THE SECRET RECIPE CLUB: ASPARAGUS QUICHE

The last Monday of each month arrives faster and faster, proving that Einstein got it right with his Theory of Relativity of time and space.  How else could we explain that I joined the SRC just a little while ago, blinked my eyes twice, and here I am, on my seventh post?

I had a complete blast with this month’s assignment: The Culinary Enthusiast!  A catchy blog name, by the way. Kelley lives in Chicago with her husband and a dog-child called Maddy, who gets to enjoy the many treats she cooks. See similarities between our households?   😉  Kelley has very creative recipes, and it took me a few days of “stalking” before I settled on my choice.   Asparagus Quiche.   Perfect for the season, perfect to remember Paris, perfect for a romantic weekend dinner.

SPRING ASPARAGUS QUICHE
(adapted from The Culinary Enthusiast)

1 recipe for pie crust (I used this one)
1 leek (white and light green parts only), halved and thinly sliced
salt and ground black pepper
1/2 bunch (about 1/2 pound) asparagus, tough ends removed, thinly sliced
3 asparagus stalks, trimmed and left whole (optional)
4 slices bacon, cut in large dice
4 large eggs
1 + 1/4 cups half-and-half
Ground nutmeg
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (4 ounces)

Prepare the crust of your quiche, using the recipe of your choice.  Roll it out to cover your pie plate.  Prick the surface with a fork a few times, cover the bottom with aluminum foil, and place dried beans to keep the crust down during pre-baking.   Bake in a 400 F oven for 15 minutes, carefully remove the foil, place it back in the oven for 10 minutes more.   Remove from the oven, and reserve.

Bring the oven temperature down to 325 F, placing a rack in the lowest position.  In a large skillet, cook bacon until crispy.  Set aside on a paper towel lined plate, allow it to cool, and crumble into smaller pieces.  Reserve bacon grease in pan and add the leeks, cook for a few minutes, until softened.  Add the asparagus pieces, season with salt and pepper. Cook until the asparagus is crisp/tender, maximum 6 minutes. Let the mixture cool down.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, half-and-half, 1/2 teaspoon salt, teaspoon pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Place pie crust on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with half of the cheese; add the asparagus/leek mixture, top with crumbled bacon. Pour egg mixture on top, add the remainder of the cheese.

If you want to decorate the quiche with asparagus stalks, cook them slightly in a microwave for a minute, then place carefully on top.

Bake until center of quiche is just set, 50 to 60 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

My main modification of the recipe was to pre-bake the crust, because I’ve had problems with the crust getting too soggy when I omitted that step.  I also did not use potatoes in the filling, but I know it would be awesome with them too!

As far as quiche goes, Phil and I had the perfect example at a small, unassuming place in Paris, called “Bistrot du Papa”.  Don’t go through the trouble of googleing it, it no longer exists.  We were in considerable distress when we attempted to go back on our last visit, only to find an Italian restaurant in its place.  Ever since enjoying that masterpiece, I tried to make it at home a couple of times, the traditional quiche Lorraine, but my versions had very little to do with the bistrot’s.

I must say this asparagus quiche was by far the best I’ve made!  Will I ever hit “Bistrot du Papa” level?  Quite unlikely.  They have a different type of cream, a different type of bacon, and then there’s the Parisian aura, hard to duplicate at home.  Oh, well…   We should have stopped there once a week for the duration of that magical sabbatical year!

We’ll always have Paris…
(great scene from Casablanca, 1942)

Kelley, thanks for a great recipe that brought the best gastronomical memories to our table!

Check out the other recipes in this month’s roundup  by clicking on the cute blue frog at the end of this post.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Spring Pasta

TWO YEARS AGO: Ice Cream Melts for Mango


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SUPERMAN

As I’ve mentioned before, my fitness guru is Tony Horton, and I’ve been using his P90X system for 3  years.   I’m about to finish his awesome new series, P90X2, with only one workout left to do (yeaaaaah!).

