Thursday, April 28, 2011

'Recipe Development': Asparagus Coins

Recipe development. It sounds fancy, doesn't it? Formal too.

I am an experienced home cook. I have made up countless dishes, but never sat around to engage in recipe development. I suppose there comes a time in every cook's life when a recipe needs to be created. Not the free-styling recipe that comes about when you substitute every ingredient from a recipe with something that seems to be from the same family and you roast instead of grilling and blanch instead of steaming, achieving a final dish that the creator of the recipe could never possibly recognize. No, not that kind of recipe development but the conscious, purposeful, documented kind.

My urge to develop a recipe came when I was invited to to do a cooking demonstration for Colorado Foodie Fest. This group was knowledgeable. I couldn't just pull a recipe out of a book- they would have caught on to that very quickly. The theme I picked was asparagus. I was to do three dishes- I had two of them down and needed a third. I knew what I liked: the texture of peeled asparagus. I knew what I was desperately sick of- asparagus spears, grilled or roasted, wrapped in prosciutto, topped with an egg. I wanted this new dish to be surprising and flavorful, yet simple.

The pieces came together. Asparagus was peeled and cut into thick coins. Flavor came from the crisped prosciutto, the lemon, and the shallots. The surprise was in texture- that of the asparagus, but also the varied sized of minced lemon shallot, and prosciutto flakes. Simplicity came from how the asparagus was cooked- quickly sauteed, preserving its integrity and crunch. This was the most liked of three dishes I cooked. That made me happy.

Asparagus Coins

Ingredients: 1 pound asparagus; 1/3 pound Prosciutto de Parma; 1 medium shallot, minced; the peel from one large lemon, minced and 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice; 1/4 cup olive oil, salt to taste (coarse kosher salt for cooking and fleur de sel for finishing).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the prosciutto slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or on a Silpat. When the oven is ready put the prosciutto in and bake for about 10 minutes. Check at 8 minutes and rotate. If after 10 minutes, the prosciutto does not appear much drier and almost crispy, cook longer. Cooking time depends a lot on the accuracy of your oven, the surface you cook the prosciutto on, and the thinness of the prosciutto slices. When ready, break the now0-crispy prosciutto slices into 1/2 inch to 1 inch bits. Reserve in a bowl.

Peel the asparagus, trim the ends and tips, and discard. Cut the asparagus into 1/4 inch coins and reserve.

Prepare the shallot- peel and mince very small. Same for the lemon peel, except try mincing it a little smaller.

Pour the olive oil in a medium sauce-pan over medium heat. Add the asparagus and a sprinkle of salt and swirl it well in the pan making sure the coins are coated with the oil. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the asparagus is a bright lively green color. The coins should be cooked but still have a crunch. Salt to taste and add just a dash of lemon juice.

Place the asparagus on the plates and add to each individual serving, the minced shallot, minced lemon, and bits of prosciutto. Adding these to the individual plates keeps their texture intact, unaffected by the temperature of the asparagus or the liquid released through the cooking of the asparagus.

Serve with a sprinkle of fleur de sel and a drizzle of a great olive oil.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lent, Easter, a Better Use for Eggs

It is a blur but somehow between severe headaches, stress, and old masochistic tendencies, I decided to give up alcohol for Lent. I know - why? I am not religious. I'm more 'food' than 'wine,' but still love a the right wine pairing with the right dish. I lust over a clever mixed drink. Rational reasons aside, I decided and I found myself too invested to stray from my commitment. God knows I am stubborn enough to spite myself for 6+ weeks.

46 days of not drinking (not that I was counting or anything) proved to be more difficult than the 7ish months of no alcohol while I was pregnant. Now I have a toddler and need a drink. But that was not all. This time, I literally didn't taste alcohol at all. Not one sip. Not a sniff. Nothing. And all the while I found myself at some of the most tempting culinary events, some of the best dinners, and some of the hottest bars. Ironic.

But the wait is over and make-up for lost time can be sweet. To keep with the religious theme, from now until June 12 - Pentecost Sunday- it will be a party, complete with weekly mixed drinks and lots of blurbs on wine, beers, and spirits. It is ON.

First up, the Easter Egg - eggs everywhere beware! Row 14, a new and promising restaurant and wine bar in the heart of downtown in Denver, generously shared this recipe. The food is fun, the wine list exquisite, and the talented Tyler French can mix you this pretty adult beverage and many more.

Easter Egg, courtesy of Row 14.

Ingredients: 2 juicy strawberries (one whole, one sliced); 1.5 oz Oronoco Rum; 0.5 oz fresh lime juice; 0.5 oz simple syrup; ice; the egg white from 1 egg; 3 tablespoons superfine sugar; another squeeze of lime; and a drizzle of Peychauds bitters.

