Foodie Tuesday: Ploughman’s Lunch & Cavegirl Quiche

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Ploughman’s-in-a-bowl.

I want to eat joyfully and intently and live a long, healthy life, then die and get recycled.

You know that although I respect veganism and the very solid reasons millions of people have for choosing not to eat animals and animal products, I am, like some other animals, an omnivore myself. Like these brother animals, I am okay with eating my fellow creatures. Hopefully people who respect animals’ right to be carnivores can respect a human’s wish to be a carnivorous animal as well. Yes, I want animals to be treated with great care and respect while they live, and yet I know that they’ll die; I expect no less on either count for myself. I would love to know that when I die it would be permitted, instead of my personal-leftovers having to be buried in a state-sanctioned impermeable box to take up prime real estate in perpetuity, for the aforementioned detritus to be left in the woods for some nice creatures to eat up, and what remains to fade into the grand recycling unit of the forest. Short of that, I have arranged with my loved ones to cremate what-was-me [after any possible organ farming is accomplished] and put my ashes into garden-feeding, where at least I will fertilize feed for ruminants and so serve as a smaller part in earth’s renewal. That’s what I think we’re all designed to do. Carbon to carbon. So whether I get eaten or make a less obvious contribution as a small pH balancing agent in the dirt, I plan to return the gifts that others, animal and plant alike, have given me in my life. This is not particularly meant to be a political or religious statement on my part, as I apply it only to myself, and I don’t begrudge anyone’s disagreement with it, it’s just a worldview that seems pragmatic to me. I am not saying this to court condemnation or controversy (you know I despise them) but simply to be honest with myself as much as with you.

So my protein preferences arrive as fatty and delicious nuts, eggs, seafood and, indeed, meats. I tend to be very old-fashioned in that way, following the path of my workman ancestors, and even their ancestors back in the hunter-gatherer days. I am enormously (no pun intended) grateful for the gifts of the earth that keep me not only alive but healthy and even well fed, and I don’t want to squander or be thoughtless about such magnanimity. Hence my determination to eat more deliberately and moderately as I grow older, and also my penchant for being ever more inventive in refusing to waste the goodness of any part of my personal food cycle. The recent posts about rescuing broth-making remnants are a tiny testament to this commitment. I’m a junk food junkie like everybody else, loving stuff that’s far from good for me, but I’m gradually learning to lean a bit further toward the less trashy ways to enjoy those elements that are the true reasons I like junk, not the addictive formats in which they’re presented to us by commercial producers and retailers so that we’ll just treat them–and our bodies–like garbage by over-consuming them thoughtlessly.

I want to eat joyfully and intently and live a long, healthy life, then die and get recycled.

A couple of the variant meals I based on my recent beef ginger mousse making fed both my frugal and my treat-hungry sides. Having the pre-made avocado mash around amped up both aspects as well, and the addition along the way of some other easy-to-keep ingredients made it all pretty much homemade fast food without the related regret.

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Another day, another ploughman’s.

Ploughman’s lunch, that great English enthusiasm for serving and eating what’s essentially deconstructed sandwiches–bread, cheese, chutney, pickled goodies, and so forth–are pretty common around our house. The differences in our tastes, multiplied by the number of friends sharing the meal, makes it easier to stick to assemble-it-yourself service for so many things that the logic of the operation is obvious. Since I’m generally weaning myself from wheat, that makes a hands-on, fork-in version of the Ploughman’s even more useful. Beef mousse and avocado mash make this easy. Hard boiled eggs are a grand addition, but a quick scramble or fry is fine as well. Chutney or jam alongside? Oh, yeah. Pickles of any sort are a plus. Add the crunchy pleasures (and instant utensils) of carrots, snap peas, celery, apples, jicama, radishes or any number of other good crudites and you’ve got all you can handle, short of a cold cider, iced tea, beer or lemonade. Filling, varied and delicious.

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Ploughman’s redux: beef mousse with pureed fresh tomatoes and mint, olives, pickled green beans, roast chicken, snow peas and apple.

For a cave-dweller-pleasing rearrangement of the same essential ingredients, I stacked it all up and sliced it into a semblance of a pie, first as a single layer and then as a double-decker version. Rather than baking it all up as an actual crustless quiche or omelet, which should be simple and tasty with the addition of some beaten eggs (and if I had some on hand, a bit of shredded cheese), I ate it cold and was not sorry to have the quicker version either. This one, given my previous pseudo-recipes on the topic, can be pretty easily illustrated in assembly by pictures only. What you choose to do with it is up to you! As long as you don’t disappoint me by wasting it. [Winking broadly.]

