Friday, June 29, 2007


Asparagus week continues! I tore this recipe out of a recent issue of Cooking Light, tried it for the first time a few weeks ago, and really liked it. The toppings are a slam dunk: they reminded me of that awesome, bygone Sidney’s asparagus-and-Brie pizza I mentioned a few days ago, even though it uses Fontina instead (hmm, I wonder if I could substitute Brie?). Plus, it was a noble use of those handsome spring onions I’m always seeing at the farmers’ market. I suspect, however, that the flatbread itself might not quite be worth the trouble it took to make. The recipe does warn that the dough will be sticky, but my dough was very sticky. Probably because I hadn’t been able to find bread flour at my grocery store, so I’d just used all-purpose instead. I realize that if I don’t use the specified ingredients it’s my fault when the result isn’t exactly right, but any recipe that wants me to clutter up my cupboard with some kind of specialty flour gets a demerit in my book anyway.

Since the recipe makes 2 flatbreads that each (ostensibly) serve 6, I’d decided to just make one flatbread. I halved the topping quantities, but the flatbread recipe seemed harder to halve, so I just made the full recipe and then split the dough into two pieces after it had risen, thinking I’d use one half and freeze the other to use another time. But the dough was so hard to roll out—not only was it sticky, but it also tore easily—and I added so much flour in trying to shape it that I ruined the first flatbread and had to throw it away. Good thing I had another piece of dough handy.

For all that work and mess, the flatbread turned out just about average. The texture was nice—tender with a crispy bottom—but with Trader Joe’s selling balls of really great premade pizza dough for just 99 cents, I’m tempted to just scrap the flatbread-from-scratch part of the recipe and turn these tasty toppings into a more convenient meal I can make more often—and on average weeknights, at that. I’ll let you know how it goes, but for now, here’s the recipe as originally written:

Dash of sugar
1 package dry yeast (about 2¼ teaspoons)
¾ cup plus 3 tablespoons warm water (100 to 110 degrees), divided
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons bread flour, divided (about 10 2/3 ounces)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt

2½ teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
4 cups thinly sliced spring onions (about 2½ pounds)
¼ teaspoon salt
3 cups (1-inch pieces) asparagus (about 1 pound)
¾ cup (3 ounces) shredded Fontina cheese

1. To make flatbread, dissolve sugar and yeast in ¼ cup water in a large bowl, and let stand 5 minutes. Add ¼ cup flour (to measure flour, lightly spoon into dry measuring cup and level with a knife) to yeast mixture, stirring with a whisk. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let stand 30 minutes (mixture will be bubbly).

2. Uncover yeast mixture and add ½ cup plus 3 tablespoons water. Add 1¾ cups flour, 1 tablespoon oil, and ½ teaspoon salt, stirring until a soft dough forms. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. While kneading, add enough of the remaining 3 tablespoons of flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough should still feel sticky).

3. Place dough in a large bowl lightly coated with olive oil, turning to coat all sides of dough. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85 degrees), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in size. (To check whether dough has risen enough, gently press two fingers into it. The indentation should remain.)

4. Punch dough down and divide in half. Working with one portion at a time (cover remaining dough to prevent drying), roll each portion into a 12-inch circle on a floured surface. Place 1 dough circle on a pizza peel sprinkled with 1 tablespoon cornmeal. (Note: I don’t have a pizza peel or a pizza stone, so I just put my rolled-out dough—which was more rectangular than round—on the cookie sheet I usually use for pizza.)

5. Place a pizza stone (if you have one) on the bottom rack of the oven. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

6. To prepare toppings, combine 2½ teaspoons oil and garlic in a small bowl and let stand 30 minutes. (You’ll want to do this somewhere in the middle of Step 3, while your dough is rising.)

7. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add spring onions and ¼ teaspoon salt; cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and cook for 3 more minutes or until golden, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

8. Cook asparagus in boiling water 2 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain; rinse under cold water.

9. Brush dough circle with half of the garlic-oil mixture, then arrange half of the onions and half the asparagus over the dough, leaving a ½-inch border. Top with half of the shredded cheese. Slide dough onto preheated pizza stone (or if you’re just using a baking sheet, put the baking sheet on the bottom rack in the oven) and bake for 9 minutes or until lightly browned. Repeat procedure with remaining dough circle, cornmeal, garlic mixture, onions, asparagus, and cheese.

Serves: 8–12
Time: 2½ hours

Postscript: I tried it with the premade crust and it was great. Updated recipe is as follows:

3 teaspoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups thinly sliced spring onions or large scallions (about 1¼ pounds)
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ cups (1-inch pieces) asparagus (about ½ pound)
½ cup (1½ ounces) Fontina cheese, shredded
freshly ground black pepper to taste
pizza dough for 1 pizza (1 lb)
1 tablespoon cornmeal

1. Combine 2 teaspoons olive oil with garlic in a small bowl and let stand 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add spring onions and ¼ teaspoon salt; cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and cook for 3 more minutes or until golden, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

4. Trim tough ends from asparagus and cut spears into 1-inch pieces. Cook asparagus in boiling water for 2 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and rinse under cold water; set aside.

5. Roll pizza dough into a circle or rectangle on a floured surface. Place dough on a baking pan sprinkled with cornmeal. Brush dough with garlic-oil mixture. Arrange onions on top, and then asparagus. Sprinkle with black pepper to taste and top with cheese. Bake on bottom rack of oven for about 9 minutes or until lightly browned.

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour

Thursday, June 28, 2007


Another random recipe from my archives, in keeping with yesterday's asparagus theme. (This is yet another of the pureed soups on which I’ve tested my fabulous new immersion blender over the past month.) It’s a good spring soup—fresh, lively, and a pretty shade of green. The yogurt adds an interesting tangy kick to the common asparagus-lemon-Parmesan combination. I like to serve garlic bread on the side for dipping, which helps temper the soup's tendency toward tartness.

1 pound trimmed and chopped fresh asparagus
¾ cup chopped onion
1¾ cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup milk
½ cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Place asparagus and onion in a saucepan with ½ cup broth. Bring the broth to a boil, reduce heat, and let simmer until the vegetables are tender (don’t overcook the asparagus, though).

2. Place the vegetable mixture in a blender and puree until smooth.

3. Melt butter in the pan that was used for simmering the vegetables. Stir while sprinkling in flour, salt, and pepper. Do not let flour brown. Allow the mixture to cook only 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1¼ cups broth and increase the heat. Continue stirring until the mixture comes to a boil.

4. Stir the vegetable puree and milk into the saucepan. Whisk in yogurt, followed by lemon juice. Stir until heated through, then ladle into bowls. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and black pepper.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Another of those poor, orphaned I’ve-had-this-forever-and-don’t-know-where-it-came-from-or-why-I’ve-never-posted-it recipes. I’m always attracted to egg recipes (frittatas, stratas, quiches) because they seem so cozy and yet somehow elegant, but most of the time they end up disappointing me with blandness. I don’t think I like eggs quite as much as I’d like to. Still, this recipe gives me hope. It is indeed both cozy and elegant; it’s insanely easy to make; you can eat it for brunch or dinner. Best of all, it contains one of my favorite flavor combinations, asparagus and Brie (I’m still lamenting the demise of the Sidney’s restaurant chain in the Twin Cities, solely because it means I’ll never again get to taste its gorgeous asparagus and Brie pizza).

I like this for dinner, with a green salad and maybe some toast.

2 cups cut asparagus
4 green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
6 eggs
½ teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
⅓ cup milk
½ cup Brie, cut into small pieces

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat and sauté asparagus and onions until tender, about 4 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, whisk eggs, salt, pepper, and milk together in a large bowl. Pour into a buttered 9-inch-square baking dish and top with asparagus mixture. Bake 5–10 minutes, until somewhat set.

