Spring. Pasta.

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I know. I know! FOOD! How freaking crazy is that? On a FOOD blog?

Alright. I’ll stop being dramatic. I just realized that, if I didn’t post something soon, May would go by with not one single post. And I know that, even though it’s only May 15th, because we’re about to get up out of this country for nearly 2 weeks, and I definitely won’t be posting then (since, you know, I barely post now..).

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Also, Spring won’t be around forever, will it? Although I hear it still feels like Winter in the Midwest, it does actually feel very springlike here in San Francisco, and even down in Palo Alto where I work it isn’t blistering hot yet. That said, I figure I should share this spring-like recipe while I still can, because it’s definitely something you should consider making.

I made this pasta recipe a month or so ago, and it is chock-full of spring veggies – broccoli, asparagus, even little cherry tomatoes. You could practically toss in whatever you like – possibly green beans, some roughly chopped kale or chard, whatever. The sauce that results from the pasta liquid, tomato juice, and melted cheese is really light, so light that you have to take care not to make any more pasta than the recipe dictates, or else it will be really dry. If you want a richer pasta, you could probably add a little white wine, or a tablespoon of butter to the pot at the same time you add the pasta water. For me though, I wanted to really focus on the veggies, and that’s the intention here: simplicity, good produce at its Springtime best.

I hope everyone has/has had a lovely Spring. I also hope you’ve enjoyed the rando pics I’ve posted. It’s my little way of barely hanging on to this blog and not totally saying goodbye. It’s nice to still have things to share, and despite having limited time, the picture-sharing is a great way to keep up. Hopefully, more recipes will come, but we’ll see how things go. I can’t remember the last time I took a photo while cooking – probably this one!

So, until next time, stay warm/cool/whatever ;).

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Spring Pasta with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes
adapted from Food&Wine, April 2013; serves 6

time commitment: ~1 hour

printable version

ingredients

2 bunches of broccolini or broccoli (about 1 1/4 pounds), thick stems halved lengthwise

1 garlic clove, sliced

5 T evoo, divided

Flaky sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds red cherry tomatoes

6 scallions, white and tender green parts only, cut into 1-inch lengths

1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths

1 pound tagliatelle

2 T unsalted butter

Large pinch of crushed red pepper

1/4 c chopped flat leaf parsley

About 1/2 c shaved ricotta salata cheese, for garnish

instructions

Preheat the oven to 425°. In a bowl, toss the broccolini and garlic with 3 T of the olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper; spread on a rimmed baking sheet. In another bowl, toss the tomatoes with the remaining 2 T of olive oil, 1/2 tablespoon of sea salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper and spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the vegetables for about 25 minutes, until the broccolini is tender and charred in spots and the tomatoes are very juicy but not broken down.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the scallions until just softened, 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the scallions to a bowl. Add the asparagus to the pot and cook until just crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the asparagus to the bowl.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until just al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Return the pasta to the pot. Add the roasted broccolini, scallions, asparagus, butter, crushed red pepper and half of the parsley. Add the reserved pasta water and cook until the pasta is al dente. Gently fold in the roasted tomatoes and any juices and season with sea salt and pepper. Garnish with the shaved cheese and the remaining parsley and serve right away.

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Hello, Lover

Some of us get lucky in life. Sure, we all have our ups and downs; I don’t mean to say that you are either fortunate or unfortunate on all accounts. I’m speaking strictly about love here. What I’m trying to say, I think, is that those people who find true love – those people are lucky.

I’m lucky enough to be one of them.

In acknowleging said good fortune, I also appreciate that most people fall in love at least once in life. And when you fall in love, that feeling of happiness, of satiety, is one that at that particular time feels so permanent. Going without, or being without that love seems somewhat otherwordly.

And so, when I celebrated 4 years of marriage last week, to me it’s just another year of a bazillion I’ll spend with him. A bazillion years of drinking bottles of wine (barrels, rather), watching hours (days) of reality tv, repeatedly checking the time during Rush concert after Rush concert (do those guys ever quit??!!), jetsetting to country after country, and waking up day after day with the person I feel in my heart was meant for me.

I know for many, “forever” is only 1 year, or 5, or maybe 20 before it’s all said and done. Some good things, unfortunately, must come to an end. [For some reason, I just started singing a Every Rose Has It’s Thorn, but I reckon it’s somewhat appropriate to the tone of the sentence, no?]

Anyway, these “endings”, abrupt or slowly unraveling, don’t just occur in love. Sometimes, our favorite mascara gets discontinued, sometimes the movie theatre behind the mall closes, and sometimes, our favorite restaurant where we used to order our favorite dish vanishes into thin air. I’ve fallen victim to all of them, at one time or another.

