As anyone who has heard me speak at length about celebrity chefs can attest, I have a deep-seated aversion to Sandra Lee. For those of you who are unfamiliar with her "semi-homemade" philosophy, Lee's approach is to combine "70% ready-made products with 30% fresh and creative touches" so that you take "100% of the credit." As if a cuisine based heavily on sodium-laden spice packets and canned soups weren't bad enough, the woman prances around her kitchen like a beauty queen. She adopts a theme each episode and then selects her outfit and redecorates her kitchen to match. Don't get me started on "tablescapes."
So, given my dislike of Lee, you can imagine my horror one evening when I found myself watching her show with rapt attention. Even worse, my mouth started to water as I watched her make caramelized onion and goat cheese tarts.
I pride myself on being rational and fair, however, so I promptly bookmarked the recipe on the Food Network website. I even decided to make them for my holiday party. The concept, I reasoned, was sound. Most of the ingredients were in their original state. Except for the frozen chopped onions, that is. And the store-bought pie crust. Oh, the pie crust.
Homemade pie crust has long been de rigueur in my family. I remember the first Thanksgiving when my mom gave me the task of making the traditional pumpkin and pecan pies. Making a pie crust from scratch seemed rather daunting at the time, so I suggested that we use store-bought crust. My mother's response was "Didn't I raise you right?"
Of course it would be easy to substitute homemade pie crust in the recipe, but I figured I'd cut myself a break given the time constraints inherent in throwing a party. Still, I felt some major filial and foodie guilt.
Ironically, I ran out of time to make even the shortcut recipe, which meant that I had 3 boxes of store-bought pie crust sitting in my fridge with 2 crusts to a box. That's a lot of dough.
One crust made a pumpkin pie that I took to my office holiday party. Another went into the trash after I tore it trying to make the crust for that pie. That left 4 crusts. Figuring that I should make myself something slightly more substantial than pie for dinner at home, I decided to make 2 Cornish pasties and a quiche. I found that store-bought pie crust was much better in the former application than in the latter.
As Wikipedia will tell you, pasty is indigenous to Cornwall, England. My mom would make pasty for us growing up, but her version was in a deep pie pan with a huge domed crust. As is typical of most Midwestern fare, hers was loaded with ground hamburger, onions, potatoes, and carrots. We would cut huge slices and then smother the filling in ketchup.
No offense, Mom, but I think the recipe below is much tastier. I've adapted it from this recipe at Epicurious.com. I think the blue cheese really makes the dish, giving it a nice piquancy that plays against the earthiness of the root vegetables.
Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Quiche
- 1 standard 8" pie crust
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 4 cups (about 2 large) onions, thinly sliced (a mandolin works really well here)
- ½ - 1 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme
- 5 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- A few ounces goat cheese
- Cayenne pepper (optional)
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Heat butter in heavy pan until melted, add onions and saute slowly over medium to low heat until caramelized. This step may take 30 minutes or so. Stir in thyme.
- Meanwhile par-bake the pie crust at 375° for 5-10 minutes, until golden-brown, then reduce oven to 325°.
- In large bowl gently beat together eggs, milk, a pinch of fresh grated nutmeg, and cayenne pepper. Add salt & pepper.
- Spread the onions over the crust, and pour in egg mixture. Crumble goat cheese over the top.
- Bake at 325° until quiche is set, approximately 30 minutes.
- Broil it for a minute or two at the end to give the top a nice golden top.
Incidentally, I realized as I was writing this post that I pitted a very classic English dish against a very classic French dish. It seems the Anglo-French rivalry continues, at least in the kitchen. This round goes to the English.