Monday, May 22, 2017

Asparagus and Leek Soup with Poached Egg

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Although I will certainly pass on the hottest of summer days, I generally enjoy eating soup year round. There are seasonal ingredients that can make an absolutely stellar soup that you will not find in season in the cooler fall and winter months.


Asparagus is a perfect example. It's best enjoyed in the spring, and this Asparagus and Leek Soup with Poached Egg is a mighty fine way to showcase it.


You actually use all parts of the asparagus in different ways. The tough ends are simmered in stock to impart their flavor into the soup base, while the tips are sauteed as a final garnish. The middle parts make up the bulk of the soup, and are simmered with leeks, a bit of white wine, and the asparagus-and-leek infused stock before getting pureed into a velvety smooth pale green soup packed with tons of flavor.


The soup on its own is excellent, but the real pièce de résistance is the small orb of poached egg dropped into the center of the soup releasing its rich, runny yolk when pierced with a spoon. It makes a lovely light lunch, and would be even more satisfying when accompanied by a hot and gooey grilled cheese (because why not).


Asparagus and Leek Soup with Poached Egg
Makes 8 servings
(From Soup Swap)

2 1/2 pounds asparagus
1 large leek
7 cups vegetable stock (I used chicken broth)
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives (I used scallions)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 scallions, trimmed, white and green sections very thinly sliced
1 egg per serving, preferably organic

Cut about 2 inches off the tough root ends of each asparagus spear; reserve the remaining asparagus. Trim off the dark green section of the leek and coarsely chop. Halve the pale green and white section lengthwise, rinse under cold water, and pat dry; reserve.

In a medium saucepan, combine the tough asparagus ends and the dark green leek pieces. Add the vegetable stock and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the tips off the top of the remaining asparagus spears and set aside. Cut the middle sections crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Cut the pale green and white section of the leek crosswise into thin pieces.

In a large stockpot over low heat, warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the remaining leek pieces and the chives, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the asparagus pieces from the middle of the stalks and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn the heat to high, add the wine, and bring to a boil.

Strain the stock from the medium saucepan into the large stockpot (discarding the tough asparagus stems and dark green leek pieces) and return to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for about 5 minutes.

Using a food processor or blender and working in batches or using a handheld immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Return the soup to the pot. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, warm the remaining 1/2 tablespoon olive oil. Add the scallions and cook for 4 minutes, or until they begin to turn a rich golden brown. Add the asparagus tips and lemon zest, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, or until the asparagus tips are almost tender.

Bring a pot of water to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Crack the eggs into the pot, one at a time, and simmer for 3 minutes. With a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the eggs, one at a time, to paper towels to drain. Using a 2-inch biscuit cutter or a small sharp knife, cut around each egg white to create a small, perfect circle with just a bit of white.

Ladle the soup into mugs or bowls and, using a flat spatula, carefully place a poached egg in the center of each. Sprinkle with some asparagus-tip topping around the egg, avoiding the yolk, and serve.

*Note* I actually halved the recipe when I made it, and it turned out great!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Cherry Pie That'll Kill Ya

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Twin Peaks premiered in 1990, begging the question of "who killed Laura Palmer." It didn't premiere in my own life until many years later when I studied film in college, and took a class on David Lynch, the peculiar film director and creator of Twin Peaks.


The class on Lynch was one of my favorite film studies classes, and I was one of few students who managed to earn an A in the class. My final paper discussing the linear evolution of morality (or lack thereof) through three of his films (Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and Lost Highway) is still one of my proudest achievements as a graduate of the film program at BU.


It comes as no surprise that over a decade later I still have an intense love and appreciation for David Lynch's work. Some may think he's off his rocker (and perhaps he is to some extent), but that's what makes him such an amazing artist and storyteller.


On Sunday May 21st, Showtime is bringing back Twin Peaks with a look and these characters and their lives 25 years after the show's finale. I am so excited! Twin Peaks is such a cult classic, and most people who have taken the time to watch the show at some point in their lives have formed a level of appreciation or even obsession.


In honor of this truly momentous occasion, I've decided to pay homage to Special Agent Dale Cooper and his beloved cherry pie. Take a moment to flash back to the 90's in the video clip below.


"A cherry pie that'll kill ya" and a "damn fine cup of coffee" are only a couple of the food and drink references that cult followers of the show will remember. There are LOTS of them. I can't think of a better way to revisit these perplexing, sometimes crazy, incredibly nostalgic characters from Twin Peaks than by digging into a slice of my own cherry pie alongside a damn fine cup of coffee.