I’d like to highlight one particular exercise in his routine, called Superman.  It’s already present in the original series, but in the X2 version it gets a little harder: instead of short 10 second intervals of the posture, you try to hold it for a full 45 seconds.  As the weeks go by, the idea is to raise your legs and arms higher, or add resistance by holding a bar.

I am sure Tony Horton would appreciate my own take on it, as it adds a bit more flexibility to the range of motion in the upper arms.   Normally, I get the added resistance from both sides, but due to the nature of the gadgets I had  available, this time the right side of my body got some extra attention!

ENJOY!

BLACK OLIVE SOURDOUGH BREAD

Inspired by a bread from Hamelman (Olive Levain), which I’ve made a few times in the past, I improvised on the basic sourdough method from Emmanuel Hadjiandreou and his “How to Make Bread“, that I recently blogged about.  You want this bread to deliver real big olive flavor, so keep the olives in large pieces, you can even leave some whole (but pitted, of course! 😉

BLACK OLIVE SOURDOUGH
(adapted from Emmanuel Hadjiandreou)

400 g (3 + 1/2 cups) bread flour
10 g (2 tsp) salt
200 g (3/4 cup) warm water
300 g (1 + 1/2 cups) sourdough starter (100% hydration)
4-5 ounces black olives (preferably Kalamata, pitted and chopped in large pieces – roughly 1 cup, loosely packed)

Add into one bowl the flour and the salt.   This is your dry mixture.

In another, larger bowl, mix the  water and the sourdough starter. This is  your wet mixture.

Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and mix until it all comes together. Cover with a plastic wrap and let it stand for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, add the pieces of olives and knead the dough in the bowl, by pulling one portion of the dough from the side and pressing it down in the middle.  Repeat it turning the bowl slightly at each kneading, doing this kneading motion about 8 times and covering the full circumference of the ball of dough. The whole process should take about 20 seconds.   Cover the dough again and leave it resting for 10 minutes.

Repeat this kneading cycle three more times, 10 minutes apart.  Cover the bowl and let it rest for one hour.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface, and shape it  as a round ball,  coat the surface lightly with cornmeal or rice flour, and place it in a suitable container for the final rise.  Let the dough rise until doubled in size, which should take from 3 to 6 hours, depending on how active your starter was.

Heat the oven to 475 F, and have your method to generate steam ready.   Slide the bread on a parchment paper or a wooden peel, slash it, and place it in the oven.  I like to bake it over tiles, and place an inverted roasting pan moist with hot water over it for about 30 minutes, then remove it.   Once the bread is in the oven, reduce the temperature to 425 F.  Bake for a total of 40 minutes, or until the internal temperature is over 200F.

Let the bread cool completely before slicing.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  I confessed before that I am a kalamata-cheerleader,  so this bread is obviously a favorite of mine.  I already have a spicy kalamata sourdough in the blog,  but in this version I took a minimalist approach and used only olives, nothing else.

Don’t worry if when you start kneading the dough, the pieces of olive insist on poking out, just let them be.   In the end, they will find their perfect spot in the crumb.   Try not to squish the pieces too much as you fold or knead the dough.

I used cornmeal to coat the surface of the bread during proofing, because I ran out of rice flour, but in the end it turned out pretty good, the cornmeal gave the bread an interesting golden hue, and did a good job releasing the proofed bread from the banetton.

I am sending this post to Susan’s Yeastspotting, make sure you stop by to get inspired by all the baking going on this past week…   😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Buttermilk Cluster

TWO YEARS AGO: Farfalle, Farfalle

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GRILLED CHICKEN PAILLARDS

Even during my pre-blogging days, repeating a recipe more than twice a month was quite unusual.  I’ve always enjoyed trying new recipes, and reserved the “oldies but goodies” for those extra-busy days in which I need something I can almost make in my sleep (chicken parmigiana is a good example).  Having said all that, here comes the shocker:  in the past month, I’ve made this chicken six times.  Six. Obviously, this new found friend is on the fast track to become an “oldie but goodie”.    😉

GRILLED CHICKEN PAILLARDS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

3 chicken breasts, boneless, sliced in half lengthwise
1/4 cup lemon juice + zest
1/8 cup lime  juice
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp red pepper flakes (or less)
1 Tbsp honey
salt and coarsely ground black pepper

After slicing  each chicken breast in half, pound them carefully with a meat mallet (protecting the meat with some plastic wrap), until you have a thin filet, preferably less than  1/2 inch thick. You can see photos of the process here.

