Make, Jane, make!: September 2011


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Friday, September 30, 2011

Kielbasa, Mushroom, Leek and Cheddar Quiche

I know most people wouldn't consider quiche a quick dinner option... but it is totally one of my fallback meals when I'm at a loss for our evening meal. I like that I always have the ingredients on hand: butter, flour, eggs, milk/cream, cheese, meat of any kind, veggies of any kind. And generally, the prep time is under an hour - then it's hands-off while it bakes for another hour. If you're using a pre-made pie crust you could cut your time down to an hour from inception to consumption.

It helps that we love quiche at our house. The yummy buttery crust, soft custardy eggs mixed with any number of savoury fillings, and swimming with cheese - what's not to like? It's so easy to pair with a simple salad or soup, making it a very fulfilling meal. The only danger is that hubby and I are constantly in danger of consuming the whole quiche in one sitting. (We're both pie freaks).

So this particular night, I had some beets and eggplant from our CSA box that needed to be dealt with. Not wanting to eat either for dinner, I figured I would roast the eggplant for baba ghanoush and the beets would be frozen. That was when I decided that, since the oven would be on, baking a quiche for dinner would be the perfect solution to my mealtime woes.

First, the pie crust had to be made so that it could have some time to rest in the fridge while I prepped the quiche fillings and veggies for roasting. No food processor today for crust making... not worth getting the thing dirty for a single crust pie! (Also I knew I would need it to process my eggplant later).

Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut flour and a pinch of salt into the butter until it's all crumbly, like so:

Next add some water and stir gently with a fork until most of the crumbly bits are gone and it looks something like this:

Form into a ball, put it back into the bowl, cover with a wet dishtowel and pop it into the fridge while you prep everything else, about 20-30 minutes.

Cook the leeks in a little butter or oil until they begin to soften.

Add the mushrooms...

...and cook until they've let off most of their moisture. Usually you need to cook down any quiche ingredients that will release a lot of moisture beforehand... otherwise, it'll water down your quiche, making it very difficult for it to set. Set this aside and let it cool a bit.

Have your cheese and meat ready. You can shred your cheese if you like... I like it cubed because I find you get little bursts of intense cheesiness rather than having it melted and dispersed throughout the entire quiche.

Also get your egg and milk mixture ready. It's good to let the mixture sit for a bit after you whisk it together, so that some of the incorporated air has a chance to escape... makes the quiche more custardy and less air pocket-y (not a real word, I know) after it's cooked.

Roll out your pie crust and fit it into your pie plate. (Wonder where all your pie plates have gone, since you should have at least three of them, but now can only find one).

Pop the crust into the freezer for at least 10-15 minutes to get it nice and firm, then take it out and very lightly dock the bottom of the crust using a fork. Don't try to pierce holes into the crust, since your filling will just leak out these holes :)

(Docking lightly sticks the pie crust together so that areas like the bottom don't puff out and get too airy... I've had some filled pies actually get humps in them where the bottom crust puffed up and pushed the filling over the edges of my pie).

If you were going to serve this quiche at some kind of pot luck or buffet then I would recommend you blind bake the crust now. This ensures that the bottom crust stays nice and crisp even after it's been filled with the wet filling, making it possible to lift pieces of the pie up holding onto the crust alone. For a family dinner though... this step is not really necessary. My quiche crust is a bit soft on the bottom, but it'll still hold together, and you easily can lift the quiche slices with the aid of a knife or fork (similar to the soft bottom crust of an apple pie).

After docking, spread the bottom of the pie with some Dijon mustard, if you like.

Layer in your fillings and pour the egg mixture over top. (I'm using a cheapo 9 inch Pyrex glass pie plate and the measurements I give for the egg mixture should fill a pie plate of this size and depth perfectly).

Place into your preheated oven and bake for about 30 minutes before checking on it. You'll probably need to lower the temperature at this time so the crust doesn't get too brown. Continue baking for another 10 - 20 minutes, for a total baking time of approximately 40-50 minutes. It should be just slightly wobbly in the middle, but not wet. If it's getting really brown all over and the middle still doesn't seem set, then cover the whole thing loosely with foil and continue baking.

Let it cool slightly before serving.


