Easy Asparagus Tart

2010/04/29

I’m back. I’m sorry I haven’t written in a while but I have a broken foot and I have been very tired and haven’t had any interest in writing. Also I have been on a bit of a geneology kick and I have been spending most of my internet time working on that instead of my blog.

But tonight I felt inspired, because I had to tell you something, dear readers. Ian was wrong. Ian was very wrong. I told him that I wanted to make an asparagus tart (with the purple asparagus I paid a little too much for at the market) for dinner, and he turned up his nose. I told him I would make him a chicken breast, too, and he told me he would rather order a pizza. But I had already started thawing the puff pastry crust, so I won and made dinner.

I followed this recipe from Closet Cooking, mostly. However, I didn’t have any Gruyere, and I didn’t feel like buying any, so I used a mixture of fresh mozzarella and parmesan. I also spread a thin layer of pesto on the bottom instead of mustard, because I had it on hand. Finally, instead of using plain olive oil to brush on the outside, I used a mixture of canola oil and truffle oil (I had bought a small bottle as an impulse without realizing it was made with chemicals and not real truffles, and I used canola because it is neutral to thin out the potent truffle oil) I also dabbed the asparagus on top with a little of the oil so it would roast better.

This is the tart before I cooked it. It was really easy to assemble; it only took a few minutes.

And this is the tart when it came out:

The crust was golden and crispy and buttery, the asparagus was roasted to perfection, and the cheese was melty and gooey just like it would have been on the pizza Ian wanted to order. The truffle oil gave a rich, earthy flavor to it all and really pulled the flavors together. Even Ian agreed it was kind of awesome, which was evident when he ate most of it.

To lighten dinner up, I also made green salads with mixed lettuces, green onions, and a little parmesan. I topped it with a vinaigrette of shallot, salt, pepper, mustard, truffle oil, canola oil (to tie in with the tart and for the same reasons as earlier), and white wine vinegar.

For Ian’s chicken breast, I sprinkled it with some dry mustard, brushed it with some of the leftover truffle/canola oil mixture from the tart, and then seasoned it with salt and pepper and baked it. Halfway through I turned it over and seasoned the other side. Ian said he liked that, too. He ate it pretty quickly, so I guess he was telling the truth.

After dinner, I asked him if he would have rather had pizza. He said no.


Favorite Things vol. 2

2010/04/11

Anyone who has shared a meal with my father, sister, and me (and paid attention) will be somewhat surprised that I would consider salt to be one of my favorite things (see the first post in this series here). While it is true that I do not pile it on everything I eat, salt can make or break a dish. But what I love most about salt (and why it makes this list) is my salt collection.

Yes, I have a salt collection.

It started innocently enough, with lovely little jar of sea salt my friend Amy brought me when she came back from a trip to Maine.

I liked it a lot, because it was a very thoughtful gift, and I put it on my table to replace the faux Sea Salt Grinder I had gotten tired of. (**note: The actual Sea Salt grinder I bought from Trader Joes had broken, so I poured the salt into an unused pepper grinder. It worked, but only so-so.) This sea salt is not too fine and not too coarse. You can tell it is there, but it doesn’t add a crunch.

Then around Christmas last year, Ian’s parents gave us a sampler of six French Sea Salts. They were all in bags, but they also gave us little jars to put them in.

From left to right, the salts are: Fleur de Sel de Guérande, Fumee de Sel (smoked Fleur de Sel), Tamise de Guérande, Velvet de Guérande, Sel Gris Fine, and Sel Gris Course. All of these salts are from Guérande in France, which is considered by many to be the best place for sea salt in the world. My favorite is the Tamise de Guérande, which has an interesting flavor and slightly coarse texture. Ian’s favorite is the Velvet de Guérande, which is a super fine grey sea salt. The smoky Fumee de Sel is also quite nice in certain dishes. I particularly like it with root vegetables.

I also just got a new salt in the Easter Basket Ian’s parents gave us.

I haven’t tried this one yet, and I still need to find it a jar, but I am looking forward to it.

Unless I am going for something in particular, however, I just use these salts for finishing at the table. For cooking, I usually use Kosher Salt.

Because the box is so big, and the mouth is wide, I keep a small amount in a plastic container and refill it as necessary.

Just so you don’t think I am salt snob, I do have a regular container of Morton’s salt.

I often use this in baking, because the crystals are regularly sized (for even distribution) and it is easy to measure.

There are still a few salts I would like to own.

Salt Wish List

Anyone else know of any interesting salts I need to try?

If you are interested in learning more about salt, read this book:

Salt: A World History, by Mark Kurlansky. It actually extremely interesting and a great read.


Trader Joe’s Tamales

2010/04/07

Last Saturday I stocked up on frozen and prepared foods at Trader Joe’s. Seriously, I have not had this many meals ready to eat in the house in a long time. Tonight we decided to try Trader “Jose’s” handcrafted frozen tamales.

I had the Cheese & Green Chile Tamales. The package came with two, but I only ate one (the other is in my lunch for tomorrow). The tamale was pretty good; the flavor was mild, but good. I wish it had a little more presence, because if I hadn’t done anything to dress it up, it probably would have been a little dry and bland.

