Sunday, September 27, 2009

Broccoli Cheddar Quiche and French Onion Soup

A couple of weeks ago I finally saw Julie and Julia. While the movie didn't blow me away, it was a fun movie about food. And let's be honest I love watching things involving food or cooking or baking. (Also, Meryl Streep is amazing in this movie! She totally captures the essence of Julia Child.)

For those of you who saw Julie and Juila, didn't it make you feel like making something a little challenging? I woke up the next morning with the intention of hunkering over the stove for a couple hours, perhaps even getting down and dirty with some dough. Luckily it was a Sunday, the perfect day to spend some serious hours in the kitchen. I know I am talking up the amount of work, but I was actually looking forward to spending my day cooking, a Sunday tradition that has been lost in the wake of prepackaged meals and the tendency to eat out. While Julia inspired us to cook, food television of late has had the opposite effect, so it seems. (Check out this article if you're interested in learning about how time spent in the kitchen has decreased considerable since the 1960s).

Alright, off of the soapbox and back to the kitchen. Julia inspired me to try out some french cooking. I had some beautiful vidalia onions that I needed to use, and decided they would be a lovely french onion soup. I got the most recent issue of Gourmet magazine celebrating seasonal recipes using produce from the lovely intersection of late summer and early fall harvest. I decided to try my hand at my first quiche - a broccoli cheddar recipe. Two simple yet classic french recipes - would I manage to cook both of these up in one day?

I began with the soup - slicing onions incredibly thin and then sauteeing them with butter and sugar to the point of caramelization. I continued to add wine, mushroom broth, a little balsamic vinegar, and thyme. The room filled with a wonderful aroma - there is something so comforting about making soup.

With the soup simmering on the stove, I began working on the pie crust for the quiche. Gourmet magazine features a rather traditional pie crust using butter. I love butter pie crusts -the flavor is so much better than one made with shortening.

The idea of making a pie crust can be quite daunting, but I think most people find it rather easy to pull together once they get started. A couple of tips: 1) Make sure your butter is very cold - this makes for a nice flaky crust and 2) don't use too much water - you want to use just enough to pull the dough together (too much yields a tough pie crust).

After making the dough you want to let it rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so (Gourmet says 1 hour, but 30 minutes works just fine). Once you roll the dough out, place it in a pie plate and prick the dough with a fork (to allow steam to escape during baking). At this stage, you will chill the dough again for 30 minutes. Take the pie crust out and bake for 20-25 minutes.

While the pie crust was bakin, I began to make the filling for the Broccoli Cheddar quiche. The filling is rather simple as well - a mixture of eggs, broccoli, half-and-half, cheese, garlic, and nutmeg. When the pie crust has cooled, pour the filling into the shell and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. My quiche came out wonderfully -AJ loved it. The eggy custard was light yet creamy. The combination of broccoli, cheddar, and garlic was classic.

The soup was lighter with the use of mushroom broth, but still wonderful with the carmelized onions and salty swiss melted on top. Give French cooking a try, I do think you'll like it!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Picnic in September

Cheese plate (Manchego, cheddar, grapes), Sourdough, Prosecco, Riesling, and Caprese salad (mozarella, tomatoes, basil, balsamic vinegar)

I love early September - the air has cooled down, but it is still warm and sunny. Last weekend, AJ bought us a lovely Prosecco and some wonderful cheeses. We sat outside and enjoyed the weather and ate some simple yet delicious food. Wine, cheese, bread and good company - what more could I ask for?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Mom's Apple-Banana Cake

Apples and ba-nay-nays

Sometimes baking is an excuse to get rid of some fruit or milk that's about to expire. I know that statement isn't entirely logically (you're going to use flour, butter, and sugar just to make sure you don't waste one banana?) I know it's illogical, but sometimes inspiration comes in mysterious ways.

I had originally thought about making plain old banana bread, but it turned out I only had one banana sitting on top of my fridge. I realized that I had two gravestein apples (which are supposed to be great for baking) and a jar of applesauce. A-pples and Ba-nay-nays, I knew I could do something with that!

Apple Banana bread smells like cinammon, spice, and everything nice.

I searched the internet for some recipes involving apples and bananas and came across "Mom's Apple-Banana Bread". When I saw that the recipe involved adding caramelized apples to the batter, I knew it would be a winner. This recipe also appealed to me because it incorporates two treats that my mom and dad make really well - banana bread and apple cake respectively. My dad doesn't put on his baker's hat too often, but his apple cake has become a family staple. And my mom's banana bread just tastes better than any other banana bread I've tried. This recipe is essentially a combination of the two! The bananas and applesauce make for a very moist bread, and the caramelized apples add lovely bites of sweet and tart. The warm spices just scream fall. With the cooler weather approaching, I beg you to try this one.

I tweaked the recipe a little to accommodate the ingredients I had in my pantry (who uses that word?)