But the restaurant-closing is probably the one that’s most relevant here: the restaurant that introduced me to “bibimbap” was open one day in December before the Christmas holiday, and by the time I’d returned it was shuttered. And although I ate there less than (maybe equal to) 5 times during it’s existence, I may or may not have died a little on the inside when I realized that the bowl of rice, veggies, and beef topped with fried egg and doused in Korean pepper paste would never again pass my lips.

I’m not afraid of recreating restaurant dishes. But you must agree with me here – you can recreate, or attempt to recreate, all you want. Sometimes it’s just never the same. And over a year I’ve held out, though I’ve looked up recipe after recipe for bibimbap. And finally, I decided I’d give it a try. But rather than recreating the exact dish, I took inspiration from a variation I came across, and tweaked it until it sounded a little more accurate.

Is it the most authentic bibimbap I’ve ever seen? Well, no. But I’m not looking for authenticity here. I’m looking for something reminiscent of that long, lost love. Something that’s pretty good right out of the gate, but with a couple more iterations and a little nurturing, it’s bound to be a love that will last forever.

Korean Bibimbap with Steak & Asparagus
Adapted loosely from Bon Appetit, April 2010; serves 4

like i said, you could leave this be and it’s going to knock your socks off, if you’re wearing them. i’ve already tweaked the pepper paste sauce a little, added some ingredients, and made a few changes to the marinade for the bulgogi. i added mushrooms to the ingredient list, because i kept wishing they were there with every bite. another suggestion is to try a short grain brown rice, which i remember being far superior. oh, and some corn would be nice too.

if you’ve had bibimbap before, i’d love to know what you think of it. it truly is a favorite of mine.

printable version

ingredients
1 lb New York strip steak, trimmed
3 T toasted sesame seeds, divided
1/2 c low sodium soy sauce
3 T + 2 t Asian sesame oil, divided
2 green onions, finely chopped
3 T light brown sugar, divided
1 T Chinese black rice vinegar
1 T garlic, minced
1 T fresh ginger, minced
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 t Maldon sea salt
1/2 t hot smoked paprika
4 T Korean red pepper paste (gochujang)
1 lb slender asparagus spears, trimmed
1 c carrots, sliced thinly
1 c enoki mushrooms, or other variety
2 t evoo plus additional for brushing
4 large eggs
4 cups freshly cooked medium-grain white rice
Kimchi, optional, for serving

instructions
place steak in freezer for 1/2 hour to make slicing easier. meanwhile, make marinade, paste mixture, and sesame salt.

bulgogi marinade
combine 1 T toasted sesame seeds, 1/2 c soy, 2 T sesame oil, green onions, 2 T brown sugar, black rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes in medium bowl. once steak is somewhat firm, remove from freezer and slice crosswise into 1/8 thick slices. add to marinade and let marinate at room temperature for at least 1/2 hour. you can marinate overnight, if so remove from fridge at least 1/2 hour before cooking and let come to room temp.

paste mixture
combine 1 T sesame seeds, 2 t sesame oil, 1 T toasted sesame seeds, and 1 T brown sugar. set aside.

sesame salt
combine remaining 1 T sesame seeds, 3/4 t sea salt, and paprika in spice grinder or mortar and pestle. combine until somewhat smooth. set aside.

heat large skillet over medium-high heat. Toss asparagus with 2 teaspoons olive oil on large rimmed baking sheet. Sauté asparagus until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Return to rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle sesame salt over; drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Tent with foil to keep warm, or place in warm oven. Repeat process with carrots or any other vegetables you use, adjusting cooking time as needed. Cook each vegetable separately.

Brush grill panor skillet with vegetable oil. Working in batches, grill steak until just browned, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to bowl; tent with foil to keep warm.

Crack eggs onto skillet. Cook until whites are set but yolks are still runny, 2 to 3 minutes.

Divide warm rice among bowls. Divide asparagus, carrots, then beef among bowls, placing atop rice. Top with fried egg. Serve with Korean hot pepper paste mixture and kimchi.

Foodbuzz 24×24: The Last Supper

This is the post where I bash vegetarianism. But only after a night full of meatless, fishless fare, loads of wine, and 6.5 people to consume it all.

I have a horrible habit of blurting out my opinions with reckless abandon. Not thinking before I speak. I’ve been accused of having no ‘mental filter’, whatever the hell that nonsense is. And this ‘no meat’ business, it happened in much that same way: a quality i generally admire in myself (although others may not) backfired. I was the victim of my uncensored words, this time.

You see, for those of you who’ve not been reading along this month, it’s been a long month of vegetarian-occasional-pescaterian-ism in these parts, and it’s all my fault. I thought it sounded like a good “project”, and I blurted it out, and so it was. I’d made an assertion, and I’ve stuck to it.

