Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ruthless

There was a time, early in our marriage, when we subsisted on no more than a handful of meals. The Carnivore specialized in spaghetti and quesadillas. My repertoire included bean & rice burritos and baked macaroni and cheese. When we were feeling really decadent, The Carnivore might whip up a mean gumbo or a vegetarian chili, but for the most part, we had a short, easy-to-memorize grocery list and an even shorter menu from which we picked our meals. It suited us. At the time, we had other things on our mind and often we forgot to even eat dinner.

Our dismally slim cookbook collection consisted of the annual Southern Living hardbacks that my mother picked up for us at yard sales, and one or two of them had sticky notes flailing out of the top to denote a recipe or two that The Carnivore, who was by and large the family chef, had attempted with good success. And I had a tiny little single-pocket manila folder that held the four or five recipes I had clipped from magazines or newspapers. It was kind of sad really, now that I'm looking back on it.

When we first moved into our dream house, six weeks after The Big Boy was born, and I began to get used to my new role as more-mom-than-businesswoman, I started testing the waters as the head chef in the family. The Carnivore had designed and built a spectacular kitchen, with appliances that were smarter than me and a floor plan that had the living room and kitchen completely open to one another. The space is vast, airy, and colorful, with high ceilings, stained glass windows and a big bay window, hardwood floors, and even a fireplace. Really, it would have been hard to NOT get obsessed with cooking.

I began to madly clip new recipes, eager to expand our rather boring and completely uninspiring meal rotation, and over time, my folder of recipes started to bulge and split its seams; there were so many that I would often forget what was in there and would have to pull every single piece of paper out in order to find anything. And since we had started with such a limited set of meals, we were voting nearly all new recipes to be keepers. So, in true obsessive-compulsive fashion, I finally spent a weekend organizing all of the recipes into a binder. I made copies of each recipe on a single sheet of paper so I wouldn’t be stuck with all the scraps of paper, and I categorized all of them, even going so far as to provide an index for each category. I know, it’s a little sick, isn't it? I can’t help it. I blame my father. He’s the same way.

Recently though, I realized the binder had gotten out of control. There are maybe 150 or so recipes in there now, and our standards have changed drastically in the past four years. Whereas before, any old edible pasta dish would easily earn its place in the book, we recognize now that in those days, we were just trying to avoid starvation. I mean, the first pasta salad recipe that moved into the book is truly a very middle-of-the-road, pedestrian kind of dish that I clipped from the newspaper. I will probably never make it again now that I have added the Pasta Salad with Corn and Spinach that we fell in love with from Fine Cooking.

It’s clearly time to do some culling. We’re just a lot pickier than we used to be. And I don’t want to waste valuable real estate in The Book with white-bread fare, if you know what I mean. So we’ve gotten ruthless. Unless we get overly frustrated with the process, we’re not having any new recipes for a few weeks until we have gone back and eaten our way through some of the pages that we haven’t even turned to in recent memory. Last night, I made a goat cheese and sun-dried tomato pasta dish that we only ate once, maybe a year ago, and neither of us could even remember much about it, much less why we had decided to add it to our permanent cache. This time, we each had no more than a couple of bites before we put our food critic hats on and began to nit-pick the dish into oblivion. It just wasn’t earth-shatteringly tasty. And it didn’t pull our heartstrings or comfort us or excite even a single taste bud. I wish I had a buzzer on the kitchen table. Or a gong. At some point, we obviously felt this dish was an important addition to our menu book, but neither of us were particularly moved by it any longer.

So I marched to The Book, unceremoniously yanked the page out and escorted it straight to the recycling bin, scribbling over it’s entry in the index. Call me ruthless. I just love the sound of it.

Oh, it isn’t like we’ll run out of recipes. We can afford to be remorseless about this process. I mean, I’m threading my way amongt bookshelves that are groaning under the weight of cookbooks, I subscribe to a slew of cooking magazines (though that amount could rise at a moment’s notice), and the internet is a resource to be reckoned with here. Almost every day I print out a new recipe that I want to try from one of the food blogs (see sidebar at right) that I regularly follow.

