Thursday, June 24, 2010

Asparagus Coins

I love learning new things about food and cooking. One of the ways we Pleasants go about learning about these things is through cookbooks. I have a rather long list of cookbooks in my library queue, and when we really fall in love with something, we'll buy it for ourselves. One of the best of these finds recently has been Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc.I was a great admirer of his French Laundry cookbook, but found the scale and technique rather daunting. More of a 'look but don't touch' feeling as far as I was concerned. However, like the restaurant of the same name Ad Hoc caters to family-style gatherings with approachable but impeccable food. The Mr. and I love how almost every recipe in this book teaches us something new about cooking, technique, particularly the 'light bulb moments' the book shares about simple, obvious, smack-your-forehead 'why didn't I think of that?' tidbits about cooking.

One of these was sharing a way to prepare the Asparagus coins pictured here. Not only did it suggest a method of preparing asparagus we had never tried before (coins?!?) but also, while fresh asparagus can be unwieldy and difficult or time consuming to cut individually, wrapping them up in a bundle with a rubber band and taking them as a group to a mandolin is a wonderfully easy and precise way to prepare these beauties. Duh!

Enjoy these on their own as a side dish or toss them into a salad like we did.

Asparagus Coins
adapted from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc
1 1/2 lbs thin asparagus, with ends snapped and 'coined' (technique above) plus tips
3 Tbs olive oil
a small handful of fresh chive
a small handful of fresh parsley
kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Heat oil and herbs in frying pan over medium heat with the tips, swirling ingredients together for about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the coins and cook until the edges look cooked but the centers are still raw. Add 3 Tbs water and cook until the asparagus is tender, another 1 1/2 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and enjoy.

Chicken Milanese with Brown Butter Orzo and Spring Greens

I love pouring through cooking magazines, websites, blogs, books ...just about anything I can get my hands on. In so many magazines, they give you preset menu ideas, sometimes helpful sometimes limiting. I admit it's rare that I actually go through and make the entire collection of dishes they recommend for a meal (there are just so many other good ideas out there!) but I hadn't worked with orzo or made chicken palliards before, so I thought I'd give this a shot. The orzo especially was a revelation. You prepare it much like you would a risotto - which initially frightened me a bit. However, though you saute it a bit first like a risotto, it cooks up in just 15 minutes, which is fabulous! None of that tedious stirring either. Glad to have gotten over my fears and given this a try. It's definitely now a household favorite.

We also served this with our very own container-grown greens. It's the first time we've tried growing anything besides herbs and I must confess to being proud of our success. We'll see how the rest of our container 'garden' fares for the rest of the season, but it's definitely off to a good start!

Chicken Milanese with Brown Butter Orzo and Mixed Spring Greens

3/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon minced shallots
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
Dash of sugar
2 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
5 teaspoons olive oil, divided
2 cups packed spring mix salad greens
2 lemon wedges

1. Combine juice, vinegar, shallots, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and sugar; let stand 15 minutes.
2. Place chicken between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap; pound to 1/2-inch thickness using a meat mallet or small heavy skillet.
3. Combine breadcrumbs and cheese in a shallow dish. Place flour in a shallow dish. Place egg white in a shallow dish. Sprinkle chicken with 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Dredge chicken in flour; dip in egg white. Dredge in breadcrumb mixture. Place chicken on a wire rack; let stand 5 minutes.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick (I prefer to use cast iron) skillet over medium-high heat (or med-low heat for the cast iron - don't let the pan get too hot - you can see evidence of this wee mistake above on the 'well' browned chicken ;) Add chicken; cook 3 minutes. Turn chicken over; cook 2 minutes or until browned and done.
5. Add 2 teaspoons oil and 1/8 teaspoon pepper to shallot mixture; stir with a whisk. Add greens; toss gently. Place 1 chicken breast half and 1 cup salad on each of 2 plates. Serve with lemon wedges.

