Asparagus Tartine

asparagus tartine-3A tartine is simply an open-faced sandwich and here is the perfect one for a glorious spring day.  Look for big, meaty spears with tightly closed tips that signify freshness.  Did you know that the diameter of asparagus spears relates to the maturity of the plant?  I takes 2 or 3 years before asparagus plants are well established enough, with spears big enough, to harvest.  And so I do imagine that the day the asparagus begins to nudge its way out of the soil must be one of a gardener’s favorite days!   Recipe adapted from Cicchetti, and other small Italian Plates to Share, by Lindy Wildsmith and Valentina Sforza.

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1 pound asparagus

4 eggs

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons mayonaise

salt and pepper

1 fresh baguette, or other good, fresh crusty bread, cut into 1/4 inch pieces

olive oil

2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

Fill a large pot halfway with water and bring to a simmer.  Carefully lower the eggs into the water and simmer for 12 minutes.  While eggs are cooking, prepare a bowl of ice water.  Remove eggs from hot water and immediately place them into the ice bath  to cool.  Meanwhile, trim the asparagus, bring the water in the pot to a boil, add the asparagus and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes, depending on the size of the spears.  Remove the eggs from the ice bath and add more ice so that you can chill the asparagus just as soon as it is ready.

Peel the eggs then chop finely.  When the asparagus is cooled, remove from the ice bath and cut the tips and set them aside to use as the garnish.  Chop the rest of the spears and add to the chopped eggs.  Add the olive oil and mayonnaise and gently stir to combine.  Season well with salt and pepper to taste.

Brush the bread slices with olive oil, toast lightly and let cool.  Spread each tartine with some of the egg salad, top with the reserved asparagus tips then sprinkle with chives.  (The number of servings that this recipe will produce varies greatly based upon the size of the bread you use. You can make around 30 small appetizer servings with a skinny baguette or 6 lunch-sized portions with a larger Italian bread such as the one I used in the photo. Just be sure to save enough asparagus tips to finish your dish.)

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Hard Cooked Eggs with Basil and Fluffy Ham

devilled ham and eggs 1Wonderful opportunities arise when you have a bit of leftover ham in the frig.  I’m not talking about deli meats…not cold cuts… but a real hunk of boneless or semi boneless smoked ham.  They come fully cooked, but in my family we still roast the heck out of it anyway so that we can shave it into thin, melt in your mouth slices.

The first serving of a ham around here is hot from the oven, carved at the table with a  cheese grits casserole  and a big green salad.  After that, it goes into eggs at breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and flavors soups and salads throughout the week.  The possibilities are endless, of course, as demonstrated by my latest discovery, Ham Fluff.

Looking for a way to perk up some deviled eggs I was making, I spied the last bits of a ham that I had cooked last Friday.  Using a microplane grater, the one that is designed for parmesan cheese, I grated the ham into a big pile of the softest, fluffiest stuff you can imagine.  Then I leveled off the filling from the deviled eggs to make room and topped each egg with a generous amount.  So what you get is the salty good taste of ham, which we all know goes well with eggs, without taking away from the creamy, light texture of a good deviled egg.  If you are looking for a resource for ham, I highly recommend the  The Good Ham Company in Memphis, TN.

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1 dozen medium or large eggs*

2-3 tablespoons heavy cream

6 large leaves of fresh basil, slivered thinly

salt and pepper

2 inch piece of leftover baked smoked ham, cold

Fill a large sauce pot half way with water and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Carefully lower the eggs into the hot water and simmer, being careful not to let the water boil, for 15 minutes.  While eggs are cooking, prepare a large bowl with ice and water.  At the 15 minute mark, remove there eggs from the hot water and immediately put them in the bowl with the ice water.  Let sit 15 minutes, then peel.  Cut the eggs in half crosswise or lengthwise  and pop the yolks out into a small bowl.  Using a fork, mash the yolks then stir in enough of the cream to create a smooth, luscious filling.  Stir in fresh basil and season to taste with salt.  Fill each egg white half with the egg yolk mixture, leveling off the top. (recipe can be made to this point, covered and refrigerated until ready to serve.)  When ready to serve,  grate the cold ham with a small microplane grater (the one designed for grating parmesan cheese) creating a big pile of fluff.  Top each egg generously and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.

*If you want to guarantee easy-to-peel eggs, use a push pin to poke a tiny hole, just barely through the shell, in the larger end of each egg.  If done correctly, only air bubbles will escape from the holes while the eggs are simmering.  If you go too deep, you’ll get some egg white oozing out into the water, but your eggs will still turn out fine.  The ice bath helps with the peeling too, as well as keeping the yolks from developing the greenish ring around the edges.

