Salmon, Leek & Potato Gratin

Special birthday wishes are going out to my sister Loretta today on July 25th. Loretta you are a treasure that our family holds dear. We appreciate you as a person, sister, friend, mother and any other function that you hold in your life! You don’t have a bad bone in your body and you never do anything to compromise your kind heart and tender soul, you are one special lady.

Even if Brion & I can’t have a ‘birthday supper’ together with Loretta, I still like to post a meal I think she would enjoy to have on her day.

This is a gourmet take on a classic potato dish. Its creamy, cheesy and comforting but instead of making this gratin with cream, I am using a béchamel sauce made with milk and two cheeses. Gruyere and Parmesan together with parsley, thyme & Dijon mustard give it a lovely flavor which highlight the taste of the leek & salmon.

WE CELEBRATE YOUR BIRTHDAY WITH LOVE, LORETTA!

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Salmon, Leek & Potato Gratin
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Instructions
  1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Sauté garlic, lemon zest & thyme for 2 minutes. Add flour & cook 1 minute, stirring to combine. Remove from heat & gradually add the milk, stirring constantly, then return to the heat & cook, stirring until thickened.
  2. Add salt, pepper, Dijon mustard & 3/4 cup of the combined parmesan & Gruyere cheese (reserving 1/4 cup) & stir until the cheese melts. Remove from the heat & stir in the parsley & lemon juice.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease an 8-inch square baking dish lightly with olive oil.
  4. Wash & pare potatoes (leave the skin on if you prefer). Slice very thinly; place one sliced potato in a layer on the bottom of the baking dish, overlapping slightly.
  5. Arrange one third of the sliced leek & salmon evenly on top, then spoon one quarter of the cheese sauce over all. Repeat the layers with the remaining potatoes, leek & salmon, finishing with the final layer of potato & topping with the last quarter of the cheese sauce.
  6. Sprinkle with reserved 1/4 cup grated cheese. Cover with foil & bake for 45 minutes, then remove the foil & bake for a further 30 minutes. Allow the gratin to stand 10 minutes before serving.
Recipe Notes
  • If your making this for a 'special' occasion, you may want to make them in individual servings as I did in the picture. I used 5-inch round pans with removeable bottoms & lined them with parchment paper so they couldn't leak.

Strawberry Madeleines

A summer twist on classic French madeleines. Not quite cookies and not quite cakes, madeleines are a buttery seashell shaped treat that’s usually flavored with nothing more than a wisp of vanilla. With the addition of some fresh strawberry puree and lemon zest these strawberry madeleines are transformed into something quite special.

Fruit puree is the go-to companion for desserts. Who doesn’t enjoy the taste of fruit, accompanied by the backdrop of something sweet? Its hard to replace the taste of real fruit with fruit flavored extracts.

Fruit purees can be used for a range of different things although baking seems to be one of the most popular. The natural sugar in fruit, alongside the retained flavors, colors and smells help create some really good baked items. Purees can also be frozen to last longer.

Strawberry madeleines are simple and quick to make but special enough to stand out!

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Strawberry Madeleines
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Ingredients
Strawberry Puree
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Strawberry Puree
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Instructions
Strawberry Puree
  1. In a food processor, place strawberries & sugar. Process until smooth.
Madeleines
  1. Butter madeleine baking pans. Sprinkle with some flour then shake off excess.
  2. In a large bowl, beat eggs & sugar until mixture becomes almost white & foamy. Add strawberry puree, flour, baking powder & lemon zest; whisk until flour is incorporated. Stir the butter gently into the batter using a spatula.
  3. Using a pastry bag, fill each madeleine cup of the tray 3/4 full. Refrigerate the pan with batter for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  5. Remove the pan with the batter from the fridge & bake for 7-8 minutes. Remove from oven & allow to cool a little bit on a wire rack before serving. Dust with powdered sugar if you wish.