In that respect, I’m what you might call a “sure thing”: if I tell you I’m doing something, I will do it. If I RSVP “yes”, I will be there. And by golly (I’m lame too, you see) if I say I’m going vege(pesca)tarian for a month, I’m damn well going to make sure it happens, even if the Hubs sticks his pulled pork, brisket, AND his crisp pork belly from People right underneath my nose. Come to think of it, that guy is lucky to be alive, isn’t he?!


{adventures in semi-molecular gastronomy: the making of tomato gelee}

So – longish story a wee bit shorter, but still long, that’s what this post is about. The Last Supper as a wannebee (or not) vegetarian. And yeah, I ate a little fish, I even ate a little shrimp, and I may or may not have licked the juice from the stranger’s burger last week, but this meal you see here is 100% vegetarian. I even used agar agar instead of gelatin for my fancy gelee; I’m hardcore like that. And fancy, too.

Quite honestly, I don’t see how these ‘high-end’ restaurants do these tasting menus. Well, maybe I do: they have a brigade system, for one. And Foodbuzz may offer cash incentives for their monthly hoorahs, but they don’t staff these parties… So, friends, I was chef de cuisine for the night, but I was also my own sous chef, and for the most part, my own plongeur and certainly my own pâtissier. Prep started on Wednesday when I got the urge to make caramel powder. I almost ate it all that night, but I decided to share. And Thursday involved a quick trip to Crate and Barrel for a couple of missing pieces, a Whole Foods excursion (which, why don’t I always go on weeknights? it is so very quiet there after 7), and more prep – making the base for the ice cream, cubing some bread I made a month ago and froze (not for this party, I should say, but why buy brioche when you have frozen cardamom-spiced bread that you made from scratch?!), and getting my plan of attack put together for the rest of my time before Saturday, which included a lot of research about spherification, gelees, and preparing risotto restaurant-style.

With much of the work behind me, Saturday was actually manageable. Thanks to the 3-day weekend, I skirted outta work early on Friday and prepped a bit more, and then celebrated (yeah, I really made this month a big deal, didn’t I?) with a penultimate dinner at Green Zebra (go there, even if you love meat – read about our experience here). After a trip to Green City Market for my local ingredients (‘shrooms, rhubarb, asparagus, un baguette, etc), it was prep ’til service, but in a totally unchaotic way, which is far different than I’d imagined.

Before long, I’d managed to squeeze in some quality book-reading, and then it was “go-time” once everyone arrived. Fortunately, Katherine & Brook (newlyweds – say congrats everyone!) brought apps and wine, Ryan & Caroline (along with Hudson, who I promise didn’t drink any, or not much…) brought more apps and a drink I thought only my sister drank, and I, since I volunteered, got the short end of the stick, and finished it up with 4 courses of veggie fare.

Here’s the dishes:

First Course, Savory: Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella ‘Salad’. This was my insane attempt at molecular gastronomy, and I gotta give mad props to Grant Achatz, because this shit is a lot of work, and he has 10 components on his dishes – this was supposed to be two and a half: mozzarella spheres powder, tomato gelee, and basil oil. Lesson: don’t start molecular gastronomy spherification with mozzarella; start slowly with easy liquids, and not during a dinner party :).

Second Course, Savory: Carrot-Ginger Soup with Chili Butter, Roasted Peanuts, & Crostini. This is what we’d call the ‘easy course’. I think soup is best made in advance so the flavors develop, and making it Friday, rewarming Saturday, was perfect. Plus, who doesn’t like butter in the shape of a star? I knew those ice cube trays would be used one day!

Third Course, Savory: Truffled Mushroom & Spring Vegetable Risotto with Fried Egg. Hmm… I think this was the trickiest. Risotto is best served immediately, but clearly restaurants have to have another way, or they’d have a 30-minute wait just for risotto, which would be stupid. So, you cook it 2/3’s, chill it quickly, and finish it off before service. Add a fried egg on top and you certainly don’t miss the meat. You do, however, miss the full effect of the finished product, because I was intent on getting the hot egg to the table ASAP, and sacrificed the pic to do so. So just imagine that over-easy fried egg atop.

Fourth Course, Sweet: Rhubarb-Ginger Cardamom Bread Pudding, Cardamom-Vanilla Ice Cream, and Caramel Powder. You’re gonna have to hold your horses for this one, friends, because it’s very special and in need of the spotlight. Full post (with recipe) coming soon.

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I gotta be honest here: I am so freakin’ glad this month is almost over, at which point I’ll stop whining and thinking of all the food I’ve missed out on because of my silly ideas.

But….

I have eaten (and cooked) some really good vegetarian food these last 30 days. From Korean tacos to ramp pesto pizza to Green Zebra and now this big ol’ dinner. When you’re actually eating a vegetarian meal, you don’t know what you’re missing, quite honestly. But for me, only choosing to eat vegetarian to “see if I could”, I couldn’t help thinking about what I really was missing, because many times I would have rather eaten meat.

