|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!
|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!
|March 22, 2013||Posted by jcogswell1 under Dinner, Parties|
As you have most likely noticed, I haven’t updated the blog in a week. I have been working a lot and haven’t had time for cooking, let alone writing about cooking.
Last night, I was finally able to get back into the kitchen and whip up a delicious meal. In addition to being tasty, this meal also came together rather quickly. A few months ago, I purchased some frozen, wild, line-caught swordfish at Whole Foods and threw it in my freezer.
Whole Foods has a variety of frozen fish options (e.g. Pacific Salmon, Halibut, etc.) that are so fresh tasting and work really well for busy nights when all you can do is pull out a piece and throw it on the sauté pan or grill. In fact, I almost prefer the frozen stuff at Whole Foods because many times the fish at the “fresh” seafood counter has just been defrosted. However, if you get the fish in the frozen section (near the seafood counter), Whole Foods guarantees that it has been flash frozen the minute it came out of the water and was fileted.
This fish tasted so great you really didn’t need to do much more than season it with salt and pepper. But because I wanted to do something a little special, I made a quick (20 minute) beurre blanc sauce that was flavored with tons of citrus flavor.
In addition to the non-traditional citrus flavors I added to the beurre blance, I also added a lot of standard flavorings you would find including pepper corns, shallots, bay leaf and wine. I wanted to lighten up my sauce a bit, so instead of using heavy cream, which is traditional, I used some skim milk, which worked great. I think you get enough richness from the butter added, so I didn’t miss the cream at all. The end product is a beautiful sauce that is bursting with citrus flavor. It worked wonderfully on swordfish but would also be great on any other fish varietal or chicken.
I served my fish with kale chips (yes, it might be my favorite food) and the whole thing made a beautiful presentation that is definitely nice enough to serve for company.
Swordfish with Citrus Beurre Blance Sauce – Serves 4 (inspired by this recipe)
- 1.5 lbs swordfish (other fish or chicken would work as well)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/3 cup shallots, sliced
- 2 large garlic cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 inch strip of orange peal
- 2 inch strip of lime peal
- 2 inch strip of lemon peel
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 TB whole black pepper corns
- 1/3 cup milk (or cream if you want to be extra luxurious)
- 1 stick butter, cubed
- EVOO, S+P for cooking swordfish
Peel the citrus fruit before juicing because it is much easier. Add wine, citrus juice, peel, peppercorns, bay leaves, garlic cloves, shallots and salt to small sauce pan. Bring the liquid to a boil and reduce until nearly all of the liquid has evaporated from the pan about 12-14 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium low and add the milk. Reduce liquid for 1-2 minutes. With the heat on simmer, add the butter, a few cubes at a time to the sauce pan and whisk constantly. Once all the butter as been incorporated, remove the pot from the heat and strain the sauce using a fine mesh sieve. Once drained, add the sauce back to the sauce pan and cover. Heat over the lowest heat possible until ready to serve. Do not heat over high temperatures or this will cause the sauce to break.
For the swordfish, take a large sauté pan and heat over high heat. Season the swordfish with salt and pepper. Add about 3 TB of EVOO to the pan and once the oil is nearly smoking, add the swordfish to get a nice sear. Cook for 3-4 minutes per side depending on the thickness of the swordfish. Remove, top with beurre blanc sauce and serve additional sauce on the side for people to pour on at the table.
|January 7, 2013||Posted by jcogswell1 under Parties|
This year, my sister Kate and I threw a NYE party for our friends in our new condo. It was a fun get together with 30-40 of our friends!
Because of the sheer number of people invited, it was impossible to have a sit down dinner party, so we opted for lots of drinks and appetizers instead. We started the party at 9PM and our friends grazed on the food all night!
I took inspiration from the Barefoot Contessa and served a mixture of homemade (but easy!) and store bought appetizers. I think its good to have a decent variety of food options that offer different tastes and textures, but I also don’t want to be slaving away in the kitchen the entire day before my party. Luckily, I also had a special helper (Tommy) assisting me with party prep and Kate and our friend Zoe made a couple of dishes as well.
