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Asparagus Potato Salad

It’s springtime and local asparagus is back in stores and at the farmers’ markets. Here’s an easy recipe for potato salad that includes delicious, fresh asparagus. I like this vinaigrette based version better than mayo for letting the flavor of the asparagus shine through. By following the method in the recipe (letting the onions marinate in the vinaigrette, then adding the hot potatoes) the onions are “cooked” to make them milder than raw onions added at the end would be.

This recipe is extremely adaptable. If asparagus is out of season, you can use blanched green beans, snap peas or any other green vegetable that you like. Or you can skip the green vegetable all together and add chopped olives and capers. You could also substitute thinly sliced fennel for the onions. A garnish of chopped boiled egg or bacon crumbled on top would also be nice

ASPARAGUS POTATO SALAD

Ingredients:

½    pound             Asparagus
1      pound              Yukon Gold Potatoes–small
2      tspns               Dijon Mustard
1      tspn                 Salt
¼    tspn                Black Pepper
2     Tblspns           Sherry Vinegar
6     Tblspns          Olive Oil
½    medium        Yellow Onion—julienne
¼    cup                 Parsley, Chives or Dill—chopped (optional)

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• Cook asparagus by your preferred method—steamed, broiled or grilled. Just be sure not to overcook it. Cut into 1” lengths.

• Scrub potatoes and cut into ½” pieces. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Add 2 Tblspns salt. Bring to a gentle boil and cook until just cooked through—about 15 minutes. Drain.
• Meanwhile, make vinaigrette in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk together mustard, salt, pepper and vinegar until combined. Continue to whisk while drizzling in oil. Stir in onions to thoroughly combine.
• While potatoes are still warm, mix with dressing and onions. Gently stir every 10 minutes or so until cooled to room temperature.
• Stir in asparagus and herbs.

 

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Continuing to Dress Better

As promised, a follow up to my last post about DIY salad dressings. In the midst of winter, flavorful tomatoes are in short supply. Sun-dried tomatoes are a good way to bring tomato flavor into the depths of winter.

Here’s a creamy, flavorful dressing that goes beyond the basic vinaigrette, but is still quick and easy to make.

SUN-DRIED TOMATO FETA DRESSING
(makes 2 cups)

Equipment:
• Immersion (or “stick”) blender, food processor or blender.

Ingredients:IMG_5444
4 each Sun-dried tomatoes (not in oil)
2 cloves Garlic – roughly chopped
1 small Shallot – roughly chopped
2 Tblspns Capers (optional)
⅓ cup Water
¼ cup Basil Leaves
1 Tblspn Maple Syrup or Brown Sugar
1/3 cup Rice Wine Vinegar
½ tspn Black Pepper
4 oz. Feta Cheese
2/3 cup Olive Oil

IMG_5457• Soak tomatoes in hot water for 15-20 minutes.
• If using immersion blender, place all ingredients except feta and oil, in a tall, clear cylindrical container or measuring cup. Blend until fairly smooth.
• Crumble feta and add to container.
• With blender running, slowly drizzle in oil.
• If consistency is too thick, blend in water, one tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached.

Other herbs, such as marjoram, dill, parsley or chives may be substituted for basil according to your taste. This dressing works well on a traditional greens-based salad, but its bold flavor also works well when mixed with blanched and chilled green beans, drained and rinsed garbanzo beans and chopped Kalamata olives (as pictured below). You can substitute other green veggies (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers or even kale) for the green beans. And cooked grains (farro, wheat berries, barley) or any other type of canned beans can replace the garbanzos.

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Resolve To Dress Better

If you’ve made a New Year’s resolution to eat more salad, why not go one step further and resolve to make your own salad dressings. It doesn’t take long, the ingredients you need are probably already in your pantry, and the dressings you make from scratch will taste much better than anything you find on the shelves of you local supermarket.

