Easy, Breezy, Beautiful Quiche

Easy, Breezy, Beautiful Quiche

Quiche, anyone? If you’re like me, quiche seems like a pretty elegant dish. Lots of folks confuse elegance with complexity, but quiche proves that simple can be elegant, too. I was reminded of this when I was at my first Mother Earth News Fair (more about this event in a future post) where a presenter was providing tips for easy, cheap, and green living.

What got my attention was when she told us quiche was her go to dish whenever she had dinner guests. She went on to explain that since she raised chickens (we don’t), eggs were usually in strong supply and that quiche was a really simple dish to prepare, especially if you go crustless. (I don’t—more about that in a minute.) And it never failed to wow her guests. Sounded good to me.

You’d think proportions would matter with a dish like this. But I’ve seen recipes with anywhere from four to eight eggs. Some recipes call for cream, some for milk. And the amount of cheese varies significantly, too.

About that crust. The easiest thing of all is to skip it. Just be sure you spray or butter your baking dish well. I like a crust, though, for the added texture. But I’m no pastry chef. My attempts at making piecrust from scratch have usually been pretty dismal, and I find those in the refrigerated section of the grocery story—the ones in the red box with the puffy dough boy on the package—do just fine. I almost always have a package in my own refrigerator, just in case. You could use frozen, too, but I’d suggest you go for deep dish.

The neat thing about quiche, I’ve discovered, is that it’s more method than recipe. When I come across something as simple as this, I keep the ingredients and oven temperature info on a 3 x 5 index card that I stick inside a kitchen cabinet for quick reference.

Here’s my favorite take on this deceptively simple dish.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

If using a crust, lay it in your pie pan and crimp the edges. (If you’re making it from scratch, you’ll have to seek out your own recipe.)

2-4 cups veggies of your choice (We like a combo of mushrooms, onion, and Swiss chard or some other leafy green. Broccoli and bell pepper—red for color—are other favorites.) Lightly sauté or steam your veggies, depending on which ones you’re using. Remember,they’ll keep cooking in the oven, so you don’t want to overdo it.

1 ½ cups grated cheese (Again, your choice. Cheddar, Swiss, Gruyere, whatever tickles your fancy—or whatever you have on hand. A mixture of different cheeses works well, too.)

Mix the following together:

4 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1 tsp salt, or to taste
½ tsp pepper, or to taste

Place prepared vegetables in pie pan. Cover with grated cheese. Pour egg mixture over all. Bake for 45 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.

Add a tossed salad and a side of fresh fruit and you have an easy and sophisticated meal.

dscf5422

World’s Best Granola

I love it when someone shares a favorite recipe and it turns out to be one of my faves, too. I always include the name of the giver, in this case Becky B, when I rename it. That way, I always think of these special people when I’m preparing or eating the dish they brought into my life.

This is a seriously delicious and seriously easy recipe. The hardest thing about it is melting the butter. The most time-consuming—and most crucial—task is checking it every five minutes while it’s in the oven. You don’t even have to be all that great at measuring because exact measurements just aren’t all that important.

dscf5476

Becky B’s granola with yogurt and berries

If you have a nut allergy or they’re too expensive at the moment, just substitute with more seeds. You might want to use different nuts or seeds. It really doesn’t matter. For instance, I’ve rarely added almonds just because they don’t happen to be in the house when it’s time to mix up another batch. I’ve also tossed in a couple tablespoons of chia, sesame, or flax seed at one time or another.

In truth, the recipe didn’t originate with Becky. The copied piece of paper she handed me said it came from her uncle who apparently got it from Emeril Lagasse. I have no idea how many iterations it’s been through, but here’s my take.

Becky B’s Granola

Preheat oven to 325.

Mix together the following:
3 c old-fashioned rolled oats
½ c slivered almonds
½ c shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
¼ c hulled pumpkin seed
¼ c sunflower seed
½ c chopped pecans and/or walnuts (I always add more, sometimes as much as double)
1 tsp cinnamon

In a small pan on low heat, melt
4 T butter mixed with
1/3 c honey
(You could also do this in the microwave, but be sure to cover your container to keep the liquid from spattering.)

Add: ½ – 1 tsp vanilla, depending on your preference.

Pour liquid mixture over dry and mix well.

On large baking sheet, spread granola evenly in thin layer. I find it works best to use two baking sheets (with sides). Otherwise, it’s too easy to make a mess each time you need to stir.

dscf5345

After five minutes in the oven

Bake, stirring every 5 minutes to keep from sticking or burning, moving the outside edges (which will cook faster) to the inside each time you stir. Bake until golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes. Important: do not overcook. Unless you oven cooks lower than the temperature you set, it’s better to remove the pans from the oven after 20 minutes even if the mixture doesn’t look quite done. The granola will continue to crisp as it cools.

dscf5347

Crisped perfectly

Now, right here is where I part ways with the recipe that was given to me. The instructions say to add ½ cup raisins and ½ cup dried cranberries or blueberries or both at this point. But if you do that, all that wonderful crispiness disappears almost overnight. I’d much rather add my fruit when it’s time to eat. Bonus: if you do it my way, you can use your choice of dried, fresh, or even frozen fruit.

