Skillet Asparagus

Healthy Appetite Food Meal Stalk Green Asparagus

My mom’s favorite vegetable is asparagus. Between mother’s day and her May birthday we have plenty of chances to share it with her. I was a bit tired of the usual roasted asparagus we make though so I went for something quicker.

Skillet Asparagus
Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 11-15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. fresh asparagus
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • zest from a lemon
  • juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • kosher salt and black pepper

Directions:

  1. You can either snap the asparagus stalks one at a time or just cut off the bottom 2″ like I do. Rinse the stalks and set aside.
  2. Heat a skillet over medium heat and add the butter. Heat until the butter is melted and add the asparagus. Sprinkle generously with kosher salt and black pepper. Toss the asparagus to coat it in butter and then cover the dish. Cook for 3 minutes.
  3. Remove the cover, toss the asparagus and cook for another 2-3 minutes until tender. Transfer asparagus to a platter.
  4. Turn off the heat under the skillet. Add the lemon juice to the skillet and scrap up any browned bits on the button of the skillet. Swirl the browned bits in the lemon juice and pour it over the plated asparagus. Garnish with the lemon zest and serve.

Notes:
Skinny asparagus will cook faster than the thicker ones. Choose a bunch with all similar thicknesses throughout if possible.

Salt “Crust” Potatoes

Like many things we try we first saw this dish prepared on a cooking show. Best I can recall it was America’s Test Kitchen however their website tells me it was Cook’s Country. They attribute the dish to Syracuse, NY. The idea is you cook small, whole, potatoes in briny water and the result is a perfectly seasoned potato. Despite the name, and the amount of salt used in preparing this dish, these potatoes taste no more salty than my regular boiled potatoes. In part that comes from the “whole potato” nature of the recipe.

I call for “baby” red potatoes here. My local megamart sells 1 1/2 pound bags of these as gourmet potatoes. I just know that they are all similarly sized and that’s a key to this recipe being a success.

Salt “Crust” Potatoes
Servings: 12-15
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 12 cups water
  • 2 1/4 cups kosher salt (see note)
  • 4 1/2 lbs. “baby” red potatoes
  • 1/2 stick (4 Tbsp.) unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley

Directions:

  1. Combine the water and salt in a Dutch oven and stir until the bulk of the salt is combined. Place over high heat until boiling. While the water comes to a boil give the potatoes a rinse and set them aside.
  2. Add the potatoes to the boiling water. Cook them until they are easily pierced with a fork, which for me is 20-25 minutes.
  3. Drain the potatoes in a colander and allow them to rest. Return the unrinsed pot to the cook top and add the butter. Once the butter melts turn off the heat and add the pepper and parsley. Swirl to combine then return the potatoes to the pot.
  4. Toss the potatoes in the pot until the flavored butter has a chance to coat all the spuds. Transfer to a bowl and serve.

Notes:
I use Morton’s Kosher Salt (you know, the one with the girl holding the umbrella on the box). I vaguely remember that the original recipe suggested that different brands of kosher salt yield a different amount of salt by volume. 2 1/4 cups of Morton’s kosher salt weighs in at 130 grams, give or take a gram. If you are using a different salt then try 130 grams of it the first go around.

This recipe is based on a couple of sources including an article in The New York Times and the brief access I had to it on Cook’s Country when the episode first aired.

Almond Cherry Cake

[Almond Cherry Cake]Searching for a suitable dessert to make for Easter Dinner at my mom’s house is a delicious challenge. While most of us enjoy a chocolate whatever-you-bake special dinners are a chance do something different. I had some cherries in the freezer that I wanted to do something with. An hour lost to the Internet provided several options. In the end I opted for this lovely creation on the right.

Notes under the cut

Buttered Farro

There are times when an improvisation turns into something you want to repeat again and again. This dish is one of the successes that I will continue to make once a month or so because it’s just that tasty.

It’s “origin story” isn’t very glamorous though. I realized I had some cooked farro slowly wasting away in the fridge as I was putting together the menu for one of our mostly weekly Saturday night gatherings. Since I hadn’t actually planned on making it part of dinner I didn’t pickup the additional ingredients necessary to make Farro with Mushrooms and Thyme. Luckily, a handful of pantry staples turned this from a bland grain into a flavorful side dish.

Buttered Farro
Servings: 6-8
Prep time: 5 minutes (if you have precooked your farro)
Total time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until just shimmering. Add the diced onions and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss with oil and saute until translucent, 5-8 minutes.
  2. Add the butter. When it is fully melted add the farro, paprika and spice blend. Toss until the farro is coated with butter and the spices are well distributed.
  3. Heat for about 5 minutes so that the farro is heated through. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as desired. Serve.

