Thursday, June 28, 2012

Georgia Peaches in Nashville & Peach Chutney

I've lived in Tennessee a long time, but in all these years I have yet to find a decent fresh peach. It's astonishing, really. Most peaches I find at produce stands, farmers' markets, and even Whole Foods that are touted as "local" come from Kentucky or South Carolina. I don't mind a slightly distant provenance, but I'm sorry to say the peaches -- even ones from Tennessee -- aren't even very good. More often than not they aren't very sweet, or juicy, and sometimes have a weird, mealy texture. I don't think that's necessarily a function of the quality of peach that CAN be grown in those areas, but just what we wind up getting here in Nashville. I've heard Alabama peaches are good, but we don't seem to get those up here, either.

I long for the Georgia peach of my youth. I remember going to the Georgia Farmers' Market in Forest Park, just south of Atlanta and my hometown of Hapeville, GA. There were certain things we'd always load up on in the summer time in those huge outdoor sheds, peaches and watermelon being chief among them. We'd eat the peaches plain, after they'd macerated with a little sugar to form a syrup, or my mother would make peach ice cream. Of course the sepia-toned memories of childhood might make those peaches a little more tasty in retrospect than they really were, but I know they were always ripe and sweet and juicy, qualities that can be hard to find in the modern peach available to me now.

I wasn't even going to bother with peaches this year, so great was my disappointment last year. Enter The Peach Truck. Entrepreneur Stephen Rose grew up in Snellville, Georgia but was born in Ft. Valley, the epicenter of peach farming in Georgia. His aunt and uncle have a multi-generation farm in the area, Pearson Farm. Stephen's day job is in personal finance, but The Peach Truck is a sideline that grew out of his desire for Georgia peaches. He had also been disappointed by the quality of peaches in Nashville after moving to the area a couple of years ago. After describing his dilemma to his aunt & uncle, they suggested he try selling their peaches here. A year of discussion, and a spring of going door-to-door to local restaurants, and a surprisingly successful enterprise was born.

Pearson's is the peach source for some notable Atlanta restaurants, and now customers of Edley's, Burger Up, Capitol Grille, City House, and many more can enjoy creations made with Pearson's peaches.  The peaches are also available all week at the two Turnip Truck locations, and Thursday through Sunday you can buy directly from The Peach Truck itself. Stephen sets up shop from the back of a vintage pickup truck, parking in hip locales like imogene + willie in 12South, or even less hip venues like the monthly Flea Market at the Fairgrounds; you can find out where The Peach Truck is parked on any given day by following it on Twitter. In addition, this weekend they will be at the Nashville Farmers' Market, and there's currently a contest on Yelp to win a box of peaches. A bag of peaches from the truck is about 3 pounds worth and costs $6 -- about what you'd pay for gnarly Kentucky or South Carolina peaches from a produce stand. So far Stephen has been able to keep up with the burgeoning demand, and Pearson's predicts they'll be able to supply peaches through about July 15. Also, it turns out that the brutally hot weather that's causing us humans to go droopy 'round the edges is great for peaches, and this year is a bumper crop.

So what did I do with my precious booty? First, I peeled and sliced one and ate it and swooned. Then ... the dishes that usually leap to mind first when faced with a horde of fresh peaches are cobbler and pie. I did make a pie this week, and it was incredibly good. I'll probably make a cobbler with my next haul, using my mother's time-honored, super-simple Georgia cobbler recipe. (It's similar to this one on Pearson's web site:  Easy Cobbler.) Both pie and cobbler are especially delicious if you toss in a generous handful of fresh blueberries or raspberries, which come into season at the same time.

A favorite of mine, though, is Peach Chutney. Chutney can be made from many types of fruit and even vegetables; mango chutney is probably the most well-known in the U.S., owing to the ubiquity of Major Grey's Chutney in even the smallest supermarket. A Southeast Asian condiment, the chutney you usually find in the U.S. and Europe is simultaneously sweet, tart, savory, and often a little spicy. In addition to being a delicious addition to Indian dishes, chutney is terrific with chicken, pork, and some fish. It's also good on sandwiches or dolloped on cheese and crackers. It's especially good with a soft, creamy cheese like chevre or even plain cream cheese. (This last combination is kin to that Southern potluck staple of cream cheese covered in Pickapeppa or pepper jelly.)

