Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Medley of Asparagus Recipes

Asparagus is our favorite side dish to serve for Easter. It holds up well at room temperature on a buffet and almost everyone loves it. Each year I make it my mission to find a new asparagus recipe to add to our ever growing list of favorites. This year I’ve done a new version of my favorite asparagus mimosa recipe – I’ve sprinkled the chopped egg topping with briny capers.

I’ve included my basic recipe for poached asparagus as well as my basic French vinaigrette. With building blocks such as these, you can do a lot of different versions of garnishes, such as capers & chopped eggs or anything else that strikes your fancy.

Asparagus Mimosa, also known as Asparagus Goldenrod with Capers
From My Carolina Kitchen – Sam Hoffer

Prepare My Carolina Kitchen’s Basic Recipe for poached asparagus below. Dress with My Carolina Kitchen’s Basic French Vinaigrette below, using freshly squeezed lemon juice. Garnish with a chopped hard-boiled egg and some drained capers.

My Carolina Kitchen’s Basic Recipe for Poached Asparagus
From My Carolina Kitchen – Sam Hoffer

1 lb fresh asparagus, tough lower ends snapped off
2 teaspoons salt
Water flavored with low sodium, low fat beef broth* to taste

After tough ends of asparagus have been removed, peel the remaining ends unless the asparagus is thin; if thin, leave as is. Bring water flavored with beef broth and 2 teaspoons salt to a boil in a shallow pan. Add asparagus, turn heat to low and cook for about 4 minutes until asparagus is crisp tender, taking care not to overcook. Immediately plunge the asparagus in an ice water bath to stop the cooking and retain the green color. After a minute or two, remove the asparagus and dry well with a towel. Dress with a vinaigrette. Then you may either chill it for about an hour, or serve at room temperature. *I like to flavor my asparagus water with beef broth. It isn’t necessary, but it does bring a very nice flavor to the cooking broth.

My Carolina Kitchen’s Basic French Vinaigrette
From My Carolina Kitchen – Sam Hoffer

1 tablespoon good vinegar, or freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ tablespoon finely chopped shallot, optional
½ to 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard to taste
Dash of hot sauce such as Tabasco
Maldon sea salt, or other good sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put all of the ingredients into a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake well.  Easily doubled or tripled. This also saves well in the refrigerator for a day or two. Omit the shallot, Dijon mustard, and hot sauce for a more basic vinaigrette. The mustard is used to emulsify the vinaigrette and keeps it from separating and the shallot and hot sauce bring added flavor and are highly recommended.

Here’s Asparagus Mimosa, using the basic asparagus & French vinaigrette recipe but with chopped radishes instead of capers for a nice crunch. Link to recipe here.

Another asparagus recipe that’s a winner is asparagus using a fig balsamic vinegar to make a rich, dark vinaigrette, tossed in some chopped shallots and served over crispy poached asparagus at room temperature. Link here to post and recipe.

Here I’ve served asparagus on a bed of arugula with roasted red peppers and kalamata olives. Link here to post and recipe.

Last but certainly not least is a grilled asparagus and melon salad. This is very versatile recipe in that the asparagus can be cooked outside on a grill or on a stove top grill in your kitchen. The melon and cheese make a great fresh topping, full of flavor and have real eye appeal, plus it tastes good. Link to original post and recipe here.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, and Comforts of Home Tasty Tuesday.   

I hope everyone has a lovely Easter.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Salmon & Asparagus Bundles

These salmon and asparagus bundles always catch my eye each time I see them in the showcase of our local favorite seafood market Merrick’s in Cape Coral, Florida. Merrick’s is one of southwest Florida’s finest purveyors of fresh seafood (they service over 250 local restaurants) and they also have ready-to-go seafood dishes for take-out. Take a glimpse inside the seafood market here and you’ll see why we are so proud to have them in the area. In a large room behind the retail counter you can see fish cutters busily filleting freshly caught local fish from the Gulf of Mexico. Last year they opened Fish Tails, their own fabulous seafood restaurant next door to the seafood market, photos of some of their gorgeous dishes here. Now you can understand why we eat a lot of fresh seafood and why you see a lot of seafood recipes on My Carolina Kitchen. Both Merrick's Seafood Market and Fish Tails restaurant are a "do-not-miss" if you are in the greater Fort Myers / Naples area.

