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It’s that time of year — asparagus is filling the green markets and being plucked from home gardens.  There is nothing as delicious to see than those bright green heads peeking up through the softening earth.  When I was a little one – there I go again talking about when I was —- my mom and aunt would take me in hand as they scouted the edges of irrigation ditches looking for the first spring crop.  I have absolutely no idea why asparagus grew along the ditches but if any of you readers do please tell me.  We would have asparagus every night until it got too warm and the asparagus disappeared.  It would also be canned and pickled.

When I use it in risotto, I like to add the trimmings to the stock to deepen the asparagus flavor.  And, if you don’t have stock or broth on hand, just add the trimmings to water and that will give you a flavorful stock.  If you have any on hand, a small dice of fennel also works to add some complexity to the final dish.

Serves 4

Approximately 4 cups hot chicken stock or low-sodium chicken

broth

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cup finely diced onion

Salt

1 cup Arborio rice

½ cup dry white wine

1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut, on the diagonal, into

thin pieces

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Pepper

Place the chicken stock or broth in a large saucepan over medium heat.  If you have them, add the trimmings from the asparagus to the stock to add flavor.  Bring to a simmer; then, remove from the heat and keep warm.  

Place the butter in a heavy bottom saucepan over medium heat.  When melted, add the onion and season with salt.  Cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes or just until the onion begins to soften.  Lower the heat, add the rice and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes or until the rice is shiny and has absorbed some of the butter.

Return the stock to low heat.

Add the wine to the rice and cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes or until the rice has absorbed the wine.  

Begin adding the hot stock, about ¼ cup at a time, and continue to cook, stirring constantly, as each ¼ cup is absorbed and the rice is creamy but, al dente.

Stir in the asparagus and olive oil and cook for an additional 4 minutes or until the asparagus is still crisp-tender.

Remove from the heat and stir in half of the cheese.  Cover and let stand for 3 minutes.

Uncover and pour into individual serving bowls.  Garnish with the remaining ½ cup of cheese and a sprinkle of pepper.

Serve immediately.  

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Chicken Thighs with Cabbage

Pantry cooking is in many ways, a luxury.  Although we think of it as money- and time-saving, a cook has to have the space, the budget and the hours to build a storehouse of ingredients that will make putting a meal on the table an easier task.  As COVID-19 has shut down my city as well as many other cities and towns across the world, pantry cooking has become the online talk-point of the moment.  Chefs and home cooks alike are featuring recipe videos telling us how to cook with what we have on hand.  It is almost overwhelming to be told constantly that there is nothing easier than cooking with what you have on hand.

I have to say that this is something I’ve been doing for most of my life.  There are a number of reasons for this.  My mother remembered the Great Depression only too well and was very careful with her food budget – she always had something on hand to create a tasty meal and leftovers were turned into another dish.  For years, because I lived in a lively neighborhood in NYC, I shopped daily from all of the extraordinary shops that lined the Avenues – butchers, bakers, produce markets.  I loved the thrill of deciding what our meals would be on these spur of the moment shopping forays.

Then, for some years we lived in a rural setting in upstate New York where the winters were long and harsh.  I learned to keep a stocked pantry if I intended to cook and bake as I always had.  Powdered milk, yeast, powdered buttermilk, canned goods, frozen meats were never out of reach so that I could bake bread and cakes, make tasty dinners and filling breakfasts every day.  And, when I returned to the city, I just kept the country ways.  I keep my kitchen pantry stocked so that I can entertain unexpected guests, feed my grandson on his lunch break or simply save myself daily shopping trips.  In addition, because I am more and more aware of people going hungry even in our richest cities I am increasingly careful about food waste.  Going back to my mother’s thriftiness, I recycle all leftovers and do my best to use what I have on hand before opening a new package, preparing a new vegetable or ordering a take-out meal.  

