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!

Potato, Asparagus and Caramelized Onion Tart
(Adapted from Closet Cooking)

1 qt lukewarm water
4 tbsp salt
1 sheet puff pastry (thawed according to the packages directions)
3 tablespoons honey dijon mustard
1-2 cups gruyere (grated)
1 pound asparagus (cleaned and trimmed)
4 red bliss potatoes, sliced paper thin
1-2 large onions, caramelized
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil

Caramelize the onions. For good step but step directions on how to do this, click here.

While the onions are cooking, remove frozen pastry dough and lay on counter to defrost. Combine the water and salt in a medium bowl, stirring until the salt is dissolved. Use a knife or mandoline to slice the potatoes very thin (paper thin, 1/16th inch thick), and put the slices directly into the salted water so they don’t oxidize and turn brown. Let soak in the brine for 1/2 hour. Drain the potatoes in a colander and use your hands to press out as much water as possible and then pat dry.
Roll the puff pastry out to a 16x10 inch rectangle (or thereabouts) and place on a baking sheet (lined with a silpat if you’ve got one). Score (make a very light cut, not all the way through the dough) a line around the puff pastry about 1 inch from the edge, this will be the crust. Brush the mustard around the rectangle, inside of the cut (not on the crust). (I made my crust a little wider.)
Sprinkle the caramelized onions over the mustard. Sprinkle the cheese over the onions. Arrange the potatoes in a single thin layer over the cheese. Arrange the asparagus in a single layer over the potatoes.(You could get creative here in how you design your aspargus.) Season with salt and pepper. Brush the outside inch of the pastry lightly with olive oil.

Bake in a preheated 425ยบ oven until the asparagus is tender and the pastry is golden brown, about 15-25 minutes.

Spring Side Salad
(A Girl and Her Kitchen original)
1 bag of mixed greens (including a head of iceberg lettuce if you happen to have one and need to use it up), washed
Handful of fresh radishes, sliced
2 avocados, cut into chunks
1 pint strawberries, cut into chunks
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 shallot, minced
1 tsp herbs de provence
Olive oil
Red Hawk Cheese (or any other cheese you like and have on hand), cut into chunks

In a small bowl combined the strawberries, balsamic and a pinch of pepper. Stir to combine and set aside. Let rest for at least 10 minutes but can be overnight. (Note: these balsamic macerated strawberries are delicious on vanilla ice cream and yogurt as well.)

In a second small bowl combine the shallot, herbs de provence, a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk in ¼ c good olive oil. Typically I would add an acid to this such as lemon juice but because the strawberries have balsamic no need.

In a large salad bowl combine the mixed greens, radishes, avocados and strawberries. Pour the dressing on top and toss gently to combine. Ensure the dressing is well distributed. Sprinkle the chunks of cheese over the top and serve.

Note: any cheese will work. I like using a creamy cheese with a salty rind. Feta would also work as would goat cheese. You may also add in any veggies you have. That’s what a spring salad is for!

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