A basic vinaigrette is a great starting point. From there you can add ingredients to suit your tastes or that will complement the other ingredients in your salad. Vinaigrettes are just a combination of acid, fat and flavor in a standard ratio:IMG_5411
-1 part acid (citrus juice, vinegar)
-3 or 4 parts fat (oil)
-flavor (salt, pepper, chopped shallot, garlic, dried or fresh chopped herbs)

If you’d like your vinaigrette to hold together (emulsify) you can add a little dijon mustard or honey. You can also play with the ratio of oil-to-acid based on your personal taste and the boldness of flavor in the acid. If you like your dressing tart, add less oil.

You can whisk together the acid and flavor ingredients in a bowl and then drizzle in the oil while whisking. However, it’s much easier to just put all of your ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake vigorously until well mixed. Added bonus: no clean up!

You can use a high-end extra virgin olive oil in your vinaigrette, but in most cases the vinegar and flavorings will overpower the oil, so a decent mid-priced extra virgin oil with a flavor profile that you like will do just fine.

To balance out the flavor of vinaigrette that seems too strong, add a few drops of water and shake or whisk until incorporated. Keep in mind that extra virgin olive oil may solidify in the refrigerator so you will need to take your vinaigrette out of the fridge an hour or so before you plan to use it and shake to reincorporate the oil.

Here’s a variation on the basic vinaigrette with an Asian twist. Fresh, crisp, raw baby bok choy is a great green for making salads and this dressing works especially well on bok choy. Teriyaki vinaigrette also makes a good marinade for tofu, chicken, fish, beef or pork

TERIYAKI VINAIGRETTE
(makes 1 ¼ cups)

Ingredients:IMG_5421

¼ cup Soy Sauce
2 Tblspns Rice Wine Vinegar
2 Tblspns Orange Juice
1 Tblspn Honey
1 clove Garlic—minced
2 tspns Fresh Ginger—grated (or 1 tspn dried ginger)
½ tspn Hot Sauce
2 tspns Orange or Lime Zest
¾ cup Canola Oil

• Whisk together all ingredients except oil until well combined.
• While whisking, drizzle in oil until blended.
• Alternatively, place all ingredients in a small jar and shake vigorously until combined

I’ll go beyond basic vinaigrette with a couple of blended dressings that will help shake up your winter salad repertoire in my next post.

Asparagus and Mushroom Lasagne

       I’ve always loved asparagus season in Central California. I like that it’s a finite season, and it’s an agro-culinary treat you can really look forward to. Resisting the urge to buy those nice looking spears that come from Mexico a month or so before the California season begins, I patiently wait for the local product to finally arrive. I’ve been enjoying this year’s crop in the usually ways: grilled, sauteed, broiled, in salads,  etc. , but wanted to create a recipe that included some of my other favorite flavors. While asparagus has a distinctive flavor, it lends itself well to a variety of cuisines and applications. This recipe for lasagne  has lots of steps, but isn’t difficult to make. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

 

8          ounces              Lasagne Sheets

3          Tblspns            ButterP1040299

½         small                Onion – small dice

3          Tblspns            Flour

1 ¾      cup                  Milk

½         tspn                 Salt

¼         tspn                 Pepper

1          Tblspn             Olive Oil

1          Tblspn             Butter

8          ounces            Crimini Mushrooms

½         tspn                 Salt

¼         tspn                 Pepper

2          tspns                Fresh Thyme (1 tspn if using dried)

1          Tblspn             Olive Oil

8          ounces            Spinach

8          ounces            Piquillo Peppers – diced

12        ounces           Asparagus

1          cup                  Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese

