Saturday, December 27, 2014

Keep Christmas For the 12 Days

I love Christmas as I've mentioned before in this blog (see here ) and I like to keep all the traditions alive! Here's a letter to the editor I wrote last year about my feelings, and they were kind enough to name me correspondent of the day.

Check it out and let me know how you celebrate! In the meantime, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Our beautiful tree in the living room. I've got 2 full sized ones and a couple of smaller ones that I decorate! 

Our dog checking out her gifts under the 3 themed trees in the family room. They all have blown glass ornaments on them. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Classic Quiche Lorraine

There is nothing quite like a  Quiche Lorraine for brunch. Absolutely nothing. Remember the scene in Alfred Hitchcock's classic film, "To Catch a Thief" starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly? When they are eating on the balcony? That's Quiche Lorraine that Cary Grant is eating. If you've never seen that movie, check it out. It's great and the clothes are to die for! I love a good Hitchcock mystery. See if you can figure it out before the end. It's not easy but the answer is there if you look carefully!

In addition to it's cult movie status, my mother absolutely LOVED Quiche Lorraine. When she made it for us in the 70's we thought it was the height of European sophistication. Then, inexplicably, quiche went out of style. People started saying things like, "real men don't eat quiche" and other absurd quotes that simply validated the "ugly American" cliche'. I've got lots of real men around and guess what? They eat quiche. One of them even asks for it on occasion. AND if you've got one of those men who think they don't like it, just call it bacon and egg pie, because that's all it really is.

All that useless stuff being said, here's what we're having on Christmas morning. step by step. It's easy to make and delicious to eat! Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Quiche Lorraine
Serves 6 - 8

1 unbaked pie crust
1 lb. Swiss cheese, grated
5 slices (or rashers) crisply cooked bacon
1/4 c. minced yellow onion
2/3 c. light cream
5 eggs

First, prepare your pie crust. For me that means open the package and unroll it, dust with flour and put it into my pretty pie dish. You can do whatever labor intensive thing you like. Or not. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Next cook some bacon, nice and crispy:

While the bacon is cooking grate the Swiss cheese. I like to use my ancient Mouli Grater but again, if you like to be labor intensive, go with that.

Crumble up the bacon and mince the onion. Sprinkle them evenly over the prepared pie crust in the pan, like this:

I mean, how bad could anything be that starts with pastry, bacon and onion? Now, get going on the custard. Measure 2/3 c. light cream (or milk which works just fine) into a large measuring cup. Add the 5 eggs and whisk to combine. Sprinkle about 1/4 tsp. of fresh grated nutmeg into your custard.

Don't omit the nutmeg, it gives it a little something-something! 
Place the grated cheese into the pie dish, mounding it up slightly in the center. It will look like too much cheese, but it's not. Then, very carefully and gently, pour the custard over the cheese evenly. 
Here it is, ready for the oven. You can't tell, but he cheese is in a kind of a hill in the center. Put the quiche into your preheated oven, and set the timer for 12 minutes. At the end of 12 minutes, turn the oven down to 325 degrees (don't open the door!) and cook for another 30 minutes until the quiche is set in the middle and the crust is lightly browned. I like to garnish it with a piece of bacon so folks know what to expect when they eat it  -- but that's just me. Maybe your guests like surprises! 

AND VOILA! A quiche fit for a king, or Cary Grant.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Spicy Chicken Ziti

Spicy Chicken with Ziti

I keep seeing cooks on the Food Network make Chicken Riggies or Chicken with Rigatoni. Now I am up for almost ANY kind of pasta dish, and hey, chicken, it's a no brainer. So, I went to my local (smaller size) market and believe it or not, they did NOT have any rigatoni! What? I could hardly believe it, but I can roll with it, so I substituted ziti. Not that there is THAT much difference between ziti and rigatoni, but there is a little bit.

This came together pretty quickly once I had chopped everything up. It was rich, spicy, creamy and very satisfying, all at the same time. Makes the cut for a pretty easy weeknight dinner!