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The Cavegirl Quiche Assembly Line: sliced chicken or smoked turkey; mashed lemony avocado; sliced olives; pate or beef mousse; fried or scrambled eggs; tomato-mint puree; pickled green beans.

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A wedge of cavegirl quiche. Enough to take the edge off a day’s hunting and gathering.

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The double-decker version of cavegirl lunch: how to get ready for yet further mastodon chasing and saber-tooth battling.

Foodie Tuesday: Must be the Mermaid in Me

 

photoWhen I was growing up, I didn’t really have a sense of what a treat it was to eat fish. Mom prepared it beautifully, and it was special that most of our trout and salmon dinners were thanks to her father’s fishing skill and generosity, but the very fact that we got it for free must have seemed to my childish way of thinking simply an indicator that some money was being saved in the household grocery budget, surely a good thing but not a culinary indicator of quality per se. It didn’t take me awfully long, however, to realize that fish, especially salmon, was actually extremely tasty, versatile as an ingredient, and so enjoyable that its flavor significantly outweighed its (still unknown to me) mighty nutritional profile in making me seek it out for dinner, lunch, breakfast, snacks and more. Before I was in school I was a confirmed fan of salmon, that beautiful blushing fish, and had discovered a little something of how bountiful and lovely in general the larder of the sea really was.photoNowadays, I happily eat vast quantities of many kinds of seafood whenever I can lay hands and teeth on a fresh supply. Grilled salmon with (of course!) lashings of rich Hollandaise, salmon burgers, smoked salmon and cream cheese on thinly sliced pumpernickel, kulebiaka, hearty yet delicate salmon bouillabaisse, salmon and avocado salad: heaven. Crab quiche, grilled Tillamook cheddar sandwiches crammed with Dungeness crab, crab Louis, crab tacos, crab fried rice, fried soft-shell crabs? Divine. I moved up; I moved on. I never moved away again from loving rivers full, lakes full, an ocean-full, of good food. Calamari and 42nd Street Cafe’s clam chowder and chilled giant prawns with simple horseradish sauce (or just a squeeze of lemon). Slabs of roasted halibut, exquisitely artful sushi, sole Amandine, trout in browned butter, seared rare tuna, shrimp Toast Skagen, simple yet elegant sushi, and lobster bisque with cream and cognac.photoYou may think there’s something fishy about my obsession with all of this, but the truth is I just love good seafood. It doesn’t take a whale of an imagination to understand why.photo

Foodie Tuesday: Real Cowboys Do Eat Quiche

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When lots of Americans ask 'What's for dinner?' they want to know what *meat* they're getting as a main course, not hear a recitation of all the fabulous accoutrements you are painstakingly preparing for their delight and delectation.

I am antique enough to remember the time when what Americans knew as Chinese food was ‘Chop Suey‘ in a glutinous and sickly-sweet sauce, followed by fortune cookies filled with good-luck predictions that were exciting and interesting only when recited with the popularly immature addendum ‘between the sheets’. When Italian food meant spaghetti, cooked until ‘al dente‘ only to infants under six months of age and smothered in characterless tomato puree with some insipid approximation of a meatball-like object swimming in it and perhaps a halfhearted sprinkling of pretend Parmesan cheese granules from the canister that sat on the shelf until nearly archaeological in quality. And French food was just plain weird, some sort of girly, foofy stuff that, if any man would be caught eating it, he had better be wearing a beret and a pencil-thin mustache and sticking his pinky finger out while wielding his tableware.

Then there was a bit of an awakening. It was slow, to be sure, but meant that people might actually admit that their ancestral foods from the aforementioned regions were ever so much more varied, colorful, flavorful and exciting than the paltry offerings that had been dumbed down to virtual nothingness and blandness and predictability, supposedly to suit the American palate. Of course, that completely ignored the reality that the vast majority of the American populace originated in other countries, on other continents, and eating anything but boring cuisines. And not just Chinese, Italian and French either.

At some point, some wit decided that the US simply needed to be reeducated one dish at a time, choosing the humble yet incredibly versatile vehicle of the quiche as focus, et voilà! The 1970s became the era of the quiche-eaters. Thankfully, many of the quiches promoted were perfectly edible and did in fact counter the myth that ‘Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche‘ (originating in Bruce Feirstein‘s book poking fun at masculine stereotypes) because they were good, tasty, and ultimately satisfying concoctions. Even better, the idea that being a fledgling foodie nation was permissible, even laudable, meant that suddenly a whole host of other delectable cuisines became gradually more familiar, dish by dish and restaurant by restaurant. That’s not to say that every flavor is for every one, by any means.