1 stick plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter (JAM Note: 1/2 stick butter, plus 2 tbsp, plus 1/4 c applesauce)
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 Granny Smith apples - peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 in dice (JAM Note: used Gravestein apples)
1 tsp cinammon (JAM Note: used 1 1/2 tsp)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (JAM Note: used 2 tsp)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves (JAM Note: used 1/2 tsp)
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (JAM Note: used 1/2 tsp allspice, 1/2 tsp pumpkin spice)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 ripe bananas, mashed (1 cup) (JAM Note: used 1 ripe banana, 1/2 c applesauce)
1/4 c orange juice (JAM Note: used 1/4 c applesauce)

In a large skillet, melt 2 tbsp butter with brown sugar. Add the apples and cook over moderate heat, stirring until tender and golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Add 1/2 tsp of the cinnamon and 1/2 of vanilla and transfer apples to a plate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9x5x4 in loaf pan. In medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, salt, cloves, nutmeg (JAM Note: allspice, pumpkin spice) and the remaining cinnamon.

In a large bowl, using the handheld electric mixer, beat the remaining butter (half stick) with the granulated sugar (JAM Note: beat in 1/2 c applesauce after). Beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time until smooth. Add in bananas (JAM Note: and applesauce), orange juice, and remaining vanilla. Beat until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and mix until smooth. Using a rubber spatula fold in apples.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake for 1 hr and 20 minutes (JAM Note: my bread was done in 50 minutes). Let the loaf cool and turn onto rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Flea Street Cafe - Menlo Park

Sweet corn soup with basil

So my biggest expense in life right now is food (oh yeah and health insurance, but I try not to think about that - come one healthcare reform!) When I splurge on something, its usually not a new dress or a fancy purse, but perhaps a delicious fillet of wild salmon or a local raw milk cheese. While some girls spend hours shopping for shoes (don't get me wrong, I love me a pair of these too) I prefer to spend hours in the market searching for that elusive red quinoa or purple asparagus. These are things I take great pleasure in. While I do tend to cook a lot of my own dinners, it is also fun to have someone else cook for you, especially when the produce is fresh and local.

Blue cornmeal crusted diver scallops with green and wax beans

I rarely venture into Menlo Park, but I had heard good things about Flea St. Cafe. Jesse Ziff Cool, the owner of Flea St Cafe and Cool Cafe, takes pride in her restaurants mission of serving local and sustainable food and wine. This strategy ensures quality produce, protects farm lands and the environment, promotes economic growth, and preserves traditions.

This all sounded good, but would the food taste good? For our appetizer, AJ and I decided to split the vegetarian tasting plate - corn and bean succotash, sauteed peppers and onions, roasted beets, and fried squash blossoms. While everything on our plate was fresh, the only thing that really wowed us were the fried squash blossoms. Stuffed with goat cheese and fresh herbs, served with a bright slightly acidic tomato sauce, these were divine. We were sad there were only two.

Ricotta gnocchi with heirloom tomatoes, guanciale, basil, and asiago.

For the main course I ordered two appetizers, the sweet corn soup and the cornmeal crusted scallops. I love ordering appetizers for dinner because it allows you to sample more items on the menu. Boy was I happy when my soup arrived. A sucker for soup, this creamy corn concoction was just divine. Let me tell you there is nothing better than fresh sweet summer corn. I scraped my bowl clean. The cornmeal crusted scallops were seared and cooked to perfection. Sweet with an excellent crust, these paired nicely with the sweet corn soup. However, for the price I wish there had been more than three of these!

AJ ordered the ricotta gnocchi. I am always tempted to order these soft potato pillows whenever they appear on a restaurant's menu, so I was delighted that I would be able to sample them. The gnocchi were light, topped with ripe heirloom tomatoes, basil drizzle, asiago cheese, and guanciale. AJ was a little disappointed to find meat in his dish. I think the salty bits were a nice pairing to the ricotta gnocchi, but not entirely necessary. I would have preferred more fresh basil, as opposed to the oil drizzle.

Rosemary angel food cake with rasberry sauce and creme fraiche ice cream.

Next to the corn soup, I think my favorite part of the meal was my rosemary angel food cake. I loved the use of this fragrant herb in a sweet dish. The angel food cake was light and airy, but still moist. A lot of angel food cakes end up being dry. The addition of raspberry sauce and creme fraiche ice cream sealed the deal. I think my angel food loving sister would enjoy this one.

AJ is a chocolate man, and went with Flea St's very own chocolate cupcake served with ice cream and pecan caramel sauce. The chocolate cake was dry and dense. I wasn't a fan. The ice cream was good, but even better was the pecan caramel sauce! Sweet, thick, buttery and loaded with pecans. I would serve just the sauce!

Chocolate cupcake with carmel sauce and pecans with vanilla ice cream.

Bottom Line: While a little overpriced, Flea St delivers on their promise of fresh, local ingredients.