Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Springtime Creamy Asparagus Soup

As you may have read recently, I somehow ended up with 5 massive bunches of asparagus this past week. I roasted some to have with fried eggs for breakfast, I laid a bunch out on pastry dough with potatoes and cheese for a lunchtime tart, I threw a handful into my Chicken Tetrazzini and still I had barely made a dent in the massive pile of tall green stalks. On my food challenge quest for inspiration a few folks suggested making a soup which I thought about and then promptly forgot. Then by the chances of fate when I flipped on the TV the other day, Anne Burrell was in fact making a chilled asparagus soup! So I figured the universe was trying to tell me something so I trudged into the kitchen to get started. I used Anne’s recipe as a base and then added a few touches here and there. All in all for my first stab at asparagus soup, not bad. Hell, it was actually rather fabulous! The potatoes give it texture and creaminess without needing to add any actual cream, though I did because I had some in the frige, but only a touch and honestly it doesn’t need it. A pinch of red pepper for some heat because I like a little spice but you could easily not include it. You might also make it completely vegetarian by using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. I froze half so when husband defrosts it while I am away, will let you know how that experiment goes. All in all, will definitely be making this one again.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Food Challenge

I had an unanticipated random food challenge this week. By the devilish wiles of chance and fate I ended up with nearly two pounds of red bliss potatoes, 1 large onion, 2 leeks, 5 bunches of asparagus, one head of iceberg lettuce, the remains of a bunch of celery, a bag of baby greens, 3 pints of dying strawberries, 2 avocados, a handful of radishes and 4 defrosted skinless chicken breast. Luckily there was no partridge or pear tree to be had. To add to this dilemma was the fact that I only had two days to get this food cooked, eaten and leftovers frozen as the husband and I were heading out of town for the weekend and the following week marked the beginning of my two week trip across country for work, leaving husband to fend for himself in the kitchen! So I did what any other person would, I stood shivering in front of my open refrigerator scratching my head…. er, I mean, “assessing the situation.”

Once that proved fruitless I took to the web, facebooking, food blogging and emailing friends for inspiration. Lots of fun things came out of this exercise and I have certainly now added a ton to my “plan to cook at some point in the future” list. I already had my heart set on cooking a chicken casserole dish this week (see post next week) so with that in mind it became an asparagus battle. I mean what does one do with 5 large bunches of asparagus (never mind pounds of potatoes)? It is a rather daunting task. Particularly when one’s husband only kind of likes asparagus leaving ONE to really eat all 5 bunches of asparagus largely on one’s own!! And while I simply adore bacon wrapped, deep fried and other tastily fat filled asparagus delights, I do have a wedding to go to this weekend in a sunny local where a bathing suit may also be adorned (GASP!). As such, these types of delectable recipes will have to hold for another time.

But then I was thinking (a dangerous thing in fact)…..a little fat isn’t too terrible right? And some cheese? I mean, if you’re cooking, cheese really must to be involved. Everyone knows that. And hmm, don’t I just love bread. I do really love bread. It’s so flaky and crusty and chewy…..and…..uh oh, an idea was percolating. Frozen puff pastry dough, check. Onions for caramelizing, check. Extra Gruyere from said planned chicken casserole, check. Potatoes and asparagus, double check. I smell a tart coming on!

And so my little adventure resulted in a delightful tart (which further inspired a lovely salad) that would be supplemented by the creamy chicken tetrazzini being made later in the week. My food challenge response: Potato, Asparagus and Caramelized Onion Tart with a side spring salad. I didn't end up using every potato or aspargus spear so who knows, maybe I'll whip up a soup before we head out of town tomorrow, but this tart was definitely one hell of a tastey experiment!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Reinvention of a Dusty American Meal

Old school American food is in my mind epitomized in the tuna noodle casserole. This dish has many variations but the version served to me at a very young age was largely based on a cream of mushroom soup foundation. A dish that was easy on the wallet but went a long way to feed a (picky) crowd. I don’t think I’ve eaten this American standard fare in over two decades, so while feeling a little nostalgic and a lot homey this week, I decided it was time to dust off this old recipe and bring it into the 21st century.

