Monday, March 23, 2009

Quiche aux Poireaux

A yummy box lunch

For many French women, my mother and aunt included, quiche belongs to the category of "quick" meals that you can whip up on any random weeknight. It's the type of dish where if you comment on how delicious it is, the answer will probably be something along the lines of "Thanks, but it really wasn't hard to make".

Quiche aux poireaux with a side of salad is almost a family member. One that you may not see that often, but pops up a couple of times a year and is always true to itself.

I decided to perpetrate the tradition and make my own quiche aux poireaux, silently thinking it would never be as good as the ones I grew up eating. First of all, I didn't make my own dough--if I had a real house with a big kitchen maybe I would, but frozen pie shells were my dough of choice for this one. My past quiches--zucchini, bell pepper--have been good but not outstanding, and sort of left me with a "blah" kind of feeling. It's not like a quiche is the hardest thing to make, though, which left me even more annoyed.

I was determined to get this quiche just right. Just in case it turned out well, I wanted to make up my own recipe, so that it would become my quiche. 

Well, my quiche it was, and my quiche it still is. I was amazed by how easy it was compared to the crazy flavor. For a simple leek quiche, it was extra flavorful and a real delight.

So next time I make my quiche and just in case I get some compliments, I'll know exactly what to say.

Oh thanks, but really it only took minutes to make.

Quiche aux poireaux

1 9-inch pie shell, defrosted, or 1 pate brisee
4 eggs
1 1/4 c. fat-free half-and-half
1 tbsp. Garlic & Herb seasoning (lazy me)
2 leeks, chopped
1 tsp. olive oil
salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a pan; saute leeks with 1/2 tbsp. seasoning, salt, and pepper until soft and fragrant.

Beat eggs in a large bowl, add half-and-half, rest of seasoning, salt, and pepper.

In the bottom of the pie shell, add cooked leeks. Top with egg mixture.

Bake in an oven preheated to 350°F for 40-50 minutes, or until top is slightly golden.

Serve with any type of lettuce, with or without dressing.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Black Bottom Cupcakes

One dessert I couldn't bring myself to make in Paris was a cheesecake.

I wanted to be able to try out a true cheesecake, not tweak repeatedly until my combination or ricotta/mascarpone/kiri/St Moret was "almost like a cheesecake". I wanted real cream cheese, but I didn't want to pay it an exorbitant price.

So I waited until I got to New York, thinking I would really get the cheesecake ball rolling out here.

Believe it or not, I haven't had a single slice of cheesecake since I got here almost three months ago. I haven't even baked a real cheesecake. Or even tried. Cheesecake recipes are piling up in my apartment, waiting for me and the day I decide to give it a go. I don't even have a valid excuse anymore--cream cheese isn't really the most expensive commodity around here.

While I put off making a real cheesecake, I've decided to try cheesecake-like associations. I recently got a really great baking book, The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book (whew), and their recipe for black-bottom cupcakes appealed to me right away.

Hey, I thought, this is sort of like a cheesecake! A half-cheesecake without risking a "this is not what a cheesecake should taste like" look from anyone.

It turns out the cupcakes were delicious--the sugar doesn't overpower the cream cheese, leaving the cupcake filling with a tangy taste that balances the strong chocolate flavor really well. Plus, the book's directions are so precise that when correctly followed, everything really turns out perfect. For once, I was actually happy with my oven!

Maybe I'll try to make a cheesecake next.

Black-Bottom Cupcakes - makes 12


8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 c. sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 large egg white
1 tbsp sour cream
1/4 c. semisweet mini chocolate chips (I chopped up normal chocolate chips--it's best not to use normal ones without chopping them up, because they sink to the bottom)


3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. sugar
1/4 c. Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 c. water, room temperature
6 tbsp sour cream, room temperature
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Filling: Beat cream cheese, sugar, and salt together in a medium bowl until smooth. Beat in egg white and sour cream until combined, about 30 seconds. Stir in chocolate chips.

