More decades than I care to admit to had passed before three former high school cheerleaders finally got together this past weekend (and yes, I was one of them). If there was a fly on the wall listening in on our sometimes overlapping, filled with laughter reminiscing and catching-up conversations during a five hour (only two bottles of wine) lunch, they would have never guessed any time had lapsed since we were all together. Time and distance seemed to have no affect on the bonds of friendship formed many, many, many years ago. And it also didn't take long for us to plot a wicked adventure. Yes, once a cheerleader always a cheerleader.
When having a lunch gathering with friends I have not seen in a very long time, I usually try to make something I have made at least once before. For some unknown reason my inner risk taker (a latent adult characteristic) pushed me into making something new for the main course, relying on tried and true recipes for the appetizer and dessert courses only. If the Caramelized Leek, Ham and Cheddar Quiche turned out to be a disaster, at least the first and last courses would salvage the meal. Fortunately (for me and them) there were no cooking disasters. Although I will tweek the quiche recipe even further now having made it. More about that later.
Finally listening to some of the (simplicity) wisdom Ina Garten has shared for years, this was one meal I didn't want to be a preparation slave to while everyone was here. Quite possibly greater motivations were not wanting to miss out on even a snippet of the stories and memories being shared! The quiche recipe made that possible.
Several sources claim the word quiche comes from the German word for 'cake' (Kuchen) even though many consider quiche to be French in origin. Regardless of its' origin, what is not to love about eggs (especially fresh eggs brought back from Rhode Island), heavy cream, and cheddar cheese filling a pastry shell? Caramelized leeks and diced smoked ham made for another layer of quiche love.
The filling possibilities for this quiche are endless, but if you have not yet made a quiche with caramelized leeks, you should. Two leeks thinly sliced and sautéed in one stick (1/2 cup) of unsalted butter on a low heat for about 30 to 40 minutes transforms their mild onion and garlic flavors into an addictive level of deliciousness.
This is a substantial quiche recipe. One calling for a dough recipe yielding enough dough for two pies and a large, deep quiche dish. I made the same pie dough recipe used for the Cinnamon Sugar Pie Crust Cookies and the Brûléed Pumpkin Pie with Caramel Swirl but added two tablespoons of sugar. My ten inch wide two inch deep quiche dish worked perfectly for the volume of filling ingredients.
Here is where the first of several changes I would make to the recipe happened. Instead of going with the crimping the edges of the crust with a fork, I would form the edges differently, more free form. With a total baking time of 1 hour and 45 minutes I thought the edges of the crust would develop a beautiful brown (they didn't). Next timed the edges of the curst will be brushed with an egg wash to get the finished crust color this quiche so deserved.
The original quiche recipe called for 24 ounces of extra-sharp cheddar cheese. Yes, a pound and a half of cheese! After making this quiche, the amount of cheese will be reduced to maybe 18-20 ounces in order for the baked filling to be silkier. However, using a combination of sharp and extra sharp cheddar cheeses instead of using extra sharp cheddar cheese only worked well.
The quiche bakes in a 300 degree preheated oven for one hour and forty-five minutes. The long, slow baking time gave me time to take a shower, get dressed and relax just a bit before everyone arrived.
After resting for 10 to 15 minutes, the quiche is ready to cut and serve. The spinach salad with sliced strawberries, Point Reyes Blue Cheese, and pecan pralines all tossed with a homemade balsamic dressing complimented the quiche well. I would definitely pair with this salad with the Caramelized Leek, Ham and Cheddar Quiche again.
1 pie dough recipe (one making enough for two pies) Note: I added two tablespoons of sugar to the pie dough recipe I have been using.)
18-24 ounces of a combination of sharp and extra-sharp cheese, grated, and divided into thirds (recommend Cabot cheese)
2 leeks, thinly sliced and caramelized in 1/2 cup of unsalted butter
4-6 ounces of a boneless, smoked ham steak, cut into 1/4 inch cubes (recommend Boar's Head)
8 large eggs
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 additional egg and 1 teaspoon of water for egg wash
Note: This quiche would work well with a variety of fillings. Choose 8 to 10 ounces of your favorite filling and/or filling combinations. Caramelized leeks with crab; spinach and ham; caramelized onions and shallots; bacon; sautéed asparagus; or any combination of lightly sautéed vegetables.
1. Make pie dough. Refrigerate over night. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface. Line baking dish with dough and crimp edges (with hands or a fork). Refrigerate the dough-lined baking dish for at least one hour.
2. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
3. Brush the edges of the chilled crust with an egg wash.
4. Fill pie shell with 1/3 of the grated cheese.
5. Layer caramelized leeks and ham, spreading evenly over the first cheese layer.
6. Layer the remaining 2/3 of the grated cheese over the filling and cheese layers.
7. In a large measuring cup, mix eggs, cream, salt and pepper together. Set aside.
8. Create a large well in the center of cheese/filling mixture. Carefully pour in egg/cream mixture. (Note: Stir gently with a fork to ensure egg/cream mixture is evenly distributed.)
9. Place baking dish on baking sheet and bake for 60 minutes. Rotate tray and continue baking for another 45-50 minutes or until done. Total baking time is approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes.
10. Allow quiche to rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.
You are never once a cheerleader. Once a cheerleader, always a cheerleader. Some of those high school cheerleader tendencies (for better or for worse) have remained not only as a part of my personality, but are recognizable traits in my fellow cheerleaders. For me, cheering on the team when they were losing caused me to believe in possibility. The singular trait of 'all things are possible' remains both a strength and albatross to this day.
Cheering at wrestling meets (in the stifling hot, sweaty wrestling gym) and track meets may be the reason why I championed and advocated for the marginalized kids in the public schools for all of my years in the education arena. But before those of you who have a fondness for wrestlers get offended, let me explain. Through my high school cheerleader eyes, wrestlers seemed to endure great hardships getting ready for a match. Starving themselves for two days before a match in order to make their weight often meant isolating themselves from the lunch room at all costs. And in high school, no one wanted to miss lunch (and the cafeteria food wasn't the reason). Being assigned to cheer at a wrestling meet (in the stifling hot, sweaty gym) wasn't the same as cheering at a basketball game, but once there you couldn't help but want to cheer on and for those who imposed such hardships on themselves. And unlike football and basketball games, there were usually only a handful of fans at track meets. You had to admire (and want to cheer on) the track athletes who trained incredibly hard but never received all of the fanfare basketball and football players experienced.
Beyond spending time going down memory lane during our reunion lunch this past weekend, it was a reminder of how much our lives our shaped by our school, especially our high school experiences and those early friendships. Whether we maintain some of those early qualities (or vow to completely transform ourselves), what happens in those earlier years influences what happens in our later years. There are always a few regrets (the should have, the could have). For me the biggest regret is letting life get in the way of maintaining friendships that mattered. Keeping up with 'friends' on social media or via email isn't the same as spending time with them. The five hours we spent laughing and talking certainly doesn't make up for all of the 'lost' years, but hopefully it is the momentum we needed to reconnect with one another. Quite possibly (if they are all still game), the wicked adventure we planned will be the start of creating new memories.