I've used various recipes over the years, so I don't have a standard. Today I used a recipe from, the parent site for Bon Appetit and the late, lamented Gourmet. I was quite pleased with the end result. Chutneys are fairly forgiving. You want the right balance of tart and sweet and heat and savory, but you can fudge things a little to make use of what you might have on hand. If you don't have white raisins but do have dark, go ahead and use the dark. For example, in this case I didn't have a whole red pepper but did have a mini red and a mini yellow, so in they went, and I didn't worry about making up the difference in volume. If I'd found the heat lacking in the final product, a pinch of red pepper flakes would have set things right.

Chutney is best made with peaches that are slightly underripe. When I snagged my 2 bags on Saturday, I was advised that they still needed ripening, and that they'd be ready to eat in a day or two. Actually, it was Tues before they were OK to eat out of hand, and by Wednesday they were perfect. On Monday evening, though, they were just right for chutney.

Fresh Peach Chutney

adapted from
1/2 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1 large sweet red pepper, seeded & diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 small white onion diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded & minced (2 tablespoons)
1/3 cup white raisins
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds firm (not completely ripe), fresh peaches, peeled & diced

Put the vinegar and sugar into a non-reactive pot, place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Add the red pepper, onion, jalapeño, raisins, garlic, ginger, salt and simmer 12 minutes. Add the peaches and simmer an additional 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the peaches are still firm, cook several minutes more.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Serve at room temperature. Transfer all excess to a clean container and refrigerate, covered, for up to one week.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Those Bread and Butter Pickles

Of course summer is the season for enjoying in-the-moment the bounty of the garden & farm, but also the time to think ahead about how to extend the season. The abundance of fruits and vegetables available from produce stands, farmer's markets, and personal gardens can be a little overwhelming, but offers a great opportunity. Preservation methods like canning allow this bounty to be enjoyed long after the season has passed. Even if you don't have an economic need to put by stores for the winter, you can transform basic produce into tasty sides, condiments, and the like and enhance your enjoyment of the produce from your garden or your local farmer. You can even follow the same principles to make small-batch products with a shorter life; simply substitute the refrigerator for canning equipment.

The retro-hipster, slow-food, greener-living, domestic-arts-revivalist movement has made do-it-yourself scratch food production and preservation popular, even trendy. You can't crack open a cooking magazine or newspaper food section (or web site) in the summer the last few years without reading about people rediscovering how to put up preserves, make their own catsup, or whip up their own mixers for craft cocktails. The movement is just as strong in the restaurant world. Local restaurants sometimes seem to be in a veritable arms race to tout their house-cured or smoked meats, relishes, condiments, and the like. If they are not making such items themselves, they actively promote their use of local/regional artisan producers. You can't swing a cat in Nashville without hitting an indie restaurant that doesn't have a menu featuring Benton's bacon or Corsair liquor or Olive & Sinclair chocolate. It's a pretty exciting time if you care about good food made with care and passion.

But I digress ... I'm here to talk about pickles. I don't care for dill pickles -- my friends will testify that it's one of the few foods I actually abhor -- but I love sweeter types. Bread and butter pickles are a variety that strike the perfect balance between tart and sweet. They are great with bread and butter, as the name imples (a tasty artisan baguette and fresh butter are best, naturally). They are also terrific with a wide variety of cheese and the plainer sorts of crackers, and on sandwiches, burgers, and the like. I adore these on ham sandwiches in particular.

The basis for this recipe was suggested to me by a fellow member of a cooking bulletin board I frequent. A few years ago I was on the hunt for a clone of a commercial pickled Vidalia onion product G&R Farms used to produce, and this seemed to fit the bill. It does indeed work well as a pickled onion recipe, but I usually make it with the stated amount of cucumbers and onions. And yes, these are the pickles I referenced in that poem.

NOTE: I have only ever made these as refrigerator pickles. I follow all the guidelines for canned pickles, including sterilizing jars, using new lids, etc.; I just don't process the packed jars. Since I do not know the original source for this recipe, and I've tinkered with it a bit, I cannot vouch for it as a suitable recipe for canning. Canned foods must contain a certain pH, in addition to being prepared and processed properly, to be shelf-stable and safe. If you would like a reputable, tested recipe for canned Bread & Butter Pickles, check out the one in the University of Georgia Extension Service guide. While I have not made that recipe, it is very similar to this one. I also like the blog Food in Jars for additional canning information.

