ONE FOR THE BOY
I hadn’t baked in several days. Or has it been weeks? The chill that has hijacked summer along with the damp seeping into the apartment uninvited has sapped my energy and my baking mojo seems to have withered and died a slow, numbing death. But deprivation seems to have woken something animal in my son, the one who complains of too much cake being shoved down his throat, the one who implores day after day that I leave him and his friends alone, to stop coming into his bedroom while they work bearing plate upon plate of baked goods. The one who always has unannounced (to me) plans for dinner, leaving me with too much on my hands and Tupperware containers full of uneaten scraps. He and Valentin, who has moved in for the month of June, spend their days in the back bedrooms working on end-of-the-school-year projects and various work assignments. They occasionally wander out of the darkness and into our half of the apartment looking for something to eat, often finding the cupboard – and refrigerator - bare. JP and I finally strapped on our safety helmets and buckled on our humor jackets, grabbed the stack of baskets and bags and made our way to the grocery store, ready to forage, hunt and gather what to feed a small family up and down the savage, untamed aisles of our local hypermarché, hoping to stave off hunger and save the young. But apparently it was not enough for the young cub. The same old same old provisions piled up around him and tumbled out a refrigerator door opened much too quickly: packs of ravioli and tortellini, cured meats and ham, cheeses and yogurts just weren’t enough to soothe the savage beast. He was bored and indignant! And with teeth bared, he spit out his displeasure at always either having too much or not enough or simply not what he craved! I was indeed a bad mother!
As the sun threatened to break through the clouds and illuminate the steely skies, as the wind died down just briefly enough to give us hope, something stirred deep down inside of me that put me back in the mood to bake. Or maybe it was a mother’s base instinct to nourish her offspring. I don’t know. But whatever it was grabbed me by the arm and yanked me into Clem’s bedroom where I asked, “What would you like me to bake?” My baby boy, my darling son looked at me, eyes quickly darting back and forth on the lookout for imminent danger, glancing up at me then down in embarrassment. “Mom,” he asked, “can you make something savory?”
As the school year winds down and the students filter slowly out of town one by one, as the boys work diligently on their models and designs, they have indeed been eating dinner with us more and more often, actually getting a kick out of their evenings in. They have enjoyed both of JP’s lasagnas, engaging in and appreciating the lively conversation with the “old folks”, even doing the washing up when the meals were done. Well, almost. Scratching the old noggin, I searched my brain high and low for an idea, any idea, of what to make. A baker more than a cook, I scrolled through my usual repertoire of savory goodies, and a wonderful thought struck me! On our recent visit to an old friend of JP’s, his wife had prepared a fabulous rustic Mushroom Quiche, studded with smoked bacon, rich with cheese and browned to an invitingly golden crust. Her deep-dish quiche was succulent, flavorful and comforting; served with a crisp green salad, it made for the perfect meal eaten under the trees, in the waning sunlight in the cool of the garden. Clem always loved a good quiche, the gourmand in him reveling in the creamy cheesiness at once both homey and sumptuous. He has gobbled down my Zucchini Ricotta Feta Tart and adored my Clafoutis of Ratte Potatoes, Asparagus and Bleu d’Avergne. He loves a good old-fashioned Quiche Lorraine, which I make following my brother’s recipe. Tender, flakey crust, cheesy goodness (for the cheese fanatic that he is) thick with fresh cream and rich in eggs, a quiche is a wondrous thing, enough to sate a young cub yet served with a crisp garden salad a satisfying yet light meal for everyone. And I was determined to put this favorite back on the menu.
I decided to take the idea of a Mushroom Quiche yet replace the smoked bacon with golden caramelized onions and lots of them! Add to that a couple of healthy handfuls of nutty emmenthal or gruyère cheese and the whole dusted generously with freshly grated Parmesan. Needless to say, my Caramelized Onion-Mushroom Quiche was a hit with the guys who then happily heated up and enjoyed the last remaining slices for lunch the following day as well. Now what to make next….?
JP still threatens … tempts me with a weeklong bike trip up the historic and picturesque Nantes-Brest Canal. Purchases must be made: a bike for me, ponchos for the ever-possible downpour, saddlebags in which to pack our meager provisions and enough snacks to fill up at least one saddlebag (if he complains then none for him!). Preparations made while we wait for the return of pleasant, summery weather, if indeed our brief hint of summer has not already ceded her place to an early, overly ambitious autumn at the ready to muscle her way in and stay.
