Friday, January 29, 2010

Minimal-Meat Meals

If like me you made the
French Lentil and Ham Hock stew earlier this week, you may have leftovers.

I had ample leftovers.

And so today, I'm finishing up my posts on Reducing, Refining and Replacing your meat consumption by offering several ideas using lentil stew as the basis for minimal-meat meals.

The challenge with leftovers is to create a new meal that doesn't look and taste exactly like the original meal, after all variety is more interesting to our taste buds.

As you can see from the pictures, one of the things I did was use winter greens to add color to my leftover stew.

The first picture above is a plate lined with a layer of stew which I'd heated until much of the liquid had evaporated causing the stew to thicken.

I topped the layer of thickened stew with greens that I'd sauteed with slices of apple in a dob of butter, finishing the dish with a handful of toasted walnuts.

It was a delicious combination since the greens added color and texture, the apples complimented the smoked ham, and the walnuts paired well with the nuttiness of the lentils.

In the next picture, you'll see I added greens, sliced spring onion, several mustard-flavored meatballs and cherry tomatoes to a bowl of the leftover stew thereby creating a hearty, soup-like mixture of flavor, texture and color.

To make the meat balls, I used half a pound of organic, grass-fed ground beef, adding a heaped tablespoon of grain mustard before forming the meat into 8 small balls.

I cooked them on med-to-high in a skillet, turning the heat down as they browned, serving them as a side with salsa and a sprinkling of grated Parmesan.

Once the meat balls were stirred into the bowl of soupy French lentils, ham, and greens, the salsa and cheese blended into the mix adding more flavor and richness.

The raw cherry tomatoes were a fun addition; the brightness of their red skins against the dark greens and brown lentils and beef looks luscious.

And biting down on cold and juicy mini tomatoes in combination with rich and hot lentils and mustard-flavored meatballs is quite something.

From the original French Lentil and Ham Hock stew, I was able to create a number of different meals by adding vegetables, nuts and minimal meat.

Yet these were nourishing, winter-appropriate meals that were not dependent on meat as the feature to make them fulfilling.

I started the week by saying that it is easy to reduce the amount of animal protein we eat by replacing it with other high-quality vegetarian options. I hope you agree that the meal ideas posted here today and this week are great examples of that.

Next week, I'll be writing up several recipes and notes from an in-home Indian cooking class I participated in last night. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lamb in Red Wine with Tomatoes

This week, I've been extolling the virtues of Reducing, Refining and Replacing your meat consumption.

Yesterday I briefly elaborated on "why," suggesting we'd implement the Three R's for health, budgetary and ethical reasons.

If you're looking for additional reasons to consider, here are 10 more!

Once you've made the decision to try and reduce your animal protein intake (while also considering the other two R's), the first challenge is to change your purchasing habits and buy meat that is hormone and antibiotic-free, and humanely farmed.

You might start by reading labels on packaged meat, ask your meat-counter clerk questions about the meat you're purchasing, and or research online what brands of meat are the highest welfare, and humanely raised.

You might even consider pooling resources with several others and purchasing a cow, pig or lamb from a local farmer who's about to slaughter livestock. If you cow/pig/lamb-share, it's a cost-effective way to stock your freezer with locally, and hopefully humanely-grown, meat.

You'll probably need an extra freezer to do this, since if you divide a butchered cow by say 4 couples, you may end up taking home as much as a 100 pounds of meat. Chances are if you are able to purchase meat directly from a local farmer, you can buy wholesale cuts, rather than enormous quantities.

During my teen years, my parents invested in a second freezer and did a lamb, and then a beef share. We ate red meat at least 6 nights a week! (These days, I eat red meat maybe once every fortnight.)

Australia and New Zealand are known for delicious lamb and that reputation is warranted -- it really is delicious. Today's recipe is based on one that my mother made with stewing lamb from our lamb share.

When you stew or casserole meat it's the surest way to eat smaller portions since you're more likely to serve a spoonful atop a vegetable, grain or as in today's post polenta (pic above).

