The moment I saw this recipe in the latest issue of Fine Cooking, I knew I had to make it right away.  First, because it involves asparagus.  Secondly, because they are prepared in a novel way  – the spears are shaved as ribbons.    I am already quite fond of thinly sliced raw asparagus as in this farro salad, so I looked forward to trying this new (to me, anyway ;-)) method to serve them.

(adapted from Fine Coking magazine)

for the vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons agave nectar  (or 1 Tablespoon honey)
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
salt and  black pepper to taste

for the salad:
1/2 lb. thick asparagus, trimmed
2 cups baby arugula
1/3 cup toasted cashew nuts
2 oz. thinly shaved aged Gouda

Make the vinaigrette by whisking together the vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, agave nectar, shallots in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper.  Refrigerate if not using right away.

Remove the tips of the asparagus and put them in a large bowl. Using a vegetable peeler, shave a stalk discarding the first shaving, which will contain only the thick outer layer.  When shaving the first side becomes awkward, turn stalk over and repeat. Add all shavings to the bowl with the tips. Repeat with remaining stalks. Toss asparagus with 1/4 cup of vinaigrette and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes.  Add arugula and toss, adding more dressing if needed to coat the leaves.  Top with the shaved cheese and cashews, adjust seasoning and serve right away.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  This salad dressing is very close to perfection.  The original recipe used honey, but I’m so fond of agave nectar that whenever I have the opportunity, I use it instead.  Once you add the dressing to the shaved asparagus, the transformation is quite obvious: within a few minutes the ribbons start to soften up.   Don’t do it too early, or they will get mushy.   For obvious reasons, the salad won’t keep at its best for very long, so if you are serving it at a dinner party, keep that in mind.    The asparagus tips will retain most of their bite, adding a nice texture together with the cashew nuts.

At first, I thought about substituting parmiggiano or ricotta salata for the cheese component of this recipe. Aged Gouda is not a cheese we normally buy, but its slightly smoked taste worked surprisingly well with the arugula and asparagus.  We gave it two thumbs up!

I can see many variations of this recipe during Spring and Summer months.  And, I was not the only one who enjoyed it: browsing through “One Perfect Bite” the other day, I noticed that Mary also loved it.  Check it out by jumping here.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Indonesian Delight

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Dancers at the annual Cinco de Mayo Festival i...

Image via Wikipedia

If you love Mexican food, then Cinco de Mayo is a perfect excuse to invite some  friends over and make a tasty dinner at home. The holiday is celebrated with more enthusiasm by Mexicans living in the US than by their compatriots in Mexico. Contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with Mexican independence (that happened in 1810), but instead celebrates a huge Mexican victory over the French army in the Battle of Puebla,  36 years later.  Outnumbered and outgunned,  all odds were against the Mexicans, but they pulled off a spectacular victory, and now celebrate the date with all the pride it deserves.

Because we are living in California this year, I want to make a special dinner with a truly authentic recipe that’s appropriate for Cinco de Mayo.  Mexican cuisine is famous for moles : sauces that may be complex, time consuming to prepare, and a bit intimidating for the unfamiliar (such as myself).   After a lot of research I settled on  a recipe for chicken in peanut mole sauce, and made a “trial run” this past weekend.   Tasty, tasty, tasty….  And, by the way, if you throw a Cinco de Mayo party, make sure to serve a batch of guacamole for starters.  My husband’s recipe es muy deliciosa!

Chicken in Peanut Mole Sauce
(adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Mexican Cooking)

1 (4-pound) stewing chicken, cut up
8 cups water
4 stalks celery with leaves
1 medium carrot, sliced
1 small onion, diced
2 sprigs parsley
2 teaspoons instant chicken bouillon granules
1 tsp salt (+ more for final seasoning)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 can (10-ounce) tomatoes with green chiles, drained
2 slices white bread, torn in pieces
3 Tablespoons creamy peanut butter
4 whole cloves
3 whole black peppercorns
1 (1/2-inch stick) cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 small clove garlic, minced

Place the chicken pieces in a large pan or Dutch oven with water. Add celery, carrot, onion, parsley, bouillon granules, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook over very gentle heat for 2 hours or until the chicken is tender. Don’t let the water boil, make sure it stays at a constant simmer.