Kielbasa, Mushroom, Leek and Cheddar Quiche Yield: one 9-inch quiche

For the crust:
1/2 cup butter, cold
1 cup flour
pinch salt
1/4 cup cold water

For the filling:
2 small leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
4 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
8 oz cubed, cooked kielbasa
6 oz old cheddar, cubed
4 eggs
approx. 1-1/2 cups whole milk (or enough so that the eggs and milk together equal 2 cups total)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
salt and pepper, to taste

For the crust:
  1. Place the cold butter, flour and pinch of salt into a medium bowl. Cut the flour into the butter using a pastry cutter or two knives, until the mixture is crumbly and there are no butter chunks larger than a pea.
  2. Using a fork, gently stir in the water. keep mixing until the dough starts to come together and most of the loose bits of flour are incorporated. When you pinch a bit of the mixture, it should easily stick together. 
  3. Using your hands, form the dough into a tight ball and place back into the bowl.
  4. Cover with a damp dishcloth and refrigerate for at least 20-30 minutes.

For the filling:
  1. In a small pan over medium high heat, cook the leeks in some oil or butter until softened.
  2. Add mushrooms and a pinch of salt and continue cooking until the leeks and mushrooms have released most of their moisture. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
  3. In a measuring cup, add 4 eggs and enough milk until you have 2 cups of egg-milk mixture. Add a scant teaspoon of salt and add pepper to taste.

To assemble:
  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Remove pie dough from fridge. Roll out and fit into your pie plate. Fold the edges under and crimp as you please. Place into freezer for about 10-15 minutes.
  3. Remove crust from freezer and dock the bottom of the crust with a fork.
  4. Spread thinly with mustard.
  5. Arrange kielbasa, mushrooms and leeks, and cheese on crust.
  6. Pour egg mixture over top.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes. Check to see if the crust is over-browning.
  8. Reduce oven temperature to 350F. If the quiche or crust is too brown, cover with foil and continue baking for another 10-20 minutes or until the middle is just set and no sign of liquid egg remains. 
  9. Let rest for about 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Quick Roast Chicken and Sage Ciabatta Stuffing

So the other night, I decided to do a big batch dinner and make two dinners with my fresh sage at once. I made these chicken and sage meatballs with brown gravy and stuffed and roasted two chickens.

Sad as it is, I don't have a single picture of the gorgeous finished roasted chickens since pieces of skin, wings and meat were picked off the birds as soon as they were cool enough to handle... this happens a lot with roasted meat at our house. The kids actually had a second dinner/bedtime snack when they smelled the chicken come out of the oven!

But anyway, I do enjoy roasting chickens because they make such a quick easy meal. Add some salad or frozen corn/peas/veggies and a carb and you've got the whole meal. If you roast them on top of potatoes as Martha and chef Jean Georges vonGerichten do here, then you've got your carbs covered as well. (That recipe is absolutely delicious, btw! The potatoes are butter and chicken-fat-soaked heaven!)

I almost always roast two chickens at once, since the oven's already on and the roasted meat can always be used later in the week in pastas, chicken salads, sandwiches, stir fries, etc or frozen for later use. In this instance, I froze three of the four cooked breasts for lazy dinners in the future and we ate the wings straight away (because freshly roasted, crispy chicken wings aren't the same when reheated!) The thighs and remaining breast were saved for the next night's dinner since we'd already had some meatballs.

To make use of my sage, I added it to some super old, super hard and crusty ciabatta that I had saved for just such an occasion.

Added some salt and pepper and poured in a little melted butter and enough milk to soften and bind the whole mess together.

I mixed this all up and let it sit and soak up the milk as I went about making my other dinner (meatballs). When I had the meatballs simmering, I stuffed my chickens and buttered them up. At this point, I also like to get a small bowl of salt and pepper ready to that I can do all the greasy, buttery, raw chicken stuff in one go.

Here are the chickens: buttered all over, salt and pepper mixture rubbed over them and set up on their sides, ready for roasting. The legs are simply crossed over each other and tied together to the tail using some twine. The wings are tucked up into their own armpits. (You could certainly bind the chickens properly, so that they stay nice and shapely, but I find this unnecessary for a casual family supper.)

Side note: the chickens were pretty hard to balance this way - since I normally have a bed of potatoes underneath which makes wedging them upright much easier.

I roasted them at 400F for approximately 90 minutes, turning them from one side to the other, and finally breast up for the final browning. Our chickens are always humungous (5 pounds or more), so smaller chickens would definitely be done within an hour. You'll probably find that the bottom of the pan starts getting a lot of crusty bits that may be starting to dry out/burn. Add water to the bottom of you pan as necessary to keep the pan drippings from burning.

I didn't make any gravy from my drippings, but I didn't want to waste those yummy salty drippings either! So I did put the empty pan over a burner and deglazed it with some water to get some super concentrated chicken jus.

Not that attractive in the oil separator, but very yummy once the jus was separated... turned into a beautiful brown chicken jelly in the fridge! (btw, I can't recommend this product enough - the Trudeau fat separator. It's does a really good job of separating the oil and chunky bits without wasting very much sauce. It's also dishwasher safe which makes the clean-up of an oily plastic cup super easy!)

