Tuesday, March 31, 2015

6 Easy Asparagus Recipes for Easter or any time of the year

Asparagus is one of our favorite dishes to serve at Easter. It spells springtime for me and besides, most everyone loves asparagus. I usually poach the asparagus because it holds up well at room temperature or it can be served chilled. Foods that can be served at room temperature are a real plus. They can sit on a buffet while the main meal is being put together or they are perfect to take to someone else’s house.

I’ve chosen a very simple asparagus dish to feature this year – poached asparagus spears drizzled with a lemon vinaigrette and garnished with sliced lemons.

Grilled asparagus lovers take note - this recipe will work for you as well.  Just grill the asparagus instead of poaching it, drizzle with the lemon vinaigrette, garnish with the lemon slices and you’re good to go.

If you prefer to steam your asparagus, then steam them rather than poaching them and proceed with the remainder of the recipes calling for the poaching method.

You’ll also find a medley of 5 of our other favorite asparagus recipes shown below. They are also perfect for your Easter table or for that matter, any time of the year. Any of these recipes can be doubled or tripled to feed a crowd.

Asparagus with a Lemon Vinaigrette
My Carolina Kitchen by Sam Hoffer – serves 6 - easily doubled or tripled
Printable Recipe

For poached asparagus, My Carolina Kitchen’s Basic Recipe for Poached Asparagus is shown below. If you prefer to GRILL or STEAM your asparagus, just dress the grilled or steamed asparagus with the lemon vinaigrette, garnish with sliced lemons and serve right away.

2 lemons, sliced thinly and seeds removed

Lemon Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ to 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
Dash of hot sauce such as Tabasco
Maldon sea salt, or other good sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place all of the ingredients into a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake well.  Easily doubled or tripled. Set aside while you cook the asparagus. This vinaigrette saves well in the refrigerator for a day or two. The mustard is used to emulsify the vinaigrette and keeps it from separating and the shallot and hot sauce bring added flavor and are highly recommended.

My Carolina Kitchen’s Basic Recipe for Poached Asparagus
From My Carolina Kitchen – Sam Hoffer

1 lb fresh asparagus, tough lower ends snapped off
2 teaspoons salt
Water flavored with low sodium, low fat beef broth* to taste

After tough ends of asparagus have been removed, peel the remaining ends unless the asparagus is thin; if thin, leave as is. Bring water flavored with beef broth and 2 teaspoons salt to a boil in a shallow pan. Add asparagus, turn heat to low and cook for about 4 minutes until asparagus is crisp tender, taking care not to overcook. Immediately plunge the asparagus in an ice water bath to stop the cooking and retain the green color.

After a minute or two, remove the asparagus and dry well with a towel. Dress with a vinaigrette. Then you may either chill it for about an hour or serve it at room temperature.

Cook’s notes: I like to flavor my asparagus water with beef broth. It isn’t necessary, but it does bring a very nice flavor to the cooking broth.

Asparagus with Fig Vinaigrette & Shallots uses fig balsamic vinegar to make rich, dark vinaigrette, tossed in some chopped shallots, and served it over crispy poached asparagus at room temperature. Chopped Mission figs can be added to the garnish if you wish for even more fig flavor. My basic vinaigrettes are always three parts oil to one part vinegar or acid.

Feel free to grill or steam the asparagus rather than poach it, then top the asparagus with the fig vinaigrette and the garnishes.

Printable recipe
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Grilled Asparagus with Melon & Fresh Mozzarella Cheese shown above is a very versatile recipe in that the asparagus can be cooked outside on a gas or charcoal grill or in your kitchen on a stove top grill, which is what I did. The melon and cheese make a great fresh topping full of flavor and have real eye appeal, plus it tastes great. What more can you ask for from a recipe?

Printable recipe 
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Asparagus Mimosa, also known as Asparagus Goldenrod is an elegant, easy to prepare dish that can be made ahead of time. It’s perfect for an Easter buffet and is an ideal companion to baked ham. Basically it is poached asparagus, served cold with a light vinaigrette and garnished with grated hard-boiled eggs and capers shown above or with chopped radishes shown below. It’s known as Asparagus Mimosa because the grated hard-boiled eggs resemble mimosa blossoms. The name Goldenrod comes from the bright green asparagus garnished with yellow egg yolks. Classic dishes such as this were a mainstay on the menus of the grand hotels in a bygone era.

