Friday, October 31, 2008

quiche florentine

After reading the French Laundry at Home blog (if you haven't read it, you must), I knew I had to have Thomas Keller's books. They were exactly what I'd been hoping to find--books that would tell me in great detail how to make restaurant-quality food at home. And not, you konw, Chili's-quality food. But why-can't-I-get-a-reservation-there-quality food. And when I picked up a copy of French Laundry and read, "French Laundry chefs will pass a sauce through a chinois twenty times or more. . . . We pass our pea puree for the pea soup through a tamis, then we blend the puree in a blender and pass it through a chinois. The result is texture on your tongue and palate that is almost indescribable. It is the texture of luxury," I was in love.

I decided to start my Keller experience with simple dishes. First, I tried the glazed vegetables. Then I made this quiche. This quiche florentine is simply the best quiche I've ever eaten. The custard was smooth and silky and rich. I loved it. I did run into some minor hangups--I misplaced part of my dough for the crust, and so didn't have enough to drape it over the edge. And as Keller warns, it did in fact shrink. It was rather misshapen, and my custard made it soggy. It was delicious, all the same. (And of course, this would be the one dish I forgot to take a picture of.)

quiche florentine (from Bouchon, Thomas Keller)
2 TB unsalted butter
.25 C minced shallots
1 lb spinach, washed, large stems removed
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
.75 C grated Comte or Emmentaler cheese
basic quiche shell, cooled
basic quiche batter
Canola oil

Melt the butter in a large pot or saute pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook gently for about 2 minutes, until they have softened but not colored. Add half the spinach, 1 tsp of the salt, and 1/2 tsp of the pepper. (To season the spinach evenly, it is best to sprinkled the leaves with salt and pepper before they wilt.) Stir for a minute to wilt, then add the remaining spinach, 1 tsp of salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring until all the spinach has wilted. Drain the spinach on paper towels and let cool.

Put a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 F.

Squeeze the cooled spinach to remove excess liquid and chop coarsely to make cutting the quich easier. Scatter .25 C of the cheese and half the spinach evenly into the cooled quich shell (still on the baking sheet). Blend the quiche batter again to aerate it, then pour in enough of the batter to cover the ingredients and fill the quiche approximately halfway. Top the batter with another .25 C of the cheese and the remaining spinach. Blend the remaining batter and fill the quiche all the way to the top. Sprinkle the remaining .25 C cheese on top of the quiche. (If you don't have a very steady hand, you might spill some of the batter on the way to the oven; fill the quiche most of the way, then pour the final amount of batter on top once the quiche is on the oven rack. Then top it with the remaining cheese.)

Bake for 1.5 to 1.75 hours, or until the top of the quiche is browned and the custard is set when the pan is jiggled. Remove the quiche from the oven and let cool on a rack to room temperature. Refrierate until thoroughly chilled, at least 1 day, or up to 3 days.

Once the quiche is thoroughly chilled, using a metal bench scraper or a sharp knife, scrape away the excess crust from the top. Tilt tthe ring on its side, with the bottom of the quiche facing you, and run a small paring knife between the crust and the ring to release the quiche. Set the quiche down and carefully lift off the ring. Return to the refrigerator until ready to serve.

To serve: Preheat the oven to 375 F. Linea baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly oil the paper.

Using a long serrated knife and supporting the sides of the crust, carefully cut through the edge of the crust in a sawing motion. Switch to a long slicing knive and cut through the custard and bottom crust. Repeat, cutting the quiche into 8 pieces. Place the pieces on the baking sheet and reheat for 15 minutes, or until hot throughout. To check, insert a metal skewer into the quiche for several seconds and then touch the skewer to your lip to test the temperature of the quiche.

2 C flour, sifted, plus flour for rolling
1 tsp kosher salt
8 oz. chilled unsalted buttter, cut into 1/4" pieces
1/4 C ice water
canola oil

Place 1 C of the flour and the salt in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn to low speed and add the butter a small handful at a time. When all butter is added, increase speed to medium and mix until butter is completely blended with flour. Reduce speed, add remaining flour, and mix just to combine. Add water and mix until incorporated. The dough will come around the paddle and should feel smooth, not sticky, to the touch.

Remove the dough from the mixer and check to be certain there are no visible pieces of butter remaining; if necessary, return to the mixer and mix briefly again. Pat into a 7- to 8-inch disk and wrap in plastic wrap. REfrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to a day. (If the dough does not rest, it will shrink as it bakes.)