Herbs de Provence Shrimp

If you are not familiar with ‘Herbs de Provence‘, it is a mixture of dried herbs considered typical of the Provence region in Southeastern France. This region is known for endless vineyards, olive groves and its vibrant, purple lavender fields. Lavender is the herb that adds a distinctive scent as well as working beautifully with the rest of the herbs (thyme, marjoram, savory, oregano & rosemary) that make up this blend.

Prior to the commercialization of the product in the 1970’s, the person responsible for bringing the French phrase into the vocabulary of cooks around the world was non other than Julia Child (American-turned-French chef), who included it in a recipe in her classic cookbook ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking‘.

This iconic French spice blend can easily elevate any number of meals. Like most spice blends, there is no set formula for the ideal Herbs de Provence. While it uses ingredients that are found in the North American creation known as ‘Italian Spice‘ (with the exception of basil), it also includes lavender flowers and has a strong floral taste.

Although I am using the individual herbs in this recipe, you can easily substitute with bottled, dried Herbs de Provence with no problem. They are readily available in the larger grocery stores. This makes such a great tasting meal …. well worth your time.

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Herbs de Provence Shrimp
Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, fry chopped bacon until crisp, about 3 minutes; remove from pan & blot on a paper towel. Saute mushrooms, onion & garlic in bacon drippings until softened.
  2. Add peas, basil, lemon zest & 1 Tbsp oil. Season with salt & pepper.
  3. In a bowl, combine shrimp, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, lavender & remaining tablespoon of oil. Add shrimp mixture to saucepan; cook, turning once, until opaque throughout, about 2-3 minutes. Place in a dish & set aside to keep warm.
  4. In the saucepan, bring vegetable broth to a boil & add couscous. Cover saucepan & remove from heat; set aside until liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes.
  5. Add shrimp mixture along with cooked bacon, lemon juice & tarragon. Gently stir together with a fork. Serve immediately.

Fig, Pear & Gorgonzola Tartlets

As if the flavor alone didn’t make these tartlets special, I decided to make them in some unique, little Scandinavian cookie molds. I’m not sure where and when I actually acquired these vintage tins, but since I have them, it seems a shame not to use them.

The molds are traditionally used to make a Scandinavian cookie known as ‘Mandelmusslor’ in Swedish or ‘Sandbakkels‘ in Norwegian. Some are simple fluted round molds while others are more decorative shapes. The trick is to make sure the dough is pressed down thinly and evenly into the individual tins. This will ensure even baking.

These cookies are traditionally served as a shell tipped upside down on a pretty plate. Alternately they can be filled with fresh fruit or a baked filling.

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Fig, Pear & Gorgonzola Tartlets
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TARTLETS
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Shortbread Pastry
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TARTLETS
Ingredients
Shortbread Pastry
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Instructions
Shortbread Pastry
  1. In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar & salt. Add cold butter, vanilla & lemon zest. Cut into flour mixture with a pastry blender until dough starts to come together & form clumps.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Divide pastry between 12 mini tartlet pans. Using your fingertips, evenly press the dough into pans. Place on a baking sheet & bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven & place on a wire rack until you have your filling ingredients prepared.
Assembly
  1. Quarter the pear & remove core. Halve each quarter & then thinly slice each one. Finely dice or crumble Gorgonzola cheese.
  2. Place about a teaspoon of fig jam in the bottom of each tart shell. Top with pear slices, laying them in a fan shape, then divide Gorgonzola cheese between the 12 tartlets.
  3. Place in the oven & bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven & place on a wire rack until cool enough to remove tartlet pans. Serve warm or cold.
Recipe Notes
  • Put a small ball of dough into the center of the cookie mold then using your thumb, press the dough down, working it up to the upper rim of the mold. 
  • It should be fairly consistent on the sides & bottom.

Pumpkin Seed Butter Tart Squares

Butter tarts were a staple of pioneer cooking with the first known recipe dating back to 1915, becoming extremely popular during the twenties and thirties.

If you’re Canadian, chances are you have eaten a butter tart. They are part of our DNA! As a croissant is to France, the butter tart is to Canada.