Is it healthier to eat vegetarian? It shouldn’t even be a question. But the answer is no, and if you’re surprised, I’ll tell you why it’s not. For a typical person eating vegetarian food (and when I say typical, I’m comparing that to a vegetarian who eats salads all the time – your stereotypical vegetarian), you are drawn to the heartier recipes – which are cheese-laden and overflowing with carbohydrate – both in a meagar effort to make up for the lacking protein. On the other hand, you do eat more fruits and vegetables, which is without a doubt healthier. And certainly, a balance is probably best, at the end of the day: some meats during the week, a bunch of whole grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Maybe flexitarian is where it’s at.

And maybe one day I’ll consider it. But for the next few weeks, you best believe I’m loading up on pork, beef, lamb, and even chicken. Come to mama.

 The First Course:

Tomato, Basil, & Mozzarella Salad
Inspired by Alinea; makes at least 6 with extra tomatoes and oil

printable recipe

ingredients
tomato gelee (recipe below)
6 small mozzarella balls, sliced in half
basil oil (recipe below)
balsamic vinegar
Maldon sea salt

instructions
assemble each component on small plate. basil oil and balsamic vinegar first, then tomato, then mozzarella. sprinkle with a tiny bit of sea salt.

Tomato Gelee

ingredients
1 lb heirloom tomatoes
salt and pepper
1 T olive oil
drizzle of black truffle oil (optional)
agar agar (quantities below)

instructions
Blanch tomatoes (score bottom of tomatoes, boil for about 2-3 minutes, shock in ice water bath) and peel. Chop roughly and dump in food processor;  add salt, pepper, olive oil. Puree until smooth and strain. Measure liquid content, and dump in saucepan. For every 1 cup of juice, add 1 T agar agar to mixture and bring to boil; simmer for about 5 minutes. Pour into desired container (such as rubber ice cube trays). Cool until firm. Can be made 1-2 days in advance.

Basil Oil

ingredients
1 ½ c fresh basil
¾ c evoo

instructions
blanch basil for 20 seconds. rinse with cold water and pat dry. puree fresh basil and olive oil until smooth; strain. Can be made three days ahead.

The Second Course:

Carrot-Ginger Soup with Chile Butter, Roasted Peanuts, and Crostini
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2010 ; serves 6-8

printable version

ingredients
chile butter
1/4 c (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 T finely chopped green onions or ramps
1/2 t dried crushed red pepper

soup
2 T butter
¼ t curry powder
¼ t hot smoked paprika
¼ t cumin
1 1/2 lbs carrots, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
1 1/4 c chopped onion
5 oz taro root (~2 small, or white-skinned potato), peeled, chopped
3 1/2 T minced peeled fresh ginger
4 c vegetable broth
1 c water + more for thinning soup, if needed
2 T heavy cream
splash of balsamic vinegar
6 T unsalted roasted peanuts, finely chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh baguette, sliced and toasted

instructions
For chile butter
Mix all ingredients in small bowl. Cover and chill (or pour into shaped molds and chill). Bring to room temperature before using.  

for soup
Melt 2 T butter in large pot over medium-high heat. Add carrots, onion, taro root, and ginger; sprinkle with salt and sauté until vegetables are slightly softened but not brown, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add 4 cups broth and 1 cup of water; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly, then puree in batches in blender until smooth or all at once using an immersion blender, without leaving the pot. Return soup to same pot; if desired, add more water by 1/4 cupfuls to thin soup (I added at least 1 cup). Bring to simmer. Season with salt and black pepper and add heavy cream and a splash of balsamic vinegar at end to freshen.

The Third Course:                                                                                  

Truffled Mushroom & Veggie Risotto with Fried Eggs
serves 6-8

printable version

ingredients
5 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided
1 lb chopped shitake mushrooms
1 T black truffle oil
salt and pepper
1/2 lb diced trimmed asparagus
1/2 lb fennelhead ferns, cleaned well (if unavailable, use asparagus)
3/4 c chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 c carneroli (or arborio) rice
3/4 c dry white wine
4 c vegetable broth
3 c water
3/4 c 1/3-inch cubes carrots
1 c freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese plus additional for serving
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley
1 T evoo
6 large eggs (one for each person)

instructions
melt 3 T butter in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add truffle oil, simmer for about 1 minute. Season mushrooms with salt and pepper. Set aside.

meanwhile, blanch asparagus and fennelhead ferns (separately). boil asaparagus for about 2 minutes then shock in cold water; boil fennelhead for about 3. set aside.

In a saucepan, heat veggie broth and water. keep heat on low while making risotto.

melt 2 T butter in large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion; sauté until beginning to soften, 5 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Add rice and stir for about 5 minutes. Add wine. Stir until liquid is absorbed, 1 minute. Add 1 cup broth. Simmer until broth is absorbed, stirring often, 3 to 4 minutes. Add carrots. Continue to add remaining broth/water, 1 cup at a time, until rice is just tender and mixture is creamy, stirring often and letting almost all liquid be absorbed after each addition, about 25 minutes total.