Bread & Butter Pickles

adapted from various sources

4 quarts well-scrubbed, thinly sliced (1/8"), unpeeled pickling (Kirby type) cucumbers
4 medium onions, sliced pole-to-pole and separated into slivers
1 well-scrubbed red bell pepper, cut into thin strips (optional)
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/3 cup pickling salt (do not use table salt, sea salt, kosher salt, etc.)
large quantity of ice
4 cups sugar
3 cups cider or white vinegar
2 Tbsp mustard seeds
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 tsp celery seeds

Combine cucumbers, onions, peppers, and salt in a very large crock or ceramic, glass, or stainless steel bowl. Cover the vegetables with ice and mix well. Cover with another layer of ice. Let stand for about 3 hours, adding more ice if needed to keep the mixture well-chilled.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a large non-reactive kettle or stock pot and stir until sugar is dissolved. Drain the vegetables and add to the pot. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally; remove from heat immediately.

Pack the pickles and liquid into hot, sterilized pint or quart jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Seal with sterilized, new jar lids. Allow to cool until then refrigerate immediately and keep refrigerated.

4 pounds of pickling cucumbers from Ashland City, TN by way of the Nashville Farmer's Market
The blossom end of the cucumber has enzymes that can soften the pickle; it's important to trim that off
I used my OXO V-Slicer (kin to a mandolin) to quickly reduce a pile of produce to slices of perfectly even thickness
The same 4 pounds of cucumbers, sliced. This came to a bit less than 4 quarts called for in the recipe, so I had some pickling syrup left over when all was said and done.
Vidalia onions, of course, for this Georgia girl
Cukes & onions mixed, ready for salt & ice
Salted & iced and left to crisp for 3 hours
Pretty little maids, all in a row

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sitting - and Eating - Pretty in The Catbird Seat, Part 2

Second of two parts

In which our intrepid diners face three more savory courses, then a sequence of desserts.

Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson

With the preliminaries out of the way, we were now on to the first of three entrees: A lovely chunk of pan-roasted halibut, served with a wilted kale and crispy mushroom side, a smear of pureed kimchee, and a second sauce made up of pureed kale and coconut cream. This last was a little miracle of a sauce; it was completely homogeneous, bright olive green, and whipped to be light and airy. Watching Chef Habiger prepare the dish for other diners, we realized that he was using a whipped cream dispenser to add the sauce to the plate. Genius! Overall this was my favorite dish, I think. The fish was perfectly cooked, the accompaniments were wonderful and fun, the side was tasty and presented a nice texture contrast to the fish and velvety sauces.

Next we moved from fins to wings, and were presented with "roast chicken." This was chicken that had been minced or ground and combined with herbs and other seasonings, then encased in chicken skin, rolled into a perfect cylinder about 2 inches in diameter. The chicken was cooked, but the preparation before service was to slowly brown the cylinder on all sides in a cast iron skillet. This was served with a soft mound of smoked mashed potatoes, and a sauce that was a clear gravy that was the very essence of chicken. The whole was sprinkled with little bites of crawfish. I know it seems boring to declare such a thoroughly "normal," all-American dish as stellar, but this was my second-favorite savory course. As Scott said, "I didn't know chicken could taste like that."

The final main course was lamb. The menu I have just says, "lamb" without specifying the cut. The meat was garnished with chunks of onion, pecans, nasturtiums, and porcini mushrooms and a nice basic reduction. Conferring later, it turns out that Scott was under the impression it was lamb loin, where I could swear I heard the chef say it was lamb heart. Now, never having had heart of any animal, I have no experience to tell me whether the meat in question was indeed a heart or some other muscle. I've tweeted to The Catbird Seat's Twitter account to ask, but didn't get an answer. I suppose it will remain a mystery. Lamb is not my favorite meat, regardless of the cut. I'll eat it, but I never go out of my way to have it. So, the fact that I thought it was offal wasn't a huge factor for me. It was well-seasoned, cooked medium-rare. I ate about half of it and surreptitiously slid the rest of it over to Scott's plate; he was happy to finish it off.

There were, of course, more beverages. at one point we were served a black tea that had been infused with lavender and something that gave it a redish hue ... And then ... and then ... oh, it was a week ago, and I didn't make notes, do you expect me to remember any more?

The last group of courses were in some ways the most interesting. There were two that were sort of between a savory and a sweet, then two that were definitely in the dessert category. First was a small bowl that had plump juicy blueberries interspersed with beads of caramelized yogurt that had been infused with sweet hay, the latter being a specialty of Chef Harbiger. It was finished with wild rice and chamomile. For the next offering, the menu says, "Cucumber, lime, toasted rice, Thai basil." Unfortunately I don't remember much about it, other than (a) I liked it and (b) it was a little on the more savory/salty side than the sweet.

