Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Braised Asparagus with Rosemary

Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables. Some people hate it, and I'm okay with that. All the more for me.

Unfortunately, with Utah's climate it's nearly impossible to grow so, we have to ship it in from places like California if we want to enjoy it. Unfortunately, that does make it a little more expensive than other vegetables around here. That's okay, though. We just don't eat it as often. I try to buy asparagus only in the spring, it's normal growing season. I'm not sure that it makes a real difference in terms of quality, considering it has to be shipped by truck a few hundred miles anyway, but I like to pretend.

Rosemary is a wonderful addition to asparagus. This simple recipe makes a great side to almost any meal. In this case, we're going to be braising the asparagus in a simple stock, and add just a bit of butter at the end for flavor.

Equipment needed
vegetable peeler
kitchen knife
large skillet
measuring cups and spoons

1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon of dried rosemary, crushed* (or 1 tablespoon, fresh)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 pound fresh asparagus, peeled and trimmed.
1 teaspoon dried parsley (or 1 tablespoon fresh, minced)
2 teaspoons butter (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the stock, rosemary, onion, garlic, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil.

Add the asparagus and a dash of salt. Cover and reduce the heat, gently simmering for 3-4 minutes until the asparagus is tender-crisp and bright green. Add the butter and remove from the heat. Remove the bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

*I love the flavor or rosemary. I don't keep an herb garden (yet) and fresh rosemary is very expensive, so I buy dried. The trouble is, I hate the hard spears in my food. Crushing the rosemary with a rolling pin helps overcome this problem. I've also been known to create my own powdered rosemary by running the dried rosemary leaves through a spice grinder.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Preparing Asparagus for Cooking

Asparagus has slender, light green stalks with tightly closed buds at the top. White asparagus is grown underground, and so it never really develops chlorophyll. Most often asparagus is cooked as a side dish, but it can be served raw as part of a vegetable platter.

When preparing asparagus, you want to rinse them well in cold water. The bottom of the stalk is inedible and can easily be broken off. Larger, thicker stalks should be peeled. The outer skin can become quite fibrous and tough.

As an experiment in trying to make myself more useful, I've decided to make a video about it. One word of warning. This is my first video and it looks it, It makes me shudder, thinking about it.

Next time, I'll think I'll hire an actor to play me.

Photo by Nic X

Monday, March 22, 2010

Turkish Lamb Stew

Before it gets too warm, I thought I'd share one last warming stew for cold nights. Turkish Lamb Stew may have it's origins in the Middle East/Eastern Mediterranean, but I can easily see my ancestors making something similar, although they would have used potatoes and this recipe does not. My paternal grandfather may have enjoyed something like it while he sheered sheep throughout Utah and Southern Idaho. It uses minimal seasonings (only salt and pepper), allowing the flavor of the meat and vegetables to take center stage.

Equipment needed
Measuring cups and spoons
Cutting board
Kitchen knife
Frying pan (with lid)
Wooden or plastic spoon

2 pounds lamb
1 1/2 large onion, finely chopped
3 carrots
3/4 cup frozen peas
1 large green bell pepper
4 medium tomatoes, diced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 1/3 cups stock (any kind)
salt and ground black pepper to taste

Peel and finely chop the onions. Peel and slice the carrots into 1/2 inch round slices. Seed and core the bell pepper. Slice into strips, about 1/2 inch wide by 1 inch long. Dice the tomato into 1/2 inch thick cubes. Cut the lamb into 3/4 inch cubes. In a dish, lightly salt and pepper both sides. Set all aside.

Heat the olive oil in the pan over medium high heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. Saute until softened and translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the lamb and saute until completely brown on all sides. Add the carrots, pepper, and tomato. Stir in the tomato paste. Add the stock, cover with a lid, and wait until the mixture comes to a boil.

Remove the lid, reduce the heat to medium low and skim off any foam. Add the peas, bring back to a simmer, and cover again with the lid. Simmer for 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes 6 servings.

Fresh ingredients are best, but this recipe adapts very well to food storage items. Honestly, it's too early in the season to get things from anyone's garden. Why not use up some of your canned food storage? Got left over lamb? Use it, instead.

With canned foods, here are some conversions to keep in mind:

1 medium tomato is about 8 oz or about 3/4 cup. 1 large carrot is about 7.5 ounces.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Food Joke Friday - Taste the Soup

Max goes into his favorite restaurant where the waiter immediately brings him a bowl of tomato soup. The customer signals the waiter to come back.

"Taste the soup, please." he says.

"Why?" inquires the surprised waiter.

"Taste the soup!" comes the reply.

"Max, you've been coming in here every day for ten years. There's never been anything wrong with the soup."

"Taste the soup!"

"What's wrong, too much salt? Not enough salt?"

"Taste the soup!"

"What, you want more croutons?"