Stir 1 cup cheese, parsley, mushrooms, and blanched veggies into risotto. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook eggs, without turning, until whites are cooked through and yolks are cooked to desired doneness.

Mound 1 cup risotto on each plate. Top each with egg. Serve, passing additional cheese.

The real bacon-lover:

The Emerald City

Vegetarian pescaterian month is in full swing; in fact, I have officially made it halfway through a meatless month! I won’t go as far as to say it’s been easy, but I am alive. I’ve got a vegetarian feast planned for the end of the month as a celebration and a bon voyage to days without pork shoulder, veal chops, and steak. So no, I have not had some weird epiphany that cows should roam freely instead of being branded, slaughtered, and sold to the butcher at the store. Therefore, the week following, which just happens to be the weekend of our 4 year wedding anniversary (4!! years!!), I’m thinking meatfest is warranted, unless Hubs has other dinner plans in his bottomless bag of tricks.

That said, “market season” finally coming to fruition could not have come at a better time than this past weekend. Green City Market shed it’s cement floors and heat lamps and sashayed on down to the south end of Lincoln Park for it’s first Saturday outdoor market. Reusable bags in hand and smile on face, down the yellow brick road I went.

Expectedly so, GCM was jam-packed, literally. But in addition to all the jam and preserves (as well as the throngs of fresh produce seekers), tables were stocked with bails of asparagus, rhubarb, and potted herbs. Some were saddened by the lack of fruit and other vegetables, clearly ignorant of the true purpose of a farmers’ market; these same people likely consider farmers’ markets to be similar to dog parks, or great places to take those double strollers that take up a 4-lane highway. Me? I was perfectly satisfied, as I was finally able to pick up some asparagus from around these parts, and I am way behind on planting herbs, not to mention my grocery list required basil to be purchased anyway.

Fresh potted basil in hand, I finally decided it was time to bust out this phyllo pizza that’d been patiently waiting in my recipe stack since last summer. It is certainly one of those recipes that you kick yourself for holding out on; the light crunch of the phyllo makes this an extra-special perfect-for-spring/summer-pizza, and the ease of making it doesn’t hurt. Plus, this phyllo dough had been falling out of my freezer since earlier this year when the other half of the box was used for Moroccan pie. I was getting tired of picking it up from the floor every time it fell out of my stupidly narrow side-by-side, and making this pizza was far better than tossing the phyllo into the garbage, just to save myself from having my first panic attack.

Given the light nature of this “pizza”, a side dish was inevitable, and for that, asparagus fit the bill. Rather than cooking it, I tried out a raw salad version, as raw veggie salads seem to be the hype this month. By using one of the cheeses from the pizza in the vinaigrette of the salad, the two dishes worked nicely together and with that – dinner was done.

What’s your favorite asparagus preparation? I’ll take ’em grilled any day.

Phyllo Pizza w/ Feta, Basil, & Tomatoes
Adapted from Cooking Light, July 2009; serves 2-4

printable version

ingredients
1/2  c mozzarella cheese, finely chopped
1/2  c feta cheese, finely crumbled
1/4  c grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1  T chopped fresh thyme
1/4  t kosher salt
1/8  t freshly ground black pepper
10  (18 x 14–inch) sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
Cooking spray
2  plum (Roma) tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/3  c green onions, thinly sliced
1/4  c fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

instructions
preheat oven to 375 F.

combine first 6 ingredients in a bowl.

cut phyllo sheets in half crosswise. working with 1 phyllo sheet half at a time (cover remaining dough to keep from drying), place phyllo sheet on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. spray with cooking spray. repeat with 2 more layers of phyllo. sprinkle with 2 tablespoons cheese mixture. repeat layers 5 times and top with remaining 2 phyllo sheets. coat top phyllo sheet with cooking spray; sprinkle with 2 tablespoons cheese mixture. pat tomato slices with a paper towel, and arrange tomato on top of cheese, leaving a 1-inch border. sprinkle with onions and the remaining tablespoons cheese mixture. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden. sprinkle with basil leaves.

Shaved Raw Asparagus Salad w/ Parmesan Vinaigrette
Adapted from Food & Wine, April 2010; serves 4

printable version

ingredients
2 lbs large (fatty) asparagus
1 c grated Parmesan cheese
3 T fresh lemon juice
2 T warm water
1/4 c evoo
salt and pepper

instructions
using a vegetable peeler, shave the asparagus into long, thin strips and transfer to a large bowl.

in a small bowl, mix the Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, water and olive oil. add to the asparagus and toss to coat. season with salt and pepper and serve.