Lightly brush the inside of a 9 x 2" ring mold with canola oil and place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Place the dough on a floured work surface and rub on all sides with flour. Flatten into a larger circle using a rolling pin or the heel of your hand. Roll the rolling pin back and forth across the dough a few times, then turn it 90 degrees and roll again. Continue to turn and roll until the dough is 3/16" thick and about 14" in diameter. (If the kitchen is hot and the dough has become very soft, move it to the baking sheet and refrigerate for a few minutes.)

To lift the dough into the ring, place the rolling pin across the dough about one-quarter of the way up from the bottom edge, fold the bottom edge of dough up and over the pin, and roll the dough up on the rolling pin. Lift the dough on the pin, hold it over the top edge of the ring and unroll the dough over the mold, centering it. Carefully lower the dough into the ring, pressing it gently against the sides and into the bottom corners of the ring. Trim any dough that extends more than an inch over the sides of teh mold and reserve the scraps. Fold the excess dough over against the outside of the ring. (Preparing the quiche shell this way will prevent it from shrinking down the sides as it bakes. The excess dough will be removed after the quich is baked.) Carefully check for any cracks or holes in the dough, and patch with the reserved dough as necessary. Place in the refrigerator or freezer for at least 20 mnutes to resolidify the butter. Reserve the remaining dough scraps.

Put a rack set in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 F.

Line the quiche shell with a 16-inch round of parchment. Fill the shell with pie weights or dried beans, gently guiding the weights into the corners of the shell and filling the shell completely. Bake the shell for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the edges of the dough are lightly browned but the bottom is still light in color.

Carefully remove the parchment and weights. Check the dough for any new cracks or holes and patch with the thin pieces of the reserved dough if necessary. Return the shell to the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the bottom is a rich golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow the shell to cool copmletely on the baking sheet. Once again, check the dough for any cracks or holes, and patch if necessary before filling with the quiche batter.

basic quiche batter

2 C milk
2 C heavy cream
6 large eggs
1 TB kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly fround white pepper
6 gratings fresh nutmeg

Combine the milk and cream in a large saucepan and heat over medium heat until scalded (meaning a skin begins to form on the surface). remove from the heat and let cool for 15 minutes before continuing.

Put 3 eggs, half the milk and cream mixture, 1.5 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp white pepper, and 3 gratings of nutmeg in a blender and blend on low speed for a few seconds to combine the ingredeints. Increase the speed to high and blend for 30 seconds to a minute, or until the batter is light and foamy.

This is the first layer of the quiche. Once you have assembled it, add the remaining ingredients to the blender and repeat the process to complete the quiche.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

corn chowder

B asked me to make corn chowder, and, as usual, I was leery of trying it. (I was a very picky eater as a child, and my default position on anything but dessert is to assume I'll hate it.) But I found a recipe in The Professional Chef and gave it a shot, and I really enjoyed it. Enough that I made a second batch, and doubled it.

The original recipe calls for salt pork, but I didn't know where to find any, so I used bacon. (The amount of corn makes in the soup makes it quite sweet, so I enjoyed the balance the smokiness of the bacon gave it.) I omitted the celery because I hate celery and the Tabasco sauce because we didn't have any.

corn chowder (adapted from The Professional Chef, The Culinary Institute of America)

4 oz bacon
2 oz butter
6 oz small-dice onions
4 oz small-dice green peppers
4 oz small-dice red peppers
3.5 oz all-purpose flour
64 fl oz chicken stock
2 lb corn kernels, fresh or frozen
2 lb potatoes, small dice
1 bay leaf
8 fl oz heavy cream, hot
8 fl oz milk, hot
salt, as needed
ground white pepper, as needed
2 tsp Tabasco sauce
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1. In a large pot, melt butter. Add bacon and cook until crisp.
2. Add onions and peppers and sweat until softened, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the flour and cook to make a white roux, about 3 minutes.
4. Remove from heat and add 1/3 of stock. Stir until combined. Return to medium heat and continue stirring to work out lumps. Repeat with remaining stock. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring periodically to avoid scorching, until thickened, 30-40 minutes.
5. Puree half of the corn and add to the soup with the potatoes. Add the remaining corn and bay leaf and simmer, covered, until corn and potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
6. Add the cream and milk to the soup, and stir to combine. Heat just until soup begins to simmer, about 10 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Finish soup or rapidly cool and refrigerate for later service.
7. To finish for service, return soup to a boil. Season with salt, pepper, Tabasco, and Worcestershire sauce and serve in heated bowls or cups.

deviled eggs

I never liked deviled eggs until one of my friends brought them to a party, still warm. They weren't rubbery at all, and they tasted great. I asked him his secret--it was something to do with the cooking--at then promptly forgot it.

