Thursday, June 26, 2008

Spinach Quiche with Oat & Corn Crust

I made a delicious quiche last weekend, and just finished up the last piece for breakfast this morning. There are two secrets to indulging in quiche (if you are among that portion of the population that considers quiche a desireable indulgence) without throwing all dietary caution out the window:
1) Find an alternative to traditional high-fat pie crust
2) Go easy on the cream and cheese

My interest in finding something new to eat for breakfast led to finally trying out my Dad's almost-famous, low-fat, high-fiber pie crust. Here's what he had to say about it when he emailed me the recipe:

"This different approach to pie crust was inspired by the very gluey consistency of cold oatmeal. However, cold oatmeal is much too gluey to do anything with. Cold cooked corn meal is at the opposite end of the friable-gluey spectrum and can be combined with the oatmeal to adjust final consistency and come up with something that might be rolled out into a pie crust. A small amount of oil helps to keep the cold dough from sticking to the wax paper and changes the final consistency from armor plate to chewy crunchy.

The resulting crust should be crunchy with adequate strength for serving but not bullet proof. Do not expect the bland flaky made with lard pie crust your grandmother used to make. The corn flavor comes through nicely and is especially good with squash/pumpkin pies and quiches.

This recipe, published years ago in Prevention magazine, is my sole contribution to gourmet literature. It has stood the test of time."
-- Lloyd Roberts, M.D.

Dr. Roberts' Healthy Pie Crust
(makes two crusts; best for one-crust recipes like quiche or pumpkin pie)

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1-1/4 cups water
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I used "lite" olive oil)
"pinch" salt (I used 1/2 tsp)

Dad's instructions say to cook this all up in a double boiler for 15-20 minutes, stirring ocassionally, but I don't have a double boiler so I just brought it to a simmer in a small, heavy, non-stick saucepan then reduced the heat to as low as it would go for a while, until the mix was very thick and all water thoroughly absorbed.

Cool to room temp, and divide into two pieces. Shape each into a disk and wrap in plastic. Chill for at least an hour. (One piece can go straight into the freezer if you aren't going to use it right away).

Roll out between two piece of waxed paper. It will be sticky, but rollable. Don't worry too much about tears or cracks, if you get them: you'll probably do some repairs when you transfer to the pie plate anyway.

Peel off the top piece of paper, and flip the dough into a buttered 9"-9.5" deep-dish pie plate (I used a 9.5" Pyrex). Expect some damage in transit. Press into place and trim off the extra around the edge. Use those bits to repair any cracks or holes. This crust is not gorgeous, but it's very forgiving.

No need to prebake, but you can if you want to. I put mine in for about 5 minutes while the oven was getting up to temp, enough to firm it up a little without starting to brown.

I wouldn't recommend this crust for any kind of pie, but it goes very well with:

Quiche trick number two I learned from Mom. My version keeps a little of the traditional cream, but replaces most with plain yogurt. I think whole milk yogurt works best. If you're more fat-phobic than I am you can use low-fat instead, but expect it may not keep as well in the fridge without leaking water.

Quiche is an egg custard: basically, a mix of eggs and cream baked until solid. The number of eggs and whether to use heavy or whipping cream, or half and half, or yogurt vary quite a bit from recipe to recipe, along with how much of the liquid of your choice. This is a good clue that the proportions are pretty forgiving and you can probably get away with whatever you've got on hand.

My basic recipe is:
4 large organic eggs

1 cup plain whole milk yogurt (Nancy's Organic is my favorite)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup whole milk
salt and pepper to taste
dash ground nutmeg

Whizz this all up in a food processor, or beat with eggbeater, 'til well blended.

For a quiche, you will need:
1 9"-9.5 inch pie shell
1 TBSP dijon mustard
1/2 cup or more of shredded cheese (gruyere is good, but chedder or jack works fine, too)
1-2 cups total of whatever else you're adding: cooked shrimp, diced veggies, ham, crumbled bacon, leftover cooked chicken, whatever you feel like putting in.

For this spinach version, I used:
5 oz mixed dried mushrooms, soaked for an hour in boiling water, then drained
1/2 cup diced shallot
1-1/2 cups frozen spinach, thawed and pressed in a seive to get as much water out as possible
1 link "italian style" chicken-turkey sausage (precooked, what I had left over in the fridge, you could use more, but this was plenty), diced

I sauted the 'shrooms and shallot in about a tsp. of olive oil, then added the spinach and sausage and heated it all through. This is a lot of spinach, and results in something that is about halfway between a spinach pie and a traditional quiche. If you want more of the creamy-egg-custard experience, cut back to about a half-cup of spinach.

