Wednesday, April 27, 2011

White Asparagus is the New Green

Prized by chefs for its tender spears, white asparagus is lighter and more delicate in flavor compared to its well-known sister, the green asparagus. It is highly seasonal, only available for a scarce few weeks at the end of April and into the beginning of May.

Germans are said to have been the first to introduce the production of white asparagus or “spargel,” made by depriving the spears from sunlight so that they cannot produce chlorophyll. German restaurants will often celebrate the brief season with special “Spargel Karte” menus that showcase the white spears in all their glory. Take a look at what’s on my Spargel Karte menu:

White asparagus custard topped with roasted shallots and pancetta crisp, served beside a baby spinach salad in creamy white balsamic vinaigrette

I underestimated the rarity of white asparagus and had a hard time finding them. Of course it was in the last place I looked, at some random mom and pop-type gourmet fruit and vegetable store right next door to one of the big name supermarkets. I was so happy to have finally have them in my hands that I made this dish as soon as I got home.

The custard turned out nice and light and the flavor of the asparagus really came through. Together with the custard, the smokey crunch of the pancetta crisp, sweet roasted shallots and tangy white balsamic-dressed spinach all made for an excellent lunch. A few blanched spears on the side to showcase the white asparagus at its purest, and it was complete!

White Asparagus Custard
Topped with roasted shallots and pancetta crisp, served beside a baby spinach salad in creamy white balsamic vinaigrette.

Yield: 6-7 servings in small-medium sized ramekins

- 3 eggs
- 8 white asparagus spears + extra for garnish (optional)
- 12 ounces heavy cream + 2-4 ounces extra, heated for pureeing
- Salt for seasoning
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
• To prep asparagus for blanching, lightly peel each spear with a vegetable peeler, and cut off the thick bottoms. Bring a pot of water to a boil and lightly salt the water. Also, prepare an ice filled water bowl for shocking.
• Add the asparagus to the boiling water and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. When done, shock in the ice water to stop the cooking process. After removing the cooled asparagus from the ice water; coarsely chop 8 spears and add to a food processor. Set the rest aside for garnish (if using).
• Pulse the white asparagus in food processor while slowly adding the hot heavy cream until you have a thick puree. In a medium-large bowl, whisk together the puree with eggs, 12 ounces of heavy cream, and salt. Pour the mixture into ramekins, then place the ramekins in a pan filled with ½ inch of water. Bake until custard is set, about 45 minutes.
• Allow the custard to completely cool before removing from ramekins. The custard should easily come loose after running a knife around the edge.
• Pancetta crisps: Place 6-7 thin slices of pancetta on a sheet tray and bake in a 350 degree oven until crisp, 15-20 minutes.
• Roasted shallots: peel and quarter 2-4 shallots (depending on size), and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper; lay out on a sheet tray and roast in 450 degree oven until soft and lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Chop and toss with a little bit of the white balsamic vinaigrette before serving on top of the custard.
• Creamy white balsamic vinaigrette: In a medium sized bowl, mix 6 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar with 1 clove of minced garlic, 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, and ¼ teaspoon of honey. Slowly whisk in about ¼ of regular olive oil until dressing becomes thick and creamy; season with salt and pepper. Toss with baby spinach or similar green to lightly coat.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tortellini: Breaded, Baked and Skewered

Barilla recently challenged Foodbuzz Featured Publishers to think of an Italian-inspired recipe using their tortellini for a chance to win a trip to Italy.

Being a “got to be in it to win it” kind of girl, I put my thinking toque on, got my tortellini, and am taking my chances with this outside-the-box pasta recipe:

Baked Tortellini Caprese Skewers with Lemon Tomato Dipping Sauce

I love tortellini; cold in salads for lunch or saucy and steaming for dinner, they are simple, satisfying, and delicious. But what inspired this dish was actually thinking of ways that I’ve never had tortellini before.

Breaded? Baked? Skewered? Check, check, and check.

My goal was to make a recipe that was unpredictable—one not exactly considered your average tortellini dish yet still inviting and easy enough for anyone to see themselves making for family and friends.

Using Barilla Three Cheese Tortellini, I boiled the pasta briefly until it was just soft. I then cooled and breaded each piece in flour, egg, and a mixture of seasoned breadcrumb and parmigiano cheese.

