All Hail Asparagus, Spring is just around the corner

  So I walk into the produce section of my favorite green grocer and what do I spy? Why asparagus at .99 a pound. Are they kidding me? .99 a pound? Sign me up and shut the door, I’m all in for this special. As if in a daze my cart magically makes its way over to the stand and I find myself loading bundle after bundle of that sweet stalk of green goodness into my cart.

By the time I get out of my chlorophyll induced stupor I’m in my kitchen, the proud owner of 10 pounds of the stuff and no real plan on how to use it up before it starts to wilt. My plan, take a deep breath, do a little recipe research and cook up a storm.

Asparagus is one of Mother Nature’s finest gifts and is a sure sign that spring has sprung. It’s a part of the lily family and is sort of a first cousin to onions, leeks and garlic. Loaded with vitamins A, B and C it’s also a great source for folic acid, it’s at its best from May through June so now is the best time to stock up and chow down. It is a very versatile vegetable that can be prepared by steaming, roasting, grilling or even stir frying it. The spears should be firm and green with tightly closed firm tips. Choose thin or thick stalks is just a matter of personal preference, I don’t really taste a difference between the two. Pass up asparagus with thick woody looking stalks.  I don’t peel the stalks but I do cut off about 1/2 inch of the ends before cooking.

If you’d like a little variety in your life look for white or purple asparagus. They’re the same as the green variety they’ve just been grown differently; the white is grown like some mushrooms, without light so it doesn’t produce chlorophyll. You will find that the white asparagus is a tad bit sweeter but so is the price point. The purple is pretty but it does loose most of its purple color when cooked.

I’ve started cooking and don’t plan on stopping until the last stalk is devoured and invite you to do the same with these terrific recipes

 

GRILLED ASPARAGUS MOCK CRAB TART (dairy)

1lb. asparagus, cut into 1/3’s and grilled slightly

1/4 cup butter or margarine

4 to 5 portabella mushrooms chopped

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 cup bread crumbs

3 tablespoon parmesan cheese, divided

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 cups shredded Munster or pepper jack cheese

1/2 lb mock crab shredded or chopped

8 ounces vegetable cream cheese

4 eggs

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped or 2 teaspoons dried

Preheat oven to 375. Grease a 13×9-inch glass baking dish with cooking spray. In a skillet melt the butter. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently for about 6 or 7 minutes. Remove the mushrooms and garlic from the heat and add the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and pepper.  Mix to combine and then press mushroom mixture evenly in bottom and up side of greased pan. Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the mushroom crust. Place the asparagus and mock crab on top of the cheese. In a bowl of an electric mixer combine the cream cheese, eggs and 1 tablespoon of the parsley. Beat to combine and so that there are no lumps. Pour the egg mixture over the asparagus and crabmeat. Sprinkle the top with the 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes then serve. Serves 8.

Modified from about.com

 

PUFFED ASPARAGUS AND LOX BITES (dairy)

1 lb fresh asparagus ends cut off, steamed till just crisp tender

1 package puff pastry dough (2 sheets), defrosted

1 cup shredded pepper jack or Swiss cheese

1/4 lb lox, cut into bite size pieces

1/4 cup green onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons melted butter

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 400. Place a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Open puff pastry dough and cut each sheet into 1/3’s. Then cut each strip into 1/3’s. Roll each section out slightly so they form rectangles. On each section, lengthwise, place a few stalks of cooked asparagus on one edge, sprinkle some cheese, lox and green onions on top of the asparagus and then roll them up. Place the rolls, seam side down on the cookie sheet. Brush the top of each roll with the melted butter and sprinkle the top with a few sesame seeds. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until roll ups are golden browned. Remove from the oven and let cool for 2 to 3 minutes. Cut each roll in half and serve. Serves 6 to 8.

ASPARAGUS POPOVERS (dairy)

1 lb asparagus

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup milk

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1/2 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 pinch sugar

3 ounces gruyere cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 425. In a medium saucepan, add 2 inched of salted water; bring to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water, then pat dry with paper towels. Cut the spears crosswise into thirds. In a medium cast-iron skillet, add the butter. Place the skillet in the oven to melt the butter. In a medium bowl, microwave the milk on high for 30 seconds. Whisk in the eggs, then the flour, salt, pepper, and sugar. Add the asparagus pieces to the hot cast-iron skillet and pour the batter on top. Sprinkle with half of the cheese and bake until puffed and golden-brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Top with the remaining cheese. Recipe makes 24 pieces

From the May 2008 issue of Everyday with Rachael Ray

ASPARAGUS TID BITS (dairy)

1 lb asparagus cut into bite size pieces

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 lb smoked white fish, broken into bite size pieces

12 oz gruyere cheese, sliced

1 loaf French bread, sliced in to 1/2-inch slices

1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil

kosher salt, to taste

pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Saute the asparagus in the olive oil until it’s just soft and set it aside. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. With a pastry brush, lightly brush the top of the slices of French bread with olive oil. Place the oiled pieces, oil side up on the parchment paper, season with salt and pepper. Bake for about 5 to 7 minutes until golden. Place a small piece of white fish on top of the toasted French bread, then put two to three pieces of asparagus, and top with one small slice of gruyere, Grind a little pepper on top, return to the oven for 2 minutes or just until the cheese melts. Serve immediately. Makes 12 to 14 pieces.

ASPARAGUS STRATA (dairy)

You can vary the amount of cheese according to your taste

1 to 1 1/2 lbs. fresh asparagus, cut into bite size pieces

2 carrots shredded

1 to 2 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper

6 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup flour

3 cups milk or 1/2 and 1/2

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (for sauce)

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Salt and pepper

6 large par boiled lasagna noodles

1 to 1 1/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

3/4 to 1 cup grated Romano cheese

1/3 to 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425. Place the asparagus and shredded carrots on a cookie sheet with sides and toss them with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 8 to 10 minutes until they just begin to soften. Cool slightly and set them aside. In a large saucepan melt the butter and add the flour and whisk briskly and constantly until it’s combined. Cook for about 2 minutes whisking constantly. Add the milk and continue whisking and cooking until the sauce is thickened. Reduce the heat and add the nutmeg, 3/4 cup parmesan cheese and garlic. Stir until cheese is melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove sauce from the heat. In a 9 X 13 pan, spread a few tablespoons of the sauce on the bottom. Top with 3 noodles then top with 1/3 of the roasted asparagus and carrot mixture. Sprinkle a little parmesan Romano and mozzarella cheese over the top of the asparagus. Spoon 1/3 of the sauce over the cheese. Top with a layer of 3 lasagna noodles. Repeat the layers asparagus, cheese, sauce. Top the sauce on the top of the strata with the remaining cheeses. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes or until the top is golden and the sides are bubbly. Let the cool for about 15 to 20 minutes before serving. Serves 8.

