Monday, October 29, 2012

Bacon and Eggs Makeover - Traditional Quiche Lorraine

I don't subscribe to the philosophy of "Real men don't eat quiche".  I call Bologna!  Whoever cooked up that saying, was simply trying to secure more quiche for themselves.  Why wouldn't men eat quiche?  In it's most basic form, quiche is nothing more than an egg pie.  Men like eggs, and most men definitely like pie. (I think it's a "Y" Chromosome thing)  In the case of Quiche Lorraine, you have the added benefit of Bacon.  I think it's safe to say that most, if not all, men like bacon.    mmmmmmm  B-A-C-O-N...  mmmmmmmm  P-I-E...   mmmmmmm B-A-C-O-N  P-I-E...  mmmmmm Q-U-I-C-H-E    L-O-R-R-A-I-N-E... 

I have to be honest though, I am sure that my defense of quiche consumption by the male of the species has to do with my parents.  Mom use to bake this Bacon, Potato and Clam quiche when we were kids.  Now you must understand that I come from a long line of fish eaters.  Oh yes.  Pretty much anything that contains some form of water breather is fair game in this family.  We absolutely loved that quiche when we were growing up.  Of course we didn't know it was anything French or fancy or "chi chi pu pu" like "quiche" supposedly is.  We called it Clam Chowder Pie.  Which stands to reason since it IS all about Pie after all; am I right?

Say it with me now, "Quiche is Pie.  Quiche is Pie." Granted, it's a savory custard pie, but it's still pie.  And pie is pie.  My grandfather use to say that there were only 2 types of pie that were fit to eat...  Hot pie and cold pie.  I cherish that small slice of wisdom.

I have heard from some that the reason they do not like quiche is because they don't like custard.  This always amuses me because these are usually the same people who can consume half a cheese cake, pumpkin pie, coconut cream or key lime pie in one sitting; all of which are custard pies.  What exactly constitutes a custard?  Custard is defined as Eggs and Moo Juice (milk or cream) cooked together until thickened.  Whether baked, simmered in a bain marie, or cooked in a pressure cooker, any combination of eggs and milk that begins to thicken, is a custard.  Creme Anglaise, cooked puddings and some mousse bases are also custards. Even cheese "cake" is a custard. True, it's denser than most, but at it's core, it's a custard pie made with cream cheese instead of cream.

My favorite quiche, by far, is Quiche Lorraine.  You just cannot go wrong with Bacon and Egg Pie.

But something strange has happened to Lorraine in the United States.  It's always full of stuff that doesn't belong.  Something must have gotten lost in translation somewhere.  It's probably due to the lack of one of the essential ingredients that CHEESE entered into this quintessential quiche of the Lorre valley.  Not that I have anything against cheese mind you, but it doesn't belong in Quiche Lorraine.  While I am on the subject of mysterious adjuncts, onions do not belong in Quiche Lorraine either.  It does, however, belong in Quiche Alsacienne (Bacon, Onion and Egg Pie).  I think Alsace should be given it's due for adding onions.

But back to the mysterious practice of adding cheese to Quiche Lorraine.

As I stated before, I think I figured out the why of it.  It adds a richness to the quiche that regular heavy cream just doesn't have.  The only problem is that the cheese contains a significant amount of protein and can make the quiche tough.  I HATE tough quiche.  Though I will admit that I enjoy Quiche Vosgienne on occasion (with Gruyere added) the basic issue can be corrected but using the correct cream, and heavy cream isn't the right one.

Don't worry, I am not talking about some fancy cream from a specific breed of cow in France that consumes spring grass and lavender blossoms.  I am simply talking about Crème Fraîche.  Yep, make your quiche with Crème Fraîche instead of heavy cream and it will be perfect in texture and flavor every time.  No cheeses need apply, unless absolutely necessary. (as in the case of Quiche Vosgienne)  Sadly, you cannot substitute Sour Cream or Yogurt; they will curdle and give you a lumpy and less than satisfactory texture.  ew! 