Around twenty minutes in the oven and you are done. Baking rather than frying allows the flavor of the tortellini to remain present and not get lost when cooked.

With this dish being all about Italy, I chose to incorporate the fresh flavors of a basic Caprese salad which also showcase the colors of the Italian flag. On the side, a lemon-infused marinara sauce for dipping provides a bright compliment to all of the elements on the skewer.

This is a great recipe to make when you are having guests over. Buon Appetito!

Baked Tortellini Caprese Skewers with Lemon Tomato Dipping Sauce:
* For the skewers, I have not given exact measurements; adjust to how many servings you plan to prepare.
- Long Bamboo skewers
- Barilla Three Cheese Tortellini, briefly boiled until just soft
- Cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- Fresh mozzarella (cubed or use whole small bocconcini)
- Fresh basil leaves, cut into strips
- 1 cup flour
- 2 eggs, whisked
- 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
- ½ cup grated parmigiano reggiano
• Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
• Bread tortellini in flour, eggs, and seasoned bread crumb. Lay the pieces out on a tray and bake for about 20 minutes in 400 degree oven until golden.
• Wrap each mozzarella cube or bocconcini ball with a strip of basil. Skewer two tomato halves, two tortellini, and two basil wrapped mozzarella balls. Serve with dipping sauce.

Lemon Tomato Dipping Sauce:
Yield: 1 ½- 2 cups
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ onion, small dice
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1, 14.5 ounce can diced tomato
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, roughly chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
• In a medium sauté pan, heat olive oil. Cook onions until soft; add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add tomato, lemon juice and zest, and chicken stock. Cook down for a few minutes until slightly reduced. Season with salt and pepper. Finish with parsley.
• Transfer sauce to a food processor and lightly pulse until you get a thick/chunky consistency.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Pork "Chopped"

Sometimes stepping into the kitchen can be like walking into an episode of Food Network’s Chopped.

Whatever is sitting in your cabinets and stocked on your refrigerator’s shelves—that’s your mystery basket. Maybe you haven’t gone food shopping in a while? Bring on the extra challenge.

No matter how random the revealed ingredients might be, the goal is to turn them into a winning ten thousand dollar recipe (wouldn’t that be nice?). Point is, you want it to taste good.

Of course, your family/friends are the judges; and their hunger is the only ticking clock needed to get you on your toes and moving towards the finish line.

So what was in my most recent mystery basket? Dun dun dunn: pork chops. More commonly known around here as, “Ugh, pork chops…(sigh).”

I can’t help it, pork chops will forever be tainted by memories of being dry, tasteless, and Shake n’ Baked. In theory, they are an easy weeknight meal, and yet, they are so easy to screw up.

Nevertheless, I continue to give pork chops a shot, only I refuse to let them be boring. Even when it seems like there is nothing left in the house, I am determined to find a way to make them delicious.

This time, I sliced open the chops and filled them with a quick apple stuffing made with several other items from the “mystery basket” of found items hiding around the kitchen. I sautéed the chops in butter and olive oil, then added apple juice and maple syrup to the pan to make a sauce with the leftover drippings.

The “judges” approved, and so did I, making me recipient to the theoretical ten thousand dollar prize and the rights to say that this recipe is WINNING. Duh.

So if you’re looking for something good to make during the week, and you too, refuse to be bored by the same old, plain old pork chop, try this recipe!

Remember: do not be afraid of a little pink in your pork chop; if you are, you will forever be doomed to a dry, tasteless hunk of meat. Trichinosis, the parasite associated underdone pork, dies at 137 degrees Fahrenheit. If the internal temperature is at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re good.

P.S. Please nominate my blog ( for Saveur Magazine's 2011 Best Food Blog Awards in the "best cooking blog" category. It's worth a shot! Thanks so much for your support, I really appreciate it. :)

