Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thin or Thick Stemmed?  

Which is best?
What do you prefer?

I hear this frequently while I'm shopping, especially when my cart is piled high with the first asparagus of the season.  So I thought I'd check around and put to rest that age old question.  Thinner stems are better (more tender)  than thicker stems.  

So what is the answer???

Thinner is ........just thinner!

The Romans were the first to cultivate asparagus going back some 2000 years.  Its appearance has changed since then from the tall, skinny, narrow stems much like the original wild plants to a fatter, thicker stem preferred since the 1700's.  Asparagus plants are naturally either male or female.  Female plants bear red seeds diverting energy from the stalks into reproduction. The seeds falling to the ground create competition between the mature plants and the young seedlings...SO...the stalks of female asparagus plants are thinner.  

White MALE asparagus
Male plants, on the other hand,  removed from the necessity of producing seeds, bear the best and most flavorful thicker stalks.  They also, apparently watch more TV and drink more beer as they sit around growing larger and thicker.  (What? WHO said THAT? Don't mind my evil twin this being an equal opportunity blog and all.)

Regardless of whether they are thick or thin, asparagus comes in three colors...

1. The luscious green of spring.  

2. The blanched white color prized in Europe for its tenderness and costing a king's ransom. The plants are covered with baskets or soil to reduce exposure to the sun ensuring the white stalks.  
Remember, no chlorophyll = no green! 

                                       3. And a lovely purple color that ends up turning green when cooked.


Here are some hints for picking out the freshest possible bunch of asparagus:
Look for tight, dry tips either fresh green or purplish in hue. 

You do not want tips that have opened and started to flower...
Walk away from that asparagus.

Make sure the stems are firm and full, not shriveled and dry looking.

Now you know how to pick out asparagus and you have a bundle in your cart. Now What?

Snap off the ends of the asparagus. 
They will naturally break at the tenderest point.  
SAVE THE ENDS for soup.  
A Ziploc bag is in my freezer waiting to be filled with more end pieces.  
Waste not, Want not.
My grandmother would be so proud!

Place the asparagus in a large amount of boiling water (think pasta), turn the burner to simmer and cook just until al dente at the most 2 minutes depending on the size of your spears.  Do Not Overcook as asparagus becomes slimy at that point.  Drain and  immediately place into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.  From here you can keep the asparagus (I roll in paper towel and stick in a Ziploc bag to store) ready to use for future in a few days.

What constitutes future use?  
Asparagus can be grilled, oven roasted, or served in any of the following ways:
Make an asparagus and pea risotto.

Steam baby peas and cut up asparagus in lettuce channeling the French method of cooking both.
Cream of asparagus soup
Asparagus omelets, frittatas and quiches
Toasted and buttered bread topped with asparagus and a poached egg..DIVINE for a no brainer dinner!
Steamed and topped with a salsa of cucumbers and herbs
Steamed and topped with hollandaise
Roasted asparagus and baby new potatoes combined with goat cheese and mint
Paired with roasted salmon and topped with hollandaise.
Stir fried with ginger, garlic and a hint of toasted sesame oil.
Paired with luscious sea scallops, puff pastry and orange scented hollandaise.

Are you getting the idea that I love hollandaise sauce?

One of my easiest hors d'oeuvres consists of two ingredients:
Asparagus wrapped in prosciutto.
That's IT.  
You can seriously do this!
This amazing little nosh can be served cold or thrown into a hot oven drizzled with EVOO until crispy.

In this pic, I went hog wild and sprinkle some Asiago cheese over the top.  
You can also drizzle with a good extra virgin olive oil and/or some balsamic vinegar.

It's YOUR turn to share your favorite asparagus recipe.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Savor the Crave. Making Pork Carnitas.

What to do when the Latin market carries carnitas only during the weekend 
and you have a nice package of country style ribs just waiting in the frig.........
waiting to be turned into meltingly tender carnitas! 

Why, you make carnitas!

Adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz 
  • 4-5-pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 5-inch chunks, trimmed of excess fat (I used bone in country style ribs..gnawing on the bones, getting every little crunchy, crispy bite is the best part of it all)
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons lard or oil or choice
  • water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder (grind your own using dried ancho chiles or pasilla chilies if you want spicier carnitas)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly-sliced

1. Rub the pieces of pork shoulder all over with salt. Refrigerate for 1- to 3-days. (I have skipped this step with no discernible difference, or maybe there is, but when I want carnitas..I want them now..or in 5 hours)
3. Once all the pork is browned, remove them from the pot and blot away any excess fat with a paper towel (I don't blot), then pour in about a cup of water, scraping the bottom of the pan with a flat-edged utensil to release all the tasty brown bits.

4. Heat the oven to 350F (180C) degrees.
5. Add the pork back to the pan and add enough water so the pork pieces are 2/3rd’s submerged in liquid. Add the cinnamon stick and stir in the chile powders, bay leaves, cumin and garlic.