I finally decided to make my own salmon and asparagus bundles. The ones at Merrick’s have a bourbon glaze (see here), but I was in the mood for something a little tropical, so I chose Soy Vay’s Island Teriyaki sauce for my glaze. The glaze is made of made with 100% pure pineapple juice, zesty ginger and fresh garlic and even if I tried, I don’t think I could do better if I had made my own. I always have a bottle in the refrigerator and use it often as a glaze on salmon or grouper, as an example. Soy Vay’s Island Teriyaki is available in many supermarkets, including Fresh Market, and on line at Amazon.

Soy Vay Island Teriyaki

These bundles can be made in advance and cooked at the last minute, which makes them convenient for entertaining. The salmon should be skinned before wrapping the asparagus. Your fishmonger can do this for you or it’s relatively easy if you have a sharp boning knife. I sprinkled my bundles with some black and white sesame seeds before popping them in the oven.

Salmon & Asparagus Bundles
Inspired by Merrick’s Seafood in Cape Coral, Florida, easily doubled or tripled, serves 2

Fresh asparagus spears, about 5 to 6 per person depending on size
½ to ¾ pound fresh salmon, preferably the tail end that isn’t too thick
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Soy Vay’s Island Teriyaki sauce for brushing, about 1 tablespoon per fish
Black sesame seeds
White sesame seeds, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the asparagus up so the ends are even and using a sharp knife, cut off the bottom inch or so to remove the dried ends. Peel the remaining ends with a vegetable peeler, then separate into two bundles.

If the salmon has skin, remove with a very sharp filet knife (your fish monger can do this for you if you wish). Sprinkle the salmon with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then wrap around an asparagus bundle. Brush the salmon with the teriyaki sauce and sprinkle the top with sesame seeds. Place on a sheet pan that has been lined with heavy duty foil (for easy clean-up). Bake for 20 minutes, then remove and check for doneness. Serve right away.

Cook’s notes: If your asparagus is thick, you may wish to parboil it for a minute or so before wrapping it with the salmon. If the asparagus tips are dainty, you might want to brush their tips with a tiny bit of olive oil to prevent their drying out.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, and Comforts of Home Tasty Tuesday.   

I will be back early next week with a medley of asparagus recipes that are perfect for Easter or any time actually. Until then, have a great weekend. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pan-Seared Scallops with Sautéed Oranges

This colorful dish looks like sunshine and it transitions well from late winter into spring. Winter oranges are still available and seafood always reminds of spring and being out on the water boating when the weather warms up. It would also make a lovely lunch during Easter weekend when you're looking for something fresh and light. Blood oranges would be a striking combination to the navel oranges, but when I went to the market, I found I had missed their season. I’ve made a note to try this recipe again when I see blood oranges in the market next year.

The citrus flavors make a refreshing counterpoint to the rich seared sea scallops. Scallops aren’t particularly difficult to prepare. You just need to be very careful not to overcook them, because if you do, they will be tough and chewy and very unappetizing.

I think the most difficult thing about scallops is finding the correct ones. Dry pack scallops are the very best money can buy and I encourage you to seek them out. Here's a link that will explain what dry pack scallops are. If at all possible you want to avoid scallops that have been soaked in brine. Why? Because they are very difficult to near impossible to brown properly and, to me, they leave a bit of a tangy aftertaste in your mouth. Scallops should smell and taste like the sea – fresh.

I upped the amount of oranges called for in this recipe because the navel oranges I’ve been buying have ended up small by the time I removed their skin. If it turns out you’ve bought an extra orange or two, no problem, just juice them for breakfast the next day. The oranges in this recipe are briefly sautéed just to heat them through, so take care not to overcook them. The olives were a last minute idea for our own special touch because we think that the brininess of olives pairs well with citrus.

Pan-Seared Scallops with Sautéed Oranges
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Cooking from the Farmers’ Market, by Tasha DeSerio & Jodi Liano, serves 4

Printable recipe

4 navel oranges, or 2 navel oranges and 2 blood oranges
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound large dry-packed sea scallops
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons fresh cilantro leaves (or parsley if you don’t care for cilantro)
Assorted French olives, optional but delicious

Peel the oranges and cut into thin rounds, reserving the juice, and set aside.

In a small bowl combine the cumin and a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dry the scallops with a paper towel and sprinkle with the seasoning mixture. In a non-stick skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the scallops and cook until browned underneath, about 1 to 2 minutes. Turn and cook until just firm to the touch but still translucent in the center, about 1 to 2 minutes more. Take care not to over-cook the scallops or they will be tough. Transfer the scallops to a plate and keep warm.

