Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Roasted Asparagus with Basil Gremolata

During the spring months, I eat a lot of asparagus. Seeing that it's not even May, I figured I better come up with some new ways of preparing it so my asparagus adoration doesn't fizzle out by June.

Now, gremolata is the traditional topping for osso buco and consists of a lemon zest, parsley, and garlic mixture. Forgive my own loose interpretation but I really like the word "gremolata" and besides, my recipe has to be sort of a distant cousin at least, right?

This is one of those things that just works. The shallots, toasted bread crumbs, and lemony basil brightness really add layers of flavor to the already delicious roasted asparagus. Initially I thought I had too much gremolata topping for the amount of asparagus I roasted but it's so tasty, the amount seemed just right to me.

To serve 4 as a side:
  • 1 bunch asparagus, ends snapped off
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 small lemon
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 4 large basil leaves, chopped
  • About a cup of crustless, day-old bread pieces (I used the bread from the perfect rustic bread recipe)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the asparagus on a baking sheet and toss with a tablespoon of the olive oil, a large pinch of salt, and some freshly ground black pepper. Place in the oven on the center rack, and roast for 15-20 minutes, giving the asparagus a toss once or twice while they are cooking.

Meanwhile, take the bread pieces and put them in a blender or food processor and give them a few whirls until they turn into coarse, small crumbs. Set aside.

In a small skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat and add the shallots, sauteing until they are starting to brown, about 2-3 minutes. Add the bread, and stirring constantly, cook until the bread turns golden and toasts a bit. Remove from the heat and place in a bowl. Add the basil and the zest from the whole lemon to it. Season to taste with salt and stir together thoroughly.

When the asparagus is ready, place it in a serving dish and squeeze the juice from half a lemon over it. Spoon the gremolata over the top and serve.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Grilled Greens

Guestblogger The Chef: At long last I got The Chef to put down on paper one of the great things he cooks for us outside of the restaurant. This has become a family favorite, and an easy way to eat up all those greens in the garden or your CSA box. -A Crafty Lass

Hearty greens often take a back seat to their sexier cousins in the produce section. They don’t seem to promise the same instant gratification as plump red tomatoes or buttery ripe avocados. I sometimes even find myself staring at the chard in our garden asking, “Now what?”

Well I think I’ve found the answer. This way of cooking greens came out of my desire for utility, an impulse I suspect a lot of cooks are having these days. Picture if you will a substantial bunch of greens, hacked off of some gorgeous golden beets and bound for the compost pile. Now imagine an intensely burning pyramid of lump charcoal laying in wait for a few meager steaks. It just doesn’t feel right. Here is my culinary solution, the result of which is tasty, resourceful, and the perfect go-to accompaniment for a summers worth of grilled meats…oh, and although untested, I imagine this would make a killer burger topping.

To serve 2-4 people as a side:
  • 1 bunch of hearty greens (collard, beet, swiss chard)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Pre-heat gas grill to high or charcoal grill so that coals are at their hottest. Wash greens thoroughly and shake off any excess water. Set whole greens with stems on grill grate and move frequently with tongs to provide substantial grill marks on the wilting leaves. Allow the stems to linger over the hottest part of the grill as they will take longer to cook. Total cooking time should take no longer than five minutes.

Once the greens are cool enough to handle, slice the leaves into half inch ribbons and the stems into quarter inch pieces. Place the greens in a medium mixing bowl, add the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, and toss to combine.

Can be served hot, at room temperature, or cooled and re-heated.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mixed Lettuces with Edamame, Strawberries and Candied Pistachios

I am specific about salads. First off, I only started eating them as an adult since that fateful time in early childhood when I randomly proclaimed I didn't like them; the issue was never pressed and that was that. Later, I became aware that salads did not have to be the iceberg/tomato/cucumber concoctions I ran from. The salads I make for myself tend to have a common theme to them. I typically opt for the mixed lettuces + fruit + nuts + cheese + vinaigrette variety.

This salad came together on a whim with what was on hand and I feel quite proud of it. The sweet crunchy pistachios, contrasted with the earthy edamame, creamy chèvre, and tart berries is a lively combination that is as good to eat as it is to look at.

For 2-3 servings:
  • Half a head of red leaf lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • Half a head of butter lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup of shelled, cooked and cooled edamame
  • 4 -5 strawberries, thinly sliced
  • A couple tablespoons crumbled chèvre
  • One recipe candied pistachios (see below)
  • White wine vinaigrette (see below)

Toss the lettuces, edamame and strawberries with the vinaigrette to taste. Divide the salad onto plates and sprinkle the pistachios and chèvre over the top. Serve immediately.