7. Braise in the oven uncovered for 3½ hours, turning the pork a few times during cooking, until much of the liquid is evaporated and the pork is falling apart. Remove the pan from the oven and lift the pork pieces out of the liquid and set them on a platter.
8. Once the pork pieces are cool enough to handle, shred them into bite-sized pieces, about 2-inches (7 cm), discarding any obvious big chunks of fat if you wish.
9. Return the pork pieces back to the roasting pan and cook in the oven, turning occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the pork is crispy and caramelized. It will depend on how much liquid the pork gave off, and how crackly you want them.
I like mine deeply, darkly, crispy, and crunchy brown on the outside.

Carnitas can be, and have been, eaten straight from the pot..burning fingers are no match for these little goodies.  I like to serve carnitas with fresh corn tortillas, slices of barely ripe avocado, some chopped cilantro accompanied by a few wedges of lime.

Adding these pickled onions cuts the richness of the meat
giving  a whole new dimension to the dish.

pickled red onions

Carnitas can also be topped with mole sauce and sour cream. 
Drinking a large cucumber margharita alongside, is a match made in heaven!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Having A Foodie Blow Out in Chicago

I seriously love visiting my family in Chicago.  Love being surrounded by all the noise, the kids..a happy, buzzing household.  I love it....for awhile.  Going home to my quiet little space, I relax until the next family vacation beckons.  I'm usually alone on my family visits to the Windy City, but this last time my sister Karen came along for the ride.  The more the merrier.

I spend hours before my trips trolling around the internet finding the very best out-of-the-way places to eat.  Chicago has some of the worlds finest dining...but you don't have to spend a lot of money to eat well. I can't think of an ethnic group who's foods aren't represented somewhere in Chicago and its suburbs.  It's fun to walk around the city and pop into whatever restaurant strikes your fancy.  We've found many a place like Asian restaurant became a place of respite from a sudden summer thunderstorm's downpour.  The kids became sushi  aficionados by the end of the expensive habit so say mom and dad...Spider rolls and Superman rolls not withstanding!

But I digress.  Our first foray was heading to Wicker Park/Bucktown , a charming little area filled with lots and lots of shops.  Strolling up N. Milwaukee on our way to the Bongo Room for brunch we stopped at 
Artemio's Bakery
1442 N. Milwaukee Ave  

What to choose?

What a treasure.  If you've never been to a Latin bakery you are in for a treat.  The shop is lined with rows of glass cases holding such bakery goods as you've never seen. Sadly, there are no labels which is actually rather fun...the staff doesn't speak English; at least the ones who were there when we stopped by.  You pick up a cafeteria tray and a pair of tongs and away you go, picking and choosing whatever pastries look good.  Mexican pastries are not as sweet as what you are probably used to..which might be a good thing. Don't miss the tres leche cake.

Tucking our bags away we continued our stroll towards the Bongo Room and walked past 
Harold's Chicken a Chicago franchise specializing in Fried Chicken.  I can't say that I've ever wanted to walk away from a perfectly fried chicken wing, but brunch was calling.

We passed Pinch Spice Market  and they were closed.  Pinch strives for organic herbs and spices and I vowed to check it out after brunch.  Sadly, I was too full to look at anything related to food  so I'm saving it for another trip.

We finally arrived at our destination.  The Bongo Room may not look like much from the outside, but open that door and you are in pancake, omelet, sandwich and salad Heaven!


A regular order of pancakes is a 3 stack!  Make sure you specify you only want one.  The four of us shared three pancakes, an order of cheesey house potatoes, a BLT and a smoked chicken and pear salad.

Yes, we rolled ourselves out the door!

The Gibassier Apple French Toast with Warm Vanilla Bean Sauce
Caramel Apples and Gingersnap Walnut Crumble.

Cranberry & Yellow Corn Hotcake

Speaking of next door, to the right of the Bongo Room there is a great resale shop whose name eludes me at the moment.  It's stuffed with all things mid century and then some.  In fact, the whole area is a wealth of resale shops and trendy cool boutiques.  
                    Kokorokoko is another resale store that is closer to Harold's Chicken. Check out their blog:

You could honestly spend all day walking this section of Bucktown/Wicker Park. But we were just getting started on our food journey and had more to discover.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cupcake Camp Akron

I am thrilled to be a judge for Cupcake Camp Akron 
on May 4, 2013.

I am joined at the judging table by three respected NEOhio Foodies:

Jane Snow..former food editor of the Akron Beacon Journal. 
Jane currently writes a weekly eNewsletter entitled

Tony Kowaguchi..owner of Sushi Katsu in Akron, OH

Lisa Abraham... the current lifestyle & food columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal 

"Excitement is building as the date draws nearer for the first ever Cupcake Camp Akron!
This fun event has happened all over the world, and Akron is only the third site for this event in the state of Ohio. We will have both amateur as well as professional bakers here giving away their most delicious cupcakes for you to sample.  This is a great time for brides to get many cake samples all in one place.  There will be a band here to play your favorite classic rock and folk tunes to create a party atmosphere, and raffle baskets of goodies that you can win.  Get your shoes on and come over.  Bring some cupcakes to share, or just come to eat.  It is all free thanks to our sure to check out their web sites.
We are supporting a charitable group at this event, so free will donations will be collected for BSA Troop 334. Be sure to click on the link to to get your free ticket. If we reach capacity for the building, we will only let ticket holder in"