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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Asparagus, Leek, and Fennel Soup

I had to try this as soon as I saw it since it is asparagus season in the garden. I am going to post it quickly, too, for the same reason. Although the soup has other vegetables, asparagus is the star. This soup can be vegan if you use vegetable stock and skip the creme fraiche. It is quick, creamy, and beautiful but might need the accompaniment of some bread and a salad to make it a full meal.

Let me encourage people to grow French tarragon (make sure you don't buy a Russian tarragon seeding which is completely different in flavor). This plant is a perennial down to zone 5 and can be wintered in a garage for lower zones. It is easy to grown in pots as well as in the garden. I love having one right next to my back door and often grab a bite as I pass by. Yum.


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Asparagus, Leek, and Fennel Soup


Adapted from:  Serious Eats
Serves: 4 if it is the main dish or 6 if it is a side

2 T oil
1 large leek, white and pale green portions, finely chopped
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced (save some of the fronds for garnishing)
salt
2 T all-purpose flour
4 c chicken or vegetable stock
2 pds asparagus, trimmed and cut in 1 1/2-in pieces
1 small handful minced fresh French tarragon leaves (plus a little more for garnishing)
2 T fresh lemon juice
creme fraiche thinned with some cream or milk, optional
pepper

Heat the oil in a 4- qt saute pan over medium-low heat until shimmering. Scoop the leek and fennel into the pot and stir in a big pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often until the vegetables are softened but not browned. Add the flour and stir while cooking until it is incorporated, about half a minute. Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer. 

Add the tarragon and asparagus, reserving a about 8 spears. Return to a simmer and cook 6-8 minutes until the asparagus is tender. Add the lemon juice. Place the spears in a small bowl with a tablespoon or two of water and microwave for 1 minute. Remove from the bowl, drain, and cut each spear in half.

Blend the soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a countertop blender. You can blend it very smooth or a bit chunky if you like. Taste the soup and season with pepper and more salt if needed. Serve, garnishing with creme fraiche (if you are using), tarragon leaves, and fennel fronds. You may also drizzle a bit of olive oil over all.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Skillet Chicken with Spring Vegetables

Here is another fast recipe from Cook's Country that will help you take advantage of asparagus season.




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Skillet Chicken with Spring Vegetables


Source: Cook's Country

3 lbs bone-in chicken pieces, of your choice, trimmed
1 T vegetable oil
1/2 c chicken broth
1/2 c dry white wine (I used vermouth)
1 T minced fresh tarragon, divided (or 1 teas dried tarragon)
1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut on bias into 2-inch lengths
1 c frozen peas
2 T unsalted butter
2 T minced fresh chives

Heat oven to 475F. Heat oil in 12-inch oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Season the chicken with salt and pepper while the oil is heating, then cook the chicken skin side down until well browned, 6-10 minutes. Flip and cook on other side until lightly browned, approximately 2 minutes.

Add broth, wine, and half of the tarragon. Then move the pan to the oven and cook for 12-15 minutes, until the breasts reach 160F and drumsticks/thighs reach 175F. Transfer chicken to a platter (or a casserole baking dish) and tent with foil.

While the chicken is in the oven, microwave the asparagus in a covered bowl until just tender, about 3 minutes. After the chicken is on the platter, place the skillet back on medium-high heat (be sure to use a hot pad to handle the skillet!) and bring the sauce to a boil. Cook until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Add peas and asparagus and cook until warmed through, about 1 minute. Off heat whisk in butter, chives, and remaining tarragon. Season with salt and pepper. Pour vegetables and sauce over chicken, then serve.

Quick Beef and Vegetable Soup

Is it too late for soup? Maybe. But this would work well on a coldish spring day, as well as a really cold day in the winter. I love it because I usually have all of the ingredients on hand, and because it reminds of my grandmother's beef, vegetable, and barley soup I ate frequently as a child and teenager.