For the Candied Pistachios:

  • 1/4 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of ground chipotle powder

In a small skillet, combine all ingredients over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly until the sugar has caramelized and the nuts are golden. Spread the nuts out on a piece of wax paper to cool.

For the Vinaigrette:

  • 3 tablespoons walnut oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon agave nectar or honey
  • Pinch of salt
  • A few grinds of black pepper

Place all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until emulsified.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Strawberry Whole Wheat Scones

When we were in New Orleans several years back I became quite enamored with the lazily paced, extravagant Sunday brunches those Cajuns know how to do up just right. It felt quite freeing to eat oysters and crêpes while boozing it up with a Milk Punch before the clock strikes noon.

The Chef and I have carried over what we learned from New Orleans with our Sunday breakfasts. Champagne is almost always involved, and since the strawberries have been so lovely lately, I decided to try my hand at a strawberry scone.

I'm not quite sure why, but it seems like recipes for strawberries that are cooked aren't that common. In these scones, I found that they baked up very nicely--juicy and ruby-colored. Even though they are mainly made with whole wheat flour, the butter and buttermilk maintains a moist, delicate crumb.

For 16 scones:
  • 1 1/2 cups King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups diced strawberries (they should be cut into about 1/4-inch cubes)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup agave nectar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon milk for brushing
  • 1 tablespoon demerara sugar for sprinkling

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into 8 tablespoons and add to the bowl. With a pastry blender, work the butter into the flour mixture until it breaks down into pea-sized bits. Whisk in the oats and stir in the strawberries.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, agave nectar, and vanilla. Pour into the large bowl and with a spatula, incorporate the wet into the dry only until it comes together. On a lightly floured surface, turn the dough out and with floured hands, give it a few quick kneads. Divide the dough into two balls and place on the baking sheet.

Pat the balls into two disks, 1/2-inch thick and six inches in diameter. With a knife, mark each disk into 8 wedges. Brush the dough with the milk and sprinkle the demerara sugar evenly over the top.

Bake for 20-23 minutes, until the scones are puffed and golden. Serve warm, with crème fraîche of course.

Adapted from a recipe in the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Cookbook.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Potato Chip Cookies

The other night The Chef and I had some friends over for dinner, and in accordance with polite dinner conversation, we discussed what foods we cannot eat due to severe illness following consumption of said food. I was most horrified at my friend John's confession that for him, it's kettle chips. I cannot even type that without feeling sad for him. Kettle chips are nothing but pure salty crunchy goodness and although I don't eat them often, when I do, I am thankful kettle chips exist. Perhaps if the chips were hidden in a delicious crispy cookie, John could once again lead a normal life.

My mom used to make these for me as a kid and I loved the novelty of them, loved telling people the secret, I love baking them because they are seriously delicious. It's best to give these away as soon as they are baked--unless it's not a concern of yours to consume several dozen cookies in a 24 hour period. Crisp sugar cookie meets salty chips....mmmmmmm.

For about 2 dozen cookies:
  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1¼ cups flour
  • ¾ cups finely crushed kettle chips
  • ¾ cups finely chopped raw pecans
  • Extra granulated sugar and butter for flattening the cookies

In a mixer, cream butter, sugar, egg yolk and vanilla until fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl once. Add flour, chips and pecans and mix until thoroughly combined. Form the dough into 1½ inch balls and place 3 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Place about a half cup of extra sugar in a bowl and grease the bottom of a drinking glass with butter. Dip the glass into sugar and flatten each ball of dough, dipping back into the sugar each time.

Bake in the center of the oven at 375 degrees for 7-9 minutes until the edges are just barely golden. Cool for a minute on the baking sheets, then, cool completely on a wire rack.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Green Vegetable Salad with Creamy Tarragon Dressing

I find that it is so much more enjoyable to eat vegetables when they are doused in cream. Undoubtedly, this is why I love this salad as much as I do. Apparently, this dish is reminiscent of a French salad of haricots verts and green hazelnuts but I so like the addition of peas and asparagus in all their green glory. As for the nuts, I just toast up some regular old hazelnuts and give them a chop.

I eat this all season long, changing the vegetable and herb combinations as the garden changes, adding in basil, some diced, grilled zucchini, a chopped tomato, or making it with just peas. The basic premise always remains the same: seasonal green veg, delicious creamy goodness, chopped toasted hazelnuts.