This recipe is a good example of cooking with what you have on hand.  If you don’t have shallots, use a small onion.  No garlic, omit it.  No chicken stock, use water.  No preserved lemon, use a fresh lemon – with this charge, the taste will change but, the dish will still be tasty.  And the only reason you seem some green is that I had a bunch of cilantro that was wilting fast so thought it would give a bit of freshness to the finished dish – certainly not necessary at all.

Chicken Thighs with Cabbage and Preserved Lemon

Serves 4

4 skinless bone-in chicken thighs

Wondra flour for dusting

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ large head cabbage, cored and shredded

1 large carrot, peeled and shredded

1 large shallot

1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced

1-½ cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth

Juice and zest of 1 small orange

1 small preserved lemon, seeds removed and finely chopped

Trim off and discard any large pieces of fat from the chicken thighs.  Lightly coat each one with Wondra flour and season with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  When hot, add the coated thighs and cook for about 5 minutes, turning occasionally, until golden brown and beginning to cook through.

Remove the thighs from the pan and set aside.

Add the cabbage to the pan.  Toss in the carrot, shallot and garlic and cook, tossing occasionally, for about 5 minutes or just until the cabbage begins to wilt.  Season with salt and pepper, add the stock and orange juice and zest along with the preserved lemon and toss to blend well.

Nestle the thighs into the vegetable mix.  Cook, without stirring, for about 20 minutes or until the vegetable mixture is soft and mellow and the thighs are cooked through.

Remove from the heat and serve.

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Here I am one post back giving you some notes from my kitchen and I’ve screwed up already.  I got a number of complaints that I put up Steve’s inviting photo of sausage rolls from my December DeGustibus at Macy’s Cooking School class but then I didn’t offer the recipe.  I have now been appropriately chastised so here is the recipe.  It is not my recipe – it belongs to my English friend, Stuart Clarke.  He always serves these yummy rolls pre-dinner with cocktails.  And, always with ketchup – no fancy dipping sauces.  The DeGustibus class was holiday entertaining and I can tell you that not only were these a favorite of our guests, they were a big hit with the kitchen and cocktail crew.  Fortunately, we made a lot of them and were delighted to see every single piece gone by the end of the evening.

 

Makes 18 to 24 small rolls

          You will find some version of these rolls anyplace that the British have put down stakes.  They are snacks, cocktail treats, lunch staples or just a filling treat whenever hunger strikes.  They are quick to put together if you cheat and use ready-made pastry – puff pastry works extremely well – and sausage straight from the market.  You can also make these as large or as small as you want.

 

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out dough

¼ teaspoon salt

6 ounces chilled unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch cubes

½ cup cold water

1 pound pork breakfast sausage

3 tablespoons minced yellow onion

1 tablespoon minced fresh sage

1 teaspoon minced flat leaf parsley

1 large egg

 

Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade.  Add the butter and, using quick on and off turns, process until the butter is incorporated into the flour in tiny balls.  With the motor running, slowly drizzle in ½ cup cold water, processing just until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  You may not need all the water.

Lightly flour a clean, flat work surface.

Scrape the dough out onto the floured surface.  Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a large rectangle.  Fold the two smaller ends up toward the center of the dough so that they meet but don’t overlap.  Turn the dough a quarter-turn and again roll out to a rectangle.  Repeat the folding process and then gently form the dough into a plump, but slightly flat circle.  Wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Line a baking sheet with a silicon liner or parchment paper.

While the dough is chilling, prepare the filling.

Remove the sausage meat from its casings.  Combine the sausage meat with the onion, sage and parsley in a medium mixing bowl.  Using your hands, smash the seasonings into the meat until well blended.

Place the egg in a small bowl and whisk to blend it well.  Set aside.

Lightly flour a clean, flat work surface.

Place the chilled dough in the center and, using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a rectangle about 24-inches long and 5-inches wide.

Place the sausage meat down the center of the rectangle.

Using a pastry brush, lightly coat one long side of the dough rectangle with the beaten egg.  Pull the other long side up and over the sausage filling and pat it down onto the egg-washed edge to form a log shape.  Carefully turn the log over so that the seam is on the bottom of the roll.