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Quick Beef and Vegetable Soup


Source: Cook's Country

1 lb 90% lean ground beef (I have used 80% lean and it is greasier, but not inedible)
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teas dried oregano
salt and pepper
4 c beef broth (or chicken broth, if you don't have any beef)
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
8 oz Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (red potatoes would also work)
6 oz green beans, trimmed and cut on bias into 1-inch lengths
2 T chopped fresh parsley, optional

In a Dutch oven, cook beef, onion, carrots, oregano, 1 teas salt, and 1/2 teas pepper over medium-high heat. Use a spoon or spatula to break up the beef until no longer pink. Add broth, tomatoes and their juice, and potatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover the pot and simmer until potatoes are almost tender, 10-12 minutes.

Add green beans and cook, uncovered, until vegetables are tender and soup has thickened slightly, 12-14 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, sprinkled with parsley.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Savory Sour Cherry Sauce

Last summer my friend, Diane, had a pie cherry tree loaded with fruit. She kindly let me pick some and I ended up with enough for jam and a couple of quart bags of cherries in the freezer. I've made the sauce with fresh and frozen cherries and they performed equally well. This can be used on pork (as in the recipe below), sliced ham, or baked or sauteed chicken. It is rather hardy so it seems more like a winter dish, but if you eat "seasonally" it can be a summer meal, too.



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Savory Sour Cherry Sauce


Adapted from: Epicurious.com
Serves: 6-8

3 T balsamic vinegar
3 T sugar
3/4 c dry red wine
1/4 c minced shallot
1 3-in cinnamon stick
1 c chicken broth
1 pound sour cherries (about 3 cups), pitted (frozen sour cherries are fine, too)
1 T cornstarch dissolved in 1 T cold water
2 teas fresh lime juice, or to taste
salt and pepper
6-8 thick pork chops (country style ribs, pork roast or tenderloin would be good, too)

Boil the vinegar and sugar over moderate heat in a heavy saucepan until the mixture has thickened into a glaze. Add the shallot, wine, and cinnamon stick; bring to a boil and cook until the mixture is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Stir in the cherries and the broth and allow the sauce to simmer for 5 minutes. Stir the cornstarch mixture and add it to the sauce. Stir as the sauce thickens and simmer for 2 minutes. If you want it to be thinner, add water by tablespoon until you achieve desired thickness. Remove the cinnamon stick and add the lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. Cover the sauce and keep it warm.

Here's how to prepare pork chops to eat with cherry sauce:

Brine pork chops for an hour in a mixture of 1 1/2 quarts water and 3 T table salt. With paper towels, pat the chops dry and season with pepper. Grill the chops over heated coals or a preheated gas grill for about 6-8 minutes on each side or until they are cooked to your preference. Let sit for 5-10 minutes to allow juices to be reabsorbed. 

Serve the chops passing the cherry sauce at the table.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Pound Cake

This recipe comes from the marvelous book Pie in the Sky:  Successful Baking at High Altitudes by Susan G. Purdy. Every recipe in the book was tested at five altitudes, including sea level. And each recipe is presented so you can succeed no matter in spite of the effects of air pressure, lower boiling point, etc. Here's a link for baking this cake at 5000 feet elevation. Although I have not baked this cake at sea level I have so much trust in Purdy's instructions that I'm posting it for readers who don't live at my elevation. For any reader who lives at 3000, 7000, or 10,000 feet I recommend you check the book out from your library.



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Pound Cake (for sea level up to 2500 feet)


Source:  Pie in the Sky:  Successful Baking at High Altitudes by Susan G. Purdy
Serves 12-16, depending on how you slice it


3 c sifted all-purpose flour (I used unbleached)
1 1/2 teas baking powder
8 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
1/2 teas cream of tartar
3/4 teas salt
3/4 c plus 2 c granulated sugar, divided
3/4 pd unsalted butter (3 sticks) at room temperature
1 c sour cream
1 T vanilla
2 teas lemon or almond extract or 1 teas each
3 T brandy or rum

Place the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375F. Coat a 10-inch (12-16 cup) plain tube pan (angle food cake pan) with nonstick spray or butter.  Avoid a bundt pan. 

