Fiddlehead Fern Risotto

2010/05/13

Fiddlehead ferns are one of nature’s little gifts. They are only around for a brief moment every spring, and they don’t preserve very well (although I did see a recipe for fiddlehead fern pickles). If they were around year round, these curly-cues that taste vaguely like asparagus would probably be relegated to the pile of vegetables that people consider boring (Ian didn’t think there was anything special about them), but their scarcity, and the fact that most grocery stores don’t carry them so you usually have to get them from a farmers’ market, make them something to be cherished.

My fiddlehead ferns went through a lot to make it to my risotto tonight. I saw them at Wegman’s grocery store and had to buy them. Wegman’s grocery store is another story in itself. It was my first time there, and I must say I was a bit overwhelmed. Many people love this store, but it was just too big for me. Some of the things looked really good, but it was just too big, with too many things. Also, while the seasonal produce was great, I really don’t it when summer lasts all year long. I don’t want tomatoes and eggplant and peppers in May, I want the Spring bounty of greens and asparagus and radishes. Save the rest for August, when delicate lettuces can’t take the heat.

But enough ranting, I want to talk about risotto. This risotto was a little different from others I have made. The risotto I made according to the package directions, which is very simple. However, I usually make it with vegetable broth, and this time I used mushroom broth, and it changed the taste a little. I don’t think Ian was as enamoured with it as usual, although he did have a big bowl of seconds. I blanched the fiddlehead ferns first, since when raw they contain a toxin that can upset the stomach. After the risotto was finished, i mixed the fiddles and a generous amount of parmesan into the risotto. Voila! Spring in a bowl.


Happy Birthday Ian!

2010/05/12

I really like brownies. The very first recipe I ever posted was for a brownie with fruit and nuts. I like to experiment with brownies; once I made a pan that included ginger, cayenne pepper, and pine nuts.
The brownies I made last Monday night, however, were not for me. I made them for Ian to take to work for his birthday. (Honestly, I was not even sure I would get to taste them, but there was also a cake so a couple of the brownies were brought home.) Keeping in mind that Ian really likes caramel, and that pecans are one of his favorite snacks, I decided to make him turtle brownies.

For the brownie base, I used my tried and true brownie recipe, and mixed in one and a half cups of pecan pieces (the whole bag) and a little less than a cup of chocolate chips (I did not measure, but just eyeballed it). About halfway through the baking process I sprinkled some more pecan pieces on top of the brownies.

While the brownies were baking, I made a caramel sauce to go on top. While there are many caramel recipes floating around the internet (and in cookbooks) I decided to use the rather straightforward one found here. I liked that it didn’t have a lot of ingredients. The blogger who posted it did stress the importance of not undercooking the caramel, which is probably why I burnt it the first time. (Or it might have had to do with the size of the pan; the second time I used a wider pan and the shallower caramel didn’t keep cooking so rapidly.) Anyway, the second sauce turned out perfectly, so that was good. I didn’t have the time or crockery for a third.

After the sauce cooled a little, I drizzled it on the cooled brownies. Ian and his coworkers seemed to really enjoy them, and the one I had was pretty good. Happy Birthday!

Turtle Brownies:

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, melted
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli cocoa powder.)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans (plus more for the top if you want)
  • 1 cup (or less) chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease or line a 9×13 inch pan.
  2. In a large bowl, blend melted butter, sugar and vanilla until combined. Beat in eggs one at a time until combined.
  3. Add the flour, cocoa, and salt and mix until smooth. Fold in pecans and chocolate chips.
  4. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes, or until brownies begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Add more pecans to the top halfway through, if desired. Let brownies cool, then drizzle with caramel sauce.

A Four Course French-ish Spring-ish Dinner

2010/05/06

Most people I know had been surprised to find out that I had not seen the movie Julie & Julia. Since it is about food and blogging, I can see how it would be easy to assume that I would have been first in line to see it. Well it is no longer true, last weekend we rented the movie and I finally saw it. It was pretty good, too. I actually found it inspirational, particularly during the beginning of Julie’s challenge, when she makes artichokes with hollandaise sauce.

So tonight I decided to make a four course dinner with a spring theme and a French influence. Don’t ask me why I decided on four courses on a Thursday night, but I did. It took a while, but it was totally worth it.

Course 1: Appetizers

The first course was inspired by the farmers’ market this weekend. The restaurant Willow has a booth there in the “summer” months, and they served up this tasty bite. It was a green onion pancake topped with marscapone cheese and a saute of more scallions, shallots, and radishes. I didn’t follow the recipe they handed out exactly, because their pancake used a rolled out dough, and I didn’t want to deal with that, so I made the same pancake batter I use for my Americanized okonomiyaki.

Recipe:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • milk or cream as necessary (I usually use milk but I had cream on hand for another recipe)
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • oil for frying
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • 6 radishes, sliced.
  • 1 tablespoon shallots, minced
  1. Mix eggs, flour, and salt together. Add milk or cream until the batter reaches a desired consistency. Stir in the green onions.
  2. Heat the frying pan over medium heat, and add canola or vegetable oil. Spoon the batter into the oil and fry on both sides until golden brown.
  3. In a saucepan melt the butter. Let it cook a few minutes. Add the radishes, green onions, and shallots. Cook until the butter starts to brown.
  4. Assemble each pancake with a teaspoon of marscapone cheese and a teaspoon of the radish/onion mixture.

Course 2: Main Course

For the main course, I wanted things to be simple, so I just made the artichokes with hollandaise. They take a long time to eat and are sufficiently filling that I didn’t think I really needed anything else. Note: I did buy a baguette, and forgot to serve it, but no one missed it.

The artichokes were simple to cook. I just cut of the tops and bottoms with a serrated knife treated with lemon juice, then trimmed the thorny tips off the leaves with scissors, then rubbed the whole thing down with a lemon. Then I boiled the suckers until they were tender, which took about half an hour, but for a while my water was simmering, not boiling.

For the hollandaise, I adjusted Julia Child’s blender recipe, which I found here, to use a bowl and electric mixer because I didn’t want to get the blender out and potentially make a mess, and I already had the electric mixer out for dessert. It worked really well. Note: this recipe makes a decent amount of sauce, which was good because I dropped the bowl and half of it ended up on the floor. The sauce that stayed in the bowl (and subsequently got spooned into these little dipping bowls and topped with chives) was quite good: very buttery and a bit lemony, but not at all eggy.

Course 3: Cheese and Course

I made a small cheese and salad plate to break up dinner and dessert, which I think it accomplished, because it was half sweet and half savory. The salad was a mixture of shaved asparagus, and arugula and spinach from my garden dressed with a grapefruit infused oil that I bought a couple of weeks ago.

I had three cheeses on the plate. Camenbert on a “biscuit for cheese” made with hazelnuts and figs (it is like a cross between a cracker and a biscotti) that I bought at Whole Paycheck (a rare splurge). Mimolette Francaise with Green Tomato Chutney, and a baguette round with French blue cheese and local Blue Aster honey.

Course 4: Dessert

For dessert I wanted to use up the leftover egg whites from the hollandaise, and I was tickled pink when I found this Mousse au Chocolat from Pierre Herme. Most mousses use egg yolks, too, but this was super easy; just folding a meringue into a ganache. It took less than 10 minutes. The mousse was super rich but also light. It really is a great dessert. Note: Measuring ingredients on a scale in grams is awesome, because when you want to scale a recipe to 3 egg whites instead of 5, the math in metric is so much easier than trying to work out fractions to 4/9ths.

So in all, this was a great dinner. I’m back baby!