Banana "Soft Serve"

Hardly a new innovation of the innumerate creative and food-wise minds shaping the blogosphere, but one that I only just finally got around to trying. So simple, so refreshing, why hadn't I done this before? Thicker than a smoothie, looser than ice cream, this is much more like a deliciously refreshing and natural take on a frostie. Especially now that the mercury is practically boiling, it's a perfect way to end a hot summer day. Don't feel limited to the ingredients here, by the by. It's delicious with other frozen fruits mixed in too.

Banana "Soft Serve"

2 frozen bananas
1 Tbs of cocoa powder
1 Tbs of peanut butter
splash of milk (or coconut milk or milk alternative)

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until creamy. Scoop out and enjoy!

Krepsua- Pannukakkua - Finnish Oven Pancake

This beloved breakfast dish goes by many names in our household. Growing up, my dad called it Pannukakkua, my grandmother called it Krepsua and when trying to describe this scandanavian favorite to the non-initiated, it becomes a "Finnish oven pancake". Mr. P has taken to calling it "thing in the pan". There is also disagreement about the best way to top this custardy breakfast confection. My grandmother loved hers with maple syrup (easily accessible in Northern Michigan), my father's (and my) favorite preparation is to add less than the original 1/2c of sugar called for (as I've listed the recipe here) to the pannukakkua itself and then top the completed dish with lemon and a sprinkle of granulated sugar. There are those, however, who prefer it with powdered sugar or even plain. By any name, and however you top it, this is a delicious way to start a day.

Pannukakkua aka 'thing in the pan'
3 eggs
1 1/4c flour
3 c milk
1 tsp salt
1 stick (1/4 lb) butter, melted and lukewarm
1/4 c sugar

Preheat oven to 450 F and grease a 9 x 13" pan.
In a mixing bowl, beat eggs with whisk. Add 1/2 c of the milk and whisk until combined. Add melted butter and sugar, whisking to combine. Add remaining milk. Slowly add flour, whisking until combined. Pour into pan and bake for 30 minutes or until puffed up and golden brown and the middle has set. It will un-puff as it cools, but do not fret, it's supposed to collapse. Serve warm with your choice of topping.

Whole Wheat Flax Bread

This bread has been one of my favorite additions to breakfast lately. It's a moist, dense, rich bread that toasted with your favorite butter is fabulously delicious and filling!

Whole Wheat Flax Bread

2 3/4 cups very warm water
1/3 cup olive oil [or whatever oil makes you happy]
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoon salt [I used sea salt]
2 tablespoons dry active yeast
6-7 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. milled flaxseed

Place the oil, honey, and molasses in the bowl of your mixer. Add the salt, water and the yeast. Let it sit for a few minutes, until puffy and bubbly.

Add two cups of the flour and the milled flaxseed and mix until well combined.

With your mixer turned on to the lowest setting, gradually add more flour until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Don’t add too much – you want it to be fairly sticky. I usually add around 6 1/2 cups total [including the 2 cups added above]. The trick is to have your dough stand up with the least amount of flour so the bread will be fluffy. Don’t overmix it.

When your dough is holding together, leave it in the mixer, cover the bowl and let it rise for 30-60 minutes depending on the warmth of your kitchen. It doesn’t have to double, but you want it puffy.

Spray two bread pans with non-stick spray. [My pans are 9x5.]

Mix the dough again just enough to knock it down close to the original size. Just a few seconds on the lowest setting is all you need.

Drop the dough on a floured surface. Divide the dough in half and form each one into a loaf shape. Do not roll the dough out with a rolling pin – use your hands to make a ball and then turn the dough under itself over and over until you have a nice loaf shape – smooth top, smooth sides.

Place the loaves in your bread pans and let them rise until almost doubled.

Bake in a preheated oven at 350 for about 35 minutes, until the tops are golden and if you tap the bottom of the loaves, they sound hollow.

Remove from the pans and cool the loaves on a rack. In theory, you shouldn’t cut the bread until they are fully cooled because they still do a little cooking while cooling and if you cut it while cooling, it releases the heat. Yeah, right – go ahead and cut into that baby, slap some butter on and enjoy it hot.