Asparagus Popover

One of the things I love about living where I do, is the abundance of farm stands selling freshly grown native fruits and vegetables.  Most of them open around the beginning of May, taking advantage of the earliest vegetables like asparagus, lettuces, radishes, and rhubarb.  Once the markets open, I’m there weekly -often more so- and I plan my meals around what’s available and fresh.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved the combination of asparagus and eggs.  My mother frequently served crisp-tender asparagus with scrambled or poached eggs, and home fries along side as a quick supper. SWOON! I still love it today, but I also like to mix things up a little bit and try new combinations.

My thought process in creating this dish went something like this:  Asparagus is very good in quiche, yes? and quiche is basically an egg and milk batter very much like popovers,right?   So how would it be to make a giant popover with asparagus in it?  I didn’t have to twist my own arm to give it a try—-and here is the result.  My husband and I enjoyed it with crisp smoked bacon along side, and toasted English muffins with orange marmalade.

P.S.  My husband says I spoil him.  He’s  right, I do!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound asparagus, washed, and tough ends removed
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup  flour
  • salt and pepper
  • pinch sugar
  • 1 cup grated cheese (your choice)
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  In a saucepan heat enough salted water to reach a depth of 1 inch.  Bring to a boil.  Add the asparagus and cook until crisp tender, about 3 minutes..  Drain, rinse with cold water, then pat dry with paper towels.  Cut the spears into thirds.
  2. In a medium cast-iron skillet, (or other dish that can withstand hot oven temperature)  add the butter, and place in the oven to melt the butter.
  3. In a medium bowl, microwave the milk on high for 30 seconds.  Whisk in the eggs, then the flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, pinch of sugar.
  4. Position the asparagus pieces in the hot skillet, and gently pour the batter on top.  Sprinkle with half of the cheese and bake until puffed and golden-brown, 18-20 minutes.  Top with remaining cheese and return to oven to melt the cheese. 
  5. Remove from oven and serve immediately, since popovers tend to deflate quickly, and this one is so pretty.
Serves 4
Source:  a Carolyn Original

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Blueberry Biscuits

One of the pleasures of a holiday weekend for me is the slow start to my days.  I like to linger over my coffee and enjoy a freshly baked “go with”, talk with Mr. D., plan out the day, catch up on the news and mail,etc.   This past weekend was no exception.

One of the  baked goodies  that I make often are biscuits, and quite frequently I add either dried or fresh fruits to add a little extra nutrition.  This serves as breakfast many times, but they can certainly fit into a brunch menu, especially by adding in savory ingredients like crumbled bacon, chopped chives or grated cheese. The choice of add-ins is limited only by your imagination.

The biscuits I made this weekend contained blueberries , thus the name BLUEBERRY BISCUITS.  They are super easy to make, with hands on time about 20 minutes, and baking time 17 minutes.  The recipe makes 12 biscuits.  These also make a nice biscuit base for strawberry shortcake.  Going that route will produce a ” red, white, and blue” dessert for patriotic holidays.  How neat is that?

Ingredients to have ready are:

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 2 tesp. baking powder
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tesp. salt
  • 1/4 tesp nutmeg
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, or sour milk ( 2 tesp  vinegar + milk to measure 3/4 cup)
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Prepare a parchment-lined baking sheet, or spray  with non-stick spray.
  2. In a large bowl stir together flour, baking powder sugar, salt and nutmeg to thoroughly mix.
  3. Cut  in butter with pastry cutter to make coarse crumbs;  stir in blueberries, then buttermilk. Mix minimally, just to moisten.
  4. Turn out onto a floured surface, gently lift and fold dough onto itself several times, turning a quarter turn with each fold.
  5. Place onto baking sheet.  With palm of hands, form into a 7-8 inch square, approximately 1 inch thick.  Using a floured knife o pizza cutter, cut into 12 biscuits, leaving them intact.
  6.  Bake in upper half of oven for 17 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Cut or pull apart to serve.