This serves about 8 as a side dish:

  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche
  • The juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • The zest of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
  • 2 teaspoons chopped chives
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 pound haricots verts (thin green beans)
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1/2 bunch of pencil-thin asparagus
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts

In a small bowl, whisk together the crème fraîche, lemon juice and zest, milk, and chopped herbs. Add a couple pinches of salt and taste, adjusting accordingly. Cover the dressing and refrigerate until ready to serve. This can be made a day ahead.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the hazelnuts on a sheet pan and toast for 5 minutes. Give the pan a shake and depending on how they look, toast them for about 2-3 minutes more. Once they are cool, rub them with a towel that you don't care about to remove their skins, coarsely chop, and set aside.

In a large pot, heat some salted water until it boils. Cut the haricots verts in half. Snap the ends off the asparagus, cut them into 3-inch lengths and set aside. Add the haricots verts to the water. Cook for 1 minute. Add the asparagus and peas to the pot and cook for 2-3 minutes more*. Drain in a colander, and pour the vegetables into a bowl filled with ice water. Once cool, drain again.

Place the vegetables in a serving dish and spoon the dressing over the top. Sometimes, I toss the vegetables with the dressing before serving it, and other times, I just spoon it over. Sprinkle the hazelnuts over the top and serve.

*If you are using fresh peas, they will have to be boiled for longer.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Spring Seedlings: Part One

One of the best antidotes to a cold, Minnesota winter is the process of germinating seeds for the summer garden. I start by designing a garden plan primarily based on what was a winner last year and what new items we want to try this year. It's amazing how invested I become in our garden...I still feel a pang in my heart when I think of our broccoli plants, tall, sturdy, minty green, that suddenly flowered before bearing anything at all.

We order our seeds from Seed Savers which is an incredible organization specializing in heirloom and organic seeds. The variety is fantastic, and choosing amongst the colorful catalog is both a difficult and delightful task. We not only order vegetable seeds from them, but also herbs, exotic annuals, sunflowers, and for the first time this year, fruit plant seeds.

After the seeds arrive, we convert our sunroom into our mini-growing lab...which from the street looks sort of suspicious and I often wonder what passersby think. I got this handy newspaper potmaker for the plants and while watching TV I sit and make pot after pot, writing on the side what seeds I will grow in it later. There is special seed starting soil that can be bought at Home Depot or the like which works great. Once the pots are made and filled with soil, 2-3 seeds are sprinkled in each one, lightly covered with soil, and placed on the radiators (or another warm, sunny location) until they start to germinate. Before we got the newspaper pot maker, we used a peat pot kit, like this one, which also works great.

At this point, we set up a table with a long rectangular flourescent light that suspends from the ceiling over it. The light should be quite close to the seedlings, just a few inches above them, otherwise they get "leggy" trying to reach for the light. Once they grow, we raise the light a bit.

I keep them lightly watered and try not to check on them every second of every day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cardamom Nut Brittle

I was inspired to make this after searching for a sweet treat to follow-up an Indian dinner and found this recipe from Gourmet Magazine. I'd never made brittle before and honestly, it was the easiest thing in the world, albeit, slightly dangerous because of the boiling lava sugar. The only thing that took me by surprise was how quickly the mixture came to the necessary 300 degree temperature. In fact, I was lazily measuring out the nuts when I glanced at the thermometer which in mere minutes had rocketed from a safe 270 to 300. I loudly gasped and started dumping ingredients in. The lesson here is, have the ingredients measured out and the workspace readied BEFORE the sugar-heating begins.

Cardamom is a strong, flowery spice so if it's not your thing, I can see other spices easily substituted. Also, brittle is, well, brittle, and I couldn't help but imagine the fillings flying out of my mouth as I ate this so beware. This hasn't stopped me so far, but you know, fair warning.

For many pieces of brittle to give to friends and family:
  • 8-10 green cardamom pods
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup raw cashews, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon raw sesame seeds

Lightly oil two 16- by 12-inch sheets of parchment paper with Pam and put 1 sheet, oiled side up, on the counter.

Crush cardamom pods with side of a knife and scrape out seeds, discarding pods. Coarsely crush seeds with a mortar and pestle. Add the salt and cayenne and stir the spices together.

Bring sugar, honey, corn syrup, water, and spices to a boil in a heavy pot (I used my Le Crueset) over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture registers 300°F on a candy thermometer.

