Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Late-Winter Strata, Sour Cherry Hand Pies, and More: Soothing Delights to Remedy the Chill

There is something about the last days of winter - agonizing about *still* wearing all those layers, looking forward to any break showing signs of spring - where we snatch ourselves away from the persistent cold, and the most soothing meals are prepared (and eagerly gobbled up). It is with this in mind that I have gathered a few hearty favorites.....

They are quite easy to prepare and totally delicious, and will likely bring you to want more.
Scroll to bottom for recipes...


All that is required in the case of the strata is a bit of chopping and sautéing, followed by layer-layer-layer and then *bake!* with the result being a delightful cheesy crust atop savory bread pudding, spiced meat, and seasoned veg. Dig in. 

This quiche is the most custardy creation I have come across. You will swear up and down exclaiming how good the combination of egg-pumpkin-speck is, their textures and flavor notes riffing off each another. Again with just a little sautéing, mixing, and pouring into the crust to bake (which itself is not rocket science, and so nice, adding a delicate crumb). The finished product is a pretty simple creation - and HUGELY satisfying - to keep you warm and fed.

For those lentils, they may not look like much and that is okay. Not every meal is a knock-down drag-out over-the-top creation. In this case I literally only had a few leftover jars of things in the refrigerator, and in a stroke of genius for lunch recently, pulled them out as I put a pot of French lentils on the stove to cook. Adding a spoonful here and there from each resulted in a nourishing, richly flavorsome dish, one that I'd be proud to serve to others (and certainly to feed my own body again).

And oh the golden pies.......... my mother gave me a jar of Michigan sour cherries (thanks, mama!) which ended up sitting for some time in my pantry. Short on time to make a *wow* dessert for some friends with a new baby, I pulled from my coffers to make these outstanding cherry, dried apricot, and orange zest puff pastry hand pies. And how. Sometimes it is the simplest foods that bring such rewards. And also brought said friends to ask for the recipe so that they can wow their friends (here you go, guys!). This is the spirit of each of these creations, and after making them to fill your own bellies, I hope you will get a knock at your door to share, and then share some more.



I used a new rolling pin on the dough for those heavenly pies, a lovely one from the Vermont Rolling Pin Company. Hand turned beautiful wood (mine is walnut), they prodcue different rolling pins for different purposes and personalities. See for yourself. And the pâte brisée for the quiche? Same rolling pin, same great results. 

Now for the recipes - 

Hearty Vegetable and Meat Strata
Serves 8-10

2 large bunches chard or 1 bunch collards, spines cut-out and chopped, separated from leaves, also roughly chopped
1/2 lb slab bacon, ground pork, or sausage, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 large onion or several shallots, finely chopped
1 loaf brioche or seeded bread, sliced 1/2-inch thick
7 eggs
butter to grease the pan 
good olive oil to sear the veg and meat
1/2 cup parmesan, shredded
3/4 cup gruyere, grated
1/2 cup ricotta
2 cups milk
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
sea salt to taste

Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add a good glug of olive oil and swirl around to edges. When the oil smiles, cook in batches the onion or shallots, the sausage or bacon, and then the greens. Season onions with s+p, and once they begin to soften, about 3 minutes or so, transfer them to a bowl and set aside. Add the meat and more cracked pepper, sautéing for 5 minutes or until browned on all sides. Transfer to another bowl and set aside. Lastly, add the chopped spines of the chard or collards, season with nutmeg and s+p, and after a few minutes - stirring occasionally - add the chopped leaves. The fat in the pan leftover from the meat should season the greens nicely. They should only take a couple minutes to sauté once the leafy parts have been added. Remove pan from heat.

Place bread slices in a single layer on the bottom of a buttered roasting pan. Scatter half the meat around, followed by the greens and onions. Add in half of the ricotta and a third of the gruyere and parmesan. Follow this with another layer of bread, then the last of the meat, onions, and greens, topped with the remaining ricotta and another third of the gruyere and parmesan. Prick the remaining bread with a fork - this is for the liquid which follows to absorb better - and add slices on top in a single layer. In a bowl, whisk together 5 eggs and 1 cup milk. Pour carefully and evenly over the bread. Using a sheet of parchment laid over the surface, lightly press down to compress the layers slightly, which also aids in absorbing the egg mixture. Cover parchment with foil and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, up to a couple days.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Bring roasting pan out from the fridge, uncover foil and peel parchment away, and allow to sit for a half-hour. Whisk the remaining eggs and one cup milk together and season with a little sea salt. Pour over bread, again carefully and evenly. Sprinkle remaining cheeses on top, place on a baking tray, and bake in the oven for 30-45 minutes, or until golden in places. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Harissa-kissed Lentils with Walnut Pesto and Crème fraîche

1 1/2 cups French lentils, picked through and rinsed 
2 tbsp (to your liking) harissa paste
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup walnut pesto
a dollop of crème fraîche
freshly cracked black pepper and sea salt to taste

for the pesto - adapted from Chef Jody Williams
1 cup walnuts - roasted in a dry skillet until fragrant
2 cloves garlic, crushed 
3-5 sundried tomatoes - try to find them packaged without preservatives (not as red in color as a result, but still as flavorful)
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp sherry vinegar
good extra virgin olive oil

Pulse all ingredients except olive oil in the bowl of a food processor. Add olive oil in a stream while pulsing the mixture to create the texture of your liking. Stop and taste if need be. Store in ceramic or glass, covered and refrigerated. Good for up to one month.

