My love language wasn’t always feeding people. It developed over a long period of time watching my husband, an accomplished chef, feed people. Having athletic teen boys leant itself to learning to love cooking too, especially when they brought their friends home for dinner.
I loved being that house where the kids knew there would always be good food, and likely brownies for dessert.
Living in Tennessee for ten years also put a thumb on the scale. There are some flat-out brilliant cooks there, the kind that will, after a bit of begging, share their recipe for their cheesy onion tart, but only after swearing not to share it with anyone else. I swore, so you don’t get that one, unless you come to a holiday party. It’s about 100,000 calories a slice, and worth every one of them. It’s the thing I’ll bring to a potluck in wintertime.
Another friend, Kathy, said it was okay to share her wonderful quiche recipe, the basic form for which you’ll find below. I like how creative you can get with this one, and it really does turn out perfect every time. For example, I do love a ham and cheese quiche, but I usually add a bit of zing in the form of a quarter cup of chopped red onion. The other one was four cheese (the Quatro Formaggio packages you get from Trader Joes), tomato, fresh basil, and green onion. So basically, make the different ingredients add up to about two cups, and have a fun time being creative. Now, you can make things harder on yourself by making your own pie crust if you want, but the refrigerated Pillsbury ones work really well. I don’t recommend any other premade pastry, though.
Kathy pre bakes her pie shell, and I agree it makes this dish tastier, but you don’t have to. If you do, just heat oven to 425 degrees, in a 9” pan. Prick with fork and bake for about 5-6 minutes before you put in the rest of the ingredients.
If you’re using tomatoes, as I did in my last batch of these, make sure they are thoroughly seeded, and as much wetness removed as possible. That goes for any vegetable ingredient you decide to add. Extra moisture is the only way you can tank this recipe, so let’s avoid that, okay?
PERFECT HAM AND BROCCOLI QUICHE (Original Recipe courtesy of Kathy Hall)
1 refrigerated pie crust (the kind you roll out)
1 cup cooked ham, chopped (lunch meat is fine)
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese (or your choice, I prefer Sharp Cheddar)
1-1 ½ cups frozen broccoli, thawed (you have to make sure you get the moisture out)
1 cup milk or half and half (I use almond milk)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
either 1 tablespoon of prepared mustard (I use Grey Poupon) or ½ teaspoon dry mustard
Pinch of cayenne if desired
*Preheat oven to 375.
*Layer ham, cheese, and broccoli in crust-lined pie pan. Mix the remaining ingredients, mix well, pour over. (It’s easier to get the Quiche in and out of the oven if you put the pie pan on a cookie sheet—no spills also.)
*Bake at 375 for 35-45 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Half and half will cook more quickly than regular milk. Let stand at least 10 minutes before serving.
I like to make this a day ahead of time, and once it’s completely cool, I put in the fridge overnight.
The reason I paired this recipe with our recent visit to scope out Roanoke, Virginia is that when we went there, we were plunged right back into the delicious home cooking one finds throughout the Appalachian region. Like singing, the ability to cook heartily and well seems to be in the water here. Folks just cook brilliantly. I couldn’t help myself, and on the trip, I indulged in some sweet tea* and a fantastic fried green tomato sandwich that had pimento cheese on it. I know, maybe that doesn’t sound great to you, but that’s because you haven’t tried it yet.
The trip to Roanoke** started with flying into Charlotte airport. We’d been through the airport many times when we lived in Johnson City. It’s changed and grown, so it was a bit of an ordeal to find the rental car place there. We got a lot of steps in, though, so that was good.
The drive up to Roanoke from Charlotte was spectacular, even in the dead of winter. The roll of the mountains getting closer and closer, the climb into them, the views back down to the coastal plains below. I’d missed the mountains. Perhaps you know how that goes—you remember how beautiful something was but have forgotten that it’s awe-inducing until you’re confronted with it once again after an absence.
It’s like finding a twenty-dollar bill in a pair of pants, a tiny explosion of wonder followed by joy that makes your whole day feel magical.
As we drove, I realized I’d become inured to the beauty of the area when I was living there for ten years. The mountains became an attractive backdrop back then, just part of the scenery. I made a quiet vow to myself that if we move back into their proximity, I won’t take them for granted again. Coming from a five-year stint in the flats of Texas, they regained their proper breathtaking status in my mind, where they shall remain.
We stayed in an Airbnb, nearly our whole family under one roof, for a long weekend. It was nice to just sit in the living room and chat, but that wasn’t the real mission. Our real mission was to scope out the town and see if it was a place we, as a group, would be willing to relocate to.
So we drove around Roanoke and its sister city Salem for the better part of two days. We toured a few apartments. I checked out the YMCAs, as I cannot be anywhere that doesn’t have a pool. We ate out, poked around antique stores and bookstores. The area was a mix of run-down and lovely. Bigger than I’d imagined, too. I usually carry a sort of rolling map in my head when I visit somewhere but got turned around as we drove. I think it had to do with the fact that the city is nestled inside of a ring of mountains, rather than them being helpfully on one side for visual reference. Nestled is a good thing, when you get used to it.
For me, being back in the mountains and realizing that we could relocate here, our family all together, or at least in near proximity, resonated in a hopeful way. Moving is always tedious, of course, as is finding your way around yet another new city and finding friends without the bridge of kids in school to help the process. But sometimes, as Edward Albee said in his play “The Zoo Story,” sometimes you have to go a very long way around to come back a short way correctly.
*Sweet Tea is my kryptonite. The very first time I had it when we were looking to move into the Knoxville area was at a McDonalds. Resistance is futile when you have Sweet Tea on tap with free refills. I had to swear off of it completely, like an alcoholic when we lived in Tennessee.
**Not THAT Roanoke, where the people all disappeared from back in the 1580s, leaving only a cryptic “Croatan” carved into a tree. That one was on an island off the coast of North Carolina and predated the Jamestown colony by 17 years.