Asparagus Croque Monsieur

June 14th, 2016

grassweb

Asparagus is still sticking up happy stalks at local farm stands, which makes me ecstatic. I try to eat it every day, if only in a salad. I know it will go away all too soon.

Naturally, I wanted to use it for my appearance last week on Mass Appeal. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it—and then suddenly I had a vision of asparagus in the middle of a Croque Monsieur.

I have always adored this French version of a grilled-cheese-and-ham sandwich. It’s my favorite thing to order in Parisian cafés—or it WAS in the days when I frequented those establishments. (Someday I hope to get back to Paris. It has been several decades, hélas.)

Here’s how I made the sandwiches last week. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure the sandwich needs the béchamel (white) sauce. It would be pretty good with just a little extra cheese. But then, when does one ever NEED béchamel? It does make the sandwich just a bit more decadent and French, however.

As I said on the air, a Tinky could conceive of grilled cheese with asparagus. It takes a French person to think of throwing béchamel on top. I have to admit that a French person might have been a bit more sparing than we were in the video below.

My television appearance on Thursday coincided with National Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Day. Local strawberries are just coming in so I happily made a strawberry-rhubarb crumble. If you’d like to make that, just use my friend Ginny’s rhubarb crumble recipe. Substitute strawberry slices for half of the rhubarb and omit the cinnamon. (I also like to substitute oats for part of the flour.)

P.S. You’ll note from the crumble video that I have now adopted the soubriquet “The Diva of Deliciousness.” This was suggested by Craig Hamilton, a delightful chef on the Jersey Shore. What do you think of the new name?

Asparagus does excited me!

Asparagus does excite me!

Croque Monsieur aux Asperges

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons sweet butter plus butter as needed for browning bread
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup warmed milk
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 pinch salt
4 slices of good bread (I used King Arthur Flour’s pain de mie recipe.)
Dijon mustard to taste
2 slices of ham
4 thin slices Gruyère
4 pieces of cooked asparagus, cut to fit the bread
1/4 cup shredded Gruyère

Instructions:

In a saucepan over low heat melt the 2 tablespoons of butter. Whisk in the flour, and cook, whisking, for 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the hot milk. Cook and whisk until the sauce thickens a bit, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat, and stir in the paprika and salt. Set aside.

Begin assembling your sandwiches. Spread the slices of bread lightly with mustard. Top two of the slices with a slice of cheese, ham, asparagus, and another slice of cheese. Place the other slices of bread on top to make two full sandwiches.

In a frying pan melt a small amount of butter. Pop the sandwiches into the pan and lightly brown them, adding a little more butter if needed.

Put the sandwiches on a baking sheet. Top them with some of the sauce (you don’t have to use it all; I just like to make sure I’ll have enough!) and the shredded cheese. Broil them until they turn golden brown and bubbly.

Serves 2 decadently.

Here are the videos:

YouTube Preview Image

YouTube Preview Image

Asparagus Quiche

May 20th, 2016
It looks as though we're in the midst of a Shakespearean tragedy—but we’re actually discussing diets.

It may look as though we’re in the midst of a Shakespearean tragedy. Actually, we’re discussing diets.

After a wet couple of weeks we finally have enough sun to bring asparagus up in our area. I eat grocery-store asparagus in the winter from time to time. But I CAN’T STOP EATING farm-stand asparagus in the spring. To me the flavor of asparagus embodies this green, lush, delicious season.

I tend to eat asparagus plain, but as the many asparagus recipes in these pages attest I do also put it into other dishes. Yesterday on Mass Appeal Seth Stutman and I put it into a quiche I have served several times already this spring—first with sautéed dandelion greens, then with sautéed spinach, and now with asparagus.

I based it on the idea of a spinach salad so I wanted to add red onion and plenty of cheese. One could of course add a bit of cooked bacon as well—particularly in the spinach or dandelion versions. I’m not sure the asparagus version needed the bacon; it has plenty of flavor the way it is. In fact, another time I might try a milder cheese to let the asparagus flavor dominate more. I’m happy with the recipe as is, however. (I just like to tinker!)

