Springtime asparagus

Sunday, June 19, 2016

"Spring drew on ... and a greenness grew over these brown beds, which, freshening daily, suggested the thought that Hope traversed them at night, and left each morning brighter traces of her steps."
- Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

Here in Toronto, today feels like the middle of summer. But technically, it's the last full day of spring. So if I'm going to post my favourite new asparagus recipe, now's the time.

If you want to keep things super-easy for a weeknight meal, the asparagus is wonderful on its own, simply roasted in the spice marinade. The citrus dressing, yogurt and avocado dress it up beautifully for guests, or a leisurely weekend meal.

(By the way, you might think it's impossible to have "too much" asparagus. If you looked inside my fridge, however, you might think again. Apparently, I'll be happily roasting asparagus well into the summer.)

Spiced Roasted Asparagus with Avocado and Yogurt
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

For the asparagus

1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp kosher salt
4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil (first amount)
2 pounds thin-to-medium asparagus, ends trimmed

To finish

2 Tbsp olive oil (second amount)
2 Tbsp orange juice
2 Tbsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1 large firm-ripe avocados, cut in thin slices
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Cover 2 baking sheets with foil.

Combine first 7 ingredients in a small bowl. Lay asparagus on baking sheets and drizzle with marinade, rolling until completely covered. Roast for 10 minutes, then flip and roast for another ten minutes until just tender.

Meanwhile, combine 2 Tbsp olive oil, orange juice and lemon juice in a small dish.

When asparagus is done, scatter with avocado slices, then drizzle with citrus dressing. Dollop yogurt over the top and sprinkle with seeds.

Tahini Roasted Cauliflower

Sunday, June 12, 2016

"And so, with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

A short post today - we've just dropped the girls off for another summer working at camp. My oldest will be one of the directors, while my youngest will be leading the L.I.T. program. They're both thrilled (and a little nervous) about the step up in responsibility. I'm excited for them, and know they'll rise to the challenge.

Earlier in the week, my oldest graduated from the University of Toronto with high distinction. And the week before that, my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. We have much to be grateful for and, yes, life does feel like it's beginning over again with the summer.

Tahini Roasted Cauliflower
(from Playing with Flour)

1/3 cup tahini
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 - 3/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp drained capers
6 cups cauliflower florets (from one medium size cauliflower)
Half a lemon
2/3 Tbsp chopped fresh parley
1/4 tsp kosher salt

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk tahini, olive oil and red pepper flakes together. Gently whisk in the capers. Add cauliflower and toss well to coat. Arrange cauliflower in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes, stirring about halfway through.

Remove pan from oven. Immediately squeeze juice of half a lemon over top. Sprinkle with salt and parsley. Transfer to a serving platter and serve.

The grad with mom and dad

June 1, 1991

Sugar-free desserts

Sunday, June 5, 2016
"Better a witty fool than a foolish wit."
- Feste in Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare

Finding a sugar-free dessert that tastes delicious can sometimes feel like a fool's errand. I'm usually dubious about that kind of thing - I'd honestly rather eat an apple than a dessert that sacrifices flavour to make health claims.

That's why I was intrigued by Baking with Less Sugar, by Joanne Chang. If anyone could succeed, it would be the owner of Boston's Flour Bakery, who set the bar with her delicious baked goods in two previous cookbooks. There were so many great recipes, it was hard to choose where to start, but I picked a winner with this fruit-studded fool. It's sweetened with an apple juice concentrate reduction, and we didn't miss the sugar one bit. Low-fat it is not, but if you want to cut back on sugar without giving up flavour, it's a perfect way to start.

If this is fool's paradise, I want in.