Add the vinegar and reserved orange juice to the pan and cook until reduced by half, then add the orange slices and cook for 1 minute. You are just warming the oranges, not actually cooking them. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter. Return the scallops to the pan along with any accumulated juices and stir to coat with the sauce. Transfer the oranges to serving plates and top with scallops. Sprinkle with cilantro leaves and assorted French olives if using. Serve immediately.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, & Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes.  
Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mussels Throwdown – Thai Coconut & Basil vs. French Moules a la Mariniere

I thought it might be fun to have a throwdown with mussels – Thai coconut basil mussels vs. French Moules a la Mariniere, or mussels in white wine. Mussels in white wine are a specialty of my husband Meakin and the Thai coconut basil mussels recipe is one we recently tried from Cooking Light.

Both recipes are very easy and can be put together in 30 minutes. I’m always surprised when I hear people say they think mussels are difficult to prepare and it’s just not true. Cultivated mussels can be found in most supermarkets today and no longer have beards so they don’t have to be cleaned as they once did.

In the Thai coconut mussel dish we added lemongrass for a bit more flavor, but if you can’t find lemongrass, don’t worry. It’s not absolutely necessary because the fish sauce adds a nice layer of flavor and the lime juice perks up the sauce. I find that if fresh basil is heated it turns black, so we waited until the last minute to add it. This is a very light and colorful dish and if you want to make it a bit more substantial, you can serve it with scallion rice.

Moules a la Mariniere, or mussels steamed in white wine, is a French classic bistro dish that you may remember from our archives and we serve it often. Meakin steams the mussels in a wine and chicken broth mixture, finishes them with tomatoes, cream and a dash of Pernod, an anise flavored French liquor, and dinner is served before you know it. We like to keep a bottle of Pernod on hand so we can use a splash of its citrusy anise flavor in seafood to give it a Mediterranean twist and a taste of Provence. In the south of France Pernod is sipped as an aperitif called pastis. Typically waiters bring small glasses of Pernod on a tray to your table with a pitcher of cold water for diluting the strong green liqueur, making it turn cloudy and yellow.

There is no doubt in our minds which of the two recipes won our vote for the throwdown – the French mussels in white wine. Moules a la Mariniere is a true classic and the flavors come together beautifully without overpowering each other. We never tire of eating it. The Thai coconut and basil mussels were light and make a nice dish to serve in the spring, but the flavors didn’t capture us in the long run and the sauce was a bit thin. We live to eat and are always trying new recipes, so no recipe ever goes to waste. But we might be just "a bit" prejudiced when it comes to the Moules a la Mariniere, so we would love to hear from you.

Coconut and Basil Steamed Mussels
Adapted from Cooking Light – serves 2
Printable recipe

2 teaspoons canola oil
¼ cup minced shallots
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 cup light coconut milk
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup low sodium, fat free chicken broth
About a 3” piece of fresh lemon grass, 1" of the root end crushed with a knife, optional
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
½ to 1 teaspoon Sriracha chili sauce
24 mussels, about 1 pound, scrubbed and de-bearded if necessary
Slivered fresh basil leaves

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat and add oil to pan, swirling to coat. Add shallots and garlic to pan and cook 2 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently to make sure neither burn. Shake the can of coconut milk well, then stir in along with the milk, water, broth, lemon grass, lime juice, sugar, fish sauce and Sriracha and bring to a boil. Add the mussels to the pan, cover and cook 5 minutes or until shells open.

Remove mussels from the pan with a slotted spoon and reserve the broth mixture. Remove lemongrass and discard. When mussels are cool enough to handle, remove most of them from their shells and save a few with shells for presentation. Throw away any mussels that did not open. Bring broth to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Divide the mussels between 2 serving bowls. Pour 1 cup of hot broth over each serving. Sprinkle with slivered fresh basil and serve right away. Nice with crusty bread for dipping or serve with scallion rice, recipe below.

Scallion rice
Combine 1 cup water, 1/2 cup jasmine rice, 1 teaspoon butter, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1 thinly sliced green onion in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes; remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Mussels in white wine a la Chez Meakin - Moules a la Mariniere 
By Meakin Hoffer from My Carolina Kitchen - serves 4
Printable recipe

3 pounds of small cultivated mussels, scrubbed and debearded if necessary
1 leek
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups chicken broth (we like the low sodium & fat free variety)
1 cup dry white wine
1 - 14.5oz can whole tomatoes
½ cup of half & half or cream
2 capfuls of Pernod (optional)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Rinse the mussels in water, scrub and de-bead if necessary. Cut the dark green leaves off of the top of the leek and discard them. You will be left with the light green leaves and white end. Cut the roots off of the white end and discard it also. Cut the remainder of the leek in half lengthwise, rinse well under running water to remove any dirt, and shake dry. Cut each half of the leek in half again and thinly slice.

