Fresh and Zippy Asparagus Soup

When asparagus is local and abundant, it’s time to make this soup. Not only is local the freshest, it’s also likely that the end that is generally tough is tender enough to include in the soup. The only way to know it though, is to cut a bit off and taste it. If it’s not tender just snap off and discard the tough part and proceed.

There’s another version of asparagus soup on my blog, but this one has a bit of zip by adding a serrano or jalapeño pepper.
Makes about 8 cups

1 pound fresh asparagus, washed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon good quality olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
1 large carrot, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 medium celery stalk, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 serrano or jalapeño pepper, trimmed and minced
2 – 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 – 3 sprigs fresh thyme, stripped of leaves and minced, reserve some for garnish
1 medium Yukon potato, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
4 – 5 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock, preferably home-made
1 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground white pepper to taste
Freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste (optional)
1/2 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano

Taste the bottom-end of a couple of stalks to determine if they are tough and woody or tender enough to cook. Trim about half of the tips to reserve as garnish. Cut spears into ½-inch pieces.

Over medium heat melt butter and olive oil in a large heavy bottomed stock pot, Dutch oven, or French cocotte. Add onions, carrot, celery, serrano, or jalapeño a pinch of salt, and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté briefly to soften but do not allow to brown. Stir in the fresh thyme, then add potatoes, asparagus (minus the reserved tops) and stock.

Bring just to a boil, then cover and turn heat down to low. Simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender when pierced with a knife.

Meanwhile, bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the reserved asparagus tips for a few minutes, or until crisp tender. Drain the tips and place them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Doing this also preserves their bright green color. Once the tips are cool, drain them and set aside.

Purée soup until completely smooth using an immersion blender or in batches using a heavy-duty blender. Bring the soup back to a simmer, add the cream and cook uncovered until desired consistency is reached. Stir in the lemon juice (if using) and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Ladle the soup into warmed bowls, then top each bowl with asparagus tips, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a sprinkle of chopped thyme. Serve while still hot.

If freezing, omit the cheese, cool and freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost the soup in the refrigerator for 12 hours. Then reheat it on the stovetop over medium heat until hot, stir in the cheese and serve.

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Spinach Briouats

When in Morocco these are called briouats (bree-wats). If you nibbled on one in Greece, they would be called spanakopita. If making these in India one might added cooked, diced potatoes and/or peas. In France, the phyllo would merely be wrapped around a disk of chèvre before being sautéed. Regardless of what they may be called, they are easy to make and delicious.

10 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and dried
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and kept warm
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, fine dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced parsley
10 or so fresh mint leaves, minced
2 oz (about 1/2 cup) fresh white goat or Greek feta cheese, crumbled
1 large egg, lightly beaten
½ cup dried breadcrumbs
¼ cup plumb golden raisins
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 sheets thawed frozen phyllo dough, or more depending on how much filling
Vegetable oil for frying, optional
Lemon wedges for garnish

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place spinach in a colander and squeeze out as much water as possible. Leave in colander. 

In a small dry skillet set over medium heat toast pine nuts, stirring often to prevent from burning.  Remove them to a plate and set aside to cool. Return pan to the fire and melt the butter. Pour melted butter into a heat-proof bowl, set aside.

Return the same pan to the fire and add the olive oil. Sauté the onions until they are softened, add the garlic and continue cooking for another 30 seconds or so. Add the spinach and sauté for a minute or two to evaporate any additional water. Remove all to a large mixing bowl and allow to cool.

Chop the cooled pine nuts and add to the mixing bowl. Add the minced parsley, mint leaves, cheese, beaten egg, breadcrumbs, raisins and salt and pepper to taste.

Lay a barely damp towel on a half-sheet pan and lay a sheet of plastic wrap on top of that. Carefully unwrap the phyllo and unfold it on the plastic wrap. Have ready another towel to cover the phyllo. Take one sheet the long edge of the phyllo closest to you. Cover the remaining phyllo.

Using a pastry brush, brush the phyllo sheet with the melted butter. Divide the dough in half and then each half in thirds or fourths, depending on how big you want the finished appetizer.  Take a teaspoon of the filling (if making smaller) or a heaping teaspoon and set it on the end of the strip (closest to you). Fold the strip as you would the US flag. Brush the end with a bit more butter and fold to close. Repeat the process until all the filling has been used. Rewrap the phyllo dough and return it to the freezer.