Mix all the ingredients for the marinade (lemon juice + zest, lime juice, olive oil, honey, ginger, and red pepper flakes), whisk well.  No need to try and form a stable emulsion,  just mix well and add the marinade to the chicken, coating the meat well.  Place in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.

When you are ready to cook it, remove it from the fridge  and leave the filets in a single layer on a baking dish for 30 minutes to bring to room temperature.  Right before grilling,  season with salt and pepper on both sides.

Cook on a hot grill for 6-8 minutes total time, flipping the filets halfway through cooking time, and serve it with lime or lemon slices.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I love many things about this recipe: the citric flavor, boosted by the ginger, the way the small amount of honey ensures gorgeous grill marks with a deep brown tone, how quickly it comes to the table, and how it shines next to many side dishes, from salads to pasta, from rice to couscous.

Since I use a high proportion of citric juice to olive oil, at first I was worried that a long marinating time could hurt the meat.  This recipe was put to test when I had to change plans for our dinner, and my marinating chicken breasts stayed in the fridge for 2 days!   No problem whatsoever, the meat turned out great, with a slightly more intense citric flavor, but no unpleasant “mushiness” from excessive interaction with acidity.

Leftovers are perfect as part of a high protein lunch, if you are into that sort of meal.  I make my little yogurt-oatmeal pancake, a hard-boiled egg to go with it, and call it a day…

You can vary this recipe in countless ways.  Use white wine as part of your marinade, use orange juice instead of lemon juice, or orange marmalade in place of honey.  The idea is to have acidity plus sweetness (from honey or agave nectar, or even brown sugar), and a little oil to make sure the thin cutlets won’t end up all dry and tasteless. Of course, do not over-cook the meat, keep an eye on it, the temperature of grills may vary a lot, ours tries to mimic the surface of the sun.  😉

Note added after publication:  I just saw a blog by Greg for Asian Fusion chicken, and he adds Sriracha to his marinade.  Genius!  Check it out here.  I’ll be trying it next time.

ONE YEAR AGO: Slow-baked Salmon

TWO YEARS  AGO: Hoisin Explosion

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FARFALLE WITH ZUCCHINI AND RICOTTA

Last week, after one particularly hectic day in the lab,  I had no desire to stop at the grocery store on my way home.  Instead, I improvised, using a few things in the fridge leftover from past culinary adventures:  one reasonably large zucchini,  half a container of ricotta cheese, and a Meyer lemon abandoned inside the fruit drawer.

FARFALLE WITH ZUCCHINI AND RICOTTA
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

farfalle pasta (or other favorite shape, enough for two)
1 Tbs olive oil
1 shallot, finely diced
1 large zuchinni, ends removed, shredded
zest of half a Meyer lemon
juice of Meyer lemon
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
salt
coarsely ground black pepper to taste (don’t be shy!)

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions.

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan, add the shallot, season with salt, and cook until translucent.  Increase the heat to high, and add the zucchini in a single layer. Do not touch it, allow it to cook undisturbed for a couple of minutes.  Add the lemon zest, and stir the zucchini around.  Add the black pepper,  the ricotta cheese, stirring gently to form a sauce. Add the lemon juice, keep warm until the pasta is cooked al dente.

Add the cooked pasta to the skillet, reserving some of the cooking water. If necessary, add some of it to the farfalle/zucchini mixture.   Heat everything together in low heat for a minute.  Serve, with the optional grating of good parmigiano-reggiano on top.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  I love zucchini and ricotta cheese together (and a Meyer lemon will always be welcome), but I must say what really made this dish was…. the cracked black pepper!   Italians know a thing or two about cooking, and their “cacio e pepe” pasta is a classic for excellent reasons. This dish reminded me of it, even with the other components fighting for attention with the “Piper nigrum“.  😉

Use as much pepper as you’ll be able to enjoy, and keep it on the coarse side. The little bits of peppery heat will make this simple meal quite special.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Anchovies, the final frontier!