If you wish to grill or steam the asparagus, toss the grilled or steamed asparagus with the vinaigrette and garnishes either with the grated eggs and capers or radishes.

Printable recipe with capers
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Printable recipe with radishes
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Asparagus served on a Bed of Arugula with Roasted Red Peppers & Kalamata Olives is super easy to prepare and very impressive on the plate. It’s broken down into three recipes, two of which are very basic recipes that are nice to know how to make without needing a recipe - poached asparagus and a basic balsamic vinaigrette. The last is the gussied up part – the arugula and the toppings of roasted red peppers, red onions, and kalamata olives.

Again, you could grill or steam the asparagus if you wish, then toss in the vinaigrette, serve on the arugula and garnish with the roasted peppers and olives.

Printable recipe 
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Asparagus with Hearts of Palm, Grape Tomatoes & Silvers of Red Onion tossed in a Lemony Olive Oil Vinaigrette is easily put together in 15 minutes or less and is very colorful on the plate. The hearts of palm give it a tropical twist.

This recipe would work equally well with grilled asparagus. Toss the asparagus in the vinaigrette and garnish with the hearts of palm, grape tomatoes & slivers of red onion.

Printable recipe 
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For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

We hope each of you have a blessed Easter.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Steamed Clams Fagioli

This dish is a takeoff of the Italian peasant dish Pasta Fagioli, but steamed clams take the place of the pasta found in a traditional Fagioli. It’s loaded with the classic Italian flavors found in most Fagioli recipes and can be prepared in 30 minutes.

Fagioli has become so popular in American today that it’s widely found even in restaurants that don’t specialize in Italian cuisine. According to Wikipedia, the word for beans varies in the different Italian dialects so much that fagoli is it often pronounced differently. Pastafazoola, a song written by Van & Schenck, used the Neapolitan pronunciation for the rhyme - “Don’t be a fool, eat pasta fazool.” Whenever I hear the word fazool, it always reminds me of the line in Dean Martin’s song That’s Amore - “When the stars make you drool, just-a like a pasta fazool, that’s amore.” 

Meakin has his own way of steaming clams and that’s how we prepared them for this recipe so we would have fresh clam broth instead of having to use bottled clam broth. If you plan to use your own method to steam the clams, you’ll want to steam the clams first before you proceed with the recipe and add them at the end when you’re plating. Otherwise, just follow the recipe as written below. For a less soupy version, use the recommended ½ can of the tomatoes and beans.

We are crazy about steamed clams and thought this dish definitely fell into the “have-again” category. It is lighter and less filling than the traditional pasta fagioli and frankly we didn’t miss the pasta at all. Plus we’re always glad to welcome another 30 minute meal into our repertoire. Don’t forget the slices of a toasted baguette to sop up all of the delicious juices.

Steamed Clams Fagioli 
Adapted from Cooking Light, serves 4, can be prepared in 30 minutes
Printable Recipe

1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped celery
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1/2 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained (I used entire can)
1/3 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons clam juice
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
Dash of kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
1/2 (15.5-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (I used entire can)
12 littleneck clams
4 (1/2-inch-thick) slices French bread baguette (about 4 ounces), toasted

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add onion and celery; sauté for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add red pepper; cook 1 minute. Stir in wine; cook 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes; bring to a simmer. Cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add broth, clam juice, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper and drained beans. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat & simmer 2 minutes. Add clams to pan. Cover and cook over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until clams open (be sure discard any clams whose shells don’t open.) Ladle 2/3 cup soup into 4 bowls & top each with 3 clams. Serve with slicked of toasted baguette  to mop up the broth.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday & Food on Friday at Carole's Chatter.
Have a great weekend everyone.

Easter recipes early next week. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Blood Orange Salad

Take advantage of the blood oranges while they’re available to create this spectacular salad using a variety of different oranges in a rainbow of gorgeous colors. Here I’ve paired dark colored blood oranges with red-fleshed, sweet cara cara navel oranges and bright orange-fleshed Florida navel oranges, resulting in a not only a beautiful but a very flavorful and refreshing salad.

If you can’t find blood oranges, this French Orange Salad shown below using all navel oranges is just as pretty and tasty. Long time readers may remember this Salad d’Oranges et Olives Noires navel orange salad with the slivers of red onions and kalamata olives here. I’ve taken that particular salad to parties and it’s always a big hit. People are a bit surprised when they first see it, but one taste convinces them that it is a delightful and refreshing combination that plays off of each other’s flavors beautifully.

