|May 15, 2013||Posted by jcogswell1 under Dinner, Lunch, Parties|
A few weeks ago, my beloved Green City Market opened for the season. Granted, the market didn’t feature the bounty of summer, but it did still have a great selection of farm fresh items. One of my favorite spring time vegetables is asparagus and I was happy to see that many of the vendors were selling a number of varieties – thin and thick, purple and green. I opted to buy the thick cut (more flavor in my opinion) green variety.
These babies were so beautiful! While I contemplated just steaming them up and serving them alongside a piece of fish, I decided to get a bit more creative and turn them into the base of a cream of asparagus soup.
This proved to be an excellent decision. The soup had the perfect amount of creaminess, slight tang from fresh lemon juice, and a wonderful crunch thanks to homemade saffron flavored croutons.
This recipe was actually a slightly adapted version of an asparagus soup recipe of my mom’s that I have made many times. Hers is a “healthified” version of cream of asparagus soup which replaces the cream for potatoes to thicken the soup and add the right texture. And while I love that soup, I wanted an option that was a little bit more refined and truly allowed the asparagus to shine.
Speaking of asparagus – did you notice that the asparagus were sitting in water glasses in the above picture?
This is how I store asparagus! I find that, like fresh flowers, asparagus responds really well to being stored in water. They stay tender and maintain their vibrant color for at 3-5 days in the fridge (but of course, the earlier you use the asparagus, the fresher it will taste!).
Anyway, back to the soup. This would be the perfect starter to a fancy dinner party, but works equally well alongside a big salad on a busy weeknight because the whole thing comes together in 30 minutes.
However you enjoy it, just make sure you give it a try when the asparagus is at its freshest – a.k.a RIGHT NOW!
Cream of Asparagus Soup with Saffron Croutons – Serves 4-6 as an appetizer
- 2 lbs asparagus
- 1/2 stick butter
- 3 large shallots, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 cups water
- S+P to taste
- Fresh lemon juice (approximately the juice of one lemon is what I used)
- 3-4 slices of any variety of bread (I chose a multigrain variety), crusts removed and cut into small cubes
- 2 TB EVOO
- 1/3 tsp saffron threads
In order to remove the tough bottoms of the asparagus, I simply take the asparagus and bend lightly. Wherever the asparagus bends is the place where the tough meets the tender. Discard the tough pieces (keep if you make your own veggie stock!).
In a large stock pot, add the butter and melt over medium low heat. Once melted, add the chopped shallots and cook until they are soft, but not browned, about five minutes.
Add the cream, water, salt (start with 2 tsp) and pepper to the pot. Increase the heat to high and bring liquid to a boil. Add the asparagus, lower to a simmer, and cook until the asparagus is tender, but still has a bright green color, about five minutes.
Now it is time to puree the soup. Working in batches, add the contents of the pot into a blender and puree until smooth.
I found that the texture of the soup was perfect for me. Slightly thick, but very smooth. If you prefer a finer texture, you can push the contents of the soup through a fine mesh sieve.
Add the soup back to the pot and keep warm until you are ready to serve. Taste and adjust for seasonings as necessary. Right before serving, add enough lemon juice to taste. You certainly don’t want the overwhelming flavor of lemon to come through on the soup, but you want enough to know that it is there. I think 1/2 to a full lemon’s worth of juice is perfect, but let your palate guide you!
While the soup is staying warm, you can make the croutons, which is very easy! In a large sauté pan, add the EVOO and heat over medium-low heat. Add the saffron shreds and cook in the olive oil for 1 minute to infuse the oil. Add the bread and toss to coat in the saffron oil. Spring with salt and pepper and cook until the croutons are golden and toasted.
Serve the soup topped with croutons and one more spray of lemon juice!
|May 8, 2013||Posted by jcogswell1 under Dinner, Lunch|
I love cobb salad. The combination of creamy avocados, pungent blue cheese, salty bacon, tender chicken, fresh cherry tomatoes, crunchy nuts and crisp lettuce is fabulous. Cobb salad often get a bad rap from the calorie police. I can’t count the number of times I have heard “don’t order cobb salads because they have as many calories as a cheeseburger does.”
