Sharing a seriously fun love for food

Month: April 2017

Asparagus… The Lily of Spring!

Asparagus… The Lily of Spring!

Fresh Asparagus!

Growing up in a small town we had limited grocery options which meant finding fresh asparagus a challenge. The fresh produce selection normally consisted of the basics… potatoes, onions, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and on holidays, green beans! (The one advantage, my parents were dear friends with the owners who would frequently open up the store after hours if butter were needed for that piecrust!)

My Grandparents had huge gardens so having access to an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables was never a problem. However, neither of them planted asparagus, and I never met a canned asparagus I liked! When I hear people swear their disdain for a certain food, I often wonder a) have they ever tried it; or b) how was it prepared? Living with a “left brain” engineer who at times resembles both these remarks, I can attest this is often the case.

Considered by many to be a part of the lily family, fresh asparagus is normally not difficult to find with the peak season in the spring months. Preparing fresh asparagus is actually quite simple. When shopping for asparagus look for “tight” tips, if the top is mushy, avoid it! Since my preferred method for cooking asparagus is roasting, I prefer the thicker stalks, but if all you can find are thinner stalks just reduce the cooking time.

I often roast a double batch of asparagus, then use the leftovers to make a wonderful asparagus soup. Here are both recipes for your enjoyment!

Roasted Fresh Asparagus

1 bunch fresh asparagus

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the stalks well, snap of the tough ends at the bottom where a break naturally occurs. (Literally grab the lower end of the stalk, it will snap off!)

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with heavy-duty foil. Drizzle the olive oil across the bottom of the pan, tossing the stalks of asparagus to coat evenly. Sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper.

Roast in a 400-degree oven for 18-20 minutes, or until tender when poked with the tip of a knife.

Roasted Asparagus Soup

1-1/2-2 pounds fresh asparagus, cooked and cut into pieces (Reserve some tips for garnish if desired.)

1 small sweet onion, sliced thin

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups chicken stock

1 tablespoon concentrated chicken bouillon

½ cup heavy cream

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large stockpot over medium heat, melt butter with the olive oil. Sauté the onion until tender and translucent, about 5-10 minutes. Add asparagus, chicken stock, and concentrated bouillon. Using an immersion blender puree the soup until smooth. You can also transfer to a blender and puree.

Return to the stockpot and add the salt, pepper and cream. Heat through and enjoy!

Garnish with roasted asparagus tips!

 

Cheesecake…. Divine Bites!

Cheesecake…. Divine Bites!

We’ve made cheesecake for years and classic cheesecake recipes require some pre-planning. This technique takes a basic cheesecake recipe and creates individual servings. The best part, you can serve them warm from the oven! These are great for entertaining as they can be made in advance and keep for days in your refrigerator.

You can mix up the flavorings, adding orange extract or amaretto in place of the almond extract, or switch up the vanilla wafer for a chocolate wafer. The cheesecakes can be served plain or with fresh fruit, lemon or lime curd… You get the picture! This is the palette, you create the art!

Cheesecake Cupcakes

3 packages cream cheese, 8 ounces each, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

4 eggs, at room temperature

¼ cup cream (optional)

1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

24 vanilla wafers

1 cup sour cream

¼ cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large mixing bowl, using an electric mixer beat the cream cheese on medium speed until light and smooth, stopping as needed to scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl. Slowly beat in the sugar, mixing well. On low speed add the eggs one at a time, blending in completely. Add the cream, the vanilla and almond extract. With a large spatula, scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl to make certain all the cream cheese is well blended into the batter.

Line two dozen muffin cups with sturdy paper liners; place a vanilla wafer in the bottom of each liner. Pour the batter into each cup, filling about 2/3 full. (Using a large measuring cup with a spout or a large ice cream scoop makes it easier to get the batter into the lined tins.) Bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for 25 minutes.

While the cheesecakes are baking blend the sour cream, sugar and vanilla extract together. Once the cheesecakes have baked for the set time, remove from the oven and top each with about a tablespoon of the sour cream topping. Return to the oven and bake for another five minutes.

Remove the cheesecakes from the oven and allow to cool slightly, then remove the cakes from the tins and finish cooling on a wire rack. Serve warm, room temperature or cold. To store, place the cakes in a sealed container and refrigerate.

Truly divine bites!

 

Buttermilk Ricotta Pancakes

Buttermilk Ricotta Pancakes

If you’ve never made pancakes from scratch you’ll be surprised at how simple it really is… and most likely you have the basic ingredients on hand. (If not, these should be added as staples to your pantry!) I start with a classic recipe; this one comes from The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook. Southern Living has long published some of the best cookbooks on the market and frequently the first books I pull off the shelf.