Submitted by Corrine Rasterty, Finley NJ

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ASPARAGUS AND ONIONS HOT POT (dairy)

1 lb of fresh asparagus, cut into bite size pieces

1 large onion, chopped into bite size pieces

1 tablespoon minced garlic

3 tablespoons of butter, divided

2 tablespoons of flour

1 cup of milk

1/2 cup cream cheese

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon of salt

pepper to taste

1/2 cup shredded pepper jack cheese, shredded.

1 cup of panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 2 quart baking dish. In a skillet melt 1 tablespoon of butter and saute the asparagus, garlic and onion until just slightly wilted. Put the mixture into the greased pan. In a saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter, add the flour and stir until smooth. Add the milk and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is thickened and smooth. Add the cream cheese, chili powder, salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce over the asparagus and onion mixture. Mix to combine. Sprinkle the top with the cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake uncovered for 35 to 40 minutes or until bubbly and the cheese is melted. Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish.

MAPLE GLAZED ASPARAGUS (pareve)

1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Paprika

2 tablespoons maple syrup

Preheat oven to 450. Line the cookie sheet with foil. Place the asparagus spears on a rimmed cookie sheet. Drizzle the olive oil and maple syrup over the top. Toss to make sure all the spears are coated. Lightly sprinkle the asparagus with the paprika, salt and pepper. Roast the asparagus for 8 to 10 minutes then turn it over and cook for another 2 minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.

ASPARAGUS AND PASTA SALAD (dairy)

6 to 8 slices Morning Star Farm ® fake bacon, cut into bite size pieces

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 red pepper chopped

1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced

1 1/2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and cut on a long diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices

1 lb. bow tie pasta, cooked according to the package directions, save 1 cup of the water used in cooking

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Parmesan for serving

Cook the Morning Star Farm ® fake bacon in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a fry pan until it’s crispy and brown. Drain on paper towels and but keep the oil in the pan. Saute the onion, mushrooms and red pepper in the skillet for about 5 minutes. Add the asparagus and continue cooking for 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the drained pasta and 1/2 cup of the water to the vegetable mixture. Mix to combine, scraping the bottom to remove the cooked on bits of vegetable. Cook for 1 minute and add the remaining water and 1/2 cup parmesan. Mix to combine and cook for 2 more minutes. Place the pasta mixture in a serving bowl, add the cooked Morning Star Farm® fake bacon and toss to combine. Serve with additional parmesan. Serves 6 to 8

Modified from an old Gourmet Magazine recipe

Make Mine Mac & Cheese/ Kosher Recipes

There’s something about digging into a bowl of macaroni and cheese that brings out the kid in all of us. With car pools, busy schedules and extracurricular galore we’ve all defaulted to whipping up the boxed variety and calling it dinner more often than we’d probably like to admit. It’s nice to know, however, that if you take that extra 10 or 15 minutes of time the made from scratch variety of macaroni and cheese (or a doctored boxed version) can become a gourmet dish with unlimited potential to please everyone from a finicky whiney hungry four year old to the finicky whiney hungry four year old within us all.

So what makes the difference between a so-so macaroni and cheese recipe and a great one? The cheeses used, the pasta used and the method you use to prepare it.

Elbow macaroni pasta is the traditional pasta used in macaroni and cheese (duh) but you can actually substitute any type of cooked pasta that you like. Some styles will work better than others. Smaller curved shapes, like cork screw, bow tie and shell are great alternatives to elbow macaroni and hold on to the cheese sauce better than  spaghetti or angel hair pasta.  Cheddar is usually the cheese of choice. You can choose from yellow or white cheddar and sharp or mild cheddar. All work great. American cheese is another popular choice. Note, however, American cheese is a processed product (additives, preservatives etc) and is a fairly bland cheese flavor compared to Cheddar. Swiss, Gouda and Havarti cheeses are better choices but they give the cheese sauce a very different flavor. Parmesan can be used but should be used in conjunction with other cheeses. Of course, you can always combine any of the above cheeses to suit your taste.

The white sauce method is considered the classic version of macaroni and cheese. It starts with a white sauce (butter, flour, and milk) with cheese added to the hot sauce. This method is usually baked. The layered method is created when cooked noodles and grated cheeses are layered in a baking dish, then covered with milk and baked. The stovetop method is never baked. It’s prepared on the stove and served immediately.

So what’s the very best macaroni and cheese recipe? The answer is which ever one is in front of you right now. The following recipes are all easy to prepare, run the gamut from mellow to spicy and best of all, can be on the table in 30 to 40 minutes.

 

MACARONI AND CHEESE PIZZA

This is a guilty pleasure meal that my children loved to make when they were first learning how to cook.

 

2 boxes of packaged macaroni and cheese mix
2 eggs
2 cups readymade pizza sauce
1 1/2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375. Place a sheet of aluminum foil on a cookie sheet and set it aside. Cook macaroni and cheese as directed on the box. Add the eggs to the mixture and mix to combine. Spread the mixture on the prepared cookie sheet, making sure to spread the mixture so that it’s no more than about an inch thick. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and spread the pizza sauce over the top. Sprinkle the cheeses over the top. Return the “pizza” to the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the cheese on top is bubbly and lightly golden. Serves 6.

SPICY MACARONI AND CHEESE

This recipe is based on one I originally saw in Gourmet Magazine. I tweaked it a little and came up with something really spicy and delicious.

 

1 1/2 cups finely chopped leeks

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon chili powder (or more to taste)

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

4 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup flour

4 cups milk

1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes, well drained

1 pound elbow macaroni

1 1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack

1 1/2 cups grated sharp Cheddar

1 1/2 cups cracker crumbs

1 cup grated Parmesan

 

Preheat oven to 375. Grease a 9X13 pan and set it aside. In a large heavy saucepan combine the butter, leeks, the garlic, chili powder and the cumin and cook, over a low heat, stirring, until the onion becomes soft. When the onions are soft stir in the flour, and cook the mixture, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the milk to the onion mixture, whisking constantly. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly and then whisk in the tomatoes. Simmer the mixture for 2 minutes and add the salt and pepper to taste.

 

In boiling salted water cook the macaroni for 6 to 7 minutes, or until it is barely al dente, drain it well. Place the cooked macaroni in a large bowl. Add the tomato mixture. Stir in the Monterey Jack and the Cheddar cheese. Spoon the mixture in the prepared pan. In another bowl combine the bread crumbs and the Parmesan. Sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly over the top of the macaroni mixture. Place the casserole in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until it is golden and bubbling. Serves 6 to 8.

BROCCOLI AND CHEESE WITH MACARONI

16 ounces elbow macaroni
2 cups broccoli florets fresh or frozen
8 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons four
4 cups milk
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
1/2 cup bread crumbs

 

Grease a 9 x 9 inch glass baking dish. Preheat oven to 375. In a medium saucepan, cook macaroni according to package directions, until al dente, or still slightly firm. Drain well. Fill another saucepan 3/4 full with water. Bring water to a boil, add broccoli, reduce heat to medium and cook until al dente; Drain the broccoli and set it aside. In a medium sized saucepan melt the butter. Over a medium heat add the flour, stirring for 1 minute until the mixture is smooth. Gradually whisk in the milk, stirring continually until thickened, about 3 minutes, remove the sauce from the heat.  Set aside 1/2 cup cheddar cheese. Stir the remaining Cheddar, Gruyere, Parmesan, salt, and cayenne into the sauce until the cheeses melt. Add the cooked macaroni and broccoli to sauce. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Bake 15 minutes. Sprinkle the top with reserved cheddar and bread crumbs. Bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until the mixture is bubbly. Serves 6 to 8.