Berry Cream Cheese Fool
Baking with Less Sugar, Joanne Chang

One 12 ounce can frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup creme fraiche
2 cups heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp kosher salt
4 cups mixed berries

In a small saucepan, bring the apple juice concentrate to a boil over medium-high heat. Decrease the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the juice reduces to 3/4 cup. To check whether it's reduced enough, occasionally pour the juice into a measuring cup; if it it's more than 3/4 cup pour it back into the saucepan to simmer until sufficiently reduced. Remove from heat and cool in the fridge until cold to the touch.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip together the cream cheese and 1/2 cup of the apple juice concentrate (discard the rest) for 2-3 minutes, or until the mixture is light and fluffy, scraping the bowl occasionally to incorporate the cream cheese equally. Add creme fraiche and whip together to combine. Slowly drizzle in the cream and beat, still on medium speed, for 1 to 2 minutes more, or until the cream thickens and combines with the cream cheese mixture. Whisk in the vanilla and salt.

Fold the berries into the cream cheese mixture, shaving a few spoonfuls of berries to garnish the tops. Portion into bowls or glasses and top with a generous spoonful of berries. Serve immediately, or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to two hours.

Groceries: The sequel

Sunday, May 29, 2016

You may remember that a few weeks ago I wrote about the challenges of sending a non-shopping spouse to get groceries.

It happened again, and those of you who know Andrew won't be surprised to see what he brought home:

I guess if it's good enough for Jose Bautista, it's good enough for us.

(Apologies to my friends from Texas. I hope we can still be friends.)

Apparently I'm as predicable as my husband, though, because as soon as I saw those Golden Grahams in our cupboard, I knew what I was going to do with them. The last time I visited Aunt Barbara in California, she made a batch of these delicious and completely addictive treats. With three ingredients and about ten minutes in total to make them, they couldn't be easier.

Even Jose Bautista would flip for a recipe like this.

Aunt Barbara's Golden Graham treats

1 cup white chocolate chips
2 cups Golden Grahams
1/2 cup unsalted peanuts

Line a 9" x 13" pan or cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Melt the white chocolate chips, either on a stove over a double-boiler or in the microwave, heating for no more than 30 seconds at a time and stirring after each time.

Once the chocolate has melted, add Golden Grahams and peanuts. Stir well until completely mixed. Spread out on parchment paper-lined pan and set in the fridge until mixture has completely cooled. Break into pieces and store in the fridge or at room temperature.

Springtime comfort food

Sunday, May 22, 2016

"Nothing is so beautiful as spring ...
The glassy peartrees leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling."

- from "Spring" by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Hard to believe it's been four weeks since I wrote my last blog post. We were on holidays at the beginning of May, and last weekend I visited my mom while she recuperated from cataract surgery. In Toronto, the month of May usually moves from just-past-winter to nearly-summer, and it's no different this year. Andrew and I are enjoying the heat as we garden on this lovely Canadian long weekend.

This recipe is probably more apt for those just-past-winter days, but I've been making it for two winters now and still haven't posted the recipe. I didn't want to let it wait for a third winter. These baked shells are comfort food at its best, and I'll happily enjoy that any time of the year.

Chicken and broccoli stuffed pasta shells
(adapted slightly from Fearless Homemaker)
Note: This recipe is particularly great with homemade alfredo sauce. But if you don't have the time, store-bought is fine too.

1/2 cup alfredo sauce, first amount
1/2 cup alfredo sauce, second amount
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
2 cups broccoli, cooked and chopped
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded or grated Parmesan cheese, first amount
kosher salt, to taste
20 jumbo pasta shells (which is half of a 12 -ounce box) cooked according to package instructions
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, second amount


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spoon 1/2 cup alfredo sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 9" baking dish (just enough to lightly coat the bottom of the dish).

In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 cup alfredo sauce, shredded chicken, chopped broccoli, cheddar cheese and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Add kosher salt to taste.

Spoon the mixture evenly into the pasta shells and arrange shells in the bottom of the baking dish. Sprinkle the rest of the Parmesan over the top. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake for 10 more minutes, until the shells are golden brown.

Serve hot.

Measure for Measure

Sunday, April 24, 2016

At the Globe Theatre in London, summer 2004
"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."

