Friday, April 20, 2012
This is the most beautiful sandwich I’ve ever made. It just says “spring” all over, with its delicate hues of pastel green, yellow, and pink and its Eastery flavors of ham, eggs, asparagus, lemon, and dill. I can’t take any credit; I never would have come up with it on my own, especially since I’m not a huge sandwich maker/eater, and in fact I don’t think it would ever have occurred to me to put asparagus on a sandwich at all. (Recipe is from the always-helpful Kitchn.) And it certainly wasn’t any great achievement to put together—boil egg, sear asparagus, slice things, and stack. But it looks and tastes like a work of art. The combination of ingredients initially surprised me, but they work together so well it seems almost inevitable—grassy, tart, creamy, salty, bright, herby, and savory in perfect balance. I’m already jonesing for this again (and this time I’ll double the recipe because I hear the sandwiches are just as good if not better the next day), so I imagine it will be a staple meal for us as long as asparagus is in season.
The only major change I made to the original was to add prosciutto, which was suggested in the comments, and it was the ideal party guest, sliced so thin that it didn’t overwhelm its gentler companions, but adding just a tinge of meaty substance and chew. However, vegetarians can feel free to leave it out without missing too much. I was actually thinking that sliced radishes might be a good addition as well, or maybe it's just that they’d fit in so well with the springy theme and color scheme. If I try it, I’ll let you know.
My sole complaint was not with the recipe, but with my ingredients: my baguette (purchased from Trader Joe’s earlier that day) was extremely hard. I microwaved it a bit, skipped the toasting step, and was generous with the liquid components, but it still made biting and chewing these sandwiches a real workout for our jaws. If I can’t get a better baguette next time, I might consider toasted ciabatta or a softer sandwich roll instead.
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced (or a few tablespoons of diced red onion)
¼ cup red wine vinegar
Half a bunch of asparagus spears (about 15–30, depending on thickness)
Olive oil to taste
2 small baguettes (or a similar portion of a larger baguette, enough for two sandwiches about the same length as your asparagus spears)
Dijon mustard to taste
4 slices prosciutto
Fresh dill to taste
Freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Hard-boil the eggs and set aside.
2. Place the red wine vinegar in a small bowl, add the sliced shallot and a few pinches of salt, and stir. Set aside to pickle while you make the rest of the sandwich.
3. Trim the asparagus by cutting off the woody ends; try to get the spears to a roughly uniform length, about the same length as your bread. If the spears are thick, cut them in half lengthwise. In a large skillet over high heat, add a little oil. Sear the asparagus spears, about 3 or 4 minutes on each side. You want a little bit of char, so don't move the asparagus very often. Remove from skillet and set aside.
4. Split bread in half lengthwise; toast lightly if desired. Brush the top half with a little olive oil; spread mustard on the bottom half. Place two slices of prosciutto atop each mustard-covered piece, then add half the asparagus to each sandwich. Peel and slice the eggs and add half of the slices to each sandwich. Top with dill and pickled onions, then season with salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon to taste.
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: I haven’t tried it, but the original recipe says it will keep a day in the fridge and might be even better the next day, although the bread will lose its crustiness.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
And here’s yet another spinach salad with bacon that I’ve plopped an egg atop. But this one has white beans! Despite its marked similarity to many of the other new salads I’ve been discovering ever since I learned to poach an egg, I still became entranced when I spotted it at Thursday Night Smackdown, where the writing is always entertaining and insightful but the recipes are normally too complicated for my lazy ass. This one is simplicity itself—basically just canned beans on a bed of raw spinach—but the huge flavors of the vinaigrette, with its generous hits of bacon and garlic mixed with shallots, mustard, and vinegar, make the humble ingredients seem fancy.
I doubled the recipe so I could have leftovers (see note below), added the egg, and nixed the canned beans in favor of the dried yellow eye beans I’d bought on a whim at the farmers’ market. Normally I prefer dry beans to canned, but these cooked up bigger and starchier than I’d expected, and although they were still plenty delicious, I think the canned beans might actually have a better texture here and soak up more of the vinaigrette flavors, so I’m going to try canned next time. Other than that, this salad was an easy-but-sophisticated-feeling one-dish dinner—but then, it’s hard to go wrong with that much bacon. If you want to cut back on the bacon or the garlic, I’d understand.