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Banana Scones with Spiced Pecan Glaze

banana scones with pecan spice glaze_Here’s the thing about scones.  You can’t just go throwing in extra ingredients willy-nilly to create different flavors.  You’ll throw off the proportions and end up with a dry and cakey mess.  So in creating this new version of my favorite tea-time treat, I’ve carefully pureed a couple of very ripe bananas into the cream before mixing the dough, and then added extra layers of flavor by spicing up the glaze with nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves.  And to top it off, the pecans have been toasted in a bit of butter, salt and brown sugar for amazing taste and texture.

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For the dough:

2 cups all purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoon sugar

5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 very ripe bananas

3/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

For the pecan topping:

1 cup pecans, finely chopped

2 tablespoons butter

pinch of salt

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

For the glaze:

1 cup confectioners sugar

a couple of teaspoons milk or cream

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

generous pinch of ground cloves

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a Pyrex measuring cup, thoroughly mash the bananas then add cream and vanilla and stir well.  This mixture should total 1 1/2 cups.  Set aside.  Whisk dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt and sugar) together in a medium bowl.  Add the butter to the flour mixture and cut it in, either with a pastry fork, two table knives, or your fingers, until the butter is in small pieces (about the size of a pea) and the mixture is crumbly.  Make a well in the center of the flour/butter mixture and pour in the cream/bananas.  Using a fork, gradually work the wet and dry ingredients together to form a dough.  This will not be a wet dough so resist the temptation to add more cream.  As soon as the dough starts to come together, dump it out on a clean surface and begin to pat it out into a rectangle, about 1 1/2 inches thick.  Be careful not to overwork the dough.  Cut the rectangle in half width-wise, then cut each of those pieces into 4 squares, then cut each square into 2 triangles.  Transfer triangles to the baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or until puffed and just lightly brown around the edges.  Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Toast the pecans:  In a small skillet, melt the butter and add the pecan, salt and brown sugar.  Stir constantly for several minutes until pecans are warmed through and sugar is melted.  Remove from skillet and let cool.

Make the glaze:  Sift the powdered sugar into a small bowl and add the milk or cream one teaspoon at a time until you get a thick glaze.  Stir in spices and set aside until scones are completely cooled.

When scones have cooled completely, use a table fork to drizzle glaze over each one and sprinkle generously with the pecans.  Let glaze dry before serving.  Makes 32 small scones.

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Herbed Watermelon Salad with Feta

watermelon salad 2 to post

The next time you are cutting up a whole watermelon for the kids, save about 4 cups of the best bits to make this refreshing summer salad for the adults.  This recipe, adapted only slightly from For The Love Of Salad, by Jeanelle Mitchell, would be an excellent side dish to any 4th of July meal….or throw a few grilled shrimp on top for a bright and  healthy lunch or supper.

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For the salad:

4 cups cubed seedless watermelon (small bite-sized pieces)

2 cups cubed baby cucumber

1/2 cup finely chopped sweet red or yellow pepper

1/2 cup sliced Kalamata olives

1/4 cup finely minces red onion

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1 cup diced feta cheese

For the vinaigrette:

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

zest of one lime

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

sea salt and pepper to taste

Place watermelon, cucumber, sweet pepper, olives, red onion, jalapeño, cilantro, mint and basil in a large bowl. (you will add the feta cheese later)

For the vinaigrette:  whisk together lime juice, lime zest, olive oil, and honey in a small bowl,  Season with salt to taste and set aside.

Just before serving, drain excess liquid from watermelon mixture, then add vinaigrette and feta to the salad and toss lightly to coat. Taste and correct seasonings if needed.  Serves 6

note:  Can be made 1-2 hours ahead but keep in mind that the watermelon and the cucumber will start to release their juices and will water down the salad.  If you make it ahead, you will want to drain some of the juices before serving.

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Stone Ground Grits ‘N’ Cheese Casserole

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Here is my version of the ultimate comfort food….cheese grits.  I use stone ground white grits for the best flavor and texture, cheddar and parmesan cheese and a healthy sprinkle of paprika.  It’s the perfect make-ahead dish for brunch or dinner (excellent alongside grilled meats or seafood). Note about grits: If you use a different type of grits, follow the water/grits cooking ratio on the package then proceed with recipe.