Lamb in Red Wine with Tomatoes
1) Allowing about 3 ounces of lamb per person, brown stewing meat in an olive-oil lined stove-top casserole pot with a couple cloves of peeled and chopped garlic.
2) Open a good-quality can of tomatoes and pour into skillet with lamb, and over the lot pour enough red wine to almost cover the meat. No need to dash out and buy a bottle of red wine, just use wine from an open bottle that's been sitting around.
3) If you have any fresh rosemary, toss in a few sprigs. Transfer pot to the oven and bake at 350 for about one and half hours.
4) Taste test and season to your liking. If lamb is tender great, if it's still a bit chewy it may need more time in the oven. Add more wine (or water if you're out of wine) if it's looking dry, and cook a little longer.

To Serve: This stew is fabulous over garlic mashed potatoes, or rice with a side of crisp green beans. I chose to serve it the last time I made it with polenta (one cup simmered for 30 mins with 4 cups water then poured into a baking dish) topped with red pepper, black olives and tomato concasse (pic above), and on the side, a plain, green salad dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

French Lentil and Ham Hock Stew

Yesterday in my post about meaty matters, I made reference to the Three R's.

Reduce, refine, and replace the amount of meat you eat.

We'd apply the Three R's for health, budgetary and ethical reasons.

One way to reduce our meat consumption is to prepare meals so that meat is not the feature but instead a side or a flavor enhancer.

If you've cooked with smoked ham hock you'll know that it's a great flavor enhancer in soups, stews and casseroles.

Refining your meat consumption involves choosing humanely farmed meat. And refining your pork (or ham hock) consumption, means choosing pork that has been:
  • raised without antibiotics and hormones
  • fed a vegetarian diet, perhaps even an organic vegetarian diet
  • raised according to the Animal Welfare Institutes Pig Husbandry Standards
  • born and raised on local farms and processed at USDA inspected facilities
Now that's a lot to keep in mind when choosing pork, but with minimal online research I found that Niman Ranch adheres to the above protocols in their farming practices and as a result produces All-Natural pork, beef, lamb and poultry.

Look out for their brand or using the above protocol, research the brands available in your grocery store before purchasing protein items. Choosing what the Humane Society calls Higher Welfare animal products is a great start to refining your consumption of animal protein.

Replacing the amount of meat we consume is as easy as preparing meals along lines of yesterday and today's recipe. Make meat less a feature and more a topping or a side by adhering to the less-is-better rule of 3 ounces or less of animal protein once or twice a day.

When preparing something like the following lentil and ham hock stew chances are you'll consume less than 3 ounces of pork in one sitting. The ham hock I used was about 8 ounces and several ounces of that was bone.

With the addition of one cup of lentils, vegetables, and 4 cups of water the resulting volume was about 10 cups or at least 8 bowls of stew which means in each bowl there was probably less than an ounce of ham.

Despite how little ham is actually in each serving, this is a thick and filling stew because lentils are an excellent meat protein replacement.

Low in fat, and high in digestible fiber and protein they're a great healthful option for a weekly meal plan that isn't meat focused.

French Lentil and Ham Hock Stew
1) I chose French lentils for this dish because they have a nuttier flavor than regular lentils. I used one cup.
2) Pour the cup of lentils into a large pot; add your choice of chopped vegetables, i.e. an onion, clove of garlic, carrots, celery, sweet or regular potato, 2 bay leaves (optional) and 4 cups of water.
3) Add the ham hock whole and simmer the lot on low for about 4 hours.
4) Allow to cool before removing the ham hock and trimming the meat from the bone and the fat from the meat. Put the meat back into the pot and taste test, adding salt and pepper to your liking.

To Serve: Pour an ample cup of stew into a bowl and serve with a side salad of greens, say arugula, with something like sliced avocado and perhaps a chunk of crusty bread.

I elected to add arugula to my bowl of hot stew, stirring it through until the arugula wilted. The following day I did something similar with a large handful of winter greens, consisting of spinach, arugula, kale, curly kale, and chard.

I sauteed the greens slightly and then poured half a cup of lentil and ham hock stew into the skillet, gently heating the lot. I served it in a bowl topped with half an avocado which I'd mashed together with a squeeze of lemon juice and a dash of walnut oil, and then I sprinkled halved, toasted walnuts over the lot (pic at top).

Monday, January 25, 2010

Marinated Top Sirloin Steak

Not long into the New Year I finished reading Julie Powell's follow up to Julie & Julia.

Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession
is quite a shocking departure from the romanticism of her first book and its movie adaptation.