4. Remove from oven and top with Brie. Put back in oven to bake 5–10 minutes more, until eggs are set and cheese is melted and slightly toasted on the edges.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


I realize that I promised to post this recipe “tomorrow” about two weeks ago, but I plead extenuating circumstances. We’ve been continually battling a domino-like series of plumbing problems that’s left us, variously, without hot water, a working kitchen faucet, or a properly draining kitchen sink. I’ve had to call upon my resourceful Midwestern pioneer roots to find viable ways to keep cooking and cleaning in spite of our apartment’s vagaries: boiling hot water on the stove for dishes! Carrying water from the bathtub faucet to cook pasta! Rinsing carrots in the bathroom sink! It’s been all kinds of fun. Occasionally, I’ve had to admit defeat and just order a pizza, or go out to a restaurant to escape the chaotic kitchen. Under these conditions, thinking about cooking just frustrated me. Things finally seem to be on the mend, however (KNOCK ON WOOD), so I can face posting recipes again.

Also on the mend: the tip of my left pinky finger, which I nearly hacked off in an alarming knife mishap while slicing onions for this green chicken korma recipe last week. (Jury’s still out on the recipe. It was OK, but not as flavorful as I expected; I was hoping it would taste just like that green chutney our local Indian restaurant serves with the papadum. It wasn’t too hard to make, but I’m still not sure I’ll want to go through the trouble of doing it again, especially since I now associate it with traumatic flesh wounds.) It was definitely the most severe injury I’ve ever sustained while cooking, and I’m still keeping it under bandages to avoid grossing people out, but it’s healing well and probably won’t even leave a scar. It did impede my typing for a while, though.

So, now that the excuses are done, here’s a tasty summer soup recipe adapted from Jack Bishop’s Vegetables Every Day. If you want a vegetarian version, consult Bishop’s book, but we love this bacon-y variation. I love how simple the recipe is—only 8 ingredients!—and yet how deeply flavorful, thanks to the ingenious concept of boiling the corn cobs for extra-rich corn flavor. Because the recipe calls for whole ears of corn, it’s best to make it at the height of corn season; I’d been eagerly awaiting the appearance of corn at our farmers’ market specifically so I could make this soup. Well, and also corn fritters. And spicy corn on the cob, of course. And there’s this fresh summer succotash recipe I’ve been meaning to try….

Er, anyway, enjoy the chowder while I daydream about corn.

5 medium ears corn
4–6 strips bacon, diced
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced thin
2 cups milk
¾ pound red potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

1. Remove the husks and silk from the corn. Stand each ear on its end and slice downward with a chef’s knife to remove all the kernels. (Reserve the cobs.) You should have about 3½ cups of kernels.

2. Place the corn cobs and water to cover (about 4 cups) in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, partially cover, and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Pick out and discard the cobs. Strain and reserve 3 cups corn broth; discard remainder.

3. Sauté bacon in a large saucepan until fat has rendered, about 3 minutes. Add the leeks and continue to sauté over medium heat until bacon is crisp and leeks have softened, about 5 minutes. Add the corn broth, milk, potatoes, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer gently until potatoes are almost tender, about 15 minutes. Add corn kernels and continue to simmer gently until corn and potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.

4. Puree 2 cups of the soup in a blender (I, of course, use my new best friend, the Cuisinart SmartStick). Return puree to pot and reheat gently. Stir in parsley and adjust seasonings.

Serves: 4–6
Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Why haven’t I posted for a month and a half?

(A) Now that I’ve reached the ripe age of 30, I’m devoting my time exclusively to important, meaningful, responsible, sober, and grown-up pursuits, such as teaching underprivileged children to read, writing the Great American Novel, training for marathons, and getting ahead in corporate America.

(B) After being distracted by a string of Very Exciting Birthdays in April, I spent much of May traveling and eating in restaurants, often very indulgently (cf. Carbone’s pizza in St. Paul and a whole slew of fried goods in Memphis), so that whenever I was home I obsessively struck to the familiar, safe, tried-and-true, and austerely healthy dishes in my repertoire instead of experimenting with new, exciting, blogworthy recipes.