This cherry pie is not super traditional, but it IS super good. Instead of a standard double crust (lattice or full top crust), it features a crumbly, lightly spiced streusel topping. Sweet cherries will be plentiful as the weather warms up more, so for the purposes of this mid-May pie I used frozen sweet cherries, and PS they are already pitted so that definitely saves you the trouble of pitting them yourselves.


As an aside, check out this adorable plush Minnie Mouse from my vast collection. She is wearing pajamas adorned with images of steaming cherry pies and plump cherries, and precious pie-shaped slippers! She is a perfect companion for enjoying this cherry pie and snuggling up for some Twin Peaks action on Showtime this upcoming Sunday night.


I shall leave you with some wise words from Special Agent Dale Cooper: "Harry, I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don't plan it. Don't wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men's store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee." Or perhaps a slice of this pie. Enjoy!


Sweet Cherry Streusel Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie; Serves 8 to 10
(Adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book)

All-Butter Single-Crust:
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup cold water
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/4 cup ice

Pre-baking Crust:
1 large egg white
1 teaspoon water

Streusel Topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
4 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, at room temperature

Filling:
1 small baking apple
5 cups sweet cherries, pitted (fresh is preferable, but frozen works perfectly fine--just don't thaw the frozen cherries, and add a bit of extra baking time as needed if using frozen versus fresh)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons potato starch (I used tapioca starch)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 dashes Angostura bitters

For the crust: Stir the flour, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture using a bench scraper or spatula. With a pastry blender (or your fingers), cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain (a few larger pieces are okay; be careful not to overblend).

Combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice in a large measuring cup or bowl. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the flour mixture, and mix and cut it in with a bench scraper or spatula until it is fully incorporated. Add more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, using the bench scraper or your hands (or both) to mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining. Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring all the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with more small drops of the ice water mixture, if necessary, to combine.

Shape the dough into a flat disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, to give the crust time to mellow. Wrapped tightly, the dough can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for 1 month.

To partially pre-bake the crust, preheat the oven to 425°F and place baking sheet on a rack on the lowest position. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness and carefully lay it into a 9-inch pie pan or dish, being careful not to stretch the dough. Trim the edges and crimp as desired. Refrigerate the crust for about 30 minutes to allow it to set. Prick all over the bottom and sides with a fork about 15 to 20 times. Line the crust with a piece of parchment paper and fill it with pie weights or dry beans. Place the pie on the preheated baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, until the crimped edges are set but not browned.

Remove the pan and the baking sheet from the oven, lift out the parchment and the pie weights and let the crust cool for a minute. Beat together the egg white and water. Use a pastry brush to coat the bottom and sides with a thin layer of egg white glaze to moistureproof the crust. Return the pan, on the baking sheet, to the oven's middle rack and continue baking for 3 more minutes. Remove and cool completely before filling.

For the streusel: Stir together the flour, brown and granulated sugars, and salt in a large bowl. Sprinkle in the butter pieces and toss to coat. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the butter is incorporated and the mixture is chunky but not homogenous. Chill for at least 15 minutes before using. The streusel will keep refrigerated for 5 days or frozen for 1 month.

Position the oven racks in the bottom and center positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack and preheat the oven to 425°F.

Peel the apple, and then shred it on the large holes of a box grater. Combine the shredded apple with the cherries, lemon juice, brown sugar, potato starch, cinnamon, cardamom, and bitters in a large bowl and toss until well mixed. Pour the filling into the refrigerated pie shell and evenly distribute the streusel on top.

Place the pie on the rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry is set and beginning to brown. Lower the oven temperature to 375°F, move the pie to the center oven rack, and continue to bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling throughout, 30 to 35 minutes longer (I used frozen cherries, so mine baked an extra 50 minutes instead--cover the edges of the crust with foil as needed if it is browning too quickly).

Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

The pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days or at room temperature for 2 days.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Great Chowder Cook-Off 2017 Preview

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As a native Rhode Islander, the Annual Great Chowder Cook-Off in Newport, RI has always been a staple to start summer on the right foot. This year will be the 36th year that competitors from throughout Rhode Island and beyond gather together to compete for the best clam chowder, the best seafood chowder, and this year for the first time the best red "Manhattan" chowder.


I shared a look at the 30th Annual Great Chowder Cook-Off several years ago, and am looking forward to sharing my experiences at this year's festival in an upcoming post (so stay tuned for that!).


This year the festival features "chowdah" from past winners as well as many newbies from around the state (and out of state) including Brix at Newport Vineyards in Middletown, Chapel Grille in Cranston, Charlie O’s from Narragansett, Ocean Catch Seafood of Wakefield, Red Stripe in Providence and East Greenwich, and Revolving Door in Newport. We'll also be seeing some chowder from across the pond in Ireland! I can't wait to start tasting!


