Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Asparagus Salad with Gorgonzola Basil Pesto

I am back from five beautiful days in Florida. We were there for a wedding but decided to stay a couple extra days to soak up some sun and beach time. Unfortunately, the ocean temperature was a bit too cold to go in, at least it was for me. Luckily I had brought my kindle, and was  just as content sitting on the beach and catching up on my reading.

One of the great things about returning to Minnesota at this time is that you really get to see the seasons change. When we left, everything was still brown and grey but in a matter of five days, trees are filled with small green leaves, lawns are already in all their glory, and Minnesotans are coming out of the winter rut. 

There are also seasonal changes  in the groceries. At the moment, asparagus are at their peak so I took the opportunity to snatch a fresh bunch. I do not remember where but I read that, when choosing them, you should look for thicker spears because they have a juicier interior and are sweeter. Previously, there was only one way in which I prepared asparagus: steamed for two to three minutes, then seasoned with salt and pepper and drizzled with olive oil. To be honest, I am a little tired of that. So, today, I'm sharing my newest asparagus recipe. It does start by steaming but by adding a few extra ingredients a lowly side dish is transformed into a filling lunch or dinner salad.

Asparagus Salad with Gorgonzola Basil Pesto
Serves 2

1 lb asparagus
2 eggs
3 tbsp olive oil
2 oz gorgonzola
5 or 6 large basil leaves 
1 small avocado
candied pecans
salt pepper
french bread, optional

1. To prepare pesto, puree gorgonzola, olive oil and basil leaves in food processor until relatively smooth. Set aside until ready to use.
2. Steam your asparagus for two minutes, or if you prefer, get four cups of water boiling, add asparagus and boil for a minute or two. Remove the steamed or boiled spears to an ice bath. 
3. Meanwhile, fry eggs in hot skillet. Season with salt. Alternatively boiled eggs can be substituted here. 
4. Plate the salad by layering half of the asparagus spears, an egg, drizzle on pesto and garnish with half of the sliced avocado and candied or plain pecans. Repeat for the next salad. Serve with a slice of french bread. 
*Remember, this recipe serves two but it can be easily doubled or tripled. 

Friday, April 10, 2009

Baked Red Snapper with Preserved Lemon

Only recently did I start cooking with preserved lemons. How did I ever do without it! Actually, it was my husband who picked it up on our last grocery trip. Trust him to find the most unusual foods in the city. Once, before this, he had brought home chocolate covered edamame. Chocolate covered edamame!  It doesn't sound right, does it? My initial hesitation gave way to delight and gratitude as we  now have added something different and enticing to our pantry. 

Preserved lemons are common in Middle Eastern and Moroccan dishes.  When I found out that it is used  as commonly, and with the same frequency, as we in the west use standard flavorings such as garlic onions, and celery, I shamelessly have been cooking with it almost every day. It has a strong flavor so a little goes a long way. For example, I would recommend one third of a lemon to flavor enough bean stew for two people. 

Nothing pairs better with fish than citrus. Sometimes, just a couple tablespoons of lemon juice and salt and  pepper are all that's needed. Since this was going to be part of our Good Friday dinner, I thought I 'd  add a few extra, albeit simple, ingredients. Namely garlic and extra virgin olive oil. However, it was the preserved lemons that made this dish, bringing all the flavors together. Wisely, I have learnt to trust my husband's taste; his finds usually become permanent ingredients in our kitchen. 

Baked Red Snapper with Preserved Lemon
Serves two to three

1 red snapper fillet, about 1 lb
1 preserved lemon, sliced thinly
1 tbsp of the lemon brine
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic

1. Set the oven to 450 degrees F. 
2. Arrange the fillet skin side down on a well greased baking dish. 
3. Grate the garlic into a mixing bowl, add brine liquid and olive oil. Whisk; it will thicken and emulsify almost immediately. Brush most of this emulsion over the entire fish, reserving about a teaspoon. Arrange the lemon slices on top of the fish. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil, sealing the edges tightly. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until cooked through. Remove the foil, brush on the remaining lemon-olive oil dressing and return to the oven, uncovered. This time turn on the broiler and cook for another three or four minutes until edges turn brown. Serve immediately. 

Note: Preserved lemons can be found at Whole Food stores, and at other specialty food stores. If you want to make your own, there is a simple recipe over at Simply Recipes. Of course, this recipe is just as good with fresh lemons and lemon juice. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

One a Penny, Two a Penny, Hot Cross Buns

Growing up, I didn't care much for Easter egg hunts and Eater bonnets. For me, Easter began when our next door neighbor sent over freshly baked hot cross buns on Good Friday morning. Warm, nutmeg -scented, raisin -heavy buns topped with a smooth, gooey glaze made even more gooey by the still warm buns. Hers were the best. I remember one Good Friday morning foregoing breakfast just so that the firs thing I could savor that morning was one of those buns.

So you could imagine my surprise, and disappointment, upon realizing that hot cross buns are not as popular here in the States as they are in the Caribbean, or in the Commonwealth of Nations (former British colonies) for that matter. The British left their mark in more ways than one in those places. The judicial system, education, sports- ever heard of cricket? - religion and food. (The title of this post is also British; from an old nursery rhyme.) In the case of hot cross buns, the last two are closely connected: they were only eaten on Good Friday because, in Christianity, the cross symbolized the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. However, these breads dated as far back as pagan times when early Anglo-Saxons eat them in honor of the goddess Eostre. The difference was that the cross was not a crucifix at all but two intersecting lines used to symbolize the four corners of the moon.

Ready to be baked

At its inception, the symbolic cross was carved in with a sharp knife, not marked with icing as is done today. (I prefer the change to icing better!) In this recipe, the dough is extra sticky and has the potential to get messy but it will be worth it in the end. They taste better warm, like all bread, but can be frozen and keep for up to two weeks.

Ready to be eaten

Hot Cross Buns
Makes 12 large or 24 small buns

2 1/2 to 3 cups all unbleached all purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup warm skimmed milk (80 degrees F)
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup dark raisins or currants
1 egg white

1/3 cup confectioners sugar
2 tsp milk
1 tsp orange extract or juice

1. Sift together flour, spices and salt. Set aside.
2. Add the warm milk, yeast and 1 tbsp of the sugar to the bowl of a standing mixer, stir lightly with a spoon and allow the yeast to bloom, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add eggs, sour cream and the remaining sugar. Using the paddle attachment mix until just combined. Replace the paddle with the dough hook attachment.
3. Now add the flour and knead on low for five minutes. Do not be to alarmed if you find that the dough is sticky; this is a wet and sticky dough. Remove the mixing bowl with dough to a dry place in the kitchen, cover and allow to rise until doubled in sized, between 1 to 2 hours.
4. Set the oven to 400 degrees F. Now return the dough in the bowl to the mixer and add the raisins or currants. Mix for two more minutes until all of the raisins have been evenly incorporated into the dough.
5. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and lightly pat into an evenly round mass, using extra flour from your work surface to prevent sticking. Cut into 12 large pieces or 24 smaller ones. Shape each piece into a ball and transfer to a well greased baking dish so that they barely touch one another. Cover, set aside and allow to rise for another 1 hour.
6. Brush tops with egg whites and bake at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes. Reduce oven to 300 degrees F and bake for a further 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the baking dish from the oven and transfer unto a cooling rack. Cool buns for 2 to 3 minutes in dish, then remove and cool directly on the wire rack. While they are still warm to the touch, drizzled the glaze in a cross pattern on each bun. Serve.

To make glaze: Mix all ingredients until well combined.