Saturday, September 8, 2012

Butter. Flour. Magic.

One of my favorite places in the world, in the kitchen, near a stove. Up to my arms in butter and flour, sugar and eggs. I grew up in a family where everything was homemade. My memories of spending time in the kitchen with my mom are some of my favorite childhood memories. I find myself getting in a zone in the kitchen where all the stress of life sort of falls away and it's just a happy place. And my kiddo is already a great cook--he made cupcakes for his pre-school class on Thursday night and they were quite delicious.

With less than 6 weeks til baby, it's time to stock the freezer with pre-made meals. I did this with the first baby and it was the best preparation I could have done. As it turns out returning to the practice of law, with a 6 or 8 week old baby, is really hard (who knew?). Having dinner made and in the fridge is absolutely one of my favorite feelings.

So this beautiful Saturday morning, the husband ticked off a 40 (not a typo) mile training run and I found some happy quiet activities for E$ (prounounced "E-money"). I got busy in the kitchen, cranked out 3 quiches from scratch and cajun red beans and rice.

Quiche is one of our family's favorites. It is rich and filling and while we do not eat it all the time (because of its fat content and calories), it is wonderful cool weather comfort food. A piece of quiche with a large spinach salad and we are in business. Typically one quiche makes it 2-3 meals for us.

Today's quiche was an combination of 3 recipes and they turned out beautifully. I use Williams Sonoma's pie crust recipe; Betty Crocker's quiche filler and some lovely woman named "Suzanne" told me what to put inside it.

Suzanne's contribution: I sauteed a pound of bacon, cut into one inch strips. Once the bacon was almost cooked, I added one diced onion and about a 1/2 pound of sliced mushrooms.  I could have stopped here and had a private moment with a fork. These ingredients smelled better than anything I could ever imagine. And they looked like this:

Oh bacon, the things you do to me. And everything that touches your magical goodness.
Williams Sonoma's contribution: I've been using their pie crust recipe for years. Yes, you can do store bought crust. But I love homemade crust. This recipe always turns our flaky and light and golden and just perfect. Pie crust is, of course, a labor of love. It is not, however, rocket science and well worth the effort. If you've never made pie crust from scratch, know this, I've been making pie crust for 8 years. It took some persistence but guess what? I'm basically a pro now. And with a little practice, it will be consistently wonderful.

So here's how I do it:

1 1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Teaspoon salt

Dump in food processor with dough blade inside. (Yes you can do it by hand and I did for many years. But a food processor cuts your time in less than half.)

29th birthday present was a food processor. A moment of common sense levelheadedness that rarely happens for me but possibly the smartest thing I've ever asked for.
Add one stick of COLD butter cut into tablespoons. Yes, it has to be cold. Cold butter, hot oven, remember that.
The start of many happy moments.
Push the dough button, turn it on. Combine for about 30-60 seconds.
See the dough button? Turns out it TOTALLY makes dough.
Stop the food processor when the ingredients look like cornmeal.
Butter. Flour. Magic.
Here's the part that takes a little practice. Adding ice water. Depending on humidity, elevation and probably a lot of things a scientific person could explain better than I....different batches take different amounts of water. I don't know why. I just start with 3 tablespoons. The ice has melted here but the water is very very cold.

That is a tablespoon inside a cup of cold water.
Once again, on the "dough" setting, press pulse three or four times. The water becomes the glue and after another 20-30 seconds of combining, magic happens. You get a dough ball!  It's cold and slightly damp.
Pie crust recipe works again. I'm telling you that butter is MAGIC.
 Plop your ball of crust onto a floured surface and scrape out all those little pieces in the corners with your fingers. Dust your hands with flour and gently work the dough into a flat disc. (Note: at this point, this little guy can be frozen or refrigerated until you want to make multiples or use it later. Just cover in plastic wrap.)

My disc is not as pretty as say, Martha Stewart's. But I bet it tastes just as good.
Begin rolling your dough out. I use a marble rolling pin. Be gentle, work from the middle out, try to keep the pressure even. Full dough size (about 12-13 inches across). Then gently fold this sucker in half.

It's okay that it isn't perfectly's the thickness that counts :) Dust generously with flour top and bottom and throughout rolling so your dough doesn't stick to your rolling surface.
Until you really know how to handle your dough, just be slow and careful while you move it around. And only touch it with floured hands.
Slide your pie crust into your pie pan and gently press it into the bottom of your pie pan. At this point in time you have done the hardest part. Smile because you are almost there. (Also, this is where you ask I really want to make quiche? Perhaps I should slice up some apples instead. Or some peaches. Or lemon curd. Perhaps what I really want is dessert. Today I stayed on focus...and made quiche...the bacon filling smelled so amazing I knew I had to see this through to the end.)
Almost. There. Ehhhhhh!!!!

Boom. I got this.
Now, you can either trim the excess with scissors or fold it under itself and press against the pie plate. Unless there is extensive overhang, I use very floured hands to fold the excess dough under and pinch it on top of itself. Then I make it pretty. I have never done crazy edges to my crust. Maybe someday but these days I stick to what I know. Right index finger, left thumb, and right thumb pull the dough edges into the basic ruffled edge. 
Check it. I rule.

So much promise.
I always refrigerate my crust for about 10 minutes at this point. It just bakes better if it's really cold. This usually allows me to mix up whatever wonderful thing will make its home inside this crust. This whole process used to take me 20 minutes or more. After getting my amazing Cuisinart food processor and years of practice, I go from nothing to this point in about 5 minutes.

Betty Crocker's Contribution: the filling. This is 4 eggs, 2 cups heavy cream (do not substitute half and half or milk, it will be runny and won't set up--yes this is why we run marathons in our house), 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 1/8 teaspoon cayenne.
Whatever you do. DO NOT READ the heavy cream container calorie count. It will ruin quiche and ice cream and alfredo sauce for you forever. Just go work out for 1 hour, get really sweaty and then eat your quiche.
 Now, dump your cooled filling into your pie crust.
If bacon is wrong, I don't want to be right.
Now pour your egg mixture over this thing of beauty.
Look at all that piggy goodness poking out. Trying not to drown in the velvety deliciousness of the cream. There is no escape little piggy, you will now be quiche.
Bake at 425 for 15 minutes. This will set your crust.
Look Mom, I cleaned my oven.
Bake at 375 for 45 minutes to an hour. Test with a sharp knife to make sure the eggs are cooked through. The knife needs to be spotlessly clean to ensure your filling is cooked through.
Why yes, my kitchen does smell amazing at this moment.
I went all assembly line today. Two for the freezer and one for my ultra-running husband for lunch. He was pretty excited to have a fresh homemade quiche waiting for him for lunch. The other two were wrapped in foil and put inside a gallon sized freezer ziplock. The only thing you do after the fact is defrost in the fridge and heat in the microwave. If you feel like going all out...put your individual pieces in the toaster oven for a minute to crisp up the bottom crust.
I think Betty and William and Suzanne would be proud. Their combined efforts created some serious deliciousness in my kitchen this morning.
Other fillings we fall back on:
  • cubes of ham + mild cheddar + 1 small diced onion
  • mild ground sausage + raw spinach + chunks of brie
  • tomatoes (seeded and diced)+ spinach + mushroom + roasted red pepper
  • roasted broccoli florets + mild cheddar
Basically anything you'd like in your omelet, you'll love in your quiche. It's a wonderful vegetarian meal but I struggle to deny the lure of bacon or sausage. That is picture of many meals we now don't have to make when baby arrives. Happy morning.

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