To assemble, spread the mustard over the bottom of the pie shell, and sprinkle with about half the cheese. Top with the rest of whatever you're putting in that isn't the custard, reserving the remainder of the cheese. Pour the custard over, then sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.

Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes, until the top is starting to brown and center is set.

Allow to cool for a while before cutting. Delicious while warm, equally good at room temp and not bad at all cold from the fridge.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Walnut Pesto & Walnut-Artichoke Dip

So the inevitable happened, and we got a little tired of hummus. Pesto seemed like a nice change, especially as I'd come home from the farmer's market with big bunches of cilantro and basil. The goal was to use lots of nuts (instead of parmesan, which I'm not fond of in pesto) and some seeds for extra protein. Hubby eats something like this or hummus on a slab of toasted whole grain bread for lunch, so it had to be "meaty" and filling. With that in mind, I threw together in the Cuisinart:

1 C loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1 C loosely packed fresh cilantro (leaves and small stems)
1 C walnut pieces
1/4 C "tamari" pumpkin seeds*
1/4 C sunflower seeds
1 smallish carrot (peeled and chopped)
2 T fresh orange juice
1 T lemon juice
1/4 C olive oil
2 medium cloves garlic
dash of salt

* roasted, hulled pumpkin seeds seasoned with tamari (soy sauce), available at your local health food store, or just substitute something silimar with or without tamari seasoning

Whizzed it all up until a nice thick spread consistency. This was very tasty. Just the thing for hubbie's lunch, and delish on a fresh-from-the-oven cracker. I was surprised that the carrot flavor came through, too, with just a hint of sweetness. Admittedly, adding carrots to a basically green goop (all those herbs) does result in a less-than-lovely brownish color, but the flavor will win you over even though it becomes even browner after a day in the fridge. If that bothers you, I'd say leave the carrot out.

Only problem with this was, it made too much to fit in the 1.2 C fridge container I scooped it into, which resulted in...

There I was with about a third of the walnut pesto batch still in the food processor, when inspiration struck. I remembered I had a jar of marinated artichoke hearts lying around, so I put some of them in and whizzed it all up.

Oh yum... now that was an excellent idea! But the artichoke flavor was a little lost, it needed more, so I put the rest of the jar in, with a TB or so of the liquid.* I tasted a little and thought, "hmm, does it need another little something?" I wasn't sure, so I tasted again. I still wasn't sure, so I tasted again. And again. Then I realized I'd eaten about two servings worth straight from the mixer bowl, and it was very, very good. Even better, as I soon discovered, with the lavash crackers from my previous post. I may have to bypass the pesto stage next time and just make a huge batch of this. Even hubbie, who claims not to like artichoke hearts, pigged out on it.

* That artichoke marinade is GOLD, BTW: do not waste it! I add mine to whatever salad dressing is in the fridge, or use it to make a fresh batch. What? You buy salad dressing? Whatever for? It's so quick and easy (not to mention cheaper!) to make your own, and the varieties are endless. I'll address salad dressing another time, but seriously: oil, vinegar, a little seasonings, herbs if you got 'em, whizz it up and you're done... whaddareya waiting for?

Multi-Seed Crackers

OMG, I've discovered how EASY it is to make crackers! Thin, crispy, whole grain, multi-seed, delicious crackers! Who knew?? Not me, but I do now, thanks to the fine folks at the King Arthur Flour Co., and their fabulous Whole Grain Baking cookbook. If you are at all interested in whole grain baking, you really ought to get a copy of your own. It's full of enticing recipes for such things as:

I made these last weekend based on half-recipe quantities for the Whole Wheat Lavash on page 156, with a few changes: I used a combo of whole wheat, whole wheat pastry, and spelt flours; honey instead of sugar; light olive oil instead of butter; active dry yeast (don't have instant), and a little orange juice for extra liquid.

Hmm, now that I look at it again, I see that I changed almost everything. Still, a very similar recipe, and the proportions and process are from the book. I'm totally confident that if you make your lavash the KA way yours will be delish, too. BTW: I rolled these out round on parchment paper and baked them on my pizza stone, which worked great so I'm gonna keep doing 'em that way.

Makes two sheets of very yummy crackers, quantities can be doubled to make more:

1/2 C EACH: whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour, and spelt flour
3/4 tsp salt
scant tsp active dry yeast, proofed in 1/3 cup warm water with 1 tsp honey
2 TBSP olive oil
1/4 tsp EACH: cayenne pepper, ground cumin, dried thyme
2 T orange juice (if extra liquid is needed)
mixed seeds for topping*

* I used a combo of roughly equal parts white and black sesame, poppy, caraway, and fennel seeds; about 1 TB of the combo per cracker sheet.

