he finished fixing the washing machine. So we all sat down and had some pie. It was a little awkward, but that's ok.
I think it made him happy, and I highly doubt that people offer him anything very often (or ever).
It was about 4 PM when he left, and he said he still had 4 more washing machines to fix!

That's the most recent strawberry pie story.
The recipe comes from my grandmother. It's simple, very good, and something we look forward to every summer.
A bit of lovely and kitschy Americana with the somewhat unnatural BRIGHT red from Jell-o sometimes augmented by red food coloring.

I made an adjustment for the sake of texture (my adjustment is written into this recipe), but it's pretty much as it should be.
The addition was an extra tablespoon of Jell-O for three reasons:
1. Extra assurance that the filling will set (but it's a soft set Jell-O... not THAT stiff)
2. A little more strawberry flavor
3. I certainly do not need extra food coloring because the Jell-O will add plenty, thank you.

I have to say that I meant to have more savory recipes here, so I apologize for all the sweets. I'll try to do better in the future!

One tip: if you mix the sugar and corn starch together, the corn starch breaks up and incorporates into the sugar- THEN you can add the liquid. This way you shouldn't have corn starch lumps.
The smaller the strawberries, the better. I think it's best with small berries that you don't have to cut to fill the pie shell. Also, the amount of strawberries isn't exact- whatever you can fit in the pie shell will do... just remember that you need to account for the filling that will flow into the spaces. I usually start with 2 pints of berries and fill the shell until it looks good (you won't usually find that all the berries are completely perfect).

Strawberry Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie

1 pre-baked pie shell *

fresh strawberries
1 c sugar
1 1/2 c water
2 T corn starch
3 T strawberry Jell-O
1/2 t almond extract (optional)
a few drops of red food coloring (optional)

Mix sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan until combined and there are no lumps. Add water, stir, and bring mixture to a boil over medium heat. Cook for approximately 1 minute or until thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in Jell-O, almond extract, and food coloring (if using). Set aside to cool until warm.

Place strawberries in pre-baked pie shell. Add cooled filling and place pie in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
Serve with fresh whipped cream.
Strawberry pie is best the day it's made.

*We usually make several pie crusts at once and freeze what we do not use.
The instruction I found to pre-bake a shell didn't come with my pastry recipe, but it still worked.

The shell was baked at 375 for 20 minutes with foil and pie weights or dried beans in it. Foil and weights were removed and the crust was baked again for about 15 minutes, until it was dried and golden.

After placing the dough in the pan and before baking it, I pierced it all over with a fork and placed it in the freezer for 15 minutes. It's less likely to collapse and shrink this way! If you have any bubbles form in the crust while it's baking the second time, pierce them so the bottom of the crust remains flat.

If you need some photos of the piercing and pie weights you can look here.