Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Kitchy Quiche

These days nearly everyone I know is on some kind of budget. Some are unspoken, quietly saying, "I'm good," when asked if they want the usual at Starbucks. Others are much more forthright, making bold statements like, "I'm never going to brunch again." Heck, going on a budget is the thing to do. Before writing to you all, I went through my credit card bill itemizing and then micro-itemizing every single purchase into ultra specific categories. I realized that my down-fall is baked goods so I've decided not to buy another cookie, cake or quiche ever again! Well, let's just settle on seldom.

Speaking of quiche, last weekend I had a little budget anxiety over hosting our friends and their 2 year old baby boy. Usually, I go hog wild, stocking up on expensive cheeses and imported olives; making so many hors d'oevres no one's hungry when the real meal is ready. So, at the behest of my husband and my wallet, I decided to make a quiche. Alice Waters, in The Art of Simple Food dedicates an entire chapter to eggs, quiche being perhaps one of the tastiest things you can do with an egg.

For the health, eco and budget conscious, pasture-raised eggs are probably the best thing you can do for yourself. While regular old cage-raised eggs are decent, pasture-raised eggs are better. According to the, they have 10% less fat and 400% more omega 3s and 40% more vitamin A than their corporate counterparts. Seriously, pasture fed eggs rule and have become a major staple in our kitchen.

Bacon, Cheese, Mushroom & Tomato Quiche

Too many quiches taste more like a fritatta in a crust. In search of a creamy, balanced quiche, I turned to Thomas Keller for his ridiculously easy crust - aka, you can use a mixer! And, for the filling, I turned to the best American master of French cooking, Ms. Julia Child herself. The quiche was a hit for even the most discerning two year old taste buds.

Add two cups of flour (I use white whole wheat) and one teaspoon of salt to the mixer. Mix for a second or two. Then turn the mixer to medium and slowly add 2 sticks of chilled unsalted butter that has been sliced into tablespoon sized pieces. Mix until everything is combined. Then add a 1/4 cup of ice water and mix that until combined. Turn out the dough onto a piece of saran wrap, flatten into a disk, wrap it tightly and store in the fridge for a few hours. Then preheat the oven to 375, roll out your dough and fit it into a pie pan, poke a lot of holes in the bottom and cook until brown and golden, about 40 minutes.

Get a liquid measuring cup and for every egg, pour enough milk in to reach the 1/2 cup mark. So, for 2 eggs, crack them into the cup and then pour in the milk until it reaches 1 cup. I used about 6 eggs so that was about 3 cups. Add salt and pepper to taste and a pinch of nutmeg if that sounds tasty to you.

You can fill your quiche with anything under the sun. I chose to caramelize some sweet onions, broil some pasture-fed bacon, cook some cherry tomatoes and mushrooms, and add some sharp farmers' market cheese that I can't remember the name of. When you go to fill the pie crust just don't go too overboard with the accessories because you might miss out on the custard consistency. I try not to let the accessories make it more than 1/3 to 1/2 of they way up the sides. Sprinkle the cheese and other things all over the bottom of the crust and then pour in the egg and milk mixture. Bake at 375 for about 35 minutes until the top is puffed and brown and the quiche is just set.

The result will be a custardy masterpiece of subtle flavor and smooth texture. And remember, since the egg and milk base is relatively inexpensive, you can go all out on the accessories since you really won’t need more than a handful of lovely mushrooms or fresh crab or whatever you decide to add. Enjoy!

Approximate Dinner Cost
• W/Wine - $29
• W/o Wine - $17
• Leftovers – Zip, but there were six servings so that is $2.83 per person!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Simply Sausage

I can barely remember it now, but I was once a Citigroupian. Every day I would take the E train out of Manhattan and into Long Island City where the Citigroup building rose, a single skyscraper all by itself, over the blocks of town houses and pockets of factories. There wasn't much in LIC in the way of food then, but every morning my friend, J, and I would go down to the deli for a bagel and chat with our deli friend whom we called the Swede.

