Monday, December 22, 2014

Announcing the Winner!

Congratulations to... (drum roll, please)...




Lisa Edwards is the lucky winner of a Hamilton Beach Stack & Snap Food Processor.

I want to thank all of you who made such nice comments in order to enter. I only wish I had enough of the Hamilton Beach machines to send one to each of you. But later today, I’ll be posting a terrific recipe that will make you the star of the show for your holiday gatherings. So stay tuned and stay merry...

Friday, December 19, 2014

Ho, Ho, Ho! The Kitchen Goddess’s 2014 Gift Guide for Foodies
What’s cooking? Are you kidding? Who has time to cook?



Only 6 more shopping days until Christmas, and five days of Hanukkah remain. So if you’re running out of great ideas for your cook-wise, food-centric friend or lover, here are a few you may have missed.


And in case you’re wondering, the Kitchen Goddess has not received as much as a sugar plum for these recommendations. She is a wonder of ethical virtue.


Stocking Stuffers


■ Sharp-eyed readers of this blog will recognize this mezzaluna chopping knife as having made an appearance on my list last year. Well, Santa must have been reading Spoon & Ink, because the Kitchen Goddess got one in her stocking, and it’s such fun to use, I decided it deserved an encore. You’re using both hands to chop as you rock the blade back and forth, so it’s a lot easier than using a chef’s knife, and it does a great job of mincing small-scale stuff that you often have to chase around the chopping board: garlic, spring onions, shallots, and any kind of herb. And the handles flip around to guard against an accidental attack in the kitchen drawer. It’s $15.00 at the Museum of Modern Art; amazon.com sells the green-handled version for the same price, or the same product with light gray handles for only $12.88. Go figure.

■ When your kitchen is about 90 percent stainless steel, you can spend your life trying to get rid of the fingerprints, smudges, and smears of daily life. But all that changed when I found the Casabella Microfiber Stainless Steel Magnet Cloth. I wipe up food with a sponge, then a quick swipe with a damp green Casabella cloth polishes my counters and appliances to a sheen without chemicals or abrasives. Glass, too. If your friend or loved one doesn’t have this cloth, he/she will adore you forever when you add this to their stocking. It’s only $5.99 at the Container Store, $6.15 at amazon.com.

■ As you know, the Kitchen Goddess has a love of candles that borders on the fanatical. Here are two of her favorites. These Wine Cork Candles ($9.95 at Sur La Table for a set of 4) offer – at last! – a use for all those empty wine bottles. In fact, you can even consider the candles as providing a great reason to drink another bottle of wine. The more candles, the merrier...










The artichoke candles are a more serious option, at a more serious price ($30.00 for a set of 4 at casa.com or amazon.com). But I’ve found that once they’ve burned about halfway down, you can stick a tea light in the middle and reuse them practically forever.













■ Here’s something you never knew you or your local home chef needed. A bread wrap. Yes, you read that right: a bread wrap. From a company called Bee’s Wrap. Organic cotton muslin that’s been dipped or somehow saturated with beeswax, jojoba oil, and tree resin. Sounds weird, I know, but you wrap a loaf of bread in this cloth, then use the warmth of your hands to mold the wrap around the bread. It’s antibacterial, seals perfectly, and keeps the bread fresh. You can wash the wrap in cool water and use it over and over. And it works. Take it from the Kitchen Goddess.






■ I wouldn’t really suggest that you stuff a plant into a stocking, but an aloe vera plant is a great gift for a home chef. The Kitchen Goddess is no stranger to kitchen burns. So she keeps an aloe vera plant as a permanent fixture. Snap off the tip of a leaf, squeeze out the gel onto the burn, and feel better immediately. These little plants are easy to grow – in fact, hard to kill – and are effective in relieving all sorts of minor skin irritations. Pick one up at your local garden store. According to aloevera.com, they also do great work in purifying the air. Who knew?






Actual Food


■ While it’s probably not a great idea to stick cheese under your tree, a gift certificate to a local cheese store is always welcomed with joy by any foodie on your list. Find a good local cheese shop – like Antonelli’s Cheese Shop in Austin or The Summit Cheese Shop in New Jersey – or fall back on a place like the famous and fabulous Murray’s Cheese Shop in New York City, which sells gift cards and gift boxes that will have your friend or loved one melting with gratitude.