Apple and Mustard Stuffed Pork Chops with Maple Pan Sauce
Yield: 4 Servings

- 4-6 boneless pork chops
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter + 1 tablespoon separate
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil + 1 tablespoon separate
- 2 celery sticks, small dice
- 1 large shallot, small dice
- 1 golden delicious apple, small dice
- 1 cup apple juice, divided
- 1 cup plain breadcrumb or panko
- 2 ½ tablespoons whole grain Dijon mustard
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup maple syrup
- Flour for thickening
• Slide knife sideways into the middle of each pork chop and butterfly; make sure not to slice all the way through. Cover the opened chops with a Ziploc bag and lightly pound. Season the chops with salt and pepper on each side.
• In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil together over medium heat. Add celery and shallots and sweat. Add apples and cook until soft. Pour in ½ cup apple juice, add mustard, salt and pepper to taste, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and slowly incorporate the breadcrumb until everything is bound together well.
• Fill each of the pork chops with stuffing. To secure, pinch the largest side together and weave a toothpick through.
• In a clean skillet, heat tablespoon of butter and olive oil over medium high heat and sauté the pork chops until nicely browned and cooked through; about 6-7 minutes on each side.
• Remove the pork chops from the pan and reserve covered or in a warm place. Remember to remove the toothpicks from the pork chops before serving.
• Over medium high heat, deglaze the pan with remaining apple juice, scraping up all of the browned bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon; add maple syrup. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. To lightly thicken the sauce whisk in a tablespoon or two of flour.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Showers of Delicious for a Soon-to-Be Mrs.

Last weekend we had a bridal shower for my cousin, Eloise, who was surprisingly, surprised. Success!

The theme for the party was “Eloise at the Plaza” based off of the children’s book with her name. There were little “Eloise” touches everywhere: hot pink accents, a different book from the series on each table, and tea favors as a nod to the character’s adventures at the Plaza’s Palm Court.

Plans for the shower had been in the works for months, and it all turned out perfectly. It made me such a happy bridesmaid to have been a part of making my cousin’s special day a memorable one for her.

Now, onto my tasty contributions…

I volunteered to make the punch, and decided to to make it mai tai. Pineapple, orange, and lime juice make up the concoction, along with cream of coconut and maraschino cherry juice for a nice pink color. For garnish, I added pineapple rings, orange slices, and cherries.

The punch was originally supposed to include rum, but the restaurant we had the shower at would not allow it. I substituted club soda for the alcohol, and it ended up working out for the best; the bubbles made it more refreshing, even easier to drink. The punch received rave reviews, and the best compliment of all—it all went.

Virgin Mai Tai Punch. (Recipe at end of post).  

For another special touch, I made Oreo truffle lollipops. I had prepared the super easy chocolate covered Oreo and cream cheese truffle balls a little while back, but this time I wanted to add the sticks for a better presentation and to make them more fun to eat.

Here is what I found: when making the lollipops, it is important that the truffle balls are nice and firm before adding the sticks so that they won’t slide right off; a few minutes in the freezer does the trick. Once the sticks are secure, you can dip the truffles right into the chocolate. I decorated mine with little heart sprinkles. Then, to keep the chocolate from getting flat at the top, I stuck the lollipops into a foam block until they hardened.

Here is the updated Oreo truffle recipe with instructions for making lollipops.

Quick craft lesson! To make the pops look like little edible decorations, I got plastic low ball glasses from the party store and filled them with foam balls that I cut in half. I hid the foam with pink confetti, and stuck six to seven lollies in each. They looked like little bouquets on all of the tables.

I recommend these lollipops for any kind of celebration. Customize them any way you want. They are so much fun, are a lot easier than they look, and guests love it.

P.S. Please nominate my blog ( for Saveur Magazines 2011 Best Food Blog Awards in the "best cooking blog" category. It's worth a shot! Thanks so much, I really appreciate it.

Virgin Mai Tai Punch
Yield: about 3 gallons/ 3 batches (serves around 50 people)

- 1 gallon pineapple juice
- ½ gallon orange juice
- 1 cup lime juice (about 15 limes)
- 2 cans cream of coconut
- 3, 1 quart bottles of club soda
- 3 medium-large sized jars maraschino cherries, strained with juice reserved
- 2 oranges, sliced (optional)
- 2 cans pineapple rings (optional)
• Combine pineapple, lime, and orange juice, with cream of coconut and maraschino cherry juice. You will notice that the cream of coconut will leave behind small little white bits; if desired, blend punch in a blender until the white bits are dissolved. This step can be prepared ahead of time.
• Add 1 bottle club soda as each batch is served. Garnish with maraschino cherries, orange slices, and pineapple rings. Serve over ice.
• If you would like serve this punch with alcohol, substitute equal parts light and dark rums for the club soda (about a cup of each or more depending on desired strength).