Sunday, May 23, 2010

Brunch, Fabulous Brunch

Crystallized Gingercrystallized ginger
There’s something special about brunch.  Something inherently fabulous.  Don’t you think so too?  No matter how small the occasion, brunch always feels like a bit of a celebration.  And no matter how simple the menu, it can’t help but be at least a little bit elegant.  It always seems like any day I eat brunch… well, those days always end up being pretty great all around.  I think it’s because brunch-days always get off to such an incredible start.  For is there any better way to begin the day, then being with good friends and eating wonderful food?  No - There really isn’t. 
Last Sunday we shared one of these fabulous starts to the day with my cousin Joe and his girlfriend Thy.  It was beginning to feel again like way too much time had gone by since the last time we saw these two, and so a Sunday brunch seemed like the perfect reason to get together.
Crab Quiche
Roasted Tomatoes Stuffed with Breadcrumbs and Herbs
Spring Green Salad
Zucchini-Ginger Cupcakes

Thinking up a brunch menu, my mind was stubbornly set along one track, a track leading straight to quiche.  I just love quiche.  The flaky, golden brown crust.  The wonderfully rich custard filling of eggs and cream.  And oh, all the delicious stuff tucked inside!  What lovely ingredients to choose for folding into our quiche - this was really the only question in my mind.  More often than not, I go with the classic choice of bacon and cheese.  Simple yes, but always unbelievably tasty.  And hard to improve upon, for sure.  Still, I was in the mood this week for a bit of a twist.  And wanting to spoil my husband and our special guests, I was in the mood for an extra little bit of extravagance too.  And so, it was some beautiful jumbo lump crab that I ended up folding into my mixture of eggs and cream. 

Crab Quiche with Stuffed Tomato and Spring Green Salad  
This was definitely a special occasion quiche!   Already decadent with buttery crust and velvety custard, and now loaded with huge, tender pieces of sweet crab meat and flavorful specks of fresh green herbs, and topped with a bubbling layer of golden brown gruyere cheese, this quiche was beyond extraordinary.  It was out of this world.

Plum Tomatoes Stuffed with Breadcrumbs & Herbs  
Like I was saying before, my love of quiche makes it hard for me to think of anything else to serve for brunch.  But what I find even harder, is thinking of anything other than a simple green salad and these stuffed tomatoes to serve with the quiche.  I pride myself on my culinary creativity, but I let go of this pride every single time I make quiche.  Because in my mind there can be no improvement upon this perfect combination.  And so, whenever I make quiche, I always make these stuffed tomatoes too. 

Brunch Fixin's  
And it wasn’t even my idea in the first place.  There’s a wonderful little French restaurant in Syracuse (where we always try to fit in a brunch, any time we go home to visit Ben’s parents) that serves a delicious quiche, and in just this way - with a simple salad and baked tomatoes stuffed with breadcrumbs and herbs.  The ripe tomatoes, whose savory sweetness intensifies as they slowly caramelize in the oven, are filled with crispy, golden, olive oil-soaked bread crumbs, and a generous amount of aromatic basil, parsley and thyme.  From my first bite, I was enamored with this lovely side dish.  And I was overjoyed to find within the pages of Julia Child’s cookbook, what has to be the exact same recipe used in the restaurant.  Below you’ll find my own adaptation to this delicious, quiche-worthy recipe.  Next time you make quiche, be certain you make these too.  You won’t regret it!

With such a sumptuous start to brunch, I was after a bit of simplicity for dessert.  And these zucchini-ginger cupcakes turned out to be just the thing!  Now I’d never made these before.  But I fell in love, just reading the recipe from an old copy of Gourmet.  The cake itself is just loaded with goodness – honey, cinnamon, crystallized ginger, extra-virgin olive oil, orange zest.  It sounded extraordinary!  And I could tell that the icing, with cinnamon and ginger and orange zest too, was not your ordinary cream cheese frosting.  Without even taking a bite, I just knew exactly how these cupcakes would taste.  That is, I knew they’d be incredible!

Cupcake Heaven  
And I was right.  These were so amazing!  And I am just so excited about this recipe.  It’s a rare day when I add a brand new recipe to my ‘favorites’ file, but that’s just where this one went.  I can’t wait to make these again.  And I can’t wait for you to make them either!