Seth and I also made rhubarb bread. That recipe was adapted from Land O Lakes. If you want to try my version, add 1 tablespoon orange zest to the batter and double the streusel. And if you’d like to use three little pans as I did, bake the bread for less time than the recipe suggests. The mini-breads took 45 minutes in my oven, but when in doubt use that toothpick!

You’ll note from the rhubarb video below that I forgot to add the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. I also FORGOT TO ADD THE CHOPPED RHUBARB!

I’m sure all TV stars have days like yesterday. At any rate, I hope they do.

I stirred the missing ingredients into the batter in the pans before baking the bread and threw a little more brown sugar on top for color. The end result was delicious; the recipe is very forgiving.

quicheweb

My Quiche

Ingredients:

1 red onion, peeled and sliced
2 splashes of extra-virgin olive oil (divided)
2 pinches salt (divided)
3 cloves of garlic, slivered
1 large bunch asparagus, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces and blanched for 1 minute (about 2 cups of pieces)
4 eggs
1 cup cream
5 to 6 ounces crumbled blue cheese
1 9-inch pie shell

Instructions:

Sauté the onion pieces in a little oil until they caramelize (ideally, half an hour or more, but you can get away with 15 minutes if you have to). Sprinkle on a little salt, and remove them from the sauté pan.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Splash a little more oil into the pan, and sauté the garlic briefly (3 to 4 minutes) to soften it. Toss in the asparagus pieces, and sauté them just until they are warm.

In a bowl whisk together the eggs, the cream, and a pinch of salt.

Sprinkle two thirds of the cheese over the pie crust. Top the cheese with the onion, asparagus, and garlic pieces; then pour on the cream/egg custard, and top with the remaining cheese.

Place the quiche on a rimmed cookie sheet to prevent spillage, and bake it for about 40 minutes, until the custard is set and the top is golden. Serves 4 to 6, depending on appetite.

And now the videos….

YouTube Preview Image

YouTube Preview Image

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Back with Tortilla Soup

April 28th, 2016

I'm back!

I’m BACK!

This week I returned to cook once more with my friends at Mass Appeal. I do a lot of fun things in the winter, but I don’t cook on TV. My Hawley hill is a bit hard to negotiate in icy weather.

Ice is now a thing of the past, however (and wasn’t too much with us this past winter anyway!). The daffodils waft in the breeze, my dog Cocoa has a new spring in her step, and I’m back with co-hosts Seth Stutman and Ashley Kohl.

I straddled two holidays for my Wednesday segment. We’re still in Passover so I made my delicious matzo crunch. (I have shared the recipe before on this blog.)

The gang at Mass Appeal wanted to look ahead to Cinco de Mayo—and so did I. So I revised my previous recipe for tortilla soup. I love the way this soup came out! It’s warm enough for the cool temperatures we’re having yet spicy enough to evoke Mexico and the American southwest.

If you forget about the cheese and the tortilla crisps, it’s reasonably healthy as well.

Here is my new recipe—and below I am sharing the videos for both dishes I made.

Happy Passover. Happy Cinco de Mayo. Happy SPRING! And happy birthday to my dear friend Peter.

tsweb

Tinky’s Tortilla Soup

Ingredients:

for the soup:

extra-virgin olive oil as needed for frying the vegetables
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
6 small (6-inch) corn tortillas
2 teaspoons chili powder
1-1/2 teaspoons cumin (ground or seeds)
1 quart chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
1 can (10 ounces) tomatoes with green chiles
1 chipotle in adobo (more if you like), roughly chopped
canola or grapeseed oil as needed for frying tortilla strips
2 cups cooked chicken in strips or chunks (optional but good)
2 cups cooked corn kernels (optional but good)

for garnish:

corn tortilla strips made from 3 of the tortillas
cilantro leaves (optional)
sour cream (optional)
shredded cheddar cheese or queso fresco (optional)
lime wedges to squeeze for juice

Instructions:

In a 4-quart pot or Dutch oven heat a little olive oil. Add the onions, the garlic, and the green pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender (5 minutes or so).

