On Perfect Quiche and a Virginia Visit

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)
4 eggs
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.

On Longhorns and Lowriders

We had family in from out-of-town last weekend. Texas was having gorgeous weather, so we all opted to take a wander over to the Stockyards in Fort Worth. I’d recommend this to anyone for a slice of Americana that has been nicely preserved. It does slew slightly over to touristy, but in so doing, allows you to get a cup of bougie locally roasted coffee and sit on the sidewalk outside of a hundred-year-old building with original wood floors and watch the world go by.

I’ve missed the simple act of being out and seeing people over the past couple of years. Not necessarily interacting but enjoying the diversity of a crowd.

This was a decidedly diverse crowd.

The Stockyards has a rodeo arena built in 1907 as well as a few long blocks of restaurants, attractions, and western-wear shops that connect to the vast areas where the drovers used to park their cattle on the long journey up from lower Texas up to the railhead in Kansas on the Chisholm trail. Back in the day, this place was the last “civilized” outpost on the trail, a place to get a real bed, a real bath, and a real good time with the women-folk.

Between the 1880s and the 1950s, the Stockyards grew to become the largest livestock-trading center in the Southwest. It was the place to get your horses and mules during the First World War, with Allied military officers from all over the world purchasing their animals there for the war effort. It became so prosperous they dubbed it “The Wall Street of the West.” It thrived all the way up into the 1950s, so the place had a good run.

It’s thriving again due to some infrastructure investments. Just like days of yore, when cowboy culture and commerce intersected, the place attracts all kinds, from packs of Harley riders to Hasidic Jewish kids on a sightseeing tour, to Trump touters to 70s-era hippies, and of course cowboys. There was a stock show in town, so there were plenty of authentic folks wearing broken in boots and big belt buckles they’d earned being the best at something on the Rodeo circuit.

There’s a mix of shopping; high-end stores in mule alley and at the far end, a whole indoor section of smaller stores that are priced a little less. You can get new dinnerware if you’d like.

For authentic boots and belts, go to Leddy’s on the corner of Exchange and Main.

Highlights of our stroll down this historic street included visiting the statue of this Bulldogger fella, Bill Pickett, who figured out if he leapt from his horse and caught a steer by the horns, twisted the steer’s neck around and bit its lip, he could bring it down in record time.

If someone did that to me, I’d fall over too.

He interestingly did not die doing this, instead meeting his end being kicked in the head by a horse. They didn’t mention if he was trying to bite it at the time. In 1972, Pickett became the first black cowboy to be inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. Lisa Perry is the sculptress who created this wonderful bronze


The other highlight, besides plain old people watching and admiring the architecture of the old buildings, is the Longhorn herd. We’ve seen the cattle drive down the street before, but it’s always fun and worth it to do it again. We also trotted over to the pens to see them at leisure, drinking water, and enjoying the sun. There are sixteen of them, and what we noticed this time is that all of their horns grew in unique ways. They were quite graceful moving around each other and things. The man who owned them said that on long drives, the cattle get up behind slower brethren and nestle a horn behind their backside to help push them along. I will say they move at a good clip on the “drive” down the street and seem to enjoy the walk.

We capped off our day in Fort Worth at the charming Bearded Lady for drinks and nibbles. They allow dogs on the outside patio and have heat lamps for chilly evenings. Nice, diverse music plays and the waiters are the perfect mix of laid back and attentive. Get the fried pickles and roasted Brussels sprouts. Your mouth will be happy that you did.