Thursday, June 18, 2009

Asparagus and Spinach Hot Pasta Toss

Sometimes it's the last minute meals, pulled together from whispy memories of recipes, that turn out the greatest. Perhaps it's because the expectation is so low, we're delighted at any measure of success?

At any rate, this is the first meal in a long time that had Wonder Daddy and I fighting over the last bites (he won...but I got to scrape the pan.)


This is best served hot, straight from the stove. I had some greens left over from last week's CSA box that needed using-- asparagus and spinach-- but I imagine that many vegetables would be just as lovely, but these worked especially well because of their basically unassertive flavors.

Asparagus and Spinach Hot Pasta Toss
Olive Oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
a few pinches Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1 bunch asparagus, chopped to 1-inch pieces
1 bunch spinach, chopped to 1-inch pieces
1/2 lemon
1 pound cold pasta
Shredded Parmesan Cheese

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the sliced garlic and crushed red pepper flakes- saute until fragrant. Throw in the asparagus, and the zest and juice of the half lemon- the juice should really sizzle in the pan. When the asparagus is just crunchier than you'd like it to be, add in the spinach, and then the noodles to heat. Glug in a little more olive oil, to nicely coat the noodles.

Top with generous handfuls of shredded Parmesan cheese, and let sit for a few moments until cheese is nicely melted- you could speed this along by throwing the lid on.

Serve hot.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Food Fit For a Party

I attended a baby shower for a friend of mine this past weekend, and volunteered to bring some goodies.

When I was planning what to bring, I remembered that I've never met a pregnant lady who didn't appreciate some fresh fruit and some chocolate cake.

First off, the fresh fruit. I saw this idea in an old entertaining book I stole from Grandma when I was in high school. (Yes, Myrnie, I've still got it!) It has some truly crazy things - salmon mousse in the shape of a salmon, anyone? - but it also has some gems. Like this.

To make this watermelon, carefully cut away two wedge shaped sections from the top of the watermelon, with the point being a right angle. When both sections are cut away, carefully stick your knife through the section left in the middle and cut the fruit out. (I wasn't quite careful enough, and nearly went through the handle on one side. Oops!)

The easiest way to break up the watermelon into servable chunks is to just attack it with a spoon. Scoop/break out serving sized pieces, pile them into a bowl, drain the leftover juice out of the watermelon, and pile the fruit back into the watermelon. (Of course, you can't fit all of the fruit back in. Just pile in what you can, and leave the rest at home for your toddler and husband to enjoy. Om nom nom!)

Because I wanted to be fancy, I took a long piece of plastic wrap and made a box to decorate my "basket." (Couldn't you tell what it was?!)

And of course, we couldn't forget to bring a chocolate cake!

I chose to use Pioneer Woman's Chocolate Sheet Cake. It's as good as she says, y'all. It's really, really good. You can see my notes below. WARNING: This is not diet food! This cake should only be made if there are a minimum of 20 prospective mouths to feed.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Pioneer Woman Chocolate Sheet Cake

Combine in a mixing bowl:
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar (I cut this down to 1 1/2 cups, and could probably cut it down to 1 cup.)
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a saucepan, melt:
2 sticks butter
Add 4 heaping tablespoons cocoa. Stir together.

Add 1 cup boiling water, allow mixture to boil for 30 seconds, then turn off heat. Pour over flour mixture, and stir lightly to cool.

In measuring cup, pour 1/2 cup buttermilk.
2 beaten eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda (Does anybody know why you are supposed to mix the baking soda into the eggs and buttermilk??)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Stir buttermilk mixture into butter/chocolate mixture. Pour into sheet cake pan and bake at 350-degrees for 20 minutes. (I'll turn the cake partway through baking next time - my oven is tipped and one corner of my cake was paper thin!)

While cake is baking, make icing:
Chop 1/2 cup pecans finely.
Melt 1 3/4 sticks butter in a saucepan.
Add 4 heaping tablespoons cocoa, stir to combine, then turn off heat.

6 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 lb minus 1/2 cup powdered sugar
Stir together.

Add pecans, stir together, and pour over warm cake.

I cut this into 30 squares, and that was just about right for a baby-shower type setting. Several people went back for seconds (or thirds!) but those of us who were dieting could just grab a small piece and call it good.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Aunt LoLo's Strawberry Lime Jam

I kind of made this up, based on some other recipes I saw out there. They all called for lemons, though...and I had limes. It turned out great! My daughter was eating the remnants out of the pan with a spoon.

Aunt LoLo's Strawberry-Lime Jam
2 lbs. strawberries, washed, hulled and cut

3 cups granulated sugar

The juice and zest of two small limes

Cook over medium heat until the berries are macerated, and the juice is starting to gel (about 220 degrees F.) Use a frozen saucer to test the thickness of the jam as it nears 220 F.

Pack into sterilized jars.

Process 10 minutes in a hot water bath. Makes 2 pints.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Orange Vanilla Marmalade

Alright, so I'm totally jumping off from Myrnie's Meyer Lemon Marmalade, but I thought this warranted its own post.

Why? Because my version uses two oranges, makes two quarts of marmalade, and was so dead simple...that's why!

Orange Vanilla Marmalade
2 naval oranges, washed and sliced into 1/8ths (remove any seeds you find)

1) Put your oranges (yes, peel and all) into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped (about pea sized chunks). This takes about 12 pulses.

2. Remove chopped oranges to a non-reactive (I used stainless steel) bowl and add enough water to cover them. Add just enough if you like a really chunky marmalade, or more water if you like to have more jelly in your marmalade.

3. Cover with a tea towel, and walk away. Don't come back for 8-24 hours. (Honestly, I left mine a night, and a day, and a night. Oops.)

4. When you do come back, put your orange/water mixture into a heavy-bottomed pot, one cup at a time. You need to measure how many cups of liquid you have so you can...

5. ...add 3/4 cups sugar per cup of liquid. (I added 1 cup of sugar per cup of liquid, and it turned out a bit too sweet.) You can also add a split vanilla bean at this point, or a healthy dollop of vanilla extract.

6. It's time to cook! Break out your candy thermometer if you have one. Stick a small saucer and a spoon in the freezer, too. Bring it all to a simmer - watch it carefully. High pectin fruits like oranges tend to foam up a lot at the beginning. Watch your candy thermometer - you want to cook your mixture until it reaches about 220 F. When it starts to get close, occasionally remove from heat and scoop out a little marmalade with your frozen spoon, onto your frozen plate - this will show you exactly how hard your finished product will be.

7. When your marmalade is as thick as you like it, you can pour it into your prepared jars.

I didn't want to can mine, so I just screwed the lids on and left them to cool on the counter before storing them in the fridge. These will store for about 2 months that way. (In the picture, you can see I had one full quarter jar. There are two other jars, each half full, as I wanted to give part of this endeavor to some friends of mine.)

Alternately, you can sterilize your jars, pour the marmalade in (leaving a headspace of 1/4") and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

My batch, with two good sized oranges made nearly two quarts of marmalade. Not bad for such a small investment! Next time, I'll find smaller jars, can them properly...and hand them out at Christmastime as gifts.