The dishes we made were a big hit and I thought were the perfect quantity. The menu included: roasted shrimp cocktail, blue cheese and walnut crackers, salami and cucumber slices, a fig spread, prosciutto and gorgonzola crostini (compliments of Tommy), Gluten free black been dip (compliments of Zoe and Kate), cheese platters, and puff pastry filled with gruyere cheese and black forest ham. Finally my girlfriend Laura brought over some beautiful and delicious cupcakes that were devoured during the late night hours of the party!
The thing I enjoyed so much about the menu is that it involved minimal cooking but was still a really impressive spread.
For the roasted shrimp with cocktail sauce, I used this recipe, but doubled the quantity. I ended up having about 1 lb of leftover shrimp, so next time I might make 1.5 times what the recipe called for.
I think that roasting the shrimp is so much easier and tastier than boiling it, like you typically do with cocktail shrimp. By roasting the shrimp, I was able to season them with olive oil, salt and pepper which added flavor. Plus I didn’t have to worry about having huge pots of boiling water going. Buy shrimp that have been previously de-veined and peeled and your job gets even easier.
The blue cheese and walnut crackers are another Ina Garten recipe. I didn’t exactly make these crackers, because Tommy took over, but I definitely supervised and can attest to how easy they are to make.
Using the word cracker to describe this recipe is actually a little deceiving. These aren’t your typical Carr’s or Wheat Thin crackers that you would use as a base for cheese. Instead these are sort of a hybrid for what you would find on a cheese platter a mixture of cheese and cracker. Plus, with the amount of butter in these babies, you might as well just call them blue cheese flavored short breads. No matter what you call them, know that they are delicious and work great for a party. (Also, how beautifully did tommy make these guys look? Better than the Barefoot Contessa herself I think?)
You can’t get more simple or tasty with the next dish that I served: cucumber slices with salami.
Not only is this a beautiful presentation and adds some color to your appetizer arrangement, but it also is tasty with nearly zero assembly. I choose a milk soppressata as the accompaniment to the cucumber slices and I thought it worked well. You could also choose something more bold like a spicy salami. Whether your guest eat just the cucumbers, just the salami or combine the two, if they are anything like mine, these guys will be gone in no time.
For the next appetizer, Tommy offered to make a dish that his cousin Dawn served over Christmas: crostini with fig jam, melted gorgonzola cheese and prosciutto.
This picture is actually one that I snapped a couple of days after NYE because I failed to photograph it during the party itself. The crostini were just coming out of the oven when my guests started to arrive and I got so caught up in entertaining, that I completely forgot to take a picture.
To make these, Tommy simply sliced a fresh French banquette on a bias (which simply means cutting them on a slight diagonal thereby increasing the surface area), toasted the bread slices in the oven, spread some fig preserves on the toasted bread, added some crumbled gorgonzola cheese and topped with 1/3 of a slice of prosciutto. He then put the crostini in a 350 degree oven for about 3 minutes until the cheese was just barely melted (but not completely). These were probably the biggest hit of the party and were quickly gobbled up. Kate and I weren’t too upset when we just had to recreate these for a picture a few nights later!
As I mention, Kate and her friend Zoe also made a Gluten Free Black Bean dip that they served alongside some tortilla chips.
I am not sure what exactly went into this dip, but know that there was lots of black beans, scallions, cilantro and lime juice. Perhaps Zoe or Kate could link to the recipe or describe it in the comments section!
For another appetizer that required no cooking and only minimal assembly, I opted to have a couple of cheese platters.
I think that when assembling a cheese platter, it is important to have one blue cheese (in this case I used Roquefort), one creamy cheese (think brie, goat, or something similar) and one harder cheese (cheddar, manchego, etc.). I think having a variety of cheese means that there will be something for everyone!
For the last dish of the night, I opted to serve a beautiful ham and cheese puff pasty appetizer using this recipe. Unfortunately, the puff pasty fell victim to a similar fate that the crostini did, and I failed to snap a picture. Luckily I was able to find a couple of pictures that looked very similar to the dish I made.
This puff pastry dish tastes really similar to a croque monsieur thanks to the ham, gruyere cheese and Dijon mustard. Not only was the baked puff pasty beautiful to look at and a great addition to the appetizer spread, but it also tasted delicious and was a big it at the party.
Overall the party was a big success thanks in part to lots of drinks and plenty of good food. I would recreate this exact menu for another cocktail party any time of year as this was not NYE specific as well. Whatever you did on NYE, I hope you were surrounded by people you love!