Take the chicken pieces from the pan (remove the skin if you like) and season it lightly with salt. Place the pieces in a baking dish. Strain the broth; skim off fat. Reserve 1 + 1/2 cups of the broth for the sauce. Let it cool slightly before proceeding with the recipe.

Make the mole sauce: in a blender or food processor place the reserved chicken broth, tomatoes with green chiles, bread, and peanut butter. Cover and blend until completely smooth. Place in a saucepan.

With mortar and pestle (or in a spice grinder) crush cloves, peppercorns, and cinnamon well; add to saucepan along with chili powder and garlic. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 15 to 20 minutes or until thickened, stirring often.

Spoon the peanut mole sauce over the chicken pieces in casserole. Bake, covered, in 350-degree F. oven 30 to 40 minutes or till heated through. Remove the cover and run it under the broiler for a few minutes if you want a little more color.  Serve the chicken over white rice.


to print the recipe, click here

for an oldie but goodie from Cake, click here

Comments:  Don’t use a small, fryer-type chicken for this recipe, or you’ll  end up with dry and tasteless meat.  You need a stewing chicken, in all its plumpness, to stand up to the long cooking;   at the same time it will give the broth an intense, deep flavor.  You can freeze the leftover broth for use later, just remember it has a little salt already added to it.  Even using the correct size of chicken, make sure the cooking liquid is kept at only a gentle simmer.  I’d say this is the most important point to keep in mind when making this recipe.

The mole sauce seemed a tad too spicy when it finished simmering, but it mellowed during the final baking. The small amount of bread gives it that extra substance, so that the dish, as my husband stated quite well,  “is Mexican comfort food at its best.”

My first mole adventure will definitely not be the last…


ONE YEAR AGO: Thom Leonard’s Country French Bread

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One of the features  I like the most in Fine Cooking magazine is their section called “Cooking without recipes.”   They pick a particular dish, say,  risotto or meatloaf or lasagna, and  dissect it into its basic techniques, helping you devise your own take on it.  A recent issue (number 110) offered an overview of Thai curries,  including poultry, seafood and vegetarian, from spicy to mild, with all sorts of aromatics to round out their flavors.  If you love curries – and who doesn’t? 😉 –  get this issue and start experimenting.   Here I share with you my first interpretation of a chicken version, that ranked high on the yummy-ness scale.

(from the Bewitching Kitchen, inspired by Fine Cooking)

1 can of coconut milk  (13.5 oz)
1/8 to 1/4 cup red curry paste
1 cup chicken broth (or water)
1 Tbs lemon zest
2 Tbs. light brown sugar
2 tsp. fish sauce
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger
1 lb. boneless chicken thighs  cut into 1/4-thick bite-size strips
3/4 cup canned garbanzo beans, rinsed well
2 cups asparagus, cut in 1-inch pieces
salt to taste
1/2 cup minced cilantro leaves

Shake the can of coconut milk, open it and stir well if not completely smooth.  Transfer 1/2 cup of it to a saucepan and simmer for 5 minutes to thicken it up.  Don’t worry if it starts to separate.  Add the red curry paste, whisk for a minute, then add the broth, brown sugar, fish sauce, and the rest of the coconut milk left in the can. Bring to a simmer over high heat, and add the chicken pieces.  Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes.