SOURCE:  Adapted from Southern Living 1993 Annual Recipes

Herby Cucumber Salad

  We enjoyed the company and friendship of some  close friends at a picnic/cookout over the weekend.  After the parade we all gathered in the backyard of one family, and everyone contributed a side dish or dessert.  And  of course, the men were in charge of the grill and its designated foods.

Salads of all kinds are usually welcome, and easy to transport,  so this salad was my contribution. It is cool,  creamy and tangy, and comes together in a flash.  Make the dressing in advance, and carry to the picnic in a separate container.  Toss it with the cucumbers and onions just before serving, otherwise the cucumbers will release too much water.  This salad got rave reviews, so I thought I would share it with you.

  • Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup low-fat greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, or 1 teaspoon dried dill
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh mint
  • 2 teaspoons  Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 5 1/2 cups thinly sliced cucumber (about 2 large)
  • 2 1/2 cups thinly sliced red onion
  1. Combine all ingredients except  cucumber and onion, in a food processor or a blender, and process until well blended.
  2. Place sliced cucumbers and onions in a large bowl, drizzle with the dressing mixture , and toss to coat.
Serves 6-8.
Source:  Cooking Light Magazine

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

“Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey”.  Ever wonder what that nursery rhyme was all about?  Well there’s no better way to explain than through the making of Ricotta Cheese.

Whipping up a batch of fresh ricotta cheese gets you bragging rights and a delicious product that is free of additives,etc.  Try some with a few Italian herbs and a little olive oil mixed in and served on bruschetta.  Sit back and enjoy the compliments.  You deserve them!

Before I get to the 1-2-3’s, let me talk a little bit about the process.  Because we are making cheese, we need milk.   It is best to use whole milk as it will give you a nice, rich ricotta that is smooth and creamy; not grainy like some commercial products can be.  From a half-gallon of milk, you will get about two cups of cheese.

Milk is made up of mostly water, with milk fat and some proteins.  The major proteins are of two types:  curds and whey.  Proteins are long strands of amino acids which when exposed to heat or acid, bond to each other producing curds.  The remaining liquid which is left behind is the whey.  Milk can “curdle” naturally as it ages and the bacteria in it multiply causing the milk to sour.  But the cheese we are making is achieved by causing the curdling intentionally by heating the milk and adding an acid.

Have the following supplies ready before you begin:

  • 1/2 gallon of milk
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • a cooking thermometer
  • a colander lined with 5-6 layers of cheesecloth
  • a heavy-bottom saucepan

Combine the milk, vinegar and salt in the saucepan and heat to 185 degrees.  Stir frequently to prevent it from scorching.  As it heats, you will see the curd proteins clumping together.  Once it comes to temperature, take it off the heat, and let it sit for about 10 minutes to make sure it curdles completely.

Place the lined colander over a bowl to collect the whey. ( It can be used in place of milk in anything that uses milk i.e., pancakes, muffins, etc.)  Pour or ladle the curds into the cheesecloth and let it drain from 5-30 minutes.  A shorter drainage time will give a creamier cheese; a longer time will produce a drier more coarse cheese.  Pick up the bundle and gently squeeze out remaining whey.

Use the cheese warm on bruschetta or pasta, or place in an airtight container and refrigerate it.  It will keep for several days.

I used most of mine to make Stuffed Shells with Marinara Sauce, and I will be posting the recipe for that soon.  I’m sure I will be making the ricotta cheese again as I would like to try it in a cheesecake.  Oh, my thoughts just went spinning off imagining it served with  fresh strawberries.  Yum, Yum!  I’ll keep you posted.

Cheesy Potato Bake

This is a side dish which I serve often.  It seems to go with many different entrees, and if your oven is on to cook meatloaf, chicken, chops, or whatever else, then these potatoes can cook along side the main dish.  Everyone I have ever served this dish to, has loved it.  Those folks with hearty appetites will find this very satisfying, indeed.