Hypercolor Flashback: Purple Asparagus

purple asparagus pieces
I went to one of Chicago’s local farmer’s markets last weekend, where the asparagus was piled on the tables in a matter resembling fresh-cut lumber. There were stacks of green and purple, yes purple, asparagus. And while I’d heard of it before, I’d never cooked with or eaten it. It has a higher sugar content than its green buddy and is more tender. The cool part is that, when you cook them thoroughly, they turn green on the outside, just like the inside. Maybe you aren’t so wowed by this, but the first thought that came into my mind was this: hypercolor. And I was mystified.

purple asparagus


Do ya’ll remember the hypercolor t-shirts? If not, well – first I am very sad about that, but second – I’ll give you a refresher. The hypercolor fad occurred in the late 80’s/early 90’s amidst a number of clothing faux pas, such as puffy skirts, legwarmers, and fingerless gloves (wait..I must have missed something when those came back into circulation in 2008…). Hypercolor shirts were not fashion faux pas; in fact they’re scientifically fascinating. The amazing magical t-shirts changed colors when exposed to heat, which was accomplished by using thermochromic dye that, at high temperatures, resulted in a chemical reaction that subsequently altered the color of the t-shirt in the area where the heat was applied.

Me? I sported a pink hypercolor shirt that changed to white. My show-stopping outfit was completed with jeans, holes ripped in the knees, a t-shirt clip, Reebok Pumps, and an NKOTB pin that was the size of my head. Well, not that big, but you get the point. Let’s not forget the hair-do: side ponytail with poofed up bangs, probably perfected by Kris. It was something.

making risotto

I used my little purple hypercolor market treasures to make a shrimp risotto. Risotto is one of my favorite dishes to make, as you have a basic ‘no whammies’ technique and an end result that can be altered by adding any other ingredients you wish. Like ice cream, in a way. The worst part, to some, about making risotto is the time spent standing in front of the stovetop, stirring in the liquid. One thinks of all the other chores that could generally be accomplished while cooking – washing the prep dishes, getting the table set, watching a portion of a tv show, reading, etc. These things can’t be done while making risotto.


making risotto



You see, making top-notch risotto is accomplished by cooking your rice slowly by adding small amounts of liquid and stirring, thus releasing the starch molecules from the rice into the liquid. For this to happen, the rice must first get cooked briefly in fat, typically butter or olive oil. Once the rice is al dente, it’s removed from heat at which time you’re free. Free from the reigns of the stovetop, for one, but second, free to add whatever your heart desires – or whatever you’ve got lying around in need of being eaten. On the other hand, if you’re adding something like shrimp, you can cook the shrimp in the risotto, but you’ve got to hang around that stovetop a tad longer. Trust me, for this dish, it’s worth it.


shrimp and asparagus risotto

This particular recipe is one of my favorite risottos so far. You can’t really go wrong by adding shrimp, but the addition of light, bright Greek flavors such as feta and dill is what really does it for me. And to believe I used to hate dill – now I can’t see how one could not adore such a fresh, feathery, aromatic herb. An herb that, while having quite the affinity for salmon, surely doesn’t dislike shrimp in the least. And I’m sure regular ol’ asparagus would work if you can’t locate the purple variety.


So for you? What’s your favorite risotto recipe, or are you a stranger to this Italian delicacy? If so, this recipe will be a perfect first step – so try it out and let me know whatcha think!


Greek Shrimp & Purple Asparagus Risotto
Adapted from Cooking Light, May 2009; serves 4



ingredients
3 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
2 t olive oil
2 vidalia onions, small dice
1 cup Arborio rice
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz purple asparagus, cut into 1″ pieces
1 lb peeled & deveined shrimp
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 T fresh dill, chopped finely
2 T lemon juice
salt & pepper

instructions

  1. Bring broth & water to simmer over medium heat in medium saucepan; keep warm-hot but not boiling
  2. Heat oil in large saucepan (or Dutch oven) over med-hi. Add onion and saute 5 min. Stir in rice and garlic, saute 1 min. Add broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next (~30 minutes total)
  3. Stir in asparagus and shrimp; cook 5 minutes or until shrimp is done, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and remaining ingredients

This Little Piggy Went into My Belly

Mado brunch Chicago
I have come to a realization. Not today, but I came to this realization many many moons ago. I once thought that being a vegetarian would be cool. Now let me also add that I thought this during a time when I also thought I’d look good with dreadlocks, and during a time when I thought that a good excuse for not shaving would be to insulate myself during those cold cold winters in North Carolina. You know, the ones when it just might get into the 20’s. I am NOT saying that any of the above ideas are non-cool (or even un-cool). But I have changed my ways a wee bit since “the 90’s”. And so today, today wanting to become a vegetarian ranks in priority pretty close to wanting to visit Los Angeles again or wanting to have my fingernails ripped out or, well… you see where I’m going.