(Update: as you read this, I will be on the road! Nervous and excited but it should be a fun adventure! I hope to be keeping in touch via twitter, so make sure you are following @lifesafeast to hear all about what we are up to, what we are seeing, what we are eating and any exploits, happenings, encounters, ordeals and escapades we may have... and both young men have passed all their exams with flying colors!)
SAVORY CARAMELIZED ONION & MUSHROOM QUICHE
Short crust pastry for one 9- or 10-inch pie plate (recipe follows), prebaked
2 medium yellow onions, cut in half and thinly sliced
11 to 14 oz (300 to 400 g) white mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and sliced
2 – 3 Tbs (30 – 45 g) butter for sautéing
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.
5 large eggs
1 ½ cups mixture of light or heavy cream and whole milk
¾ tsp salt
Generous grinding of black pepper
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
About ½ to 1 Tbs unsalted butter
About 1 cup grated gruyère, emmenthal or Swiss cheese (full-flavored & nutty)
2 – 3 Tbs freshly grated Parmesan
Prepare the Short Crust Pastry:
1 3/4 cups (245 g) flour
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
12 ½ Tbs (180 g) unsalted butter
6 Tbs cold water
Place the flour, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the cubes of butter, tossing to coat with flour so they don’t stick together. Using the tips of your fingers and thumbs, rub the butter and flour together rapidly as if pushing the butter into the flour until the mixture is crumbly and it resembles damp sand. Do not overwork this mixture as the butter will melt and start to clump; it will be blended better later.
Add about 4 tablespoons of the cold water and blend vigorously with a fork. Add more water, as much as needed, onto the dry flour and continue to stir up from the bottom until all of the dry ingredients are moistened and the dough begins pulling together in a shaggy ball.
Scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface. With the heel of one hand, rapidly smear and push the dough onto the surface and away from you, about a tablespoon of dough at a time, smearing it onto the work surface. This will complete the blending of the butter and the flour.
Scrape the dough up and gather it into a ball. Knead gently and briefly, just enough to make a smooth, homogenous ball of dough. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm enough to roll out easily, about 15 minutes.
Lightly butter a quiche or tart pan (if using the smaller diameter, make sure the sides of the pan are higher/deeper). I used a 9-inch wide x 2-inch deep (23 x 5 cm) tart pan.
Roll out the dough on a well-floured work surface to fit the pie tin. Gently lift and fit into the pie tin, lifting and pressing the dough into the corners. Crimp the edges and trim. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Prick the bottom and sides with a fork before baking.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Remove the plastic and place a square of parchment or oven paper in the shell and weigh down with dried beans or pastry weights. Bake for 8 or 9 minutes then remove from the oven. Carefully (so as not to burn yourself) lift out the parchment and beans and return the shell to the oven for an additional 5 to 8 minutes or until pale and light golden brown. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack or wooden cutting board.
Lower the oven temperature to 375°F (190°C).
Prepare the Quiche Filling:
Slice the onions thin and chop into large dice. Heat a skillet, melt about a tablespoon of butter and sauté the onions over medium-low to medium heat, stirring often, until golden and tender. If you like, add about half a teaspoon of sugar to the onions to help the caramelization process. Scrape the caramelized onions onto a plate or bowl and add another tablespoon butter to the skillet. When the butter is melted, add half the mushrooms, salt and pepper, then, stirring often, cook until sautéed and tender. Remove from the skillet and repeat with the rest of the butter and mushrooms.
Spread the caramelized onions in the prebaked shell then cover with the mushrooms. Cover evenly with the grated gruyère, emmenthal or Swiss cheese.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until lightly beaten. Whisk in the cream and milk along with the salt, pepper and nutmeg until well combined. Pour this over the vegetables in the tart shell. Sprinkle with as much or as little of the grated Parmesan as you like, dot with small bits of butter then bake for about 40 minutes or until slightly puffed, a deep golden and set.
Remove from the oven, allow to cool briefly then serve with a garden salad and a loaf of bread.