 

BAKED MAC AND CHEESE DECADENCE

 

2 cups medium shell pasta
4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons butter, plus 2 tbsp. for topping
2 cups milk
1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
3 cups shredded/grated cheese (I cup Cheddar, 1 cup Gruyere, 1 cup Parmesan)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 teaspoon dried thyme

 

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9X13 casserole dish and set it aside. Cook pasta according to package directions until just under al dente. Drain well and set aside.  In a large saucepan melt the 4 tablespoons of butter. Add the flour and whisk to combine. Cook 1 minute, whisking and then whisk in the milk, whisking continually until the mixture is smooth. Continue cooking and as soon as it thickens add the nutmeg and stir. Add the cheeses a little bit at a time, stirring continually until the cheese is melted and combined. Add the cooked pasta to the cheese mixture and mix well to combine. Pour the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish. Combine the rosemary and thyme with the breadcrumbs and spread evenly over the top, coating well. Break up the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter into small pieces and sprinkle them over the top of the breadcrumbs.  Bake, uncovered, until the top is browned and the sauce is bubbling. About 30 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.

 

OOEY GOOEY MAC AND CHEESE

Marshall Shafkowitz, chef at Le Cordon Bleu created this recipe and this is my variation of his version. Be warned this recipe is not for the calorie conscious.

 

1 gallon of milk

1 of shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 pound smoked Gouda

12 tablespoons of butter

1 cup flour

2 cups saltine crackers, crushed

salt and pepper

1 pound uncooked Macaroni or corkscrew pasta

 

Fill a large pot 1/2 way with hot water. Add a pinch of salt and bring the water to a boil. When the water boils add the noodles and cook at a slow boil.

 

Pour the milk into another large pot and bring it to a simmer. While the milk is heating melt the butter in a skillet. When the butter is completely melted add the flour all at once and whisk to combine and the mixture pulls away from the side of the skillet. As soon as this happens remove the mixture from the heat and put the mixture to a large bowl.

 

Preheat oven to 350. Take roughly 2 cups of the hot milk and pour it over the flour/ butter mixture and whisk until the mixture is combined. When this mixture is smooth add it to the remaining hot milk and whisk until combined. Let the milk mixture cook, over a low heat, for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

 

Drain your pasta and then place it in a casserole dish. Slowly add the cheese to the milk mixture. Stir continually to prevent burning on the bottom of the pan. When all the cheese is mixed in season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the cheese mixture over the pasta and stir until all the pasta is coated with sauce. Sprinkle the crushed crackers on the top of the casserole and bake for 5 to 10 minutes. Serves 8 to 10.

 

SOUTHWEST MAC AND CHEESE

 

2 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup diced onions

1/2 to 1 cup red, yellow and green bell peppers, finely diced

1 to 2 teaspoons chili powder

1 1/2 cups milk

2 cups whipping cream

2 cups shredded Monterey Jack or Pepper Jack cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 large can, white albacore tuna, in water, drained

3/4 teaspoon salt, to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 pound penne or other pasta, cooked according to package directions and drained

1/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup slice green onions, including green part

In a large saute pan combine the butter onions, chili powder and peppers and saute, over a low heat until vegetables begin to soften and turn golden, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the milk and cream in the sauce pan and bring the mixture it to a simmer. Add the cheeses and stir well until the cheeses are completely melted. Add the tuna and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Season with salt and pepper.  Continue to simmer another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the drained pasta and mix well. Place the mixture in serving bowl and top with a dollop sour cream. Garnish with the sliced green onions. Serves 6 to 8.

 

Asparagus and Artichoke/ Spring has Sprung Recipes

Every spring as I start to approach that dreaded day, (no, not April 15 or the last day of school for my kids) where I have to make the decision as to whither or not to actually purchase that new swim suit I’ve been trying to avoid for the past 3 years (deciding to actually put it on and then go outside in it is another column relating to nervous breakdowns).
I look back at all the candy bar breakfasts, french fry and or pizza lunches, and milk shake and corn chip dinners that I snarfed my way through this last winter and I think, “WAS I OUT OF MY MIND?!?”
I know, that unlike my sister Lois, who’s mottos is “I never met a swim suit I liked (or who liked me)” and “Control Top forever” that I’ll inevitably get into that “Oh yeah, it’s spring, I’d better start eating right, diet” mind set.
This isn’t actually that much of a hardship as it might appear to be. Right now, I know that the 2 vegetables that I love the most but ignore most of the year because they’re SOOOOOO expensive can be mine at bargain prices (rain, floods and other natural disasters inCalifornia not with standing). Every produce section I’ve visited in the last few weeks has been full to overflowing with my produce pals the Artichoke and Asparagus.

For inquiring minds the artichoke is a native of theMediterranean. It’s also a perennial in the thistle group of the sunflower (Compositae) family. The “vegetable” that we eat is actually the plant’s flower bud. The Asparagus is a member of the Lily family and its spears grow from a crown that is planted about a foot deep in sandy soils.

When choosing an artichoke it should look compact, (not necessarily small) plump, have the leaves tightly packed and have an even green color overall. The asparagus should have firm stems, tight closed leaves at the end and should be a bright green. (If you’re lucky enough to find the white variety of asparagus grab it quickly. It’s very difficult to find in the United States. It may cost a small fortune but once you taste it you’ll be forever hooked.

BASIC COOKING INSTRUCTIONS
If the asparagus is more than 1/4 inch thick, peel it if you like. Snap or trim the bottom base off (about 1 inch from the bottom) and rinse. Gently steam or boil the asparagus until it’s crisp tender. Serve immediately if you wish to serve it hot. Rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process if you wish to serve it cold. You can also roast it with a little olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Serve it crisp tender, hot, warm or room temperature.
Rinse the artichoke. Cut off the tip of each large leaf. Then cut off the top 1/2 to 3/4 inch of the artichoke with a sharp knife. Cut off the bottom 1/2 inch of the stem. Boil or steam the artichokes in a covered pot. Cook 30 to 40 minutes at a rolling boil or until the outer leaves pull away easily. Remove from heat and serve either hot or cold with butter or other sauces for dipping. To eat. Pull off the leaves, dip the meaty bottom part of the leaf in the dipping sauce and bite off. You can remove all the leaves and just eat the bottom or heart of the artichoke. You must however remove the top part of the  heart (small bitter leaves and filaments in the center) before you can eat the bottom portion. Fresh artichoke taste wonderful, however if you need to use a large amount for a recipe the canned or frozen variety work almost as well.

