March 28, 2012

Artichoke & Feta Quiche

Perhaps you recall back in December 2010, when I reviewed a cookbook called Cook This, Not That! (subtitled "Easy & Awesome 350 Calorie Meals") by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding on my (sadly neglected) other blog "Much Ado About Diet" or the other recipes that I have made since then, either straight from the book, or somewhat adapted therefrom. In fact, it should be noted that many of the recipes that I've made from the book (each one a success) which haven't made it onto the blog are simply because either a) the photos were crummy, and I need to take better ones next time, or b) I am a lazy blogger who sometimes forgets that I haven't already written them up.

This recipe is not from that book. This recipe is from the other Cook This, Not That! cookbook by the same duo, subtitled "Kitchen Survival Guide." As a test recipe, it was a big hit, and I'll definitely be making it again (or other versions inspired by this one). In the spirit of "use what you have", I substituted thick-cut dry cured bacon for the recipe's turkey or chicken sausage, and, not having any frozen pie crust hanging about, I used my mother's basic recipe for a simple pastry shell. Since I knew I would be making this on Sunday, on Saturday I mixed up the crust, rolled it out, and stuck it (in the pie pan) in the fridge overnight.

Artichoke, Feta & Bacon Quiche
(Adapted from Cook This! Not That! Kitchen Survival Guide)

Serves 6

3 large eggs
1 cup 1% milk
3 canned artichoke hearts, drained, chopped, and squeezed dry
60 grams feta (I use sheep feta)
2 tablespoons sundried tomatoes, chopped
4 slices of thick bacon, fried until crisp and well drained

While the oven is preheating to 350℉, chop and cook the bacon, and set aside. Mix the eggs and milk together until smooth. In an unbaked pie crust, arrange the chopped artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, bacon, and crumbled feta for even distribution. Pour the egg and milk mixture over the filling, and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling is slightly puffed and firmly set. Allow to stand for 5 minutes before cutting, for easy removal.

Next time I do this, I will at the very least add some snipped chives or fresh parsley or basil (or chile flakes!) to the the mixture, I think, but it was very good on its own, too. We finished the individual slices with black pepper and a tiny drizzle of truffle oil.

I was using paler-yolked eggs than I usually do, so the quiche was rather lighter-coloured than my quiches ordinarily are. I imagine that if you use orange-yolked eggs you will have a more golden quiche.

For those of you who don't have a frozen pie crust lurking about, and would like an easy one to make yourself, here's mine:

Single Pastry Crust
for a 8 or 9" pan

3/4 cup all purpose (unbleached) flour
1/4 cup butter
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon vodka
1 1/2 tablespoons cold water

Place the flour in the bowl of a small food processor fitted with a metal cutting blade. Add the pinch of salt and the butter (cold is best) in chunks, and pulse until well mixed, and the butter is in pieces no larger than a piece of confetti. Add the vodka and the water, all at once, and pulse again, continuing to pulse until the dough comes together and pulls away from the edge of the bowl. Dump it out and massage the dough, as minimally as possible into shape. Chill the dough for 10 minutes, then roll out as needed. This recipe can be doubled to make a double crust pie.

The recipe was published as containing 250 calories per slice. My bacon-y adaptation with a freshly made crust (and using 1% milk instead of 2%) clocked in at 237 calories (based on an online recipe calculator), so at least I didn't damage the healthiness of the recipe with the few adjustments that I made.

March 20, 2012

Ají De Gallina: Peruvian Chicken with Chile & Cheese

If you have been following this blog for a while, you will know that I have made this dish before, using Cesar's recipe (or a modestly adapted version thereof).

This time, I was moved to streamline the recipe a little more, at least partly due to the fact that I had two whole chicken legs' worth of meat (leftover from a roasted chicken) waiting in the fridge to be turned into something tasty, and had actually made a nice stock out of the bones. I also had a jar of ají amarillo sauce lurking in the fridge, and some ground almonds in the freezer. When I realized that I had pretty much everything that I needed for the dish on hand, I sprang into action. I note that I used Portuguese buns because they were the only plain white bread we had in the house, but they worked beautifully.

Ají De Gallina

Serves: 4
Total Prep & Cooking time: 45 minutes

2-3 cups shredded cooked chicken
1/2 medium yellow onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup 1% milk (or skim)
1 1/2 Portuguese buns (or three slices of bread)
3 tablespoons aji amarillo sauce
1/4 cup ground almonds
1 tablespoon chicken fat
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
Ground black pepper to taste

Tear the buns or bread into pieces, soak in the milk for about half hour, then puree. I soaked the bread right in the mini-prep bowl, fitted with the metal blade, to minimize mess. If you are serving this traditionally, with plain rice and/or potatoes, you probably want to get them started now, along with the hard boiled eggs for garnish.

While the bread soaks, prepare the rest: shred the chicken into long threads, and set aside, and chop the onions and garlic.

Heat the chicken fat (or olive oil) in a skillet and add the minced garlic and onion. After 2-3 minutes add the ají sauce, and cook for 2 more minutes, stirring. Add the blended bread, stirring constantly. Add salt and pepper.

Little by little, pour in one cup of broth, still stirring. If the mix is too thick, add more broth (or hot water). Cook for a few more minutes, always stirring.

Add the chicken threads, parmesan and ground almonds, and stir well. Remove the skillet from the heat for a few minutes before serving, so the flavours integrate.

Serve with white rice and potato slices. Decorate with hard-boiled egg wedges and olives.

