Thursday, March 31, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons

So it appears that my "week of asparagus" is not winning over any big time fans. In fact, it seems as though the whole thing has gone over like a lead brick. Rest assured, people. I am finishing this week up with a...dessert! No, not asparagus gelato. Lemon bars!

When it comes to little square dessert treats, brownies really take the cake, but a good lemon bar is hard to pass up. I mashed up a few recipes to come up with my bakery style version of a lemon bar. There is a substantial crust (adapted from Cook's Illustrated) and a significant amount lemon filling, (no wimpy layers!), from a Family Circle recipe that was meant for a 9 x 13-inch pan. The result is a pretty intense square of lemony goodness.

And I can't forget to mention the most spectacular pan ever that I discovered thanks to The Catskill Kiwi. Brownie and cake sheet pans with...removable bottoms! Dude, it will totes change your life. Forget lining your pans with foil or parchment. This is genius.

Lemon Bars

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more to decorate the finished bars
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 eggs
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. If you don't have a 9 x 9-inch pan with a removable bottom (see photo below), then fold two 16-inch pieces of foil or parchment paper lengthwise to measure 9 inches wide. Fit one sheet in the bottom of the pan, pushing it into the corners and up the sides of the pan (the overhang will help in the removal of the baked bars). Fit the second sheet in the pan in the same manner, perpendicular to the first sheet. Spray the sheets with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Place the flour, confectioners sugar, and salt in a food processor and process briefly. Add the butter and process to blend, 8 to 10 seconds, then process until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal, about three 1-second pulses. (Alternatively, mix the flour, confectioners sugar, and salt in a medium bowl, then add the butter, mixing it in with a pastry blender until the butter is well incorporated.) Sprinkle the mixture into the prepared pan and press firmly with your fingers, or the bottom of a sturdy glass or measuring cup, into an even layer. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3. Bake the crust for 20 minutes or until it is light golden brown.

4. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the granulated sugar, flour, eggs and lemon juice until completely smooth. Immediately pour over the warm crust. (The filling must be added to the crust while it is still very warm.)

5. Bake for about 20 minutes or until no imprint remains in the filling when lightly touched in the center. Remove from the oven to a wire rack and cool completely. Dust lightly with confectioners sugar. Run a thin knife around the edges, remove from the pan, then cut into 16 bars and serve.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In the Raw

I'll bet that you've never considered eating asparagus raw. I know that I've never intentionally done it. But as I was flipping through my new Mario Batali cookbook, Molto Gusto, I ran across a photo of a raw asparagus salad and realized that I've had it at Otto. Actually, if you are a fan of that restaurant, Molto Gusto is the definitive Otto cookbook. (I'll have to move on to the pizzas next!) Anyhoo, this simple salad is certainly a new way to enjoy the spring veggie and chock full o'flavor as well. The cheese is a really nice counterpoint to the fresh asparagus and the tart vinaigrette (and the salad is otherwise so healthy) so feel free to add some more!

Shaved Asparagus Salad

1 pound large asparagus, thick ends trimmed off
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup coarsely grated pecorino romano

1. Using a vegetable peeler, shave the asparagus into long, thin strips and transfer to a medium bowl.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, zest, and olive oil. Add about half of the vinaigrette to the asparagus, season with salt and pepper to taste, and toss to coat. Top with the cheese and additional pepper. Serve with the remaining vinaigrette on the side. Serves 4.

Note: I realized that I have never mentioned how to decide where to trim the woody ends on a bunch of asparagus. Take one piece of asparagus and hold the ends between your thumbs and forefingers. Slowly bend the stalk until it snaps. Discard the woody end piece and lay trimmed asparagus spear next to the remaining bunch on a cutting board. Line up all of the tips and trim all of the ends where the single stalk snapped. There's no need to do it one by one...well, you could, but this is faster!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Asparagus Risotto

On day two of my personal asparagus week, I bring you...asparagus risotto! (You're psyched, I can tell.) Actually it is just a basic Parmesan risotto with some asparagus tossed in for good measure, but it qualifies as an asparagus recipe in my opinion.

Risotto does require a bit of patience and attentiveness, but the good people at Cook's Illustrated discovered that you could reduce some of the stir time by adding about half of the stock at once. "Blasphemy!" some may scream, works! After the initial addition of stock has been absorbed, you continue with small additions the way every other recipe requires, and then, boom, you're done. Top it all off with some grilled or sauteed shrimp and it's a perfect spring dinner that will impress your friends. Or if they can't tell the difference between a good meal and a great one, just enjoy it yourself and invite them over for take out.

