Quiche Caprese

Caprese: mozzarella, basil and tomatoes. Italian flavors so essential that their colors make up the Italian flag. You've seen Caprese as a salad, as a pizza, and even as a pasta. So why not a quiche? This one came out like a fluffy custard. It was light, savory and oh, so easy! Added bonus? It could be eaten any time of day, served hot or at room temperature!

1 refrigerated pie crust (we prefer Pillsbury)
6 eggs, brought to room temperature
2 cups low-fat milk
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups whole cherry tomatoes

Preheat oven to 425. Press pie crust into a deep 9-inch pie dish and, using a fork, prick the crust all around the sides and bottom. Line the crust with aluminum foil and weigh down with beans or pie weights. Bake the crust for 12 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the filling by beating well the eggs, milk, cheese, basil leaves, salt and pepper. When the crust is baked, remove the weights and foil and put the whole cherry tomatoes into the crust. Lower oven temperature to 325. Pour the beaten egg mixture over the tomatoes, being sure ingredients are evenly spread. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until quiche is set but center still jiggles slightly when dish is gently tapped. Let stand five minutes before serving hot, or if you prefer, serve at room temperature.


Cajun Shrimp and Andouille Pot Pie

Summer is holding on for dear life here in New England. This week it's been in the high 80s to low 90s although the calendar claims that autumn has officially begun. That calendar, and the gorgeous fall foliage that is beginning to appear, is what's driving us to crave fall foods, one of our favorites of which is pot pie.

Rather than roasting a chicken or turkey breast (and simultaneously heating the house), however, we lightened the dish by using some Cajun flavors - shrimp and andouille sausage. We also used low-fat milk rather than cream, and fresh corn and fingerling potatoes ruled over our usual "heavier" vegetables. These minor adjustments made the dish one for all seasons, regardless of weather or date. 

Ingredients: (mise en place pictured below)

1 cup corn kernels
1 cup potatoes, diced
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
6 tablespoons flour
2 cups warm seafood stock*
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon (or to taste) Creole seasoning (divided)*
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 links andouille sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 package Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Shells

*note: We used half of a 1.5-ounce package of Glace de Fruits de Mer Gold heated with two cups water to make the seafood stock, and Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning

Boil the corn kernels and diced potatoes until potatoes are cooked through. Drain and set aside. Brown andouille sausage, then set aside. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and celery and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, until vegetables are translucent. Stir in flour, sprinkle with half the amount of Creole seasoning, and cook, stirring contstantly, for 3-4 minutes. Stir in seafood stock and bring to a low boil. In the meantime, prepare pastry shells according to package directions. When stock reaches a low boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in milk and remaining Creole seasoning, to taste. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, another 5 minutes. Stir in cooked vegetables, andouille sausage and raw shrimp. Reduce heat to lowest setting and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are pink and tails are curled inward. Remove pastry shells from oven, fill with pot pie mixture and serve immediately.


Oven-Dried Cherry Tomatoes

For this post, we're taking a cue from the food bloggers at A Good Appetite and The Food Addicts. Our garden is still booming with several varieties of cherry and grape tomatoes, so we've decided to dry them in the oven for use throughout the winter months. We'll sprinkle these on pizzas, toss them in salads, and add them to recipes that call for sun-drieds. We know exactly what's in them (or better yet, what's not!) and the drying process really packs a flavorful punch. We did a couple of batches with garlic and a couple without, and also mixed up the tomato varieties. What better way to make our favorite summer flavor last?

cherry and grape tomatoes
olive oil (enough for drizzling and packing)
garlic cloves (optional)
salt to taste
black pepper to taste
Italian seasoning to taste

Halve your tomatoes and lay them, skin side down, on a baking sheet. Place whole, peeled garlic cloves on the sheet if using. Sprinkle everything with salt, black pepper and Italian seasoning to taste. Drizzle everything with olive oil. Bake at a 275-degree oven for up to 3 hours, checking every so often so they don't burn. Allow to cool then place in sterilized canning jars and top with olive oil for longer storage.


