Monday, March 23, 2009

Asparagus Salad


Spring is was in the air.
Those blue skies, pleasant breezes, temperatures in the 50s and 60s, the sound of lawnmowers, and the smell of green.
But that's gone now. Today was overcast, gray, and okay, maybe the temperature was right, but the mood wasn't. Until dinner that is. This salad spelled SPRING. Maybe not really (I don't think there's any way I can make an acronym with it. I could try. Or an acrostic with: aSparagus, pecorino Romano, lemon juIce, bostoN lettuce, eGgs.)

It was a very green dinner we had tonight. And I'm referring to it's color. An amazing and light asparagus salad and pasta with arugula pesto. What better way to mark spring than that?

Roasted Asparagus Salad with Pecorino, Lemon, and Olive Oil
from Cooking Light April 2009

The link to it is here: Roasted Asparagus Salad

I actually followed the recipe exactly as written. So I think it would be illegal to rewrite it.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Cherry Birthday To You


Among my friends I'm known for my baking. Most possibly because in the past year or two, I've been making more cookies and other treats that are easy to transport and share. So when I asked my friend last week what she would like me to make her for her birthday, her reply was "Not cupcakes." Which let me with far too many possibilities and far too many ideas. I asked her for a direction - something more specific, an ingredient, a flavor, a color, anything! A few days later, she came up to me and said, "Cherry." It took me a second to realize what she meant, but it worked out. I had a jar of cherries at home.

The first thing that came to my mind was cherry cheesecake, but I needed something more portable and fridge free. I remembered the cream cheese blondies with kumquats that I made a month or two ago, and since we had cream cheese, I figured I could make a thicker and less cakey version of them. So I tried. And failed. Well, the first time at least. They didn't cook all the way through, and the graham cracker crust seemed to insulate the insides. So the next day, I tried again. Only that time I had to go to the store. I traded the jarred cherries with frozen ones (practicality) and lost the graham cracker crust (it wasn't necessary, and I was out of graham crackers.)

I would say the results the second time were better. Gooey from the cherries, chewy from the cream cheese and brown sugar, and portable though sticky. And my friend, well, she told me she liked them, so I'd say they achieved their purpose.

Gooey Chewy Cherry Bars
8 ounces frozen cherries
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons (3/4 stick, 3 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temp
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pistachios

In a small saucepan, combine cherries and 1 Tablespoon sugar. Cook over medium heat until thick and syrupy (not watery!),about 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Line a 9x9 inch pan with foil (optional) and butter. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, cream cheese, granulated sugar, and brown sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until the sugars have dissolved and the mixture is smooth and thick, about 2-4 minutes, scraping sides of bowl as necessary.
Beat in the egg and vanilla.

Stir in flour mixture until just incorporated, followed by pistachios. Spoon half batter into prepared pan, spreading gently to corners. Top with cherries. Top with remaining batter.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top is light brown and toothpick or tester comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Set the pan on a rack to cool for at least 30 minutes.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Warm Spinach Salad


So I've been seriously neglecting my blog this year. Seventy days into the year, and there are barely a handful of posts. I've started cooking more, but when it's "let's throw these things together and hope it turns out tasty," precise measurements are neglected, and therefore recipes do not result. But I'm trying to make amends. It's much easier to blog when dinner starts with a recipe that I just failed to follow correctly - erm, made preferential changes to - like the tasty spinach salad I made Saturday night.

Saturday was spent knowing I needed to get a lot of homework done so that the week wouldn't be stressful, and simultaneously doing absolutely nothing productive - no baked goods, n o cleaner room, no organized cabinets, no ironed clothes, no meandering walks - to avoid it. In all honesty, whatever I did was so mind-numbing that I don't remember what it was - until my friend called at two asking if I wanted to see a movie. Yes, a legitimate way to procrastinate! Count me in. An hour and a half later I was settling into the recently renovated theater with the permanently reclined seats as the opening credits blasted Bob Dylan's "The Times Are A-Changing." Three hours after that, my dad picked me up and -surprise! - two more guests for dinner. I relayed to him the contents of our refrigerator and my original plans for our dinner, and since I had planned for leftovers, it was easily adapted. We had plenty of food.

Oh, the salad. While it was the risotto patties I was the most excited about, misinterpreting the word "has" and "can" led to a change. And while everyone loved the risotto, it was the salad that I found to be much more exciting. With just fifteen minutes, a flavorful, warm side salad resulted. I think I'm discovering warm salads a bit too late, considering it was in the 50s and 60s, but today it dropped back down to 20s.

Regardless, the salad with the crisp spinach, mellowed fennel and onions, and sharp sweet balsamic is a keeper.

Spinach Salad with Fennel-Red Onion Dressing

adapted from Jack Bishop's A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen

6 ounces baby spinach
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small fennel bulb (about 8 ounces), stalks and fronds discarded or saved for another use, bulb thinly slices
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
black pepper

Place spinach in a large bowl.

Heat the oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add fennel, onion, salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and carmelizing, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the vinegar and cook just until syrupy, about 30 seconds to a minute. REmove the pan from the heat and stir in ground black pepper to taste.

Scrape the fennel mixture into the bowl with the spinach, and toss to combine until spinach wilts slightly, about one minute. Serve immediately!