Bonus of saving the jus: it effectively cleans out the roasting pan... so all that was left for me to do was use some dish soap to get the oiliness out. No need to scrub any burnt on bits!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Chicken and Sage Meatballs in Beef Mushroom Gravy

We received some fresh sage in our CSA box last week and since I think sage tastes the best when it is fresh, I wanted to use it rather than freeze/dry it.  So I put the kids in front of the television for an episode of Dinosaur Train and set out to make two dinners in one go. I added the sage to some ciabatta stuffing for a couple of chickens (more in a later post) and used some to make these meatballs.

My kids love chicken. I think most kids do. So chicken meatballs smothered in some kind of sauce are always a winner at our house. Our butcher has both ground white chicken meat and ground dark chicken meat. I always buy the dark meat because it's less expensive and tastier. Also I find that ground white chicken meat seems a little pointless. If I wanted a white meat meatball or patty, wouldn't I just chop up the breast into nuggets or something similar? My personal opinion...

Here's some ground chicken and chopped sage.

Added an egg, some panko, salt and pepper. A pretty basic meatball - made special with fresh herbs and gravy.

Heated some olive and safflower oil up in a heavy saucepan/dutch oven and formed the meatballs.

Tossed the meatballs in and fried them until they had a bit of colour on the outsides and began to firm up and keep their shape.

Realised at this point that I had completely forgotten to prep the mushrooms for the gravy. Was thankful to see that the mushrooms were pretty dirt-free and large-sized, so they were easy to clean and slice. Some speed-slicing and the mushrooms were ready to go in with the browned meatballs.

Cooked the whole mess until the mushrooms were soft. Added some beef broth to deglaze the pot and form the gravy. (You could definitely use chicken stock or water here too, you just won't get the nice brown-coloured gravy. If you decide to use water, remember to taste and re-season as necessary).

I like a dash of worcestershire sauce in my mushroom gravy, so...

Brought it to a low boil, then covered and simmered for about 15-20 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked through. Made a little bit of roux to thicken the gravy.

You could use cornstarch to thicken the gravy as well, but I find the texture of the resulting gravy isn't as creamy or thick.  Added the roux bit by bit, mixing between additions, until my meatballs and gravy looked like this:

The kids ate this straight from the pot. We ate it with some rice. It would be sooo good with some mashed potatoes (but organic potatoes are crazy expensive right now) and buttered marble rye. 


Next time...


Chicken and Sage Meatballs in Beef Mushroom Gravy

1 lb ground chicken (dark meat is my preferred)
3 sprigs sage, chopped
1 cup panko (or other quality breadcrumbs)
1 egg
8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
300ml beef stock, or enough to cover meatballs
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
salt and pepper, to taste

  • Mix together ground chicken, sage, panko, egg, and salt and pepper. Form into tablespoon-sized meatballs.
  • Heat your preferred cooking oil over medium-high heat in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Brown meatballs, rolling them around to cook all sides, until the meatballs begin to firm up.
  • Add mushrooms to the pot and cook until mushrooms are softened.
  • Add in stock/liquid and deglaze/scrap up any brown bits if necessary. Add worcestershire sauce.
  • Bring gravy up to a low boil and lower heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until meatballs are cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Mix together butter and flour using a fork or your fingers until a smooth paste (roux) is formed.
  • Push the meatballs to the sides of the pot, clearing a small area in the centre in which to thicken to gravy. Add roux to the simmering sauce about a 1/2 teaspoonful at a time, stirring well after each addition. Continue adding roux until the sauce is at your desired thickness. (I used up all my roux, but it really depends on how much liquid you added and how much liquid was present from the meatballs and mushrooms).
  • Give everything one final stir to even out the consistency of the gravy and give it one final tasting.
  • Serve with carbs or as is. They're really reminiscent of swedish meatballs so I think they would also be great with some lingonberry or other slightly sour jams/chutneys.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bucatini all'Amatriciana

It's tomato season and I was so excited at having a full harvest of our own tomatoes to work with this year... unfortunately, as my paste tomatoes begin to ripen, I am finding that our resident rabbit has also been excitedly awaiting the ripening fruit. Hopefully, I'll manage to grab a few of the tomatoes before bunny gets to all of them. But in the meantime, nothing prevents me from buying the nice farm fresh tomatoes available at our local farm markets.