Chatelaine Magazine printed its first butter tart recipe in April 1931. By the 1950’s, butter tarts were part of the picnic lunch boxes sold at Eaton’s Department Store in Toronto, Canada.

Tarts have continued along this commercial journey and now are pretty much in every cafe, bakery, at your nearest grocery store and even Tim Horton’s has them.

Overtime, the recipe for our ‘national treasure’ has been adapted to suit many different applications. Today’s recipe is a good example of that. I’ve swapped out the regular pastry for a shortbread crust and pumpkin seeds and cranberries for the raisins. Take note, that the one constant in butter tarts …. that syrupy, buttery filling remains in tact.

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Pumpkin Seed Butter Tart Squares
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SQUARES
Ingredients
Shortbread Crust
Filling
Servings
SQUARES
Ingredients
Shortbread Crust
Filling
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Instructions
Shortbread Crust
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line an 8 X 8-inch baking pan with parchment paper using only one piece so none of the filling leaks out during the baking process.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar & salt to combine. With a pastry cutter, cut in cold butter, adding vanilla & lemon zest. Transfer dough to prepared baking pan. Using your finger tips, evenly press the dough onto the bottom of the pan.
  3. Carefully prick the bottom of the crust with the tines of a fork making sure not to make any holes in the parchment. Bake for about 20 minutes or just until a pale golden color. Remove from oven & place on a wire rack to cool while you prepare the filling.
Filling
  1. In a bowl, beat together butter & sugar with a hand mixer until light & fluffy. Beat in eggs until incorporated then the corn syrup & vanilla. Stir in flour, salt & baking powder.
  2. Sprinkle 100 gm of the pumpkin seeds & all of the dried cranberries over the baked shortbread base. Then pour the filling over this mixture & bake for about 20-25 minutes or until filling is set. Remove from oven & place on a wire rack to cool. Sprinkle remaining 20 gm of pumpkin seeds on top for decoration. Serve at room temperature or chilled (or straight from the freezer).

Lemon Fig Tart

I have always found the sweet, earthy flavor of figs so unique. Their high sugar content pairs perfectly with similarly intense flavors, adding a burst of sweetness to a savory dishes and a distinctive texture and aroma to sweet treats.

Figs are surprisingly easy to work and have endless ways to prepare them. Just to name a few ….

Pies & Tarts * Cakes * Puddings * Fig Rolls * With Cheese * On Pizza & Breads * With Meat * Salads * Stuffing * Or just let the natural beauty and taste of figs take center stage to end a dinner party.

Today, I chose to use some to decorate our lemon tart.

LEMON + FIGS = AMAZING!

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Lemon Fig Tart
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Course dessert
Keyword lemon fig tart
Servings
Ingredients
Shortbread Pastry
Lemon Filling
Glaze
Figs
Course dessert
Keyword lemon fig tart
Servings
Ingredients
Shortbread Pastry
Lemon Filling
Glaze
Figs
Votes: 1
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Instructions
Pastry
  1. In a food processor, combine flour, sugar & salt. Process for a few seconds then add butter. Pulse until mixture becomes crumbly and resembles coarse meal, about 15 pulses. Add egg & vanilla; pulse until dough is no longer dry & starts to clump together, about 10-15 seconds. Dough should be quite crumbly with large clumps.
  2. Place dough on a lightly floured surface & form into a ball. Flatten slightly to form a disc. Wrap with plastic wrap & refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Lemon Filling
  1. In the top of a double boiler saucepan, place eggs, sugar, lemon zest & cream (if using). Whisk to combine. Place top saucepan over boiling water (in the bottom of double boiler saucepan). Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture becomes thick, about 10-20 minutes. The filling will thicken more once cooled.
  2. Remove from heat & immediately strain mixture through a sieve. Add butter, a few cubes at a time, whisking until completely melted & incorporated. Mixture should be smooth. Allow to cool to room temperature before filling the tart shell.
Bake
  1. Remove dough from refrigerator & allow it sit on the counter for a few minutes to soften slightly for easy rolling. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a rectangle. Gently place into a tart pan (preferably with a removable bottom). Brush away any excess flour on the surface. With a sharp knife, trim the edges of the pastry to fit tart pan. Cover pan with plastic wrap & place in the freezer until firm, about 30 minutes to prevent it from shrinking.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 F. Place rack in center of oven. Remove tart shell from freezer; press some parchment paper or foil tightly against the crust. Cover edges to prevent from burning. Fill with pie weights, distributing them evenly over entire surface. Bake crust for 20 minutes, until paper no longer sticks to dough. Transfer crust to a wire rack & remove weights & paper. Return to oven & bake about 10 minutes longer until golden brown. Transfer to wire rack to cool.
Glaze & Assemble
  1. In a saucepan, cook 1/4 cup sugar with 1/4 cup water over moderate heat. Stir occasionally, until sugar is dissolved & syrup is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Allow to cool.
  2. Fill the baked tart shell with the lemon filling. Decorate with sliced figs. Brush the syrup lightly over the figs. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours until well chilled before serving.
Recipe Notes
  • An alternate glaze you could use would be heated orange or apricot preserves.