Recently, though, B pulled out New Best Recipe to make himself some hardboiled eggs. And there was the same secret cooking method--bringing them just to a boil, turning off the heat, and allowing them to sit for ten minutes before putting them in cold water to stop the cooking.

B's eggs turned out so well that I decided to devil them, again using NBR. They were delicious, and we ate the entire batch by the end of the night.

deviled eggs (New Best Recipe, Editors of Cook's Illustrated)

7 large eggs
.75 tsp whole-grain mustard
3 TB mayonnaise
1.5 tsp cider vinegar (or vinegar of your choice)
.25 tsp Worcestershire sauce
salt and ground black pepper

1. Place eggs in medium saucepan, cover with one inch of water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove the pan from heat, cover, and let stand 10 minutes. Fill a medium bowl with 1 qt cold water and 1 tray ice cubes. Transfer eggs to ice water with a slotted spoon; let sit 5 minutes.
2. Peel the eggs and slice each in half lengthwise with a paring knife. Remove the yolks to a small bowl. Arrange the whites on a serving platter, discarding the two worst-looking halves. Mash the yolks with a fork until no large lumps remain. Add the mustard, mayo, vinegar, Worcestershire, and salt and pepper to taste; mix with a rubber spatula, mashing against the side of a bowl until smooth.

3. Fit a pastry bag with a large open-star tip. Fill the bag with the yolk mixture, twisting the top of the pastry bag to help push the mixture toward the tip of the bag. Pipe the yolk mixture into the egg white halves, mounding the filling about .5 inch above the flat surface of the whites. [I didn't mash mine smoothly enough and my star tip was a little on the small side, so I got tired of unclogging it and just spooned in the filling.] Serve immediately.

Monday, October 13, 2008

strawberries & cream cupcakes

These are currently my favorite cupcakes. We had some extra strawberries, so I made yellow cupcakes, filled them with a tart strawberry jam, and topped them with a lightly sweetened cream cheese frosting. They're unbelievably good.

They're cute frosted, but I prefer to just cut the cupcakes in half and slather frosting and jam on each half.

strawberries & cream cupcakes:

yellow cupcakes
(The New Best Recipes, editors of Cook's Illustrated)
1.5 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1 C sugar
1.5 tsp baking powder
.5 tsp salt
8 TB unsalted butter, softened
.5 C sour cream
1 large egg, plus 2 yolks, at room temperature
1.5 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Grease 2 mini muffin tins and line with muffin cups. Mix dry ingredients. Add butter, sour cream, egg, yolks, and vanilla, and beat until smooth and satiny, about 30 seconds. Scrape sides of bowl with rubber spatula and stir by hand until smooth and no flour pockets remain.Divide among mini muffin cups. Bake until cupcake tops are pale gold and cupcakes pass toothpick test.

strawberry jam

1 C strawberry puree
.25 C sugar
1 TB pectin

Heat the strawberries, sugar, and pectin on medium until the mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat. Allow to cool before using.

cream cheese frosting
16 oz cream cheese
.5 C butter
2 C powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla

beets and potatoes

This was an attempt to replicate the flavor of an Ethiopian dish that B and I love--beets with some potatoes mixed in. I haven't figured out yet what is missing from my version, but regular old beets and potatoes boiled with some salt and butter are still good.

beets & potatoes
10 small red potatoes
4-5 medium beets
2-3 TB beet water
1 TB butter
salt to taste

Boil the beets and potatoes (in separate pans) until tender. Chop and mix with salt and butter. Add water from the beets for a little extra color.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


My sister needed to make a Spanish dish for a class project, so we made these together. I'm a little distrustful of random Internet recipes. The pictures look so good, but something goes missing in the transcription. This one, though, is a winner. It's quick, easy, and delicious. The churros are perfect--crispy outsides and creamy, custard insides. And they're adorable. Despite making a quadruple batch, we ran out of churros within minutes of frying the last plateful.

churros (from Dean Derhak's Real Spanish Food Recipes)

vegetable oil for frying, heated to 360 F
1 C water
.5 C butter
.25 tsp. salt
1 C flour
3 eggs, whisked until thoroughly mixed
.25 C sugar
.25 tsp. cinammon

1. Put water, butter, and salt in a pot and bring to a rolling boil.
2. Add flour, put heat on low, and stir until combined in sticky ball.
3. Whisk eggs into flour mixture until smooth.
4. Place in pastry bag with large star tip.
5. Pipe 4-6 churros (or as many as your pan can hold) into the hot oil.
6. Cook about two minutes (until golden) on each side.
7. Remove from oil, place on paper towels to briefly drain, and coat in cinnamon sugar while still warm.