 

Now is the time to grab these first offerings of spring and go for the gusto.

SESAME ASPARAGUS
1 lb. fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut diagonally into thirds
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup finely diced red bell pepper
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted*

Cook asparagus in a large pot or frying pan of boiling water till crisp-tender, about 3-5 minutes.  Drain and rinse asparagus under cold water.  Drain well.

Heat vegetable oil in  a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add bell pepper and stir 1 minute.  Add asparagus and sauté till heated through, about 2 minutes.  Add soy sauce and sesame oil.  Toss till asparagus and bell pepper are coated.  Transfer to platter and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

* To toast sesame seeds, place them in a toaster oven on a metal pan and toast 1-2 cycles, till lightly browned and popping.  Alternatively, place in a frying pan over medium heat and cook, stirring, till lightly browned and popping. Serves 4.

 

FETTUCCINI WITH SMOKED SALMON AND ASPARAGUS

8- to 9-oz dried egg fettuccine
1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon drained bottled horseradish
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
6 to 8 oz smoked salmon, cut into 1/2-inch-wide ribbons

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water according to package instructions. Add asparagus to pot for last 3 minutes of pasta-cooking time.
While asparagus is boiling, heat cream, horseradish, and dill in a large skillet over moderate heat just until hot, about 1 minute. Drain pasta and asparagus and add to cream mixture, tossing. Gently toss in salmon and season with salt and pepper. Serves 6

For a lighter sauce, you can replace 1/3 cup of the cream with an equal amount of the pasta-cooking water

From  Epicurious.com

ASPARAGUS PASTA SALAD

4 ounces uncooked pasta, bow tie style
1/2 half pound of asparagus spears, cut up, steamed crisp tender
1/2 cup shredded carrots
4 teaspoons chopped green onions
8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

1/4 to 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup Herb Vinaigrette
salad greens
4 hard cooked eggs cut into quarters

 

Vinaigrette:

2/3 cup wine vinegar

2/3 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon basil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain in cold water and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the pasta, asparagus, carrot, green onions and cheeses. Add the dressing and toss lightly. Spoon onto salad greens and garnish with egg quarters.  Serves 8.

 

For the vinaigrette: combine all the ingredients in a jar with lid and shake well. Makes 1 1/3 cups

SMOKED WHITE FISH AND ASPARAGUS SALAD

12 new potatoes cut in half or quarters depending on their size
1 pound asparagus, cooked crisp tender and cooled and cut in 1/3’s
1 pound smoked white fish, broken into small pieces
1 head shredded red leaf lettuce
4 to 5 hard cooked eggs
2 to 3 tomato cut into wedges
2/3 cup tarragon vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 bay leave
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Cook potatoes in boiling water until fork tender, about 15 minutes. Drain well and set aside.   Combine the vinegar, oil tarragon, bay leaf, garlic and salt and pepper in a jar with a lid and shake well. While the potatoes are still slightly warm slice them and arrange them in the bottom of a shallow dish. Add the asparagus. Remove the bay leaf from the dressing and drizzle 1/4 of the dressing over the asparagus and potatoes. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours. To serve place the lettuce on the serving plate and arrange the marinated vegetables on top. Then place the white fish chunks, tomatoes wedges and egg wedges on the top. Drizzle the remaining dressing on the top. Serves 8

ORANGEAND ARTICHOKE SALAD

6  cooked artichoke hearts
1/2 tablespoon margarine
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind
2 oranges, peeled, and segmented
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and pepper
salad greens
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Saute the garlic in the margarine and place in a small bowl. Cut the hearts into quarters and set aside. Add the oil, orange juice, grated orange rind and the lemon juice to the garlic. Mix well and season to taste with salt and pepper. Combine the orange segments and the artichoke hearts in a large bowl and drizzle the sauce over. Let set for at least 1 hour. To serve: arrange the artichoke and oranges on the salad greens and sprinkle with the parsley. Serves 4. This can be doubled.

TICKLISH ARTICHOKES
10 artichoke hearts, uncooked and halved
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove of garlic
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
toasted pine nuts
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced

Soak the artichoke hearts in the lemon juice, salt and water for approx 1 hour. Pour them and the liquid in which they were steeped in a pot with the oil, garlic, and sugar. Simmer gently until tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the artichokes to a serving dish. Thicken the sauce with cornstarch and pour over the hearts. Cool sprinkle with pine nuts and parsley and serve cold as a side dish. Serves 4 this can be doubled.

 

BABY ARTICHOKE CHICKEN SAUTE

 

16 baby artichokes

1/4 cup olive oil

4 half chicken breasts, skinned, boned and cut into chunks

2 red or yellow onions, sliced thick

4 cloves garlic minced

1 tablespoon each chopped fresh basil and rosemary or 1 teaspoon each dried

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 pound fettuccine, cooked and drained

Prepare artichokes as directed (see Basic Preparation); cut into halves. Brown chicken in large skillet with 2 tablespoons oil.  Remove the chicken from the pan and set it aside. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pan and saute the onions until tender. Add the artichokes to the skillet with garlic, basil and rosemary. Cook until artichokes are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in browned chicken and drizzle with chicken broth; heat thoroughly. Salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Serve over hot fettuccine. Makes 4 servings. This recipe can be doubled or tripled.

Cilantro, Love it or Hate it/ Recipes for Everyone

There are very few things in the world of herbs and spices that evokes as strong an opinion and feelings as those generated by cilantro. Love it or hate it, it is a fundamental flavor/ingredient in many a recipe. I freely admit that I belong to the not so fond of it group. To me, the taste is sort of a cross between parsley and soap. Still I do find it occasionally does really perk up a dish and that quite a few of my readers adore the stuff. I’ve always know that cilantro is part of the coriander plant and is sometimes referred to as Chinese parsley but what I didn’t know is that it is front and center in recipes from around the world.

Coriander is used in Middle Eastern/Mediterranean, Central and South American, Indian, Thai, Mexican, Chinese and African cuisine and so is cilantro.  You can get cilantro year around and it looks a lot like flat-leaf parsley. The best way to tell if what you’re getting is cilantro is to smell it. The leaves should be bright and crisp (avoid the wilted stuff). You can store it in the refrigerator for up to a week. Just cut off the ends and plunk it in a jar or glass of water and cover it loosely with a plastic bag. I suggest that you change out the water every other day.  You can, of course, store it in a plastic bag but it won’t stay as fresh.

There are health benefits associated with eating cilantro and it’s considers a really good addition to any diet due to its anti-inflammatory and cholesterol lowering properties. It also been shown to help lower blood pressure and is a good source of fiber, magnesium and iron.

So, even though I’m not cilantro’s biggest fan I have tons of readers who can’t live without the stuff. The following recipes are all just a little different and use cilantro in really wonderful ways.