The 36th Annual Great Chowder Cook-Off will take place on Saturday June 10th from noon to 6 pm at Fort Adam's State Park. Advance tickets to the Great Chowder Cook-Off are on sale for $20 through June 9th with day of tickets priced at $25. Children are admitted free if under the age of 12 and accompanied by a paid adult. You may purchase tickets at www.newportwaterfrontevents.com or order by phone by calling Ticketmaster at 800-745- 3000.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Havarti Cheesemaking & Artisan Food Slabs from American Stonecraft

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Today I would like to talk about cheese and food slabs. Let's start with the cheese.


I would consider myself to be an intermediate cheesemaker. I have made quite a variety of cheeses over the years, more recently delving into the more complex and time-consuming world of aged cheeses. My niche is definitely mold-ripened cheeses, as my Stilton and Camembert have been quite exquisite for my first attempts.


More recently I tried my hand at my first washed-curd cheese, a natural rind Havarti. Havarti is one of my favorite cheeses, and an excellent addition to grilled cheeses and macaroni and cheese, two of the best uses of melty cheeses in the history of comfort food.

Young Havarti prior to aging
The cheese turned out well after aging for a couple months, but I did struggle a bit during the aging process to keep my rind mold-free. I think this mildly impacted the flavor of the Havarti (we had to really trim the rind before eating to ensure it didn't have any stinky notes) and also the Havarti-aging experience. It was more challenging to keep a watchful eye on this cheese since you want to AVOID the mold growth unlike the mold-ripened cheeses I've made in the past.


Honestly, I don't think I would make Havarti again, and a big part of the reason is my struggle with mold. If I had sealed my cheese in wax or even a vacuum-sealed bag it would have been much easier to age, but I opted to try a natural rind and it definitely created more trouble than it was worth.


I still ended up with a beautiful wheel of cheese! I photographed it atop a hand-crafted food slab made by a local artisan. Let me back track a tad and tell you the story about the day I purchased it.

I also got this cool cheese knife with my purchase!

My sister and I were spending the day in Boston prior to checking out one of our all-time favorite bands, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, perform that evening. We randomly discovered the Boston Public Market, a pretty incredible space featuring many local vendors and food stalls. As we wandered through the market we happened upon a display of incredible food slabs, trivets, and coasters all made of stone. Here we met Gerald Croteau III, the founder of American Stonecraft, a Lowell, MA based studio that works with local farmers to unearth buried fieldstones from their farms and repurpose them into usable works of art.


Fieldstones are sliced and polished by hand to create one-of-a-kind treasures that can be used for serving and in some cases cooking food. Food slabs, cook slabs, trivets, and coasters are just a few of the impressive products created by these artists. The fieldstones are recovered from farms all across New England, and the bottom of each product is stamped with the name of the farm where that stone was sourced. Pretty cool, huh?


As a native New Englander and avid foodie, I was really excited to add one of these beautiful products to my kitchen. It's about as farm-to-table as you can get! I plan to purchase more, as each item is tremendously unique and can find many purposes in my home. In fact, here's a fun list of 101 different ways to use a food slab. You can read more about the history and process of American Stonecraft here, but in the meantime, if you would like to check out more of these products please click on the image below (disclaimer: this is an affiliate link, and I will receive a small percentage of purchases made using this link).

Custom Stonecraft

These products are so beautiful and special, truly a wonderful gift idea, but also a great treat for yourself. I couldn't resist purchasing a food slab for myself, and I'm totally in love with it. It reminds me a bit of a black-and-white version of the surface of Jupiter, with the beautiful swirly characteristics within the rock, and the Big Red Spot, which in this case is white. Each item is truly one-of-a-kind, and I think that's part of what makes it special. You also get to feel a real connection knowing exactly which farm each product came from.


I am hoping to visit the studio in the near future for a tour, and will definitely share more images and information about American Stonecraft at that time!

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this post, and I purchased my food slab myself. This post contains an affiliate link for American Stonecraft. My opinions are always my own.




Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Pea Shoots & Leek Dumplings

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As a dumpling aficionado, I have made many varieties of dumplings over the years. I've used homemade wrappers as well as store-bought, and the flavor profiles have ranged from traditional to modern and creative.


Believe it or not, my favorite dumplings over the years have something in unexpected in common: they feature vegetable-based fillings. Two of my favorites, which I've probably made the most of all the varieties I've tried include pan-fried vegetable dumplings and three-mushroom dumplings.


I recently tried yet another veggie filling featuring the flavors of spring: pea shoots, peas, leeks, and mushrooms. The original recipe hails from Hey There, Dumpling! I decided to approximately halve the recipe and use half a 1-pound package of dumpling wrappers, which contains 43 wrappers.