Corn and Crab Chowder, or, A Faltering Farewell to Summer

You may be wondering what it is with us and corn these days. Let us explain. Corn, in these parts, is the essence of summer. It's the color of sunshine and has the sweetness of candy. If it's not "knee-high by the Fourth of July," we, likely with untanned faces, are lamenting the uncooperative weather. Vast cornfields shimmer along back roads, cobs on tall stalks reaching like hands to touch the sun's rays. There are even some brave souls who attempt to grow corn in their own little yards. You can buy it by the ear, by the dozen, or even by the bushel. Yes, corn is summer. And we are teachers. Two teachers who are loath to give up, give in, and accept that fall is indeed here. Which means that as long as there is corn at the Farmers' Market, we're going to be eating it...on the cob, in risotto, wherever. It is our own unique form of culinary denial.

So today we give you the makings of a fine chowder, or bisque, or whatever you choose to call it. We have made it from fresh butter-sugar corn and jumbo lump crab meat. The summery ingredients are reminiscent of the hot season, while the fact that it's a creamy soup makes it a perfect cool-night-in-fall dish. Our friend Joanne called it "divine," and, while we don't like to brag, we agree. Amazing fresh corn and sweet, luscious lump crab are lightly blended into a velvety cream base for a rich, smooth, yummy mouthful of soup/chowder/bisque. Especially nice for dipping crusty French bread!

6 ears of fresh corn on the cob, peeled
1 1/2 quarts heavy cream
2 cups jumbo lump crabmeat
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (no substitutes!)
1 1/2 cups finely chopped sweet onion
4 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning (we use Tony Chachere's)
2 teaspoons (more or less to taste) freshly ground white pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
(Note there is no salt. That is because there is plenty in the Creole seasoning. If your seasoning does not contain salt, be sure to add some.)

Set aside a few green onions or a couple of lumps of crab, or pop some popcorn for a nice garnish. Pour the cream into a heavy saucepan and set over low heat. Shuck the corn and remove the corn from the cobs (you should have about five cups' worth of fresh corn kernels). Place the cobs in the heavy cream to infuse the cream with flavor. Do not allow the cream to boil. Melt the butter in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and saute until translucent (8-10 minutes). Add the corn kernels and sprinkle with flour. Cook over medium heat for five minutes, stirring constantly. Remove the corn cobs from the cream and add the cream to the corn/onion mixture. Stir in the white pepper and Creole seasoning. Lower heat, cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and making sure it doesn't boil. Remove from heat and blend using an immersion blender to desired consistency. Then stir in green onions and gently fold in the crabmeat. Return to low heat, cover and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Garnish as desired and serve hot with crusty French bread. Freezes nicely.


Dry-Rubbed Ribs

To us, Labor Day is synonymous with barbecue, and this year 
our plan was to cook the best rack of ribs we've ever cooked. Inspired by Anne Burrell and Pappy's Smokehouse, we started by creating a dry rub that we vigorously rubbed into the meat 24-hours beforehand.

Once they were properly rubbed, we put the rack in the fridge to allow the spices and seasonings to work on breaking down the protein and instilling it with flavor. Labor Day came. We laid the rack on a baking sheet, grabbed a cold brewskie from the fridge and poured it over the ribs into the pan. That was covered with foil and put into a 300-degree oven to cook low and slow for three hours, the beer keeping the meat nice and moist. We waited patiently, mouths watering as the scent of barbecue filled the house and wafted onto the front porch where we were enjoying the gorgeous weather. After the oven, we slathered on some Pappy's Original barbecue sauce that we had brought home from our trip to St. Louis and threw the ribs on the grill for five minutes each side, basting a couple of times. SUCCESS!!! Although not the best we've ever eaten (that honor is still Pappy's), they were in fact the best we've ever cooked. The spices we chose for the rub gave the meat spicy heat, sweetness, warmth and zip, while the peppery sauce connected those dots for a magical mouthful of meat.

The rub works its magic.

Slathered in Pappy's Original Sauce and thrown on the grill.

The finished product, juicy and falling off the bone.

Ingredients: (for one rack pork spareribs)

1/4 cup Bad Byron's Butt Rub - a blend of salt, black pepper, granulated onion and garlic, paprika and chipotle powder
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1/2 tablespoon celery salt
1 beer (more for drinking optional)

Blend the above ingredients and rub vigorously over raw meat. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Remove plastic wrap and set meat on a large baking sheet. Open a beer and pour over the meat onto the baking sheet. Cover with foil and bake at 300 degrees for 3 hours. Remove ribs from oven and prepare grill. Brush one side of the meat with your favorite barbecue sauce and grill, saucy side down, for five to six minutes, basting once in that time. Baste the other side of the meat, turn, and grill for five to six minutes, basting once in that time. Allow to rest and serve with corn and baked beans or your favorite sides.