Asparagus Risotto

(Adapted from The New Best Recipe)

3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
1 pound asparagus, trimmed, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring the broth and water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low and keep the broth warm.

2. Melt the butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Once the foaming subsides, add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the onion is soft and transparent, about 8 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until it is well coated with the butter and the edges of the grains begin to turn translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until all the liquid is absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add 3 cups of the warm broth and, stirring infrequently (about every 3 minutes), simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the bottom of the pan is dry, 10 - 12 minutes.

3. Add more of the broth, 1/2 cup at a time, as needed to keep the pan bottom from becoming dry (about every 3 minutes). After the second addition of broth, stir in the asparagus and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the rice is cooked through but still slightly firm in the center, 15 to 20 minutes total.

4. Stir in the cheese and zest and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, topping with additional Parmesan. Serves 6.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Asparagus Week

I've decided that it's "Asparagus Week" for no other reason other than the fact that I am trying to get back into my regular blogging schedule. And because this first week of spring has acted more like winter, maybe we can trick ourselves into thinking it's warmer by eating a ton of spring veggies. It's worth a try!

It may be too early in the season for local asparagus, but I've started to see it cropping up in stores from a variety of locations. The season typically runs from February to June, so depending on where you live (Hawaii!), you may be able to find a local variety. (In Michigan for example, asparagus is harvested for a six - seven week period from late April/early May through mid to late June.) Fun facts: The asparagus plant is a member of the lily family, which also includes onions, leeks, and garlic. It's also super healthy as it's high in folic acid and is a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamins A and C, and thiamin. Plenty of reasons to eat asparagus this spring! And so is this (almost not a recipe) recipe for an asparagus tart. It's more of an assemblage. All you need is puff pastry, cheese, and asparagus. And an oven.

Asparagus Tart
(adapted from Martha Stewart Living)

Flour, for work surface
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
2 cups Gruyere cheese, shredded
1 - 1 1/2 pounds asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400˚F. On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry into a 16-by-10-inch rectangle. Trim any uneven edges. Place the pastry on a baking sheet. With a sharp knife, lightly score the pastry dough 1 inch in from the edges to mark a rectangle. (See photo below.) Using a fork, pierce the dough inside the markings at 1/2-inch intervals. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.

2. Remove the pastry shell from the oven, and sprinkle with the Gruyere. Trim the bottoms of the asparagus spears to fit crosswise inside the tart shell. Arrange in a single layer over the Gruyere, alternating ends and tips. Brush the asparagus with the oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake until the spears are tender, about 15 minutes. Makes 8 appetizer servings.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

International Waffle Day!

Friday, March 25 marks a momentous day for waffle lovers near and far. International Waffle Day, which originated in Sweden where it's called Våffeldagen, is a great excuse for a big breakfast. And to make it even better, according to Midtown Lunch, you're entitled to a free waffle from Wafles and Dinges if you dress in your Belgian finest...colors that is. That's black, yellow, and red, HEAD TO TOE my friends...a baseball cap will not do. (Send me pics if you go!) According to the W&D website, you'll be able to find the truck in Manhattan on Friday at 52nd Street between 6th and 7th Aves from 10:00 am - 4:30 pm and at 7th Ave & Christopher Street from 6pm- 1am. If you can't make it for the freebie, hit up your favorite breakfast joint or make your own with the recipe I posted here. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Happy Spring!

I'm baaack! Did you miss me? Even notice that I was gone? Well, I was. In Mexico. For work. My plan was to come back and make something fabulous to celebrate spring, but then a particular Mexico malaise set in and I spent the weekend in bed rather than enjoying the sun. Maybe it was the pull of the Super Moon (which incidentally woke me up because it was shining into my eyes through my shades). I don't know. But I really can't stand the four walls of my apartment right now, or how hungry I am. Note to self: Do not watch the Cooking Channel while starving. Watching Jamie galavanting around Stockholm and Mario tasting pizza from coast to coast is torturous after days of broth, plain rice, and Haterade, I mean, Gatorade. (Yet I can't look away.) I want gravlax! I want pizza! Oh, well. Enjoy a few of my pics while I continue to recover and get ready to cook again!

Friday, March 4, 2011

TV Debut!