CILANTRO CORN AND CHICKEN DIP

 

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, grilled, cooled and cut into bite sized pieces

Salt and pepper to taste

1 to 2 avocados, diced

2 tomatoes, seeded and diced

2 cups fresh or frozen corn

1 red pepper diced

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 to 1 teaspoon cumin

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 teaspoon grated lime zest

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1/8 teaspoon chili powder

 

In a bowl combine the chicken, avocado, corn, tomato, red pepper, oregano, cumin, cilantro, lime zest, lime juice, and chili paste. Mix together gently. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with corn chips or pita.  Serves 6 to 8

 

AVOCADO AND CILANTRO PASTA

 

2 1/2 cups pasta shells or bow tie pasta

4 cups chicken stock or 1/2 stock and 1/2 water

4 stalks celery, finely chopped

2 avocados mashed

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves

1 cup white cheddar, grated

1/2 to 1 cup pine nuts, toasted

 

DRESSING:

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

2/3 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice

Zest of 1 lemon or lime, grated

1/2 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

cilantro leaves for garnish

 

Cook the pasta in the stock until al dente about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain. Place pasta into a large bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon of the oil. In another combine the celery, avocado, garlic, and cilantro and set it aside. Make the dressing by combining all of the ingredients in a small bowl or tightly lidded jar. Whisk or shake until well combined. Toss the dressing with the celery/avocado mixture. When the pasta has cooled add the dressing to the pasta and stir to coat. Add the cheese and pine nuts and toss gently again. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with the cilantro leaves. Can be refrigerated and served later or served immediately at room temperature. Serves 6

 

Modified from Cooking with Herbs & Spices

 

CILANTRO CHICKEN WITH ZUCCHINI AND CREAMY PASTA

 

2 to 3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1/3 cup lime juice

1 small bunch cilantro, chopped and divided in half

1/3 cup olive oil

12 oz ziti pasta cooked and drained according to package directions

2 medium zucchini, diced

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 diced tomatoes

6 green onions, diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese

16 oz whipping cream

pepper, to taste

 

Cook In a plastic sealable bag combine 1/2 the cilantro, lime juice and olive oil. Add the chicken breasts, close and marinate in the refrigerator for an hour, turning once. Remove chicken from marinade and cook in a grill pan until just done, turning about half way through cooking. When done, remove from pan and cut into bite size pieces. In a skillet, while the chicken is cooking saute the zucchini with the tablespoon of oil until the zucchini is just starting to soften. Add the tomatoes, remaining cilantro and garlic. Simmer for 4 or 5 minutes. In another pan the cream to a simmer and then add it to the vegetables and simmer on low for 2 or 3 minutes stirring constantly. Add the pasta to the vegetable mixture and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove the pasta and vegetable mixture from the heat and add the chicken pieces and the Parmesan and toss to combine. Place in a serving bowl and garnish with the green onions. Serves 4 to 6.

 

 

SIZZLING SZECHUAN BEANS

 

2 cups oil, plus 1 tablespoon

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 ounce hot chili garlic sauce

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

1 tablespoon white wine

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1 pound green beans, cleaned

2 tablespoons chopped peanuts

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves

 

In a Dutch oven heat 2 cups of oil to 350. In medium saute pan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon oil. Add ginger and saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute or until it turns light brown; quickly add soy sauce, chili sauce, rice wine vinegar, hoisin, mirin, sesame oil and cilantro.

 

Fry the green beans in the canola oil for about 45 seconds, or until beans turn dark green. Remove, strain, and add to sauce. Toss and garnish with peanuts and parsley. Serves 4 to 6.

 

Modified from the FoodNetwork.com

ORANGE CILANTRO SLAW

 

1/3 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed

1/3 cup rice wine vinegar

1/3 cup oil

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 (8-ounce) bags coleslaw mix

2 cups fresh or frozen corn

1 cup shredded carrots

1 red pepper, chopped fine

6 medium green onions, thinly sliced

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 cup mandarine oranges, drained

 

In a bowl combine the orange juice concentrate, vinegar, and oils in small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. This dressing can be made ahead of time and refrigerated.

 

In a large bowl combine the coleslaw mix, oranges corn, carrots, red bell, sliced green onions, and cilantro. Toss with enough dressing to coat. Season slaw to taste with salt and pepper. Let stand 15 minutes for flavors to blend. Toss again and serve.

 

Submitted by Candi Simmons Boca Raton FL modified from epicurious.com

 

SALMON WITH PECAN CILANTRO PESTO

 

1 cup pecans, chopped and toasted and divided in half

2 1/2 cups chopped cilantro

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

4 6- to 7-ounce salmon fillets, with skin

 

Season salmon with salt and pepper and set them aside.  In the bowl of a food processor, combine 1/2 the pecans, cilantro, cheese, stock and vinegar and process to a puree. With the machine running gradually add the olive oil in a thin stream. Season the pesto with salt and pepper. In an oiled grill pan grill the salmon until done, about 4 minutes on each side. When done place the salmon on a plate and top with a dollop of the pecan pesto. Garnish with the remaining toasted pecans Serves 4.

 

Submitted by Raymond Liturie Chicago IL

 

KRAZY COUSCOUS

 

1 to 1 1/2 cup chopped onion

2 teaspoons minced garlic

6 to 8 sliced mushrooms

2 tablespoons cooking oil

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 cup vegetable or chicken broth

3/4 cup peas

3/4 cup coarsely chopped tomatoes

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

3/4 cup couscous

Fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)

 

In a large saucepan saute the onion, mushrooms and garlic in the oil until the onion is tender. Add the cumin and cook, stirring constantly for about 1 minute. Add the broth, peas, tomato and cilantro. Bring the mixture to a boil and add the couscous. Stir over the heat for 1 minute, cover and then remove from the heat. Let stand for 5 to 7 minutes. Uncover and spoon the mixture into a serving dish and garnish with extra cilantro if desired. Serves 6

 

HONEY CILANTRO DRUMBSTICKS

 

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

1 tablespoon minced cilantro

1/4 cup honey

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon dried ginger

12 chicken drumsticks

2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

Cilantro sprigs for garnish

 

Mix the hoisin sauce, cilantro, honey, sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic and ginger in a large bowl to blend. Use a sharp knife score the drumsticks in at least 4 or 5 places. Add the chicken to the marinade and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour but preferably overnight. Preheat the oven to broil and place the rack in the top 1/3 of the oven. Line a large rimmed cookie sheet with heavy-duty foil. Place the drumsticks on the foil covered pan and broil for 15 to 20 minutes turning every 4 or 5 minutes to make sure they don’t burn.  When the drumsticks are done, place them on a serving platter and garnish with the sesame seeds and cilantro. Serves 4 to 6.

Groovy and Gourmet Grilled Cheese

I just discovered that there’s a nation grilled cheese month (April). Who’d a thunk it? Obviously a cheese board somewhere. With the two simple core ingredients of bread and cheese, the grilled cheese sandwich innately lends itself to added bells and whistles. Meat, veggies, chocolate, fruit or even the kitchen sink if you feel so inclined.