Instead I topped the tamale with cheese and avocado, and served it with a side of salsa and sour cream. That made it even better.

Ian had these Beef Tamales, which he said had shredded beef in a sauce inside. He said they were pretty good.

Ian’s were also topped with avocado and cheese and served with a side of salsa. At least the toppings gave it some semblance of being fresh. I can’t wait to eat real food again.


Pizzas from Trader Joe’s

2010/04/06

Some of you may know that I broke my foot last Thursday night. I was on crutches all weekend, but I saw the doctor today and got a walking boot. However, that doesn’t mean I am going to be on my feet in the kitchen cooking dinner at night. Tonight Ian and I had pizzas from Trader Joe’s.

This was my pizza, the 3 plus Blue Flatbread with Mozzarella, Grana Padano, Parmesan, and Gorgonzola Cheeses. This is what it looked like cooked:

However, I wasn’t satisfied with this, so I dressed it up with parmesan, crushed red pepper, oregano, fleur de sel, and pepper.

I didn’t make anything else, and I was really hungry because I missed my afternoon snack,  so I ate the whole thing. The bites with blue cheese were really good, but the bites without were a little boring.

Ian had a Pizza Margherita.

He really likes this pizza, and thought it was great, like always. He added a little fleur de sel, but nothing else.


Pretty Green Growing Things

2010/04/06

My garden has been doing rather well (knock on wood) since I started spraying the plants with a very diluted mixture of cayenne pepper powder and garlic cloves in water.

My radishes are growing really quickly; they are perhaps even too crowded. I am going to look into thinning them out.

My baby lettuces are also doing quite well. I added some watercress in the empty corner today.

The beets are growing slowly but surely. I am going to add a third planting tomorrow.

The carrots are actually still growing despite being torn up. They are even getting their first true leaves.

See, those actually look like carrots (if you look really closely).

Not long ago I planted some kale and swiss chard. Here they are starting to come up.

Last Sunday and today I hobbled around in my garden and got a lot of new seeds planted, mostly herbs. Stay tuned for the following over the next few weeks:

  • Chicory
  • Watercress (mentioned earlier)
  • Sweet Basil
  • Genovese Basil
  • Purple Basil
  • Thai Basil
  • Lemon Basil
  • Cinnamon Basil
  • Monarda
  • German Chamomile
  • Feverfew
  • Stevia
  • Parsley
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Cilantro
  • Greek Oregano
  • Dill
  • Chervil
  • Green Onions
  • Chives
  • Garlic Chives

Black Bread v. 1

2010/04/02

The other night, I made my first loaf  of bread without exactly following a recipe. Actually, what I did was take two recipes, and combine them. For quite a while, I have been in love with this recipe for Black Bread, by Deb over at smitten kitchen. However, I own a bread machine and therefore find the process of making bread without it completely overwhelming, particularly on a weeknight. However, my go to compendium of breadmaking knowledge, The Breadlover’s Bread Machine Cookbook, had a recipe for “Bohemian Black Bread” that was not very different. It did however, lack some of the SEVENTEEN ingredients that Deb’s version had. So, I combined the two recipes, to not quite bad results. I am going to keep working on the proportions in the recipe – it lacks the depth I am looking for – but when I am finished, I will post it.

The bread didn’t rise much (almost not at all), and at first I was worried, but it didn’t taste gummy like the loaf I made that failed. It was just dense, and in this style of bread, that is not a bad thing. As is, it actually isn’t a bad knockoff of the pumpernickel from La Brea Bakery, you can find it at the Harris Teeter by my house, as well as many other locations, but that is not quite what I am looking for. Well, back to the drawing board.


Buckwheat Pilaf with Asparagus and Kale

2010/04/01

During the winter, we ate a lot of starchy vegetables because they were in season, so I didn’t have to cook a lot other starches. Now that we are transitioning to spring vegetables, which include more greens and stalks and less roots, I have once again started cooking the interesting grains that have been put on the back burner, so to speak. Tonight I made a pilaf out of buckwheat groats, asparagus, and kale, that was really quite tasty and the epitome of comfort food in my book.

Buckwheat Pilaf with Asparagus and Kale (adapted from the back of the box of buckwheat)

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 6 stalks of asparagus, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1 cup kale, with the ribs removed
  • 2 cups broth (or water with a bouillon cube)
  • 1 cup buckwheat groats
  • 1 egg
  1. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the onions, garlic, and asparagus, and sautee for about 5 minutes, then add the kale and cook until it wilts, about 2 minutes.
  2. Lightly beat the egg in a mixing bowl. Add the buckwheat and coat it with the egg. Then you want to dry out the groats in another skillet over high heat. This will take 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile bring the broth of bouillon to a boil.
  4. Add the groats to the vegetable mixture, then add the liquid, cover, and simmer until everything is absorbed, about 10 minutes.

I topped this with shredded Gruyere, and a fried egg for me (unfortunately the yolk broke).

Ian also got Gruyere, but he had Italian Sausages instead of the egg.

Both of us really liked it (I think). I thought it was good comfort food, but not too heavy, and very different from what we have been eating all winter.