What I’ve realized is that meat, in all its shapes and sizes, is an essential part of my food pyramid and something I’m afraid I just could not live without. If truth be told, I haven’t really met a meat I didn’t like. Red or white – I don’t discriminate. Favorites? Sure, I have favorites. I’d choose lamb chops over chicken 9 times out of 10 (the exception being a chicken that might be fried or perhaps stuffed with cheese and other tasty treasures). And I’d fight a polar bear in the snow for a bite of a juicy, vinegar-based North Carolina barbeque sandwich with coleslaw and hushpuppies on the side. Oh and sweet tea with lemon too please. Yep, I’d say I am a fan of swine for sure. I’d go as far as to say that most things do actually taste better with a side of bacon. In fact, I’d originally intended to post specifically about one dish I made for dinner last night that included a “small smattering of pork”, but while thinking about it, I realized that I have officially eaten something of the pork variety for the last 3 meals. So again, vegetarian I am not.

cute pig



Sunday began just like most Sundays should – we’d reunited with long lost band members and rocked it out pretty late the night before (and for those of you who think Rock Band is not “real” you are most definitely un-cool) – so we awoke no earlier than 10 to find ourselves thirsty and hungry. Fortunately for us hungry people, we live near a long list of eateries with the majority serving brunch. And so, we made our way about three blocks east to Mado. We’d eaten dinner at this fine establishment a number of months ago and remembered the cuisine to be pretty good. In addition, they’d recently been listed by Bon Appetit as one of the “top places in the U.S. for brunch”. So when faced with the seemingly impossible task of choosing a restaurant, this was a no-brainer.


For those of you who are into sustainable eating, Mado is for you. They list, on their wall-spanning chalkboard, all the local farms from whom they purchase their produce and meat. They don’t lie when they flaunt their use of all parts of an animal and they even house-cure their meat and made their own apple butter and jams. Their website lists their menu, which is to be expected, but they also list a few events and links which again include the farms they use. One link I found to be particularly intriguing was the one called “Sky Full of Bacon” – series of video podcasts about food, centering on Chicago. I plan to subscribe. One reviewer summed his site up in one word – priceless. That’s my kinda food writer 😉

recipe ingredients


Anyway, brunch at Mado was just as tasty as what we’d remembered about the dinner. I had a dish called “eggs in purgatory” which was eggs baked in a spicy tomato sauce with fennel & olives. Served on a little piggy board. Chris had an omelet accompanied by an arugula salad, his favorite green. We split a side of toast with house-made apple butter (de-light-ful) and a side of house-cured ham (also de-light-ful). The ham side was plentiful and had that perfect saltiness. Needless to say, we were good to go until dinner.


proscuitto and peas pasta



Since our brunch was a little heftier than our usual cereal, I’d decided on a real spring-y dinner full of lots of fresh ingredients. I’d seen the recipe in Bon Appetit (yes, this is one of my favorite foodie mags) and it reeked of Spring – asparagus, butter lettuce, peas. The real kicker was the prosciutto topping. How can you resist a spring salad topped with prosciutto? And when you add parmesan cheese? Jeepers! In case you can’t tell, I was excited.

You’ll see below that the recipe makes a pretty ginormous dish. Which is great when you’re in school for three nights straight and unable to cook. I think, had I unbuttoned my jeans a bit and taken a couple of breaks between bowls, that I could have eaten it all in one sitting. It was that good. So, even though (at least in Chicago) it may not look or even feel like Spring, this salad will put you in some sort of a Spring trance – at least until it’s all gone. Oink! Oink!


butter lettuce and prosciutto side view


Pasta w/ Peas, Asparagus, Butter Lettuce, & Prosciutto
adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2009
6 servings (or less if you just can’t stop!)



ingredients
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for drizzling
1/2 pound spring onions or green onions (dark green parts discarded); white parts cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices, pale green parts cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices (I used spring onions)
2 tablespoons minced shallot
Coarse kosher salt
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup low-salt chicken broth
1 1/2 pounds asparagus, cut crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces
2 cups shelled fresh peas (from about 2 pounds peas in pods) or 2 cups frozen petite peas, thawed
1 pound campanelle (trumpet-shaped pasta) or medium (about 1-inch) shell-shaped pasta
1 head of butter lettuce or Boston lettuce (about 6 ounces), cored, leaves cut into 3/4-inch-wide slices
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for sprinkling
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
4 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide strips


instructions
Melt butter with 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and shallot. Sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper. Sauté until tender (do not brown), about 8 minutes. Add wine; increase heat to medium-high and simmer until liquid is reduced to glaze, about 3 minutes. Add broth and bring to simmer; set aside.


 

Cook asparagus in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, 2 to 4 minutes, depending on thickness of asparagus. Using skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer to large bowl of ice water. Return water to boil. Add peas and cook until just tender, about 2 minutes. Using skimmer, transfer to bowl with asparagus. Drain vegetables.


