Kitchen: Asparagus Omelette with Comté and Fresh Herbs

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Part of the challenge of cooking for one (or two) is creating new delicious meals you can finish in one sitting. Of course I am also a fan of stocking the fridge with great homemade dishes I can heat up at mealtime– tomato sauce bolognese, chicken curry or pork carnitas– but every once in a while we prefer to feast on something fresh off the stove.

Here is the recipe for the omelette we made this morning for the two of us. I think omelettes are a great way to start off the day, and just like quiche, you can fill it with anything you’d like! Enjoy!

Asparagus Omelette with Comté and Fresh Herbes

Ingredients (for 2):

  • 4 eggs, beaten.
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley.
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh chives.
  • 1/2 cup chopped skinny asparagus.
  • 1/2-1 cup shredded Comté, or other semi-hard cheese of your choice.
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

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In a nonstick pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Saute the chopped asparagus with some salt and pepper until soft, 3-5 minutes. Remove the asparagus from the pan.

Add some oil if necessary to the pan and raise the heat to medium-high. Pour in the eggs and allow the mixture to fill the pan and begin to cook. Using a spatula, gently lift up the edges of the egg as it hardens so that it will be easier to fold.

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Once the egg has cooked half-way and there is still some raw egg in the center, lower the heat. Add in the cooked asparagus to one half of the egg. Sprinkle the cheese evenly on top of the asparagus. Gently lift the other side of the egg with the spatula and fold it over. 

Allow the omelette to cook a few seconds more before flipping the entire omelette once to finish cooking the egg. Remove the omelette from the heat and sprinkle with fresh herbs. Bon appétit!

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Kitchen: The (im)Perfect Quiche

Homemade quiche with bacon, arugula and shallots.

Homemade quiche with bacon, arugula and shallots.

I know I’ve posted about quiche already on this blog, so why do it again? Partly because after my recent trip to Paris, my obsession with this iconic bistro dish has only grown; also because I promised to offer solutions to making weekday meals for one or two people on a budget. A good quiche satisfies the francophilic foodie in me, being the absolute perfect French comfort food. I also hope to convince you that it’s a great option for the busy or frugal person, and it’s relatively easy to make. With a healthy dose of flexibility, you can bake a very delicious first quiche– and without any fancy kitchen tools!

 

But before I get ahead of myself I should quote Thomas Keller, who believes that Americans have killed the quiche since it arrived on our shores in the 1970s. In his words, we “trashed it without ever knowing what it was. And now it’s all but gone. I think it’s a mechanical problem, not having the right tool– a ring mold about two inches high. … Instead, a pie pan was commonly substituted for the two-inch ring mold. And then came the premade pie shell. Who would want to eat quiche made in that?” (Bouchon). 

 

Well, some of us would still deign to eat a quiche with a premade crust baked in a pie pan: those of us who do not have hours to perfect Keller’s arduous quiche crust recipe, available in his book. While our homemade quiches might not demonstrate the same lascivious “quiver” when poked with a fork, or the heavenly crunch and subsequent crumble of the crust, it will do well enough for nourishing our busy lives and our semi-sophisticated appetites. Sorry in advance, Tom Keller, for our imperfect quiches. 

 

Now that we’re free from the shackles of culinary perfection, we can fill a quiche with nearly anything our hearts desire. In the following recipe I use bacon, arugula and shallots, but you should feel free to experiment. Mushrooms, spinach, ham, and onions are common ingredients, as well as bleu cheese or tomatoes. My favorite quiche in Paris was made with haricots verts— delicate, slender, scrumptious French green beans (below).

At the Rose Bakery, in the Bon Marche.

At the Rose Bakery, in the Bon Marche in Paris.

The best part? For less than $10, you can create a delicious quiche and keep it in the refrigerator for quite a few days. If you’re crunched for time at breakfast, lunch or dinner– or if you find yourself entertaining– a slice of quiche is always a good thing to heat up!

 

Bacon, Arugula and Shallot Quiche

Ingredients:

  • Pie crust, defrosted. (Or, make your own dough.)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup whipping cream or whole milk
  • 2 shallots, diced.
  • 6 slabs of bacon, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces.
  • 2 cups arugula, coarsely chopped.
  • 1.5 cups shredded Comte (or semi-hard cheese of your choice)
  • 1 tsp Herbes de Provence

 

Preheat the oven to 350F. Saute the bacon over medium heat, until the fat renders. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and place over a paper towel. In the same pan with remaining bacon grease, saute the diced shallots over low heat along with the Herbes de Provence. Cook until the shallots begin to smell sweet and turn translucent. Drain the shallots and keep the leftover grease. 