Add nuts and sesame seeds and cook, quickly stirring until nuts and seeds are coated, about 1 minute. Carefully pour the brittle down the parchment on work surface so it is one long, but thin sheet. Cover with the remaining sheet of parchment, oiled side down.

Cool brittle completely, about 30 minutes. Remove top piece of parchment when cool and hardened and break into nice pieces. The brittle will keep in a covered container for at least a month.

Adapted from a recipe from Gourmet Magazine.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Thanks to Guestblogger Eric M. for providing A Crafty Lass with another fantastic post (and lovely photo). If you missed his perfect, fresh Ricotta post, check it out.

Is it possible for gnocchi to be too soft? Too pillowy? These were the thoughts running through my head as I “bit” into my first homemade gnocchi. It was so delicate and light that the word gossamer popped into my head. Our dinner guests loved it, but I thought it could have used a tiny bit more chew.

I was curious about gnocchi because I’ve been making my own pasta, and gnocchi seemed to be a slightly sexier cousin. Plus I had heard that it was more difficult than pasta and I wanted a challenge.

It turns out that making gnocchi is pretty easy, except that you have to work quickly because once the dough cools down it becomes harder to shape them. I had an extra set of hands for that part. After consulting several sources, I mainly used the very detailed 101 Cookbooks Gnocchi instructions, changing it up a bit here and there with what I read in other cookbooks.

For eight people:
  • 2 pounds Russet Potatoes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 1 egg
  • Salt

Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender, 30-40 mins. While still hot, peel and run through a food mill or ricer into a bowl. (Peeling hot potatoes doesn’t sound nice, but Russets actually peel a lot easier than most potatoes.) Add ½ teaspoon salt and the egg and stir very quickly so that it doesn’t cook into eggy bits.

Turn the potato mixture onto the counter and add about half the flour. Knead lightly and quickly. Gradually add as much of the rest of the flour as is needed until it forms a nice, soft dough. Do not over-knead. (Perhaps if I had kneaded a bit more it would have had a little more chew.)

Pull off an orange-sized piece of dough and cover the rest to keep it warm. Flour the counter liberally and roll the dough out into a ¾-inch thick snake, just like using clay in elementary school, except use a lighter touch here and don’t put any of it into your nose. Flour it again and cut the snake into ¾-inch pieces.

If you want ridges on the gnocchi, turn a fork upside down on your counter and sprinkle it with flour. Take a piece of dough and smush it against the back of the fork so that some of it pushes through. Then, gently curl the gnocchi up from the bottom into a little “C” shape and set it on a cookie sheet lined with parchment. I wasted a few gnocchi trying to get this right, but once you do it a few times you figure out the right touch. Repeat with rest of the dough but don’t let the gnocchi touch because they’ll stick together. You probably want to make the gnocchi on the same day you eat it because when I refrigerated the extra gnocchi it became very soft and sticky.

To cook the gnocchi you can either boil it for 2 minutes until it floats, or you can pan fry it with butter and olive oil until browned. Both are delicious. Use a delicate sauce for your feather-light gnocchi—I served it with a cream-based sauce, which worked nicely.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Strawberry Sherbet

I feel kind of funny calling this sherbet since I know it's not. According to my research, sherbet is really just a Middle Eastern sweetened fruit drink with spices so leave it to us Americans to screw that up. Since the damage is already done, I am calling my pink icy confection, sherbet. It would be a sorbet if I didn't add a touch of cream to it but strawberries and cream is so classic, it had to be done.

Now, sherbet and sorbet is not difficult to make, but preparations are necessary so most times, instant gratification isn't possible. With a little planning though it's a snap.

First, make the Vanilla Simple Syrup:
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Allow to boil for about a minute, stirring once or twice, until the sugar is fully dissolved and the vanilla bean has released a lot of its goodness. Take off the heat, pour into a glass container, and refrigerate until very cold (overnight is best).

For the Strawberry Puree:

  • 2 quarts strawberries, stemmed and quartered
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1 tablespoon vodka (the small bit of booze keeps the sherbet from freezing into a solid block)

Place the strawberries in the bowl of a food processor with the water and puree for a minute, scraping the sides of the bowl once. Put the mixture through a sieve set over a bowl and with a spoon, stir and press on the puree to get as much through the sieve as possible. You should be able to measure out about two cups. Add the half and half and stir. Add 1 cup of the cold simple syrup and stir again. Refrigerate the mixture for one hour.

Add to the bowl of an ice cream maker, along with the vodka, and process for about 30 minutes. Spoon into a container and freeze, or have at it and eat it right away.