8 strips thick-cut bacon, diced
2 large shallots, minced
12 medium cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup sherry or apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed, or 1 pound dried white beans, cooked and drained
½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
9–12 ounces baby spinach
4 eggs (optional)
1. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat has rendered out and the bacon is crisp. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon from the pan to a plate lined with paper towels, keeping the fat in the pan, and turn the heat down to medium-low.
2. Add the shallots to the pan of bacon drippings and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more.
3. Whisk the mustard into the vinegar, then pour the mixture into the skillet and stir to combine. Mix in the beans and pepper and cook for a few minutes to heat through. Toss in the parsley and bacon.
4. Put the spinach in a large bowl; dump the bean mixture over the top. Toss everything together, then let it sit for a few minutes. If desired, poach the eggs and place one atop each serving of salad.
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good, if the bean mixture is stored separately from the spinach. If you want to eat two servings right away and two servings later, as we did, only combine half the bean mixture with half the spinach in Step 4. Store the leftover bean mixture separately from the leftover spinach. When you’re ready to eat them, heat up the bean mixture and then combine it with the spinach. The leftovers would probably still work OK if they’re all combined ahead of time, as long as you don’t mind wiltier spinach. But obviously, if you’re planning on topping this with a poached egg, don’t poach the egg until you’re ready to eat the leftovers.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
The different between professional-caliber food blogs and, well, mine is that the real ones will helpfully publish holiday recipes ahead of time, in case you should care to try them during your upcoming festivities. I just post them after I’ve tried them, which is inevitably too late to be of use to anyone until the following year, by which time we’ve all forgotten about them. Selfishness: It’s how I roll! But if you like to plan ahead, you might want to bookmark this one for Easter 2013, because it’s pretty, easy, and delicious. Or maybe you need something to do with this year’s leftover Easter basket goodies, which means I’ve caught you in time after all. Ha-HA!
I don’t usually have the energy or generosity to make themed treats, but when these cleverly designed cookies caught my eye at Two Peas and Their Pod last month, I fell in love with their cuteness. Although I rarely make them for some reason, I adore macaroons and have been on a serious coconut kick lately. I also love Nutella and miniature chocolate eggs (Cadbury mini-eggs are THE BEST), so it was a done deal.
As you might guess, these cookies are fairly rich, sugary, and sticky, making them a good thing to share with friends, especially since they probably wouldn’t freeze very well. I wasn’t a huge fan of the macaroon recipe, which differs from those I’ve made in the past in its use of sweetened condensed milk. The cookies were moist, sweet, and coconutty enough, but they seemed a bit too gooey—one of them even fell apart when I transferred it to the cooling rack. However, this may well have been due to user error. I carefully measured out my 3½ cups of coconut, which for me was the entire bag. Only after I put the cookies in the oven and reached for the discarded bag to throw it away did I see “contains 5⅓ cups” splashed across the front. D’oh! Apparently this particular bag had been extremely compressed on its journey to me. (This is why giving measurements in ounces is the best way to go!) So I used way too much coconut, and I probably could have baked the cookies longer—I like a crisper, toastier exterior than I got. But I also hate having random partially used cans of sweetened condensed milk left over in my fridge, so next time I might try the macaroon recipe from the back of the coconut bag instead.
The cookies were also enormous. Maybe this was due to my excessive use of coconut, but I don’t think so, because the photo in the original recipe makes them look about on the same scale as mine were. Sure, they’ve got to be generously sized enough to hold three candy eggs (one would look like a boob; two would still be weird, not nest-like enough), but next time still I’d try making them smaller. Their size—about as large as my palm—and the fact that the Nutella doesn’t harden like frosting, just stays its same goopy self, made them rather difficult to transport or eat gracefully. But I don’t mean to talk them down too much, because I certainly devoured my fair share without complaint, and everyone who tried them loved them.* Clearly I’m planning to make them again next year, albeit with some alterations (I’d also like to try using the dark chocolate mini-eggs, which I couldn’t find this year, in the hopes of cutting the sweetness a bit). They are really charming and fun to make, without requiring any special decorating skills (which goodness knows I don’t have). And considering that Easter is my favorite holiday, it’s nice to have a festive cookie in my repertoire.