Add the olive oil to a large non-aluminum stock pot and set the heat to medium. Sauté the leek and garlic in the olive oil for 3 to 5 minutes to soften, taking care not to brown. Add the mussels in their shells, chicken broth and wine to the stock pot and stir well. Raise the heat to medium high. Cover and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the mussels open. Discard any mussels that do not open.

Remove the stock pot from the heat and allow the mixture to cool. When it is sufficiently cool, carefully remove the mussels from the liquid and pick them from their shells, leaving a few in their shells for a garnish.  Discard the remaining shells.

Add the mussels back to the liquid in the stockpot along with a can of whole tomatoes which you have gently crushed with your hands along with their tomato liquid. Stir, then bring the mixture to a boil, immediately turn the heat down to medium low and let it simmer about 10 minutes. Add the half & half, Pernod if using, a good pinch of cayenne pepper and salt and pepper to taste. Let it heat through. Serve immediately in bowls with chopped fresh parsley for garnish. Accompany with slices of a crusty French baguette for dipping.

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Thank you for your kind words of encouragement with regard to my physical therapy. I've had therapy several times in the past and I've just started this round. It has been more painful than I expected and I hope to have that portion of the treatment corrected by the time you read this. Thank you again for caring. It means so much to me.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, and Comforts of Home Tasty Tuesday.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Pork Normandy on a Diet with the Volume Turned Up

Pork with apples is a classic French dish from the Normandy region of France and is an elegant, rich dish containing cream and butter. The spiced pork tenderloin and sautéed apples I present today is a version of pork Normandy, but on a diet with the “volume turned up” as Ina so famously says.  Now is a perfect time to make this while there is still a nice assortment of apples at the market.

A mixture of coriander, black pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg coat the pork tenderloin to “turn up the volume” and infuse it with a nice bit of spice.  We’ve added a splash of Calvados, an apple brandy from the Normandy region to give the dish a bit more authenticity. The brandy is not necessary, but it definitely gives it another burst of flavor. Calvados is distilled from cider made from specially grown apples, sometimes as many as 200 named varieties. Like many French wines, Calvados is governed by appellation contrôlée regulations and makes a very, very fine after dinner sipping brandy.

We were most impressed with the depth of flavor in this recipe, especially considering the fact that it is prepared in under 30 minutes. Leave it to Cooking Light to put a dish on a diet yet keep all of the flavor. The spice mixture also really brings a lot flavor to the pork. If you have a rasp, be sure to grate the nutmeg yourself because it makes such an important difference compared to ground nutmeg.

This is definitely a company worthy dish. Serve with mashed potatoes as we did or a fresh spinach salad as Cooking Light recommended. If you wish, you can add a small splash of cream or butter in the end if you want to make it a tad richer, but then it wouldn’t be on a diet would it.

Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Sautéed Apples
Adapted from Fast & Fresh 20 Minute Recipes from Cooking Light – serves 4

½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 12 pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups thinly sliced unpeeled Braeburn or Gala apple
1/3 cup peeled and thinly sliced shallots
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup apple cider
2 tablespoons apple brandy such as Calvados, or any good brandy
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. We used a nonstick coasted cast iron skillet. Combine salt, coriander, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg and sprinkle the spice mixture evenly over the pork and rub it in. Heat the olive oil in the pan and when hot, add pork to the pan. Cook 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Do not overcook the pork or it will be dry and tough. Remove pork from pan, cover and keep warm.

Melt butter in pan and swirl to coat. Add apple slices, shallots, and salt, sauté 4 minutes or until the apples starts to brown. Remove the pan briefly from the hot burner and add apple cider and brandy to pan. Return to the burner and cook for 2 minutes, deglazing the pan, until apples are crisp-tender. Stir in thyme leaves. Serve apple mixture with the pork.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, and Comforts of Home Tasty Tuesday.

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By the way, I may be a little off my normal schedule and not be able to post or visit your blogs as often as I would like for the next four or five weeks. I will be involved with physical therapy sessions that will likely keep me busy and probably tired as well. Hopefully they will give me some new strength and a better quality of life. So if you don't see me out and about as often, you'll know where I am. 

Have a great weekend everyone.