 

Prepare the pie crust by placing the dough into a 9-inch pan or ramekin. Layer the bacon and shallots at the bottom, and cover with chopped arugula. Whisk together the eggs, cream/milk, and a splash of the bacon grease until well blended. Slowly pour the mixture into the pie crust. Allow the liquid to settle between the arugula and bacon before sprinkling the cheese evenly over the top.

 

Bake the quiche for approximately 1/2 hour, checking on it periodically. The quiche is done when the top begins to brown just slightly and appears solid. Let the quiche stand for at least 10 minutes before serving. 

imperfect quiche 1

Kitchen: How to Cook for One (or Two)

Lunch at home, party of one. Tri-color rotini with reheated bolognese sauce!

Lunch at home, party of one. Tri-color rotini with reheated bolognese sauce!

I’m writing this post not because I’m an expert on the subject, but rather because I’ve become acutely aware of how difficult this is. Before my husband and I got married, we (I) rarely cooked for just the two of us over a long period of time. Most often, we were cooking for and with friends, family members, or, in my case, for 70-100 people in a ministry the year after high school. But now that we’ve moved into our apartment, gone are the days when we get to share most of our home-cooked meals with others. For now, it’s time for us to plan simple, healthy, budget-conscious meals for the busy weeks ahead.

Our new tableware screaming "fill me!!!"

Our new tableware screaming “fill me!!!” Actually love this stuff from Heath Ceramics.

I’m writing this also because I know we are not alone in this plight– many young (and sometimes not-so-young) singles or couples have to figure out how to eat well within a tight schedule and budget. And, if you care at all about the taste or source of your food (which we do), it adds an additional challenge. Sure, there are plenty of blogs out there about how to entertain with food and drink, how to buy grass-fed beef in bulk for your large family, and how to expand your culinary repertoire when your budget and time are unlimited. I love these blogs too and they are a great source of inspiration, but when it comes down to Monday night dinner, I can hardly order a frozen half-cow or settle for some olives and a Manhattan. Furthermore, if you are at all familiar with the perils of industrial farming and processed food– read anything by Michael Pollan if interested– you have grown extra wary of cheap meats, frozen meals and Wonderbread. We need some real, ethical, affordable, foodie-approved options.

Just the basics! These four things will take you a long way.

Just the basics! These four things will take you a long way. And we are obviously Whole Foods patrons.

So, what do I have to offer on the subject? Well, I’m working on it almost everyday. As I stumble upon easy, delicious, and healthy homemade recipes or strategies that work at a small scale and budget, I’ll be posting them on this blog. In the meantime, here are some principles to consider:

1. Don’t let others cook for you. By “others,” I mean corporations (frozen meals, instant meals, bottled dressings, etc.), and restaurants. Pre-packaged meals are EXPENSIVE at around $5+ each, for which price you can make a day’s worth of food on your own. And restaurants happily charge you for tossing some lettuce together, often with an unhealthy dose of sodium and high-fructose corn syrup. So learn to cook.

2. Get the basic tools. Just as you can’t go running without shoes, you also can’t cook without some basics in your arsenal. Most beginner cooks enjoy using a non-stick fry pan; a small stock or soup pot; colanders; rubber spatulas, ladles, wooden spoons, slotted spoons; a sharp knife and appropriate cutting board. Purchase high-quality tupperware to store your raw ingredients, weekly meals and leftovers. You can build your arsenal from here as needed.

3. Consider investing in some fixed costs. I know there are people out there who can cook a delicious, large amount of brown rice on the stove blindfolded, but most of us can’t! However, brown rice is versatile, healthy, and keeps well in the refrigerator for 5 days; we own a rice cooker that cooks everything from beans to oatmeal to quinoa at the push of a button. Need some leafy greens in your life but don’t feel like having salad everyday? Consider purchasing a good blender, and throw in some frozen fruit with your kale for a quick green juice. Good blenders can also make things like pesto, peanut butter, tomato sauce and blended soups. Another really wonderful tool is the slow-cooker. Ahh… brewing everything from soups and stews to sauces and broths, the slow-cooker integrates flavors and softens ingredients while you’re busy all day. Slow-cooked meals also keep wonderfully in the fridge, ready to be heated and served over rice or pasta throughout the week. There’s nothing more wonderful to come home to than a slow-cooked meal (except, perhaps, your spouse).

4. Let the meal planning begin! This is the fun part, and also perhaps the most difficult part. What should you cook and eat? How much time and money should you spend each week? How much of each raw ingredient should you buy at once? Is it even possible to eat a variety of foods when cooking for one or two?