Using a sharp knife, cut the log, crosswise, into as many 1-inch long pieces as you can.  It should be somewhere between 18 and 24.  Place the pieces on the prepared baking sheet, leaving at least 1-inch between each one.

Using the pastry brush and the remaining egg, lightly coat each roll with egg wash.  Carefully cut 2 slits into the top of the pastry, taking care that you do not cut down into the sausage.  At this point, you may freeze the sausage rolls for up to 3 months.

Transfer to the preheated oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.

Serve hot.

 

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I know I disappeared once before and then promised to do better about keeping my blogging moving ahead.  Then, it just seemed as though there was so much information and so many recipes and food talk online that what I had to add didn’t seem necessary.  So, once again, I shut down.  However, through this past year or so, friends kept asking me to return to the blog.  When I would ask why, the general answers seemed to be about the same – your recipes are easy, your comments light and comforting to novice cooks and fun to read.  Even those great cooks told me that they enjoyed my banter as much as they enjoyed seeing what I was cooking and why I was cooking.  All that to say as the pandemic is raging across the world, I’m back.  And, I dearly hope, here to receive plenty of comments from all of you who take the time to read my ramblings.  It’s you who make this all worth doing.

Here is a “Welcome Back” photo from my dear husband, photographer Steve Pool.  You can visit his work on his website www.stevepool.net – his show this past October was a sold-out event.  It features Sausage Rolls, a specialty of my dear friend, Stuart Clarke, and was taken at my December DeGustibus at Macy’s Cooking School class

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We have been “babysitting” a friend’s little dog so I have been out in Central Park far more than I normally am.  Today, I came across a whole chestnut in the middle of a number of chestnuts that had either been attacked by squirrels or stepped on by other dog walkers.  I picked it up as it brought up a memory which made me laugh out loud.

Years and years ago when I was a newcomer to the neighborhood and spent a lot of time exploring the park with my children, I came across some of these very same chestnuts.  What I didn’t realize (or know) was that these are horse chestnuts, not those sweet chestnuts so loved by the French, found roasting by an open fire or filling the fall and winter air with the intoxicating aroma from the chestnut carts that can be found in midtown Manhattan.

These are chestnuts are not to be eaten.  However, I thought I had found gold as I grew up in the west and had never seen a chestnut or a chestnut tree.  So, of course, I spent some time picking quite a few up from under their tree.  I took them home and turned the oven on to high. I laid the chestnuts out on a sheet pan and popped them in the hot oven to roast.  After taking care of my little ones I began to hear some strange noises coming from the kitchen which, of course, being distracted by the children, I ignored for a bit.  But, then the noises got louder and louder.  I hurried into the kitchen and discovered that the noise was coming from the oven.  As I opened the oven door, I was bombarded with bits and pieces of chestnut.  Every chestnut had popped open and the meat and shell had turned into shrapnel, most of which clung to the inside of the oven and was turning into cinder leaving an absolutely awful odor.

Had there been a household computer in those days I’m sure I would have gone to it and looked up my prize to see what I had done wrong.  But, instead, I had to go to cookbooks and encyclopedias to try to discover my error. It took a while but eventually, I found that 1) these were not chestnuts to be eaten and 2) when you roast chestnuts you have to prick the shell otherwise they will burst.  I never tried it again and to this day I don’t like chestnuts!

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Ebelskivers_7498

 

What are ebelskivers?  Not nearly as scary as the name sounds….. they are Danish treats that are sometimes called Danish pancakes or Danish puffs.  They are more puff than pancake as they are cooked into little round balls in a pan made especially for them.  My friends at ScanpanUSA (www.scanpan.com)  presented me with an ebelskiver pan some time ago and although I have used it I have infrequently made the dessert it is named for.  However, they are so easy to do and just enough work that I am willing to put my “no sweets diet” aside.  With this batch I made half with jam filling and half with bittersweet chocolate – I loved them both.  Next, I am going to try to make a savory version which I will report on once done.