I am just sayin', this is how they make Quiche Lorraine in Lorraine. 

One of the nontraditional things I do is using a small amount of Spelt flour in the crust.  I tend to think of quiche as being a more rustic dish, thus a little less "refined" flour kinda fits the bill in my book.  It helps that Spelt flour has a delicious nutty flavor without the "sweetness" that whole wheat usually imparts. (it compliments the Crème Fraîche quite well)  I love this crust recipe and have started using it for a lot of savory pie applications.  It's a modification of the pastry crust I originally used on my Asparagus and Gruyere tart recipe (Sour Cream/Peppercorn pastry crust), but it works so well with other flavors (with the spelt added) that I keep coming back to it again and again. 

Quiche Lorraine

1 cup (4.4oz) (125g) AP Flour
1/2 cup (2.2oz) (62g)Spelt Flour (not traditional, but you can use more AP flour if you like)
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
optional - Several grinds of Black Pepper
8 TB unsalted Butter
1 TB Sour Cream or Crème Fraîche or an Egg Yolk (your choice, as long as it's a fat)
1 TB Ice Water
6-8 oz (170-225g) Bacon, cooked (about 12 regular slices or 6-7 thick cut)
6 large Eggs
1 1/2 cups (350ml) Crème Fraîche
Kosher Salt
White Pepper
Dash of Nutmeg

Always remember, the key to perfect pastry crust is cold ingredients and speed. (the refrigerator is your friend)
In a medium bowl, combine AP Flour, Spelt Flour, Salt and Black Pepper (if using) with a whisk.

Add sliced butter and work it into the flour with your fingers or a pastry cutter.

In a small bowl, combine Ice Water and Sour Cream with a fork.

Add this to the Flour/Butter mixture and stir with a fork until a dough forms.

You may chill it at this point if you like, or roll out to a 13 -14 inch circle.

Roll the pastry over your rolling pin to move to your 10-inch Quiche dish or tart pan with a removable bottom. Please take care if you used the Spelt flour.  Spelt makes it a little more tender and it will rip fairly easily if you try to fold it into quarters to move it.

Unroll into your dish and gently coerce it down into the dish.

Because of the rustic nature of quiche, I simply tear the extra pastry from the edge and leave it, but your can trim with a knife and crimp it if you like.

Dock it (poke holes in it) with a fork and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400F degrees.

Line with foil and fill with beans, rice or pie weights.

Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the foil and bake an additional 5 minutes.

Let the pastry shell cool slightly and reduce the temperature to 325F degrees.

Cook the Bacon. (By whichever method you prefer)

Chop the Bacon.

Sprinkle the Bacon all over the bottom of the cooling pastry.

Now, in a bowl, beat the eggs lightly, just until the white and yolk are combined.

Add the Crème Fraîche and stir well to combine (be careful not the beat it too much, you want to keep the bubbles to a minimum)

Season with a dash of Nutmeg, Salt and a sprinkle of White Pepper.

Pour into the awaiting pastry shell very slowly as to not dislodge the bacon from the bottom. (this is why I tend to use thick cut bacon, it doesn't float like the thinner slices do)

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the center is just barely set.

Let rest on the counter for 10-15 minutes to allow it to finish cooking.

Cut a slice and enjoy the best Bacon and Egg Pie that you ever had.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Burn Baby Burn, Custard Inferno! - Crème Brûlée

Crème Brûlée.......

The mere word conjures feelings of pure decadence. This is completely understandable considering the amount of fat contained in these little dishes of burnt sugar crusted heaven. But then again, this is a desert to be relished on special occasions. After all, you wouldn’t sit down and eat a whole pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey for dessert every night of the week now, would you? Or would you?

To be honest though, a 4 oz serving of Crème Brûlée, while not exactly healthy, really isn’t THAT bad.  I mean, it's loaded with calcium and potassium, right?