Cut the tortillas into strips. Add the strips from 3 tortillas to the vegetable mixture (set the others aside), along with the chili powder and the cumin. Cook, stirring occasionally, for another minute. Add the chicken stock, salt, tomatoes, and chipotle, and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer the soup, almost covered, for 25 minutes.

While the soup is simmering use the remaining tortilla strips to make a garnish of fried yumminess. Let them sit on paper towels for at least 15 minutes to dry out; then fry them in oil until they are crispy. Set them aside to drain on the paper towels.

Remove the soup from the heat, and puree it with an immersion blender. (You may also use a regular blender as long as you blend carefully in batches.) Stir in the chicken and the corn, if you are using them, and return the soup to the boil. Ladle into bowls.

Garnish the soup with your homemade tortilla strips plus any other garnish of your choice. Serves 4.

And here are the videos!

 YouTube Preview Image

Purim Poppy Seed Cake

March 22nd, 2016

poppy seed cakeweb


Happy spring! This week we celebrate a couple of spring holidays—Easter, of course, but also the Jewish festival of Purim.

Purim begins tomorrow evening. I have always enjoyed the story of Queen Esther, who saved not only her guardian but her people with a mixture of charm and craft. (These were the only weapons available to women for centuries, particularly to Jewish women living in an alien culture.)

Married to the king of Persia and hiding her Jewish identity, Esther could only keep Kosher if she subsisted on a vegan diet. Seeds were important to that diet; hence, people often eat dishes made with poppy seeds on Purim.

Becky Bixler, a friend of my neighbor Alice, provided the recipe for this simple, rich cake. It will represent the state of Iowa (where Becky lives) in my forthcoming book about funeral foods. Becky takes it to funerals frequently.

Happy Purim! May we all be as resourceful as Esther this week and every week.

If you’d like another Purim recipe, try my hamentaschen.

The Cake

Ingredients:

4 eggs, divided
1 cup (2 sticks) butter (salted is best as there is no salt in the recipe, but sweet will work), at room temperature
1-1/2 cups sugar
8 ounces sour cream
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/4 cup poppy seeds
a little confectioner’s sugar (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-cup Bundt pan. (Becky says “oil a Bundt pan,” but I’m paranoid so I add the flour as well.)

Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites on high speed until they form peaks. Spoon the fluffy whites into a clean bowl, and set them aside.

Using the same mixer bowl you used for the egg whites (it doesn’t matter if a tiny bit of white is left in it), cream together the butter and the sugar. Beat in the egg yolks. Combine the sour cream and the baking soda, and add them to the butter mixture. On low speed stir in the flour, the vanilla, and the poppy seeds.

Gently fold in the egg whites, and spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, 45 to 60 minutes. Place the pan on a wire rack and let it cool for 10 to 12 minutes before removing the cake.

Sprinkle the cake with powdered sugar if you want to make it look festive. Serves 10.

 poppysliceweb

Blueberry Scones at the Leyden Café

February 17th, 2016

Leyden sign

I know! I post a LOT of scone recipes.

If I had to choose only one pastry to eat for the rest of my life, it would be a scone. Scones include fruit (so they give the eater the illusion of eating vaguely healthily), they are easy to make, and they satisfy the eater … this eater, at any rate.

Of course, I don’t eat them all the time. I’m still on my nutritional cleanse. For a few days a month, however, I allow myself to stray. This month I strayed with a scone (and promptly gave away the rest of the batch!).

This particular recipe was inspired by Karyn Brown, a professional baker who is the culinary brain of the Leyden Café in Leyden, Massachusetts.

I first heard about the Leyden Café last summer as I stood in line waiting for posters at a local copy shop. A woman and her children stepped away from the counter with a brightly colored banner that read “The Leyden Café” in a lively font.

leyden logo web

I told the woman, who introduced herself as Amy St. Clair, that I was unaware that Leyden HAD a café. Leyden has more than twice as many people as my small town of Hawley, but that population doesn’t qualify it as a metropolis by any means. I was surprised to learn that it could support a café.

