Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Baby On Board

OK, before you jump to conclusions, let me just say right out of the gate that there is no baby on board this body. But there's clearly something in the water as I have 3 friends welcoming babies within a 2 week window this month, with 3 more due in June.

My dear friend Ronda was first up, delivering her second child, Thatcher, last Monday. The only hitch was that Ronda and her husband were convinced they were having a girl, even though they wanted the sex of the baby to be a surprise. Well, I think it's safe to say they definitely were surprised. And it's also clear they don't know how to read ultrasounds after all. They're completely over the moon with their handsome new bundle of joy, although it did take a few days for their toddler daughter to understand she actually had a baby brother when all she's been hearing about for 9 months is her sister on the way.

I finally got to meet Thatcher on Sunday. He is one of the cutest babies I've seen — even in the chic pink floral number he was sporting.

Yes, the poor guy had no manly clothes to call his own since they thought he was going to be a she. In addition to the boy-themed clothes I brought over [Thatcher, you owe me one!], I delivered a ridiculously rich quiche filled with caramelized onions and roasted cauliflower.

It's a recipe I found here and have been looking for a reason to bake it. It's hard to justify making and eating a double-cream, triple-cheese quiche by yourself. I once made a caramelized onion and brie pizza which I am pretty sure put me on the short list for a stent, but after one bite I could care less if I had to have open-heart surgery. It was just oozing decadence. I imagine it was a little bit like crack because after your first bite you knew there was no chance of stopping regardless of the repercussions. I had a feeling this quiche would be just like that — fork-dropping good. The Dijon-kissed crust; the melt-in-your-mouth sweet onions; the rich, nutty cauliflower . . . . I mean come on! One is powerless to resist it, unless you're Kate Moss who recently said, "Nothing tastes as good as being skinny." Clearly she hasn't tried this.

The real tragegy was I hadn't tried it either! I was dying to, but, try as I might, I couldn't find a way to steal a piece — or even a bite — undetected. Ronda was nice enough to take a picture of a slice for my blog though.

I'm already looking for an excuse to make this again. But next time, I'm having a slice. So I'm apologizing to Marina in advance, who welcomed her beautiful baby Leila yesterday, for soon delivering this quiche with a missing slice.

Cauliflower and Caramelized Onion Quiche
By Smitten Kitchen

1 head of cauliflower (about 1 pound), cut into 1-inch flowerets
3 1/2 Tsbp olive oil
1 Tbsp truffle oil
1 frozen 9-inch pie crust (or go with a homemade one if you have the desire)
1 large onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 large eggs
1 8-ounce container of mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 tsp pepper (black or white)
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese (Swiss or Comte are great swaps)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat over to 425 degrees. Toss cauliflower with 2 Tbsp olive oil in a bowl. Spread on rimmed baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast 15 minutes before turning flowerets and roasting another 10-15 minutes. Cool enough to handle and thinly slice.
Reduce over temperature to 350 degrees. If using a store bought frozen pie crust, line crust with foil, fill with pie weights or uncooked beans, and bake 20 minutes. Remove foil and weights and then bake until crust is golden, about 5 addition minutes. Press crust back with the bak of a fork if bubbles form. Cool crust slightly and maintain oven temperature. [Note: If using homemade pie crust, you don't have to par-bake it.]
Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 1/2 Tbsp of olive oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until onion is a deep, golden brown, stirring occasionally, approximately 30 minutes.
Use a knife or brush and spread the bottom and sides of crust with mustard. Spread onion over crust and then arrange the cauliflower over the onion. Set the quiche on a rimmed baking sheet (to protect against leaks). Whisk eggs, mascarpone, cream, pepper and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Stir in Gruyere. Pour mixture over the filling in the pie shell and sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake until golden and center is set, about 40 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool 15 minutes before serving. Yields: 8 servings.

Note: The onions can be caramelized, dough can be par-baked, and cauliflower roasted a day in advance. Cauliflower and onion should be kept in separate containers and refrigerated. The par-baked crust can be stored at room-temperature. The whole quiche can be made and baked a day in advance, reheated in a low oven setting before serving.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Oscar-Worthy Performance

I love movies. I love glamorous fashion. I love to get together with friends and trade pithy comments about celebrities wearing glamorous fashion. I guess that's why I love watching the Oscars so much. It's my favorite award show; one I look forward to each year. And I must say, I love that the Red Carpet broadcast begins at 3 pm in California! It's a wonderful excuse to invite some friends over to lounge around for hours on the pseudo-balcony of a sofa feeling like the Muppet judges, Statler and Walford. But of course sustenance is needed for such work and entertainment. That's why I'm lucky to have a friend like Karen who loves to cook and likes party themes as much as I do.