One day I had a hankering for sausage and so I asked the deli manager, "How's your sausage?" Flustered, he looked down at his pants and then up at J and me and just stuttered and blushed. I, of course, didn't have a clue what his problem was, so I turned to the Swede who was busting his gut as hard as J was and asked if they had any sausage. After that, I finally caught on. I promptly exited the premises and went to the cafeteria.

Well, today I want to tell you about Farmers' Market sausage where when you say those three words, the men don't blush, stutter and look at their pants. They reply, "It's amazing." This past Friday, I pushed my baby girl down to our local market on West 97th street and bought some seriously fabulous pasture raised and farmer made sweet Italian pork sausage. I was tired and didn't feel like fixing a complicated feast so instead I fixed a simple one of grilled sausages with local Rao's marinara sauce and some Jerusalem artichoke spaghetti. Yum yum is all I can say.

Approximate Dinner Cost
• W/Wine - $25
• W/o Wine - $15
• Leftovers - Zip
• Breakdown - Sausage $11, Sauce $3, Pasta $1 and Wine $10

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Farmers' Fish?

My husband and I lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn for three years and frequented the farmer's market at Grand Army Plaza, which, in my humble opinion, is second only to the mighty Union Square market. Every Saturday, we noticed a line at this one particular stand and, no matter how early we roused ourselves, the goodies were always gone before we got there.

What was sold at this mystical place? Fish! Fish at a farmers' market? Ew gross! you might say and we did too until it dawned on us that NYC is actually an island within spitting distance of the Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound. This stand would bring in fresh seafood that really truly still smelled like it's old home, the ocean.

Due to extreme laziness - that must've been the cause - we never did get to sample the offerings of the fish stand at Grand Army Plaza. However, we just happened to hit the Union Square market early enough this week and scored big time. Little babies who wake up at 7am every morning will do wonders for getting you killer fish - er, shellfish as is the case this week.

We bought 2 pounds of sea scallops that were so fresh and perfect, they basically talked to me. Wondering what on earth to do with them, I copied our good friends who cook outrageous Risotto Milanese with scallops and a balsamic vinegar reduction. It's so simple and light and the pleasing touch of saffron accentuates the scallops' sweetness and saltwater freshness. Even my daughter was gobbling scallops and risotto with her little spoon. Served with a salad of fresh market greens lightly dressed with lemon and olive oil, the entire perfect meal only took 30 minutes to put together. Give it a go!

Risotto Milanese with Scallops and Balsamic Vinegar

Bring to a boil and then simmer about 5 cups of chicken broth (homemade if you can manage it, but I use organic all the time!) in a small pot. Pat the scallops dry and set them aside. Chop up a medium onion and add it to a large hot pot sprinkled with a bit of olive oil. After about 5 minutes, once the onion has softened, measure out 10 ounces of arborio rice and pour into the pan mixing it into the onion. Add a pinch of crumbled up saffron to half a cup of wine and pour over rice and onion mixture. Keep stirring and stirring – the key to a good risotto is the stirring. Once the wine is absorbed, add a ladle-full of chicken broth. Stir until it’s absorbed and keep adding ladle-full after ladle-full until the risotto is soft, but al dente. Turn off the heat and add a pat or so of butter and half a cup of Parmesan cheese.

With your other hand – keep stirring! – add about a cup or so of balsamic vinegar and a teaspoonful or so of sugar to a small pot. Stir and bring it to a boil and then simmer until it reduces down to a thick syrupy texture.

When your risotto starts coming together, sprinkle some salt and pepper on the scallops. Throw them into a hot pan and sear on both sides until they are a nice golden brown.

To serve, spoon some risotto into bowls, pop a few scallops on top and drizzle with a bit of the reduced balsamic. Enjoy!

Approximate Dinner Cost

• W/Wine - $39
• W/o Wine - $24
• Leftovers - 3 nights of rice with chicken thighs and salad came to $6 per meal for us three
• Breakdown - Scallops $13, Saffron $3, Arborio Rice $3, Butter $.50, Chicken Broth $3, Parmesan Cheese $.50, Salad $2 and Wine $15

*Author’s Note – If you or someone you’re cooking for has a dairy allergy as my daughter does, just pull out a serving of risotto before adding the butter and cheese. It’s super creamy and tasty even without the dairy.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Here Chicky Chick Chick

Thank God Manhattan is only 13 miles long because it takes forever to get anywhere. Sure, some argue otherwise, but they, like myself, have been sucked into the vortex of blocks and neighborhoods rather than miles.