Add the lemon zest, ginger, asparagus, and garbanzo beans.  Simmer for 5 minutes, adjust seasoning with salt if necessary (fish sauce is salty, you may not need to add additional salt), sprinkle with the fresh cilantro and serve right away over white rice.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  Cooking the chicken in the sauce (instead of sauteing it first) saves a messy step that’s particularly hard to deal with in a tiny kitchen, where I’m working with a two burner hot plate.  Plus, the meat turns out very tender and juicy this way.   Of course, if you prefer chicken breast instead of thighs  then substitute, but something about the velvety texture of chicken thighs makes them more appropriate for this type of recipe.   Once the meat is cooked   add the vegetables that you like (some of which might profit from a previous parboiling: potatoes, butternut squash, carrots);  as long as you pay attention to their cooking times, they’ll be fine.

Keep in mind that different brands of curry paste vary considerably in their spiciness.  If you’re new to this ingredient, then start with a small amount, taste, and add more according to your level of tolerance.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Zen and the Art of Risotto

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Each year I spot recipes for Easter Pie in websites and magazines, and I tell myself that I’ve got to see what it’s all about, but for one reason or another I never get around to making it.  Still, the chances that this was the year to end my Easter Pie virginity were slim, because the thought of rolling dough in our nano-kitchen was downright scary.  Yet, strange things happened. I read this post, and couldn’t stop thinking about it.  Then, having the house to myself for several hours on Sunday (my husband the golfer!) was the final push to jump in with both feet: when I’m facing a challenging project, solitude is my best friend.  😉

(adapted from King Arthur website)

for the crust:
2 + 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
1 Tbs sugar
1/8 cup olive oil
1/2 cup + 1 Tbs room temperature water

for the filling:
6 large eggs (3 of them hard boiled, and diced)
1/2 pound diced ham
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated parmiggiano-reggiano cheese
minced parsley to taste
salt and pepper to taste

for the glaze:
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbs sugar

Make the crust dough by adding all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pmixing until a ball forms.  Adjust with more water if necessary.  When the dough forms a ball, process it for about 20 seconds. Remove it from the machine and knead gently by hand for a minute or so. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, and let it rise for 1 to 2 hours in a warm spot of your kitchen.  The dough should about double in size, and feel bubbly.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling by mixing the diced ham, boiled eggs, ricotta and Parmigiano cheese with the three raw eggs.  Add salt, pepper, and parsley.

When the dough has doubled in size, divide it into two equal portions and roll them into oval shapes, about 10”x 14”.  Place the filling over one of the dough disks, leaving a clean, 1/2 inch border.  Carefully lift the second disk of dough and layer on top of the filling, enclosing it by pressing the borders together.  Cut a slit on top of the pie with a knife or razor blade, and brush the surface with a glaze made from mixing the egg and sugar.

Bake it in a 350 F oven for 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown.  Remove to a rack and allow it to cool.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  Things were going so smoothly during the preparations of dough and filling that I found myself multitasking:  a little vacuum-cleaning here, a little exercising there, and even a break to walk the dogs.  But, naturally, the dark clouds were gathering and the lightning struck big time when I went to roll out the dough, and found…… no rolling pin in the house!  Without naming names, someone dispatched my improvised rolling pin (an empty wine bottle without its labels) to the recyclable waste.  In desperation I tried a bottle of wine (with labels on!),  but it didn’t work.   Flour was flying and the dough was beyond its rise.  So, I took matters (literally) into my own hands, and  “rolled” it with the palm of my hand on parchment paper.  It’s not a relaxed activity for a Sunday morning; I don’t recommend it. Actually, it wouldn’t be too bad for a single crust concoction, like galette or another other rustic pie.   But, for this pie you’ll need two disks of dough with similar dimensions.  Perhaps Easter Pie was what prompted the invention of the rolling pin!  😉

All problems aside, this pie was wonderful!  As  Ms. Hamel mentioned in her post,  each Italian family has their own “authentic” version.  Some are loaded with meats, while some – like Pastiera Napoletana – have a sweet, cheesecake-like filling.  This version is lighter than most,  but still substantial.  If you celebrate Easter, then I suggest that you make it this weekend. If you don’t celebrate, it’s a delicious dish for a dinner party.  I’ve been enjoying it for lunch at work with a juicy tomato alongside.  Heaven!