This recipe is a quick blend of dry and wet ingredients. Cinnamon is optional but brings a hint of spice, I began adding it to both pancakes and waffles for my daughter Emily when she was little. Then we decided years ago to toss in the addition of ricotta cheese, adding a fluffy richness making them a bit indulgent. Put on the coffee, heat up the griddle and let’s make breakfast!

Buttermilk Ricotta Pancakes

2 cups all-purpose flour

2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

¼ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

2 extra large eggs, lightly beaten

2 cups buttermilk

1/3 cup ricotta cheese

¼ cup vegetable oil

In a large mixing bowl whisk together all the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, blend the eggs, buttermilk, ricotta cheese and vegetable oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, whisking lightly just until blended, there will be some lumps but not to worry! Now here’s the critical part… Let the batter rest for 15 minutes.

Combine batter until just blended, over mixing will make your pancakes tough.

Heat the griddle to 350 degrees or if using a skillet on the stovetop, use medium heat. When a drop of water “dances” in the pan you’re ready to cook. (Thanks Mom for this tip!)

Using a small ladle pour the batter onto the griddle. Keep in mind the batter will puff up and spread so make certain to leave room to flip! If you’re nervous about flipping, leave a bit more room between each pancake. Once the batter has “bubbles” all over the top and the bottom is golden brown, flip and continue cooking for about 3-4 minutes or until golden.

Watch for the bubbles on top to tell you when it’s time to flip!
After flipping, cook for 3-4 minutes until the pancakes are golden brown.

You can cut this recipe in half for one or two folks, or make a full batch and save the leftovers for the next morning or have breakfast for dinner! Just refrigerate the batter, then let it warm to room temperature before cooking. This makes about 16 pancakes so great for company. If you’re making the full recipe and cooking for a group, you can keep the cooked pancakes warm in a 200-degree oven while you finish cooking. Just lay a wire rack over a baking sheet and place the cooked pancakes in a single layer on the rack.

Add fresh bananas or blueberries for an extra special touch!

Top with warm maple syrup… Divine!

 

 

 

 

Chicken Salad Times Two

Chicken Salad Times Two

With the arrival of spring our schedules seem to get hectic, so something light for lunch or dinner with leftovers for another meal or snack is always a great plan. Years ago I had the opportunity to step into the world of catering with a dear friend, Jane Ericson Edmund. We made some fun and fabulous food together and our chicken salad was often requested for luncheons. We had several “go to” recipes for chicken salad, these are two of my favorites. It’s easy enough to make both recipes at the same time as two large chicken breasts will yield about 4 cups of shredded chicken. Throw in “Emily’s Pimento Cheese” and you’ve got a great variety for finger sandwiches. Now go brew some sweet tea while the chicken simmers!

Finger sandwiches, fresh fruit, assorted cheese and of course desserts of lemon curd tartlets and cheesecake cupcakes are perfect for a spring get-together with friends!

Chicken Salad Two Ways

2 large chicken breasts, with skin on, bone in

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

2 teaspoons salt

Place chicken in a large stockpot, cover with water adding the remaining ingredients. Cook over medium heat, partially covered until chicken is cooked through, about 45 -60 minutes. Turn off heat and leave in the water for about an additional 30 minutes. Remove chicken and allow to rest until cool enough to handle. Remove the meat from the bone, shred by hand or chop depending on use.

Bring water to a simmer allowing chicken to gently cook.
Once meat begins to pull from the bone and juices from the meat run clear, turn off the heat and allow the chicken to cool slightly in the cooking liquid.

 

Apple and Toasted Pecan Chicken Salad

2 cups cooked chicken breast, shredded

¾ cup chopped apples

½ cup toasted chopped pecans

½ cup currants

½ cup mayonnaise

2-1/2 teaspoons sugar

½ -1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

¼ freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

In a large bowl mix the shredded chicken, apples, pecans, currants and mayonnaise together. Add sugar, salt and black pepper. Combine until well blended.

Start with toasted pecans and your favorite apple, rough chopped.
Add seasonings, mayonnaise combining and tasting as you go, adding more if needed.
Apple and Toasted Pecan Chicken Salad on Oatmeal Bread

 

Olive and Cucumber Chicken Salad

2 cups cooked chicken breast, shredded

½ cup peeled, chopped cucumber

½ cup green olives with pimentos, chopped

½ cup mayonnaise

4 teaspoons juice from olives

½ -1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

¼ freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

In a large bowl combine the shredded chicken, cucumbers, olives and mayonnaise. Add olive juice, salt and pepper, mixing well.