The only issue we’re running into is when we disagree over a recipe’s rightful home in The Book. A couple of nights ago, I made a spinach, goat cheese & chive quiche that I truly enjoy (my sister-in-law showed up with a sizeable block of goat cheese last weekend so we’ve been on kind of a goat cheese kick around these parts lately). Though The Carnivore and I are usually on the same page with recipes – with the obvious exception of, um, meat – we butted heads on this one. In the interest of making meals that we are all happy with though, and since this is a rare occasion to begin with, I reluctantly recycled the recipe and took the leftovers to mom’s house. I’m still feeling a little sadness over this, like it’s a puppy my parents won’t let me keep and I need to find a good home for it.

I am a giant fan of eggy main dishes anyway, and The Carnivore most certainly is NOT. Quiches and frittatas are such beautiful vegetarian entrees, and can be loaded with all manner of seasonal veggies and herbs, and since goat cheese can even be found relatively locally here, well, I’m just downright downcast to see this recipe move on to a more agreeable audience than it found in my kitchen.

So here it is, free to a good home. Please take good care of it for me. I will miss it terribly.

SPINACH, GOAT CHEESE & CHIVE QUICHE (adapted from Fine Cooking, serves 4 as an entree, or 6 as a side dish)
  • 10 oz fresh spinach
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • 2 to 3 Tbs finely snipped fresh chives
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1 partially baked tart shell (or pie dough or even puff pastry - whatever you like)
  1. In a large saucepan, bring 1 cup water to a boil.
  2. Add spinach to boiling water and cook until just wilted (2 to 3 minutes).
  3. Drain spinach and set aside to cool.
  4. In a bowl, combine the eggs, yolks and heavy cream. Season w/ salt & pepper and whisk until well blended.
  5. Add the goat cheese, chives, thyme and Parmigiano to the egg mixture.
  6. Squeeze excess moisture from spinach; and mince.
  7. Add spinach to egg mixture and mix well.
  8. Pour mixture into prepared, partially baked tart shell.
  9. Put tart shell onto a baking pan (because it will overflow and make a terrible mess of your stove) and bake at 375 degrees until the filling is puffed and brown (about 50 minutes) and interior no longer runs all over the place when poked with a knife.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sarah, I just had to leave a comment. I have started a recipe binder too! And I categorized it! What a sick sick disease this is. Although, you must have it worse, because I haven't created an index......yet.

~Your sister, Jenny

Sarah Beam said...

Jenny-Penny, Dad's weird uber-organizational tendencies don't fully kick in until you turn 30. So, it's coming, sweet girl. Start sharpening your indexing pencil now...

Love you,
Sarah

Anonymous said...

Love your blog. What temp did you bake at for the quiche? I really want to try this, but I'm a novice at cooking.

Tonya

Sarah Beam said...

Whoops. Tonya, apparently I'm a novice at recipe writing. I baked it at 375 degrees, and I've gone back and added that back in to the recipe on the blog too. Glad you noticed that.

Shari said...

Happy Birthday to your big boy! What kind of yummy cake did you make him? At least I think you would have made his cake from scratch.

Sarah Beam said...

Shari, of course I made that dang cake from scratch (including two different types of icing with it) and then my sister-in-law and mother-in-law spent a couple of hours with all sorts of colorings & pastry bags decorating it. Its been a two-day ordeal which I hope to blog about soon. Just as soon as I get to eat a piece of that cake...

Process said...

Any chance you'd post some pictures of your house? I'd love to see them.

Sarah Beam said...

Process, I'll do some digging in my pics folder. I know I've got some great shots of the kitchen somewhere under the piles of pics of the kids. I at least want to show off these extra-cool concrete countertops that The Carnivore built for us.

Jeena said...

Hi there my name is Jeena and I have started a food recipe forum that I thought you would like to join here Click here for food recipe forum

I would love to see you on there to chat about food and cooking you can talk about anything you like and start your very own topics. :-)
or see my main food recipe website Jeenas food recipe site

Hope to see you soon

Thanks

Jeena x

Beth said...

Sarah,
What would happen if I used frozen spinach? Please don't flog me for asking.
xoxo
Beth

Sarah Beam said...

Beth, I would not, could not ever flog you. And I shall not, will not, ever dog you.

Frozen spinach would work perfectly well in this recipe as long as it were squeezed mercilessly in order to get rid of the extra moisture. And then you would need to squeeze it again. And again. And possibly one more time. It all depends on your squeezing skills.

Take a hefty handful of the frozen stuff and commence with squeezing. When all the excess moisture is gone, make sure you are still left with a decent-sized handful. Chop it up. And use it without guilt. There will be no guilt here.