29 June 2009

A quiche for my brother

So my brother just called for our family's spinach quiche recipe. Living away from home for the first time, he's getting to learn how to cook for himself--and in my mind, he couldn't have asked for a better "beginner" recipe. This quiche always gets rave reviews and it is so easy to make! It's been a favorite in the family for as long as I can remember, and we love serving it up with some grilled Italian sausages and a salad for an easy weeknight supper (though this would be excellent for breakfast or brunch too).

As a little girl, I loved peeking through the oven window, watching the quiche rise, full of eager anticipation. When it came out of the oven, puffed and golden, the aroma of buttery crust, earthy spinach, and creamy egg and cheese would fill the house--but we had to wait for it to set. Patience! Once I urged my mother to serve it right away, but instead of receiving a lovely wedge on my plate, I ended up with a spatula-full of scrambled quiche. I learned early: you really do have to let it cool a bit!

I must say, though, that if you're truly in a hurry, please don't use a store-bought crust! There is a better short-cut: you can skip making the pastry crust and substitute a large flour tortilla. It's not as delectable as the pastry version, but it is definitely a time and money saver and is much healthier to boot!

Pastry Crust

1½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter
4 to 5 Tbs. ice-cold water

Sift together flour and salt in bowl of a food processor, then cut in butter using short pulses till flour mixture resembles cornmeal. Sprinkle one tablespoon of water at a time over the mixture and gently pulse. Repeat until all is moistened. Roll into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap, then flatten into a disc. Refrigerate till cool, about 20 minutes.

Spinach Quiche Filling

5-6 eggs, beaten
4 oz. cottage cheese
8 oz. gruyère and cheddar, grated
8 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained

Roll out cooled pastry crust to fit the bottom and sides of a 10" quiche pan. Line pan with crust. Mix filling ingredients together and pour into the crust; bake at 350°F for 45-60 minutes, until the center has puffed up. Let cool 5-10 minutes before cutting.

17 June 2009

Onions, green onions, and chives

I have recently discovered how fantastic it is to grow your own onions. Years ago, spurred on by the exorbitant price of fresh chives, I decided to grow my own chives in the garden. However, I never tried growing actual bulbing onions until a few months ago, when I was browsing the vegetable plants at Home Improvement Center and decided to give it a try with some sweet Walla Walla onions.

The onions came in a four-pack, and there were four clumps of tiny, chive-like stalks. I planted the clumps in a row, watered, and waited. Today, my onions are about 4 feet tall and are starting to flower. The leaves are much wider now--no way would they be mistaken for chives --and at the base of each clump are about a dozen or so yellowing onion bulbs of various sizes. The onions aren't as big as the store-bought kind yet, but that doesn't mean I haven't been enjoying them in my cooking! So far, I have used the young onions in place of green onions in stir fries and tuna sandwiches, and last night I plucked a few of the 1-inch bulbs and threw them on the grill alongside some chicken shwarma.

Growing my own onions solves so many problems. Okay, so it doesn't bring about world peace, but it does mean that I'll never have leftover green onions lying forgotten in the fridge because the dish I was cooking called for only 2 green onions when I have to buy them a whole bunch at a time at the store!

So try growing some onions of your own! When first planted, you'll have a good chives substitute. As they grow, you'll have fresh green onions whenever you want them. And when they start bulbing, you'll have delicious home-grown onions that weren't shipped from who-knows-where using who-knows-how-much gasoline. And when the flowers mature and dry up, sprinkle the seeds over the soil, rake it around, water from time to time, and voila, you'll have next season's crop for free!

14 June 2009

Apricots and parsley for a new tabbouleh

My apricots are ripening! The other day I picked a few and ate them right off the tree. What a moment, standing in the sunshine with my toes in the dirt and leaves, feeling the soft apricot skin and smelling its honeyed aroma, then biting into the juicy fruit! If you have fresh apricots, you might want to try them in today's recipe, a fun take on tabbouleh. Here, apricots stand in for the soft-sweet of tomatoes, and crumbled feta cheese provides a delicious salty counterpoint.

Now, this recipe calls for a lot of parsley. You could get a bunch from the store, but why not buy a packet of seeds and start your own parsley patch today? Choose a place that has plenty of sun and is easily accessed for frequent visits...like along a garden walkway. After enjoying fresh parsley at your fingertips for the season, let some (or all) of the plants go to seed, and harvest your next season's parsley seeds when the plants are yellowed and dry.