All good questions, which I hope to answer in a few months’ time. Here are some suggestions to begin with:

  • Prioritize your nutrition. Michael Pollan (who is clearly my current hero) says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Over the course of a month, assuming you’ve already acquired the short-term fixed-cost ingredients (e.g., salt, pepper, your favorite spices, cooking oils), your budget for ingredients might look like this: 50% fruits and vegetables; 50% carbs and proteins. Play with these numbers as you shop, but expect to pay as much for fresh or frozen fruits and veggies as you do for pretty much everything else. This will put prices into perspective.
  • Start with the ingredients, then look for recipes. Some people daunt themselves with following recipes exactly, making every meal a certifiable dish from a recognizable cuisine. This often blows up their costs, and they end up purchasing things like saffron, caraway seeds, almond flour, Hungarian smoked paprika, or expensive out-of-season produce. Start with what’s in season and available to you, then integrate it into a recipe that calls for things you already have. Trial and error will help you determine the ingredients you can afford to skip. At the beginning, you can usually get away with just salt, fresh-ground pepper, garlic, and perhaps one or two of your favorite spices.
  • Use your refrigerator and your microwave. Most people have more time on the weekends and less time during the week. So you may want to cook 2 or 3 dishes of vegetables and protein to store in the fridge, along with a pot of rice and a pot of pasta. For example: make a tupperware of bolognese sauce, a tupperware of chili verde, and a black bean stew. Each will go well with reheated brown rice or over some pasta. Add some sliced fruit or vegetables as sides to each meal, and you’ve got yourself covered for the week.
  • Choose cheap, healthy proteins. Say goodbye to steak and Chilean seabass, unless your budget can take it (and even then, be cautious). Instead, buy high-quality protein that’s priced within your means. This could include: beans, eggs, lentils, organic/free-range chicken, non-GMO tofu, sustainable canned fish (these sardines are great), ethically raised ground beef or pork, quinoa, organic peanut butter, milk, healthy yogurt.
  • Snack frugally. That five-dollar bag of chips or granola bars may seem like a drop in the bucket, but if your budget is really tight, it could mean a wasted meal or two. Five dollars can get you lots of rice, two cans of fish, nearly a pound of ethically-raised ground meat, a carton of eggs, or sometimes even two bunches of organic kale. As you learn to cook to your needs, you can figure out what kinds of homemade snacks you want to have on hand (e.g., hard-boiled eggs, bananas, homemade hummus, whole-wheat cookies).
Find healthy, high-quality carbs that will keep well and go with any sauces or stews you make!

Find healthy, high-quality carbs that will keep well and go with any sauces or stews you make!

Whew! The bottom line is, this quest for healthy, affordable, delicious home-cooked meals is not easy, especially in portions for one or two. But I believe it’s totally possible! I’m looking forward to figuring this out and sharing my secrets with you.

 

Kitchen: Roasted Vegetables and Rotini

roastvegdinner1

As we transition into summer, I’d like to share recipes that celebrate the delicious simplicity of natural produce. Smooth zucchini with crunchy skin paired with juicy bell-peppers and summer squash slices make an easy meal that’s also filling. The key to this delicious meal is just freshness! We served these vegetables last night with whole-wheat rotini that we tossed with homemade tomato sauce and grated Parmesan.

Ingredients:

– Zucchini, sliced vertically, approx 1/2 cm thick.

– Summer squash, sliced horizontally into little circles, approx 1/2 cm thick

– Bell peppers with seeds removed, cut into quarters

– Olive oil

– Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

1) Preheat the oven to 350F.

2) Cover a large cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Lay the sliced vegetables on cookie sheet.

3) Drizzle olive oil over vegetables– no need to drench them; a drop or two of oil on each piece is sufficient.

4) Sprinkle a sparing amount of sea salt and pepper evenly.

5) Roast for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are soft and tender.

Voilá!

Voilá!

roastvegdinner3

Kitchen: Spring Brunch Menu

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The Perfect Spring Brunch Plate.

Californians are used to enjoying spring weather– breezy sunshine, an occasional drizzle– beginning in late February. So when Easter Sunday in Cambridge brings us a high of 50 degrees Fahrenheit and chilly winds, we have to make a little sunshine of our own.

Planning a spring brunch is so much fun because the menu items tend to be simpler. This year we served a swiss chard and mushroom quiche, whiskey-glazed cinnamon rolls, arugula salad with apples and gorgonzola, and herb-roasted new potatoes. We also served homemade ginger lemonade and cold-brew coffee (not pictured here). Throw some spring flowers in a mason jar and you’ve made the perfect spring celebration!

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Swiss Chard and Mushroom Quiche

This quiche was so incredibly easy to make. I also threw in shallots! Find the recipe here.

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Arugula Salad

I absolutely love Arugula– its peppery bite, crunchy texture, and ability to be paired with practically anything! Wondering what to do with this delightful vegetable? Check out the kitchn’s post! For this salad, you will need:

– Box of arugula

– 3 Fuji or Gala apples, thinly sliced

– Box of gorgonzola (or goat cheese)

– Olive oil, Balsamic vinegar, and salt & pepper to taste

Toss to your heart’s content!

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