Friday, June 30, 2006

Broccoli and Voltaire

A couple of months ago, one of my posts on The Suburban Apron Companywas devoted to starting a tiny, little garden (which my husband diligently waters for me each day). Despite some initial procrastination in planting this garden, it is happy and prosperous. And despite my personal reluctance in tending to my own spiritual garden, exercises in personal cultivation have also become more prosperous. While my faith has never faltered, my spirit was severely wounded from my father's death last year. Work became a place of refuge, and then a place of agony. Once I left work, I became even less steady, but still productive, assuming the role of a modern-retro housewife. Since then, my productivity has become exponential, simultaneously taking me in several different directions. The Suburban Apron Company successfully chronicles much of my culinary adventure, while writing for Paper Palate and the Well Fed Network has allowed me to rekindle my former romance with writing professionally. Still, the activity hadn't afforded me the means to achieve any consistent inner peace. However, I've continued to tend my spiritual garden. And recently, I've discovered new opportunities to volunteer my talents for service within my local community. Helping myself by helping others.

To sow and to reap the fruits of our labors...

In honor of so much cultivation, I baked these delightfully simple Crustless Broccoli-Cheddar Quiches from Martha Stewart, with broccoli gathered fresh from our miniature plot of suburban farmland. The subtle flavor of the nutmeg (of which I added a little extra, of course...) was the perfect compliment to this creamy, cheesy quiche with broccoli that tasted much sweeter than any store-bought variety. My spirit has been strengthened to continue tending my garden, cultivating good fruits.

(Each week at Sweetnicks, there is a weekly round-up of healthy contributions from various food bloggers, promoting the use of antioxidant rich foods in home cooking. Broccoli is a well known antioxidant, containing many powerful vitamins and nutrients. Therefore, these savory broccoli-cheddar quiches will be my side-dish for this week's ARF/5-A-Day plate over at Sweetnicks.)

Crustless Broccoli-Cheddar Quiches
(recipe courtesy Martha Stewart Living)
Butter, for ramekins
Coarse salt
1 package (10 ounces) frozen broccoli florets
(or use fresh broccoli from your garden, as I did)
6 large eggs
1/2 cup half-and-half (or use a little heavy cream, as I did)
Ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese (3 ounces)

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter four 8-ounce ramekins (or a 9-inch pie dish); set aside. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add broccoli; cook 1 minute. Drain well; transfer to a cutting board, and blot dry with paper towels. Chop coarsely.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, half-and-half, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in broccoli and cheese.

Place ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet. Ladle broccoli mixture into ramekins, dividing evenly. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve with crusty bread and a mixed-green salad, if desired. (I served with toasted homemade thyme-flavored bread.) Serves 4.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Five Questions for Gale Gand

Chef Gale Gand recently answered five questions for Paper Palate. To read my questions, along with her answers, and to find out what's new with her, you can read the complete article at Paper Palate on the Well Fed Network.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Bakewell Tart - a one-off blog event from Spittoon Extra: Chocolate Bakewell Tart

Over at Spittoon Extra, there is a June blog event, prompted by an article in theIndependent, which had declared the Bakewell Tart to be an endangered species.The Bakewell Tart- a one-off blog event is a collective response to help save the charming and delicious dessert. To show my support, I chose to bake a Chocolate Bakewell Tart, recipe courtesy of Cadbury.

For the tart, I used homemade strawberry jam in the filling, pre-baked the tart shell, and chose not to add the trellis. And while it may not be nearly as tall and attractive as the one pictured on the Cadbury website, it still tasted wonderful. The thin layer of strawberry jam combined with the rich, chocolate-almond filling, blended well with the buttery, flaky tart shell. I sampled the tart warm, unable to wait for the it to cool properly. (In fact, I promptly sampledtwo servings!) I am definitely going to make this tart again (adding extra jam and filling), as well as the more traditional tarts, sans chocolate. Thank you, Andy, for hosting such a yummy event!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Five Questions for Sara Moulton

Chef Sara Moulton recently answered five questions for Paper Palate. To see my questions, along with her answers, and to find out what's new with her, you can read the complete article at Paper Palate on the Well Fed Network.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Blackberry and Ginger Trifle

"This weekend, when making Father's Day dinner, getting in and out of the kitchen quickly is essential, and since dinner can easily be cooked on the grill, dessert preparation needs to be equally simple." ...To read more, visit my article for today at Paper Palate!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Small Joy

Sometimes it is small joys that carry us through days that are less than comfortable; days we are out of sorts for no apparent reason. These are days meant for quiet comfort food. Middle-of-the-week days, demanding savory dishes that are warm, nourishing, and flavorful. Once again, Martha Stewart has provided the perfect recipe for the occasion. Her miniature Cremini and Porcini Quiches, are at once, both adorable and delicious. Their tart shells, spiced with thyme, brilliantly compliment the earthiness of the mushroom filling. These happy little quiches make a lovely presentation, spreading joy to those fortunate guests seated at your table.