Her second book graphically details her cleaving or breaking down carcasses in her role as an apprentice butcher.

The act of cleaving beef, pork and lamb into parts and pieces with many a cutting blow is also a metaphor for the disintegration of her marriage, which she also dissects on the page in great detail.

It's a difficult read, the break down of her marriage juxtaposed against the pages and pages she takes to graphically describe her experience butchering.

I must admit, I scanned some of the more bloody details about cleaving a carcass. And then I wondered if that made me a hypocrite. After all, I love to eat meat, in moderation, but I'm grossed out reading too much information on how a beast is cleaved and merchandised for sale at the meat counter.

I do care to know where and how the animal I'm eating was raised, what it was feed and whether it was humanely farmed and butchered.

I'm increasingly concerned about these facts as more information comes to light about the meat industry including inhumane farming practices, GMO corn feed, and the antibiotics and hormones given farmed animals.

As a result, I do my best to make sure the meat I'm buying and eating is free of hormones and antibiotics. Ideally, I would also like to know from where that meat originated, i.e. what cattle ranch, and then the farming practices of that rancher.

Really, is it too much to ask that the cuts of meat one is purchasing for consumption were once part of a whole, naturally feed and happy cow or pig or lamb -- right up until the moment it died humanely?

Growing up in rural Australia, we knew where our beef, lamb, chicken came from. We bought from the local butcher who bought from the local farmers and every day we saw the animals we eventually ate grazing about the luscious green pastures surrounding our small town.

When I lived and cooked in France, I noticed it was similar, in as much as you could go into a butcher and see a drawn map of where the meat had been farmed, and have a discussion with the butcher about the meat, the farm on which it had been raised, the farming practices etc. etc.

I encourage you to ask more questions about the meat you're consuming. And if you're still wondering "why bother" watch Food Inc the documentary and or read what the Humane Society is doing to reduce the suffering of animals raised for human consumption.

One of the ideas the Humane Society is promoting, apropos meat consumption, is the Three R's: reduce, replace, refine.

It is easy to reduce the amount of animal protein we consume by simply replacing it with other high quality vegetarian protein options (last week I blogged about grain protein). And we can refine our diet by choosing flesh protein that is higher welfare or cage free.

This week, I'm going to post a number of main-meal ideas making use of smaller or reduced portions of organic, antibiotic and hormone-free meat protein. Increasingly this is the way I eat for health, budget, and ethical reasons.

For instance, at any one meal I don't eat more than 3 ounces of flesh protein and then not more than twice a day.

Marinated Top Sirloin Steak
1) Allowing 3 ounces of beef per person, slice sirloin steak into thin strips.
2) Toss sliced pieces into a bowl with some olive oil, Braggs or Tamari or Soy Sauce, a crushed and chopped clove of garlic and a piece of peeled and chopped raw ginger.
3) Allow beef strips to marinade for a few hours. Ideally, you'd prepare the beef the night before or the morning of the day you're going to cook it.
4) Because sirloin is a good quality piece of beef and because for this dish it's been sliced thinly, it will need minimal cooking.

My method: Heat a skillet lined with a little olive oil; once oil is smoking, toss in the pieces of beef and sear on one side for a min or two. You may not even need to turn beef over.

To Serve: Serving options are numerous. You'll notice in the picture above that I served my seared slices over a bowl of wilted winter greens which included chard, spinach, kale and radicchio. I also sprinkled the garlic and ginger from the pan over the lot.

On the side I had a bowl of millet (leftover from the breakfast millet I prepared last week) which I'd heated by adding it to the hot skillet after I'd removed the beef. Pouring in a glug of stock (or you could use water, red or white wine), I stirred the millet till the millet absorbed the liquid.

You could serve beef strips over garlic mashed potato (regular or sweet potato) with a side of greens, or over oiled pasta topped with a good quality bottled tomato sauce or you could serve it with rice and a side of stir-fry vegetables.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Nutmeg Spinach & Millet Breakfast

So far this week I've featured oatmeal, polenta, millet, and quinoa as healthful, budget-wise breakfast grains.

At approximately one dollar a pound the savings on whole grains bought in bulk, compared to boxed and prepared cereals, is about 2 to 4 dollars a pound.

