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As Seen on TV: Thai Scented Asparagus Soup

Cooking for a living has begun to take over all of my thoughts. Isabella’s newly sewn pink dress isn’t an article of clothing, but a piece of watermelon. Everywhere I go I think about new dishes and ingredients, and there is no off button to press. Just dials on the stove to let me make more food. I feel like a composer sometimes, only instead of notes, I hear shallots, pancetta and fried chicken. It’s driving me crazy, really it is. I love love love teaching people to cook… but seriously. Enough is enough.

 

Though as problems go, this is probably a good one to have...

 

 

This recipe was born out of one of these fits of inspiration. We often teach a cream of asparagus soup in our spring classes, but I was making a Thai dish one day and the idea to infuse it with coconut, lemongrass and ginger just jumped into my head.  It has quickly become a family favorite and it worked out so well that I used it for my latest appearance on Connecticut Style. Although a video exists on WTNH, it was very fast, and we thought you’d appreciate seeing how to make this lively Asian inspired soup step-by-step, so here it is:

 

 Good things lie in store

 

We start with the freshest ingredients, which includes, lemon juice, lemongrass, ginger, asparagus and coconut milk,  but there are others as well, including yellow onions and chicken or vegetable broth.

 

Visions of coconuts dance in my head

 

First, we need to peel the lemongrass, an ingredient commonly found in Asian food stores and in some supermarkets, especially Whole Foods.

 

This is the reason, by the way, that thai food is so amazing. This is the secret. Right here.

 

Then you have to cut most of the stalk away. We only want the part of the lemongrass that has purple rings.

 

You want it to look like this, otherwise there will be tons of aweful tough bits

 

Then – and really pay attention to this or the lemongrass with be tough and stringy – you have to smash it hard several times with a knife. Until it looks like this

 

Smashingly beautiful :D I would recommend going even farther than this, because it will assure you have very very small pieces.

 

 

Then put the lemongrass in a mini food processor with a teaspoon or two of oil until finely minced and looks like this:

 

 

Finely Chopped Lemongrass

 

 

Then you need to peel the ginger. You can peel it in many different ways by using a melon baller, sturdy spoon or vegetable peeler. Afterwards, finely  mince the ginger in a mini chopper as well. You can, obviously, do that by hand, it will just take much longer.

 

 

 

 

After sautéeing the onions until they are glassy, add the lemongrass and ginger and continue sautéeing until the ginger and lemongrass start to soften, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the asparagus, salt and pepper and cook for another five minutes.

 

Make sure everything is coating everything so the flavors all blend nicely together

 

 

Add the broth (chicken or vegetable – we like to use vegetable when we’re cooking for a crowd, since then we can make this vegan and everyone can eat it!) and give the mixture a good stir in a large pot, such as a Dutch oven. Cook for 15 minutes and then puree the soup either in a blender (after letting the mixture cool) or an immersion blender right inside the pot, our preferred choice.

 

 

 

Add a bit of lemon, give it a good stir, and serve. The great thing about this soup, next to the amazing flavor, is that it tastes great for several days and can certainly be made the day before company. And there you have it! Serve with a garnish of mint, or chives.

 

 

Click here to get the complete recipe written up on Food52!

Pie Squared

Ever since the macarons, which sort of represent an excess of streamline and precision, I’ve felt a need to kind of make up for it with something you might actually want to make. I mean, let’s be honest: it’s summer time, the living is easy, why should our sweets be so hard? Besides, last week, my sisters and I ate a half gallon of blueberries that were so good that Francesca has sworn off sweets for the rest of the summer. And they weren’t even from the farmers market.

 

In wax paper, served with Yumberry Punch in an old milk jar. Seriously, why even bother otherwise? (Just kidding).

 

When even Costco’s blueberries take on a sort of magical flavor, you know the time has come to leave delicate pastries and (dare I say) even chocolate behind us, and let summer’s bounty speak (mostly) for itself. And so, when I was flipping through this month’s Bon Appétit and saw a recipe for portable, hand-held “pies,” I was inspired. The only thing in the whole world I like better than pie, is food I can eat with my hands. For as long as I can remember, my vacations have been filled with forkless indulgences – pizza from Pepe’s, burgers with crispy cheese from the Shady Glen Diner, and black cherry vanilla ice cream cones from Pralines. Summer is a time to relax and have fun, not a time to wrestle with those super pesky knives and forks (I mean seriously, you have to wash them and everything…). So not only is a hand pie the ultimate food, it’s about as seasonal as you can possibly get.