Since there were 10 movies nominated for Best Picture this year, we thought we'd each pick three of the 10 movies and cook a representative dish. This year's Oscar picks made for quite an array of dining options. Because I fantasize of being a Top Chef contestant, I thought we should create a bit of a contest out of it. So instead of selecting the movies, they were drawn out of a hat. Although I was prepared to embrace Avatar (blue food anyone?), I was grateful I escaped it. Instead I got A Serious Man, District 9, and The Hurt Locker. Hmmm, Jewish aliens in the Middle East? What a combo! My brother who's served in both Iraq and Afghanistan proved to be no help because he said all they ever ate were MREs (Meals, Ready To Eat). That was definitely not an option for party food. Even though I was wanking a bit about having such random movies, it turned out to be a lot of fun. The final menu was delicious and rather show-stopping. Definitely Oscar-worthy.

A Serious Man (old school Jewish cuisine): Apricot, raisin and walnut rugelach, pre-baked in this photo

District 9 (prawns in honor of everyone's favorite "prawn" aliens): Pancetta-wrapped shrimp with sage

The Hurt Locker (a rift on Middle Eastern köfte kebab): Lamb sliders on pita with a parsley-mint salad

The Blind Side (Southern tailgate staples): Potato salad with bacon and arugula, which I'm fanatical about now!

An Education (elegant French a la Julia Childs): Classic cheese souffle

Up (kid-friendly food): Edamame succotash

Monday, March 1, 2010

Cooking Like a Man

Men possess an aversion to reading instructions. I'm not just pulling this statement out of thin air. I think it's a pretty well established fact. Just like women talk a lot and love to multi-task. It's the whole Mars vs. Venus thing going on. I've had many a fight with a male about stopping to ask for directions (or even using the GPS) when lost or referring to the enclosed diagram when trying to assemble the 1000 pieces of wood into a bed frame. For the most part, instructions and men are like oil and water. But every once in a while, I lose my mind in the kitchen and cook like a man.

That's right, I just launch into a recipe without reading it all the way through. I'm sautéeing and simmering and reading the recipe as I go — only to come to the horrifying realization 45 minutes into it that the dish takes 3 hours to cook! While this may not be a tragedy on a Sunday afternoon, this "oversight" seems to only occur on a Tuesday at 8:30 pm. And usually when I'm starving and under the assumption this is a recipe I can just "whip up." It's like when you have a tight flight connection. Murphy's Law: You land at Gate 8 with your connection taking off in approximately 22 minutes at Gate 79. If you've got a 2 hour layover, your next flight takes off from Gate 10. Oh the irony. . . .

Well, the last time this occurred, I thought I was going to be clever and use up some vegetables in my fridge that were on their last leg. I'd pulled a recipe for a chicken and squash curry that seemed like the perfect thing for a rainy night. I've made curries before and I thought they were pretty straight forward and pretty fast. As I found out, this was no quick-cooking curry. When I realized the "misunderstanding," I was too far gone and had to continue the recipe. But I did throw a frozen pizza in the over to eat for dinner that night. It gave me the strength I needed to finish the curry — at 11 pm.

Yes, I was mad at myself for pulling such a "man move" in the kitchen, but stopped berating myself the next day when I finally tasted the dish. It was the most satisfying and fragrant concoction I'd had in quite a while. So worth the wait! Maybe that's how men feel when they finally assemble the new bed frame — without the diagram — after 6 hours and scratches all over their arms and legs.

Chicken and Butternut Squash Curry
Adapted from Cooking Light

Although I know this would not qualify for a Rachel Ray 30-minute meal, it's so good I've made it a half dozen times in the past 2 months. It's my new favorite dish this winter. So hearty and healthy, not to mention a ridiculously delicious one-pot meal.

2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cup vertically sliced onion
1 1/2 tsp minced, peeled fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 14-oz can fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups cubed peeled butternut squash (or sweet potatoes)
1 cup chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 pound green beans, cut into 2-in pieces
1/2 cup frozen green peas
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Combine curry powder, coriander, turmeric, salt, black pepper, red pepper and bay leaf in a small bowl.
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan; saute 5 minutes or until chicken is browned, stirring occasionally. Remove chicken from pan and reduce heat to medium. Add onion to pan; cook 10 minutes until tender, stirring frequently. Increase heat to medium-high and return chicken to the pan. Cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally.
Stir in ginger and garlic, cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add curry powder mixture; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour.
Stir in squash and chickpeas. Cook uncovered for 25 minutes. Add green beans; cook 5 minutes. Add peas and cook 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat; stir in lemon juice. Discard bay leaf. Serve over basmati or jasmine rice. Yield: 6 servings.

Note: Before you get scared off, this can be made quicker than you think. I've found parcooking the squash or potatoes in the microwave saves some time. Also, the ingredients are mainly cooked, so the cooking time is really about allowing the spices and flavors to meld. I know it calls for some non-everyday spices you may not have on hand, but I'd encourage you to invest in them. You'd be surprised how often you'll use them going forward. They have depth and complexity that gives dishes that special something. This recipe is also very flexible. You can use tofu instead of meat and vegetable broth instead of chicken broth if you want a vegetarian version. And it's a great way to use up your neglected veggies in your bin: zucchini, cauliflower, tomatoes, potatoes, etc.