- "Sonnet 18," William Shakespeare

The Globe Theatre
"And, most dear actors, eat no onions or garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath."
- A Midsummer Night's Dream, William Shakespeare

I wanted to post one of Shakespeare's lovely sonnets in honour of the 400th anniversary of his death. But the quote from A Midsummer Night's Dream is more apt, given that it mentions two of my favourite and most versatile ingredients.

Perhaps then, this recipe, which contains both onions and garlic, should be off limits to actors - but I hope the rest of you aren't scared off. The ragout is so good, I loved it the first time I tried it even though I forgot to add the cheese. The next day I sprinkled my leftovers with Parmigiana-Reggiano before heating and it was even better. In short, all's well that ends well.

Mushroom and White Bean Ragout
Note: you can easily cut the recipe in half if you're cooking for two

1 ounce dried mushrooms (preferably porcini)
2 cups boiling (or very hot) water
2 pounds Portobello mushrooms
1 1/2 cups onion, diced
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt to taste
4 garlic cloves, divided
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
1/2 to 3/4 cup red wine (white wine is also good)
15-ounce can white beans
15-ounce can diced tomatoes
additional salt to taste
additional fresh rosemary for garnish (optional)
sprinkling of grated Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese for garnish (optional)

Place the dried mushrooms in a heatproof bowl or measuring cup. Add hot water and let the mushrooms soak for 30 minutes. Place a strainer over a bowl and pour mushrooms into the strainer. Squeeze the mushrooms over the strainer until you've squeezed out all the juices. Quickly rinse mushrooms to remove any residual sand. Chop coarsely and set aside. Measure out 1 1/2 cups of the soaking liquid and set aside.

Wipe the Portobello mushrooms with a damp paper towel and cut into slices of 1/2 inch or so. Set aside.

Peel onions, and cut into dice of 1/2 inch or so. Place a large frying pan or dutch oven over medium stovetop heat. When it's hot, add olive oil, then add diced onions. Season with salt, lower the heat and sauté until translucent, 5 to 8 minutes.

Peel the garlic and slice thinly or mince finely. Divide into two roughly equal piles and set aside.

Once the onions are ready, add half the garlic. Add thyme and rosemary, and sauté for 1 minute.

Add the Portobello mushrooms. Add additional salt to taste, plus the butter. Sauté for 5 minutes.

Add flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the reconstituted mushrooms, along with the wine. Cook until the liquid evaporates and a glaze forms on the mushrooms. Stir occasionally so the mushrooms don't stick and burn.

Open the beans, rinse through a colander, and let drain.

Add the reserved soaking liquid, the beans, tomatoes and the rest of the garlic to the mixture. Bring to a bare simmer and cook for 30 minutes.

Serve over cooked barley, polenta or rice. Garnish with rosemary and/or Parmigiana-Reggiano, if desired.

"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember."
- Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Blueberry banana smoothies

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Last time I posted a smoothie recipe, it was when my youngest daughter got braces.

Apparently dental issues are a harbinger of smoothie recipes on this blog, because the same girl had a wisdom tooth out on Friday. Since then I haven't made anything that didn't go through a blender, including this smoothie that's bursting with the taste of blueberries. I made a noticeable dent in the number of blueberries in my freezer, since this was one of the few things she wanted to eat after her surgery.

For the record, the surgery went well, and she's already back at school to write her final three exams. It's hard to know which she thought was the worst thing about the last few days: the removal of the wisdom tooth, the fact that it was bookended by exams, or the two losses by her beloved Blue Jays to the Red Sox. Fortunately, the mouth is healing, the schoolwork is coming along nicely, and the Jays won this afternoon.

Three great reasons to celebrate with another smoothie!

Blueberry banana smoothies
(from Food.com)

1/2 cup vanilla or plain yogurt
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
3/4 cup milk
1/2 ripe banana, sliced thinly
2 ice cubes

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
Makes 2 medium-sized smoothies.