 

 

 

These days, pie is my favorite dessert, but for a long time there was only one pie in the world I would eat, and that was my mother’s blueberry-lime pie, known affectionately in our house as The Best Blueberry Pie Ever. She found the recipe years ago in an old newspaper clipping, which itself cited another newspaper clipping. It’s simplicity perfected – graham cracker crust, mounds of homemade whipped cream, and blueberry-lime filling on top. She’d make it after our  trips to Lyman Orchards, and back in the days when I shunned apple, peach, pecan, key lime and strawberry rhubarb, there was always a place in my heart (and my stomach) for an extra piece of this pie.  I still do shun all other blueberry pies, because nothing compares to this.

 


 

 

And so I took the hand pie, and filled it with my best childhood memories. These are ridiculously simple to make. You simply prepare the filling, and roll out store-bought puff pastry while it cools. Cut the puff pastry into nine pieces, place filling on each, and fold them over. Cut designs on each of them (extra points for creativity)…

 

 

 

Sprinkle them with raw sugar…

 

Yes I swiped this from starbucks. I fully expect you to do the same ;)

 

Chill, and bake. That’s it! And unlike some recipes we know, these need no explanation other than the recipe below. Also, with all these Independence Day picnics coming up, I hope you do realize that these are blue on the inside, and that they are positively heavenly with whipped cream and strawberries. Just saying.

 

Happy 4th of July! And as always, Happy Baking.

 

Blueberry Lime Hand Pies
Adapted from Bon Appétit, July, 2011 and an old, long lost newspaper clipping

filling
1/4 cup and 3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
grated peel of one lime
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4-1/2 cup water
2 pints (1 quart) fresh blueberries, rinsed

pies
1 14-17 oz package of puff pastry (preferably Pepperidge Farms), thawed in refrigerator
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water
1.5 teaspoons (or about 2-3 packets) raw sugar

1. In a large saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch, lime peel, lime juice, and 1/4 cup water.
2. Add 2 cups of blueberries and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, and blueberries are softened, about four minutes. If mixture is thick before it turns dark purple, add the other 1/4 cup of water. Your kitchen should be smelling like my childhood right about now.
3. Remove from heat and stir in remaining blueberries. Let chill for 15 minutes.
4. Flour a baking surface, and roll out puff pastry into a 15 x 18 in rectangle. Pepperidge Farm comes in two sheets, so be sure to lay them down next to each other and roll them into one sheet. You’ll create a small seem, but that doesn’t matter because you’re going to fold it over there anyway.
5. Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut rectangle into 3 columns and 3 rows, creating 9 5×6 in rectangles.
6. Combine egg white with 1 tablespoon water together, and, working with one at a time, brush the edges (approx. .75-1 inch wide) of  a rectangle with the egg wash. Place 2 heaping tablespoons of blueberry filling on one end, and fold over the other side, so edges meet. Seal edges by crimping with a fork, and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat for the rest of the rectangles. If you have leftover blueberries after this, just eat them with whipped cream or ice cream, or waffles, or whatever you want.
7. Make a few cuts on the top of the pies, and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 375°F (or 350°F on convection).
8. Brush with remaining egg wash, and sprinkle with raw sugar.
9. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown.
10. Cool on sheet for 10 minutes, and then on baking rack.
11. Serve with whipped cream, strawberries, or nothing at all. Enjoy!

 

*Note – I had mentioned in an earlier post that the Jack Daniels Fudge Pies were the only pies in the whole world worth making. You may make an exception or two until September 21st.

(31) Crazy Nights

The holidays are a busy time for everyone. So, since I was off in the city taking finals and everyone else was so caught up with, well, Christmas preparations, it’s easy to see how an eight-day holiday might be celebrated on the 31st rather than the 1st. To be honest, we did light the candles. And we said a prayer over them. And Francesca explained the importance of the Shammash (it’s a big helper, just like her) as Isabella blasted Candlelight. But I had an English final to write, and so we were forced to neglect the most important part of the Hanukkah celebrations. The potatoes sat lonely and unpeeled, the oil remained in its container, and there was no mess on the stove or the microplane. Yes, our grand Potato Pancake Plans had been foiled by the cruel march of time. It was a real snub to half my heritage.