I think that there can be some truth to the above statement if you order a cobb salad out at a restaurant. Especially one that is doused in fat laden dressing and contains more bacon than it does lettuce. However, when you made a cobb salad at home, you get to control the quality and quantity of ingredients. And when made right, cobb salad can be a completely satisfying and healthy entrée.
To elevate the flavors of a normal, hum drum cobb salad, I marinate the chicken in a delicious mayo-mustard sauce, use good quality blue cheese, thick cut bacon and very fresh vegetables. I also like the slight crunch that comes from using pine nuts. They have a much milder flavor and texture than other nuts, and when they are toasted, they are the perfect compliment for the salad. For the lettuce, I opt for a combination of bibb (or Boston) lettuce and arugula. I like the pepperiness of the arugula combined with the the crunchiness and buttery-ness of the bibb lettuce.
I also prefer a simple balsamic vinaigrette on my cobb salad, but feel free to exchange the vinegar for lemon if that is your favorite combination. Tommy and I ate this for dinner alongside a delicious bowl of soup (recipe coming soon) and were completely satisfied. If you go without soup, either increase the portion size of the salad or add a crusty piece of bread to go alongside!
Cobb Salad – Serves 4 as Entrees:
3 TB mayo
3 TB dijon mustard, divided
2 large chicken breasts
2 medium sized heads of boston lettuce (about 10 ounces total), trimmed, torn into bite-size pieces, washed and drained well
2 cups arugula
1 large avocado, cut into large pieces
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup crumbled good quality blue cheese (Roquefort is a good option!)
2/3 cup toasted pine nutes
4 slices of thick cut bacon
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for cooking the chicken
S+P to taste
To make the vinaigrette, combine the balsamic, olive oil, 2 TB of dijon mustard and salt and pepper in a small bowl and whisk until incorporated.
Next up is marinating the chicken. You only need to keep this marinade on for 10 minutes to infuse the chicken with flavor and keep it moist throughout the cooking process. Combine the mayo, 1 TB of dijon and salt and pepper in a small bowl. Stir to combine.
Slather the chicken with all of the marinade and allow to sit for 10 minutes. While the chicken is marinating, it is time to cook the bacon. Add the bacon slices to a large, dry pan and cook over low heat, turning occasionally, until crisp – about 10 minutes. Drain the bacon on a paper towel lined plate to absorb excess oil. Once cooled, crumb into large pieces and reserve.
Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to another pan and heat over medium heat. Once hot, add the chicken and cook the chicken for 4 to 6 minutes per side to get a good sear on the outside. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook the chicken for another 3-4 minutes per side until it is completely cooked through. Allow to cool completely and then cut into large slices.
While the chicken is cooling, you can toast the pine nuts. In a dry small pan, add the pine nuts and toast until slightly browned – about 3 minutes. Watch them carefully because they can burn quickly.
Finally, it is time to put everything together. I think it looks nice to put the lettuce on the bottom of a large salad bowl and then place all the ingredients, in lines, across the top. This makes for a nice presentation. Once all the ingredients are on the salad, pour on the vinaigrette and mix well. Enjoy!
|April 12, 2013||Posted by jcogswell1 under Dinner, Lunch|
Last Sunday we had French night at my place. We drank Pouilly-Fuisse, enjoyed steamed mussles, pomme frites and some delicious steak. I have posts coming up about all of that delicious food, but first I wanted to share the salad that we made.
This salad was inspired by one that we often order at Bistrot Margot, a local favorite of ours.
Bistro’s salad has a mixture of baby spinach and bibb (also called Boston) lettuce and includes small pieces of hard boiled egg and bacon. Typically, lots of bacon.
So in order to get some green into our otherwise heavy meal, we decided to recreate this favorite of ours. And, I am happy to report, that this salad was just as good as the original. In addition to all the delicious ingredients inside the salad, what puts this over the top, is the lemony vinaigrette that goes alongside it. Dress the salad just to coat so that the lettuce remains crispy and serve with a great bottle of French wine!