We had the option of having after-dinner drinks with the final courses for an extra charge. There was a host of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks available, but we both opted for basic coffee and cream. Finally came the true desserts. First was a little miracle of a maple custard, cooked in an egg shell. The trick, as Scott noted, would be cutting off the top of each egg shell, leaving the perfectly level and smooth edge, without causing damage to the rest of the shell. The custard was topped with a glaze of additional syrup, sprinkled with thyme, and served with a jaunty "chip" of bacon thrust into the center. This was not only clever, and clearly an homage to that accidental breakfast favorite of bacon that gets dipped in the pancake syrup, but it was truly delicious.

The last dessert course was a grand finale, recalling some of the more elaborate dishes earlier in the meal. A long, charred plank was placed in front of us. On one end of the plank was a scoop of charred oak ice cream, creamy and smoky yes, but not tasting too much of wood. (I typically dislike Chardonnay, in large part because of its often oaky taste, so I was grateful for more smoke than oak here.) The plank was scattered with chunks of a delicious yellow cake, slices of pineapple gelee, capsules of bourbon (or vanilla syrup, for the non-drinkers) that burst in your mouth, echoing the steelhead roe from earlier, and a large cherry crisp presiding like a large pink fan over the whole.

To finish the evening we went back to the beginning:  We were given two more "Oreos" -- this time the cookies were coffee flavored, and the cream filling was vanilla. They looked just like the savory ones we'd started the meal with, but they were a nice little sweet bite that brought the meal full circle.

It's hard to know how to wrap up this post ... the evening was full of so many sights and tastes, unusual combinations and new experiences, and most of all the fun of watching and talking to the chefs, to the assistants, and the beverage director. Best of all, though, it was a wonderful evening with a great friend who has taught me much about food and cooking over the years, and we always know we'll have a good time eating and laughing. It was a remarkable evening and I can't think of anyone I'd rather have shared it with.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sitting - and Eating - Pretty in The Catbird Seat

The first of two parts

Yes, folks, I did it. I stayed up until midnight one night in mid-May so I could be online the moment that reservations opened up for June 13 at The Catbird Seat. The restaurant had been an instant hit when it opened in October; the stream of national press, awards, and recognition since then had only made scoring a reservation more difficult. My BFF Scott was coming to town, and I knew that he would appreciate the unique -- if expensive -- experience that Catbird offered. Reservation made, credit cards primed, we eagerly awaited the appointed time.

This is a restaurant that simply will not please everyone. It is a very particular type of experience. If you aren't a fairly adventurous eater, or if you equate portion size with "getting your money's worth" then this restaurant isn't for you. That's not a value judgement, just a warning. The Catbird Seat offers only a tasting menu. This is similar to what high-end restaurants such as The French Laundry and Alinea have become known for:  A fixed-price menu, made up of many small courses prepared at the chef's discretion. The Catbird Seat is very careful to check for food allergies or other restrictions, and can even tailor the meal to vegetarian, gluten-free, or other special diets. Beyond that, you have no say in what you are served. You do not order anything, you simply wait for the parade of courses to begin. You may choose one of two levels of wine pairings with your meal, or the non-alcoholic pairing. Scott and I chose the latter; as much as I like wine, I was probably more excited to see what interesting beverages would be concocted for us than I would have been for the wine.

At the appointed hour we pulled up to the valet stand. The valet was not there at that moment, but a woman with a smartphone in hand greeted us there on the sidewalk and asked if we were visiting Patterson House (downstairs) or The Catbird Seat (upstairs). She glanced at her phone and asked, "Are you Tracey?" I answered that I was, and the valet appeared at that point. After handing over the car keys, our hostess led us to an unremarkable side door in the building, leading into a very small entry way with an elevator. The elevator took us to the second level, where a short hallway with runway lights in the floor led to the restaurant space. She escorted us to our assigned seats, and the adventure began.

The concept of The Catbird Seat is dinner-as-theater. Thus, the kitchen is in the middle of the room. A U-shaped bar surrounds it, with about 20 comfortable, padded bar chairs. (Also included was my favorite feature at any bar ... hooks for purses!) In each far corner is a slightly curved banquette which seats four; one or two other patrons can sit at the opposite side of the table. The setup for beverage service is on the far wall between the banquettes. You watch the chefs and assistants prepare each course, and are able to chat with them as much as you like, as their work allows.