If baking, set on a parchment lined sheet pan and brush both sides with a bit more butter. Make for 15 – 18 minutes or until golden brown.

If frying, add a couple of inches of oil to a saucepan and heat to 325 degrees F. Fry until golden on each side, remove to a paper towel lined plate. Serve hot with a squeeze of lemon.

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Indian Inspired Coconut Rice Pudding

I had some left-over basmati rice in the fridge the other day along with a bit of coconut cream. Did you know you can freeze rice and thaw in the refrigerator? It reheats just fine.  Or you can make rice pudding.

I wouldn’t have thought it would take about 40 minutes give or take a couple to cook this pudding, but it does. And yet, even with the extended time on the stove the rice is perfectly al dente. If you want the pudding a bit more liquid stop the cooking process at about 25 or 35 minutes. 

Regardless of the total cooking time keep an eye on while it’s simmering and stir quite often. Otherwise, it will likely burn on the bottom. After about 25 minutes pick up the pace and stir constantly to the desired consistency. Makes six – 4 oz servings

1/2 cup (1 oz/ 30 g) sweetened shredded coconut
1/3 cup (1 oz / 30 g) sliced, blanched almonds
2 cups (8 oz / 225 g) cold, cooked basmati rice
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup coconut cream
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup (2 oz / 55 g) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon koser salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup (2 oz / 60 g) golden raisins

Optional ingredients:
2 wide strips of orange zest
Drizzle of pure maple syrup
Drizzle of heavy cream
Replace cardamom with ¼ teaspoon cinnamon or a few grindings of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Toast the coconut and almonds in separate pans (as they may finish at different times) for 7 – 8 minutes or until lightly golden and fragrant. Remove each to separate bowls and set aside to cool.

In a heavy bottomed 2 1/2 – to 3-quart saucepan add rice, milk, coconut cream, heavy cream, sugar, orange zest (if adding), cardamom, and salt.

Bring just to a boil; then lower heat and simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, until thickened, about 40 minutes. (I used a flame diffuser to keep the heat under control.)

When the pudding has reached the desired consistency, remove from the heat, stir in vanilla and raisins. If serving immediately, divide into individual serving bowls, sprinkle with toasted coconut and sliced almonds and serve. If storing for even a short time, omit the toasted coconut and almonds until ready to serve. Cover with plastic wrap pressing down directly on the pudding to keep it from forming a skin. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Chocolate-Almond Coconut Cake

As usual I was perusing recipes on the web as well as thumbing through the numerous cookbooks I own looking for a dessert to end a Spring dinner with friends. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to bake a coconut cream tart or a chocolate cake. I ended up combining two of my loves; coconut and chocolate.

The following recipe is inspired by a cake from Cooks Illustrated. They used marshmallow fluff for the filling. I on the otherhand made an Italian meringue because in the end, it’s just a toasted coconut buttercream. Makes one 8-inch, three-layer cake.

Coconut Cake
1 large egg, room temperature
5 (5 1/2 oz / 150) large whites, room temperature
3/4 cup cream of coconut 
1/4 cup whole milk 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
2 1/4 cups (9 oz / 255 g) cake flour (not self-rising)
1 cup (7 oz / 200 g) granulated sugar 
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt 
12 tablespoons (6 oz / 168 g) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened

FOR THE COCONUT CAKE: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease three 8 x 1-inch round cake pans and line the bottom with parchment paper rounds.

In a 4-cup liquid measuring cup whisk together whole egg, egg whites, cream of coconut, milk, vanilla, and coconut extracts. Set aside.

Set a sieve over the bowl of a stand mixer and sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Using the paddle attachment and mixing low speed adding butter, 1 piece at a time, mixing until pea-size or smaller pieces remain, about 1 minute.

Re-whisk the egg mixture. With the mixer running on low pour in half the egg mixture. Increase speed to medium-high, and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to medium-low, add remaining egg mixture, and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Using rubber spatula, give batter final stir by hand.