The Ski House Cookbook is ready for it's close-up! Thanks to ye olde Google alerts, I discovered that TSHC will be featured on an episode of Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag on March 9th, a really fun (and funny!) cooking show that originated in Canada in 2008 and is still going strong in 2011. As a result, TSHC has it's very own IMDB page! Who's fancy now?

Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag features the hosts, Anna & Kristina, testing 5 - 7 recipes from a cookbook of their choosing, shot either on location (like a ski house! see photographic evidence below!) or in one of their home kitchens depending on the content of the cookbook. They also test kitchen gadgets and food items that could prove helpful to the specific recipes that they are testing (i.e. sushi knives or salad spinners, organic or non-organic pork), all while their successes and foibles are caught on, pixels.

Whistler, BC. Borrowed from Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag Facebook page

A guest chef ultimately tastes A&K's featured recipes with them and gives feedback on the success of the results, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. This chef is also interviewed in advance of meeting A&K in order to cut in comments like, "They will NEVER be able to master that," or, "They will NEVER have time to get everything done!" (They're very optimistic.) Forgotten ingredients and burnt brulees are not excluded.

The final decision is whether to buy or pass on the book. If both Anna & Kristina decide it's worth a buy, then the cookbook receives their A&K Stamp of Approval. Let's hope TSHC gets one!!!

Don't forget to set your DVRs for March 9th! (Or watch in person in real time.) You'll have to double check your local listings as I have seen a variety of times slotted for the program ranging from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm to 8:30 pm depending on your location, but you'll be able to find it in Canada on the W Network and OWN and in the USA exclusively on OWN (channel 115 in NYC).

UPDATE: It's possible that The Ski House Cookbook episode will air in Canada first, then air at a later date in the US on OWN. (
The show isn't coming up in my DVR feed!) If anyone happens to catch the episode, please leave a comment below!!!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wintry Mix

Now that awards season is officially over and I skipped the obvious occasional party post (I won my Oscar pool at work, yo! not that we bet any actual money...) we are that much closer to Sunday night episodes of True Blood and further away from favorite meteorological catch phrases such as: Storm of the Century, Snowmageddon 2010, and the commuter arch nemesis, the Wintry Mix. In honor of the Wintry Mix, I made a salad of the typical mixed greens of winter. Now that I think about it, it's a also a really good name for a cocktail...

Aside from the greenery, I thought that some roasted mushrooms (and bacon if I had it!) would be the perfect addition. The cool thing about roasting mushrooms rather than cooking them in a skillet on top of the stove top is that you don't have to baby sit them, worry about overcrowding, or have a bunch of excess liquid leeching into your pan o' 'shrooms, creating a jacuzzi style cooking sitch. Check out the before and after:



In a perfect world, one would roast identical mushrooms together for a specific amount of time: one pan of shitake, one pan of cremini, etc. But since I have no time for specificity, I roasted everything together and simply compensated for the larger, longer cooking mushrooms by placing them on the outside edges of the pan and by placing the smaller and more delicate in the center of the pan. It totally works.

Bacon would have been the perfect foil for this salad, but because I ate an entire package in one sitting, I just pretended that it was there, and it was magnificent. In my mind. You should try it though! (The dried cherries you might see in the photo didn't really work as a replacement.) Several cheeses would work in this salad, so I am giving you the option to choose your fave. Isn't that nice of me??

Wintry Mix(ed) Green Salad With Roasted Mushrooms

Roasted Mushrooms:
1 1/2 pounds wild mushrooms (such as shitake, oyster, cremini, chanterelle)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 - 6 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium Belgian endive, chopped
1 medium head radicchio, chopped
2 ounces baby arugula
1/4 pound goat cheese, crumbled (or Gorgonzola or Parmesan)
1/4 cup pecans, toasted
Cooked bacon, crumbled, as desired

1. Preheat the oven to 450˚F. Remove stems from the mushrooms. Wipe the caps clean. Add the mushrooms to a baking sheet and toss with the oil and thyme and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Place particularly large mushrooms to the outside edge of the baking sheet. Roast for 7 minutes, rotate the pan and roast for about 8 minutes more. Remove from the oven to cool.

2. In a medium bowl whisk together the oil, vinegar, and mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Add the endive, radicchio, and arugula to the dressing and toss to coat. Plate the salad and sprinkle the cheese, nuts, and bacon over the top. Serve with freshly ground black pepper. Serves about 2.