Our seats were on the end of one of the legs of the U. This was a great spot, as we were right in front of the workspace of Erik Anderson, one of the co-executive chefs. Chef Josh Habiger was on the other side of the "kitchen." (Unfortunately we were also very close to one of the banquettes, which was full of shrill "woo girls.") Other patrons were scattered around the bar, the gaps filled in as people arrived for their staggered reservation times. Each party's place was already set with water glasses and napkins and a thick paper place mat with an amuse-bouche for each of us. This evening it was an "Oreo" -- "cookies" made from porcini mushrooms, tasting of the very essence of earthiness, with a filling made with Parmesan cheese. This idea of dishes which were familiar on the surface, but surprising in execution, is the hallmark of meals at The Catbird Seat. There were definitely touches of cutting-edge technology and molecular gastronomy, but nothing was so precious as to be overly fussy, inaccessible, or unrecognizable as food.

NOTE: At the end of the meal we were presented with a souvenir menu -- a copy of the hand-written grid on which the courses were listed. Unfortunately the handwriting is not always legible, and I remember some variations between what's on the menu and what we were actually served. I think the menu also doesn't list all of the components of each dish. So, the descriptions below capture the gist, but not the absolute detail of each item.

After the amuse-bouche we were presented with a "snack plate" -- three small items presented on a long rectangular plate: A small raw oyster with cucumber juice and yuzu; a perfect sphere of soft yet sturdy cornbread that had been injected with bacon pudding; and an homage to Nashville's native dish, hot chicken. This last was a crisp, absolutely flat square of chicken skin that had been coated with molasses and cayenne, decorated with a white bread puree and dill powder garnish, echoing the traditional service of hot chicken with slices of white bread and slices of dill pickle. I had never eaten a raw oyster, so this was the first (of several) firsts for me this evening. We were also served the first of a parade of interesting beverages that had been made to go with the first two courses. Sommelier Jane Lopes not only makes the alcohol pairing selections, but also devises complex, unusual beverages for those of us not imbibing. Unfortunately I did not make notes about the drinks, but this first was a bitter lemon, slightly fizzy, with other flavorings and a wedge of lime.

The next course was beef tartare. This was another first, as I'd not had raw beef of any kind before. Typically tartare is served with a raw egg; our dish was instead topped with steelhead roe. Two tiny patties of local, grass-fed ground beef sandwiched a juniper condiment, then were topped with the roe, a generous grating of fresh, mild horseradish, and a fine dusting of charred bread crumbs. I wouldn't say I'd rush out and order tartare again, but I ate my portion happily.

Next we were presented with ham & egg: Shaved local country ham (similar to prosciutto in this presentation) topped with a local egg that had been cooked sous vide:  Poached for an hour at 140F. The plate was garnished with a generous smear of rhubarb mustard and a nice little salad of watercress, radish, & grilled ramps. The texture of the egg was unlike any I'd ever had: Soft, silky, "done" but nearly jelly-like. Unlike a soft-boiled egg or fried egg where the white may be solid or nearly so and the yolk still liquid, this egg was the same level of doneness all the way through -- a key attribute of sous vide cooking. This course was accompanied by our second beverage; I believe this was where we got the apple cider with multiple other flavorings and a touch of carbonation.

The finale: Main dishes and desserts

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Anderson Design Group
I've written previously about the round of restaurant visits I did with my sister and her husband over the extended Memorial Day weekend (Quickies, Part 1 and Quickies, Part 2). This last week I had BFF Scott in town. Scott and I have a long history of cooking and exploring restaurants together. I also owe quite a bit of my culinary knowledge to him. He used to live here in Nashville, but the food scene has changed a great deal since then, and even since his last visit. So, I took him on a tour of a few of my current favorites so he could experience first-hand how Nashville has come up in the world in the last decade or so. We also had one notable new adventure at an unusual, world-class restaurant. I'll write more detail about some of these later, but for now here's a brief recap.