Return water in pot to boil. Cook pasta until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
Meanwhile, reheat onion mixture. Add drained asparagus and peas; stir until heated through. Remove from heat.


Add pasta, 1 cup Parmesan cheese, lettuce and parsley to skillet with vegetables; toss, adding reserved pasta cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls if dry. Season with salt and pepper.


Transfer pasta to large shallow bowl. Sprinkle prosciutto over; drizzle with olive oil. Serve, passing more cheese alongside.

March (Mojito) Madness

wolfpack

Apparently March is the month for MADNESS. Prior to, and for a couple of years after moving to Chicago, we were hooked on NCAA basketball. HOOKED. Especially ACC and the Wolfpack. When I was in college, this guy (right) was our head football coach and the other goof (left) was the basketball coach. Following years of being mediocre in basketball, the Wolfpack finally decided to can the guy on left. Guy on right’s career was even shorter, but he did at least have a couple of great seasons, whether it was due solely to Philip Rivers or not.


NC State old basketball coachChuck Amato













Nonetheless, the Wolfpack fans have moved on. Me, in a way I gave up on them altogether (for the most part, I know – I am a horrible fan). Hubs, well he is utterly and mindnumbingly faithful, so he continued to watch once this guy (below) took over the b-ball team. While hopes were high, Lowe may have initially appeared to be “the savior” to NCSU basketball, but after his first season he hasn’t really come through as expected. Hence, March Madness, as I know it, doesn’t exist this year. Sniff Sniff. I didn’t even fill out a bracket – and I ALWAYS fill out brackets, even if I don’t know crap about the other teams. Sad indeed. We were talking the other day, once NC State decided they didn’t want to participate in the ACC tournament and lost in the “weed-in” game. Weed out for us…. But anyway, we decided, since NC State wasn’t coming through, the next best thing is rooting AGAINST UNC TARHEELS. We’ll see how that works once the NCAA tournament gets really going. Keep your fingers crossed, & Go Duke!!

This, obviously, brings me to the food portion of this post. Since March Madness in terms of basketball doesn’t really exist in my world this year, I will instead focus on MOJITO MADNESS – much tastier and much more satisfying! I absolutely LOVE mojitos, so below I’ll post a couple of mojitos I’ve recently made (one traditional and the other was part of the Battle Basil event). I’m also going to post a recipe for Mojito Chicken. I made it a while back and it was pretty yummy. One of my good friends is gluten-free, so I made it one night when he and his wife (if you ever hear me talk about Jennifer & Jon – this is them) were over. It’s amazing how many things you can make that are gluten-free and super scrumptuous. I initially thought that life without bread was not possible. Not true :). Anyway, I’ll post that below as well. Apparently they thought it was pretty good too b/c Jennifer asked for the recipe. Once she found out I was a “blogger”, she asked when the GF recipes would get posted, and she specifically asked about this one. So Jennifer, this is for you (and Jon…)!

P.S. – I will try to put quantities below, but I really don’t measure these drinks. Sorry!

traditional mojito


Traditional Mojito
serves 8 in pitcher

print recipe

4 limes, cut into small pieces
1 large handful of mint leaves (?1 cup)
8 Tablespoons of sugar (can also use splenda)
2 cups (yikes!!) of white rum
seltzer water

Combine limes, mint, and sugar in bottom of large pitcher (or divide among 8 highballs) and muddle away until there is a lot of juice in the bottom. Add rum and mix. When you are ready to serve, add the seltzer water. Don’t add it early b/c it will go flat. Pour into glasses with ice and garnish with mint and/or lime.


orange-basil-mojito

Orange-Basil Mojito
serves 8 in pitcher

print recipe

Same ingredients as above, except:
In place of limes, use 2 oranges
In place of mint, use basil.

 

Mojito Chicken w/ Roasted Asparagus & Almonds
Adapted from foodnetwork.com; serves 4

 

Ingredients
Olive oil cooking spray
2 bunches asparagus (2 pounds)
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup slivered almonds
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pound cut-up skinless boneless chicken breasts
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup rum (dark)
2 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lime zest, divided
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1 cup white rice, cooked according to package directions

instructions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Arrange asparagus on baking sheet and spray with cooking spray. Season with salt and black pepper. Roast 10 minutes. Top the asparagus with almonds and roast 5 more minutes, until fork-tender and almonds are golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and sugar and cook 3 minutes, until soft stirring with wooden spoon. Add chicken and saute 3 to 5 minutes, until golden brown on all sides. Add lime juice and carefully, off the heat, add the rum. Return to the heat and add lime zest, salt, pepper and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 3 minutes, until chicken is cooked through, about 12 to 15 minutes. Cook rice according to package instructions. When ready, mix in 1 1/2 teaspoons of lime zest.

Serve chicken, garnished with mint, over rice with the almond topped asparagus on the side.