In a bowl, whisk the flour and baking powder together. Place to the side.

Put the egg whites in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer. Add the cream of tartar and salt and beat until foamy. Then gradually pour in the 3/4 c of sugar and increase the speed to high. Watch closely and beat until you see tracks in the top of the mixture. Stop and check the whites. You are looking for something that is just beginning to stand in peaks, no droopiness. Don't overbeat. The mixture should also be smooth and shiny. Set this aside as well. If you need your bowl for the remainder of the recipe, put the mixture into another bowl.

In a large bowl (5 quart or larger) place the butter and the remaining sugar (2 c) and cream together, scraping down the bowl and beaters. Cream until well blended. Add the sour cream, vanilla, and other flavorings, and the brandy or rum. Mix until combined and add the egg yolks 2 at a time. Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix a couple more minutes. If the batter looks curdled, don't be surprised. It is fine.

Lightly stir in approximately 2 cups of  the egg white mixture into the creamed butter and sugar to lighten the mix. In 5 or 6  alternating additions, fold in the flour mixture and  the remaining egg white mixture. A long handled rubber spatula is good for this job since you'll have quite a bit of batter by now. Fold until you have a creamy, thick batter and you no longer see streaks of flour.  With a light hand, scrape along the bottom to ensure you've mixed everything in. 

Place the batter into the prepared tube pan. Use a knife or a thin spatula to run through the batter to remove any air pockets, but be sure to avoid the sides and bottom of the pan. Smooth the top and place into the oven. 

After about 30 minutes of baking, place a sheet of aluminum foil over the top, shiny side down; this will keep the top from getting too brown. Continue to bake for a total of 50-55 minutes until the top is golden and has a few cracks. It should be springy to the touch and if you use a tester (or a toothpick) it should come out with a few crumbs, nothing wet. 

Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack and allow to cool for 45-60 minutes. Then use a knife to carefully run around the sides of the pan and the tube. Invert the cake onto a plate and invert again onto a cake platter or another plate, so the top is up. Allow to cool completely. 

The author of this recipe recommends you wait until the next day to eat it for best flavor and slicing; but she points out it is difficult to wait that long. 

This cake is wonderful served with berries, fruits in simple syrup, berry coulis, lemon curd, or whipped cream. 

High Altitude Pound Cake

This is the best pound cake I've ever eaten; it would have to be with all those eggs. If you want a superior cake with fine texture, consider making this. But be prepared for it to take a little time and dirty a few dishes.



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High Altitude Pound Cake (5000 ft) 


Source:  Pie in the Sky:  Successful Baking at High Altitudes by Susan G. Purdy
Serves 12-16, depending on how you slice it

I believe this recipe will work for elevations from 4000-5500 feet. For a sea level recipe please see "Pound Cake" and for other elevations consider borrowing the book from the library. It can really help you succeed when baking.


3 c plus 1 T sifted all-purpose flour (I used unbleached)
1 1/2 teas baking powder 9 large eggs, at room temperature, separated 1/2 teas cream of tartar 3/4 teas salt
3/4 c plus 1 3/4 c granulated sugar, divided 3/4 pd unsalted butter (3 sticks) at room temperature
1 c sour cream
1 T vanilla
2 teas lemon or almond extract or 1 teas each
3 T brandy or rum

Place the rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 375F. Coat a 10-inch (12-16 cup) plain tube pan (angle food cake pan) with nonstick spray or butter.  Don't use a bundt pan. 

In a bowl, whisk the flour and baking powder together. Place to the side.

Put the egg whites in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer. Add the cream of tartar and salt and beat until foamy. Then gradually pour in the 3/4 c of sugar and increase the speed to high. Watch closely. At this altitude you don't want the eggs to get to the stiff point. Beat until you see tracks in the top of the mixture. Stop and check the whites. You are looking for something that holds together but the peaks are droopy. The mixture should also be smooth and shiny. Set this aside as well. If you need your bowl for the remainder of the recipe, put the mixture into another bowl.