Divide batter evenly among prepared pans and smooth tops with rubber spatula. Bake until tops are light golden, and toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean, 22 to 24 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking. Let cakes cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and let cool completely on rack, about 2 hours.

Coconut Buttercream
1 cup (7 oz / 200 g) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
6 tablespoons water
4 egg whites (4 oz), room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 
1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar 
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 1/3 cups (4 ounces) sweetened shredded coconut, toasted

FOR THE BUTTERCREAM: In a small saucepan combine sugar, corn syrup and water. Set over low heat. Swirl the pan to dissolve the sugar completely.  Once the sugar has dissolved, stop swirling. Increase the heat and boil to 240 degrees F (check it using a candy thermometer).  Wash down the inside wall of the pan with a wet pastry brush. This helps prevent sugar crystals from forming around the sides and falling into the sugar mixture, causing an undesirable chain reaction.

While the sugar is coming up to temperature, in the impeccably clean bowl of an electric mixer, whip the eggs whites on low speed until foamy.  Add the cream of tartar, increase the speed to medium and beat until soft peaks form. Once the eggs are at soft peaks turn down the mixer so as not to overbeat the egg whites while the sugar mixture is come up to temperature.

Once the sugar has reached 240 degrees F, with the mixer running, pour the hot sugar syrup in a thin stream down the side of the bowl of soft-peaked egg whites. Beat on medium-high speed until the egg whites are stiff and glossy, about 4 – 5 minutes.

Add the butter one tablespoon at a time and beat until each piece in incorporated when whip for about 30 seconds. Whisk in the confectioners’ sugar and extract and beat until light and fluffy.

Remove and reserve about 1 cup or so (to be used to crumb coat the cake). Add the toasted coconut to the remaining butter cream and mix to combine.

Chocolate Glaze and Decoration
½ cup (1 1/2 ounces) sweetened shredded coconut, toasted
½ cup sliced almond, toasted
1 cup heavy cream 
¼ cup light corn syrup 
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

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Smoked Duck Rillettes

IMG_0305Makes Twelve – 3 ounce ramekins

2 1/2 pounds duck tenderloins, tendons removed
1 1/2 cups duck fat, divided
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 1/2 cups chopped shallots
2 teaspoons kosher salt or to taste
1 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper or to taste

optional ingredients according to personal taste
3 tablespoons armagnac or brandy
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
a few grindings of nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For serving: Toast points, for serving with, jam or marmalade, cornichons, pickled carrots, onions, radishes.

Using a stove-top smoker place a tablespoon of cherry wood or oak chips in the center of the pan.  Set the drip pan over the wood chips. Spray the grate with food release spray and place on top of the drip pan. Line half of the tenderloins on the diagonal across the grate. Secure the lid leaving about a half-inch gap. Place the pan on a medium fire and watch for the smoke to appear.  When it does, close the lid completely, turn the heat to medium low and allow to smoke for about 8 – 10 minutes.

Remove the lid and check to ensure the duck is cooked.  If so, remove with tongs and set aside to cool. Pour off any accumulated juices and reserve. Clean out the burnt wood chips and repeat the process.

While the second pan of duck is smoking. Place a skillet over medium heat and add about a cup of duck fat. After the fat begins to sizzle add the black pepper and cook swirling the pan to allow the pepper to bloom. Next add the shallots and sauté until translucent about 8 minutes; add the garlic. Continue cooking for another 2 – 3 minutes, watching carefully so as not to burn the garlic. After the garlic is tender stir in the herbs, remove from heat and pour into a bowl to cool. Return the pan to the fire and pour in the reserved juice (from both batches of duck); reduce liquid by half. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Once the tenderloins are cool, cut into thirds and place half of them in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal “S” blade.  Pour in half the shallot mixture and pulse until roughly chopped.  Place in a bowl to reserve and repeat with the remaining duck and shallot mixture. Combine the second batch with the first, pour in the reduced liquid and stir to incorporate.  Heat a quarter cup or so of duck fat just until melted. Pour enough fat over the chopped duck and stir to combine to allow the rillettes to become moist but not wet. Reserve any remaining duck fat.

Pack into clean jars or ramekins and set in the refrigerator to become firm. Once firm portion the remaining liquid fat equally over the portioned rillettes just to cover. Return to the refrigerator to allow the fat to firm then top with lids and rings.