Bon Appetite magazine’s March 2010 issue took a stab at reinventing old school classic dishes, one of which being the tuna noodle casserole. Now I’m sure their original recipe is just fabulous, but being me, I’ve take some liberties in adjusting their recipe to my tastes. Here I’ve added things like sliced mushrooms, peas and some fun spices. The end result – utter love on a plate. The crushed potato chip topping (Bon Appetite’s idea, not mine, but brilliant!) gave the dish a fantastic, salty crunch while the leek and mushroom cream sauce wraps your food sole in a creamy, homey hug with bursts of freshness from the peas. This recipe has a long list of ingredient but most of them are things you are likely to have around and others not too hard to find.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sno Caps in Austin

A Girl and Her Kitchen is expanding! Welcome to the first installment of my guest blog series….A Girl’s Friend and Their Kitchen! This first entry comes from Ms. Elle Boogie in Austin, Texas. She and the hubs go way back. Boogie just relocated to Austin from LA to go to culinary school, which only makes this entry even more fun! We hope she comes back again with all the fun facts and recipes she learns in class!

It's pouring rain here in Austin and I have the day off work, so I thought why not put my (budding) culinary skills to work, pastry style. Well actually, cookie style. Now, I've never baked cookies before, but I've eaten plenty and think I know what it takes to make one oh so delicious. And as I perused the isles of Dollar Tree (more like HOLLER Tree; that place is awesome!!), I came across my inspiration. SNO CAPS!! It's hard to outdo semi-sweet chocolate drops covered in crunchy little candy sprinkles, but I was out to try. So I grabbed a couple of boxes and headed to the market for all the necessary ingredients for creating my little masterpieces. Since I've always been a huge fan of those Entenmann's Toffee cookies, once I saw the bags of Heath toffee bits I knew I had to have them! Finally made it home and began working my cookie making magic. The result was yummy, sticky, gooey deliciousness! Prep and cooking takes less than 30 minutes and well worth the mess!! Happy baking, y'all!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Homemade Biscuits Make Brunch a Major Hit

It seems like every time company comes to visit it’s a food whirlwind, trucking from one delicious eating opportunity to another. Maybe it’s related to my general life obsession with food and eating but no matter the reason it’s always an adventure. My folks were in town visiting recently and so Sunday brunch with my in-laws was a big item on the to-do list. We had been out to eat a ton so I figured we should do brunch at my house where people could relax and avoid the hassle that can be a restaurant brunch. However, I didn’t want to spend my entire morning in the kitchen so I had to do some research.

I found these spectacularly easy but delightfully delicious buttermilk chive biscuits while trolling smittenkitchen. Now I have never in my life made biscuits from scratch before, but armed with my new found obsession with bread making (and the pastry blender I picked up recently) I figured, what the heck.

And OH MY!!!! Easy to make especially with my little pastry cutter but you could certainly use your fingers to break the butter into the flour. The texture was sinful, flaky, buttery, light but rich in flavor. I could not stop eating these little guys! The best part --- after shaping the biscuits and placing them onto cookie sheets, I wrapped the whole thing in tinfoil and plopped it in the freezer the night before (and I am sure you could make them days in advance) and baked the biscuits up in no time flat straight from the freezer before we sat down to brunch. A major homemade touch that took maybe 10 minutes to mix the dough and form the biscuits and 15 minutes to cook. Easy as pie and a major winner on the brunch table. I will be making these again and again. Maybe next time I’ll add bacon pieces too!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Not for Passover Noodle Kugel

This shiksa made a booboo on Passover and brought noodle kugel to dinner. I like to think it is rather endearing of me and thank god for forgiving in-laws. Apparently the fact that pasta dough is not leavened doesn’t matter. It’s still on the ‘do not invite to Passover dinner’ list. Most of the folks at Passover dinner this year could not in fact explain to me why pasta is not allowed aside from just knowing its just not. So, with that new information in hand, next year I will volunteer to make something more Passover appropriate and while I will likely be the butt of a few family jokes for eternity (though I’m not sure this tops my mother in law’s gefilte fish-matzo ball soup accident) at least I made my mark in a very A Girl and Her Kitchen way.

