Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Comfort Food from the Garden

I've had the unfortunate luck of getting sick my second week at the new job. Not just any cold, but one that seems to linger around - changing up the symptoms whenever it wants. Not to mention, my iphone is broken. Ya, I know, what's next? At least we've been blessed with the bounty and beauty of Spring (corny?). Spring peas, asparagus and oranges will give me the vitamins I need to beat this beast of a cold.

In the meantime, I'll let my mom take care of me. Thus, I can't take credit for this next recipe. It came from the Engel kitchen; some comfort food in the form of risotto. Using your freshest Spring veggies, you can make a knock-out risotto in no time at all. It's healthy, satisfying and goes down well with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc (if you aren't under the weather, then again...).

Garden Risotto
adapted from Elie Kruger The Food You Crave
1/2 pound asparagus
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces baby spinach leaves (about 3 cups lightly packed)
1 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Microwave the asparagus in a tightly covered microwave-safe bowl with 1 teaspoon water for 90 seconds and cut into 3/4 inch pieces. Set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, bring the chicken broth to a simmer. In a large heavy saucepan, heat the oil on medium-low heat and cook the onion and fennel until softened and translucent. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly for about 1 minute. Next add the wine and let simmer, still stirring, until wine is absorbed. Using a ladle, add 3/4 cup of the hot broth, salt and pepper and simmer, still stirring! Stir until broth is dissolved and repeat with the 3/4 cup broth until the rice is almost tender and creamy. This should take about 15 minutes.

Here comes the garden! Stir in the peas and spinach and cook until the spinach is wilted. Add the asparagus last and cook until everything is hot and well combined. Take off the burner and stir in the Parmesan cheese.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Starting Fresh with Minted Peas

Last week I started my new job. Wow! What a whirlwind it has been, but definitely a fun one. Although I am going to miss Northern California, Southern California is where my heart is... Sun, waves, palm trees and that lovely sense of familiarity wherever I go. My ego has been bruised a bit as I've joined my parents in their humble abode. But I have a new pep in my step and a smile on my face that feel so refreshing.

With my fresh new perspective, it was only necessary that my next dish include mint... a fun herb that's super versatile and has a sweet aroma and flavor. Mint tossed in with some fat, sweet and succulent sugar snap peas makes the perfect spring combination... dressed up with some butter, of course. Peas with mint is a pretty classic side dish. I was given this recipe at one of the cooking classes I participated in at Ramekin's Bed & Breakfast in Sonoma.

Minted Sugar Snap Peas
adapted from Therese Nugent 2009
1 pound fresh sugar snap peas, trimmed and strings removed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fresh mint, minced
zest of 1 lemon
salt to taste

Bring a saute pan filled with water to a boil. Blanche the peas until crisp-tender and bright green (approximately 3 minutes). Remove from the water and set aside. Melt the butter in a saute pan and add the peas. Stir in the mint and lemon zest. Saute the peas until heated through (approximately 2 to 3 minutes). Season with salt to taste. Serve immediately.

What better way to celebrate spring than with refreshing mint, sweet sugar snap peas, and a zest of lemon! ... Maybe mint mojitos?

Psst... I used spearmint from the garden, the most accessible variety.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Old Fashioned Cake that Never Goes out of Style

You know something is good when you just can't stop talking about it; to the point where people start wondering if you're crazy or the cake really is that awesome. My mom and I visited Ramekins Bed & Breakfast and Cooking School in Sonoma last weekend. We participated in 3 classes: Splendor of Spring, Gnocchi & Ravioli Making and Thai Food. Although I felt like I had eaten for 3 that weekend, the scenery in Sonoma was amazing and the cooking classes were definitely worth those 5 extra pounds I'd be taking back to San Francisco with me.

The Splendor of Spring Class was my favorite. It elegantly incorporated Spring flavors into pretty basic recipes. One of the recipes was this amazing Old Fashioned Rhubarb Cake. Like a lot of the recipes I blog about, this cake can take on many personalities - from the fruit you mix into it to the sauce you top it off with. Although it calls for Rhubarb, we used strawberries. There was also the discussion of using peaches come peach season. But, really, the possibilities are endless. Once you perfect the basic dough, you are golden.

Old Fashioned Cake with Minted Strawberry Sauce
adapted from Therese Nugent's Recipe, March 2009
Sauce Ingredients
1 16 ounce basket fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh mint, minced

Cake Ingredients
1/2 cup spectrum shortening at room temperature
1 egg at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 cups fresh fruit of choice (Rhubarb or Strawberries), chopped

For the crackle topping
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar

For the sauce: In a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice and cook until the sugar is dissolved. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and stir in the mint. Cover and chill until cold, best if chilled over night.

For the Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13'' baking dish with shortening and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine shortening, egg, buttermilk, vanilla extract and the 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar. Mix together well. Add the flour, baking soda and salt and mix well. Fold in the fruit and spread the batter in a baking dish. In a small bowl, whisk together the cinnamon and 1/2 cup sugar. Sprinkle the topping over the batter (you may not use it all). Bake for 30 minutes or until a cake taster inserted in the middle comes out clean. Serve slices of cake with a heaping scoop of the mint strawberry sauce. You will never forget it!

Psst... the best way to hull strawberries while preserving the most fruit, is with a tomato shark