CHEESY POTATO BAKE             

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

  • 4 large baking potatoes, unpeeled
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 green onions, sliced; use both white and green parts
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  1. Wash and slice the potatoes.  Arrange in a greased shallow 2-quart baking dish.
  2. In microwave heat butter, green onion, salt, thyme and pepper until butter is melted.  Drizzle over potatoes.
  3. Cover with foil and bake at 425 degrees for 45 minutes or until tender.
  4. Remove foil, sprinkle with cheese and parsley.  Bake, uncovered, another few minutes  until cheese is melted.
Yield:  4-6 servings
Source:  Taste of Home

Umami Shrimp and Vegetable Stir Fry

Have you been reading or hearing the word Umami a lot lately?  I have, and no, it does not mean an asian vegetable, fish or any other kind of food.  It is the “fifth taste”, say many food writers; to be added to salty, sweet, acidic and bitter.  Umami is a rich deep flavor such as that  of cooked mushrooms, for example, or aged cheese.  There is lots of umami in this dish what with the mushrooms, tamari and sesame oil.  The dish goes together very quickly, once you have the vegetables sliced and ready.  Purchase precooked shrimp from the market, and save even more time.

UMAMI SHRIMP AND VEGETABLE STIR FRY

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 8 oz. sliced mushrooms
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons tamari ( reduced sodium soy sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • dash pepper
  • 1/2 pound cooked shrimp
  • 1 small head broccoli  florets
  • cooked noodles
  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Salt lightly and add raw broccoli.  Cook broccoli florets to crisp tender and remove with a skimmer to a plate.  Use the same water, and cook noodles as package directs.  As pictured here, I used Angel Hair pasta, but any thin pasta will do fine.
  2. While broccoli and pasta are cooking, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a wok or large shallow skillet, over high heat.  Add the mushrooms, stir-fry until lightly browned, about 3 minutes.
Transfer mushrooms to a plate.  Add more oil to pan, if needed.  Add the green onions, and stir-fry 1 minute.
Add the 1/2 cup chicken broth, tamari, sesame oil and  pepper to taste.  Heat to boil.  Stir in 1/2 pound  cooked shrimp and cooked broccoli, and reserved mushrooms.
Heat until hot.
Drain noodles, and serve with shrimp and vegetable mixture over the top.

Serves 2

Adapted by Carolyn from a newspaper article.

Marinara Sauce

One of the things I like to have on hand at all times is Marinara Sauce.  This is the basic tomato sauce that I use the most.  This got me to thinking that from time to time I would write about foods that I consider “kitchen basics”, and this is one of them.  It is extremely easy to make,  and so worthwhile because it is so versatile.  During the time the sauce is simmering you can be doing something else.  This is a nice thick sauce that is great with any pasta shape. If you think it needs to be thinned down a little for a particular recipe you can add a little white wine to it.  It can also handle the addition of meatballs or sausage, and you can certainly add additional seasonings to your taste.

This recipe makes about 2 quarts (8cups);  3-4 cups will serve 4 over pasta.

MARINARA SAUCE

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil  (note;  use a good quality EVOO, one with a fruity flavor, because this enhances the sauce.)
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 2 garlic gloves, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 2 ( 32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes (note: here too, be sure to use the best canned ones you can find, preferably the San Marzano variety.)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (my preference)
In a large sauce pan, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic and sauté  until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add the celery, carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.  Saute until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
 Add the tomatoes, bay leaves and any other seasonings you prefer, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens,about an hour.  Remove bay leaves and discard.  Season the sauce with more salt and pepper to taste.
I like to double this recipe when I make it, so I can freeze the extra in 2-3 cup portions in freezer bags, or containers;  then it’s ready when I need some.
Source:  Giada De Laurentis, “Everyday Italian”,  with slight modifications.

Cauliflower au Gratin

When I first tasted this dish I was struck by the combination of flavors and textures that work so well together.  Since cauliflower,  as a vegetable on its own can be rather bland, in my opinion, it needs to be enhanced by other flavors or seasonings to give it some punch.  By preparing it as an au gratin,  cheese in the sauce provides the contrasting flavor, and the smooth creaminess of the sauce adds a strong contrast in texture.  So too does the crunchy breadcrumb topping.