Stir the honey and yeast into the warm water, and set aside to proof.

While that's going on, measure the flours and dry seasonings into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (KA book says use dough hook, but for this quantity the paddle worked better).

Add the proofed yeast-water and the olive oil and mix on low speed for about 2 minutes. If the dough seems very dry and crumbly, add the 2 TB orange juice (or more water). Mix two more minutes at slightly higher speed. The dough should be very stiff and may look crumbly (the paddle will keep breaking it up as you mix), but it should hold together when you gather it up into a smooth ball. Divide the dough into two pieces, pat each one into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven and your pizza stone to 425 (book says 450, but 425 was just right for my oven with the p-stone). Unwrap one piece of the dough (doesn't need to warm up, cold from the fridge is fine), and roll it out on a piece of bakers parchment as thin as you can get it. One dough-disk, i.e., half this recipe, rolled out to almost completely cover my 15" pizza stone (which is a circle with a diameter the width of a sheet of parchment paper, very convenient).

Brush the top of the dough with water (I used a spray mister), sprinkle it with the seed mix, and roll again to press the seeds into the dough. If you want pre-cut crackers, use a pizza cutter to cut the dough. Or leave it whole, and break into irregular pieces after it's cooked, if you prefer. I did the pizza cutter thing: be warned, it makes removing the done ones from the hot oven a little tricky, as they slide all over.

Slide the dough (on the parchment paper) onto the hot baking stone and bake until lightly browned (edges may be darker). This only takes a few minutes, so keep an eye on 'em! Roll out and top the second batch while the first is baking.

Remove to a cooling rack when done.

Try not to eat them all at once.

These were so yummy hubbie and I ended up eating an entire sheet of them with Walnut-Artichoke Dip (see next post) for dinner. We just could not stop until we'd gone too far. Needless to say, the second sheet are long gone by now, too. Hubbie wants me to make more, which I am happy to do. Gonna mix up the dough just as soon as I've finished posting this.

Big questions: Do I dare make an entire batch? Can we adequately restrain ourselves from a total and complete cracker pig-out? If I make these regularly and keep them in the house will we become inured enough for it not to be a diet-disaster? I mean, whole grains are all very well, but at a certain point (which, alas, is likely to come well before we stop reaching for another of these) too many is too much, no matter how healthy the ingredients.

Try 'em if you dare. Awesome with WALNUT-ARTICHOKE DIP (coming right up...)

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

My oven died last weekend, so I haven't been baking this week. Which is okay, it allowed plenty of time to peruse my new cookbooks and think about all the new recipes I'm gonna try.

New stove was just delivered and hooked up (hooray for responsive landlords!), so I'm back in business. You'd think I would have used a bake-free week to catch up on the stuff I hadn't posted about yet but, well, I didn't. So here's update #1:

Oh, yum, was this delicious! And I've got a bunch of pieces in the freezer for future cake nights, hooray!

This will be a short post, 'cause I just wanna boast that for once I actually followed a recipe exactly as it appears in the book! Well, almost exactly: I used a combo of yogurt and milk instead of buttermilk, and I didn't have brown sugar, so added a teaspoon of molasses with the raw cane sugar I had on hand. But that's it. Hardly counts as substitutions, compared to the liberties I usually take. Which might be why this turned out so good!

Want the recipe? Turn to page 426 of the King Arthur Flour Co.'s WHOLE GRAIN BAKING cookbook (which I am totally loving, wanna try everything!).

I baked mine in a 12-cup bundt pan. A 10-cup size as called for would probably be better, but 12-cup is what I've got, and it didn't turn out to be horribly too big so all's well.

Only thing I'd do differently next time is use smaller chocolate chips. I used Ghiradelli bittersweet, but they're kind of large and didn't distribute well in the batter. I think mini-chips would work better.

This is a great chocolate cake recipe... although (eeeeh, grimace) I do think the chocolate flavor needs be just a little more intense before I can call it perfect. I'll keep looking. But I will make this again.

I didn't frost this, BTW (feeling lazy), just whipped up some heavy cream with a little vanilla extract and a generous amount of confectioner's sugar. Very nice combo with the choc cake. If you're clever, like me, you will make a little too much of the topping (oops!) because everyone knows whipped cream doesn't keep well even thickened with conf.sugar, and that is a very good reason for putting leftovers in your morning coffee the next day.