Personally I don’t want to wait till the spring to have myself one of those ooey gooey melt in your mouth sandwiches. I took it upon myself (on my readers behalf, of course) to research the best of the best, over the top, can’t wait to stuff it all in my mouth at once grilled cheese delights.

Be warned, these are not your grandma’s grilled cheese sandwiches. All are gourmet and yet so simple that you’re gonna wanna try them all, just not all at once. Please  note that some of the combinations are not “kosher” becasue they mix milk and meat. You can, of course substitute smoked salmon or white fish for any  meat products or leave them out all together.

GOLDEN GATE GRILLED CHEESE

2 tablespoons softened butter

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1/4 cup milk

1 cup coarsely grated parmesan cheese

4 freshly cut slices from a sourdough loaf

6 ounces thinly sliced turkey or smoked salmon

1/2 avocado, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

2 slices Muenster cheese

In a small bowl, combine butter, garlic, and chili flakes. In a medium bowl, whisk egg and milk. Spread parmesan on a plate. In a large frying pan, melt half the seasoned butter over medium heat. Dip 1 bread slice in egg mixture, coating one side only. Dip coated side into parmesan. Place to one side in frying pan, cheese side down. Repeat with 1 of remaining bread slices. Arrange turkey, avocado, cilantro, and Muenster on slices, dividing evenly.3. Dip remaining bread into egg and then into parmesan. Arrange on sandwiches, cheese side up, and cook over medium heat until undersides are golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Lift sandwiches and add remaining butter to pan; flip and cook until second side is golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes more.

Modified from Sunset July 2009

PEAR AND GRILLED CHEESE

4 slices French or Italian loaf bread

4 slices  fake bacon strips, cooked

1 Bartlett pear, thinly sliced

2 slices provolone cheese

2 tablespoon butter

Place a slice of cheese on top of one of the slices of bread. Place few slices of pear on top and then top with, two strips of bacon, and another slice of cheese and then the last slice of bread. Repeat with the second sandwich. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a skillet and place both the sandwiches in the pan. Cook until the bread is golden. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in the skillet. Flip the sandwich over and cook until the bread is golden. Remove from the pan and serve. This recipe can be doubled or tripled. Makes 2 sandwiches.

Modified from seriouseats.com

ARTICHOKE GRILLED CHEESE

4 slices of bread

Dijon mustard

shredded cheddar cheese

1 can artichoke hearts, drained and sliced

1 jarred red peppers drained and cut to fit bread slice

2 tablespoons butter

Spread the mustard on the bread. Place a handful of shredded cheese over the top of 2 slices of the bread. Place the artichoke hearts and red peppers over the cheese then top with the remaining 2 slices of bread. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a skillet and cook until the side is golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and carefully flip the sandwich. Cook until the second side is golden and the cheese is melted. Serve immediately. Serves 2.

CRAB MELT

6 oz can crabmeat or fake crab, well drained or shredded

1/3 cup finely diced red pepper

2 green onions minced

2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar

1 stalk celery, finely diced

3 tablespoon mayonnaise

1 teaspoon pepper

4 thick slices whole wheat

butter

paprika

6 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese

In a bowl combine the crabmeat, red pepper, green onions, rice wine vinegar, mayonnaise and pepper.

Generously spread two slices of the bread with butter, dust generously with paprika, and place them butter side down in the pan. While it’s cooking place 1/4 of the cheese on each of the two slices. Spread half the crab salad on each; top with remaining cheese. Butter and sprinkle paprika on the remaining bread and place it butter side up on top of the cheese. Press down. Cook the sandwich until bottom is crispy about 3 minutes then flip if over. Cook for 2 to 3 more minutes until the bread is golden and the cheese is melted.  Makes 2 sandwiches.

Modified from about.com

CAPRESE GRILLED CHEESE

8 slices Challah or sour dough bread (1-inch thick)

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

4 (1-ounce) slices mozzarella cheese

2 (1-ounce) slices provolone cheese

3 large fresh tomatoes cut into thin slices

3/4 cup fresh basil leaves

2 avocado, pitted and thinly slices

Kosher salt and ground pepper

Heat griddle or large sauté pan over medium heat. Brush one side of each bread slice with olive oil. Brush other side of bread with balsamic vinegar. Place 4 slices of bread, oil side down, on the griddle. Layer the mozzarella and provolone tomato, basil and avocado on the top of the bread. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with the remaining 4 slices of bread. Cook until bread is golden brown and cheese is slightly melted, 3 to 4 minutes, flip once cook until the bread is golden, serves 4.

Modified from the grilledcheeseacademy.com/  created by Alison Lewis

So Many Delicious Cheeses and Lots of Recipes Too

How good (or bad) a party is often defined by the food you serve as well as the company you invite. The people I can’t help you with (unless you include me and then all bets are truly off) you might want to consider serving cheeses as part of the appetizers and possibly even the desserts.  Cheese is easy to serve and by getting a wide variety of different flavors and kinds you’ll be able to tempt the palette of just about everyone. You may want to forget your preconceived notions about cheese if they revolve around the cheddar you use for Mac and cheese and the mozzarella you top you pizza with.  You’ll want to open your mind (and wallet) to the possibilities of cheeses from around the world.

Cheese platter 101 begins with the idea that you will want both soft and hard cheeses which will run the gamut from mild and mellow tasting ones to the stronger more pungent flavored cheeses.Cheeses come from milk and the usual suspects that provide that milk are cows, sheep and goats. Cheeses are typically categorized and are usually described as gentle, sharp and strong and can have a rind or not. Younger cheeses tend to be mild, soft, and moist.  As cheeses age, they become more pungent, hard, and crumbly.

Fresh: These cheeses don’t have rinds. Examples are goat cheese, fresh mozzarella, Ricotta, Feta and cream cheese.

Semi-Soft:  A little firmer than fresh you melt well. Look for Gouda, queso asadero, Limburger, Provolone, Havarti and Monterey Jack.

Semi hard : can also be called semi-firm and the top three that I like in this category are Cheddar, Edam Beaufort, Cheshire and Gruyere. The can be grated fairly easily.

Hard cheeses:  cheese like a Parmesan, Sapsago and aged Asiago are very popular and easy to find.

Washed Rind: Cheeses like Tallegio, Limburger and Muenster have been washed or rested salty brine mixture. The brine creates an edible rind and protects the soft or semi-soft interior.

Bloom Rind: These cheeses have a soft sort of pliable rind on the outside.  Brie and Camembert are the two best known and most people ignore the rind and eat the softer inside.

Blue: The strongest flavor and smelling of the cheese. It usually falls into one of two categories, can’t get enough or never touch the stuff. Actual mold spores are used to create the distinctive flavor, taste and smell. Stilton and Maytag Blue, Saga Blue, Stilton, Roquefort and Gorgonzola are usually readily available.