And without the sweeteners, sodium, preservatives etc., making your own breakfast from scratch with whole grains is one of the healthiest and smartest things you can to do start your day.

Yesterday, I made reference to millet's high-protein content, ditto quinoa and buckwheat. These 3 grains, plus amaranth, have more protein per 100 g than soy and each has all the essential amino acids.

The health and budget benefits are obvious, I'm guessing it's the convenience of use that may have some readers resisting swapping out prepared granola for whole grains.

Bar oatmeal, the aforementioned grains require about 30-plus minutes of cooking so I advised in Tuesday's post cooking a batch of your choice of grain ahead of time and storing it in the fridge for re-heating and consumption the following morning.

I cooked half a cup of millet earlier this week and this morning I ate the last of it, so half a cup or about a quarter of a pound of millet (approximately 25 cents worth), has been the basis of three breakfasts.

And rather than add primarily sweet (dried fruits, honey, marmalade) and or nut and seed toppings, today I decided on savory additions.

As you can see in the pic above and to the left, my breakfast mix consisted of cooked millet, baby spinach leaves, raisins, a dash of nutmeg and some butter for cooking.

Firstly I tossed the butter into my skillet, followed by the cooked millet, nutmeg, then the raisins and the spinach. I stirred the lot with a fork over medium heat until the spinach had wilted slightly -- about 5 mins.

Nutmeg is delicious with spinach. It's sweet, nutty and aromatic flavor compliments the mildly bitter flavor of spinach.

Consider swapping spinach out for kale, chard or beet greens, picking the youngest, most delicate leaves so as to avoid chewing through fibrous greens at breakfast.

If I were to add a nut to this dish, it would be pine nuts since their buttery texture and flavor adds richness, but pine nuts are spendy so I just used butter.

Try swapping out millet for quinoa or polenta or brown rice; the combination of spinach, raisins, nutmeg, butter or pine nuts with any of these grains would work well.

Having mentioned buckwheat as another breakfast grain option, rather than re-print the recipe for buckwheat granola here, I'm going to suggest you follow the link to the post I made back in June. One of my readers volunteered her recipe for that post.

Amy's gluten-free granola calls for buckwheat groats, seeds, nut butter and coconut oil. According to the number of visits that post has received, it's one of the more popular recipes on this blog so do check it out.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Breakfast Millet with Buttered Apple

Breakfast really is an important meal of the day and it's all too easy to discount it by eating something on the run or skipping it altogether.

Having said that often I don't feel like eating as soon as I get out of bed and so I don't, instead, I'll jump-start my system by drinking a class of warm water mixed with the juice of half a lemon or lime.

Warm lemon water stimulates the digestive system; it's a great liver tonic and it alkalizes the blood which means the health benefits of this beverage are enormous.

And I really do find that lemon water wakes up my digestion so that I feel ready to eat something before I leave the house.

Like most people, some mornings I'm hungrier than others. Regardless, I do try and eat a nutrient-rich breakfast consisting of a combination of protein, grains, fruit, good oils and minimal saturated fat -- I just adjust the portion size depending on my appetite.

Coming up with interesting and healthy combos of the above is challenging, hence my featuring whole grain cereals with-a-difference this week; I'm hoping to encourage readers to do away with boxed cereals and instead try their hand at creating healthy, budget breakfasts from scratch.

Today's grain is millet: An alkaline, gluten-free, vitamin B-rich grain, millet is considered a high-quality protein (half a cup contains 5 g of protein).

And as with oatmeal and polenta (featured yesterday), it's about a dollar a pound, if you buy it in bulk.

So I'm not scrambling in the morning cooking it, I like to prepare the millet ahead of time ...

Millet & Buttered Apple Breakfast
1) The night before, add one cup of millet to 3 cups of water, bring to the boil, cover, and turn heat to low, cooking for about 15 mins.
Plain cooked millet is an acquired taste so you might like to add your favorite spices and dried fruits to the pot (see yesterday's post for ideas). Turn heat off; let it stand for another 15 mins and then decant it into a container and store in the fridge.
2) The following morning, scoop a portion either into a bowl for heating in the microwave or into a pot for heating on the stove. Either way, add a little water for heating.
3) Meanwhile slice half an apple into pieces and saute in a pan with some butter and if you wish, some brown sugar. Brown the apple on low heat.
4) Top the hot millet with sunflower and pumpkin seeds, the browned apple, and some nuts of your choice, I used pistachio nuts (pic above); finish with honey, maple syrup or agave.