A Taste of Greece at the Odyssey Greek Fest

Kali orexi! (Healthy appetite!) We took ours to Orange, CT last weekend for the 30th Annual Saint Barbara's "Odyssey," a Greek Festival.

We arrived shortly after the festival opened and our ears automatically tuned in to the sounds of Greek music. Our stomachs, however, had their own priorities. First on the list, a taste of saganaki, a sharp table cheese that has been dusted with flour, pan-fried, finished with lemon juice and Ouzo, and served with Kalamata olives and sesame bread. The crisp, warm cheese had a distinct tanginess that was favorably enhanced by the lemon/liquor finish. We could eat this every day!

We waited patiently while the hard-working chefs of the day labored over our main course, served only at certain hours: whole lamb souvla - lamb roasted on a spit for over seven hours, basted over and over again with an herby lemon butter. The scent was intoxicating, albeit smoky! Catching the eye of the person plating the food, we begged for morsels of the crispy skin. We found a spot on the lawn to eat while enjoying the Greek dancing show. The lamb was incredibly succulent, fork-tender and flavorful. The only thing that could have made it better was some good Greek wine!

With full bellies, we wandered over to a cooking demonstration where we learned how to make a traditional walnut cake called karydopita. We didn't think we could eat anything else, but when they offered a taste, we couldn't resist. Rich, nutty, moist...Yes, we'll be making that cake at home soon enough!

Delightful food, great music and entertainment. Opa! We'll be back next year!!!


Italian Crab Fingers

Back when Amy lived in New Orleans, she frequented a Mid-City neighborhood restaurant called Mandina's. What drew her, especially, was an appetizer called "Crab Fingers in Wine Sauce." Not only were they delicious -loaded with garlic, wine, butter and breadcrumbs - but they were fun to eat. Little crab fingers swam in that rich mixture and one had to dig in with their own fingers, find one, nibble off the sweet crabmeat, and lick their fingers clean of all that buttery goodness.

We have tried a couple of times to recreate this dish, one of Amy's Top Ten Appetizers of All Time. We have never quite gotten it right. Nor did we this time, when we busted out a pound (yes, a pound) of frozen (yes, frozen) crab fingers that we had shipped from the Gulf with some crawfish last April. It wasn't the fact that they had been frozen, because, after all, we're in CT and crabs aren't all that easy to find here. We have the basic flavor profile but the consistency just isn't there. It just isn't saucy enough. Not enough butter? Not enough wine? Overloaded on the breadcrumbs? We're open to suggestions. And by the way, Mandina's, Amy really misses you. Anyway,here's what we did:

1 pound crab fingers
1 stick plus 3 pats butter
3 garlic cloves
3/4 cup Pinot Grigio or other white wine, divided
1 1/2 cups Italian seasoned breadcrumbs

Melt the stick of butter in a large saucepan. Using a garlic press, press the garlic cloves (or finely mince them) and add to the melted butter; saute over medium heat until garlic is fragrant. Add the crab fingers and cook, gently folding them in with the butter to coat, for 2-3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the wine and continue to cook, 2-3 more minutes. Fold in the breadcrumbs and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Turn the mixture into an oven-proof baking dish. Drizzle with remaining 1/4 cup white wine and top with pats of butter. Broil under high heat for several minutes until top is browned. Serve with plenty of napkins!


Pasta Caprese

We have tomatoes. Lots of them. And we're having a heat wave. Again. What to do, when you are craving pasta but it's so hot you don't want to eat? We created this light, refreshing dish, inspired by the salad insalata caprese. Like any good Italian dish, this one features simple, fresh ingredients and allows their flavors to pop. We think it's as good as the pastas we've eaten in any Italian trattoria. Mangia!

6-8 fresh Roma tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 lb. penne pasta
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 ball mozzarella di bufala, cut into small cubes(regular fresh mozzarella is fine too)
salt and pepper

Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water until the skin starts to come off. Remove the tomatoes from the water, allow to cool, and peel them. In the meantime, cook the pasta according to package directions. Run tomatoes through a food mill into a large skillet or saucepan. Season this tomato "sauce" with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the tomato paste and warm over medium-low heat. When pasta is done, drain and pour the hot pasta into the skillet with the tomato sauce. Turn off heat and add the basil, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella. Stir until well mixed and serve with garlic bread.