For an attractive appetizer or dessert tray I say you should use 4 to 6 cheeses planning on about 2 to 3 ounces per guest (you will have leftovers). The cheese should be served at room temperature and I unwrap the cheese just before I serve it so that the cheese doesn’t dry out. I tend to arrange them in the order of hardness and always label them with some of their flavors and characteristics  so everyone know kind of what to expect when they pop it in their mouths. I always have a different knife or serving piece for each cheese so that the flavors don’t get confused. I have a variety of breads, crackers and fruits and dried fruits to accompany the cheeses. One other trick I’ve discovered to making cheese tasting an event rather than a chore is to pare the cheeses with wines that are made in the same region they come from.

Sometimes a cheese try just isn’t enough and you’ll feel the need to cook the cheese. The following appetizer recipes will allow you to add just enough other ingredients to keep the cheeses front and center.

PULL APART CHEESE STICKS

1 (11-ounce) can breadstick dough

1 1/2 cups shredded mild cheese mozzarella, provolone or smoked Gouda

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon oregano

About 2 cups warmed store-bought marinara sauce

Preheat oven to 375. Place parchment paper on a baking sheet.  Arrange the breadstick dough in single layer lengthwise on the parchment paper but DON’T separate the dough into individual breadsticks.  Sprinkle the cheese, basil and oregano over the top of the dough. Bake 10 to 11 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned. Remove the breadsticks from the oven. Let the breadsticks cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes. Pull apart the breadsticks and serve them with the heated marinara sauce. Makes 12. This recipe can be doubled or tripled.

TOMATO AND ONION TART APPITIZER

This can be served hot or cold

7 sheets phyllo dough, thawed

1/2 stick of butter, melted

2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 sweet onion, thinly sliced

2 cups shredded provolone or mozzarella cheese

6 plum (Roma) tomatoes cut into thick slices

8 10 fresh basil leaves, shredded or 1 tablespoon dried basil

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and spray paper with nonstick cooking spray. Lay 1 sheet phyllo dough on paper and brush lightly with a little melted butter. Sprinkle top of buttered phyllo with 1 to 2 tablespoons grated parmesan (don’t overdo it). Repeat the layering 6 more times (phyllo, butter, and cheese), making sure to press down on each sheet so it adheres to the previous layer.

When you’ve finished the layers, place the onions on top of the last layer making sure not to over load it. Sprinkle the provolone on top of the onions and then layer the tomatoes on top making sure you don’t overlap them. Sprinkle the basil (fresh or dried) over the top. Salt and pepper generously. Bake for 30 minutes and then let it cool for about 7 to 10 minutes before you cut and serve it Serves 8 to 10.

Modified and Submitted by Ronnie Smith Chicago, IL

SPINACH AND FETA MINI CALZONES

1/2 of a 17.3-ounce package Pepperidge Farm® Puff Pastry Sheets (1 sheet), thawed

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, chopped (about 1/4 cup)

1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (plain or flavored)

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400. Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until tender.  Add the spinach and cook for 3 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the heat.  Stir in the cheese and black pepper.  Let the mixture cool to room temperature.

Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface.  Roll the pastry sheet into a 12-inch square.  Cut into 16 (3-inch) squares.  Brush edges of the squares with water.  Place about 1 tablespoon spinach mixture in the center of each square.  Fold the pastry over the filling to form triangles.  Press the edges to seal.  Place the filled pastries onto a baking sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown.  Remove the pastries from the baking sheet and let cool on wire racks for 10 minutes.

Modified from Pepperidgefarm.com

CHEVRE MINI BOULES

1 large head garlic

1 small shallot

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

31/2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley

11/2 Tbsp. black sesame seeds

1 Tbsp. sesame seeds

2 Tbsp. champagne vinegar

11/2 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary

11/2 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme

Dash ground black pepper

Dash sugar

12 oz. Ile de France® La Búchette Goat cheese

French baguette, sliced

Separate garlic cloves from the head, leaving the skin on, and boil for four minutes. Drain, peel and mince garlic and shallot, and sauté in oil until golden. Keep garlic mixture in pan, and drain and discard. Add vinegar, rosemary, thyme, pepper and sugar to pan and cook for 3 minutes until liquid is evaporated. Crumble the goat cheese in medium bowl, add garlic mixture and stir until combined. Shape into 22 balls.

Place parsley, peppercorns and sesame seeds in 3 separate bowls, and roll balls in mixtures as desired. Serve with crusty French bread slices.

From Iledefrance.com

CREAM CHEESE GRAPE AND PISTACHIO

8 oz cold cream cheese

salt and pepper

16 red or green seedless grapes

3/4 cup crushed pistachios

Take a teaspoon or two of the cream cheese and mold it around each grape. Season lightly with salt and pepper and then roll it in the chopped pistachios. Place the grapes on a cookie sheet and refrigerate for at least 2 to 3 hours before serving. This is great next to a bowl of mixed nuts. If the grapes are really big you can cut them in half after they’ve chilled. Makes 16. This recipe can be doubled or tripled.

CRANBERRY ONION CREAM CHEESE BITES

1 tablespoon butter

2 cups thinly sliced sweet onions

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries (thawed), coarsely chopped or dried cranberries

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind

16 crackers (whole grain work well)

cream cheese (you can use fat free)

parsley leaves

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add onions, and sauté 15 to 18 minutes or until golden and tender. Stir in the vinegar, cranberries, sugar, salt, and orange rind; cook, stirring occasionally, 2 to 4 minutes or until liquid is reduced to about 2 tablespoons. Spread the crackers with about 1 teaspoon cream cheese; and then top each with about 1 tablespoon of the cranberry mixture. Garnish with parsley. Makes 16.

Modified from Southernliving.com

Brie Makes The Celebration

   Since parties and celebrations are part of this  holiday seasion and most budgets are not endless rec ipes that are unique and simple for appetizer and fun and interesting side dishes are at a premium. More often than not, I turn to my favorite cheese, brie. It’s readily available and a little goes a long way so it’s very affordable.

Brie was created in the 7th century inFrance. Popularized by Charlemagne this cheese has a very delicate and smooth taste and texture. The body of brie is covered with a white rind. Brie can be savored at room temperature and is equally delicious served with red or white wine. This soft-ripened cheese is made from cow’s milk. Brie is not for those who are counting calories.


BAKED BRIE IN PUFF PASTRY WITH HONEY WALNUT SAUCE

A reader from LondonOntario sent me this recipe that she got from Bon Appetite and I have to agree with her that it’s smashing!

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 8 ounce (or 2 four ounce) wheels Brie
1 egg, beaten (for glaze)
1/4 cup butter
3 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 400. Roll out puff pastry sheet on lightly floured surface. Place brie in center, and fold pastry around it, sealing seams. Transfer to baking sheet, seam side up. Brush pastry with egg glaze. (Can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) Bake brie until pastry is golden, 18-25 minutes. Combine butter, honey, and garlic in small saucepan over low heat. Stir until butter melts. Divide sauce between two plates (if using 2 wheels of brie). Sprinkle sauce with walnuts and parsley. Place pastry wrapped brie atop sauce on plates and serve with assorted crackers. Serves 8 to 10

 

 

BRIE SOUFFLE

Great for brunch served with a sweet sparkling wine and fresh fruit.