4          ounces           Goat Cheese

1          tspn                 Lemon Zest

2          Tblspns          Basil—chopped

1          large                Egg

½         tspn                Salt

¼         tspn                Pepper

  • Cook lasagne according to package instructions. Cool and set aside.
  • Melt butter in medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until soft and butter is just beginning to brown.
  • Reduce heat to low and add flour. Stir with a rubber spatula to combine and break up any lumps. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes.
  • Slowly add milk while stirring constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Add salt and pepper and stir frequently until mixture is thick. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Trim tough ends from asparagus. Add asparagus to water and cook just until crisp/tender—about 3 minutes.
  • Drain and immediately dunk in ice water to stop cooking. Drain again and set aside.
  • Cut mushrooms into wide, chunky slices—about 3 slices per mushrooms for medium-sized caps.
  • Add olive oil and butter to a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and salt. Sauté for 5-7 minutes or until mushrooms have softened and released their juices. Add pepper and thyme and cook one more minute. Remove from pan and set aside.
  • Wipe out pan and add 1 Tblspn olive oil to pan over medium-high heat. Add spinach and sauté until just wilted, but still bright green in color. Remove from pan and set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, goat cheese, egg, zest, basil, salt and pepper.
  • For lasagne assembly, spray a 9” square baking dish with cooking spray. Place a layer of noodles in the bottom of the pan. Top with about 2/3 of the béchamel sauce. Add mushrooms in an even layer.
  • Add another layer of noodles and top with sautéed spinach and about 2/3 of the piquillo peppers.
  • Add another layer of noodles and top with 2/3 of the ricotta mixture. Lay in the blanched asparagus spears in an even layer and top with remaining ricotta mixture.
  • Add another layer of noodles and top with remaining béchamel sauce and piquillo peppers.
  • Cover with foil and bake in a pre-heated 350° oven for 30-40 minutes or until heated through and bubbly.
  • Allow to cool for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

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Black Bean and Corn Hand Pies

IMG_1748Hand Pies–the ultimate portable food! It seems almost every culture has a version of this on-the-go lunch or dinner. From Cornwall, it’s the pasty which has made its way to many parts of the world–most notably the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In Latin America and Spain it’s the empanada, also great as a tapa. In Italy it’s the calzone which is pretty much pizza fillings stuffed into an enclosed pizza crust.  You can use any pie crust recipe you like, but I like using a combination of vegetable shortening (or lard, if you have it) and butter for a nice combination of flavor and flakiness.  An egg in the dough adds a certain richness. The idea for this filling came from a visit to The Mmoon Empanadas in Los Gatos. These pies freeze well. Just place the uncooked pies on a sheet pan and freeze them completely, then put them in zip-top bags. They can be cooked straight out of the freezer, just add about 5 extra minutes to the cooking time.

BLACK BEAN & CORN HAND PIES

(makes 6 large pies)

Ingredients:

 Filling

1          Tblspn             Olive Oil

½         cup                  Poblano Pepper—small dice

½         cup                  Yellow Onion—small dice

¼         cup                  Red Pepper—small dice

1          clove               Garlic—minced

½         tspn                 Salt

½         tspn                 Ground Cumin

¼         tspn                 Ground Chipotle Chili (or other chili powder)

¼         tspn                 Black Pepper

½         cup                  Corn

½         cup                  Black Beans–cooked

½         cup                  Queso Fresco (or shredded Jack or Cheddar)

Dough

2 ¼      cups                Flour

1          tspn                 Salt

2          tspns                Sugar

½         tspn                 Ground Cumin

¼         cup                  Shortening

½         cup                  Butter (one stick)

1          Tblspn             Cider Vinegar

6          Tblspns            Ice Water

1          large                Egg

1          Tblspn             Water

Filling

  • Char the skin of the poblano pepper by either roasting under a broiler or placing directly on the burner of a gas stove turned to medium heat. Turn pepper a quarter turn as the exposed side of the pepper becomes evenly blackened. When pepper is completely blackened, place the pepper in a bowl and cover tightly with a plate or some plastic wrap—this helps create steam to loosen the skin.
  • When cool enough to handle, slip off the blackened skin and remove the stem and seeds. It’s best not to rinse the pepper under water so as to preserve all of the roasted flavor.
  • In a sauté pan over medium-high, heat oil until it just begins to shimmer. Add onion and red pepper and sauté until softened, but not browned—about 5 minutes.
  • Add salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder and garlic and cook until garlic is fragrant—about a minute.
  • Add corn (fresh or frozen), black beans (rinsed and drained) and poblano. Cook and combine until heated through. Taste, and adjust seasoning as needed. Place in a medium bowl to cool. Add crumbled cheese and stir to combine.