Cool granola on pan. Keep in airtight container. Recrisp if needed.

Note: I’ve never needed to recrisp once I started omitting the dried fruit. Even though this tasty mixture usually goes pretty fast in our house, on occasion we’ve still had some after several weeks—still no recrisping needed. It keeps really well. It’s a terrific topper for your favorite yogurt, too.

dscf5349

This recipe makes about four cups of granola. If you leave out the dried fruit, the granola stays fresh for weeks–but it rarely has that chance at our house.

 

Cream of Pumpkin Soup with Cinnamon Croutons (Yum! Yum!)

Several folks have asked that I write more about our experiences related to moving here, hand-building our home, and trying to live more sustainably. I’m tackling that project, but it’s a big one. In the meantime, how about I leave you with our favorite pumpkin soup recipe?

We’re pumpkin fools around here. It all started a few years ago when I was browsing through a seed catalog and my eyes fell upon these words: Baby Pam pumpkin. Pam’s my mother’s name. That’s all it takes for me to become infatuated with a plant—a name that rings my chimes. (I’d be terrible betting on the horses!) The Baby Pams were great eating pumpkins, but awfully small, maybe softball size. It was always guesswork figuring out how many we needed to, say, bake a pie, and too often we found we hadn’t cooked up enough of the vitamin-rich orange flesh.

But the lure of pumpkin growing had gotten under our skins. With their bright colors, huge leaves and sprawling vines, we were hooked. And there was this plus–pumpkins store well, which means good eating well into winter with no up front preserving effort. All you need is a cool, dark place. A basement or unheated closet will do.

Catalog pages were filled with colorful displays–so many varieties. We got carried away with the weird-looking pumpkins: the green ones, the white ones, the ones with warts. Most of those were more for decorating than eating. We thought the grandkids might enjoy using them at Halloween. But they never did particularly well in our garden.

After that experiment, we read about Long Pie pumpkins, also called Nantucket Pie.

fall-harvest2

Various pumpkins and other winter squash from our garden

An heirloom variety, the Long Pie is known for its sweetness, and it has very little of the stringiness pumpkins are known for. If you were to see it in the garden, though, you might think it was a zucchini on steroids with its elongated shape and dark green skin which rarely fully ripens to a deep orange until it’s in storage. Since trying our first Long Pie, we’ve never so much as looked at another pumpkin variety.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Long Pie Pumpkin

But the problem with Long Pies, if you can call it a problem, is that they are both prolific and pretty good-sized. On average, they weigh five to eight pounds apiece—we’ve had some quite a bit heavier. One is always enough for a pie. In fact, whenever we’ve roasted and pureed a Long Pie, we’ve usually had extra to put in the freezer for some unknown future use. The last year we kept a record of such things, we harvested more than 250 pounds of Long Pies. That’s a lot of pumpkin. And just how many pumpkin pies can two people eat, anyway? (The Gnome says, “A LOT!”)

So we began looking for other ways to use pumpkin. We’ve substituted it for sweet potatoes, we’ve made pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin chili, pumpkin risotto—all delicious, by the way. But our favorite alternate use for pumpkin has got to be this cream of pumpkin soup, especially on chilly winter nights. The cream makes this dish extra smooth and rich. Add the cinnamon croutons and it’s a standout.

Of course, you don’t have to grow your own pumpkin to make this pie, nor even buy it fresh (though if you do, you’ll need to roast and puree the pumpkin first.) A can of pureed pumpkin will do fine. Just be sure you don’t accidentally buy pumpkin pie mix.

Unfortunately, I don’t know where I found the recipe for this soup, and I hate not giving recognition. I’ve searched my cookbooks, recipe cards, and online favorites, all to no avail. I found one that’s awfully close, though, from Judith N. over at the Food Network website. Since I can’t find the exact recipe I use, why don’t I just go ahead and give her credit?

CREAM OF PUMPKIN SOUP (approximately six servings)

Croutons

3 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 slices whole wheat bread

Soup

1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
4 cups homemade or 2 cans veggie broth (chicken, if you prefer)
2 cups fresh pumpkin puree (or one 15.5 oz can)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).

For the croutons, combine butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl and mix well. Spread this mixture evenly over one side of each bread slice. Place bread, buttered side up, on a baking sheet. Bake until bread is crisp and topping is bubbly, about 10 minutes. (You may want to do this step ahead of time to give the croutons time to crisp up as they cool.) Cut each slice of bread into bite-sized pieces.