French Orange Salad with Red Onions & Kalamata Olives - recipe here

This hastily made, colorful salad is adapted from one of Pierre Franey’s 60-Minute Gourmet series cookbooks many years ago.  At our house, we call this “Pierre’s salad.” Pierre Franey was a French chef who ran the kitchen at Le Pavillon restaurant in New York City for years. Pierre went on to write newspaper columns for the New York Times, penned some of my favorite cookbooks and also worked alongside his dear friend Craig Claiborne. It was Craig and Pierre along with Julia Child that taught my generation how to cook.

Citrus salads are a great substitute for tomato salads when tomatoes are tasteless and not in season. They are very refreshing as well as quite versatile. Thinly sliced radishes take the place of the feta cheese for a nice peppery crunch in the blood orange salad shown below. I’ve also substituted peppery flavored radishes for the red onions with great success in the French orange salad shown above with the kalamata olives.  

The possibilities of different combinations of this salad are endless. Try a pink grapefruit in place of the red-fleshed cara cara oranges to add a sharper note to the salad. Garnish with slivered red onions and black olive slices as I did originally. I’ve even seen toasted coconut with chopped pistachios. Use any kind of nuts you like or no nuts at all. My friend Bonnie of From a Writers Kitchen composed a gorgeous still life salad with blood oranges, strawberries and kiwis here. How about grilled asparagus with blood oranges slices? Or use an orange salad as a dessert as I did here that is very palate refreshing after a heavy meal such as a French Beef Daube. Take a look at my Pinterest Salad Board here and you’ll see a great range of different flavor combinations and garnishes for blood oranges.

Blood Orange Salad 
Adapted from Salad d’Oranges et Olives Noires in 60 Minute Gourmet by Pierre Franey– serves 4 or 5
Printable Recipe

2 each blood oranges, cara cara, and Florida navel oranges

Trim off the ends of the oranges with a sharp knife. With the same knife remove the peel, then cut the oranges into thin slices and arrange in an attractive manner on a platter. Drizzle with the vinaigrette below and garnish with the pistachios, feta cheese, and mint leaves.

1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
A couple of pinches of sea salt and a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper

To make the vinaigrette, place the paprika, vinegar and oil, salt and pepper in a small jar with a tight fitting lid and shake well.

Chopped pistachios
Feta cheese
Fresh mint leaves

Garnish the oranges with pistachios, finely crumbled feta cheese and mint leaves. The salad is best served within 30 minutes, or if you wish to hold it longer, add the mint leaves at the last minute to prevent them from wilting. Salad is easily doubled.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday.
Have a great week everyone.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Meyer Lemon Chicken

Crusty chicken studded with slices of bright yellow Meyer lemons and browned potatoes makes a very pretty dish and is certainly company worthy.

Meyer lemons are a cross between regular lemons and mandarin oranges. They have a sweeter, more floral taste and their skins are thinner, making them harder to transport and handle. They grow well in warm climates where it doesn’t freeze, such as southern California and south Florida.

Meyer lemons sometimes can be difficult to find, but the have have become increasingly popular so you might be surprised where you can and can't find them. It’s funny how I can almost always count on our supermarket in the mountains to have a bag of Meyer lemons. And here we are 750 miles south in southwest Florida where Meyer lemons grow locally and one day I saw them and the next day they were gone. That’s what happened to me when I decided to buy the lemons for this dish. Publix doesn’t carry them, however a nearby farm stand had lots of locally grown Meyer lemons (try saying Fort Myers Meyer lemons quickly 3 times in a row) the other day when we were there to pick up a box of local strawberries. The very next day when we went to buy the lemons, poof, they were all gone. So you never know. But don’t fear if you can’t find Meyer lemons though. Just add a pinch of sugar to regular lemon juice and you’ll replicate the flavors of a Meyer lemon.

This is the kind of dish I save for weekends when I’m not in a hurry to get dinner on the table. It’s not a quick dish to prepare and requires some active prep time. However, the flavors are well worth the extra minutes it takes.

Meyer Lemon Chicken
Adapted from Cooking Light – serves 6 – 1 breast or 1 thigh per person
Printable Recipe

2 skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts, cut in halves crosswise
2 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound small red potatoes, quartered
1 Meyer lemon, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices, then remove seeds
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 cup low salt or unsalted chicken stock, divided
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 ounces pitted olives, we used a combination of green and kalamata
2 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice
Pinch of sugar, not necessary unless you are using a regular lemon
2 tablespoons butter
Fresh parsley leaves

Preheat oven to 400°.

Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a large ovenproof skillet, swirl the oil around, then turn the heat to medium-high. Sprinkle chicken with salt and freshly ground black pepper on both sides.  Add chicken to pan, skin side down; cook 6 minutes or until skin is golden brown and crisp. Turn chicken over. Place pan in oven. Bake at 400° for 12 minutes or until a thermometer inserted in thickest portion of chicken registers 165°.

Remove chicken from pan; keep warm. Discard pan drippings (do not wipe pan clean). Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add potatoes to pan; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook potatoes on each side until done all the way through and browned. Remove potatoes from pan. Add lemon slices to pan; cook 1 minute on each side or until browned. Remove lemons from pan. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add shallots and garlic; sauté 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add wine and chopped fresh thyme; cook 1 minute or until liquid almost evaporates, scraping pan to loosen browned bits.

Return potatoes and lemon slices to pan. Add 2/3 cup chicken stock, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper & cook until potatoes are completely tender. Combine remaining 1/3 cup stock with cornstarch and stir with a whisk to combine. Add cornstarch mixture and olives to pan; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Add a pinch of sugar to the lemon juice if you used a regular lemon, and then add the lemon juice and butter, stirring until butter melts. Return chicken to pan, turning to coat. Sprinkle with parsley and serve right away with the pan sauce.

Cook’s notes: Meyer lemons aren’t as tart as a regular lemon. If you use a regular lemon, add a nice pinch of sugar to the lemon juice to help replicate the milder Meyer lemon juice. Use small potatoes, or if all you can find is large potatoes, cut them into pieces the size of a quartered small potato. No matter what their size, be sure to cook the potatoes until they are cooked all the way through when you are browning them in the first phase because they will cook only a little bit more at the end of the recipe. Our chicken breasts were huge. If yours are very small, you might want to use three breasts. If your chicken thighs are very small, I would suggest using 4 – 6. Our thighs were fairly small compared to the breasts and one thigh made a rather small serving.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday.
Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Sweet-and-Sour Chicken

Wait until the aromas of this chicken suddenly fill your house while it's browning. If anyone’s home, you’ll have to beat ‘em away with a wooden spoon because this dish smells soooo good. These spice rubbed chickens thighs are braised alongside carrots and onions in a sweet-and-sour honey-lemon sauce and I swear you’ll think you’re on a holiday in some exotic country.

While this may smell like it’s been braising all day, it’s ready to serve in an hour, including about 30 minutes active time. That to me is an easy, week-day meal with little fuss and great results. I usually shy away from much sugar in savory dishes, but there’s only two tablespoons of honey for four to six people, so that’s not really that much sugar considering.

Rice makes a nice accompaniment, but if you think you won’t miss it or are watching carbs, the chicken and vegetables are great on their own.

Here, why don’t you have a bite?

Sweet-and-Sour Chicken
Slightly adapted from Gourmet Weekly, serves 4 to 6
Printable Recipe

8 small chicken thighs with bones, skin removed (optional), about 2 ½ to 2 ¾ pounds total
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ teaspoons Hungarian paprika
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, peeled & halved, then cut lengthwise into ¼-inch-wide strips
1 pound carrots, peeled & cut on the diagonal into 1” pieces
2 tablespoons minced garlic
½ cup water
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons mild honey
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro

Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Stir together the paprika and cinnamon and rub onto chicken.

Heat oil in a 12” heavy non-stick skillet over moderately high heat until it shimmers, then brown chicken in 2 batches, taking care not to crowd the pan. Turn once. It should take about 10 minutes per batch. Transfer browned chicken to a plate.

Discard all but 3 tablespoons fat from skillet, then add onion and carrots. (If you removed the skin as we did, you may have to add some oil to equal 3 tablespoons.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring about 1 minute, taking care that the garlic doesn’t burn.

Return chicken to what would be skin side up to skillet and nest it into vegetables. Stir together water, lemon juice, and honey until blended, then add to skillet. (Tip - spray measuring spoon with cooking spray such as Pam first before measuring the honey to keep the honey from sticking to the spoon.)  Skim any fat from the sauce, then taste for seasonings. Sprinkle with herbs right before serving.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday.
Have a great weekend everyone.