Sunday, April 29, 2012

(Very Belated) Easter Quiche

Yes, I realize that Easter was nearly a month ago. But with less and less time to blog, my stack of recipes to write about is really piling up. There are some I'm sure I can skip, but there are two reasons I felt compelled to sort through the stack and post about the quiche I made for Easter brunch: 1) It was amazingly delicious, and 2) It was a Julia Child recipe.

I most likely haven't mentioned it (probably because it's mildly embarrassing), but once of the reasons I began LoVBites was because I was inspired by the movie Julie and Julia. Now, I never had the intention of cooking my way through Julia Child's masterpieces, but I did think it would be fun to document my adventures in the kitchen. Hopefully, I've succeeded and at least one or two of you out there agree :)

Somewhere along the line, I may have divulged this sort-of secret to Stephanie, because I opened my birthday present last month to find two books authored by Julia herself: Mastering the Art of French Cooking and My Life in France. It's really a shame that these books weren't already in my collection, but leave it to Steph to help me fill out my library. With Easter just a couple weeks away at that point, I knew I have to sift through Julia's encyclopedic-sized collection and find the perfect brunch recipe. Leek Quiche, or Flamiche - Quiche Aux Poireaux, seemed like just the one.

I have to confess to one thing before we move on ... because Julia seems to rival Paula Deen in her love of butter, I made a few adjustments to this recipe. I've provided Julia's measurements alongside mine in case you are braver than I am and want to attempt the recipe in all of its full-fat glory. Your quiche might be more delicious than mine, but know that mine was also scrumptious and a bit less guilt inducing.

Leek Quiche (Flamiche - Quiche Aux Poireaux)
Our entire Easter spread.
Serves 6 to 8 (or 4 to 6 if you're as generous as Julia)
For the Pastry Dough
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 stick butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (or for Julia, 1 1/2 sticks chilled and cut into 1/2-inch "bits")
2 tablespoons shortening (or for Julia, 4 tablespoons chilled)
(A scant) 1/2 cup ice water (plus droplets more as needed)

For the Filling
1 lb. white of leeks, sliced (about 3 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
3 eggs
1 cup heavy whipping cream (or for Julia, 1 1/2 cups)
Pinch nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (or for Julia, Swiss)
(for Julia, 1 tablespoon butter, cut into pea-sized dots)

Measure dry ingredients into the bowl of a food processor. Add butter pieces and shortening. Flick the machine on and off 4 or 5 times. Turn the machine on and add the scant 1/2 cup water. Immediately flick the machine on and off several times, and the dough should begin to mass on the blade. If not, "dribble" (I love Julia's very proper culinary terminology) in a little more water and repeat, repeating again if necessary. Dough is done when it has begun to mass, but do not over mix it. Scrape dough onto floured work surface and proceed to the fraisage.

The fraisage is a final blending by hand. With the heel of one hand (not the palm, which is too warm), rapidly press the pastry by two spoonful bits down on the board and away from you in a firm, quick smear of about 6 inches.

Gather the dough again into a mass, knead it briefly into a fairly smooth round ball. Sprinkle lightly with flour and wrap it in waxed paper (or plastic wrap ... because really, who used waxed paper anymore?). Freeze 1 hour or refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, roll the dough out quickly (its high butter content will make it difficult to handle if you're too slow). Lightly flour the dough and roll it into a 9-inch round (Julia goes on at length about the rolling technique, but I think you can figure it out). Butter your pie dish (or spray it with cooking spray, like I did) and gently lay your dough in the dish. Press the dough lightly into the bottom and up sides of the dish. Trim off excess, then use your thumbs to make an even rim around the top of the dish. Prick bottom of pastry with a fork at 1/2-inch intervals.

Lola was very curious about what I served for Easter brunch.
Line the pastry with foil and add pie weights. Bake on the center rack of a 400 degree oven for 8 to 9 minutes. Remove foil and pie weights and make 2 to 3 minutes more.