Cremini and Porcini Quiches
(recipe courtesy Martha Stewart Living, June 2004)

Tart Dough with thyme (recipe below)
All-purpose flour for dusting
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
9 ounces cremini mushrooms, halved lengthwise
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup heavy cream

Set six 4-inch cake rings (with 1 3/8 inch sides) on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper; set aside. Cut dough into six equal pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll out pieces, one at a time, to 1/8 inch thick. Using a cake pan as a guide, cut an 8-inch circle from each piece. Fit circles into cake rings, trimming dough flush with tops of rings to make tart shells. Prick bottoms all over with a fork. Freeze until firm, at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400°.

Line tart shells with parchment paper; fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until dough edges start to feel firm, about 20 minutes. Remove parchment and weights; continue baking until crusts are pale golden brown, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Reduce oven temperature to 350°.

Soak porcini in boiling water; let soften 30 minutes. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; cook cremini, cut sides down, without stirring, until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Lift out porcini; pour soaking liquid through a fine sieve into a blender. Add porcini, eggs and yolk, salt, and pepper; blend until smooth. Add cream; blend.

Divide filling among tart shells. Arrange cremini in filling, cut sides up. Bake until set, about 40 minutes. Let cool at least 30 minutes before serving. Makes 6 4-inch quiches.
Tart Dough
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 herb/spice of choice (optional) chives, rosemary, or thyme
9 tablespoons (1 1/8 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk, beaten
3 tablespoons ice water

Process flour, salt, and herbs (if using) in a food processor until combined. Add butter, and process just until mixture resembles coarse meal. Whisk together egg mixture and the water in a small bowl. With processor running, pour in egg mixture; process until dough starts to come together. Shape dough into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me...

We celebrated my birthday weekend, by taking a minibreak, roadtripping in search of zen. We found our peace (and quiet) in Rockford, IL at Anderson Japanese Gardens. (When you visit the website, make sure to have the sound turned on, especially while viewing the numerous gallery pages). Designed by Hoichi Kurisu, these fourteen acres of serenity and remarkable beauty contain, 'the finest Japenese garden in North America,' as declared by theJournal of Japanese Gardening, in 2004. The gardens are designed in the traditional strolling pond style, with an additional, more contemporary Garden of Reflection also included. Unfortunately, the complete experience cannot be properly described; it is a personal experience that is truly appreciated, onlyin the midst of a personal journey through these special, healing gardens.

Once back at home, I sought a similar serenity in my kitchen. I revisited the peaceful scenes of the gardens in full screen mode on my laptop, complete with sound, courtesy of the Anderson Japanese Gardens online galleries. Inspired, I baked these lovely little Green Tea Shortbread Leaves from Martha Stewart. While I didn't have any Matcha, I simply used finely ground green tea leaves (taken from my Tazo bags and then reground in my mini food processor). The shortbread dough blended with the Tazo still worked very well. Warm leaves perfumed my kitchen as they baked. Once finished, they tasted fresh and wonderful. A calm returned and again, there was zen.

Green Tea Shortbread Leaves
(recipe courtesy

2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for rolling
2 tablespoons green tea powder (Matcha)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners or granulated sugar

Sift flour, tea powder, and salt into a small bowl; set aside. Place butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream on medium speed until fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add sugar; continue to beat until very light in color and fluffy, about 2 minutes more. Add flour mixture; combine on low, scraping sides of bowl with a spatula if necessary, until flour is just incorporated and dough sticks together when squeezed with fingers.

Place a piece of parchment on a clean surface; dust with flour. Roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness; chill in refrigerator or freezer until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325°. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Cut chilled dough with 2-inch leaf cutters. Using a wide spatula, transfer to baking sheets. Chill until firm. Gather scraps together, reroll, chill, and cut shapes. Bake until firm and barely starting to color, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating halfway through. Cool completely on wire rack; store in an airtight container for up to 3 to 4 weeks. Makes 3 dozen.

(Each week at Sweetnicks, there is a weekly round-up of healthy contributions from various food bloggers, promoting the use of antioxidant rich foods in home cooking; since green tea is extremely rich in antioxidants, these Green Tea Shortbread Leaves will be my offering to this week's ARF/5-A-Day plate.)