Place lentils in a saucepan and cover with water, about an inch above the lentils. Add thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and cover. Lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until water is absorbed and lentils are tender (check after 15 minutes to see if more water is needed). Keep covered until done. Mix in harissa and walnut pesto to taste, and perhaps a last drizzle of olive oil. Add a dollop of crème fraîche once served into dishes. 

Pumpkin & Speck Quiche
Serves 4-6

for the filling-
4 eggs
3 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups kabocha or other pumpkin squash, peeled and chopped
1 cup speck, coarsely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 sprigs fresh thyme
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

for the dough -
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt 
2 sticks cold butter, cut into small cubes
1/4 cup cold water, plus more if needed

Mix flour and salt together in the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until pea-sized bits remain, about 10 seconds. Drizzle water in a thin stream while pulsing the food processor until dough just comes together, no more than 30 seconds. The dough should not be wet or sticky. Empty dough out onto cellophane laid on a work surface and separate into two piles. Form each into a ball and flatten into disks, then wrap each separately, somewhat loosely.  Use a rolling pin, roll from center outwards, turning dough 1/4 turn as you go so each side gets its share. Dough will likely have pushed to limit of cellophane at this point. Refrigerate for an hour to allow the gluten to relax - second disk is yours for another use (once you make this quiche you'll use it quickly for another), and can be frozen for up to one month. 

Bring disk out of fridge and remove plastic. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough  to 1/4-inch thick, turning to for evenness. Drape into an 8-inch springform pan, gently freeing dough from edge while pressing it down with the back of your finger flush to base of pan. Trim evenly around top edge (you can use a paring knife or kitchen shears), using any leftovers to patch thin areas or mend cracks. Prick all over with a fork and chill in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, in a cast iron skillet over medium heat, pan fry speck until golden, about 5 minutes per side. Place onto absorbent paper to cool and sear squash in fat until browned on all sides, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. (This can be done a day or two in advance.) 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F). Place a sheet of parchment over dough and weight with baking weights, beans, or rice. Blind bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove weights and paper, and bake for a further 10 minutes or until crust is golden. Remove from oven, and scatter speck around base of pastry. Lower oven to 300 degrees.

Whisk together eggs, cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the kabocha and pour mixture into pastry. Top with thyme leaves and another grind or two of pepper, and bake for 30 minutes, or until custard has set. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and then release spring collar from around pastry. Use two spatulas or palette knives to transfer quiche to a serving platter. Serve with a shaved brussels sprouts or mixed green salad. 

Sour Cherry Hand Pies
Makes 4

1 package store-bought puff pastry (Dufour makes a great version)
1 1/2 cups sour cherries (can substitute currant jam or other similar tart preserves)
5 dried apricots, cut into small dice
zest and juice from one orange
grated fresh nutmeg, if you like
1 egg and a drop of heavy cream, for pastry wash
dusting or cane sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Roll out puff pastry to 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Using a small plate or teacup, trace four 5-inch rounds. Save scraps for another use. With another plate/cup of a slightly larger dimension, cut out four additional rounds (the tops). Chill on parchment-lined baking sheets in the refrigerator.

Mix cherries, apricots, zest, juice, and nutmeg together in a bowl. Spoon mixture into the centers of pastry disks, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Paint edges with water, place pastry lids on top, and press to seal. Using the tines of a fork, press around the border and score the center for steam vents. Lightly scramble the egg with the cream, and using a pastry brush paint the pie surfaces all over. Sprinkle sugar on top and bake for 15 minutes or until puffed and golden. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Simplicity (and to-die-for yummy) personified - enjoy!


  1. Your hand pies look amazing, beautiful and delicious. A new rolling pin? I don't think I've purchased a new rolling pin in 20 years, maybe it's time. :)

  2. I love cherry pies, and I have some sour cherries in my frizzer. Perfect time to bake them. I like addition of dried apricots. Super recipe. Thank you-)

  3. I guess I am not alone when saying yes I too love the cherry pies! I really though love the photo with the white wood paneled wall and the warm wooden table with the rolling pin and bowl of cherry filling on the back right. I need a space like this in my place. x Valery

  4. How funny, I'm thinking the same thoughs as we head into Autumn here in Australia - I'm ready for the cooler weather, and I'll be adding your lentil recipe to my plans. Looks wonderful. As do your photos.

  5. These all look DELICIOUS. It's already starting to get summery where I live, but I almost want the cold to come back just so I could fully enjoy these! I have a question about the cherry pastries...were the cherries you used fresh, or preserved? I got a book called Health on Your Plate recently that had a super simple recipe for making your own preserves and now I want to do it with every fruit! Since you said you could substitute jam, I wondered what form of fruit you were working with. I'm really excited to try these out, they look SO good : )

  6. You guys made me smile, and I'm sorry to not have replied sooner! (in my mind, I did....)

    Judy, the rolling pin is not only beautiful to look at, but really nicely made, too.

    Yelena, I hope you did make them and that they turned out wonderfully. Those apricots add a nice depth of flavor and a different texture. Yumm!

    Val, the white-paneled room is a fiction, but thankfully convincing enough. :) I'm glad it made you yearn....I need one of those, too!

    Chitcha, the lentils are great cold, room temp, or warmed. I hope you have a chance to make them soon!

    Monica, thank you! The cherries were jarred but not preserves per se. I would say if you want to make the preserves recipe, do it. Then add some to whatever mixture you create as you prep the pies, adding maybe even some lemon zest/juice instead, to offset the sweetness of the preserves. Or keep it to the orange and see what you get. The overall idea is that the mixture is not too sweet - more sweet-tart than anything else... in the end, it's *pop*pop*pop* all around the mouth. :)

  7. your pictures are stunning!! I love all the vintages looking props and your rolling pin is unique