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Dough

  • Combine flour, sugar and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
  • Add shortening and cut into the flour mixture with two knives, a pastry blender or your fingertips until the mix resemble a course meal. Cut butter into ½” pieces and toss to coat with the flour. Pinch the butter pieces flat with your fingers. Working quickly, pinch and mix the butter pieces in until you have a mix with mostly pea-sized pieces.
  • Add cider and ice water and mix together with a fork until a rough ball forms.
  • Pull dough out onto a lightly floured pastry board or clean counter and turn and push mixture together a few times to form a cohesive ball. Flatten into a disk and wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes or more.

Assemble

  • Preheat oven to 375°.
  • Whisk together egg and water in a small bowl
  • Remove dough from refrigerator and cut into 6 equal pieces.
  • On a lightly floured board, roll each piece out into a circle about ⅛” thick and about 7” in diameter.
  • Place about ¼ cup of the filling in the center of each dough circle. Brush the edges of the dough with egg mixture. Fold edges together and pinch with thumb and index finger. Crimp edges with a fork. If fork sticks to dough, dip it in a little flour.
  • Place pies on a parchment lined sheet pan, brush with egg wash,  and bake for 25-30 minutes or until nicely browned.

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Fall Colors

IMG_0151I always enter the food doldrums when fall rolls around. You see, I’m really passionate about the flavors and colors of spring and summer. Asparagus, peas, plums, corn, nectarines, blackberries, tomatoes, fava beans…well, you get the idea. I think it’s more the change of season (cooler weather and shorter days) that actually brings me down. Because when you think about it, autumn’s bounty isn’t just about the brown and earthy. There’s a lot of color and flavor right now, too. So bring on the winter squash, the blood oranges, the Brussels sprouts, the persimmons and the apples! And try this bright and tasty recipe for Braised Sweet & Sour Red Cabbage.

(serves 4 as a side dish)

2          tspns                Canola Oil

½         medium           Yellow Onion—thinly sliced

6          cups                Red Cabbage (about 1 small or ¾ of a medium cabbage)

1          tspn                 Salt

½         tspn                 Ground Cardamom (optional)

½         cup                  Sherry or Cider Vinegar

¼         cup                  Maple Syrup

¼         cup                  Dried Cranberries or Cherries (optional)

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  • Heat oil in a medium sized sauce pan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until softened—about 2-3 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cut cabbage into quarters and remove core. Cut into strips about ½” in width and add to the pan. Stir to combine. Cook for 8-10 minutes until cabbage has wilted a little.
  • Add salt, vinegar, syrup and cardamom. If you’re not a fan of cardamom, try ground coriander seed or even a pinch of ground cloves or nutmeg. Just something to perk up the flavors a bit.
  • Lower heat to simmer and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, stirring occasionally—about 25 minutes. IMG_0149The longer you can cook this dish, the creamier the cabbage will be.
  • Add cranberries or cherries (or even some grated apple) and cook for 5 more minutes.

Works well as a side for roasted pork or braised short ribs or served over polenta.

Romanesco Broccoli with White Beans

There were no Brussels sprouts at the Aptos Farmers’ Market today, so I had to make do with another favorite veggie: Romanesco broccoli. It’s kind of a cross between broccoli and cauliflower with beautiful, light green spires. Romanesco is milder and less bitter than broccoli and has an almost creamy texture. I thought that texture would blend well with white beans (another one of my favorites). I perked up the flavor a bit with crispy garlic slices and sun-dried tomatoes. This recipe would also work well with those Brussels sprouts I was craving or regular broccoli.

Ingredients:

1 head                   Romanesco Broccoli–cut into florets

4 each                   Sun-Dried Tomatoes

2 Tblspns            Olive Oil

4 cloves              Garlic–thinly sliced

1 can                    White Beans–drained and rinsed

to taste               Salt & Pepper

Soak sun-dried tomatoes in hot water for 20-30 minutes. Drain and julienne. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add Romanesco and return to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes, then drain and run under cold water. Heat oil in a saute pan over medium heat until oil shimmers. Add garlic slices and saute until lightly browned. Remove garlic with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add tomatoes to the pan and stir and saute for a minute. Add Romanesco and cook and stir for another 2 minutes. Add beans and season with salt and pepper. Stir and cook for another 2 minutes. Add garlic slices and serve immediately.