  • Scott lives in Connecticut now, and has been missing southern food. A true Southerner, he's as fond of good side dishes as entrees. Knowing that, we hit up two barbecue joints that have not only great smoked meats but excellent, interesting sides:
    • Edley's, previously reviewed here.
    • B&C BBQ (Melrose location), where the garlic cheese grits were better than they have ever been before.
  • We're both fans of Asian food, so I thought a visit to Arnold Myint's Suzy Wong's House of Yum on Church St. would be fun. Here Scott had what he declared his favorite dish of the whole trip, a spicy raw tuna napolean.
  • One of my favorite spots in town is Eastland Cafe in East Nashville, and our visit didn't disappoint. I've discussed Eastland Cafe previously, but this time I had a new dish, a vegetarian fettuccine with fresh summer zucchini, corn, & corn cream, which was outstanding.
  • We revisited Arnold Myint at ChaChah. As with my trip there with Kellie & co., we made a delicious, leisurely meal of tapas and small plates.
  • Wednesday night brought a truly special occasion -- dinner at the nationally-acclaimed The Catbird Seat. I'll post a full review soon; suffice it to say here that it was a memorable night.
  • Our final outing was at City House. We were joined by two other friends of mine, Jon and Matt. We had a typically excellent City House meal with lots of good conversation and laughter. Again, I'll post a full review in the near future.
 There's nothing better than spending time and catching up with an old friend, except when doing so with good food and drink!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

That 70's Show: Quiche

I've been planning at least one post to discuss the Julia Child 100 promotion. August 15, 2012 would have been Child's 100th birthday, and Alfred A. Knopf is sponsoring a celebration which began on May 7, 100 days in advance of the big day. A group of her most popular, influential, and iconic recipes have been selected for a world-wide cook-along; each week one of the recipes is selected and cooks, writers, and bloggers of all stripes give that recipe a try.

I haven't yet participated with the recipe-of-the-week, but Julia and I are old friends. Details about that will come in a future post, but today I'm writing about a dish I learned from her:  Quiche. Given the Julia celebration, I'd been thinking about this and other recipes already. Then, lo and behold, fellow Nashville food blogger Lesley Eats recently confessed to the fact that quiche was a bit of a personal Waterloo. The convergence of the two events inspired me to brush the cobwebs off my recipe and make one.

Quiche has been around a long time, but it became popular in American restaurants and homes in the 70's, and was still going strong in the '80s. During that heyday I made it during my tenure at two different restaurants while in college. As with any dish that becomes popular, there are a million permutations, many of which are, well, bad. Quiche is a savory egg custard tart. It is not a fritatta in a crust, it is not scrambled-egg pie, it is not a metric ton of ingredients held together by some eggs and milk. The cheese (if used) and/or other filling ingredients shouldn't overpower the custard, which should be allowed to shine through. Another mistake many restaurants have always made is to serve it piping-hot with a limp crust, usually as a result of being reheated in a microwave. Freshly baked, warm from the oven after a rest is fine. Gently rewarmed in the oven is fine. It's even good at room temperature. But please, whatever you do, don't nuke the life out of it.

Below is my recipe, adapted from The French Chef Cookbook, the companion book to Child's first TV show. Some important tips:
  • Julia's original recipe called for partially pre-baking the shell. I've come to prefer a fully baked shell, not only for quiche but for any pie that's going to be baked after filling. It's really the only way to get a good, flaky, crisp crust.
  • I use half-and-half for quiche most of the time. Some of Julia's recipes use cream, some use milk; it depends on what other ingredients are included. You may use any combination of whole milk, half-and-half, or cream. I have even made it with part milk and part evaporated milk. For best results, though, don't use non-fat or 1% fat milk.
  • Don't overbake -- Cooking a custard too long can cause it to separate and weep moisture.


The Crust
1 unbaked, deep-dish pie shell

Preheat oven to 450. Make sure pie shell has no cracks or splits. Lightly poke the bottom all over with a fork. If you have pie weights, place those in the bottom of the crust. If not, line the bottom with paper coffee filters or parchment paper and add a layer of raw rice or dried beans. This weight will prevent the crust from humping up as it cooks. Bake for about 10 minutes, then remove the weights and/or paper. Continue baking another few minutes until the bottom starts to color. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

The Filling
While the crust is baking, prepare whatever flavorings you plan to use; if cooked, make sure they are cooled to at least lukewarm before combining with the custard. (See Variations, below.) In this particular case, I made something like a Quiche Florentine and used:

1/4 cup finely chopped onion & shallot mixture
3 large mushrooms, thinly sliced
A fat handful of spinach, larger stems removed, sliced into strips
olive oil

Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to thinly film the bottom of the pan (about 2 tsp). Add the mushrooms and saute a couple of minutes, stirring frequently. Add onion and a sprinkle of salt and saute another couple of minutes, stirring frequently. Add spinach and saute, until spinach wilts, just a minute or so. Remove from heat.