Apple Walnut Mini Tarts

There is nothing more enjoyable than baking with the flavors and scents of fall. Sometimes I feel like apple season takes a back seat to pumpkin but in my opinion its equally important. With their sweet scent and crisp bite, apples are one of those things that define ‘fall’.

The apple pie as we know it, originated in Europe. The most widely known variations are the English, Dutch & Swedish apple pies. While all made their way into North American food culture, the English version is the one familiar to most of us. Worldwide, there are over 7500 types of cultivated apples, reflecting both their versatility and popularity.

Apples, perfectly spiced in a fall dessert, can be amazing. Like most spice blends, the flavor of apple pie spice is variable since the maker can choose the components according to their preference. In all cases, the goal is to provide warmth and sweetness that compliments the tartness of apples.

These little mini tarts started out with an idea I had to incorporate an upside down cake with some shortbread pastry and spiced apples. They actually turned out better than I had expected. After baking, it seemed like they might be quite dry, but instead were real tender and not too sweet. I’ve always enjoyed to use the cardamom spice. It gives such complexity and depth to the flavor of whatever its used in.

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Apple Walnut Mini Tarts
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Ingredients
Shortbread Pastry
Apple Filling
Walnut Topping
Servings
Ingredients
Shortbread Pastry
Apple Filling
Walnut Topping
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Instructions
Shortbread Pastry
  1. In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar & salt. Using a pastry blender or a fork, cut in butter & add vanilla & lemon zest. Mix only until combined, divide in half & wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Place in freezer until slightly frozen & ready to use.
Apple filling
  1. In a bowl, combine sliced apples, lemon juice, sugar, flour & spices. Set aside.
Walnut Topping
  1. In a small bowl, combine chopped nuts, brown sugar & melted butter. Divide mixture between 4 mini tart pans. If your tart pans have removable bottoms, I suggest using a large paper cupcake liner, placing it first in the pan & then putting 'bottom' on top. This will avoid having any of the filling leaking out.
Assembly/Baking
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Remove one half of the pastry from the freezer. On a CHEESE GRATER, grate pastry. Divide between the 4 mini pans, placing the pastry on top of walnut mixture.
  3. Strain apples, reserving liquid. Divide apples between mini tarts. Microwave reserved juice for a few seconds just to thicken it a tiny bit, then pour over apples in each tart.
  4. Remove second half of pastry from freezer & grate. Top each mini tart with grated pastry. Bake tarts for about 45-50 minutes or until apples are soft. If browning too fast, float a piece of foil paper over the tarts.
  5. Remove tarts from oven & allow to cool for about 5 minutes before inverting onto serving plates. Nice to serve warm with a little ice cream or whipped cream.
Recipe Notes
  • If you care to make your own, here is a recipe for apple pie spice. It makes about 1/3 cup & of course you can always customize the levels of the spices to suit your own taste. I like to keep some handy in my spice drawer to use for various baked goods.
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 4 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • Mix together & store in an airtight container in a cool dark place.