Classis Bistrot Salad (Restaurant Recreation) – Serves 4
1 head bibb or Boston lettuce
1 16 ounce container of baby spinach
4 thick sliced pieces of bacon (1/4 to 1/3 of a pound)
2 hard boiled eggs (here is how I did it)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 TB Dijon mustard
S+P to taste
Cook bacon in a dry frying pan on low heat for 8-10 minutes. I prefer to cook “low and slow” as this ensures you get even crispiness all over.
Slice egg and bacon in 1/4 inch pieces.
Wash lettuce (bibb lettuce is notorious for being sandy and dirty, so make sure you wash well) and baby spinach. Remove any big stems in the baby spinach. Cut the bibb lettuce into large pieces. Place lettuce, spinach, egg and bacon into a large salad bowl. To mix the vinaigrette, add the olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon and salt + pepper to a small mixing bowl or jar. Either whisk vigorously or shake the jar until incorporated. Pour dressing over salad (you may have too much dressing for your liking) and mix everything until each piece of lettuce is dressed.
Serve salad in individual bowls and top with extra fresh cracked pepper.
|April 8, 2013||Posted by jcogswell1 under Dinner, Lunch, Parties|
Remember when I visited iNG a few months back for the Martin Scorsese themed dinner? If you don’t recall, Homaro Cantu, the acclaimed executive chef at iNG and Moto, stopped by our table while we happened to be eating probably my favorite dish of the night – “The Color of Money.”
The Color of Money was a dish that featured a reverse arancini. Arancini are popular in Italian cuisine and are traditionally made from leftover risotto that has been mixed with egg and breadcrumb, stuffed with mozzarella and fried in olive oil. iNG had the brilliant idea to turn the arancini inside out and put the cheese around the rice instead of the other way around. Not only did I appreciate the whimsical nature of this dish, but loved the idea of putting the cheese on the outside because it increased the cheese-to-rice ratio, which is always a good thing.
It happened to be great timing that Chef Cantu stopped by while I was eating this dish because I was able to pick his brain about how he had managed to pull it off. When I asked my questions, I half expected Chef Cantu to give me laundry list of steps that included molecular gastronomy – the food science he is so well known for – and half expected him to flat out deny me any insight into how the balls were made. Much to my surprise, he listed out the five or six steps it takes, gave me a big vote of confidence, and told me I should give it a try. It has been on my list of “restaurant recreations” ever since.
I served my arancini with some homemade pesto sauce in a nod to the warm basil sauce that iNG presented with their arancini. I think these would also be delicious with a regular marinara.
So next time you make risotto, add a little extra to the pot so that you can make these arancini. I think these would be great as an appetizer for a dinner party (they really impress) and also make a delicious lunch alongside a salad.
Restaurant Recreation: Inside-Out Arancini – (Serves 4 as an appetizer)
2 cup leftover risotto, cooled (for a straight forward risotto recipe, check out this recipe just don’t add the butternut squash at the end)
1 1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 large eggs, beaten
8 ounces fresh buffalo mozzarella (2 large balls)
Olive Oil for frying
1 cup premade or store bought pesto
Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees. Slice mozzarella in 1/2 inch slices lengthwise. Place sliced mozzarella on a sheet pan (with sides). Cook in the oven for 5 minutes until the mozzarella has slightly melted, released some of its water and spread out into a larger diameter, but thinner size. Remove each piece of mozzarella and place onto wax paper. Top mozzarella with another piece of wax paper and place sheets in the freezer.
Meanwhile, mix 1/2 cup of bread crumbs, eggs, parmesan and risotto together in a large bowl.
Add remaining 1 cup of breadcrumbs to a shallow bowl. Roll risotto mixture into small balls (about 1 to 1 1/2 inch in diameter) and roll in breadcrumbs.
Pour approximately 1 cup of olive oil into a large cast iron or heavy set pan and heat over medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, drop the arancini and cook in batches until the balls are golden brown.
Drain fried arancini on paper towels to remove excess oil. Keep the balls warm in a 350 degree oven while you continue cooking the remaining batches.
Once all the balls have been fried, remove the mozzarella slices from the freezer. Allow them to sit out for 2-3 minutes so that they become slightly pliable, but are still cold.