I've been freezing a lot of our CSA tomatoes as per this helpful post from Apartment Therapy the kitchn. I'm planning on using my frozen tomatoes later in the winter for pasta sauces and curries. However, this past weekend was a huge family get-together for us and I wanted to make a family pasta dinner. I didn't want to thaw any of our frozen tomatoes, so I went the old-fashioned route and bought some fresh plum tomatoes for skinning and cooking.

We had lots of bucatini at home, so the first choice was (naturally) bucatini all'Amatriciana. I love this simple, smoky, sweet tomato sauce combined with the nice al dente texture of bucatini.

To get that lovely sweet taste, you need to use nice, fresh, ripe plum tomatoes (or shell out for the San Marzano canned ones!) Luckily, I managed to buy some local plum tomatoes and here they are all blanched and peeled in their super-ripe prime:

This sauce is pretty simple and pared down. I think I've even seen it done without onions... I prefer a bit of onion. So my sauce contains four ingredients: tomatoes, pancetta, onion and pecorino Romano.

If you can find guanciale, this dish would be even more tasty. Usually, I use pancetta because it is so readily available. In fact, I like to keep a small slab of pancetta in my fridge at all times because it adds flavour so readily to so many dishes.

So the sauce is simplicity at its finest - heat a very small amount of olive oil and and your pancetta. Cook until the fat is mostly rendered off, this provides the cooking oil you'll need for the onions.

When the pancetta starts to get a nice brown crust, add the onions.

Cook everything until the onions start to soften and then throw in your tomatoes. You can add them whole or chop them up. Chopping them or squishing them in your hands will speed up the cooking process, as it breaks them down and gets the juices out faster.

Bring everything up to a simmer, then cover and cook until the tomatoes have transformed themselves into a nice uniform sauce. This usually takes 3 to 4 hours.

My tomatoes were all broken down by about 3 hours, but perhaps needed an hour more to concentrate down into a thicker sauce. Unfortunately, since we had guests waiting for dinner, I needed to speed the process up a bit. Hence the addition of some tomato paste which thickened the sauce up within 10 minutes.

Then all that's left to do is to stir in your cheese and spoon it over some cooked pasta. (I also threw in a handful of roughly torn basil leaves because we have a lot of it in the garden right now).

You can see there's always room for more freshly grated cheese :) I had just a few chunks of tomatoes left in the sauce here and there, which I love for the rustic, homemade look it gives to the dish.


For those of you interested, here are the approximate amounts I used to make sauce for 3 pounds of pasta:

Bucatini all'Amatriciana 

2 kg plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
350 grams pancetta, cubed
1 large onion, diced
1 cup grated pecorino romano, plus more for serving
3 lbs bucatini

basil leaves or other seasonings to your taste

  • Prepare the tomatoes.
  • Heat a large dutch oven or similar vessel. Render the fat from the pancetta.
  • Add the onion and cook until softened.
  • Add the tomatoes, bring to a boil then reduce heat. Cover and simmer for approximately 4 hours, or until the sauce is at your desired consistency.
  • Cook the pasta as directed.
  • Stir grated cheese into sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning as your like.
  • Spoon over or toss with pasta.

Note: I only boiled 2 pounds of pasta and this was enough to feed 12 people when you factored in the salad and garlic bread. We boiled the extra pound the next day and had it with the leftover sauce, to there was enough sauce for 3 pounds of pasta, if you like your pasta lightly dressed. If you're the type who enjoys having a lot of sauce left on your plate after you've finished the noodles then you may want to use 3 kg of tomatoes (i.e. one kilogram of tomatoes for every pound of pasta you intend to cook). No need to adjust the amounts of the other ingredients.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Maple Pecans

We have a lot of tender fresh beets saved up from our CSA deliveries and while I was planning to cook and freeze them for use later in the winter, I couldn't resist making this pretty vegetable side dish for a recent family dinner.

I think everyone who enjoys beets has had some incarnation of this wonderful beet salad. I personally like mine with blue cheese and walnuts, but I find the goat cheese version is much easier on palates unaccustomed to the strong taste of veined cheeses.

There two basic methods to preparing the beets for this salad - boiling or roasting. To boil them, trim off most of the greens and root (leave a little of bit of both though or else you'll find a lot of beet juice leaking out of your beets as you boil them) and throw the whole beets into a pot of boiling water until they are tender enough to pierce with a fork, but not mushy. This may take anywhere from 20 minutes to just under an hour depending on how large your beets are (kind of like boiling potatoes for potato salad).

To roast them, trim off all of the stems and root and wrap each beet in some foil. Roast them at about 400F for 30-40 minutes or until they are fork tender but not mushy.

I prefer the roasting method because I find the beets stay more crisp throughout, as opposed to the outsides getting a bit soggy from boiling.