Saute onion in butter in a saucepan (one that will comfortably accommodate eight or ten cups) until tender. Add half the broth and stir well. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes.

If you have an immersion blender, use it to process the mixture until it’s smooth. Otherwise, transfer to your blender or food processor for blending. (When it comes to outfitting the kitchen, I’m kind of a minimalist, but an immersion blender is a wonderful tool to have on hand. It works like a charm, saves on dirty dishes, takes up very little real estate, is easy to clean, and is relatively inexpensive. So glad I finally learned about this device.)

In the saucepan, combine blended mixture with remaining ingredients and stir well. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When the soup is cooked, you have a choice. You can add the cup of whipping cream to the entire mixture and warm, being sure not to boil the soup or scorch the cream, but it’s much prettier to dip the steaming soup into serving bowls and swirl the cream directly into each bowl, approximately 2-3 tablespoons per bowl. Top each serving with cinnamon croutons, and call everyone to the table for some super deliciousness.

(Disclaimer: No chefs live here. But with a great big garden, we’ve discovered lots of terrific recipes–mostly simple to make and without exotic ingredients. I enjoy sharing our finds with others just as much as I enjoy being on the receiving end. I do try to be clear, accurate, and thorough, though. And I can promise that all the recipes I put on my blog have been rigorously taste-tested right here at Living on the Diagonal and have received the Gnome’s seal of approval.)

My Prize-Winning Cornbread

That’s right. When I was just nine years old, I was the winner of the Florence (SC) County 4-H corn muffin contest. It was my first competition of any sort and at age nine, a great beginning to my 4-H career.

I no longer make muffins, just good old-fashioned cornbread. The kind you bake in a cast iron skillet, though you could use a glass casserole dish or a metal cake pan–I’ve done both with success. But nothing quite compares to cast iron for cornbread.

These days, we make our cornbread with home ground meal from our homegrown Painted Mountain*corn. This corn is so pretty you can just use it for decoration. But it sure would be a shame to miss out on its delightful taste (though when we hang the ears up to dry in our bedroom, we keep them there for months for the sheer joy of admiring them).

Our grinder is pretty basic so our meal has a coarse texture that adds a delightful chewiness. If you have the chance to try this recipe with a coarsely ground meal, do! Otherwise, use what you can buy at your favorite grocer’s. I won’t judge. It’s a great complement to soup.

Carole’s Prize-Winning Cornbread

Preheat oven to 400.

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2-4 Tablespoons sugar (optional, but …)
  • 4 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 2 eggs, beaten

Melt butter in your skillet or other pan while oven is preheating.

Meanwhile, sift and mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl. (Note: we never sift. It works out fine.)

In smaller bowl, combine all liquid ingredients except butter.

Swirl melted butter to cover bottom and sides of your baking dish, then pour remainder into other liquid ingredients.

Stir liquid ingredients into dry ones.

Bake about 25 minutes or until toothpick or sharp knife comes out clean.

* Painted Mountain corn is an open-pollinated corn and can be purchased from Territorial Seed Company, Johnny’s Seeds, Baker’s Heirloom Seeds and other seed companies.

Our Favorite Lentil Soup Recipe

Sorry, but I don’t recall where we found the original of this great recipe. Something makes me think it may have come from one of Frances Moore Lappe’s books. It’s ridiculously easy and oh, so tasty.

As usual, over the years, we’ve tweaked according to our own tastes. That’s what you’ll see here. This recipe is easy to modify according to your own preferences.

Saute in large pot for three to five minutes:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 cup onion (you could easily double this if you’d like more onion)
  • 3-4 sliced carrots (cut larger slices into smaller pieces)

Add 1 teaspoon thyme for last minute

Add:

  • 3 cups of your favorite stock (or water mixed with bouillon cube or powder)
  • 1 cup rinsed, dry lentils
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley (if we don’t have fresh parsley, we just omit this step. Still great.)
  • 1 quart home-canned tomatoes (or you can use a 28-oz store bought can)

Bring to boil, then simmer in covered pot 45 minutes.

Now comes the part that makes this soup truly special:

Fill the bottom of each bowl with 1/4 cup grated Swiss cheese; ladle steaming hot soup into bowls; to each bowl add about 2 tablespoons dry, white wine of your choice. (The chef gets an extra swig or two! ) You could omit either of these two ingredients, but IMO they’re what takes this soup from good to terrific.

Want a really great complement for this dish? Pair with my prize-winning cornbread recipe.

The Return of the Prodigal Potato Soup Recipe

Way back in the last century–the mid-’70s to be exact–when the Gnome and I thought we were hippies (we were so not), my brother and his wife gave us a treasured gift: The Mother Earth News Almanac.