Notes:
If you have fresh herbs such as parsley or chives on hand you could added a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chopped fresh herbs at the end of cooking.

Potato, Herb and Cheese Stacks

A while back I was lured in by a glossy picture of Parmesan and Herb Potato Stacks in an retailers Instagram post. The recipe seemed straight-forward, the image looked inticing and I’m always seeking a new way to present potatoes at Saturday night dinner.

While the result was good I thought of several ways to improve the recipe. Here’s the result with my update ingredient list and rewritten in my own words. Enjoy.

Potato, Herb and Cheese Stacks
Servings: 8-12
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 45-50 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 5 Yukon Gold potatoes, very thinly sliced (about 1/16 inch)
  • 6 Tbsp. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed or finely minced
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 12 fresh sage leaves for garnish (optional)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat an oven to 375°F. Coat a 12 cup muffin tin with vegetable oil spray.
  2. Place the sliced potatoes win a colander set over a bowl and set aside while you melt the butter. Transfer the butter to a large bowl and allow the butter to cool for at least 5 minutes.
  3. Add the Romano cheese, garlic, thyme and cream to the cooled butter and whisk together until combined.. Season with salt and pepper. Add the potato slices and gently toss to coat evenly.
  4. Divide the potato slices among the prepared muffin cups, stacking them in layers.
  5. If using them, arrange a sage leaf on top of each stack.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes then sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the potato stacks. Bake for another 10 minutes. The potatoes should be tender with crispy edges and the Parmesan should be fully melted. If not cook for another minute or two.
  7. Let cool slightly, then carefully remove the stacks from the pan and serve warm.

Notes:
Don’t be tempted by the cheese in a plastic jar which is found in the pasta aisle of your local megamart. You should find a wedge of Romano, and another of Parmesan, in the “fancy” cheese case near the deli counter. Yes, you’ll pay more than you will for that plastic jar however the flavor will far exceed the price difference.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Certain cakes go best with certain icings. A carrot cake with out cream cheese frosting is just isn’t the same. I also use this for red velvet cake.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Servings: enough to frost a 13″x9″ cake (or probably 2 8″ rounds)
Prep time: 2 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz. room temperature cream cheese
  • 12 oz. room temperature unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 24 oz. powdered sugar
  • 2-3 Tbsp. milk or heavy cream

Directions:

  1. Combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on low for about 30 seconds to break out both and move to high for 2 minutes to cream both ingredients together.
  2. Reduce the speed to low once again and add the vanilla. Beat on medium for 30 seconds to incorporate.
  3. Once more reduce the speed to low and add about a third of the sugar and a tablespoon of milk. Beat until combined and repeat with the second third of sugar and another tablespoon of milk.
  4. Add the remaining sugar and once combined with the frosting increase the mixer speed to high. Beat for 1 minute to incorporate air and increase the volume of the frosting.

Notes:
It’s important for the cream cheese and butter to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before making this frosting.

12 oz. of cream cheese is 1 1/2 packages and 12 oz. of butter is 1 1/2 sticks at my mega-mart.

Basic Polenta (or Grits)

Cooked coarse-ground corn meal, whether you call it polenta or grits, is tasty stuff. It is can be served just after cooking or allowed gel into a flavorful brick that can be grilled, pan seared or deep fried. It is infinitely alterable just be swapping out an ingredient or two.

Polenta does require supervision and a fair bit of stirring. The results are worth the effort.

Basic Polenta
Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup coarse-ground cornmeal (often called corn grits or polenta)
  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 Tbsp. cubes
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Crush the dried thyme between your finger tips and it, along with the salt, to the water. Allow the salt to dissolve then sprinkle the cornmeal over the water, stirring frequently.
  2. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. I stir for about 10-15 seconds out of every minute for the first 15 minutes and then constantly for the last 5.
  3. Turn off the heat and add the butter, cheese, and pepper. Stir until the butter has melted and incorporated.
  4. Taste, adjust salt and pepper as desired. Serve with the savory topping of your choice (mine is often shrimp).

Notes:
Polenta solidifies fairly quickly, creating a solid that can be sliced. It can be served cold or pan-seared before serving. Coat the inside of a loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray and transfer the hot, cooked polenta into the pan. Press plastic wrap onto the top of the polenta to keep it from drying out and allow it to cool for at least 1 hour, or overnight.

To prep it for cooking just remove the plastic wrap, slide a knife around the edges of the polenta loaf and upturn it onto a cutting board. Slice into 1/2″-3/4″ rounds and fry in a non-stick skillet for 2-3 minutes per side.