It's the toppings added to the cooked millet that enhances both the flavor of this grain and the overall nutrient value of the meal.

The seeds and nuts contain the kind of "good oils" I refer to above, the buttered apple a small fruit portion, and in combination the resulting breakfast is rich in protein and fiber, low in saturated fat, but high in essential fatty acids.

If you were to add yogurt or kefir, obviously the protein and calcium quotient would increase. Also, kefir contains probiotics -- an important addition to any breakfast should your digestion need to be replenished with healthy bacteria.

Back in May last year, I featured quinoa as a versatile, gluten-free, high protein grain -- one that can also be cooked ahead and served for breakfast. You might like to review the recipe I posted and the toppings I added. Those toppings could easily be served with millet and the millet toppings listed above would go well with quinoa.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Healthy Budget Breakfasts

Just for fun, something different, I bought a boxed cereal last week.

I had a coupon which made the granola around $4 a box or $4 for 12 ounces of toasted oats jazzed up with little chocolate chunks and sweeteners.

The granola is pleasant, but not fabulously delicious or for that matter, highly nutritious (it contains 4 different sweeteners).

I certainly won't buy it again; it's unnecessarily spendy for something I can easily make myself for much less.

One pound or 16 ounces of organic, bulk oats is about .99 cents and when you buy dry goods in bulk there's no box to throw in the trash.

If I then toss those oats in melted butter and honey or soft brown sugar or agave, toasting them in the oven on a baking tray -- allowing the oats to cool before tossing in little chunks of dark chocolate --I've essentially made the same granola for about one-third of the price of the boxed variety.

Oats are terrifically versatile and a cereal grain we're all familiar with. Periodically though, I get bored with oatmeal despite cooking it with seeds, dried fruits, marmalade, and topping it with stewed fruit, coconut or coconut milk -- anything I can find to make it interesting.

When that happens, I turn to other cereals for a much needed change. Polenta is an alternative. Like oatmeal, it's around a dollar or less a pound when purchased in bulk. It's also quite bland and therefore polenta lends itself to being transformed with the addition of other flavors.

Most commonly served as a savory dish nowadays, it was originally served as gruel porridge. Generally I cook one cup of polenta in about 3 - 4 cups water, the more water added, the more porridge- and the less gruel-like the consistency.

To enrich the polenta, you could boil it in a combination of water, milk, half and half, or nut, coconut or hemp milks.

Add spices like fresh grated or powdered ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, and dried fruits such as raisins, currents, cranberries, figs, pear, and perhaps the zest from a lemon or lime or orange.

Boil the polenta for about 30 minutes. Eat it straight-away as porridge topped with nuts, yogurt, sour cream or stewed fruit or pour the cooked polenta into a bowl and let it set, as in the picture to the left. Keep the bowl of polenta in the fridge for later use.

For breakfast, serve chunks hot or cold with stewed fruits (as in the top pic), seeds like sunflower and pumpkin, and or slivered almonds browned in a little butter. Drizzle with honey, agave, maple syrup or soft brown sugar.

I had a breakfast like this a couple days running and then on the third day, I cut a chunk of the cold polenta and tossed it into a hot skillet with a piece of sliced turkey bacon, stirring the lot about with a fork to break up the polenta, and creating a space in the center of the skillet, I cracked an egg and let it cook.

For a savory, low fat and phytonutrient-rich breakfast, you could substitute the bacon and egg with tofu or tempeh, and add a green like chard, spinach or kale to your polenta mix.

This week, I'll feature economical and nutritious cereal and grain breakfasts-with-a-difference. Check back tomorrow for ideas on preparing millet and quinoa.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Savory Egg Roulade

The day before Christmas I posted a recipe for chocolate roulade.

A sweet dessert, roulade can also be savory, as long as you leave out the sweet ingredients.

Because I'm featuring light, post-holiday meals this week, with eggs at the center of those meals, I thought I'd share a savory version of roulade.

Light and fluffy like the souffle omelet I featured on Monday, an egg roulade is simply the yolks (pic left) and whites beaten separately (to aerate them), and then folded together.