(C) I’m a lazy loser who can’t get her act together.

Whatever the reason, I’m just bursting with exciting food-related news. First and foremost, three notable birthday gifts:

1. From a group of thoughtful and generous friends, a long-coveted KitchenAid stand mixer! I promptly followed this up with the purchase of some new baking sheets that don’t let everything burn, plus Great Cookies by Carole Walter, which is full of the most delicious and foolproof cookie recipes I’ve ever tried. In the past month, the KitchenAid and I have whipped up (and shared with the aforementioned gift-giving friends) Chock Full o’ Crunchies (cookies with coconut, pecans, and Rice Krispies), Chocolate Sugar Snaps, and my absolute favorite, Chocolate Coconut Devils (chocolate + coconut + almond flavoring = heaven to me). I want to try just about every recipe in this book. I haven’t experimented with making bread using the mixer’s dough hook yet, but I’m already contemplating asking for the pasta-making attachment for Christmas. Homemade ravioli—how awesome would that be?

2. From A’s mom, the miraculously handy Cuisinart SmartStick immersion blender. I love pureed soups, but it’s such a drag to go through the messy rigmarole of pouring hot soup into my cranky old blender and then back into the pot, and then washing the blender and its many tiny parts. Enter the SmartStick. I stick the end into the pot of soup, I press a button, and its sharp little blade whips chunks of vegetables into velvety-smooth liquid right before my eyes. Easy to use, easy to wash, easy to store…SmartStick, where have you been all my life?

3. From my parents, a sweet, sleek little digital camera of my very own; no longer do I have to share A’s elderly, rather temperamental one. Now that it’s so much easier for me to take and upload photos, I’m dying to try adding photos to the site. (When contemplating a new recipe for the first time, I think we all appreciate knowing what the food will look like when it’s finished.) Of course, when I’m hungry and tired after a bout of cooking, I’m focused on eating the food, not whipping out my camera to take pictures of it. So first I have to remember to take pictures of the recipes, then I have to overcome my laziness enough to actually post them. This may or may not ever happen. But the potential is there!

Other food things I’ve been enjoying lately:

1. Presented with a bounty of lemons from a coworker’s backyard tree, P and I canned strawberry-lemon marmalade and then made lemon curd, which is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted. It’s currently sitting in my freezer while I try to figure out a more noble use for it than just devouring it with a spoon. I’m thinking pie or cake—anyone have a good recipe that uses lemon curd?

2. Summer has arrived at the farmers’ market, throwing me into a frenzy of delight every Saturday morning. In the past few weeks I’ve had my first corn on the cob, cherries, watermelon, apricots, peaches, and nectarines of the year. I come home so laden with fruits and vegetables I can barely walk, thinking, “This is what I love about living in California.” Also, I’m obsessed with BLTs, my ideal summer meal. Is once a week too often to make them, do you think?

3. A few weeks ago I visited Memphis for the first time, and it turns out I love Southern food! (I wasn’t entirely certain, having never had what I considered to be the real thing.) People really know how to cook down there, and how to eat. Even though I rather sickeningly overdosed on deep-fried foods and was craving sushi and salads by the end of the four-day weekend, the biscuits alone were worth the trip. I’ve never in my life had biscuits so soft and fluffy…how do they do that? Also notable: fried green tomatoes, sweet potato pie, pecan pie, fried catfish, hushpuppies, and mint juleps. And anywhere where macaroni and cheese is categorized as a vegetable is definitely my kind of place.

I’ve updated the list of recommended food books to include Great Cookies, as well as Nigel Slater’s entrancing The Kitchen Diaries, which is the kind of simple, thoughtful writing about daily cooking and eating that I only wish I could give you. Stay tuned tomorrow for a recipe that happens to involve three of the favorite things listed here: bacon, fresh corn on the cob, and the SmartStick!