*Just now, A wandered into the room and asked me which recipe I was writing about. When I said it was these cookies, he groaned, "Oh, those were so good!" So there's your testimonial.
⅔ cup sweetened condensed milk
1 large egg white
1½ teaspoons vanilla
⅛ teaspoon salt
3½ cups sweetened shredded coconut
About 10–12 tablespoons Nutella
30–36 small chocolate Easter egg candies (I used Cadbury Mini-Eggs)
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line one or two large baking sheets with parchment paper or a Silpat mat.
2. In a large bowl, stir together the sweetened condensed milk, egg white, vanilla extract, and salt. Stir until combined. Add the coconut and mix well.
3. Scoop up about 2 heaping tablespoons of the dough and place it onto the prepared baking sheet. Form into the shape of a bird nest, pressing down the center with your thumb.
4. Bake cookies for 17 to 20 minutes, or until slightly golden brown. Remove from the oven and press your thumb down in the center of the nests again. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes or until they are firm and set. Remove with a spatula onto a cooling rack. Cool completely.
5. Place about a tablespoon of Nutella in the center of each nest. Place 3 egg candies in the center of the nest.
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: OK. I wouldn’t freeze these, but they should last in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days.
Thursday, April 05, 2012
Confession: This is the fifth carrot soup on this site. I just can’t resist a steaming bowl of smooth, sunny orange liquid, apparently. I’ve got them plain, with coriander, roasted with fennel, and curried with coconut, but what I didn’t have was perhaps one of the most common iterations, carrot ginger. In fact, I think the first time I ever tried any kind of pureed carrot soup, way back in a British pub in the mid-1990s (I think it was Oxford’s Eagle and Child, favored haunt of Lewis and Tolkien, but I might be confusing my memories), it was carrot ginger. It stuck in my mind because it was a total revelation to me, an inveterate cooked-carrot hater. Carrot soup, imagine that!
Unlike many people I know, I’m not a ginger fiend, and I probably could have lived quite happily without such a recipe in my collection if my friend S (who really should have a food blog of her own; her cooking is way bolder and more creative than mine) hadn’t specifically recommended this one after making it herself. Suddenly carrot ginger soup sounded tantalizing to me, and the inclusion of citrus sealed the deal.
Surprise, surprise, this lived up to its reputation. The flavors are well balanced—sweet from the carrots, bright from the orange, and peppy from the ginger—yet relatively gentle, and it’s easy to make. But thank goodness I was paying attention while cooking, because the recipe was really poorly written. Although I’ve only tried a few other recipes from the Food Network site, all of them have suffered from a notable lack of editing. If I didn’t know better, I would have pureed my bay leaf right along with the rest of the soup ingredients, because the instructions never told me to take it out. They never said anything about peeling or cutting up the 2-inch chunk of ginger, either, but I figured that slicing it into smaller pieces would help it cook through and ensure smooth pureeing. Not to mention that I was directed to slice the carrots “thinly,” a waste of knife skills because they were going to get pureed anyway and just needed to be small and consistently sized enough to cook quickly and evenly. And why ask me for an entire bunch of cilantro in the ingredient list when it turns out I only need 2 tablespoons? (I used more like 4, because I love cilantro.) The whole thing annoyed me. Good thing the soup was delicious. I’ll definitely make it again…using my own rewritten recipe.
1 pound carrots, coarsely diced
1 medium onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into thick coins
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Zest (about 2 teaspoons) and juice (about ½ cup) of 1 large orange
4½ cups low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth if you want a vegetarian version)
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
2–4 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
1. In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add carrots, onion, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender, 6 to 8 minutes.
2. Add chicken stock, orange zest, and bay leaf to cooking vegetables. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until carrots are completely tender, about 20 minutes.
3. Remove bay leaf and discard. In a food processor or blender, puree soup in batches until smooth; return to saucepan (or better yet, just puree it in the pot using an immersion blender).
4. Stir in orange juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve sprinkled with cilantro.
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Excellent; tastes even better the next day and can be frozen.