Saskatoon Berry Cream Puffs

This week we celebrate my husband Brion’s birthday. As we grow older, it comes clearer everyday, what a special privilege it is to simply have each other to share life with. I have always appreciated Brion’s strong support of my endeavors and for being the ‘wind beneath my wings’. Since it’s the time of the year when those wonderful saskatoon berries are available, I thought they would be nice in some ‘birthday’ cream puffs.

There have been many terms used to describe the humble cream puff. While the basic four ingredient recipe remains the same, how the ingredients are prepared and baked led to many names …. choux, puff, profiterole and buns. Often they were created in elaborate shapes such as swans or pyramids and filled with chocolate or vanilla custard. What was once the dessert of royalty is now a bakery aisle staple. At most supermarkets the frozen ones are available but nothing beats the taste of homemade cream puffs.

Many would describe the taste of a saskatoon as having a sweet, nutty almond flavor. Like their apple cousins, saskatoons continue to ripen after they are picked. In North America, these berries have a variety of names including: prairie berry, serviceberry, shadbush or juneberry.

I took this picture of Brion when we were in Merida, Mexico early this winter (January 2019). We managed to have a nice vacation there before the Covid-19 virus put the world in total disarray.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MY LOVE … YOU’RE THE BEST!

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Saskatoon Berry Cream Puffs
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PUFFS
Ingredients
Cream Puffs
Almond Custard
Saskatoon Berry Compote
Servings
PUFFS
Ingredients
Cream Puffs
Almond Custard
Saskatoon Berry Compote
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Instructions
Cream Puffs
  1. In a saucepan, heat water & butter to a light boil. Sift together flour, baking powder & salt. When butter is melted, add the flour mixture all at once. Stir vigorously & continuously until it forms a ball of dough that leaves the sides of the saucepan clean. Remove from heat & cool 5 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Add 1 egg & beat well, until fully incorporated. Repeat with the other two eggs. Drop or pipe mounds of batter onto baking sheet. Space them well apart as the puffs will double in size.
  3. Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 F. Continue baking until the puffs are lightly browned about 10-15 minutes for a small sized puff. PRICK EACH PUFF WITH A TOOTHPICK to allow steam to escape & prevent them from flattening. Turn off the oven & with the door slightly ajar, let the shells dry out for a further 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven & let cool on a wire rack.
Almond Custard
  1. In a bowl, whisk together sugar & egg yolks for 2-3 minutes until mixture is pale yellow. Beat in flour; continue beating & slowly add the boiling milk a dribble at a time in the beginning.
  2. Pour into a saucepan & over medium heat bring sauce to a boil, whisking continuously. Lower heat & cook for 2-3 minutes WHISKING to make sure the custard does not scorch. Remove from heat & whisk in the butter & almond extract. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure to have it touching the top of custard.
Saskatoon Berry Compote
  1. In a saucepan, combine water, cornstarch & sugar, then add the rest of the compote ingredients. Bring mixture to a simmer & reduce to a thickened sauce.
Assembly
  1. When the shells are cool, cut a slit in the side of each puff; spoon in a dollop of the custard & top with some berry compote. If you prefer, dust tops with powdered sugar.

Limoncello Mini Cakes

Nothing says spring more than the zesty, fresh flavor of lemons. Just to kick it up a notch, I decided to make some limoncello desserts.

Limoncello, (pronounced lee-mon-CHAY-low) the Italian lemon liqueur, is known for its refreshing sweet and tangy flavor. It is made from lemon rinds, alcohol and sugar. Although, traditionally served as an after dinner drink, it is a wonderful ingredient to use in cooking and baking.

Limoncello origins are disputed. Some say it was created by monks or nuns while others credit the wealthy Amalfi Coast families or even local townsfolk. In any case, its roots are in Southern Italy, primarily along Italy’s Amalfi Coast and the Sorrentine Peninsula known for their meticulous lemon cultivation. These lemons are considered the finest lemons for making limoncello. Prized for their yellow rinds, intense fragrance, juicy flesh and balanced acid.