Cupcakes: Whisk the four, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt together. Whisk in water, sour cream, melted butter, and vanilla until just incorporated.

Portion the cupcake batter into each muffin using a greased 1/3 cup measure (I just used a spoon...). Add a rounded tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture onto the center of each cupcake (I found there was a lot more filling than a tablespoon per cupcake--more like 2, which was just fine).

Bake until tops begin to crack, 18 to 22 minutes. Cool in tin for 10 minutes. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Banana Bread Muffins

Ever since I can remember, I have despised bananas.
The smell, the taste, but above all the texture have always disgusted me. When I want fruit, I usually want it to be juicy and satisfying--except for a few exceptions, like figs, which I only recently fully started to appreciate. Bananas, I thought, were only good for thickening a smoothie.

When I hear about a banana split, I can't help but wonder why someone would want to waste delicious ice cream on this fake fruit.
Alright, I tend to go overboard with my opinions, but the truth is that my mean retro oven has taught me one thing so far : banana bread is actually good.

The funny thing is sharing an apartment with someone who loves bananas, and loves them so much we bought some and he forgot to eat them. Maybe he just liked watching them change colors. Anyway, I was getting seriously nauseous from the banana smell all over the place, and remembered that my maman makes banana bread once in a while. Now she doesn't like bananas, at least I don't think so, but she makes the bread anyway.
"How bad can it be?" I thought, mustering up the courage to peel and smash these now-black strong-smelling fruits.
Obviously, I don't have a loaf pan around here, but decided to make banana bread muffins. I started out by smashing the bananas, and got pretty excited about the whole thing.

My oven being what it is, I was 90% sure they would end up awful for some uncontrollable reason or other.

Well, guess what. They turned out just fine...


I had a piece. And another. And another. Hey, I like banana bread!

I hate bananas though. Did I mention I don't like the smell?

Banana Bread Muffins
(makes one loaf, or 12 muffins)

1/2 c. butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
4 very ripe bananas, mashed
1 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter and sugar.
Add eggs and bananas, mix to combine. Next, add dry ingredients.
Finally, add vanilla. Don't overmix!

Pour into loaf pan or muffin liners, and bake until a knife comes out clean (it was around 45 minutes for me).

Adapting to your environment, kitchen-wise

In my last post, I stated that Pumpkin Chocolate Chip muffins were next.
Well, it seems they'll have to get back in line, after failing miserably on their last try. Honestly--and although I may sound like someone who always messes up what they cook and is trying to find excuses--I've made these before back home in Paris and they were perfect. My friends can vouch for it : they were some serious muffins. But the applesauce I used in Paris was obviously different, as was the oven. I won't get into the oven issue anymore, because I have given up once and for all.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins : Why so little??

Take my blondie recipe, for example. Yes, those blondies, the ones I wrote about a while ago but couldn't photograph because they were just that good. I made them again, eager to prove to myself that my (few) baking skills hadn't disappeared when I stepped on the plane to New York.

"Ha," I thought, "You won't get the best of me this time, oven. Your age and wisdom won't even start to affect my brownies."

Well, it did. Or something different in the ingredients did. The butter, maybe?

My cousin Katy pointed out an interesting NYTimes article about the differences in butter from one country to another. That might explain why I can never achieve a perfect buttercream in France, or why my perfect blondie recipe isn't so perfect around here.

Here's the link: Butter Holds the Secret to Cookies that Sing

Anyway, I'm really missing all my great baking moments--like when I bake something and then eat it all up, so I have to pretend that I didn't really bake anything in the first place to get away with it.

What's really ironic is that I'm not trying to bake any French desserts, only super-simple American ones. They should be even more perfect right here where they were created, right?

Oh, I miss you, tiny kitchen on the other side of the Atlantic!

(Good thing I have cookies from Grey Dog on Carmine Street in the West Village to make up for it.)