Preparing this dish is not difficult, but does require several steps.  Plan on about an hour to make it.

To begin wash a head of cauliflower  removing the leaves and tough inner core.  Leave the head whole, and place in a sauce pan large enough to hold it.  Add about an inch of water to the pan, season with a little salt, and bring to a boil.  Cook until just barely tender, so cauliflower will hold its shape.  Drain water and place cauliflower in a baking casserole;  one which has room for the added sauce.

While cauliflower is cooking, begin to make your sauce.  This is a béchamel sauce, or in Italian called balsamella. This is basically a white sauce to which I’ve added cheese.   Mine is a simplified version which is easy to prepare, and if you wish you can make a double recipe and have some left for another use, such as Eggs Benedict,  or asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, or use in a pasta casserole.

BECHAMEL SAUCE

  • 2 2/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cups warm milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pinch white pepper
  • pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  1. In a medium saucepan melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes.
  2. Gradually add the warm milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming.  Continue to cook over low-medium heat, whisking constantly, until sauce is thick, smooth, and creamy, about 10 minutes.  Do not allow sauce to boil.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in salt, pepper and nutmeg.   Add additional salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.
  4. Gradually stir in grated cheese,  allowing each addition to melt in the sauce before adding more.  (Note:  This sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead.  Cool, then cover and refrigerate.)
  5. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower in the baking dish.
CRUMB TOPPING
  • 1/2 cup seasoned fine bread crumbs or Panko crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
  1. Combine crumbs with melted butter.  Sprinkle evenly over cauliflower.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes until cauliflower is tender and crumbs are nicely browned.

Cauliflower, The Royal Vegetable

How many of you grew up eating ( or not eating) that white vegetable that looked so bland and had a cabbagey taste?  Me, too!  Definitely, not one of my favorites.  Until one day in the cafeteria at work I met Cauliflower au Gratin bathed in a cheesy sauce, with a crunchy crumb topping. AHHH!  That’s more like it.  I fell in love, and became determined to learn how to make it.

Did you know that cauliflower actually has aristocratic roots?  It was first popularized in the Royal Court of France, when Countess Jeanne du Barry, mistress of King Louis, XV, became enamored with it.  On restaurant menus any dish which features cauliflower may be called “du Barry” in her honor.

Like many nobles, cauliflower can be rather fussy.  It gets easily “sunburned” while still growing in the garden, unless the farmer ties the leaves of each individual crown to cover and shield it from the sun, lest it become yellowed.  Once harvested, however, it is less fussy. Easily prepared in a variety of ways, cauliflower can be dressed plain, or fancy to bring out its sophisticated flavor.

Not to be overlooked, is the nutrient value of cauliflower.  It is loaded with a cancer-fighting chemical which can help destroy cancer cells.  Add to that it is low in calories, high in fiber, and contains healthy amounts of vitamins C and K.  All excellent reasons to learn to love cauliflower if you don’t already.  Perhaps I can entice you with my recipe for Cauliflower Au Gratin, which follows in the next post.

The Life of a Computer

It seems to me that there are a lot of similarities between life itself and computers.  Life happens, as the saying goes;  meaning that things do not always go smoothly.  Unexpected occurances happen…..sometimes for the good, but often times not so good.  And so we must adjust our plans, our moods, even our way of life, sometimes.  Likewise computers can throw you a curve, just when it is most inconvenient.

The computer that I use to write this blog has a few years on it, and is used jointly by me and my husband.  Last weekend it CRASHED, sending us both into a panic.  After much agonizing over what to do, Mr. D., being the guru that he is, was able to get it running again, but we feel that it is probably temporary.  So I will be shopping for a new computer….just for me….where I can carry on with my blogging.

I will continue to post new blogs as long as this baby keeps running, but there may be some days with no new posts, as I get a new one up and running.  So I ask for your patience and understanding, while I try to smooth out the bumps in the road. 

If you have experienced any kind of similar situation,  I would love to hear about how you coped.  Thanks, Carolyn