Imagine my surprise when halving the filling recipe yielded MUCH more filling than anticipated, enough to comfortably fill 35 of the 43 wrappers in the package. I'm definitely not complaining.


Part of the reason I reduced the recipe is because pea shoots were on the pricey side, and I wanted to make these dumplings somewhat budget-friendly, but I turned out to have enough filling for almost the whole package!


The only other change to the recipe, other than reducing all the ingredients by approximately half, is that instead of blitzing extra-firm tofu with an egg white in the food processor to include in the filling, I replaced the tofu with an equal amount of goat cheese, and omitted the egg. The goat cheese is incredibly mild, but it does help to bind the filling, and it's a great compliment to all the other filling ingredients.


Mimi dip is the suggested sauce for these dumplings. Mimi means "secret" in Chinese. This "secret sauce" doesn't have much to it, and yet it's a wonderful yet unexpected compliment to these bright and vibrant spring-inspired dumplings. It's basically a slightly watered down and mildly sweetened sriracha mayo. There, the secret is out!


I made these dumplings recently to take to a friend's house for International Tabletop Day (a holiday for board game-lovers). I shaped them in advance, froze them, and then took a freezer bag of dumplings to her house and cooked them there. It's much easier to transport dumplings once they are frozen.


The mimi dip is also perfect for a party because it's thick enough to spoon onto plates and not require little dipping sauce bowls, which you'd likely need if it was a thinner, soy-based sauce. Everyone at the party LOVED these dumplings, and I would definitely make them again when the season is right.



Pea Shoots & Leek Dumplings
Makes about 35 dumplings
(Adapted from Hey There, Dumpling!)

8 ounces (226 g) pea shoots
1 1/2 cups (50 g) dried shiitake mushrooms
Boiling water, as needed
1/2 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon canola oil
1 1/2 cups (135 g) diced leeks, white and pale green parts only
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces (85 g) goat cheese
3/4 cup (100 g) frozen peas, thawed
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/8 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
Approximately 35 dumpling wrappers
Mimi Dip (recipe follows)

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice and water. Plunge the pea shoots into the boiling water and cook until bright green and crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Drain and immediately transfer to the ice water. Drain well and squeeze out any excess liquid.

Meanwhile, place the mushrooms in a medium heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand until softened, about 40 minutes. Drain well, trim off and discard the stems, and squeeze out any excess liquid from the caps.

In a large skillet, heat 1 teaspoon oil over medium heat. Add the leeks, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but not browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.

Place the pea shoots in a food processor and pulse until chopped, with no pieces larger than 1 inch (2.5 cm). Transfer to a large bowl. Place the mushrooms in the processor (no need to clean it) and pulse until finely chopped. Add to the pea shoots along with the goat cheese, leeks, peas, oyster sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.

Stir the filling well with a rubber spatula until evenly mixed.

Take out five wrappers and cover the rest with a damp dowel. Lay out the five wrappers like ducks in a row. Wet 1/2 inch of the rim of each wrapper. Scoop a fat teaspoon of filling into the center of each wrapper, shaping it elongated like a football to make it easier to fold. Fold the wrapper in half like a taco and pinch the edges at the top center. Continue folding the dumpling using your preferred folding method (simply press the edges together or pleat to create another shape--I used the "Buddah's Belly" fold from the book).

At this point, the dumplings can either be cooked immediately, covered and refrigerated for up to a couple hours, or frozen.

When you're ready to cook your dumplings, choose a large nonstick skillet with a lid. Coat the bottom of the pan with oil. Start arranging the dumplings in super-tight concentric circles. Add 3 tablespoons water to the pan (I suggest a bit more than this, especially if you are cooking a large batch at once), set over medium heat, and cover.

Let the dumplings cook, rotating the pan every once in a while to promote even cooking. When the bubbling sound switches to a crackle, lift the lid to peek and see if the pan is dry. This step takes about 7 minutes with fresh dumplings and about 10 minutes with frozen ones (mine took longer than this--I usually use another, more traditional method to pan-fry; you can find it here if you're interested). You may need to continue to cook the dumplings for a few more moments to ensure they are evenly browned once the water has evaporated. (Alternatively you may steam these dumplings in a bamboo steamer basket lined with parchment paper or cabbage leaves.)

Serve the dumplings with the Mimi Dip.

Mimi Dip
Makes about 3/4 cup
(From Hey There, Dumpling!)

2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup (120 ml) mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sriracha

In a microwave-safe bowl, heat the sugar with 2 tablespoons water for 30 seconds. Stir well until the sugar dissolves. Let cool to room temperature, then stir in the mayonnaise and sriracha. The dip can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

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