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Five Questions for Rick Bayless

(photo courtesy

Chef Rick Bayless recently answered five questions for Paper Palate. To see my questions, along with his answers, and to find out what's new with Frontera Kitchens, you can read the complete article at Paper Palate on the Well Fed Network.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

"Pain au Thym"

If you haven't already discovered Peter Mayle's Provence, run, don't walk to your nearest bookstore or local public library and acquaint yourself with a wonderfully written series of books that will transport you to beautiful landscapes, delicious culinary adventures, and colorful social commentary on French Provencial life. I've recently reacquainted myself with these delightful books and have once again, found myself vicariously relaxing in the warmth of Provence, while enjoying the many gourmet flavors of France. All of the books within this series are rich in descriptive detail of all things culinary, true bliss for a foodie book lover. And just this past year, Mr. Mayle added an additional course to the menu, with Confessions of a French Baker. This adorable volume revisits Chez Auzet, the wonderful French bakery that was first introduced to us by Mr. Mayle, in A Year in ProvenceConfessions of a French Baker not only takes us on a tour of the bakery, complete with a brief Auzet family history, but also reveals to us various processes and techniques involved in the art of baking bread. And as if this were not enough, beautifully illustrated and simple recipes from Gerard Auzet are included for the already well fed reader.

Inspired by this brilliant little book, and also because of my well known love of thyme, I have just finished baking a small French boule that is flavored with thyme. Most everyone has a favorite scent (especially in the kitchen) that soothes them, for me it's the essence of thyme. The scent of thyme gives me a feeling that despite any personal melancholy, all is still right with the world. This afternoon, my spirits were immediately lifted, as I kneaded the dough for this bread and the subtle hint of thyme perfumed my entire kitchen (and my hands as well, since I did not use a mixer). Soon, my primitive, little hand-formed loaf had baked itself beautifully and my kitchen was again a place of aromatherapy. And with the first warm taste, I found myself once again in Mr. Mayle's Provence.

Friday, June 2, 2006

Retro Recipe Challenge: Lemon Cracker Pudding

Currently, there is a Retro Recipe Challenge taking place over at Laura Rebecca's Kitchen, and since I have a few vintage cookbooks in my small collection, I've decided to participate. Initially, I had thought of choosing a classic Betty Crocker recipe, but instead opted for Meta Given. The Modern Family Cook Book (Meta Given c. 1942, 1953, 1958, 1961), whose first sentence of the Introduction reads, "Mrs. Homemaker, this book is written for full appreciation of your problems of running a home," seemed perfect for this challenge. The Introduction further explains the various obstacles facing the modern housewife of yesterday (yet still holds some truth today), including menu planning, meal preparation, and household budgeting and accounting. The final sentence of the Introduction declares, "Mrs. Homemaker, this book is your book," and considering this single volume is nearly encyclopedic, with over 1000 recipe entries, in addition to extensive instructional information for seemingly all aspects of domestic cookery, this book remains a definitive homemaking text.

Although Lemon Cracker Pudding is not a dessert recipe that sounds very appealing, this is a retro recipe challenge, so it seemed an appropriate choice. The process was simple enough, scald some liquids, mix some dry ingredients, combine all together and bake. Top baked pudding with meringue, and bake again to set. I wasn't quite sure what the best baking dish for this recipe should be, so I used a classic vintage Corningware casserole. It worked very well.

While the pudding presented itself well, I remained skeptical of its flavor. But since I have an adventurous palate, I sampled the questionable dessert with reckless abandon. 'Odd,' was my initial reaction. The second forkful was, 'better.' And when I had finished the serving, this dessert had proven itself not only edible, but, actually, 'not too bad.' I can easily understand its appeal in 1942, when this book was first published. Food staples were limited and rationed during this time of world war. The ingredients for this dessert would have been more accessible than those required for elaborate dishes. This was simple, honest comfort food. And so, I am pleased to post this recipe for Lemon Cracker Pudding as my entry in the Retro Recipe Challenge from Laura Rebecca's Kitchen.

Lemon Cracker Pudding
(recipe courtesy of The Modern Family Cook Book, New Revised Edition, c.1961, Meta Given)

1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup water
2/3 cup coarse cracker crumbs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 eggs, separated
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Add milk to water and scald in top of double boiler. Combine cracker crumbs, 3/4 cup sugar, salt, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and the rind, and add slowly to scalded milk, and water, stirring constantly. Stir in melted butter and beaten egg yolks. Pour into greased baking dish and bake in a moderately low oven (325° F) 45 minutes. Then remove from oven, cover with meringue made by beating whites of eggs until stiff, gradually adding 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Bake in a moderate oven (350° F) until meringue is brown (12 to 15 minutes). Serve warm or cold. 5 servings.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Take Time to Taste the Croissants

There are few things better than fresh, homebaked croissants. Despite being a somewhat lengthy process, it is well worth the patience and effort required. When those flaky, buttery layers melt in your mouth, so too, does any former frustration. Personally, I could quite easily become absolutely addicted to croissants.

The May issue of Martha Stewart Living features a detailed recipe for the perfect homebaked croissant, which I've just reviewed for the Paper Palateand Well Fed Network. Try this recipe and make yourself very happy with fresh, hot, and buttery croissants--from your home oven!