Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sauteed Asparagus

I am frequently asked how I prepare my asparagus --- it's nothing special --- but here's how. It's a lightly steam and saute approach.

I plan on 8 minutes, at little less if the asparagus is young and thin. Snap off the dead ends and wash thoroughly.

I spread the wet asparagus out in a large nonstick saute pan. One single layer works the best. And crank up the heat. Cover and let it cook for a few minutes. Stirring every now and then to evenly cook the stalks.
Steam will collect in the pan, when you have about this much left, remove the cover, add some olive oil and finish sauteing until the liquid is gone.

Don't overcook it -- stop when the inside is still crunchy and the outside begins to brown -- yes, brown. The carmelization makes it taste great. It will be a little limper than you may be accustomed to -- but the flavor is better--even this sad bunch that been in the fridge for a week developed good flavor.

Add lots of freshly ground pepper and some salt to taste.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Tortelloni in Brown Butter & Sage

Thought I'd share another one of my quick meals. I get the urge for it every now and then.

I mostly make it when Tom travels. I'll make myself a serving for dinner and keep another in the fridge for lunch the next day.

But last week I made it because we had lots of fresh sage in the garden. It's also good after Thanksgiving as way to use leftover sage. Pasta is a nice change when you tire of turkey.

I discovered brown butter and sage a long time ago at a neighborhood restaurant near our hotel in London. I was so surprised something so simple could be so good. When I make it, I feel like I am on vacation again. A mini-escape.

It's not a fancy dish, but it is so comforting. And not too heavy. It could be a first course if you made smaller portions.

Not sure how it is made officially. But this is how I make it.

The key to this dish is good quality pre-made tortelloni. I use Pork, Prosciutto and Parmesan. Sometimes I have used Chicken, or Four Cheese Tortelloni, but the chicken is too chewy and the cheese is too soft. The pork tortelloni have just the right texture --- creamy, yet firm.

Boil water and add lots of salt. Add pasta, bring back to boil then reduce heat to simmer gently. These tortelloni will cook in 4 to 5 minutes.
When you have two minutes left for the pasta, melt 2 T of butter on medium-high heat in a saucepan big enough to hold the cooked pasta.

Let the butter begin to bubble and brown around the edges. It becomes nutty smelling and tasting. But you have to work fast now. I let my butter get a little too brown. Start sooner than I did.

Add your sage leaves --- I used about 10 -- Sage is a strong herb but use as much as you wish --- and let them cook until you begin to smell the sage -- it takes just a few seconds.

Then fish out your tortelloni directly from the pot into the browned butter and sage. It will sizzle and sputter, so stand back. But adding your pasta this way will keep your butter from burning. And the pasta water that rides along will create your sauce and keep your pasta moist.

Let it cook until the pasta is coated with the brown flecks and any liquid evaporates. Just a minute or so. However, if you like the pot-sticker effect, e.g., crunchiness, you could let your tortelloni stay in one spot without turning until they are browned. But, I toss mine around.

Remove from pan and serve with lots of shredded cheese -- it will melt. We eat the sage, too, but some might find the actual leaves too pungent.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

We ran into a friend in the grocery store yesterday and he asked me what I was making ---and I said hummus -- and he said why would you bother making that? Why not just buy it? And I mumbled something unintelligible back, trying to defend myself.

I wish I were a quick thinker and had come back with these snappy answers--- I would have said because it tastes so fresh!! and the texture is so much better than store bought!! And it fills the house with wonderful smells!! and it is easy!! I am always looking for easy hors d'oeuvres, especially ones for Summer.

But then afterwards, his wife wrote to me requesting the recipe! So, he must be wondering too.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
adapted from Mediterranean, pg. 38

Fyi - I decided to make this variation of the classic, because I had an opened jar of roasted red peppers in the fridge.

3/4 cup dried chickpeas ( I used 2.5 cups already cooked; canned work too)
juice of 2 lemons ( I used 3)
2 garlic cloves, sliced ( I used 6 minced)
2 T. Olive oil ( I used the good stuff: Prato Longo from Long Meadow Ranch)
2/3 cup tahini paste (It's sesame paste --it comes in a jar -- Greek)
Jar of roasted red peppers, drained, dried, and chopped roughly (about 5)
salt and pepper to taste
extra olive oil and cayenne pepper
parsley for garnish

Soak chickpeas overnight in lots of cold water. Drain and cover with fresh water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil rapidly for 10 minutes, then reduce heat and simmer gently for about 1 hour, until soft, but not mushy. Drain. I salted them and coated lightly in oil, because I made them in advance and stored them in the refrigerator in a plastic container.