Once folded, the egg mixture is baked on a oiled and floured oblong tray, just as we did with the chocolate roulade (pic below).

As the baked roulade cools, prepare a filling of your choice. We filled the chocolate roulade with whipped cream. Tasty fillings for a savory roulade might be one of the following:
  • Cream cheese beaten with pieces of baked or tinned or smoked salmon.
  • Mashed or chopped avocado moistened with olive oil and lemon juice and mixed with watercress.
  • Tuna, egg or potato salad bound with mayonnaise.
  • Ricotta cheese mixed with wilted spinach and pieces of crispy bacon.
You get the idea -- any combination of savory mixtures that you can spread over the roulade before rolling it. Keep in mind that your filling shouldn't be too hot or too liquid-y otherwise it'll cause the egg roulade to disintegrate.

Savory Egg Roulade
1) Separate 6 large eggs -- yolks in one bowl and whites in another.
2) Beat yolks until they're light and fluffy (pic above) with salt and pepper. If you have herbs growing on your winter windowsill you might like to add sage or thyme or oregano.
3) With clean and dry beaters, beat the whites until they're stiff.
4) Turn the whites into the beaten yolks and fold the two together either with a whisk or a spatula.
5) Refer to the chocolate roulade steps 12-22 for baking and rolling tips and tricks.
6) Before you roll your roulade, spread it (pic to left) with one of the savory fillings above or a mix you've created.
7) Lift the savory roulade onto a platter and decorate with sprigs of a fresh herb of your choosing.

To Serve: Because roulades look so spectacular, present it on the platter and cut it into 1 inch pieces at the dining table. Spoon slices onto plates and serve with any number of sides.

On Monday I suggested several winter vegetable sides and then last night, I made for the second night in a row a delicious combination of colorful winter vegetables (pic below).

Substantial and tasty, you might like to try a hearty side like this with your light, savory egg roulade.

Wilted Purple Cabbage with Pumpkin
1) Toss a chunk of peeled and chopped ginger and the same of garlic into a lightly oiled skillet; saute on low.
2) Chop up a chunk of purple cabbage, pumpkin or acorn squash; add to skillet and stir about on low heat.
Note: I added some turkey bacon, but that's optional.
3) Pour in half a cup of stock and put the lid on the skillet, cooking the veggies till the pumpkin is soft.
4) At the last minute, I tossed in two chopped spring onions; you could also add chopped kale or spinach for color and additional nutrients.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Caramelized Onion Quiche

The focus this week is preparing simple and light meals to help re-balance digestive systems over-loaded by holiday food.

Yesterday I implied that eggs, preferably free-range, are virtually meals-in-a-shell especially with the addition of a side of leafy and or winter greens.

I know some people are concerned about the cholesterol in egg yolks, yet as with any food, I'm suggesting consumption in moderation.

So although this week's posts are all about eggs as the cornerstone of a light meal, I'm not suggesting you prepare the dishes I post and eat them everyday for the next week.

I have high cholesterol: high LDL (which is the "bad" cholesterol), however my HDL is on the increase and this is a good thing, since it's the "good" cholesterol.

As my HDL levels have risen, due to my consuming good fats and oils, the ratio between my LDL and HDL levels have become more ideal and apparently this is what you want to see, an ideal ratio between the two.

I've had health-care practitioners go into panic over my cholesterol levels in the past. Yet at 5 feet 6 inches and about 125 pounds (give or take a few pounds, depending on the time of the year), and with a blood pressure on the low side and no health issues, I don't feel too concerned -- particularly given that my physically healthy 93 year-old father has always had high cholesterol.

In other words, I think I'm probably a good example of a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol correlating with good health.

That said I do monitor my intake of animal fat, including eggs which I'll eat several times a week, one or two at a time. Therefore, my average weekly consumption of eggs is about 4, including the yolks; it's not an egg to me if it's just the whites.

One of my favorite light-meal egg dishes is quiche. I have a friend who also loves quiche too, but she rarely has success with her pastry. If you find pastry-making too fiddly but love quiche, I posted a recipe for Crustless Quiche back in April so you might like to try that over today's recipe.

And of course, quiche lends itself to any number of fillings despite that the traditional French version, Quiche Lorraine, is an egg and cream-based custard with smoked bacon.