I made what I thought would be about right for 2 people, but it actually made 4 servings. Go figure, I've never been very good at "portioning" things out. I am always the one who makes way too much, or tries to transfer leftovers into a container that's either way too small for that amount or overly gigantic for the little bit I've got to store. I can't explain it, but that's just me. I feel like this is pretty family friendly, but to get my "kids" to eat it, I'd have to leave out the mushrooms! Maybe sub some roasted red peppers? That would probably work. Start out with 1/2 tsp. of the red pepper flakes if you are not sure how much spice you want. I used 1 tsp. in ours. Don't omit the thyme, it pairs so very well with the chicken and mushrooms, and adds a nice earthy taste. The  thyme in my garden is extremely hardy so I have it available all year round. Even if I've got to brush some snow of it, I can find some green underneath! If you don't grow thyme, give it a try, it's super easy -- at least it is here in Central VA! It also smells really good when you are working in your garden, an added bonus.

Here's what I came up with:

Spicy Chicken with Ziti

3 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
1 T. olive oil
2 tsp. minced garlic
1/3 c. diced yellow onion
4 oz. crimini mushrooms, halved (baby portobello)
1/4 c. Madeira wine or Dry Sherry
2 heaping T. tomato paste
1 tsp. fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 - 1 tsp. dried red pepper flakes (or more if you really  like spicy)
1/2 c. low sodium chicken broth
1/3 c. light cream
1 tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

8 oz. ziti cooked al dente
Grated Parmesan cheese for topping

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat and add chicken thighs. Sear them on all sides until lightly browned. Remove to a bowl. In the same pan, add onion and cook for  few minutes until they begin to soften. Add garlic and mushrooms to the pan, and continue to cook about 5 more minutes. Deglaze the pan with the wine or sherry, then add the chicken broth and thyme. Stir in the tomato paste and red pepper flakes. Bring this to a boil, and put the chicken back into the pan. Add the salt and a little pepper, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Add the cooked ziti and the cream and toss the whole dish together. Cover and let it sit 5 minutes. Serve in a shallow bowl sprinkled with Parmesan. Serves 4.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Delicious Holiday Treat: Spiced Nuts

Let me start out by saying that I take absolutely NO credit for this recipe. It comes from one of my favorite authors, Deborah Harkness. Deborah is not only a great author, but a kind and generous person who interacts with her readers and shares her many inspirations, like music and food and art and so much more. Check her out HERE . She's also a woman after my own heart as she loves to cook and is a wine blogger! If you haven't read her All Souls Trilogy you are missing a real treat -- it's like Harry Potter for grown ups with a scholarly dose of history thrown into the mix.

So, here's what I've been making -- Spiced Nuts or "Em's Vampire Nuts" as they are referenced in the books. This is the 3rd year I've made them, and they are delicious. They make a great gift, aren't too labor intensive and have the distinction of having several good ways to serve them. You can, of course, eat them on their own as a snack, but I LOVE them on top of a salad. Get a fancy blend of lettuce that includes arugula (or rocket as they call it across the pond). Top it with some goat cheese, and either pomegranate seeds or craisins, drizzle with a balsamic vinaigrette and place a few of these nuts, pride of place, right on top. I bet they'd be great on top of a shortbread cookie as well, like pecan sandies for grownups.  Heaven! Fancy without being fussy, special without being pretentious! Give this a try, you'll thank me (and Deborah Harkness)!

Spiced Nuts

1 lb halved nuts ( I like walnuts or pecans or a mixture of the two, You can also use almonds but don't use cashews -- they burn too quickly.)
2 1/2 vegetable or canola oil (don't use olive oil)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1/4 tsp. cardamon
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg

In a medium saucepan, boil 3 inches of water and add the nuts. Blanch them for 1 minute and drain well. When they are drained, put them while still hot into a bowl with the vanilla and oil. Sprinkle with the sugar. Stir well to coat the nuts and then let them sit for 10 minutes. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees while you are waiting. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a large baking sheet with a rim. Bake the nuts for about 30 minutes, stirring and turning them every 7 - 10 minutes. Watch them carefully -- they can go from brown to burned quickly! In between stirring, mix the salt, cardamon, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a cup. When the nuts  are finished baking, put them into a big bowl and sprinkle with the spices. Stir, stir and stir them until all the spices are evenly distributed. Cool them in a single layer on some parchment or waxed paper. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks in a cool dry place (not the refrigerator). Enjoy!