I make this small recipe otherwise I’d eat too many of them, but you can easily double the recipe.  If you have children or a sweet tooth, I’d recommend doing that as these are rather like doughnut holes that you can just pop into your mouth.

 

Æbelskiversor Ebelskivers

Makes about 18

 

2 large eggs, separated

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ cup milk

½ cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Raspberry or other jam of choice (you’ll need about ¼ cup)

9 bits of bittersweet chocolate or 3 bittersweet chocolate chips per ebelskiver

Butter for brushing ebelskiver cups

Cinnamon sugar or confectioners’ sugar for dusting

 

Place the egg whites in a small bowl and beat, using a hand-held electric mixer, for about 4 minutes or until stiff, but not dry.  Set aside.

Combine the flour, sugar and baking powder in a medium mixing bowl, whisking to blend well.

Combine the milk, cream, butter and vanilla with the reserved egg yolks in a small bowl and whisk to blend.  Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients and beat to just combine.  The mixture should be a bit lumpy.

Fold the egg whites into the batter until incorporated, yet still light and airy.

Place the ebelskiver pan over medium-high heat.  Add a dab of butter to each cup and, using a pastry brush, lightly coat the entire cup with the melting butter.

When the butter bubbles, add about a tablespoon of the batter to each cup.  As the batter begins to set, place either a teaspoon of jam or the chocolate bits in the center.  When the batter is fully set, add a tablespoon of batter to cover the filling.  Carefully turn the cooked half and continue to cook until the batter has cooked through and the filling is hot and/or melted.  I use a long wooden skewer and my fingers – take care not to burn them – to turn the ball.

Remove from the pan and set on a wire rack.  Dust with sugar and serve warm.

Continue making ebelskivers until all of the batter is used.

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If you are a past reader you know that I love “nursery” desserts like custard, puddings, floating island – almost anything that would have been served in an English nursery.  The only ones I don’t like are those with gelatin bases or what I used to call wiggle desserts.  A grunt is almost one of those nursery desserts but it is a little more grown-up.  But how I love the names of old-fashioned fruit desserts like this one.  Buckles, slumps, pandowdies, fools, betties, sonkers, crumbles – all silly names for delicious fruit desserts probably most of them from early English cookbooks.  I particularly love a grunt (also called slump) in the summer as it can be cooked on the stove top rather than in the oven so you don’t have to heat up the kitchen on those hot days.  This is one of my favorite recipes —- summer or winter.  You can use almost any fruit that is in season.  If using harder fruits, such as apples or pears, pre-cook them a bit longer to soften.

 

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

¾ cup half and half

¼ cup cooled, melted unsalted butter

½ cup water

½ cup orange juice

¾ cup granulated sugar

8 cups blueberries

Zest of 1 lemon

Pinch ground nutmeg

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Heavy cream or whipped cream for serving, optional

 

Combine the flour, light brown sugar and baking powder in a medium mixing bowl.  Whisk together to blend completely.  Add the half and half and melted butter and, using a wooden spoon, beat until a soft batter forms and no lumps remain.

Combine the water, orange juice and sugar in a heavy bottomed 12-inch frying pan.  Place over medium heat and bring to a boil.  Cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved into the liquid.

Add the blueberries, lemon zest, and nutmeg, cover and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and cook for 5 minutes.

Uncover and drop the batter by the heaping tablespoonful into the bubbling fruit. Continue dropping until all of the batter has been used and the entire top is almost covered in dumplings.  Lower the heat to barely simmer, cover and cook for about 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into a couple of the dumplings comes out clean.

Remove from the heat and set on a wire rack to cool slightly.

Serve warm, dusted with confectioners’ sugar or with heavy cream poured over each serving or whipped cream dolloped on top.  You could also serve with vanilla ice cream or yogurt – do whatever your diet points you toward.

 

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