Fresh from the Oven 

Crab Quiche
Serves 6-8
Crab Quiche 
1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup minced shallots
1 # jumbo lump crab *
2 Tbl good quality whiskey
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tsp tomato paste
2 Tbl chopped chives
2 Tbl chopped parsley leaves
1/2 cup plus 1/4 cup grated gruyere cheese, divided
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 partially-cooked tart shell (see recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 375ᵒF, and arrange a rack in the center of the oven. 
Melt the butter over medium heat in a large sauté pan.  Add the shallots and sauté until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, and being careful not to let them brown.  Add the crab meat (Make sure to first drain the crab of any excess liquid from the can.), season with a good pinch of salt and pepper, and sauté about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the whiskey and stir to combine.  Sauté about 1 minute more, until the whisky is evaporated.  Allow to cool slightly. 
Whisk the eggs in a large mixing bowl, then add the tomato paste and whisk to combine.  Add the cream, chives, parsley and half a cup of grated gruyere, along with a good pinch of salt and a good few grinds of pepper.  Whisk to combine.  Add the cooled crab mixture and gently stir to combine with a rubber spatula.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pastry shell.  Evenly sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of gruyere over the top.  Bake in the upper third of the oven until the top of the quiche is golden brown, and the center is set, about 45 minutes.  Allow the quiche to cool about 5 minutes before slicing.  Serve hot.
* Use a great quality canned, refrigerated crab meat.  Make sure it’s jumbo lump crab. And do make sure it tastes good all on its own.  If the crab itself is not delicious, this quiche won’t be delicious either.  But if it’s awesome crab, the end result will be beyond awesome!  I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of this brand, and I’d highly suggest it.  (I found it at Costco.)

Pre-Cooked Pastry Shell
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
This recipe makes a tall and very impressive looking quiche shell.  It’s height allows for plenty of room for extra filling, which of course makes for an extra-delicious quiche!
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
6 oz (1 1/2 sticks) butter, sliced into 1/2-inch cubes, cold
4 Tbl shortening, sliced into 1/2-inch cubes, cold
about 1/2 cup ice-cold water
Add the flour, salt and sugar to the bowl of a food processor, and flick the machine on and off a few times to combine.  Add the cold cubes of butter and shortening.  Flick the machine on and off again about 4-5 times, until the ingredients are just combined.  Turn the machine on, and with it running, add a little less than half a cup of the ice-cold water (Do not add any ice cubes!) and turn off the food processor.  The dough should pull together into a rough mass.  If not, sprinkle a little water over the ingredients, and repeat.  Repeat again, if necessary.  The dough is ready when it just begins to mass together.  Be careful - Make sure not to over-mix the dough, or add too much water. 
Transfer to dough onto a clean, dry counter top.  Gather the dough and kneed very briefly into a fairly smooth round ball.  Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours to over-night.  (The dough will keep refrigerated for 3 days, or can be frozen for several weeks, and thawed overnight in the refrigerator.)
Preheat the oven to 400ᵒF.  Butter the insides of a 9-inch spring-form cake pan (with 2 1/2-inch tall sides and a removable bottom).
Working quickly (because it’s best to keep the dough as cold as possible), roll out the dough:  Place the dough on a clean, dry, lightly floured countertop.  Lightly press the dough into a fairly flat circle of about 1-2 inch thickness.  It should be just malleable enough to roll out without cracking.  If the dough is too hard, lightly beat it with the rolling pin.  Lightly flour the top of the dough.  Roll the pin with firm but gently pressure back and forth over the circle of dough.  Lift and turn the dough about 45 degrees.  Roll the pin across the dough again.  Continue rolling, lifting and turning the dough, sprinkling the counter and top or the dough as necessary with a bit of flour to prevent sticking.  Roll the dough into an even, large circle of about 15 inches, about 1/8 inch thick. 
Lift the dough with the rolling pin and drape it over the prepared pan.  Gently press the dough along the bottoms and up the sides of the pan. Using kitchen shears, trim off excess dough around the circumference of the pan.  Use your fingers to press the top edge of the dough into a smooth rim.  Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork, about 15 times.  Chill in the refrigerator, about 20 minutes.
To keep the sides of the pastry shell from collapsing, line the chilled pie shell with parchment paper, or tin foil, leaving a 1-inch overhang over the edges.  Fill to nearly full with dried beans or pie weights.  Refrigerate if not baking immediately. 
Bake until the pastry is just set, about 12-15 minutes.  Remove the parchment paper/foil and beans/pie weights.  Prick the bottom of the pastry crust again with the fork.  Return to the oven and cook until the shell just starts to color, and begins to shrink from the sides of the pan, about 5-10 minutes more.  (You only want to partially cook the pastry shell.)
Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature on a wire rack.  The cool pastry shell can be covered with plastic wrap and held at room temperature, over night.   

