Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fall - In a Tortilla!

I must have been inspired by the perfect-beyond-description, quintessentially Autumn in New England day today.  I'm talking the bluest sky and the brightest leaves you can imagine. Like, it might not have been real. So I went for the staples: apples and butternut squash.  I suppose I was partially inspired by a favorite from an old haunt of mine, The Other Side. I haven't been there since they started requiring a nylon messenger hat for entry, but I used to love that apple and brie sammich of theirs. But, I can say with absolutely no bias: this is better. I can say that because it won the approval of Executive Chef Kevin Olmstead of Pittsburgh's freshest, illest spot – J'eet Cafe (plug plug plug)! Like any good chef, he knows how to steal a good idea when he sees one, so watch for something a lot like it on him menu before long... Of course, we've been friends for years and he's been my biggest fan since post the first.  So Kev, it's all yours. Consider it my housewarming gift. I'm so proud of you!

Apple and Butternut Squash Quesadillas with Brie and Caramelized Onions

3 tortillas
6 oz brie, cut into thin slices
1 medium apple (I used Cortland), sliced
1 medium onion, sliced into crescents
1 small (under 2 lbs) butternut squash, unpeeled, halved lengthwise, seeds scooped out
2 tbs butter
olive oil for saute
salt and pepper
minced cilantro, parsley, chives, or toasted walnuts for garnish

Preheat oven to 375F. In a shallow baking pan, place the squash halves face up and add the butter to the hollows where the seeds were. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the squash is mushy. Allow to cool slightly, then scoop out the flesh and set aside in a bowl. Stir in a little salt and pepper. Spread the squash over the tortillas.

Heat the oil over medium-low heat, add the onions.  Cook for about 10-12 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are nicely browned and limp. Set aside.

In the same pan, place a tortilla with the squash, then add three or four slices of brie, the apple, and a spoonful of the onions. Allow to cook open-faced until the brie starts to melt, about three minutes. Fold the tortilla in half, press with a spatula, flip and press again, and transfer to a plate. Allow the quesadilla to sit for a minute, then cut into wedges and add your garnish.  Serves 3-4.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What Happens to a Vegan Deferred?

I think there's another, more closeted reason why my posts have have been so few. Like with any proper latent Catholic, it pertains to guilt. I started this blog with the ambition of posting healthful, wholistic, mostly vegan (or completely veganizable) recipes.  Of course, posting in this vein implies that I'm living as such. And well, I've sort of fallen off the health-food wagon since starting school. It's really, really hard to maintain a healthy, animal-free lifestyle when you work at and attend a school with an outstanding French culinary program co-founded by Julia herself. Couple that with being broke, and my defenses are completely shot. When lunch time comes around, guess which one wins: the over-priced bagel sandwich from the chaotic hipster coffee shop down the street, or a few (free!) slices of hot, homemade pizza with potatoes and brie? And I haven't even gotten to the tuna aux poivre incident (the incident was that i loved it)...

So, the moral seems to be that I have no morals. Not true! More like I'm toying with my boundaries. As if to prove a point, I made one of my most un-vegan creations in awhile tonight: quiche.  I hardly even had veggies to put in it. I had a paltry amount of broccoli, and I stretched it out by chopping the stem and cutting the florets reeaally small (which addresses my love for all things teeny-tiny). I've toyed with tofu-quiches before, and will likely revisit them. But I doubt anything soy-based will come out looking as drop-dead delicious as this.

Broccoli Quiche

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into small chunks
3-4 tbs ice water

4 eggs
splash of half-and-half or whole milk
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper
1 cup broccoli with its stem, cut into tiny florets
1/2 - 3/4 cup shredded cheese (I had mozzarella on hand) 

To make the crust, combine the flour and butter with a butter knife. Add the water, a little bit at a time, and stir the mixture with the knife until a crumbly dough forms. Resist the temptation to use your hands! The warmth from your hands will warm the butter and give you a tough crust.  Chilling the dough is the next step, and I just discovered this trick: slip the ball of dough into a plastic bag (I used the bag my broccoli was in), flatten into a disc, and refrigerate for half an hour.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425.  Bring a small pot of water to a boil and add the broccoli. Boil for just under a minute, strain, and rinse under cold water.

For the egg mixture, lightly whisk the eggs, half-and-half, nutmeg, pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper in a bowl.  It's ok if the yolks don't completely mix in with the whites. Don't overmix, otherwise the mixture will back up tough and rubbery (can you tell that a light hand is the French way?).

Now press your dough into an 8- or 9-inch pie or tart pan. I must say that I used a 9-inch tart pan and was pressing the dough dangerously thin, so I would say stick with the 8-inch. Add the broccoli, then the cheese, then the egg mixture.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the tops in bubbling up and browned nicely. Allow to cool slightly before cutting. Serves 6.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Blog's Not Dead

I live for the fall. Apples and crunchy leaves and scarves and pumpkin beer and pale blue skies wrapped up in the inexplicable scents of pepper and cinnamon that linger in the air until the first snow. And this is, without question, my favorite time to cook. This fall coincides with a big move, a new job, and 200+ pages of reading a week. But I've got an itch for the kitch. I will make something awesome, soon, I swear. You'll hear about it as soon as I do.