That night as I nestled all snug in my bed, visions of latkes danced in my head. And over the following weeks I couldn’t shake the sad feeling that something was missing from my December. The potatoes were calling to me. Honestly.

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I need therapy.

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But when New Years Eve finally rolled around and mommy was planning a menu for our quiet New Years evening of Munchies and Mad Men, I seized my opportunity. “Yes, of course I’ll grate the potatoes, Mommy!” I promised. “I’ll do the whole thing myself!” And so she agreed. Because I said I’d do it.

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In my head I was a bit terrified. Grating is so labor intensive, and I have a slight fear of deep frying. But with the strength of the Maccabees behind me (they certainly didn’t have microplanes…) I charged on. And to my surprise and delight, it wasn’t that hard!

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You do have to grate the potatoes on this setting.

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And you’re *supposed* to grate the onions on this setting…

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But you could also just put them in one of these…

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And go until they look like this…

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And so once you’re done with that, all you have to do is mix them with the potatoes, flour, egg and salt to get this beautiful batter.

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And you get these heavenly Hanukkah (or rather New Years) miracles!

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Obviously, you don’t have to be any part Jewish to fall in love with these. Pancakes this style are ubiquitous throughout Europe, and I like to think there’s nobody in this world who doesn’t love fried potatoes. They’re the finest form of simplicity, and they’re great all year round, particularly for celebrations. And yes they make a bit of a mess… but they’re entirely worth it.

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Joyous New Year! We are so happy to have you all as readers, and we can’t wait to share even more with you in 2011.

New Year Latkes (Potato Pancakes)
Adapted from Leah H. Leonard’s Jewish Cookery (1949)

6 Medium Potatoes
1 Medium Onion
2 Eggs
1/2 Cup Flour
1 Teaspoon Salt
Vegetable oil

1. Peel potatoes and grate into a large bowl.
2. Squeeze out the liquid. This is very important. I speak from experience. Recent experience.
3. Peel and finely grate the onion. Or just puree in an immersion blender.
4. Add onion to potatoes, and mix in eggs, flour and salt, and stir to blend.
5. Add enough oil to a wide, heavy frying pan to fully cover pancakes, and heat on high. Drop in a tiny bit of batter as the oil is heating. When the batter begins to sizzle, you know it’s hot enough.
6. When oil is hot, lower stove temperature to medium-high, and drop in batter with a spoon to make pancakes approximately 1/2 inch thick, and 4 inches wide (give or take, it’s all a matter of personal preference)
7. Fry, flipping every few minutes, until both sides are golden brown
8. Lift out with spatula onto plate with paper towels on it. Pat dry and serve immediately.

Beginning of Summer and Graduation

It’s been almost three weeks since I graduated and it’s still barely sunk in. It’s so foreign to me, taking a day trip to New York without feeling guilty for putting off a paper, or going in the car without bringing flashcards. But it’s been an amazing few weeks. Now that I have no obligations, I get to spend as much time as I want playing with my sisters, taking pictures, playing the guitar, manning the cooking school booth at the farmers market and of course, cooking up a storm. In fact, cooking up a storm is the first thing I did when I got home, Sunday, June 6th. The moment my diploma was safely out of reach from any sisters or cousins who might want to color it in, I put on my apron and went to work on final preparations for my grad party.

The highlights of the party were the cheese table (above), and a cookie-candy bar (below) that was as much of a hit with the grown ups as with the kids. Doing tables like these isn’t hard. After the jump are some tips for doing one at your own party.

And for dinner, mom really outdid herself. Among the things she made were Salmon en Croute with dill, lemon and black pepper cream, Beef Tenderloin with Stilton Sauce and assorted grilled vegetables with herbs de provence. But perhaps the highlight was this fabulous, and foolproof, bacon-arugula quiche. It’s one of our absolute favorite things to make here at the test kitchen, and we’re very excited to share it with you. Click for the recipe!

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