The undisturbed rillettes will last in the refrigerator for about a week or jar can be placed in the freezer for up to 6 months. Allow to thaw in the refrigerator. When ready to serve remove from the refrigerator about a half hour prior to serving.

Photo by David Schmit Photography

Photo by David Schmit Photography

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Chocolate Buttermilk Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup wild flower honey
6 large egg yolks
Pinch Kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup crème fraîche

Have ready a bowl of ice water along with a sieve placed over a medium heat-proof bowl.

In a medium saucepan combine first 5 ingredients and place over medium-low heat. Whisk mixture constantly until an instant read thermometer reads 170 degrees F.

Remove from heat, add buttermilk and chocolate; whisking until chocolate has melted completely, then whisk in crème fraîche. Strain the mixture through the sieve and leave bowl of what is now called chocolate crème anglaise in the ice bath stirring until cold. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to proceed churn the crème anglaise in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Transfer to a container and freeze until ready to serve.

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Quatre glaces au lait or Four Milk Ice Cream

Craving ice cream but you don’t have enough cream and milk? Tucked in your fridge though is crème fraîche and buttermilk from other recipes? Mix the four “milks” together, add some lemon zest and a bit of honey to make something new and delicious.

Zest from one lemon, preferably organic
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup crème fraîche
Pinch kosher salt
1/2 plump vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1/4 cup (4 oz) wildflower or other mild honey
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar, divided
5 large egg yolks
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Using a vegetable peeler, zest the lemon by removing 1-inch strips of the yellow rind leaving behind the white pith. Juice the lemon and set aside.

In a medium, heavy-bottom saucepan combine lemon zest, milk, cream, crème fraîche, salt, vanilla bean including seeds, honey, and 1/4 cup sugar; stirring to dissolve the honey and 1/4 cup sugar. Bring just to a simmer (any hotter and you risk separating the milk into curds and whey). Turn off heat and allow the mixture to steep for at least 1/2 hour or up to an hour.

When ready to proceed have ready a bowl of ice water along with a sieve placed over a medium heat-proof bowl.

In another medium bowl add the egg yolks and whisk in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. If the milk mixture is still hot temper the eggs by pouring about a cup of the hot milk/cream into the eggs, whisking constantly. Then, pour the egg mixture back into the remaining milk/cream mixture. Otherwise, if the milk/cream is cool to the touch simply whisk the egg mixture back into it.

Return the pan to a medium-low heat and whisking constantly cook the mixture until an instant read thermometer ready 170 – 180 degrees F. Remove from heat and stir in the buttermilk. Pour the mixture through the sieve into the clean bowl.

Retrieve the vanilla bean from the sieve and add it back to what is now called crème anglaise. Set the bowl in the prepared ice bath and stir until the crème anglaise is cold. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day retrieve the vanilla bean from the crème anglaise, stir in the lemon juice and churn it in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s directions. Transfer to a lidded container and freeze until ready to serve.

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Mousse au Chocolat

2 large eggs, separated
Pinch of Kosher or sea salt
6 ounces high-quality (60 – 65%) dark chocolate (such as Lindt or Valrhona)
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons + 1/2 cup chilled heavy whipping cream, divided
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream, whipped for topping

Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites in a medium bowl until soft peaks form. Set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water; stirring occasionally until just melted. Do not allow the bowl to touch the simmering water. Remove from heat and set a sieve over the bowl.

While the chocolate is melting; whisk yolks, water, 2 tablespoons cream, and sugar in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until custard thickens enough to coat spoon, about 3 – 5 minutes (do not boil or the eggs will scramble). Remove from heat and pour the custard through the sieve into the chocolate, then stir until combined. Set aside.

Fold beaten egg whites into chocolate mixture in 2 additions. Set aside.

Beat ½ cup cream in another medium bowl until soft peaks form. Fold whipped cream into chocolate mixture. Divide into 4 or 6 oz ramekins or small bowls and place in the refrigerator. Once cold cover with lids or plastic wrap.

Can be made a day ahead but kept chilled. When ready to serve whip the 1/4 cup of remaining cream to soft peaks and place a dollop on each of the servings. Enjoy with a glass of champagne or port.

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