I put everything in my food processor, except the roasted red peppers because I still wasn't sure that the red peppers were going to work, and whizzed it together. You can stop here if you want the classic hummus.

But, I was kind of excited about seeing what the roasted red peppers would add in flavor, and what color it would become. Would it become a pretty red or ugly mush?

Curiosity won. I put them in and pulsed it a few times and scraped down the sides. Wow! the red peppers took over beautifully.

But, I had to re-balance it with a third lemon and more salt and olive oil. The key to good hummus seems to be lots of fresh lemon and enough salt. Don't be shy with the salt. Chickpeas, and most beans, require more salt than you think. Tom wanted more garlic, so I put more in for him.

We served it with store bought baked pita chips, but regular pita bread sliced into triangles work well, especially if toasted, to give them some structure for dipping in the hummus.

Here's the cookbook I used -- I pick up regional cookbooks like this in used bookstores for a few bucks -- they tend to explain the ingredients and some of the history behind the dish -- and this one has lots of great photos with step by step instructions. Inexpensive, yet very helpful, and inspiring.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Three Great Flank Steak Marinades

Sarah wanted flank steak for her 30th birthday celebration last weekend, so we made the Teriyaki version. It's a tried and true recipe that I wrote down when visiting Laddie a long time ago. There weren't any leftovers this weekend. Kids love this recipe,too.

But, most likely, if you've been to our cottage and had flank steak, it's usually the Asian Flank Steak recipe. It's one of our most popular recipes.

Plus Tom makes this version, using Whiskey.

Flank steak, although somewhat expensive, works well on the grill and is a crowd-pleaser.

If you have any flank steak marinades that work well for you, please share!!!

Teriyaki Flank Steak
from Laddie -- not sure where she got it

1/2 c. soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 t. ground ginger
2 T. firmly packed brown sugar
2 T. lemon juice
2 T. salad oil
1 T. instant minced onion
1/4 t. pepper
1 flank steak (about 1.5 pounds)

Combine all the ingredients and pour over steak, cover, and refrigerate for 6 hours or until the next day. Lift steak from marinade and drain briefly (reserve liquid). Place on lightly greased grill 4 to 6 inches above a solid bed of glowing coals. Cook, turning once and basting with reserve marinade, for about 6 minutes on each side or until done to liking.

To serve, cut meat across the grain into thin, slanting slices.

Serves 4.

Asian Flank Steak
from San Francisco Flavors Cookbook, pg. 149

2 T. fresh lemon juice
1 T. hoisin sauce
3 T. soy sauce
1/4 c. Worcestershire sauce
1 t. freshly ground pepper
2 T. chopped fresh cilantro
1 T. minced fresh ginger
1 2 pound flank steak
2 T. snipped fresh chives for garnish

Combine ingredients, except chives. Mix well until blended. Cover steak and marinade for 2 hours at room temperature, turning once or twice. Grill or broil for 5 to 6 minutes, on each side for medium rare. Transfer to a carving board, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice the meat crosswise on the diagonal. Garnish with chives and serve.

Tom's Flank Steak

2 1.5 pound flank steaks
1 cup soy sauce
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 T. garlic powder
1 cup Whiskey

Marinate flank steak overnight in the ingredients. Grill until medium rare and let rest before cutting on the diagonal and serving.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Reversing Crystallized Honey

Had to give my honey bears a hot water bath to get them moving again. My honey had crystallized --- again!

Is it a conspiracy by the bears?

Just when I needed honey for a recipe, it is once again stuck in a clump, coarse and grainy, not moving, not even with a spoon.

As you can see, I end up with a bunch of half full containers. So, I began to wonder why this happens. And what to do when this happens.

After doing some research, granulation or crystallization happens for a variety of reasons, but in my case, it's probably due to being exposed to moisture, after being opened. It can easily be reversed by heating the honey gently.

I also learned that microwaving is a no-no. I am guilty, but I won't do it again, now that I know how bad it is. Most of the honey containers are now plastic, and they can easily melt in the microwave. But also, high temperatures can darken the honey and ruin the flavor.

It is better to give them a bath in hot water as recommended by honey experts. But, not too hot. Heat the water up in a separate pan, then pour it over them, deep enough to cover the honey. But be sure your lids are sealed. They can fall over, take on water, and ruin the honey. Trust me, I know.

Heat the honey gently, until the crystals dissolve again. I consolidated the honey into one container - -- and bought a new bear for good measure. I also needed it for a painting I was doing for my brother's birthday. You can see it on my art blog, if you wish.

Honey is best stored sealed tightly, and at room temperature (not in the fridge), away from light, according to most of the websites I found on-line. There is a honey hot line, if you want to know more, sponsored by the National Honey Board.