My recipe today includes caramelized onions for no reason other than I love the combination of the brown, caramel-like sweet onions with egg-custard.

Feel free to add other ingredients in addition to the caramelized onions, i.e. sliced tomato and a grated, dry Italian cheese or spinach, broccoli or chard.

Caramelized Onion Quiche
1) To make a simple short crust pastry, add one stick of butter to the bowl of a food processor. Add to that, one and half cups of plain flour. Run the processor until the flour and butter blends to a crumb-like state. Add about a tablespoon of cold water and run the processor again. The pastry will form into a ball or it will remain crumbly. Now turn the mixture out onto your kitchen bench and knead it with your hands so that the pastry becomes smooth and pliable. Allow the pastry to sit.
2) Peel and slice in half one large brown onion, then slice halves again. Toss the onion into a skillet with a chunk of butter; saute till the onion begins to wilt. Add a tablespoon of brown sugar, and turn the heat to low. Gently cook until the onion becomes soft and brown or caramel-like in color. Set aside to cool.
3) Into the clean bowl of the food processor crack four eggs, add one and a half cups of half and half or heavy whipping cream. I use half and half mostly; it's less rich than whipping cream and more substantial than regular milk. Add salt and pepper.
3) Run the food processor, mixing the eggs and milk well.
4) Roll pastry out to fit a standard size quiche pan, either a ceramic pan as in the picture above, or a aluminum pan with a removable base. Press the pastry to fit the pan, pinching the edges of the pastry to create a pretty fluted effect.
5) Spoon onions onto pastry base, spread them about the pastry.
6) Now pour egg and milk over the onions, perhaps sprinkle with a chopped herb like sage or thyme. Don't overfill the quiche pan with the custard mix otherwise it will spill out during baking.
Note: At this point, if you want to add grated cheese, sprinkle it over the top, or lay sliced tomatoes over the top and then the grated cheese -- you get the idea.
7) Pop quiche onto a baking tray (I do this because sometimes some of the custard spills out during the cooking and rather than have it burn onto the bottom of the oven, it cakes to the baking tray instead); slip into a 350-degree oven for about 45 mins or until the top is golden and the custard set.

To Serve: Allow quiche to cool slightly before cutting into portions (see pic above); serve with a salad or sides along lines of those I suggested yesterday.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Souffle Omelet

How are you feeling after all the holiday eating and drinking?

Four days into the New Year, I've noticed that I don't have a big appetite and that light meals and soups are my preference.

I'm going to do my best to honor that preference, not by going on a diet or doing a cleanse but by simply paring back and making simpler meals.

Eggs make terrific, light meals. And I have access to free- range eggs at the moment so I've been creating delicious, uncomplicated, egg-based meals these past few days.

Light and nourishing, full of omega 3's, eggs with the addition of a side of braised winter greens (pic below) and a small bowl of rice, potatoes or pasta is sufficient for a simple lunch or dinner.

Last summer I posted a recipe for Skillet Egg Souffle with Chives. Today's souffle omelet is much the same, though I've given it a different name and left out the chives, since they're not in season, and added a little grated Parmesan instead.

Souffle Omelet
1) Allowing 2 eggs per person, crack and separate eggs --yolks into one bowl and whites into another.
2) Beat yolks until creamy. If you do have any windowsill herbs like tarragon, sage or thyme, you might like to add some chopped fresh herbs to the yolks.
3) Using clean and dry beaters, beat whites till they're stiff. Pour whites onto yolks and either using a spatula or whisk fold the whites into the yolks.
4) Heat a skillet lined with light olive oil till it's hot; pour the egg mix into the skillet -- you only want to brown the bottom slightly so a few minutes on the hot plate is plenty.
5) Sprinkle salt and ground pepper and grated Parmesan over the top of the omelet.
6) Put the skillet into a 350-degree oven for about 5-7 mins or until the omelet has risen like a souffle and browned slightly (pic to left).

To Serve: Because it looks quite impressive, present the souffle omelet at the table in the skillet.

Halve or quarter the omelet and serve with sides such as wilted winter greens (pic left) or baby winter spinach leaves tossed into olive oil and lemon juice (pic above), and a side of hash browns.

If this meal sounds bland to you, consider serving a spoon of salsa, tomato chutney, relish, sauerkraut, or a dill pickle with your souffle omelet.