Thursday, February 27, 2014

Cream of Asparagus Soup

I start planning for St. Patrick’s Day shortly after the New Year because it, like Thanksgiving, is a good-time foodie holiday where you leave both gifts and guilt at home, and eat, drink, and be merry.

Basically I make the same, traditional meal of corned beef, colcannon, and Irish soda bread, but I do try to mix things up where I can, such as in the soup starter. Most of the time it’s Potato-Leek, but this year I’m trying something different with this fragrant, rich and creamy asparagus soup.

It’s from the cookbook produced by one of my favorite local restaurants, Magpie’s on Historic Main Street in downtown Saint Charles, MO.  Whether you eat in the cozy interior, or the delightful patio along cobbled Main Street, the food is always good, and the experience always pleasant.  As I’d enjoyed this soup many times at the restaurant, I was thrilled to see it in the cookbook.  I was equally thrilled to see how quick and easy it is to prepare.  Delicious when served cold, warm, or hot, it is the perfect all-seasons soup.

Here is the recipe as it appears in the cookbook, but I cut it down by thirds (so, 1 bunch of Melissa’s fresh asparagus tips. 1 quart chicken stock, 10 ounces of cream, etc.).  Wonderful!

Cream of Asparagus Soup
Magpie’s Restaurant, Saint Charles, MO

3 bunches asparagus, woody stems removed, tips cut off and reserved for later (Cut the rest into 2 pieces)
1 quart 40% cream
2 tablespoons dried tarragon
¾ cup cornstarch dissolved in1cup cold water
3 tablespoons butter, cut into ¼” thick pieces

Pour chicken stock into a heavy stock pot and add asparagus, excluding the tips.  Bring to a simmer, and cook for about 10 minutes.  Using an immersion blender, purée mixture until smooth and creamy.  (If you don’t have an immersion blender, use a stand blender or food processor, but allow mixture to cool slightly before doing so, and puree in batches.)

Return puréed mixture to stock pot, and add in reserved asparagus tips.  Stir in the cream and tarragon.  Return to a low boil.  Thicken with the cornstarch dissolved in water, stirring constantly.  Continue to cook and stir for another 5 minutes after it has thickened, then add the butter, stirring until butter has melted.

Makes about 5 quarts.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

New York-Style Coffee Cake Muffins

One of my most viewed recipes is this one for New York-Style Crumb Cake, and with good reason, it is delicious.  So when I spotted this recipe for the same type of cake in muffin form, I had to try it.  From Cook’s Illustrated, this recipe is the answer to my muffin prayers.  The same delicious coffee cake in a small, portable form.  Perfection!  Now the fear of having a morsel of coffee cake going to waste is no more.  These freeze beautifully, so you can always have them on hand when you get the craving for the queen of all coffee cakes.

New York-Style Coffee Cake Muffins

For the crumb topping:
cup granulated sugar
cup dark brown sugar
¾ tsp. ground cinnamon
tsp. salt
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1¾ cups cake flour

For the muffin batter:
1¼ cup cake flour
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces, softened slightly
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray muffin pan lightly with cooking spray.

In the work bowl of a food processor, pulse together sugars, cinnamon, and salt. Pour the butter over top and pulse 3-4 times until incorporated. Add the cake flour and mix until mixture resembles a thick dough. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt on low speed just until combined. With mixer at low speed, add butter one piece at a time; continue beating until mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no visible butter chunks remaining, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the egg, yolk, vanilla, and buttermilk and mix until all has been incorporated and batter is light and fluffy.

Using an ice cream scoop, fill each well of your prepared muffin pan. Sprinkle a generous amount of the crumb topping on top.

Bake for 20 minutes or until crumbs are golden and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Let muffins cool for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Jumbo Raisin Cookies

This is a cookie that is quietly addicting.  It is lightly sweet with a comforting texture, and moist delicious chewiness thanks, in part, to the raisins.  The toasted pecans give it crunch and a depthless of flavor that will send you back for first another, and then another, and then you’re going to have to put them away.