ONE YEAR AGO: Black Olive Bialy

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Two of my favorite bread baking sites are Wild Yeast and The Fresh Loaf.  Every Friday, I look forward to Susan’s Yeastspotting event,  that showcases  breads baked during the previous week by folks all over the world.  And The Fresh Loaf is a discussion forum with help and advice for beginners as well as experienced bakers.  Through my visits to both sites over several years,  I got to know – virtually, at least  –  some amazing bread bakers like MC, who runs the blog with the cute name “Farine.”   Not too long ago she raved about a bread from Orchard Hill Breadworks, a bakery in New Hampshire owned by Noah Elbers.  During her visit to the bakery, she learned how to make one of their signature breads, with two flavors I am quite fond of:  oatmeal and maple syrup.

I won’t lie to you, the preparation is a bit involved: the day before you’ll need to bake the oatmeal, refresh your sourdough starter, and make a poolish with commercial yeast. But your hard work will pay off, big time…   😉

(reprinted from Farine‘s blog, with permission from Noah Elbers)

447 g all-purpose unbleached flour
151 g whole-wheat flour
151 g steel-cut oatmeal, baked
328 g water
151 g liquid starter
151 g poolish
121 g pure maple syrup
16 g salt
The day before baking the bread:
1. Refresh your sourdough starter, to make sure it is bubbly and active when you make the dough next morning. I do that about 12 hours before mixing the dough, by mixing 2 tsp of mature starter with 150g water and 150g flour.  Next morning remove the amount you need and keep the rest in the fridge.

2. Make the poolish by mixing 100g flour + pinch of instant yeast + 100 g/ml water recipe: Leave to ferment overnight. You will not use it all, weigh what you need for the recipe.

3. Bake the oatmeal.  Boil water, then mix it with the oatmeal in a baking dish (200g oatmeal + 200g/ml boiling water).  Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake in a 400F oven for 40 minutes.  The mixture will turn into a brick.  Once it cools, break the bits of oatmeal with your fingers, and weigh the amount needed for the dough.

On baking day:
Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl (except the salt),  kneading briefly to form a shaggy mass.  Let the mixture resting for 30 minutes.    Add the salt and incorporate by gentle kneading.

Let the dough rest for 40 minutes.  Knead by folding the dough in itself 4-6 times.  Let the dough rest for 40 minutes more.  Knead it again by folding.
Let the dough rise for 40 minutes, do one final cycle of kneading, then allow it to sit undisturbed for a full hour  (total bulk fermentation will be about 3 hours).

Shape the dough as a large batard, or divide in two and shape as a small round (that’s what I did).  Let the shaped bread rise for 1 hour at room temperature, then retard it in the fridge for 12-15 hours.

Bring the bread to room temperature for 2 hours before baking in a 450F oven for 45 minutes (25 minutes under steam, covered, 20 minutes uncovered).  Cool the bread for at least one hour before indulging in it.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Even though this bread takes oatmeal and maple syrup, it is not sweet.  I think its sourdough nature creates a nice counterpart to the sweetness, so that the bread is quite versatile:  you can enjoy it with peanut butter and jelly (like my husband did), or go for a bit of Brie or Camembert (my favorite take).

I highly recommend that you visit Farine website, and click on the video made in the bakery during the preparation of this bread.  It is amazing to see how those talented bakers handle a huge amount of dough, from mixing to shaping.   And while you are net-surfing, make sure to stop by the bakery website and read about how it all started, a fascinating story told by Noah himself.

I am submitting this post to Susan’s Yeastspotting

ONE YEAR AGO: Black Trumpet-Coffee Crusted Pork Tenderloin (one of my personal favorites!)

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