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4 cups water

1 1/3 cups stone ground white grits (I use Charleston Favorites)

1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1  cup milk

1/4 teaspoon garlic  powder

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

generous pinch of paprika

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a glass or ceramic baking dish. (any size that will hold the mixture will work) To rinse the grits, place them in a medium pot and cover with water and then drain off the water to remove any husks that float to the top. (don’t worry about draining off every bit of water)  Add the 4 cups of water to the rinsed grits and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat to low and cover.  While grits are cooking, whisk milk and eggs together in a small bowl and set aside. Simmer grits for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until creamy and tender.  Remove from heat and stir in cheddar cheese, butter and salt.  Stir well until cheese is melted and mixture is cooled slightly then add the milk/egg mixture and stir well once more.  Season generously with freshly ground black pepper then pour grits into prepared casserole.  Sprinkle top with the grated parmesan and paprika and bake uncovered for about 30 minutes, until top is golden and casserole is hot and puffy.  Serves 8

(This casserole can be prepared a day in advance and refrigerated unbaked.  Add 5-10 minutes to baking time if necessary)

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Just One Perfect Spinach Cheddar Omelette

one more omelette to post

Eggs tend to go from runny to rubbery in the blink of an eye so I have been working on a simple but foolproof omelette.   I heard on PBS radio one day….it was probably The Splendid Table….. how eggs need to be cooked slowly, over very low heat… which meant that I was going to need a good non-stick pan if I didn’t want to use half a stick of butter.  So here is the method and as you can imagine, the possibilities are endless for adapting this with your favorite ingredients. (fresh herbs and goat cheese?)  Don’t be turned off by the lengthy instructions;  it is so quick and easy that I make one just for myself quite often. I’m just trying to be helpful with details but the whole process takes only a few minutes. The key here is that the pan should never get hot enough to color the eggs at all….gentle, slow and steady is the name of the game.

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an 8 inch good quality, non-stick skillet or omelette pan

plastic or rubber spatula

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons butter or olive oil

1 handful fresh baby spinach leaves, stemmed

2 tablespoons finely shredded cheddar cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Begin heating your skillet over low heat.  Crack the eggs into a small bowl and beat well with a whisk or a fork. Have the spinach leaves ready and sitting nearby.

Add the butter or oil to the skillet and swirl it around to lightly coat the surface.   Pour the eggs into the skillet and gently tilt it to all sides to spread the eggs out evenly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  The eggs should be cooking very slowly; it will take a minute or two for the bottom to set but when it does, lay the spinach leaves over the top of the omelette (which will still be runny at this point) in a single layer.

Now you are going to flip the omelette over.  Begin by loosening the edges of the omelette with the spatula while gently shaking the skillet to see if the whole omelette will slip around in the pan, signaling that the underside is cooked though enough to hold the whole thing together.  When this happens, it will be quite easy to slip the spatula under the eggs and simultaneously shake the handle of the skillet and flip the omelette to the other side.  ( Imagine someone flipping pancakes in the air to get the idea of shaking the skillet…but of course we are going for a gentle flip here, one that will not send ingredients airborn and is controlled mostly by the spatula)

As soon as the omelette is turned, sprinkle with a light layer of cheese.  The second side will be cooked in less than a minute, at which point you can roll up the omelette, slide it onto a plate and enjoy!

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Double Crumb Cinnamon Cupcakes

new cupcake to postCrumbs on top, crumbs on the bottom, and a tender, moist yellow cake between.   Call it a muffin so you can have it for breakfast!

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Crumbs for top and bottom

1 cup flour

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter, cold  and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

In a large bowl, stir together all ingredients for the crumb mixture and then work it with your fingers until it is thoroughly combined and forms large moist crumbs.  Cover and place in refrigerator while you prepare the cake batter.

For the cake batter

1 stick unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups cake flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking power

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup whole milk

Line a 12 cup muffin tin with with paper liners.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the sugar and continue to beat then gradually add the eggs one at a time.  Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the milk, and ending with the dry ingredients.

To fill the muffin tins

Spoon one heaping tablespoon of the crumb mixture into the bottom of each paper liner.  Then add enough cake batter to come almost to the top edge of the liner.  Then cover the batter with the remaining crumbs.

Bake until the tops feel firm to the touch and the edges are just beginning to turn golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Cool 10 minutes then remove from pan.  Serve or may be kept covered at room temperature for 2-3 days.

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Fresh Herb and Feta Omelette with Warm Avocado, Asparagus and Cherry Tomato Salsa

Breakfast, brunch, lunch or supper….you can’t go wrong with this amazing omelette adapted from A Paridiso Year by Denis Cotter.  The amounts given below will make one large omelette that will easily feed 2.