Finely chopped cucumbers and green olives add an unexpected savory crunch to this chicken salad.
The olives and extra olive juice will add a “saltiness” to this chicken salad, so taste as you add the salt and pepper. Easier to add more than take it out!
Cucumber and Olive Chicken Salad on Pumpernickel Bread

 

Emily’s Pimento Cheese

Emily’s Pimento Cheese

Emily’s Pimento Cheese

Pimento Cheese is another Southern staple but many seem to be in two camps… I love it or I hate it! Most have never tasted homemade pimento cheese, rather the store bought, “slick” mayonnaise loaded variety. My daughter Emily made this one holiday season and it remains a staple in my kitchen. Simple to make and great for finger sandwiches, served on crackers for an appetizer or spread on a hot roll for a quick evening snack. If you have a food processor this is the time to find the shredding blade. Otherwise, pull out the box grater. Avoid pre-shredded cheese if possible; the flavor is richer when you start with a block of cheese.

Start with a solid block of extra sharp cheddar cheese.

You’ll be slow to buy pre-packaged pimento cheese ever again!

 

Pimento Cheese

16 ounce block extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

4 ounce jar pimentos

1 cup mayonnaise (I use Duke’s or Hellman’s)

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon chili powder

½ -¾ teaspoon kosher salt, to taste

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Line a colander with cheesecloth or a paper towel and drain as much liquid from the pimentos as possible. Transfer to a chopping board and chop. In a large bowl add the pimentos along with the cheese, mayonnaise and seasonings. Add more cayenne or chili powder if you like it a bit spicier. Mix well to combine. If your schedule permits, refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to meld together.

Freshly shredded cheese is best!
Fold in the mayonnaise, pimentos, spices and seasonings until well mixed.
On a fresh baked hot roll… Yes, please!
A quick appetizer for entertaining.

 

 

 

Banana Nut Bread

Banana Nut Bread

 

Using very ripe bananas and toasted nuts are the trick in bringing out the flavor in this bread.

Banana Nut Bread

2) Sticks butter, room temperature

3) Cups sugar

4) Eggs

2) Cups buttermilk

3) Teaspoons baking soda

4) Cups flour

5) Bananas, mashed

1) Cup toasted chopped pecans

2) Teaspoons vanilla extract

Cream butter until light and smooth, then add sugar beating well.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. In a 4 cup measuring cup combine buttermilk and baking soda whisking to blend together.  (The baking soda will cause a reaction to the buttermilk causing it to expand.)  Add the flour alternately with the buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with flour. On low speed mix in the bananas, the pecans and the vanilla extract.

Pour the batter into prepared loaf pans each lightly sprayed with cooking spray.  This recipe will make two large loaves and one small loaf; loaves will rise about 1- 1-1/2 inch.  Place loaf pans in preheated 350 degree oven and bake 45-60 minutes for the small loaf, and an additional 10 minutes for the larger loaves, or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.  (If loaves begin to brown too quickly cover loosely with foil and continue baking.)

This bread actually gets better by the day and also freezes well.

The fragrance of this bread will stick in your memory!

 

A welcome addition to any brunch, lunch or afternoon tea!

 

Peanut Butter Sauce

Peanut Butter Sauce

Decadence in Liquid Form

Every year hundreds of new cookbooks hit the market and every year I purchase my fair share. But I must admit with frequency I go back to the older classics, many inherited from my Mom. Could be it pulls me back to a time which seemed less frantic, less complicated and when good food was food that satisfied your soul.

Personally, we love to entertain and celebrating the birthdays of dear friends is certainly a reason to do something special. We recently hosted a birthday dinner and it was known one of the guests of honor has a daily passion… Blue Bell Vanilla Ice Cream and peanut butter. So the challenge, how to turn this flavor combination into a dessert without just plopping a jar of peanut butter on the dining table!

Enter a classic… Peanut Butter Sauce from Helen Corbitt’s Cookbook written in 1957. I had all but forgotten about this cookbook until a few years back when a cherished family friend, Gail Waterfield hosted us for dessert. She served the most divine chocolate sauce, a recipe taken from this cookbook. It occurred to me there just might be such a thing as a dessert sauce made with peanut butter. And boy is there! I’ve “tweaked” this somewhat from the original. This recipe takes a bit of time to cook on the stove so plan ahead… And double the batch, you’ll be glad you did!

Use creamy peanut butter and a high quality vanilla extract. I use Nielsen-Massey pure vanilla extract which can be found at many food markets. And yes, it does make a difference!

Peanut Butter Sauce

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon white Karo syrup

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cup half-n-half

6 tablespoons creamy peanut butter

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine sugar, syrup, salt and half-n-half in a medium saucepan and cook over low heat stirring frequently until sugar is completely dissolved and sauce has thickened. Add the peanut butter stirring until blended into the sauce. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before adding the vanilla. Store in refrigerator, warming before serving.

Cook until thickened, this takes about 20-30 minutes. If your sauce cooks for too long it will “crystalize” or turn “fudge-like” when cooled. Don’t panic! Simply add 1 tablespoon Karo syrup and 2-3 tablespoons of half-n-half. Cook on low until sugar crystals dissolve and sauce is smooth.
Serve warm over ice cream… adding a chocolate brownie doesn’t hurt!