Monday, April 02, 2012
Even though I’m not actively trying to accumulate new pasta recipes (because I already have more than I can make in a year), every now and then I encounter one I can’t resist. I initially struggled to disregard this one when I spotted a simplified version at Dinner With Julie—I mean, it looked tasty, and I love filled pastas, and mushrooms and spinach and sausage go so well together, and I don’t have anything like that in my archives, yet it seemed too basic to be worth breaking my ban—but when I saw that the original Bon Appetit recipe also contained fennel (in three forms, no less: bulb, seeds, and fronds), I caved. Now that seemed special. Plus, it looked like the perfect easy weeknight meal for someone who’d just come back from vacation and wanted to eat some vegetables but hadn’t had a chance to go to the farmers’ market.
I’m not sure if I was just off my game, but this wasn’t quite as quick to throw together as I’d expected. Not laborious whatsoever, mind you, but not effortless…just your standard pasta recipe, basically. I blame the fennel, which always feels awkward for me to deal with, especially because I have to struggle to wrest the fronds away from a cat that is inexplicably obsessed with chewing on them. (Like, he can smell the fennel as soon as I bring it through the door and follows me around until I get it into the fridge. It’s pretty cute, actually.) Plus, I cooked my fennel mixture a bit longer than 15 minutes because I like it super-tender, not crunchy at all. So I guess if you’re looking for an unusually fast dish, try the Dinner with Julie version. But if you love fennel, stick with this one, because it’s going to be right up your alley.
Long story short, this is delicious. I knew the flavors would play well together, but I was still surprised by how much I liked it. The saucy-but-not-goopy texture was particularly delightful; that little bit of cream gives it some unctuousness without descending into heavy cream-sauce territory (in fact, if you hadn’t read the recipe, you might not notice it was there at all). I didn’t really make any changes. I did use chicken Italian sausage, which only comes in the sweet variety at Trader Joe’s, so to add spiciness I put in ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes along with the garlic and fennel seed. I might select a different tortellini next time, though. It cracked me up that the original recipe specifies only “dried tortellini with pesto filling or fresh tortellini with 3-cheese filling.” What happens if you use dried cheese tortellini or fresh pesto tortellini—will the dish explode? Still, I followed the rules and went with dried pesto tortellini, mainly because it handily comes in a 1-pound package at Trader Joe’s, whereas the fresh tortellini comes in odder sizes and I’d have to use something like 1.6 packs to equal a pound. I use the dried cheese tortellini all the time for pasta salad, but I hadn’t tried the pesto variety before and found it a little salty and fake-tasting (it reminded me more of dried basil than fresh). It wasn’t as noticeable in the finished dish, but I think I could do better. Oh, and I initially scoffed at the recipe’s direction to return the tortellini to its cooking pot and then add everything else to it—why not keep things cleaner and easier and add the tortellini, spinach and cheese to the skillet with the bubbling sauce, as in most pasta recipes? I’ll tell you why—because that skillet gets full nearly to overflowing, even before you try to add the bulky-before-wilting spinach leaves. I made a mess of the surrounding stovetop in the process, so I’ve learned my lesson there.
Anyway, despite my reluctance to add to my massive collection, I guess I’ve acquired another favorite pasta recipe, because this one’s a crowd-pleasing keeper.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed, halved through core, thinly sliced lengthwise (about 3 cups), fronds chopped
1 pound spicy Italian sausages, casings removed, sausage coarsely crumbled
8 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms, sliced
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, coarsely crushed
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup low-salt chicken broth
1 pound dried or fresh pesto or cheese tortellini
5–6 ounces baby spinach leaves
½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sliced fennel bulb, sausage, and mushrooms; sauté until sausage is brown and cooked through and fennel is almost tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Add garlic and fennel seeds; stir 1 minute. Stir in cream, then broth; boil until liquid is reduced and very slightly thickened, 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, cook tortellini in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain tortellini; return to same pot.
3. Add sausage mixture to tortellini in pot. Toss over medium heat until blended. Add spinach; toss gently until spinach wilts. Stir in ½ cup cheese. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with chopped fennel fronds, and serve with additional cheese to taste.
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: High.