Sunday, June 12, 2011

Spring Crown Royal

Another sure sign of spring is asparagus. Asparagus is available year round in the supermarket but in New England you will find the locally grown variety from late May to early June. Green asparagus is a great source of folic acid, with just ¼ cup providing one-third of the recommended daily intake.

When shopping for asparagus, whether in the supermarket or the farmer’s market, look for spears that snap, don't bend, and have nice, tight heads that are brightly colored. You may notice that some spears are plump, while others are skinny. The thicker stalks tend to be more tender while the thinner ones tend to be more flavorful. Obviously, the thicker the asparagus, the longer it will take to cook, so adjust any recipes accordingly. One isn't better than the other; it just depends which you prefer.

Once you bring the asparagus home, keep it fresh in the fridge for up to a week. Simply stand the stalks up in a glass with an inch or two of water in the bottom. To prepare asparagus, grasp each spear and bend it until it snaps. The spear will break at the natural point where it becomes tender. Asparagus is wonderful roasted or grilled (thicker variety works best for this) or lightly steamed and made into a soup. Try it with stir-fries or have it raw as a crudité.

The recipe below combines asparagus with spring onions. Spring onions are, as the name highlights, largely available in the spring. They are simply young regular onions that farmers pull from the field to thin the rows. You can differentiate them from scallions by their slight bulge near the root. They have a milder flavor than mature regular onions and are sweeter than scallions. They can be cooked and used as standard onions or leeks; better yet, maximize their tender, sweet flavor by using them raw in salads, salsas, and as a garnish. For this recipe I have caramelized them making their flavor even sweeter.

Asparagus and Caramelized Spring Onion Quiche

1 pie shell (home-made or store-bought)

½ tablespoon butter

1 cup spring onions, sliced (white part only – you can reserve the green part to use for stock)

1 ½ cups asparagus, chopped

6 eggs

¼ cup light cream

1 tablespoon chopped mint

Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup shredded sharp Vermont cheddar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Press the prepared pie dough into 9 inch pie dish. Set aside in the refrigerator as you prepare the quiche.

In a small sauté pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add sliced onion and sauté, stirring occasionally until onions begin to soften and turn brown – about 10 -15 minutes. Add chopped asparagus to pan and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and allow mixture to cool before adding to prepared pie shell.

In a medium bowl whisk together eggs and light cream. Add in the chopped mint and season with salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture over the onion and asparagus mixture in the pie shell. Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the top.

Put the pie dish on a sheet pan and place in the oven. Bake until golden brown, and the egg mixture has set, 35 to 40 minutes. Be sure to rotate the quiche after 15 to 20 minutes to ensure even browning.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Jump n' Chive

Fresh herbs are vital to cooking. One of the main reasons people over-salt their food is because it is lacking in flavor. Fresh herbs help to bring the flavor without all the added sodium, and I use them religiously. As Deborah Madison describes in her book Local Flavors, “Herbs can take a vegetable on the most amazing journeys, changing a food from savory to sweet and back again, and they can make one vegetable seem like five.” Try tossing fresh herbs into a salad or top a dish with chopped herbs to bring a final burst of freshness.

Many herbs are very hardy and will grow almost anywhere. Living in Boston, I was able to have a little container herb garden on my front stoop and they were very happy. Since moving to Vermont, I have the luxury of a little bit of land, so I planted a perennial herb garden last year. It is a great feeling to watch in the spring as these perennials come back to life. The first to show signs were the chives, which are now in full bloom

Chives are part of the allium family which includes garlic, onions, ramps, scallions, and leeks. Chives are best used fresh so having a patch in your yard or in a pot on your windowsill can make it easy to snip some herbs into your dish. If you’re not growing your own, fresh chives are readily available in the supermarket or at the farmer’s market in the spring. Cut chives can be stored in the refrigerator unwashed in a sealed plastic bag. Do not wash them before storing as the clinging water from washing can promote decay.

Many people just think of chives as a topping for baked potatoes which can make them sadly underused, but they impart a subtle onion flavor to many dishes. Use chives with cooked eggs; add them to soups or use as a topping for fish. The clover-like purple flowers are also edible and can be a wonderful addition to a salad or as a garnish.

I adapted this recipe from Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors.

Crostini with Chive Scented Ricotta

Makes 2 cups, enough for 20 crostini

This recipe is especially over the top if you use fresh home-made ricotta. The ricotta can also be used as a sauce for pasta or folded into an omelet or scrambled eggs.

2 cups cow’s milk or sheep’s milk ricotta

2 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

¼ cup finely snipped chives

Chive blossoms cut at the base

20 slices Red Hen Baguette

Mix the ricotta, oil, salt, pepper, and chives together. Toast the bread until golden, then spread the cheese on top. Add a tiny bit of additional pepper and a few chive blossoms to each slice.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Stradivarius of Spring

Fiddlehead season is coming to a close and if you have never experienced these curled little wonders, you don't know what you are missing. These delicacies of spring are the young furled fronds of the ostrich fern and have a very short season for picking in April and May.

Fiddleheads are versatile and easy to use. They have a mild taste reminiscent of Asparagus with a bit of a nutty bite that makes them unique. Fiddleheads can be used in similar ways to any firm green vegetable such as Asparagus or Broccoli florets, but to bring out their best flavor I think they are best simply sauteed with some olive oil and garlic or fried (see recipe below).

Fiddlehead ferns are a good source of vitamins A, C, and fiber. They should not be eaten raw as they have a slight bitterness until cooked and may cause stomach upset if eaten raw in large quantity.

If more than 2 inches of stem remains attached beyond the coiled part of the fiddlehead snap or cut it off. Make sure you wash your fiddleheads thoroughly and remove the brown papery chaff which may still remain. To cook fiddleheads simply bring a small amount of lightly salted water to a boil, add washed fiddleheads, and cook them at a steady boil for 8-10 minutes. Fiddleheads can also be washed clean and steamed for 20 minutes. The sooner they are eaten, the more delicate their flavor.

I rarely deep fry food, but I find that frying locks in the fiddlehead's unique flavor. They only come around once a year - so I say, "Why not treat yourself to some deep-fried goodness?"

Beer Battered Fried Fiddleheads with a Garlic and Chive Mayo Dipping Sauce

For Garlic and Chive Mayo Dipping Sauce

1 cup mayonnaise

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon chives, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 tablespoon lemon juice

In a small bowl, mix together all ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to let flavors blend. Serve alongside fried fiddleheads as a dipping sauce.

For Fiddleheads

1 cup flour

6 ounces beer (I used Magic Hat's Spring Vinyl)

2 teaspoons baking powder
salt and pepper to taste

Canola oil for frying

1/2 lb fiddleheads, washed and trimmed

1. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt pepper in a bowl.
2. Slowly whisk in beer until batter is just barely thick.

3. Heat 2 inches of oil in a large sauteed pan over medium heat.
4. Dip fiddleheads into the batter, removing any excess and place in hot oil.
5. Cook both sides until golden brown (about 3-4 minutes per side).
6. Remove cooked fiddleheads with a slotted spoon and drain on plate covered with a paper towel.
7. Serve with chilled dipping sauce.

Recipe Copyright In Season Personal Chef and Nutrition Services, LLC

Monday, May 2, 2011

I'm Baaack!

A couple part-time jobs and a puppy, who was quite an adorable handful, have side-tracked me over the past year. Things are finally settling down and the urge to document my recipes and photos has returned. A fantastic new book has also helped to get me back on track. The book is called Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling by Helene Dujardin, which takes you through the art and techniques of food photography. The photography is rather inspiring so you can expect to hear from me again very soon.