I love to make Crème Brûlée when I am having a large dinner party; in fact, I find it to be the perfect ending to most complex dinners. There is something refreshing about it’s simplicity after more complicated offerings, and most guests feel truly spoiled when being served such a dessert. I had one guest who commented that the main reason they showed up was in hopes of Crème Brûlée after dinner. Ya know, to this day, I am still not sure if I should be offended or flattered by that.

As stated earlier, Crème Brûlée is ingenious in its simplicity. It is nothing more than a combination of cream, egg yolk, and sugar, flavored with vanilla. What makes Crème Brûlée so much different from other custards is the method of combining these 4 ingredients. After all these years and many, many, many batches of burnt custard, I have found that there is just no way around it; you will need the following to properly execute this dish:
  1. A Bain-Marie (Double Boiler) to bring the custard to the Crème Anglaise stage. (When a clean line remains on the back of a spoon when your finger is drawn through it. If you have ever made cold process soap, another way to equate this stage is ‘light trace’). This step removes all of the air bubbles whisked in while conditioning the yolks. If not, you will have cooked foam on top of your finished crème. It also prevents accidental overcooking of the eggs as well as speeding up the baking process.
  2. Cheese cloth – No matter how good anyone is at separating eggs, you will almost always end up with a little egg white and at least part of the chalaza (The twisted albumen at each end of the yolk to hold it in place inside the shell.) Albumen coagulates at a much lower temp than the yolk will, and therefore must be strained out of the final mixture or you will have chunks.  (not sparkly)
  3. A kitchen torch or a Crème Brûlée iron - Trying to caramelize sugar under the broiler yields unsatisfactory results at best, no matter what they say on the Food Network.
  4. 4 - 4 oz ramekins that are only about 1 inch deep. Otherwise the cooking time will be off. And let’s face it; really good Crème Brûlée has a specific ratio of crusty caramel goodness to custard, if your ramekins are too deep it throws this ratio off. Bigger surface area means more crust.
  5. A roasting pan to use as a water bath. Unlike cheesecake (Which is a custard as well) you cannot cheat and place it in a dry oven, Crème Brûlée needs the gentle 212 degree heating of a water bath or it will quickly become over done and tough.
I know all this just made this undertaking sound REALLY complicated, but I assure you, it's is fairly easy to execute.

Basic Crème Brûlée

1/2 of a Vanilla Bean (Pod and Caviar)
pinch of Kosher Salt
2 cup of Heavy Cream (Light whipping cream and half and half add too much milk protein and make the Crème Brûlée tough.)
1/3 cup Caster or Bakers sugar (It dissolves quicker)
1/2 cup of Egg Yolk, Room Temperature (Yes, I use a liquid volume measure for this, that way it doesn’t matter what size eggs I have in the fridge. 1/4 cup yolk for every cup of heavy cream seems to be the perfect ratio, giving the Crème Brûlée the silky smooth texture)

Preheat your oven to 350F degrees

Split, then scrape your Vanilla Bean, with the back of the knife, to free the inner caviar.

In a medium sauce pan heat Heavy Cream, Kosher Salt, Vanilla Caviar as well as the Pod to just below a boil (scald)

Place the bottom of the double boiler on the stove with about 1 inch of water, begin heating on medium heat.

In the top of the double boiler, but no over the heating water yet, whisk the Egg Yolks and Sugar until the sugar melts and no longer feels gritty in your fingers.

Place a tea kettle over medium heat as well, you will need it for the water bath later........

When cream has hit scald point, remove the pan from the heat, cover and let the Vanilla steep for 5-10 minutes, then fish out the Vanilla Pod.

Begin whisking yolks as you slowly pour the hot cream over them. (this will prevent you from having sweetened scrambles eggs)

Place mixture over the simmering water and cook until the Crème Anglaise stage mentioned above. Your custard should be smooth and almost bubble free.