Jumbo Raisin Cookies

½ cup raisins
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup water
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
¼ cup butter
¼ cup shortening (Crisco)
1 cup sugar
1 extra large egg, beaten to blend
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup chopped toasted pecans

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Put raisins and water into a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Boil until raisins are plump, about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat; set aside to cool. (Do not drain.)

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.  Set aside.

Cream butter and shortening together until thoroughly blended.  With mixer running, gradually pour in sugar, beating until creamy. Add egg and vanilla; mix well.

Stir in the raisins and any remaining water.

Gradually add the flour mixture, beating to blend.  Fold in toasted pecans.  Drop by tablespoonfuls onto a parchment or Silpat-lined cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until golden.  Makes about 2 dozen.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Cheese Blintzes with Fresh Blueberry Sauce

 Occasionally I love to dazzle with a special breakfast that appears magically on the table in under a half an hour, leaving the kitchen in fine form, and Mr. O-P with his mouth agape.  If you similarly desire to be dazzling, this recipe is for you.
Made easy with pre-made crepes from Melissa’s Produce, and advance prep the night before, simply preheat the oven, pop your casserole dish in, warm up the blueberry sauce that you made last night, comb your hair and brush your teeth, and it will be ready by the time you return.  Hot, fruity, and delicious, it is memory making to be sure.
Cheese Blintzes with Fresh Blueberry Sauce
1 10-count package Melissa’s Crepes
For the filling:
1 (15 ounce) container low-fat or whole milk ricotta
1 (8 ounce) container mascarpone
1 extra-large egg
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoons vanilla
Pinch of kosher salt

For the sauce:
1 pint fresh blueberries
1/3 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Pinch of kosher salt

Confectioners' sugar, to serve
For the filling: Combine the ricotta, mascarpone, egg, sugar, lemon zest and juice, vanilla, and salt in a medium metal mixing bowl and whisk until well combined.
Spread 2-3 tablespoons of filling just above the bottom of a crêpe. 
Fold the bottom up to cover the filling. 
 Fold in two opposite sides, and then fold toward the top to make a neat burrito-style package. 
Place seam side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 350°F until filling is hot, about 15-20 minutes, OR refrigerate, covered, overnight until ready to bake in the morning.
For the sauce:  Combine the blueberries, orange juice, sugar, lemon zest, and cornstarch in a saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for another 5-8 minutes until thickened. Pour sauce over blintzes and top each with a generous amount of confectioners' sugar.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Testing the Waters


I haven’t had a lot of time for cooking this week, hampered by a plumbing problem.  But now that the new disposal is in place I expect to get back to culinary experimentation.

Meanwhile, I’ve had to direct my attentions elsewhere, namely in working on the decoration of the guest bedroom.  It haunts me.  Just as soon as I think I know that I’m going to do, I change my mind.

So, I decided to give it a test run to see how it felt and what it needed. (I wonder how many people give their guest rooms a test run prior to having overnight guests?)
I gave it a try out last night — very comfortable and cozy — completing the experience with morning coffee, making it up from the coffee station that occupies space on the cabinet under the picture under the picture. Eh. The coffee is only marginally good despite the French press, it's a bit cumbersome to make, and, well, the experience was a bit disappointing.  The water had a bit of a resin smell while heating in the electric kettle, and I eventually just poured the cup of coffee out. A good, REALLY good, cup of coffee is important to me.  I suspect I didn't use enough coffee because it sort of had the dirty dishwater taste of the weak coffee that my mother used to make. And, perhaps I've been spoiled by freshly ground daily vs. the ground coffee in the container. Need to rethink. The cocoa has to go, for one, the cinnamon grinder as well, I think. Sugar and teas need to be moved into the cabinet. I was hoping for something better. Maybe a trivet and mini coffee pot would be better than the electric kettle and French press. I do need more room on top of the cabinet, say, for a plate of pastries. Hmmmm. 
Remember this wicker bicycle?  That rascal gets around, but I think I like it here the best.
Certainly the room needs more pictures.  Of what type, I do not know.  And it needs wall color; again, I don’t know what color.  Lastly a window treatment is crucial, although I think I’m going to go with shutters flanking the window.

I’m a woman floundering and need your help.  What do you think?