Muddle one strawberry in a pint glass. Add the rum, fresh lime juice, simple syrup and a few cubes of ice. Shake and strain into a cold martini glass.

Combine the egg white with the sugar and a squeeze of lime. Shake until foamy and spoon on top of the drink.
Top off with thinly sliced strawberries and drizzle with Peychaud's Bitters.

Makes 1 serving. So- make more. Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Trick Out Your Easter Meal

Whatever you are planning to make for Easter this week, I am fairly confident it will not be this eggplant salad. So I say- 'trick out' Easter spread- make this.

About eggplant...Not all eggplant is good eggplant. Eggplant is not a replacement for meat (sorry but that eggplant 'burger' made me gag a little). It is not a good candidate for 'parmiggiana" (if you must make parmigianna, stick with the chicken). It is not particularly appropriate for grilling (come on- there are much better veg alternatives for grilling). Cook it in a ratatouille. Or fry it (but then again what doesn't taste good fried?). Or, well, make this salad.

A cousin of the Baba Ganoush, this Romanian 'salad' embodies the essence of comfort, holiday, tradition, and celebration to anyone who grew up with it. Smokey, a schmidg bitter, creamy, and slightly tingly to your tongue, this dish will surprise you pleasantly and grow on you the more times you make it. As a prime example as this growth I have a representative sample of one- my husband- who at first resisted based on lack of exposure, but now special orders it (in liberal translation- begs for it).

Ingredients: 1 eggplant; 1/2 yellow onion very finely diced; 1/3 cup olive oil; salt to taste; 1 tomato (optional); toasted bread (optional).

Prepare a grill and allow it to get hot. Place the eggplant on the hot part of your grill (it is ok if it seems like it is catching on fire) and turn it every 2-3 minutes until charred evenly and roasted all the way through- probably about 8- 10 minutes depending on the temperature on the grill. You can also roast the eggplant on a gas stove; just pretend it is your grill.

Remove the eggplant and allow it to cool down for a few minutes. While still very warm, gently peel the skin off and discard. Sprinkle with salt and let it sit for 20-30 minutes. Drain thoroughly.

On a large cutting board, chop the eggplant very fine. This is easiest if you change direction every now and then. If you have one the wooden knives I got from a little market in Bucharest, well- use it. It works better because the chopping is not about the sharpness of the blade but rather about crushing and almost pureeing the eggplant.

Place the chopped up eggplant along with the chopped onion in a mixer and turn it on medium. Slowly add the oil and allow it to incorporate. Mix for 5-7 minutes until the oil incorporate and the mixture is a smooth puree. Add salt to taste and mix well again.

Serve with tomato diamonds (the peeled and diamond-shaped tomato pulp) and tomato caviar, (the intact seeds removed from the tomato) over a nice hearty toasted piece of bread on Easter.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spring tastes like...

A new season surprises the senses. Each one with its own tastes. [If you disagree, I can sign you up for seasonality training on the country side of Romania where you eat what you grow.] With every passing season, those first few bites make you fall in love all over again with the new bounty.

Three months of summer culminate in the bright and warm and juicy peach. The next three get sweet, earthy, and buttery like that fall squash. And then three feel soothing and hearty and rich like those root vegetables that braise overnight over a large piece of red meat.

Before you know it you are ready for this- spring. Fresh and tangy and crisp, clean and brisk, new and crunchy. Spring tastes like arugula, like radishes, and like asparagus. It tastes like the ramps and green garlic, the rhubarb and wild strawberries that welcome this new season.

Saturday was the first Farmers Market in Boulder. Yes- I was excited- very excited- I could hardly contain my excitement. The renewal, the green everything, the crisp air, the community revived, brought back to life, together after the long winter months. We came home happy with a little produce- mostly leafy stuff, some meats, and fresh eggs and cannot wait for each Saturday morning from now until October.

Spring Radish Bruschetta

Ingredients: 1 bunch fresh radishes; 1/2 cup loosely packed Italian parsley; 1/2 teaspoon capers; 1/4 cup fresh toasted breadcrumbs; 1 garlic clove; 1/4 cup olive oil (plus more for the bread); 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice; 8 slices of hearty crusty bread.

Wash the radishes, trim them, and dice them small.

Brush the bread with olive oil and get it charred preferably over a charcoal grill. Your broiler will do the trick too minus the faint smoky-delightful flavor.

In a food processor, add the remaining ingredients. Pulse until coarsely blended. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mix the green substance with the radishes. Layer a healthy spoonful of the mixture on a slice of bread and close your eyes.

See? Spring!

Photography by Jennifer Olson.