The Custard
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1/4 tsp salt
pinch each of nutmeg and white pepper

Put the eggs in a small mixing bowl and beat with a whisk until frothy. Add the half-and-half, nutmeg, salt, & pepper and mix well.

Crust, Filling, Custard
3/4 cup grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese

Preheat the oven to 375. Put the filling in the cooled pie shell, then gently pour the custard over it. Bake for 45 minutes until the custard is set and the top is lightly browned. If the crust rim starts to get too brown, cover with a ring of foil paper or pie guard. Allow the quiche to cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting.


You don't want the total of cheese and other fillings to exceed about 1 1/4 cups.

Lorraine: Add several slices of crisply cooked, crumbled bacon to the custard mixture.

Vegetable: Add up to 1/2 cup of your favorite chopped, lightly sauteed or blanched vegetables. Be sure and squeeze to remove excess moisture first if needed.

Three Cheese: Reduce Gruyere/Swiss cheese to 1/4 cup and add 1/4 cup each of two other cheeses such as cheddar, parmesan, etc.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Quickies, Part 2

Wrapping up reports from the Kellie & Leroy visitation last week ...


After the trip to Lynchburg & Jack Daniel with Mark & Barbara, we got back to Nashville and retreated to our various lodgings. Following a little refresh, we  reassembled at ChaChah, where we were joined by my friend Matt. I've mentioned ChaChah before; it's one of my favorite happy hour spots. One of four restaurants owned or co-owned by Top Chef contestant Arnold Myint, ChaCha specializes in Spanish-style food. Myint definitely spends time in the kitchen and restaurant in between media appearances and charity work, but day to day the kitchen is run by Francesco Vito.

We were not there in time for happy hour, but still took full advantage of the tapas options, passing plates around the table for tastes. Tapas are the Spanish version of appetizers; small portions that you can share or hoard, as desired. There's a daily menu of $5 and $7 tapas; many of these are standards, but a few seasonal specials rotate in and out. (The $5 tapas are half price at happy hour.) In addition, the regular menu has additional small plates -- slightly larger portions than most of the tapas -- plus the entrees. For me, a couple of tapas and/or small plate selections, plus perhaps a dessert, are plenty to make a meal.

There were enough of us to cut a wide swath through the menu. We ordered drinks, a round of tapas, then when that was done, another round, ending with desserts. ChaChah's food is creative, flavorful, and full of unexpected twists. Not every single dish may tickle your fancy, but there's enough variety to find something to please most everyone. If memory serves, between the six of us we sampled the macaroni & cheese, shrimp croustada, fried plantains, lamb balls, bacon & blue cheese dates, calamari, queso fundido, elotes, and hummus. We also tried some desserts -- of course Leroy got the special dessert of the day, a goat cheese flan with beet ice cream. He declared it good; the idea of beet ice cream wasn't appealing to most of us, although I did like the sound of goat cheese flan. I had the lemon coconut cake with lemon curd; the topping of a few leaves of micro basil was unusual but delicious with the lemon. Mark and Kellie got the chocolate cannoli and Barbara tried the ripe local berries with cream cheese ice cream.

We lingered and talked and laughed, enjoying a variety of cocktails, wine, and beer as well as the food. It was a fun evening, and it was nice to be able to sample such a wide variety of ChaChah's cuisine.


Fido is a mainstay of Hillsboro Village. Located in a space that was once actually a pet store (the outdoor sign proclaiming Jones Pet Store is still in place), it started as a coffee shop that was an outpost of Bongo Java on Belmont. It had its own personality, though -- the dog theme just being part of it. Over the years they have added more and more substantial food, and you can now eat 3 meals a day in this funky, bohemian restaurant. One bonus is that breakfast is served all day, and many of the breakfast offerings are savory and quite hearty. So, you can have eggs or a bagel at 2pm or a substantial breakfast sandwich at 9am. Since many of Fido's patrons are college students and musicians, both of whom can have unconventional schedules, this is a decided advantage. In addition, many dishes are vegetarian and even vegan, so there's something for everyone regardless of diet. Finally, not too long ago they started offering a small selection of beer and wine, making evening dining that much more attractive.