 

8 tablespoons sweet butter, at room temperature
6 slices of good-quality white sandwich bread, crusts removed
1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
dash of Tabasco
3 eggs
1 lb. Brie, rind removed

 

Butter a 1 1/2 quart souffle dish. Butter one side of bread slices and cut each slice into thirds. In a bowl whisk together the milk, salt,Tabascoand eggs. Coarsely grate the Brie. Arrange half of the bread, buttered side up, on the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle evenly with half of the Brie and then repeat, using remaining bread and Brie. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the bread. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until bubbling and golden. Serves 4 to 6

BRIE STUFFED POTATOES

 

4 baked potatoes
3oz Brie, de-rinded
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg yolk
2 oz butter, softened
chives (chopped)

 

Preheat oven to 375. Slice off the top of each potato and scoop out the potato (place it in a bowl), leaving behind a potato skin shell ready for filling. In a bowl containing the scooped out potato combine the brie, salt, egg yolk and butter. Beat until combined and spoon the mixture into the potato skins. Place the filled potatoes on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes until the top of the filling is golden brown. Sprinkle the top of the potato with chopped chives and serve. Serves 4. This recipe can be doubled or tripled.

BAKED BRIE WITH CRANBERRY SAUCE

This appetizer is simply beautiful and the tart cranberry sauce is the perfect compliment to the smooth brie.

1 lb Fresh or thawed frozen cranberries (about 4 1/2 cups), picked over
1/4 cup red-currant jelly
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoon Kirsch
2 packages (17 1/4-ounce) frozen puff pastry sheets (4 pastry sheets), thawed
1 large Egg, beaten lightly
1 Wheel (2-pound) firm Brie (rind intact), chilled

Make cranberry sauce:
In a large saucepan simmer sauce ingredients, stirring frequently, until thickened, about 20 minutes. Transfer sauce to a heatproof bowl and cool. Cranberry sauce may be made 1 week ahead and chilled, covered.

Put Brie on a work surface and with a 2-inch round cutter cut out 10 rounds, pressing scraps together as necessary. Press thumb deep into middle of each round to form a small indentation and fill each cavity with about 1 teaspoon cranberry sauce, reserving remaining sauce. Chill cheese rounds on a baking sheet.

On a lightly floured surface unfold 1 pastry sheet (do not roll out pastry) and with a 2 1/4-inch round cutter cut out 10 rounds. Transfer pastry rounds to another baking sheet and chill. Unfold remaining 3 pastry sheets and with a 5-inch round cutter cut out 10 rounds (there will be pastry left over). Transfer pastry rounds to a third baking sheet and chill.

On cleaned work surface arrange 1 large pastry round and brush top with some egg. Center 1 cheese round on pastry and wrap pastry up over cheese to form a 3/4-inch border on top of cheese. Brush border with some remaining egg and top with 1 small pastry round, pressing edges of dough together gently but firmly to seal. Brush round with some remaining egg and chill on a baking sheet. Make more wrapped Brie with remaining pastry and cheese rounds in same manner. Chill each wrapped Brie, uncovered, at least 30 minutes. Brie may be prepared up to this point 1 day ahead and chilled, covered loosely.

Preheat oven to 425. and lightly grease another baking sheet. Bake Brie on baking sheet in middle of oven 15 minutes, or until puffed and golden. Cool Brie on baking sheet on a rack about 10 minutes.  Serve Brie warm with reserved cranberry sauce. Serves 10 as a first course

BAKED BRIE WITH DRIED FRUIT
This dish pairs beautifully with sparkling wine.

approx. 2 Pounds Brie, round or wedge
1/4 cup sparkling sweet wine

1/4 cup dried apricots or peaches
1/8 cup toasted walnuts or almonds, coarsely chopped

1 sheet puff pastry — thawed
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water

Place Brie in the freezer for about thirty minutes to make it easier to handle.  In a saucepan, bring wine and fruit to a boil and remove from
heat. Cool.  Cut Brie in half lengthwise, so you have a top half and a bottom half.  Roughly chop fruit into 1/4 inch pieces and mix with toasted
walnuts.  Place mixture on bottom half of Brie, spread evenly and cover with top half.  On a floured surface, roll out thawed puff pastry to about
half the original thickness or until it will cover both the top and bottom of the brie.  Whip egg yolk and water.  Place filled brie in the center of
the rolled out dough and wrap brie completely, sealing overlapping dough with egg wash.  At this point, the brie may be stored in the freezer for
future use. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before baking. For immediate use, chill for half an hour in the refrigerator.  Preheat oven
to 400 degrees.  Brush with egg wash.  Bake on a greased baking sheet for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool for a few minutes and serve with freshly sliced baguette or toasted croutons.

Modified from a recipe developed for Domaine Carneros by Chef Kevin Simonson.

STUFFED AND BAKED BRIE
This really fancy appetizer is worth the effort. This wheel of brie stuffed with mushrooms and parmesancheese is so different that everyone will beg for the recipe.
2 lb. wheel of Brie
1 pkg. (17.5 oz.) puff pastry, both sheets thawed
1 egg, lightly beaten

For the Mushroom Cheese Filling:
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
2 Tablespoons dry Vermouth
4 oz. kosher parmesan cheese,
freshly ground nutmeg
Accompaniments: fruit, crackers, bread

Prepare the filling:
Spray a nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium heat. Add mushrooms and thyme. Saute for 2 minutes. Add the vermouth and simmer for 4-6 minutes until the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are tender. Set aside to cool.

 

To assemble the Brie:
Keep the rind on the cheese and slice in half horizontally. Spread the mushrooms over the bottom half and sprinkle with the parmesan cheese. Add a few grinds of nutmeg, replace top and press down gently. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry and cut into 2 12-inch circles. Place the Brie on one circle and, pleating as necessary, pull the pastry up and over the side. It will not cover the top of the cheese. Gently invert the Brie onto the other circle and again, pleat and pull the pastry up over the wheel. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 400. Line a rimmed baking pan with parchment paper. Remove plastic wrap and place the cheese, seam side down on the baking tray. Brush with the egg and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden.

To serve:
Allow the cheese to rest 20 minutes before serving. Place on a serving tray with fruit and bread as accompaniments.

 

modified from about.com

BAKED BRIE WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS
Very easy to make and simply delicious.

1 head garlic
1/4 cup butter
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 Granny Smith apple – peeled, cored and sliced
1 (8 ounce) wedge Brie cheese
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 tablespoon melted butter

Preheat oven to 400. Place garlic on a baking sheet, and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, or until soft. Set aside.

Meanwhile, melt 1/4 cup butter in a skillet over medium heat. Cook and stir onion and apple in butter until tender and browned. Set aside. Arrange brie on top of thawed puff pastry. Top the cheese with the apple and onion mixture. Fold puff pastry over the cheese, and pinch closed. Brush with melted butter. Serve with crackers or chunks of bread. Serves 4 as an appetizer

Bake about 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm. Garnish
with whole cloves of roasted garlic.

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