Amy explained that the café was a very part-time affair, started in the fall of 2014 by a group of townspeople that included her and her friend Robin Neipp. Their aim was to give Leyden’s residents a gathering place and a stronger sense of community.

The café is located on the lower level of the Leyden Town Hall. In general, Amy and Robin informed me, the café is open only once a week, currently on Sundays from 9 to 11:30 a.m. It also operates as needed at town meetings and events.

The Leyden Town Hall in better weather (courtesy of John Phelan)

The Leyden Town Hall in better weather (courtesy of John Phelan)

The café hosts special offerings from time to time, including a market day last fall featuring, in Robin’s words, “Leyden bounty and wares”; movie nights; pottery workshops; and concerts. February’s highlight will be a game night this Friday, the 19th, beginning at 6 p.m.

The café also offers collectibles, maple syrup, and local pottery for sale. Robin Neipp told me that the café regularly welcomes 16 to 20 visitors.

“We are hoping to establish a habit for residents to come to the café, utilize the space, create community events, and maybe someday somewhere somehow perhaps have a store,” she explained.

Meanwhile, she said, she and her colleagues have a lot of fun “reconnecting with and meeting new neighbors and solving world problems in [their] little space.”

Of course, they also enjoy Karyn Brown’s baked goods! Karyn graciously shared this scone recipe with me.

I have to admit that Karyn’s version of the scones is a bit different from mine, and her baked scones probably look much better than mine. She rolls out her scone dough. I am a less expert roller so I resorted to patting mine out.

As you can see, my version of the dough (decorated here with the berries) is a bit rough.

As you can see, my version of the dough (decorated here with the berries) is a bit rough.

She also manages to incorporate 1-1/2 cups of berries into her scones. I could only manage 1 cup. I added a little vanilla to make up for the lost flavor.

The scones were still delicious, denser and richer than my customary scone. My sister-in-law Leigh took one bite and said, “Wow.”

Karyn makes her scones with her own organic blueberries. Luckily, given the season, they are best prepared with frozen berries.

leyden sconeweb

The Scones

Ingredients:

2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar, plus additional sugar as needed just before baking
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold sweet butter, cut into cubes
3/4 cup heavy cream, plus additional cream as needed just before baking
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup frozen blueberries

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Process the 4 dry ingredients until mixed well in a food processor. Scatter the butter cubes evenly over the mixture and pulse until the butter is pea-sized. Place this mixture in a large bowl.

(If you don’t have a food processor, whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and cut or grate the butter into them).

Measure the cream into a liquid measuring cup; then add the egg yolks and vanilla and mix with a fork or small whisk until the yolks are incorporated.

Add the cream mixture to the dry ingredients and bring the dough together with a rubber spatula. Knead it a few times in the bowl, without working it too much, and pat into a smooth thick rectangle that is about 12 inches long.

Scatter the blueberries evenly over the dough, leaving about an inch border around the edge of your rectangle. Press the berries lightly into the dough.

Roll the dough up like a jelly roll, pressing it gently as you make each rotation and checking to make sure that the dough isn’t sticking; add more flour if it is. When the dough is rolled up, transfer it to a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Let the roll sit in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes to firm up to make cutting the scones easier.

After chilling the dough, cut it into four pieces with a serrated knife using a gentle sawing motion. Cut each section in half on the diagonal.

Return the scones to the lined baking sheet, spacing them evenly. Brush the tops lightly with a small amount of cream; then sprinkle on a bit of sugar or some seasonal sprinkles.

Bake the scones until they are golden and set to the touch (about 25 minutes), rotating the pan halfway through the baking time.

I had no trouble getting the scones off the baking sheet, but if you have any trouble let them cool completely before removing them.

Leftovers will keep for a couple days, although these treats taste best the day they are baked. Makes 8 scones.

Cutting the scones

Cutting the scones