Kellie had been with me to Fido several times before but Leroy had not, so I suggested we visit there for their final meal in Nashville. We met mid-morning on Wednesday. The Bongo Java-roasted coffee was delicious as usual, and we all enjoyed our various types of eggs and trimmings. I also picked up a couple of dessert bars for later; that afternoon I enjoyed one of the best cream cheese brownies I think I've ever had.

Fido is a great spot for a beverage, a dessert, or a full meal any time of day. Follow them on Twitter if you'd like to get notifications of the daily lunch specials during the week, or visit their blog at While the regular menu has a nice selection of solid, interesting selections, the specials are where they let their creative gourmet flag fly. For example, a few of the specials last week were:
  • FRIED SHRIMP, POBLANO STONE GRITS, COCONUT SAUCE habanero, onion, garlic, curtido, mango hot
  • RED & GOLD BEETS, ASPARAGUS, BROCCOLI CARAMEL VINAIGRETTE red onion, pistachio, chardonnay macerated raisins arugula, radish,goat cheese
  • LINGUINE, SMOKED CHEDDAR SAUCE roasted carrot, oyster & shiitake mushroom, English peas, parmesan, toasted focaccia
For more info, you can also visit my review on Trip Advisor.

All in all, we did quite the tour. There are even more excellent restaurants and foodie activities in town, and more popping up every day, so I look forward to their next visit so we can continue to explore the expanding culinary opportunities.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Jack Daniel Distillery & Lynchburg

Picking up where we left off in the previous post ...

The rest of Kellie & Leroy's visit continued with an out-of-town adventure. Tuesday we joined Mark & Barbara for a day trip to Lynchburg, TN to visit the Jack Daniel Distillery. Despite my living in Nashville umpty-leven years, I'd never been; it was high time to cross this off my hometown tourist list. Mark served as our gracious chauffeur, and we arrived mid-morning; we could have taken the regular tour that runs frequently, but we wanted to do the special tour that includes the indoor parts of the distillery and ends in a tasting. That special tour only runs twice a day, and we'd missed the morning one. So, we signed up and paid our $10 each to join the 2:30 edition.

To pass the time, we sauntered over to downtown Lynchburg, just a couple of blocks away via a pleasant walkway. It was close to lunch time so we scoped out the options. The famous Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House generally requires reservations and has fixed seating times; that didn't work for us. There are a couple of BBQ places and a couple of cafes. We picked the Iron Kettle.This is a typical small-town diner-type place, with burgers and sandwiches as well as meat-and-three meals. We didn't expect gourmet cuisine but the offerings were tasty enough for most of us, with a few creative touches. Thus fortified, we did a circuit of the square.

Several shops were closed. One shop was large and nicely appointed and essentially all Jack Daniel's merchandise -- I wonder if it is actually owned by Jack Daniel, since the distillery itself does not sell anything other than commemorative bottles of whiskey. There were many souvenir / knick knack / gift shops, as well as one genuine antique store and a needlecraft store, among others. The shops aren't really my style, but I bought my obligatory refrigerator magnet to commemorate the trip. We eventually wandered back to the distillery visitor center, which is attractive, spacious, and well-maintained. We perused the exhibits set up in the main lobby, and before long it was time for our tour.

All of the tours start in a small auditorium where you view a video that describes the history and culture of JD. Part informational, part advertisement, it sets the stage for the sights to come. After the video a group photo with your tour guide is taken (you may purchase a hard copy at the end of the tour, or download a digital copy from the web site later), then you hop on a shuttle bus for a very short trip up the hill to the first stop on the tour.

We toured the charcoal-making area, the original restored office building, the entrance to the cave where the famous iron-free spring is located (experiencing a good 30-degree drop in temperature in a matter of 20 feet), as well as the buildings where the various stages of distilling, filtering, ageing, bottling, etc. take place. The trip concluded in the tasting room where we were able to have sips of their three premium products: The twice-filtered Gentleman Jack; an exemplar of a single-barrel whiskey; and the newer version of JD that contains honey, molasses, and chestnut. I am not a fan of drinking straight liquor -- I prefer it with mixers -- and I'm not a huge fan of whiskey in general. I appreciated these tastes of pure product, though, especially after seeing the whole process start to finish. I have to say, I might need to pick up a bottle of the Tennessee Honey to mix with some ginger ale, as suggested by our tour guide.

All in all it was an informative, professionally-run tour. I would highly recommend the special tour -- I think the regular tour leaves out all of the truly interesting sights! Even if you're not a particular JD fan, it's a fun look at a unique operation, suitable for food and drink fans of all types.

Next post: Tapas and brunch