In the meantime, you can stew the leeks. Add leeks, water, salt, and butter to a heavy bottomed, covered saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, then lower heat and stew gently 20 to 30 minutes until leeks are very tender.

Beat eggs, cream, and seasonings in a mixing bowl. Gradually stir in leeks. Pour into partially-cooked pastry shell. Sprinkle with cheese (and butter, if you're using Julia's recipe). Bake in upper third of oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until puffed and browned (and center appears to be set). (Julia didn't tell me to, but I protected the crust with foil to keep it from over-browning. I highly recommend you do the same.)

Allow to cool for several minutes before cutting and serving.

By the way, this was extremely time consuming, but the end result was worth it. I may only attempt Julia's other recipes for special occasions, but I'm super proud to have accomplished at least one!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mastering Meringue

I've never felt like I needed a reason to bake, but with Bill's recent P90X obsession I've been making an effort to cut back. We've replaced our occasional trips to Kopp's for frozen custard with sugar-free popsicles and the pounds of Italian cookies my mom mailed us for Easter were banished while we munched on rice cakes and orange slices. Of course, this can't go on forever, but I'll humor him for awhile. In the meantime, I'm snatching up any excuse I can to break this ban on baking.

Luckily, a perfectly good excuse came around this week with Laura's birthday. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with Laura, she's my employee who we very affectionately refer to as my minion. And yes, she's aware that we refer to her as my minion.) Not only was this a good opportunity to bake a batch of cupcakes, but the recipe I selected also gave me a chance to master meringue!

I've attempted meringue frosting on one or two occasions with just o.k. results. For one of my America's Test Kitchen Blogger Challenges last year, I used Martha Stewart's "7-Minute Frosting" (which takes way beyond 7 minutes to make). The process was kind of complex and it didn't yield perfect results - my frosting was a little grainy and it didn't hold its shape. No one wants droopy frosting, so I needed to find a fix.

Then along came the April 9 page of my Food Network recipe-a-day calendar! I think I was trying to ignore this delicious cupcakes with lemon meringue frosting recipe, until Laura pointed out that it sounded delish. Then I realized I had to make them. First, I couldn't disappoint Laura with a sub-par cupcake on her birthday, and second, I had to redeem my meringue-making skills.

Here's what I discovered the main difference is between this recipe and Martha's: heat. I'm convinced now that Martha's frosting was sort of melty because the recipe asks you to beat it over a double boiler for too long. This recipe calls for just a couple minutes of heat (long enough to dissolve the sugar) and then continued beating off the heat until you reach those beautiful stiff peaks. It was absolute perfection, both in appearance and taste. I need to find more friends with birthdays so I can make these amazing cupcakes again!

Vanilla Cupcakes with Lemon Meringue Frosting
For Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup milk

For Frosting
4 egg whites
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Pinch cream of tartar
1 to 2 drops food coloring (I used red for pretty pink cupcakes!)

Position oven rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pan with 12 cupcake liners.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt together in medium bowl. In separate bowl, beat eggs and sugar with handheld mixer until foamy, about 2 minutes. While beating, gradually pour in butter and then vanilla. With mixer at low speed, add half the dry ingredients, then all the milk, then the remaining dry ingredients. Divide batter evenly among cupcake liners. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of cake comes out with just a few crumbs attached, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool cupcakes in tin 10 minutes. Remove to wire rack and cool completely.

To prepare frosting, bring a few inches of water in a small saucepan to boiling over medium heat. Choose a heat-proof mixing bowl that will just fit over the saucepan without touching the water. OFF THE HEAT, whisk by hand the egg whites, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, cream of tartar, and a pinch of salt. Set bowl above boiling water and continue whisking by hand until sugar has dissolved, about 2 minutes. REMOVE FROM HEAT and beat with electric mixer at medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 5 minutes. Add food coloring and continue beating at high speed until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes. If the bowl is still a bit warm, place it in the fridge for 10 minutes before frosting the cupcakes.