The waiter finally agrees, "All right all right, I'll taste the soup! Where's the spoon?"

"A-HA!" exclaims Max.

Photo by Christoph Kurtzmann

Monday, March 15, 2010

Essential Baking Pans – Part One

If you're going to do some serious baking, you've got to have a serious pan. Pans that are always cracking jokes just aren't going to cut it.

Even serious (or semi-serious) bakers don't bake everyday, so you don't want to spend a fortune on these things. At the same time, cheap flimsy pans may result in your masterpiece landing on the floor. This is my only real concern with flexible, silicon pans. That and, in some cases, the cost.

The material choice is going to vary from job to job, be it metal, ceramic, silicon, non-stick, coated or whatever. Whatever you decide to buy, take care when storing your bakeware, avoid things that would cause rusting or scratches.

Muffin Tin
A non stick coating is a pretty good idea, here. If you don't have that luxury, uses paper liners and grease the cups, well with butter.

Baking Sheet/Jelly Roll/Sheet Cake Pan
I love my aluminum baking sheets. They're sold as “jelly roll” or “sheet cake” pans and are pretty inexpensive. I've had one for nearly twenty years and it's still going strong. I was so impressed with it, that when I decided I needed a second one to expedite things in the kitchen, I bought the same type and brand. It cost me all of $15.00. It's been an absolute bargain.

When buying a baking sheet, you want to get the largest one you can that will still comfortably fit in your oven. It should be sturdy, inflexible. The difference between a true baking sheet and a jelly roll or sheet cake pan is the lip. A true baking sheet is completely flat and has no lip. The jelly roll pan and sheet cake pans have a small lip around the sides. I've never minded the lip and have felt no need to buy separate sheet for cookies, small pizzas, or meringues.

Cooling Racks
A must have item for baking in my kitchen. Cakes must be cooled completely before being filled, iced, or otherwise decorated, let alone cut into pieces. Without a cooling rack, cookies can become over-done on the bottom. They won't remain flat if you don't cool them before stacking them, either. It's the same with good bread. It has to cool completely before you slice it, or you're going to get too hard of a crust and bad slices. A cooling rack allows air to circulate around the entire item, from the bottom up, not just the top down. This is especially good for breads so that the steam inside the bread can rise to create a terrific crust, not too crunchy, not too soft.

Loaf Pans
Speaking of bread, if you're making your own, you may want to invest in a couple of good loaf pans. Again, I prefer a strong aluminum pan. I have two that are constructed in the same way as my solid aluminum baking sheets, and they share a similar story. I've had one for nearly twenty years that's still going strong so, I bought a second for about $7.00. Non stick varieties are preferred by some, but I've never had a problem with breads or meatloaf sticking if I just grease the pan, before hand.

Baking Dish
A solidly made ceramic or glass baking dish, about 9 inches by 11 inches, seems to be the best choice, here. You want at least a 2-inch depth so it can handle things like lasagna and other baked pasta dishes, or even a roast. Such baking dishes are great in the oven, but do not take sudden temperature changes well so aren't good for stove top. If you're going to do something with the roast's drippings, like making gravy, use a dedicated metal roasting pan instead. Because they don't handle sudden temperature changes well, avoid pouring cold water into your hot baking dishes or they will crack and break.

Stay tuned food lovers. In part 2, we'll cover pans for cakes and pies.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Southern Style Pralines

You may recall that my oldest daughter is teacher herself to make candies. I talked about my little confectioner's latest adventures in making pralines so, it's about time I shared the praline recipe with you. They're sweet, tasty, and addicting. I don't recommend doubling the recipe, even though my daughter did. I'm not sure that you can just double ingredients with things like this, because of the way sugar reacts at different temperatures.

Just so you know, I bought her a candy thermometer the other day. She's pretty excited about it. Now maybe she'll make more candy for me ... erm ... us to eat.

Equipment needed
Heavy saucepan
Kitchen knife
measuring cups and spoons
wooden or heat resistant plastic spoons
wax paper
candy thermometer (optional)

3 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
2 cups pecans, chopped
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract

Add the brown sugar, cream, corn syrup and salt to a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil. Continue cooking until the candy thermometer reads 234 degrees Fahrenheit (soft-ball stage), stirring occasionally.

Remove from the heat and add the butter. Do not stir it in! Let it cool until the thermometer reads 150 degrees Fahrenheit (about 35 minutes).

While the candy is cooling, chop the pecans with a kitchen knife and lay out several sheets of waxed paper on your counter or table.

Once cool, stir in the pecans, vanilla, and now melted butter. Stir with heat resistant spoon just until it starts to thicken, but I still glossy, about 5 to 7 minutes. Drop the candy by heaping teaspoonfuls onto the waxed paper; spreading to form 2-inch circular patties. Let them cool completely until set. Store in an airtight container.

Makes about 3 dozen.