Once at a time, take a risotto ball out of the oven and place on top of one mozzarella slice. Allow the hot risotto ball to warm the mozzarella slightly so that it is completely pliable and can be formed around the ball. Use your hands to wrap each risotto ball completely with the mozzarella (don’t worry if it’s not perfect – it will still taste delicious!). Place the balls on a platter with 1/2 cup of the prepared pesto spread on the bottom. Repeat the process with the remaining balls. Once all of the arancini have been wrapped, top with more pesto and serve warm.
|March 26, 2013||Posted by jcogswell1 under Dinner, Lunch, Parties|
I generally am not a huge takeout person. If I am not in my kitchen, making food, I generally like to go out and enjoy all the great aspects of restaurant dining – a server, a unique wine list, fun atmosphere, etc. However, there are some nights where you just can’t bring yourself to get dressed, let alone put on make-up and pretty yourself to be seen in public. These nights often coincide with a deep desire to sit on the couch and do nothing – funny how that works out.
On the rare occasions that these nights come around, I often default to my favorite kind of takeout food – Thai. I love all kinds of Thai food – curries, rice dishes, noodle dishes, salads, soups, everything. And while I like to think of myself as someone who ventures out and tries new things, I do find myself often ordering the exact same meal every time I do take out from my favorite Thai restaurant: Summer Rolls and Pad Thai.
I am not sure summer rolls are technically considered Thai. They are often on Thai restaurant menus, but I often see them referred to “Vietnamese Summer Rolls.” Whatever their origin, I don’t consider a Thai meal complete without some summer rolls.
These little rolls are just so balanced. Everything from their texture to their taste hits on all levels. They have a soft exterior, but you still get a nice crunch from the plethora of fresh veggies in them. You get subtle sweetness from the shrimp, mint and basil contrasted with spice from the hot peppers and cilantro. Plus, they are so pretty to look at!
I served my summer rolls with my recipe for spicy peanut sauce. While Hoisin sauce is probably the most traditional accompaniment for summer rolls, I really enjoy the creamy texture and spicy flavor of peanut sauce. Plus, if you make peanut sauce for the summer rolls, you can ensure there are extras to be served with the Pad Thai (recipe coming soon!).
Vietnamese Summer Rolls – Serves 4 as an appetizer (inspired by this recipe)
8 round rice paper wrappers (I used wrappers that were 8 1/2 inches in diameter and located in the international aisle of the supermarket)
1/2 lb pre-cooked shrimp, sliced in half
2 ounces rice stick noodles (vermicelli size)
1/2 English cucumber, julienned
1 carrot, julienned
1/2 bell pepper, julienned
2 serrano peppers, julienned (seeds and membrane removed if you want it less spicy)
1 cup mixed greens
1/2 cup fresh basil, ripped into large pieces
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, leaves separated from stem
1/4 cup fresh mint, leaves separated from stem
Soak rice stick noodles in hot water for 15 – 20 minutes until soft and pliable.
Prep veggies, shrimp and peanut sauce (if serving).
Add hot water to a large sauté pan (or other bowl that is wide enough to fit rice paper). One at a time, place a rice paper in hot water for 10-15 seconds until soft and pliable. Working quickly, remove the rice paper and place three shrimp halves in the middle of the rice paper cut side up. In this order, add the: noodles, two-three piece of mint, basil and cilantro, serrano, carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers and finish with 1-2 large pieces of mixed greens.
Wrap the summer roll like you would a burrito: 1) fold the bottom half of the rice paper wrapper over the filling 2) holding the whole thing firmly in place, fold the sides of the wrapper in 3) pressing firmly down to hold the folds in place, roll the entire wrapper horizontally up from the bottom to the top 4) turn the roll so that that the same faces down and the row of shrimp faces up.
If not serving immediately, place the summer rolls on a rimmed baking sheet and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Make sure you leave room between summer rolls so they don’t stick to each other. If you are serving immediately, dip a sharp knife into hot water and cut on a diagonal down the middle.
Repeat the entire process with remaining rice paper, replacing the water in the sauté pan whenever it gets cold.
Serve with spicy peanut sauce and enjoy!