TWO YEARS AGO:  Miche Point-a-Calliere

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RED THEME FOR A SALAD

As the weather gets warmer, I opt for a light lunch whenever possible. However, after a workout session with  Tony Horton, I need a lot more than a serving of lettuce with some parsley sprinkled all over it.   😉 Last week I prepared a salad based on red quinoa with a bit more substance, but still compatible with the 90F day.  It turned out delicious!  It lasted a couple of days in the fridge, and got even better.  If you do that, just bring it to room temperature half an hour or so before lunch time.

QUINOA SALAD WITH ROASTED BEETS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

for ginger-orange vinaigrette
1/8 cup rice vinegar
1/8 cup fresh orange juice
1 tsp orange zest
1 Tbs sugar (or less, if you prefer)
1 Tbs grated ginger
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
salt and pepper to taste

for salad:
1 cup red quinoa, rinsed
2 medium beets, peeled and cut in large chunks
olive oil
salt and pepper
2 celery stalks. diced
fresh mozzarella cheese. diced
walnut pieces, toasted

Place the rinsed quinoa in a rice cooker, add 2 cups of water and a little salt.  Cook, adding a little more water if when the machine turns off you think the quinoa is too crunchy for your taste.   It should be ready in 15 to 20 minutes.  Fluff the quinoa with a fork, and let it cool.   Reserve.

In a medium bowl, place the pieces of beets, add a little olive oil just enough to coat the pieces, season with salt and pepper.  Transfer the pieces to a baking sheet, and place in a 400 – 420 F oven to roast until done (about 40 minutes, depending on the size).  Reserve.

Prepare the vinaigrette by mixing the vinegar, orange juice and zest and the sugar, until the sugar dissolves.  Add the oil slowly to form an emulsion, and season with salt and pepper.   You won’t need to use it all, save the leftover in the fridge, it keeps for about 1 week.

Assemble the salad by mixing all the ingredients and adding as much dressing as you like.  Adjust seasoning, and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

My little rice cooker does a great job cooking all sorts of grains (and seeds, like quinoa).  I usually don’t bother with precise amounts of water, I try to add less rather than too much.  In case the cooker turns off but the grains are not exactly how I want them, I add a small amount of water and switch it back on for a few minutes.

I wanted to have this salad over a bed of baby spinach, but forgot all about it when I first made it.   On the following day, with the spinach, the salad looked really nice, but then I forgot to take pictures.   Such is life.  But, please feel free to  use your imagination!    😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Couscous Salad with Zucchini and Pine Nuts

TWO YEARS AGO:  A Simple Salad a la Jacques Pepin

(that proves that three years in a row I’ve got salad in my mind! ;-))

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A BEWITCHING MOVE AHEAD

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“There’s no place like home”
(Dorothy Gale,  The Wizard of Oz, 1934)

My life has been an amazing journey.  I’ve lived in different countries, worked in different labs, and changed my line of research quite a bit over the years.  The last drastic move was from Paris, France to Norman, Oklahoma, in what was classic “culture shock.”   However,  the past 18 years in this small town were the happiest of my life.   It’s always great to go back to Paris, or visit New York,  to spend time in California, or chill out with my folks in Sao Paulo, but life in a college town has unique appeal.  And because we’ve had such a great time living and working here, we expected to call Norman our home forever.

But it was not meant to be.  A new, exciting adventure lies ahead: Phil accepted the position of the Head of the Department of Biochemistry at Kansas State University, so we’ll move our home (and our lab) to another college town!   About the same size of Norman when we first arrived here almost 20 years ago, Manhattan seems like a great place.  We are ready to face this  challenge together.   If it all goes according to plan, we will move around the last week of June, and then move the lab a couple of months after that.

Home is wherever I’m with you.
(Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes,  2009)