Roasted Tomatoes Stuffed with Breadcrumbs and Herbs
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
Serves 6
Roasted Tomatoes Stuffed with Breadcrumbs & Herbs   
6 large plum tomatoes (ripe but firm)
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/3 cup minced shallots
4 Tbl finely chopped parsley
2 Tbl finely chopped basil
1/4 tsp finely chopped thyme
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs, from white bread *
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 375ᵒF. 
Prepare the tomatoes: Slice a very thin layer straight across the bottom end of each tomato (in order to create a flat base).  Again slicing straight across the tomatoes, slice off about one inch from the tops.  Using a paring knife, carefully cut out the central parts of the core from the inside of the tomatoes.  Gently press out the juice and seeds.  Lightly sprinkle the insides of the tomatoes with salt and pepper. 
Prepare the filling: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, stir to combine the garlic, shallots, parsley, basil and thyme, along with about 1/2 tsp salt and a big pinch of pepper.  Add the olive oil and stir to combine.  Add the bread crumbs and stir to combine. 
Fill each tomato with the breadcrumb-herb mixture, adding enough filling to just rise above the top of the tomato.  Arrange the tomatoes in an oiled baking pan, making sure not to crowd them.  (The recipe can be made ahead to this point, and kept refrigerated in an air-tight container for about 6 hours.)
Bake for 20-3o minutes, until the tomatoes are tender but still hold their shape, and the breadcrumb topping is golden brown. 
* To make fresh breadcrumbs, remove the crusts from about 6-8 slices of white bread.  Slice the bread into 1-inch cubes.  Then add to the bowl of a food processor, and flick the machine on and off a few times, until coarse crumbs are formed.

Spring Green Salad
Serves 4
Spring Green Salad   
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbl vinegar (sherry vinegar, red wine vinegar, Balsamic vinegar, etc…) 
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/2 small clove garlic, peeled & finely minced
2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil 
1/4 cup vegetable oil
about 6 oz baby spring green mix
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Combine the mustard, vinegar, thyme, garlic, a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Whisk together, and slowly pour in the olive oil, then the vegetable oil, both in a thin stream and whisking as you pour.  The dressing can be made ahead and stored about five days, refrigerated in an airtight container.

Place the greens in a large mixing bowl.  Drizzle the vinaigrette over the top, enough to evenly coat the greens. (You definitely won’t not need to use it all – Save the rest for another salad.)  Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.  Serve immediately.

Zucchini-Ginger Cupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes (or about 16, if you like them a bit on the small side) 
Zucchini-Ginger Cupcakes  
For the cupcakes:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 rounded tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp finely grated orange zest
1/3 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped (about 2 oz)
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup honey
2 cups coarsely grated zucchini
Preheat the oven to 350ᵒF, with the rack arranged in the middle position.  Line a cupcake pan with paper liners.
Combine the flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, salt, baking soda and baking powder in a medium mixing bowl.  Whisk to combine thoroughly.  Add the orange zest and whisk to combine.  Add the chopped crystallized ginger and whisk to combine.
In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs.  Add the vanilla and whisk to combine.  Add the olive oil and vegetable oil and whisk to combine.  Add the honey (Measure out the honey in the same measuring cups you used for the oil, after you measure out the oil – This will keep it from sticking to the sides of the cups.) and whisk to combine.  Add the grated zucchini and mix to combine, using a rubber spatula. 
Add the flour mixture to the zucchini mixture and mix with the rubber spatula until just combined.  Add about 1/4 cup of batter to each muffin cup.  (If you stick with a scant quarter cup, you can stretch the recipe to give you about sixteen petite cupcakes, which is what I like to do – Both because it looks nice, and because it means more cupcakes!)
Bake until the cupcakes are golden on top, and a wooden skewer inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 25 minutes.  Cool in the pan, about 5 minutes, then remove the cupcakes from the pan and cool to room temperature on a wire rack.  Unfrosted cupcakes can be stored for 1 day at room temp, in an air-tight container. 
For the frosting:
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
8 oz cream cheese, softened
4 Tbl (1/2 stick) butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
Add the powdered sugar, ginger and cinnamon to a medium mixing bowl and whisk to combine.  Set aside.
Add the softened cream cheese and butter to the bowl of a stand mixer.  Using a paddle attachment, beat on high until fluffy, about three minutes.  (Once or twice, turn off the mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape the frosting down the sides of the bowl.   Add the vanilla and orange zest and beat for about 30 seconds more. 
Add the sugar mixture to the cream cheese mixture in the bowl of the stand mixer.  Beat on high speed until well combined and fluffy, about 2 minutes. (Again, frequently use a spatula to scrape the frosting down the sides of the bowl and back into the center.)
Fill a pastry bag, fitted with a medium star tip, with the frosting.  Frost the tops of the cooled cupcakes.


  1. Hi Kate - the crab quiche was one of THE best things I have ever eaten!! Let us know when you and Ben are free so we can go on a double date to a brazilian steakhouse:)
    Thanks again for an amazing meal.
    Thy and Joe

  2. Really, Thy!? Thanks!

    And, we're really looking forward to a night out with you two! Let's get it on the books!