I live say 85 blocks, about 4 miles, from the Union Square Farmers' Market. In suburban time, only a 5 minute drive, but in Manhattan time, it's a 30 minute train ride and then a 15 minute walk. With a baby stroller, add a back-straining 10 minutes for hauling the stroller up and down subway stairs while smiling adoringly at any person who looks like they can walk and therefore help with the stroller.

Don't get me wrong, I love New York and I love that I actually experience the weather and walk on streets and in parks rather than overheated malls, but occasionally, when it’s cold and rainy and I just don’t have time, I am eager for a driveway outside my house containing an awaiting car where I plop baby-girl into her carseat and drive off into the sunset.

This weekend, after the above journey, my husband, baby girl and I arrived at the farmers’ market to find a stand filled with pheasant sausages, chickens, ducks, eggs, smoked chickens and on and on. I was in love. After chatting with the farmer about how he treats his animals, he found the biggest chicky for me, which weighed in at 4.5 lbs and then he said, "$21." While the chickens at Whole Food are generally $8 or so cheaper, look at the title, I am emulating Alice right? Sure, I am, but my hubby, not so much.

“No thanks,” he said and rolled our daughter away. Since he had the cash and the baby, I had to follow. However, after about five minutes of heartfelt sulking and explaining it's less money than one entree at a nice restaurant, he gave in and I got my beauty-full chicky with her little neck and organs tucked inside.

Usually, when I roast a chicken, I stuff it with herbs and lemon or roast loads of root veggies alongside it. But this time, chicky was too stunning to mess with so I left her all alone covered in soft butter, salt and pepper. Alice does say, with the freshest ingredients, do very little. I cooked it at 400 degrees for an hour and a half, basting whenever I remembered and what came out was the most beautiful golden bird I'd ever seen.

After I put the chicken in the oven I decided the gizzards and neck couldn’t be wasted so I simmered them uncovered in a little pot of half water, half white wine, a clove of garlic, some peppercorns and a bay leaf. Mixed with the drippings from the chicken and a little white whole wheat flour and salt, it was the best gravy ever. Some buttered peas, organic, but frozen and brown rice cooked in chicken broth and my husband and baby girl were thrilled. Did I mentioned the local Finger Lakes Pinot Gris? Delish!

Approximate Dinner Cost
• W/Wine - $38.50
• W/o Wine - $23.50
• Leftovers - 4 nights at $9.63 per meal including vino - not bad!
• Breakdown - Chicken $21, Peas $1, Rice $.50, Butter $1 and Wine $15

*Writer's Apology - Of course, I was so into my cooking and racing against time before my husband and baby girl returned from the playground that I didn't take a picture. Sorry! New to this blogging thing. I myself can't stand pictureless cookbooks unless it's a book by Alice of course.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Well, this is it. I am 31 today and it's raining. My daughter is asleep, my husband's at the office, I am sitting at the kitchen table eating several chocolate chip cookies of my own making and thinking about exactly how to start this thing.

That's kinda how these first posts usually are - awkward like a TV pilot where the history of each character and the reason we are even watching is piled into 20 minutes...

I love Alice Waters. I think she's glorious and the way she birthed a movement all about clean healthy food from small farmers close to where we live is astounding. A few weeks ago, she was profiled on 60 minutes by Lesley Stahl who, while seemingly equally astounded, poo poo'd the notion that regular hardworking Joes and Janes can live and eat like Alice.

It got me thinking, maybe Lesley's right to some extent - I certainly don't have a cook's fireplace in my kitchen - but she's also very wrong. As Alice says, good food is a right, a right our ancestors had and why should we let big corporations tell us otherwise?

So, I'm here to share with you my journey as I try to emulate all the basics of Alice that I can muster while working, raising a baby, loving a husband and doing all the other things in my life I feel I must. Making mayonnaise won't be that hard, right?


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