I should note that the kind of olives that should be served here would be closer to California Mission olives, or Mexican black olives, than the kalamatas shown here. *shrug* I like kalamatas better, and I had them on hand. Radishes also make a lovely garnish. We also had some red bell pepper strips, just to give us a little more vegetable in our dinner. Leftovers re-heated well for lunch, which was also a bonus.

This version is fairly potent - if you want a milder hit of the chile flavour, use 1-2 tablespoons of the sauce, instead of 3.

March 17, 2012

Vegetarian Lasagna

For a while, it seemed like the default vegetarian option at any pre-set or group menu at restaurants in this town was vegetarian lasagna. Not being vegetarian myself, I had more options to choose from, but I recall sitting next to any number of folks who would fork disdainfully through their entrees muttering about the general lack of anything resembling a vegetable other than tomato (in sauce form) and perhaps a sliced mushroom (if they were lucky), or mushy cube of something indeterminate, and which might have once been zucchini, or possibly bell pepper. Mostly, they were bland and unimaginative, as far as I could determine from the reactions. I avoided the dish at all costs, personally, because I never, not even once, heard anyone say that it was delicious.

But really, there are so many reasons that vegetarian lasagna could be fantastic, that I became determined to work one out. This is the vegetarian recipe that has been my staple for the past 15 years.

Notes: The idea of grated zucchini and chopped mushrooms standing in for ground meat comes from from Anne Lindsay's Lighthearted Everyday Cooking. The idea of roasted fennel comes from the now-defunct Cafe S'il Vous Plait on Robson Street (although, I'm not sure they roasted it). Mixing the cheese and egg with the spinach is a tip I stole from my sister. The rest is pretty much classic!

Vegetarian Lasagna

Serves: 8
Total prep & cooking time: 2 to 2 1/2 hours, depending on your level of organization

1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 foot-long zucchini, grated
500 grams mushrooms, button or cremini
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
796 mL canned diced tomatoes (no sodium added)
2 cups tomato sauce (no or low sodium)
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
200 grams mixed wild mushrooms
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups part-skim ricotta or 1% cottage cheese
300 grams chopped frozen spinach, thawed
1 egg
pinch grated nutmeg
9 lasagna noodles (or equivalent fresh noodles)
200 grams mozzarella, grated
1/2 cup parmesan, freshly grated
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
pinch of chile flakes
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon oregano leaves (less, if using powdered)
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves (or 1/4 cup fresh)

Pre-heat the oven to 400℉. Spritz a 9x13" glass baking dish lightly with cooking spray, or rub lightly with canola oil. Toss the sliced fennel bulb with 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of water, and add a pinch of salt. Roast uncovered in the oven for about 30 minutes, until the fennel is completely tender. Remove from oven, scoop the fennel onto a plate or bowl, and set the oily pan aside to build the lasagna in, later. Start heating your water to boil the noodles.

In the meantime In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, the spinach (squeeze out excess water first), the egg, and the nutmeg, and mix thoroughly with a fork.

Prepare the wild mushrooms by cleaning, removing any woody stems, and slicing into large, recognizable pieces.

Use a food processor or mini-prep to finely chop (pulse) the button mushrooms until the pieces are mostly roughly the size of green lentils. In a large skillet, heat the remaining olive oil, and begin to saute the onions and garlic. Feel free to deglaze with a little splash of water or wine as you go, to keep them from sticking. Once the onions are starting to turn translucent, add the grated zucchini, and the chopped mushrooms. Stir and saute until the vegetables are tender, and any excess liquid has evaporated. Add the wild mushrooms, and stir them through. Add the salt, white pepper, chile flakes, fennel seed, and oregano, and continue to stir and saute. When the herbs are all nicely integrated in, add the diced tomatoes with their juices, the tomato paste, the tomato sauce (except for about a half-cup), and, if the mixture instantly looks too thick, a half-cup to a cup of water. Add the basil, and let the sauce cook gently, covered, over low heat, while you boil up the noodles.

Get the noodles going, and drain in a colander once just barely tender. Lay the noodles out on a cutting board or sheet, if you want to keep them from sticking to each other.

Layering time!

In your oily 9x13" baking dish, put down the reserved bit of tomato sauce, and spread it out to cover the bottom of the dish. Add three noodles to cover the sauce, and then add 1/3 of the simmered vegetable sauce, spreading it out evenly. Next, add all of the roasted fennel bulb, spreading it out into a nice even layer. Add half of the mozzarella cheese, sprinkling it over the fennel. Lay down the next three noodles. Lay down half of the remaining vegetable sauce, spreading it nice and evenly. Add the ricotta cheese and spinach mixture, carefully spooning it around the dish, and then using the back of the spoon to smooth it all into a layer. Top with the last three noodles, and the last of the sauce. Cover the top of the dish with the remaining mozzarella and the parmesan. If you like a little green, you can throw some chopped parsley in there, too.

Cover the dish with foil (spray the underside lightly with canola oil or rub it with olive oil first) and bake for 40 minutes, or until bubbling and hot. Remove from the oven and let it stand, uncovered, for about 10 minutes before you cut it, to make sure that it serves up nicely, and doesn't just slide apart. You can use that time to knock together a salad, or some garlic bread or something.

Enjoy with a nice glass of wine, and the comfort of knowing that you will eat well for days to come.

Does it take a while? Yeah. But, you can make it in advance for a dinner party, and it freezes well, too.

I'm currently contemplating a version that includes some coarsely/medium-ly chopped chickpeas somewhere in the mix, but I'm undecided if I should add them to the vegetable sauce or the cheese-and-spinach layer. I'll report back, once I've taken a crack at it.