The beets are easiest to peel while they are still a bit warm. So using a paper towel (to protect your hands from the heat) and wearing gloves (if you don't want to stain your hands and nails), rub all the skin off the beets. If you find that the skin doesn't seem to want to come off, chances are that the beet is not well cooked yet. Throw it back into the water/oven for a little longer.

The messy work of peeling beets. Love the red colour though! If I'd had the time, I would have saved the juice for cupcakes and icing :)
Chop up your lovely beets into small bite-sized pieces and toss them with some balsamic vinegar, olive oil and a touch of sea salt.

While the beets are cooling a bit, prepare your cheese and nuts. I find it easier to cut and crumble goat cheese when it is a slightly frozen. So I usually cut the amount of goat cheese I want off the log (in the plastic and all!) and throw it into the freezer for 30 minutes or so. Afterward, it is really easy to cube or crumble the goat cheese in any manner you like.

Make your maple pecans by putting some chopped pecans into a hot, dry frying pan.

Toast them on medium heat until they start getting fragrant, then add a few spoonfuls of maple syrup and toss them around until they are seem sufficiently candied to your linking. This may take a few more pours from the syrup bottle if you want them glistening with sugar ;)

Top the beets with the nuts and cheese shortly before serving. And let your dinner mates marvel at this gorgeous late summer salad.

p.s. For a more sophisticated, hors d'oeuvres presentation, you could also slice the beets and goat cheese into coins and stack them atop each other with a sprinkling of candied nuts on top. If you are fancy that way :P

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chinese Stir-Fried Eggplant with Beef

This is an easy dish that our whole family loves which really highlights the delicious silky texture of cooked eggplant. Before the kids came along, this definitely would have been a spicy Szechuan style dish, but it's been tamed down a lot since.

We received some lovely little eggplants from in our CSA box and when I asked my husband how he would like them prepared, he immediately chose stir fry over: roasting for baba ghanouj or eggplant curry or baking for parmigiana or moussaka.

The preparation is pretty typical of most stir frys. First, prepare your ingredients - in this case, eggplant (this was traditional Italian eggplant, Chinese style ones would be great as well), green onions, garlic and ginger.

Look at the lovely light green hue on these eggplants! Seeing that gorgeous colour made me wish I had roasted them for a pretty eggplant dip.
Next, heat up your wok with a little high heat oil (I like safflower) and add the meat. As much or as little ground beef as you would like to go along with your eggplant.

Cook it until it is half brown and half red. At this point, I like to add my seasonings: chicken stock, oyster sauce, a touch of soy (if you want), sugar (always!) and ground pepper. (In the Szechuan style, I would also add some Sriracha or a similar hot sauce).

 Let the meat brown thoroughly and add in your onion, garlic and ginger. Saute for about a minute.

Then throw in all the eggplant. Stir fry until the eggplant is tender.

Using the same measuring cup/bowl you had the oyster sauce/stock in (don't waste any stuck on sauce :), combine some water and cornstarch. Mix well to form a uniform slurry.

Add the cornstarch/water to your wok and mix until the sauce thickens and there is no more opaqueness from the cornstarch. You can always add more water if the sauce seems too thick or more cornstarch/water slurry if it seems too thin.

Spoon over rice and enjoy!


Chinese Stir-Fried Eggplant with Beef      Serves: 4

2-3 medium-large eggplants, cubed (strictly preference/circumstance - i.e. how much eggplant you like/have)
3-4 green onions, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch ginger, minced/grated (I like to freeze and grate my ginger a la Chef at Home, Michael Smith)
1/3 cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1-2 teaspoons soy sauce (optional)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper (white or black)
1-2 teaspoons Sriracha/hot chile sauce (optional)
1/3 - 1/2 pound ground beef
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon cornstarch

*As with all my Chinese recipes, the measurements are all approximate. Let your tastes guide you if you find you like something saltier, sweeter, spicier  :)
  • Mix together chicken stock, oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, pepper, hot sauce.
  • Heat oil in a wok over high heat. Add ground beef and stir fry until the beef starts to brown.
  • Add sauce/stock mix and cook until the beef is browned.
  • Add in the green onions, garlic and ginger and saute for about 1 minute.
  • Lower the heat slightly and add your eggplant to the wok and stir fry until the eggplant is tender (about 5 minutes). Depending on how fresh your eggplant is, you may need to cover the wok and let it steam for a bit if the eggplant seems very dry/tough.
  • Stir together the water and cornstarch and pour the mixture into your stir fry. Cook until the sauce thickens and you can no longer see any foggy whiteness from the cornstarch. You may need to add more water or cornstarch/water to thin or thicken the sauce to your taste.
  • Best served with rice.