Bulgur Tabbouleh with Apricots, Chicken, and Butter Lettuce

2 cups water

1 cup bulgur

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 cups (packed) Italian parsley, chopped, plus more for garnish

1/3 cup toasted pine nuts

1/3 cup chopped shallots

2 Tbs. (or more) fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 large chicken breasts (about 1 pound)

lemon vinaigrette (4 Tbs. salad oil, 2 Tbs. lemon juice, 1 tsp. Dijon mustard, salt and pepper)

8 fresh apricots, pitted and cut into eighths

4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

butter lettuce leaves

Place 2 cups water, bulgur, and salt in medium saucepan; bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until bulgur is tender but still slightly chewy, stirring occasionally, 10 to 12 minutes. Fluff bulgur with a fork and transfer to large bowl to cool.

Meanwhile, place parsley, pine nuts, shallots, and lemon juice in processor. Using on/off turns, process until parsley is coarsely chopped. With machine running, gradually add 1/4 cup oil and process to coarse puree. Stir pesto into bulgur, then season to taste with salt and pepper and additional lemon juice, if desired.

Place chicken breasts in medium saucepan, sprinkle with salt and add enough water just to barely cover. Cover pan and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer on low until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Discard cooking liquid and slice chicken breasts, sprinkling with salt and pepper.

Line 4 plates with lettuce leaves. Divide bulgur salad among plates. Place sliced chicken over and drizzle with vinaigrette. Scatter apricot slices and feta cheese over salad and garnish with a sprinkle of chopped parsley.

10 June 2009

Dreaming of oatcakes

I have been on a quest--a quest for "oat cakes." Have you dreamed of these too? I have, ever since I read Brian Jacques' Redwall series. In these stories, the characters are regaled with delicious concoctions from the abbey kitchens, one of them being oat cakes. My mouth would always start watering as I read through the menus of the victory feasts...why didn't they include recipes? Well, I have tried several times to create the oat cakes of my imagination. I haven't gotten the recipe quite right, yet, but today's incarnation is pretty darn good...it's a cross of oatmeal and scone. Crispy on the outside, tender biscuit texture on the inside, and chewy steel-cut oats throughout! I had to eat a couple right away, they were so good.

Oat Cakes

1 cup steel-cut oats (can be purchased in the bulk section at Tri County)
2 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup whole wheat flour
5 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. sugar
6 Tbs. butter

Combine oats, water, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently until water is absorbed and oats are creamy, about 12 minutes. Let oats cool.

Mix together flour, baking powder, and sugar; blend in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Mix in the cooled oats.

Using an ice cream scooper, portion out 8 round "cakes" onto a greased baking sheet and bake at 420 Fahrenheit until golden brown, about 22-24 minutes. Let cool slightly, and enjoy!

07 June 2009

An antidote for a foggy day

Well, it's another foggy day in Santa Barbara. Us locals aren't surprised...it's all a part of the "June gloom" weather system that takes tourists unawares. After a pretty scorching few weeks in May, though, it's nice to have a chance to pull out cozy, homey recipes again and make up a pot of something warm.

Today I'm making a Tuscan bean stew, inspired by a recipe I found in one of my old issues of Gourmet Magazine. The sage is doing great out my garden just now, so I'm using that today. Though rosemary would be delicious as well. What's nice about this recipe is that you just throw the ingredients together and let them simmer...and at the end of the day you'll have a creamy, satisfying supper, perfect for a foggy day.

Tuscan Bean Stew

1 1/2 cups dried cannellini beans
1 (28 oz.) can of diced tomatoes
1/2 medium onion, chopped finely
1 celery rib, chopped finely
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. sugar
5 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cover beans with water by two inches in a large pot; bring to boil over high heat, then reduce heat and let simmer 2 hours, partly covered. Drain water, then cover again with water and briskly simmer uncovered until beans are very tender, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, in another large pot, saute onion, celery, and garlic in olive oil with a pinch of salt and pepper until softened. Add tomatoes, sugar, sage, red pepper flakes, 1 tsp. salt, and 2 cups of cooking water from the pot of beans.

Drain and discard the rest of the bean cooking water, and add the beans to the tomato mixture. Simmer uncovered on low 1 hour or more, to allow the flavors to meld and the stew come to a thicker consistency. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve in warmed bowls with plenty of grated parmigiano and some crusty bread alongside.

06 June 2009

Welcome to Apricosa

After years of thinking about culinary blogging, I finally have decided to to launch my own blog, Apricosa. This blog will be a venue for writing and sharing about my enjoyment of healthy California cooking with inspiration drawn from my Italian heritage, my garden, and my friends.

Summertime is just around the corner, and for me that means an abundant season of harvest is just beginning in my garden. As I peek out my window, I see the sunny, orange blush of apricots clustered on my apricot tree, the fuyu persimmon tree in full leaf, lemons dangling in ridiculous abundance, and grape vines curling all over the place. Every time I step out into my garden, whether it be to pick some of the organic fruits and vegetables, or to snip some herbs for dinner, or simply to soak in some sunshine, I am deeply renewed and refreshed. Thus, the name of my blog--Apricosa--a reminder of my California Eden.