Some years ago, while travelling in Italy, Brion & I tasted athentic limoncello in the town of Sorrento. As we walked through the quaint artisan shops packed together onto a maze of medieval alleys, we came accross one that sold liqueurs & confectionery. One of the treats that they made were limoncello sugar coated almonds … to die for!

Today’s little cakes use limoncello not only in the cake but the frosting and glaze as well. Definitely gives them some spring zing!

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Limoncello Mini Cakes
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Course dessert
Servings
mini cakes
Ingredients
Limoncello Cakes
Limoncello Glaze
Course dessert
Servings
mini cakes
Ingredients
Limoncello Cakes
Limoncello Glaze
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Instructions
Cakes
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly butter & flour 4 mini bundt pans.
  2. In a small bowl, cream butter & sugar; add egg & mix well. Fold in the flour then add milk & limoncello; beat well. Spoon mixture into the bundt pans & bake for 18 minutes or until they test done. Allow to cool.
Cream Cheese Frosting
  1. In a small bowl, beat together butter, cream cheese & limoncello (if using). Add powdered sugar & mix until smooth.
Limoncello Glaze
  1. In a small saucepan, whisk together sugar, lemon zest & egg. Cook until sugar dissolves & the mixture turns light in color, about 2 minutes. Stir in limoncello & cook for about 5 minutes or until mixture thinly coats the back of a spoon, stirring constantly with a whisk. Remove from heat & whisk in butter. Cover with plastic wrap & cool before using.
Assembly
  1. Place cakes on a serving plate. Fill the center indentation from the bundt pan with glaze as well as glazing the tops. Place frosting in a piping bag with a tip that has a small hole. Pipe frosting to look like lemon slices.

Shrimp Quiche Casserole

Quiche has always been an incomparable, one dish meal in my opinion. It’s kind of a whole food with protein, vegetables, dairy and carbohydrates. Quiche’s convenience wins hands down. After mixing the basics … eggs, milk or cream … any ingredients will work from leftovers to freshly cooked. You can use just about anything that you have in the refrigerator.

While some recipes are crust-free, most quiches have some kind of foundation. Potatoes, rice, cauliflower all make nice ‘crust’ options. Quiche makes a great choice for breakfast, lunch or dinner. To keep it interesting, I’m always trying to find ways to tweak the ingredients to make it taste just a bit different each time.

Two of Brion’s favorite foods are broccoli and rice. I decided to make a rice/cheese crust, which I pre-baked so it would get a little crispy. Then, when it bakes with the filling, it holds together quite nicely. The seasoning plays a crucial part in the quiche.

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Shrimp Quiche Casserole
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Course Lunch, Main Dish
Cuisine American, French
Servings
Votes: 1
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Instructions
Rice Crust
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Blend crust ingredients. Using the back of a large spoon, press into a greased 8-inch round baking dish & bake for 15-20 minutes.
Filling
  1. In a skillet, melt 1 Tbsp butter; saute garlic & mushrooms, stirring for about 5 minutes. Stir in onions, cook for another 2 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.
  2. Pour 2 cups water into skillet & bring to a simmer. Cook shrimp for about 1 minute or JUST until pink. Reserving 1 cup of the liquid, rinse shrimp under cold running water. Shell & devein shrimp; arrange over rice in baking dish.
  3. Preheat oven to 325 F. (If you have turned it off after pre-baking crust). In a heavy saucepan, melt remaining butter & stir in flour. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, without browning; gradually whisk in reserved liquid & milk. Cook, stirring, for about 20 minutes or until thickened.
  4. Remove from heat; stir in 1/2 cup of the cheese, lemon zest & spices until cheese is melted. Stir into vegetable mixture & pour over shrimp in rice crust.
  5. In a small bowl, stir together remaining 1/4 cup cheese & bread crumbs. Sprinkle evenly over 'quiche'. Bake for about 40 minutes or until quiche is 'set'. Cut into wedges & serve.