Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: The Last Piece of Pie

While talking to Karen last night about the impending changes that come with a new year, namely the much-anticipated shift of consciousness in 2012, I couldn't help but think of the things I hope will endure. One of these things has to be my tried-and-true recipe for quiche. Although it began as a formula for the traditional Lorraine, with time and dietary requirements, the dish evolved into a way for me to embrace the differences among my friends and their palates. I happened to be making up a batch of the savory pie as she and I chatted: one smoked salmon and a ham and cheese for Seiji and Kenzo.

This quiche "shreds": Cheddar and Swiss is my go-to combo, but feel free to experiment.

I wrote this snapshot of a much-loved recipe in 2007 after nearly three decades of making it for numerous gatherings, to impress boys (especially my nephews!), and even to enter it in a pie contest. The joy of my quiche, which has been adapted to suit every taste and dietary restriction, is as much in the process of making it as in the experience of eating it. I have yet to find the best title for this piece, and am open to suggestions - as I am open to requests for yet another new ingredient to add to the pie.

You can please everybody all the time with two flavors per batch. "Grown-up" smoked salmon and spinach parties with "kids' special" ham and cheese. Guess which one the grown-ups will sneak pieces of...

Quiche Story Redux

Go to Trader Joe’s and get one block of sharp cheddar and one block of Swiss; each piece should be about the size of a Betamax tape. Also, get a dozen eggs, a pint of cream, a medium-sized piece of smoked salmon, fresh dill, a bag of spinach and some green onions.

Go to Ralphs and buy two frozen deep dish pie shells. The original recipe was for one quiche, but since Phil broke the dish with the recipe painted on it, you couldn’t remember how many eggs it took, and somehow over time, it evolved into a dozen. Hence the two pie shells. It’s just as well. One would never be enough anyway, and since Shiho and Joselyn are lacto-ovo-pisces vegetarians, they can eat the one with salmon. It’s funny how they don’t think fish is meat. It still has a face, but no legs. Maybe that’s the difference.

The quiche always makes a dramatic entrance from the oven, so don’t start it when you get home so that it comes out just as guests arrive. Besides, you have to pull dishes out, vacuum, dust, and find something to wear. Putter needlessly at these tasks until a couple of hours before everyone arrives.

Thaw a package of six pieces of bacon in the microwave and cook it. Costco has two pounds of thick cut bacon from Canada for $10. It’s a deal, and incidentally, the best bacon I’ve ever had. It’s not Canadian bacon, which is almost like ham, but bacon from Canada. It takes about a year for me to finish a two-pound package.

While the bacon cooks, you can start shredding the cheeses into the big stainless steel bowl. There is enough to eat small wads of it with bits of bacon, but don’t overdo it. Wash the spinach, take the stems off and tear it, and chop up the green onions. Set this mixture aside.

The eggs and I: Save up calories for this one; it's a doozy with heavy cream and a dozen scramblers.

Tear the salmon into little pieces. Curse the phone, because it rings as soon as your hands are covered in fish oil. While you are washing them, the machine picks up. It’s Alice, and she’s bringing Vicki with her.

Finish breaking up the salmon, and chop two or three sprigs of dill to go with it. Put the rest of the dill in the refrigerator. In about three weeks, you will take it out again, the herbs shriveled beyond recognition, and throw it away.

The phone rings again. It’s Jolene, who will be late. As soon as people start arriving, we all start guessing how late she will be. It’s a good thing she always stops at the Chinese bakery, probably part of the reason she is so tardy. Nobody can be mad at you if you bring over a box of old-fashioned almond cookies, the kind made with honest-to-God lard.

Keep the edges of the pie crusts from burning by covering them with a thin collar of aluminum foil. Take a fork and prick holes in the bottom and sides of the pie shells. Don’t ask me why, I saw this in a book somewhere. I think it aerates the pastry and helps it cook more evenly. Or it just provides the illusion of homemade pastry that involved more effort than pulling it out of the freezer.

Pile the dry ingredients into each pie shell, alternating the spinach-cheese mixture with bacon for one, salmon and dill for the other. Another vegetarian alternative is actual vegetables, like fingerling potatoes, zucchini and butternut squash that have been roasted in the oven. Who knew they could taste so good?

There are just some ingredients that I just can’t substitute in order to accommodate dietary needs or allergies . Rodney, who is lactose intolerant, just brings his pills along. He isn’t about to give up my quiche because of a little discomfort, and so far, I haven’t found any great substitute for cream and cheese.

Okay, I wasn’t really looking.

Beat the entire dozen eggs into the big white bowl and add the cream. Put in a healthy dash of salt, grind about a two-inch-wide shadow of black pepper and a pinch of nutmeg over it, and stir.

Carefully pour the egg mixture into the pie shells with the big Pyrex cup. This takes a bit of time, because you have to let the liquid drip and settle between all the layers of ingredients. This should use up almost all of the egg mixture, but don’t overfill them as they will drip messily onto the baking sheet, forming clouds of overcooked egg batter.

Put the pie shells on a large cookie sheet and bake for about an hour at 350 degrees. During that hour, you can finish dressing, fuss over the living room, and unwrap the rest of the food. Operation Quiche dominates the entire kitchen, making it impossible to cook anything else for the party. While you are picking up the ingredients, be sure to buy some hummus and pita chips, carrot sticks, prosciutto, cheeses, olives, whatever.

Love's labors luxe: A crisp and nicely browned top means the egg mixture is cooked, but the quiche is still moist and cheesy within. Let it stand for a few minutes before cutting.

After about 40 minutes, check on the quiches. They are done when you poke them with a steak knife and it comes out clean. By this time, hopefully people have started to arrive. Depending on your oven, you may need an extra 10 minutes, 20 tops.

Bask in the glow of compliments from people who’ve had it before, as they always sniff appreciatively at the savory aroma that fills the kitchen. Enjoy their enthusiastic endorsement to newcomers who have yet to discover this delicacy.

You should have enough to serve approximately 12 happy guests, some of them twice. Make sure that the non-vegetarians leave plenty of salmon pie for Shiho and Joselyn.


Shiho is no longer a vegetarian. And only once did I make a "real" pie crust, it was as easy as the old expression goes. For the LACMA pie contest, everything had to be homemade. So I found a simple recipe for pâte brisée. A dry run is always advised for a new recipe, so a few days before the contest, I gave this a whirl and was really impressed with how simple it was to make such a flavorful crust.

The day before the contest, I made a new batch for the pie contest and refrigerated it overnight per the recipe. But when I unwrapped it the next morning it shattered into a dry crumbly mess, due to the fact that I had not added enough water. With the contest a few hours away and the entry requirement for a freshly baked but cooled pie, I hastily made another batch of pastry and hoped for the best.

The resulting quiches looked good, and I sampled the second one, which was filled with Kenzo's ham and cheese concoction. The crust was acceptable, but I was struck by the simplicity of this "new" recipe.

Kids don't like mushrooms or ground nutmeg. And all cheese is yellow. So I make their quiche by simply piling shredded cheddar cheese and ham or bacon in the pie tin and pouring plain, unseasoned eggs and cream over it before seasoning the remainder for the grown-ups' version.

Kids know what they like and aren't afraid to tell you so. My wish for the new year is that we all can cut to the chase, the way an eight-year-old's palate does. To me, changing consciousness will mean improving old recipes while adapting more readily to new challenges and embracing possibility. Happy New Year!

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