I piped my cupcakes by filling a Zip-loc bag and snipping off a corner, but you can also use a spoon or offset spatula to frost these little cuties. Next time I think I'd like to use a knife to create little peaks in the frosting ... and maybe I'll break out the food torch to fire them up like baked Alaska!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Lost Recipes: Stir Fried Beef with Green Beans

First of all, let me say that I feel terrible about my two-week absence from LoVBites. I swear I still cook, I just haven't had time to write about the deliciousness being produced in my kitchen. This is mostly due to the fact that Bill has forced me into a full three months of P90X and Tony Horton is monopolizing my evenings. This means that we often don't eat dinner until 8:00, and because of that our dinners are sometimes much less exciting. I currently have about 52 boneless, skinless chicken breasts in my freezer, if that tells you anything.

Nonetheless, I have a back log of amazing recipes I want to get around to sharing. This is actually one I made pre-P90X, and I was reminded of it when I pulled the other half of the flank steak out of the freezer the other day. (I made Korean barbecue with that half, which was amazing but not blog-worthy. I just used a bottle of CJ Korean BBQ Kalbi marinade that I picked up at World Market - but you should go buy it! It was delicious!)

Stumbling across this picture of the stir fry was a good reminder that I want to repeat this recipe, or perhaps a variation of it. We don't make a ton of stir fries in our house, but this particular dish made me wonder why not! It was a perfect little pot of steamy, flavorful beef and veggies, just a little bit spicy and a little bit sweet.

Teriyaki Stir Fried Beef with Green Beans and Mushrooms
6 oz. flank steak, cut into 2-inch strips with the grain, then 1/8-inch thick strips across the grain
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
4 oz. mushrooms, chopped
6 oz. green beans, trimmed and halved
2 tablespoons water

Toss beef with 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1/2 teaspoon sugar in small bowl. Let marinate at least 10 minutes or up to 1 hour. In separate bowl, whisk remaining soy sauce, sugar, broth, rice vinegar, cornstarch, and pepper flakes. In another bowl, combine 1/2 teaspoon oil, ginger, and garlic.

Drain beef, discarding the marinade. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a non-stick skillet over high heat. Add beef in a single layer, breaking up clumps. Cook without stirring for 1 minutes, then stir and continue to cook until meat is browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer beef to a clean bowl.

Add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to skillet and heat over high heat. Add mushrooms and cook until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add green beans and cook, stirring often, until spotty brown, about 2 to 4 minutes. Add water, cover, and cook until beans are crisp-tender, about 2 minutes longer.

Uncover and clear the center of the skillet. Add garlic mixture to clearing and cook, mashing mixture into the pan, until fragrant, about 15 to 30 seconds. Stir garlic mixture into vegetables. Return beef, along with any accumulated juices, to skillet and stir to combine. Whisk broth mixture and add to skillet. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 30 seconds. Serve on a fluffy bed of rice.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Birthday Banana Pie

Bill may not agree, but I think his birthday is a special occasion. In fact, I think the entire month of March is a special occasion and I'm pretty upset that it's over. It's the entire family's birthday month (me, Bill, Vito, and Lola!), plus we get to celebrate the birthdays of a few great friends in there, too.

Obviously, with all of these birthday, March is a pretty busy baking month. And birthday baking typically brings me great joy. This year, however, baking brought me great frustration on Bill's birthday. In the past, Bill has put in requests for pretty simple stuff, like yellow cake with chocolate frosting (from a box, no less!). But this year I thought I'd switch it up with something that sounded beyond delicious ... Banana Caramel Cream Pie.

I'm not gonna lie .. this pie was tough. With the steps involved, I knew I was in for a full afternoon of pie-making. But I didn't know it was going to be quite as trying as it was. Luckily, I was able to regroup and salvage everything so in the end, the pie was pulled off.