In a large bowl (5 quart or larger) place the butter and the remaining sugar (1 3/4 c) and cream together, scraping down the bowl and beaters. Cream until well blended. Add the sour cream, vanilla, and other flavorings, and the brandy or rum. Mix until combined and add the egg yolks 2 at a time. Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix a couple more minutes. If the batter looks curdled, don't be surprised. It is fine.

Lightly stir in approximately 2 cups of  the egg white mixture into the creamed butter and sugar to lighten the mix. In 5 or 6  alternating additions, fold in the flour mixture and the remaining egg white mixture. A long handled rubber spatula is good for this job since you'll have quite a bit of batter by now. Fold until you have a creamy, thick batter and you no longer see streaks of flour. With a light hand, scrape along the bottom to ensure you've mixed everything in. 

Place the batter into the prepared tube pan. Use a knife or a thin spatula to run through the batter to remove any air pockets, but be sure to avoid the sides and bottom of the pan. Smooth the top and place into the oven. 

After about 30 minutes of baking, place a sheet of aluminum foil over the top, shiny side down; this will keep the top from getting too brown. Continue to bake for a total of 45-50 minutes until the top is golden and has a few cracks. It should be springy to the touch and if you use a tester (or a toothpick) it should come out with a few crumbs, nothing wet. 

Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack and allow to cool for 45-60 minutes. Then use a knife to carefully run around the sides of the pan and the tube. Invert the cake onto a plate and invert again onto a cake platter or another plate, so the top is up. Allow to cool completely. 

The author of this recipe recommends you wait until the next day to eat it for best flavor and slicing; but she points out it is difficult to wait that long. 

This cake is wonderful served with berries, fruits in simple syrup, berry coulis, lemon curd, or whipped cream. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Salad of Peppery and Bitter Greens with Sunchokes and Bacon

Late winter means arugula in our New Mexico garden and it also means chicory. We also grew a truck load of sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes). So this salad is as homegrown as a salad can be in February and March. Add bacon to the mix and it can hardly be beat.



While I'm at it, let me encourage you to give these tubers a try. They are indigenous to North America, easy to grow, and store for months in the refrigerator. They can be eaten raw or cooked. I've served them as soups, salads, and sides. (See note below about the only downside.)

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Salad of Peppery and Bitter Greens with Sunchokes and Bacon


Adapted from:  Dinner: A Love Story who in turn adapted it from a recipe from Jamie Oliver
Serves 4

6 slices thick bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pd sunchokes
2 large handfuls of arugula
2 large handfuls of chicory greens or sliced radichio
1 sliced small sweet onion or red onion
Slivered parmesan cheese, to taste
olive oil
balsamic vinegar

Start cooking the bacon in a 12-inch skillet. Remove when as crisp as you like and set aside. Boil the sunchokes in water until cooked but not mushy. Remove from pot, allow to cool until you can handle them and slice into 1/2-inch slices. Leave about a tablespoon bacon grease in the skillet and place sunchoke slices in and brown each side. Remove and set aside.

Cook the onion in what is left of the bacon grease. If needed add some olive oil. When the onions are softened return the sunchokes to the skillet and reheat.

In the meantime, tear the greens into a salad bowl. Drizzle 2-3 tablespoons olive oil over the greens and about 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Taste to test for flavor and add more oil or vinegar. Toss the warm sunchokes and onions into the greens and top with the bacon and the parmesan cheese slivers.

Taste one more time for salt. I find the cheese and the bacon add seasoning so I don't add more but you might want to.

If you don't want to boil the sunchokes, you can roast them in the oven at 375F for about 45 minutes, turning once or twice.

Note:

Sunchokes contain inulin which can be difficult for some to digest. See this discussion of the issue. Some decide to skip sunchokes all together, but we  have found that Beano is helpful, as is eating them somewhat regularly.