Monday, March 12, 2007

Custard Cups

I realize that this recipe will seem like the worst kind of diet cooking (something that is even more replete with hypocrisy if you take into account the fact that I have been failing miserably to stay on my diet; I'm still packing good lunches and fresh fruit for the office, but I'm really stressed out, and when I get home, I have a tendency to eat everything in sight, resulting in exchanges like the following, which occurred last night:

anapestic: are you looking for the cookies?
V.: yes, why?
a: because you want something to eat, I presume, but you would no better than I
V.: ...
a.: ...
V.: I mean, as you undoubtedly know already, why are you asking?
a.: because they're not there; I meant to replace them, but I wanted to wait until the night before you got home because otherwise I would have had to replace them again
V.: [rolls eyes]
a.: I saw that!), but it's actually quite tasty. It (unlike the double chocolate Milanos, and the Chessmen) also conforms to the Weight Watchers core requirements. These custard cups are really just crustless quiches. I have generally not been a huge fan of the crustless quiche, but my undying affection for pie crusts is something that, temporarily at least, has to be kept under control.

You will note that the custard mixture here is significantly eggier than is usual for a quiche. The reason for this egginess has nothing to do with the crustlessness. It has everything to do with the fact that I am packing these in my lunchbox all this week and that I am forced to rely on a microwave to reheat them. It has long been obvious to me (as it would be to any sensible person) that if my bosses want me to work ungodly hours (and they do), then the only just and reasonable thing to do is to provide me with a fully equipped kitchen and an assistant so that at, say, eleven o'clock in the morning, I could call down to the kitchen and tell the assistant what I need by way of mise en place so that I could come down at one o'clock in the afternoon and prepare my lunch. Sadly, what I get is a refrigerator, a microwave, and an ice machine. When I'm at home, I reheat the custard cups in the toaster oven, where they reheat very well. I have tested them in the home microwave, and they're still tasty, but microwave reheating is clearly a compromise. I think that foods that need to be reheated that way should probably be sturdier to start with, so the custard cups have a relatively small amount of custard, and that custard is decidedly eggy.

You really do need nonstick muffin pans to make these. I take the additional step of spraying my nonstick muffin pans with Pam, which may or may not help, but I'm not taking any chances. This recipe made fifteen custard cups, and only one of them left a tiny bit behind when I turned the muffin pans over onto the rack and shook them to release the cups.

Custard Cups

1 T. olive oil
1 large portobello mushroom, diced
10 ounces fresh spinach
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine
8 ounces cooked turkey, diced
2 cups cooked barley
3 eggs
3/4 c. milk
1 t. mustard

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, stir well to coat with the oil, then cover and cook until they release most of their liquid. Pile the spinach on top of the mushrooms, cover, and cook until the spinach is well wilted and much reduced. Add the peppers, cover again, and cook until the peppers are soft. Stir in the garlic, cover, and cook for another two minutes or so. Add the red wine, stir well, and cook, uncovered, until the wine has almost entirely evaporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl and let cool slightly. Mix in the turkey and barley.

Coat one or two muffin tins with cooking spray. Fill the muffin tins level with the top with the vegetable/turkey mixture. Don't pack them too tightly.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together the eggs and mustard. Add the milk and whisk well to combine. Slowly pour the custard mixture into the muffin tins so that it comes to about a quarter-inch below the top of the solids. Transfer to the oven and bake until done, about thirty to thirty-five minutes.

Cool in the pans for ten minutes, then reverse onto a rack and cool completely. Wrap two-by-two in ziplock bags for lunches, then march them into the refrigerator, pretending that you're Noah. Imagine a world where Noah forgot to save a pair of croissants, and be glad that you don't live in such a world, no matter how much easier it might be to stick to your diet if Noah had been a bit less meticulous. Don't blame Noah for your inability to pass up pastry. You can blame him for not forgetting to save the Cheese Whiz, even though you don't eat Cheese Whiz. Who buys that stuff, anyway?

As with any quiche or quiche-like dish, the cooking time will vary greatly depending on the temperature of your solids. If you have to interrupt your preparation to run off and pick up your teen-aged daughter who swore up and down that her meeting was going until four but then called and said it was going to be done at three and could you come pick her up so that you have to refrigerate your solids, then you'll either have to reheat the solids before making the custard cups or live with a longer cooking time, which is really no big deal, provided, of course, that the same daughter doesn't need to be taken somewhere else. It is good to know and/or remember, however, that while the microwave and the quiche may be natural enemies in the wild, using the microwave to warm your ingredients before baking can greatly shorten your cooking time, if that's something you need to do.

Everything in this dish needs to be flavorful, so don't forget to season as you cook. Also, you will want to have cooked your barley in a flavorful liquid. If you add turmeric as well as other spices, you'll be rewarded with a nice color as well. Obviously, there are many other things that you could add to this dish: some softened or caramelized onions, some leftover roasted cauliflower, and any one of dozens of cheeses leap to mind.


Blogger Rebecca said...

Hilarious post! I love the way teenagers expect and demand good dinners but also expect and demand to be picked up right when we are in the middle of cooking said dinners.

And don't even talk to me about sticking to my diet in the middle of Girl Scout cookie season, which aren't even that good, but have to be bought since I know too many Girl Scouts, and then they are simply there...

8:52 AM  

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