My first bump in the road came with the crust. I can't explain it, but the crust in the original recipe didn't hold up in the oven. It literally slid down the sides of the pie plate and collapsed during baking. I've NEVER seen a pie crust do that before! But since I had my custard and caramel sauce made by that point, I wasn't about to give up. I turned to the tried and true America's Test Kitchen, and made a modified version of their sweet pie dough. (Modified because the recipe I used was for a 6-inch pie and I was making a 9-inch. I had to wing it a bit.) This didn't yield perfect results (I probably need to adjust with just a bit more of everything, especially the butter), but at least I ended up with a perfectly-shaped-to-the-dish crust. The proportions in my recipe below could use a little tweaking, but will be adequate.

I also ran into a minor snag with the custard filling. I would have liked it to set up a bit more than it did, but I'm almost certain it's because I used skim milk instead of whole. For such a special occasion, I normally would have bought whole milk and done the recipe right. But it completely slipped my mind, so I had to use a substitute. It still tasted delicious, it's just not quite as thick and rich as it could be.

I should also mention that I had a near-disaster with the caramel sauce. It seemed to be taking much longer than the recipe-stated 5 to 6 minutes for the syrup to boil, so I took a chance and turned my back to roll out my pie dough. What seemed like seconds later, I turned around and what was supposed to be a deep amber syrup was verging on mahogany! I ripped it off the burner as fast as I could and mixed in the cream. Miraculously, it was saved ... and turned out to be some of the most delicious caramel sauce ever! The one improvement I could have made: more salt. The recipe didn't indicate an amount (just "to taste") and I definitely could have used a heavier hand. Add as much as a teaspoon (and maybe a half) if you really like salted caramel.

I'm not quite sure how I pulled it off in the end, but I was fortunate to end up with a pretty amazing Banana Caramel birthday pie for Bill. I'll cross my fingers that if you attempt it you won't make the same missteps as me (but still end up with a masterpiece in the end!).

Banana Caramel Cream Pie
For Crust
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons vegetable shortening
8 tablespoons butters, cut into pieces and chilled
5 to 7 tablespoons ice water

For Filling
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon flour
2 1/2 cups milk
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 bananas, sliced
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 tablespoons butter

For Topping
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, and salt. Pulse to combine. Scatter shortening and butter over flour mixture and process until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Transfer to medium bowl. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons ice water over mixture. Using rubber spatula, stir and press dough until it sticks together. Add additional tablespoons ice water as necessary to help dough come together.

Turn dough out onto floured counter. Shape into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate about 1 hour (or place in the freezer about 20 minutes). Before rolling dough, let sit on counter to soften slightly, about 10 minutes.

Roll dough into 9-inch circle. Press into pie plate and trim edges. Bake 25 to 35 minutes, or until crust is golden and firm. Remove from oven, place on wire rack, and allow to cool completely.

Prepare filling by combining sugar, salt, cornstarch, and flour in a heavy saucepan. Over medium-low heat, slowly whisk in the milk.

In a separate mixing bowl, beat egg yolks. When milk mixture begins to boil, transfer 1/2 cup of milk to egg yolks and whisk to temper. Add entire egg mixture to milk mixture. Continue whisking until mixture coats the back of a spoon and is smooth and thick. Remove from heat and strain into a medium bowl. Stir in butter and vanilla. Stir in 1 cup sliced bananas. (Reserve remaining banana slices.) Allow mixture to cool.

Prepare caramel sauce by combining sugar and water in another heavy saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring to a boil without stirring. If necessary, use a wet pastry brush to wash sugar crystals off sides of pan. Boil until sugar is a deep amber color, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully whisk in cream (careful, it will bubble up!). Stir in butter and salt to taste. Remove to bowl and allow to cool completely.

Prepare whipped cream by beating heavy cream on high in stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and vanilla and beat on high until stiff peaks form, about 5 to 6 minutes. Chill and reserve until time to serve.

Build pie by layering one third of custard mixture in crust. Drizzle with caramel sauce and add a layer of sliced bananas. Repeat layer. Add final layer of custard. Refrigerate pie, uncovered, until custard is set, about 2 to 3 hours. Before serving, top with whipped cream and drizzle with additional caramel sauce.