Monday, March 30, 2009

Quiche Muffins

ASPEN— The question of the day is: How far will a man travel for a Quiche Muffin from Paradise Bakery?

The answer: 1,362 miles. Well, actually, I was out her on Spring Break with my family, but we’re staying in Snowmass, 12 miles away.

I had a craving for a Quiche Muffin from the Paradise Bakery at 6:15 a.m. and so I hopped on a city bus and took a 25 minute ride into Aspen. Some might call that compulsive. I like to think of it this way— I am passionate about food.

The Quiche Muffin holds a special place in my heart. The first time I ate one was on my honeymoon in 1993. After a Methodist church wedding, I flew my new bride out to Las Vegas to get married by an Elvis Impersonator at the Graceland Wedding Chapel on the Strip (his name was Norm). We spent one night in a tacky hotel in Vegas, and then flew to Aspen for the honeymoon.

On our first morning in Aspen, we stumbled across the Paradise Bakery. We each ate a Quiche Muffin, and both love affairs have been going strong ever since.

The Quiche Muffin is an anomaly. It is shaped like a standard muffin, but it has more of the custard-like qualities of quiche. It’s not too bread-like, though. Beautiful, compact, flavorful, original, everything a breakfast in a resort should be.

As I write, I am sitting in the same honeymoon hotel lobby at 7 a.m. —albeit illegally, while stealing their free wireless internet access to write this column— eating a Ham and Cheese Quiche muffin, and a Spinach Quiche Muffin. They are fantastic.

I once tinkered around with a recipe to combine traditional quiche ingredients and incorporate flour so the finished product would be substantial enough to be hand-held while eating, but gave up after several failed attempts. Based on this covert, yet tasty, breakfast, I think I will now figure out the recipe to the ever eluding Quiche Muffin and include it in my next cookbook.

The Paradise Bakery was formed in Long Beach, California, there are 72 units today. But the Aspen unit was the second store, and it doesn’t feel like a chain, at all. The food certainly doesn’t, as the Quiche Muffins are usually the first breakfast items to go. Get there early.

I am told that other Paradise Bakery units take the Quiche Muffins, stuff more vegetables on top and then wrap them in phyllo pastry— sounds good. They can’t do that in Aspen because of the altitude.

So here I am, in a hotel lobby in Aspen, CO at 7 a.m., writing a food column for Southern newspapers, looking over my shoulder hoping I don’t get busted by the front desk clerk for stealing their wireless internet, and eating Quiche Muffins. This food-column writing is dangerous business.

My wife and kids are back in Snowmass, sound asleep after a full day of skiing. We’ve got one full day in the snow after today, then it’s off to the beach for a Spring Break sandwich topped with snow and sand. I’ll have two more opportunities to eat Quiche Muffins at the Paradise Bakery, and I think I’ll make good use of both of them.

Mushroom, Leek and Ham Quiche
1 recipe Savory Pie Crust, recipe follows
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups thinly sliced leeks, white parts only
6 ounces diced ham
8 ounces thinly sliced button mushrooms
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoons salt, plus 1/4 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
6 large eggs
1 1/2 ounces grated smoked cheddar, plus 1 1/2 ounces
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Roll out the pie crust on a lightly floured surface to fit a deep 9 or 10-inch pie pan. Place the pastry in the pie pan and crimp edges decoratively. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes, then line with aluminum foil. Fill with pie weights and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly golden around the edges. Remove foil and pie weights, and return to the oven for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and place crust on a wire rack to cool.
Set a 12-inch saute pan over medium heat, and add the butter and olive oil and once the butter is melted, add the leeks to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions and leeks are wilted, and lightly caramelized, about 8 minutes. Add the ham, mushrooms, thyme, and garlic to the pan and season with 1 teaspoon of the salt and the pepper. Cook the leeks, ham and mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until most of the moisture has cooked out of the mushrooms and they are caramelized, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the onions, ham and mushrooms to cool for 10 minutes before placing in the pie crust.
In a medium bowl, combine the heavy cream, eggs, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and whisk until just combined. Stir 1 1/2 ounces of the grated cheese, then pour the cream mixture over the onion mixture, and sprinkle the remaining cheese over top. Place the pie tin on a sheet pan and place in the oven. Bake until golden brown, and the custard has set, 35 to 40 minutes. Be sure to rotate the sheet pan after 15 to 20 minutes to ensure even browning.
Yield:1 (9 or 10-inch) pie
For the Savory Pie Crust:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons creole seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water, as needed
In the bowl of a food processor combine flour, Creole seasoning, salt, and butter and process until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. While the motor is running, add water in increments until dough just comes together to form a ball. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and shape into a flat disk. Refrigerate overnight or at least 1 hour.
Remove from refrigerator and roll out on a lightly floured surface to desired shape and thickness.
Yield: 8 servings

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