My religious faux pas aside, this turned out to be hands down the best kugel I have ever in my entire Jewish food eating life tasted.  I’m not sure there is a kugel out there better than this here dish. Now I had previously thought kugel was a noodle pudding. Obviously my recent Passover experience proves that wrong. Apparently a kugel is a casserole (which can also be made with matzo which most normal Passover cooks do for the holiday…ooppss). Duly noted.

If you have not had the pleasure of making or eating kugel, you are missing out. It’s a sweet or savory dish (I like sweet) made of (in my house) wide egg noodles, slightly sweet eggy custard doted with mild cheese, melted butter, and perfectly seasoned with lemon zest and nutmeg. It is baked until it is golden with a light sweet and crunchy crust around the edges and the custard has set. It is in a word divine. You must get on this right away, just don’t bring it to anyone’s house for Passover.  Though truth be told, while I am not naming names, a significant number of the husband’s family and friends gleefully met me out by the car where I doled out heaping helpings of my black market Passover unfriendly dish all of whom have been asking for the recipe ever since :).

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Ultimate Gravy Experience

Great gravy should be the 8th wonder of the world. When I say gravy I don’t mean the brown stuff you drizzle over turkey on Thanksgiving or drown your mashed potatoes in.  I mean the rich tomato saucey goodness spiked with wine, cheese, garlic and spices that makes spaghetti dance and floats tender meatballs on a delightful path straight to the kisser. The stuff you use your fingers to wipe the bowl clean for. When you are still eating even though you were stuffed 10 bites ago but it’s just so damn delicious that it would be a sin to stop. That’s the stuff I’m talking about; that’s true gravy.

I have a lovely Nana and a fantastic Mom, both of whom make excellent sauce.  I grew up on the stuff and it is divine. Being undeniably me, I’ve taken Nana and Mom’s recipes (or lack there of because as everyone knows there’s no ‘recipe’ for great gravy, it’s instinct, experience and a pinch this and that) and turned them into my own. So while claiming my gravy and meatballs blows my family competition out of the water would be an act of war, or more likely get me left at the kids table for Christmas with only the dregs of whatever roast was being served to munch on, I’m just going to say my stuff wouldn’t be half as amazing as it is without the women before me.

So I present to you my ‘recipe’ for one of the greatest gravies of all time. Though some call it marinara, my sauce is so thick and rich with depth of flavor that continues to make me do a little spaghetti and meatball dance just thinking about it that it deserves the true gravy designation. I’ve included a few of my tricks here such as both parmesan and pecorino rinds as well as roasting the sauce which develops the tomato’s natural sweetness and richness. Do not skimp on the lamb..bone in is a must! This is not a quick dish. This is a full day affair that takes a lot of love. Greatness takes time folks. Be patient; just one bite is worth it enough.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pizza at Home

I’m not sure if it’s my Italian heritage, the New Jersey upbringing or my obsession with all things cheese and bread, but one thing is painfully clear, I have a deep-rooted passion for pizza. My recent adventures in bread making led me to try my hand at making my own pizza dough. Heck, my great grandfather had a pizza parlor in Jersey so there’s got to be some of it my blood, right?! Fingers crossed and with some serious food blogging research under my belt, I dove in and man am I glad I did.

Homemade pizza is easy and unbelievably delicious! Gooey cheese, crust with a great bite and all the toppings I could ask for. In fact, since you make the dough the night before this could very well be a slam dunk mid-week meal folks. Now my pies may not rival Patsy’s or Grimaldi’s in NYC or the delightful offerings at Flour + Water or Delfina in SF, but they are down right tasty and I am sure going to be making these again. Most famous pizza joints have crazy hot coal or wood burning ovens...something a bit hard to replicate in the typical home kitchen. One way around this is to grill your pizzas. I find making smaller pizzas are easier to grill because slipping them on and off the grill with one or two large spatulas is doable. It’s also a good way to have more variety in toppings with 4 smaller pizzas instead of 2 larger ones. Whatever way you slice it, make your next pizza night an at home one.