Strain through 3 layers of cheese cloth into a vessel you can pour from, this removes ANY lumps. (I filter it into a 4 cup Pyrex measuring cup, for easy filling of the ramekins)

Fill ramekins about 3/4 full and place in a roasting pan.

Pull the rack from your oven out and place the roasting pan upon it and finish filling the ramekins almost to the top.

Push the oven rack in and fill the pan with hot water from the kettle until it comes half way up the sides of the ramekins, close the door and reduce the temperature to 325F degrees.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, the center will still be a little jiggly, that is good, if it’s not jiggly, then they are over done.

Carefully remove roasting pan from oven and quickly remove ramekins from hot water to a cooking rack. (I use tongs for this.)

Let Crème Brûlée cool to room temperature before placing in the refrigerator over night.

40 minutes before serving, remove from refrigerator and sprinkle the tops with a thin layer of plain old granulated sugar, or for a super special treat, use Demerara Sugar. (Which is actually my favorite)

With the ramekin in 1 hand and the lit kitchen torch in the other, apply the flame to the sugar, about 4 inches away, as soon as it begins to melt and run, twist the ramekin in your hand, I find this easier than moving the torch around. (I know, I am doing it on the counter, contrary to how I am saying it should be done, but in my defense, I needed one hand for the camera)

When all the tops are covered with a burnt crust, refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving, this will re-chill the custard slightly, but will not be long enough for the crust to get or turn into liquid.

Now take a spoon, and hold the ramekin up to your ear while forcefully applying your spoon to the crust, just to hear that satisfying “Crack” when the crust breaks.

Then there is the perfect spoonful, with just a small amount of the cracked caramel to accompany the unctuousness of the cream custard.

Sadly, it all seems to end WAY too soon.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Meatless Monday - Panko Packed Portobello

One of my favorite things to consume, when I am not consuming meat, is mushrooms; especially shiitake.  Shiitake have an extremely meaty flavor, for being "meat free".   Add that to the "meaty" texture of a Portobello mushroom, and you have a recipe for deliciousness that can fool even the most ravenous of carnivores.

Granted, this recipe also includes a significant amount of gorgonzola cheese. Gorgonzola, like most blue cheeses, is blessed with glutamates.  While the level is not nearly as high as that of Parmigiano-Reggiano, the undisputed king of cheeses, it is significant enough to provide even more of that savory umami response on your taste buds.  This, again, lends to that "meat" sensation along with Shiitake flavor and the Portobello texture.

This also makes great lunch time fare... At which point you can still have a steak for dinner. :)  Me?  I am OK with the occasional meatless dinner.  For some reason, I feel healthier when I remove meat from my diet at least 1 day out of the week.  Honestly, if I didn't eat so much fish already, I would probably go meatless more often. 

Panko Packed Portobello

4 Portabello Mushroom Caps
Olive Oil
4 oz (113g) Shiitake, minced
2 TB unsalted Butter
a couple sprigs of Thyme leaves
3 oz (85g) Gorgonzola, crumbled (or shredded Gruyere or Gouda)
3/4 cup Panko
2 TB Italian Parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350F (175C) degrees.
First, remove the stems of the Portobello.

Slice off the bottom, to clean up the stem a little before finely mincing them.

Remove the stems from the Shiitake and toss (they are usually way too woody to eat),

then mince the Shiitake caps as well.

Place the Portobello caps in a glass baking dish, gills down, and brush liberally with olive oil and place in the oven for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet.

Add the minced mushrooms and saute for 3-5 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the flame and allow it to cool slightly before adding the Thyme, Panko, and Parsley.

Crumble the Gorgonzola and stir it into the mixture as well.

Remove the baking dish from the oven and flip the caps over so the gills are exposed.

Divide the filling amongst the Portobello caps, pressing lightly to form a nice dome of deliciousness.

Place until the broiler for about 5-10 minutes or until the filling is nicely browned.

Serve with a light Uplandcress Salad with Meyer Lemon Citrusette.