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For some, anything spicier or more exotic than an oven-roasted potato is too wild for the table.

But quiche, as it happens, is such a simple and endlessly variable dish, being pretty much an egg base used to bind and carry any combination of vegetables, meats, starches and other flavors suitable to one’s own taste, kitchen contents and the occasion. Quiche, omelette, tortilla española, frittata; whatever you call it, if you’re not averse or allergic to eggs, the possibilities of a wonderful, simple-to-make meal are endless. If you happen to be an old Texas ‘Cookie’, watching the hungry horde of cowboys close in on your chuck-wagon from across the lonesome plains, it might not be a bad idea to throw whatever you’ve got on hand into those trusty cast iron skillets and pots with some stirred-up eggs and get ’em cooking over the camp fire as speedily as a jackrabbit can dodge your shot. Use some of your biscuit dough for a dumpling-style crust, or just serve the stuff without crust–no one will complain, as long as the food’s hearty and ready when the dust settles around the corral.

Being in Texas, I do take advantage of the ready availability of good beef pretty often, so I end up with a little left over from time to time, and the egg-based dish is a perfectly easy way to make good use of all manner of leftovers. Heck, I even live in a ‘ranch-style’ house, for what it’s worth. So, since I had a whole lot of good eggs on hand at the moment and a very meat-and-potatoes, manly-man sort of collation of ingredients lurking in the ol’ refrigerator, I cooked up a crustless quiche fit for any sturdy appetite, Tex-Mex or plain cowpoke, from hereabouts to, say, Paris, Texas. Being so all-fired Frenchified and all.

Cowboy Quiche

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You can layer the solid ingredients for a quiche and pour the egg mixture over them, as I did (wanting the cheese all on top), or you can throw it all together and stir it right up. The end result tastes just as fine either way.

The base, in this case, is nothing but about a half-dozen eggs (I like plenty) and a half cup of thick plain yogurt, stirred together and thinned with a little tiny bit of water as needed to coat the other ingredients well. The rest of the filling comprised about a cup and a half of 1/2″ diced leftover lean beefsteak, two small leftover oven-baked potatoes in their jackets, diced about the same or a little smaller (skins and all), three slices of crisp-cooked bacon, broken into pieces, and a good half cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese.

Between the bacon, the cheese, and the salt with which both the steaks and baked potatoes had been prepared, I didn’t think there was much necessity for added salt (you may gasp with amazement at this salt-aholic’s abstemiousness now), but I seasoned the mixture with a good dose each of chili powder and smoked paprika.

This crustless quiche got baked in a small, well-buttered ceramic casserole, and today it was cooked in a newfangled microwave oven, because even though it does just fine in a conventional oven I was really hungry, cowboy on the plains hungry–somehow breakfast and lunch got forgotten in the midst of other doings today–and I didn’t want to wait any longer than I had to. I’d made up the quiche beforehand and put it in the fridge, so all that was required was to pop it in the oven and hot it up until it wasn’t too wiggly and jiggly anymore. I’m never entirely certain on timing and temperature, so in the microwave I just cooked it for 4 minutes to get the initial cooking underway and then several 2-minute intervals after, cooking it on High for about 8 minutes total and then letting it rest and set up for another five minutes or so.

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The quiche comes out of the oven just slightly quavery in the middle, but a few minutes cooling on the counter (so as not to scald your diners) will thicken and set it up further.

To serve it, I went with Tex-Mex favorites, because I like them well and so of course I had them handy. Guacamole, which in our house is nothing more than mashed ripe avocado seasoned with fresh lime juice, salt, pepper, chili powder and lots of ground cumin, lasts longer in the refrigerator than you might think–but only if you make a big batch, because we do eat it in quantity when the mood strikes. Salsa must always be on hand. As I’ve said before, we like a mild chunky-thick salsa, spiced up at home with a chipotle en adobo or two well blended in. Some fresh, bright Mexican crema. A few black olives. I think all I left out of the meal was a nice chilled cerveza, but not every day calls for it. Or does it? I forget. Anyway, there were no other fruits or vegetables today, because that would just be too girly, wouldn’t it!

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This'll fuel up any tough hombre for another day out punching the dogies, or wearing the ten-gallon hat of a CEO, or whatever.

You know, even with such a frilly sounding French name, a quiche like this ain’t half bad after a long day running the ranch.