We devoured it. In particular, we devoured this soup whose recipe was on the pages of the almanac. We fell in love all over again. In the course of a couple of moves and boxes long left unpacked, we lost track of the book–and the recipe. Ultimately, we forgot the source of this recipe. But on many a cold winter night we just recalled it, reminisced about it, and mourned its loss forever.

Or so we thought. A couple of years ago when we were sorting through our small library, we came across our beloved, well-worn Mother Earth News Almanac.

almanac

You know how it is when a reader comes across an old book (any book, really). To heck with the job at hand; I had to at least scan its pages. I noticed one that was bookmarked. Guess what it was. You got it–our favorite cheesy potato soup!

This recipe is for two hungry people, but can be doubled or tripled easily enough.

CHEESE POTATO SOUP

  • Boil 2 potatoes (a little larger than medium-size, whatever that is)
  • Drain, but save the liquid
  • Mash the potatoes
  • Add drained liquid back into the pot to obtain desired thickness. If you’ve added all the water and the mixture is still too thick, add more water.
  • In a small skillet, brown 2 ½ Tbsp flour in 2 ½ Tbsp melted butter, stirring constantly to prevent burning.
  • Add browned mixture to potato-water mixture; bring to a boil and cook while stirring for 2-3 minutes to thicken.
  • Fill each soup bowl 1/3 full with small chunks of cheddar cheese (the sharper the better, we think).
  • Cover cheese with soup. You want the soup hot enough to soften, but not necessarily to melt the cheese.
  • Add 2-3 tablespoons of diced onion and a few sprinkles of apple cider vinegar to taste. (We like the extra zing of the vinegar, so we add anything from 2 Tbsp-1/4 cup–you might want to start lighter and go from there.)
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.

As good as the cheese-potato mixture is, the addition of the onion and vinegar is essential to make this recipe extraordinary (not to mention that they are the healthiest ingredients).

Rib-sticking thick, this soup is a great comfort food for a chilly wintry day. Add my prize-winning corn bread recipe for a tasty, filling combo.

 

A Month of Soups

I make a kiss-ass vegetable soup. My dad said so—well, no, if you knew my dad you’d know he’d never have used such language! But he loved, loved, loved the homemade vegetable soup I began making when I was ten or twelve years old. Of course, I learned how from my mother, but I added a few secret ingredients that made it all mine.

My mother was a busy woman. Like many homemakers of the day, she opted for the new convenience foods lining grocery shelves. Other than my vegetable soup, the only soups we ate when I was growing up came out of those iconic red and white cans. With the exception of Campbell’s Cream of Tomato, I wasn’t a fan. I assumed I just didn’t care for soup. I had no idea how homemade soups tasted and couldn’t imagine what it took to make them.

Until recently. A few years ago, we tried a lentil-carrot soup that’s easy and at the same time sophisticated the addition of Swiss cheese and white wine. Easy. That’s a word I’d never associated with soup. But it’s the right word. My vegetable soup is the most complicated soup I’ve ever made and that’s just because there are so many ingredients to gather, chop, and pour in the pot—not because there’s anything hard about it.

Quite accidentally, last January turned into soup month up here on the diagonal. First, it was the package of beef flavored vegetarian bouillon I received as a giveaway from a gardening blog I follow. That gift led to a delicious French onion soup, a delicacy I thought I’d given up forever when I became a non-meat eater more than twenty years ago. Then it was the potato-leek soup I’d been looking forward to ever since we planted our first leeks last spring. A look in the fridge told us we had some Swiss cheese that needed using, which turned into that delicious lentil-carrot soup.

Then the most serendipitous thing happened. We were sorting through our bookshelves (January is such a good time for decluttering and organizing) when we came upon an ancient copy of the Mother Earth News Almanac, a gift from my brother and his wife way back in 1975.

almanac

We curiously turned to a bookmarked page and were ecstatic with what we saw: our favorite easy, cheesy potato soup recipe from all those decades ago and whose loss we’d mourned for decades. The book had been tucked away in one of our moving and storage processes, and after a while we couldn’t remember where the recipe had come from in the first place. We sadly assumed it was gone forever. Naturally, the soup got made—and lovingly savored—that very day!

Lots of pumpkins line the shelves of our root cellar, calling to us to use them before they go bad. One of our favorite pumpkin recipes (aside from pumpkin pie, of course) is a cream of pumpkin soup made even better when topped with cinnamon croutons. We made that soup two separate times in January.

And then I happened upon a tomato soup recipe I wanted to try with our home canned tomatoes, so that soup made it into the January soup line-up too, paired with grilled cheese on homemade rye.

But even a small batch of soup will give our twosome two generous meals, often three. If you do the math, that means we had soup suppers every night for close to three of January’s weeks. Delicious, all. And not a vegetable soup among them!

(I’m posting these recipes as quickly as I can. If you don’t find the one you’re looking for, keep checking.)