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6 spears asparagus, trimmed and cut into pieces

8 cherry tomatoes, halved

1 green onion, sliced

half a fresh red chile, seeded and sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

4-5 eggs

2 tablespoons water

salt and pepper to taste

handful of fresh herbs (of 2 or 3 types, such as chives, parsley, thyme, tarragon, marjoram)

small handful of crumbled feta cheese

butter or olive oil to coat pan

half an avocado, cubed

In a small pan, over medium heat, warm olive oil.  Saute asparagus, tomatoes, green onion and chile until asparagus is crisp tender.  Set aside while you prepare the omelette.

Crack the eggs into a small bowl and whisk in the water.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Chop the herbs and crumble the feta and have them at the ready before you begin cooking the omelette.

Heat your omelette pan (med-high heat if it is non-stick and high heat otherwise) and brush with a bit of butter or olive oil.  Pour in the beaten egg and tilt the pan to cover the surface.  As the bottom cooks, lift up the edges and let the raw egg slide underneath the cooked.  Scatter the herbs and the feta over the length of the center of the omelette then fold 1/3 of the omelette towards the middle and repeat on the other side.

Just as the omelette is finishing cooking, toss the diced avocado to the vegetable mixture and return it to the heat just to warm through.

Remove the omelette to a plate and top with the warm salsa and serve immediately.  Serves 2.

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Wild Blueberry Muffins with Oats and Brown Sugar

I don’t often make Blueberry Muffins.  I tend to make my Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze or if I have time, my Blueberry Buckle Coffee Cake.  But this recipe from Beat This, by Ann Hodgman, caught my eye and since I had some Wymans fresh frozen Wild Blueberries in the freezer I decided to give it a try.  Sure glad I did.  They are moist and sweet, with just a hint of a warm oatmeal cookie goodness.  Reason enough to make sure I keep those wild blueberries in the freezer all winter long.

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1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 cup sour cream

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup frozen wild blueberries

2 tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Line a 12-cup muffin tim with liners.  This recipe does not work without them.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.  Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk the eggs with the sour cream until thoroughly combined.

In a medium saucepan, over medium beat, melt together  the butter and the brown sugar.  Beat this mixture into the egg mixture.  Stir in the oats.

Fold in the flour mixture and then the blueberries.  Fill the muffin cups 2/3 full.  Sprinkle each muffin with a generous pinch of sugar.

Bake for 25 minutes or until light brown around the edges and set in the middle.

Cool for 5 minutes in  pan then remove to rack to finish cooling.

Makes 1 dozen.

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Straw Mat Potatoes

You may want to be careful with this recipe.  Once your family realizes that it is an option, either for breakfast or supper, they will request it all the time.

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4 large baking potatoes

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 black pepper

4 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Peel the potatoes, cut into 1/8 inch slices lengthwise, then again lengthwise, into 1/8 inch straws.  DO NOT RINSE, you need the starch in the potatoes to make the straw mat stick together.  Place potato straws in a large bowl and toss with the cornstarch, salt and pepper.

Heat the butter and the oil in a 12-inch well seasoned cast iron skillet over medium high heat. (if you don’t have a cast iron skillet, the next best option is a heavy non-stick skillet)  Spread the potato straws evenly in the skillet and press down gently with a spatula.  Cook until the underside is golden brown, pressing down on the potatoes occasionally.  I also like to gently pull the potatoes in around the sides to create a taller and neater edge.  This will also make it easier to flip.  Turn down the heat a bit and cover the potatoes for 5 minutes or so, to make sure the center of the potatoes cooks.  Uncover, press down on the potatoes once more and neaten the sides, give the skillet a few shakes to make sure that all the potatoes are moving as one, then flip it (see below)

There are a couple of ways to do this;  If you are using a non-stick skillet, you may want to air flip the potatoes.  It’s easier than it sounds but may take a bit of practice.  However, since I prefer to use my cast iron skillet, which is far too heavy to use for flipping, I flip the potatoes with two large metal spatulas.  Or, the safest way to flip is to slide the potatoes onto a large plate, cover with a second plate and flip upside down.  Then slide the potatoes back into the skillet raw side down. 

Turn the heat back up to medium high to brown the other side on the potatoes, occasionally pressing down on the  top and pulling in the sides as before.  When that side is crispy and brown, I usually flip the mat once more to re-crisp the first side.  Serve immediately.  Serves 6

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