■ Did you know that olive oil is at its best when consumed within six months of bottling? Which means it’s a great idea to get to know the offerings of your local olive oil manufacturer. They’ll make great gifts for anyone who likes to cook. According to the American Olive Oil Producers Association, you can get locally produced olive oil from California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Florida, Oregon and Hawaii. So if you live in one of those states, check out a local producer and try their products. They’re likely to be fresher and of reliably higher quality than much of what makes it here from Europe. And if you don’t live in one of those states, try getting oil from the nearest producing state.

■ Here’s an idea that intrigued the Kitchen Goddess so much that she had to order some: Chili Granola by Bad Seed ($16 for 8 oz). It’s made in Queens, New York, and it’s a “Food & Wine Selects” choice by that magazine’s editors. Don’t take my word for it – I haven’t even tasted the stuff – but F&W’s Executive Food Editor says, “Popping with flavor and crunch, this savory condiment is a happy mashup of hot chile oil and the crisp and crunchy grains and seeds you associate with granola. It's great on everything from eggs, avocado, hummus or yogurt to salads and sliced roast chicken or pork.” So what’s in it? Seeds and nuts and ginger and miso and brown sugar... just for starters. Doesn’t that sound like a food lover’s treat?


Cookbooks


Three books have tweaked the Kitchen Goddess’s imagination this year – and, after all, that’s what a good cookbook does, isn’t it? Beyond instructing us on a particular preparation, it inspires us to think in new ways. So with that thought in mind, I present these:

■ The publisher Little, Brown, should be congratulated on the really elegant presentation of Michael Ruhlman’s new book, Egg. Ruhlman, who has co-authored cookbooks with culinary kingpins Thomas Keller, Eric Ripert, and Anthony Bourdain, started his cooking/writing life with The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America. Egg includes an ingenious pullout flowchart of egg-inspired dishes gives you a nicely global understanding of the relationships among egg dishes. The subtitle, “A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient,” says it all.








■ Once you’ve eaten at one of Jean-George Vongerichten’s 25+ restaurants, it’s not hard to spot the sometimes playful, always flavorful hints of Southeast Asia in many of his dishes. I thought I’d only been to two of his eateries – Spice Market and ABC Kitchen in NYC – but when I looked at the full list, I noticed Mercer Kitchen in NYC’s SoHo district, and immediately said to myself, “Of course.” So I was thrilled to find a book of his making that at least purported to be for us mortals: Home Cooking with Jean-Georges: My Favorite Simple Recipes. Turns out it actually is. There’s the occasional odd ingredient (unsalted yuzu juice?), but I expect they’re not hard to find at a decent Asian market. So,... gorgeous photography, simple and straightforward instruction, and those dishes I’ve tried delivered on the promise.

■ I’m a complete sucker for Italy’s Amalfi Coast, and so is my hubby. Last year, when he gave me this book – by the owners of the A16 restaurant in San Francisco – I was skeptical that it could produce anything remotely like the tastes available in Positano, Ravello, Salerno, Amalfi,... But while there’s still nothing like sitting in an outdoor café overlooking the Mediterranean, eating fish just pulled from the sea, the vibe is still there in this book, A16: Food + Wine. And a feature you don’t often find is the wine section, which gives an excellent and totally readable discussion of what comes from the grapes of the region.





If He/She Has Been Particularly Nice This Year,...


■ You may want to splurge on the best espresso maker I’ve ever experienced. Lattes, capuccinos, and straight espressos are easy and so authentic tasting, I thought maybe I’d just been transported to an espresso bar in the heart of Rome. Nespresso’s Citiz & Milk is $299.00 at every place I looked, including Crate & Barrel, Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table, and amazon.com. I know – that’s a lot of Starbucks, but you don’t have to get dressed for this one.









* * *

P.S. It's not too late to leave a comment – here or on the Spoon & Ink Facebook page – to be entered in the drawing to win a Hamilton Beach Snap & Stack Food Processor. See my previous post for details.

Happy Holidays to you all!








Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Holiday Giveaway!! Season’s Greetings from the Kitchen Goddess
What’s cooking? Italian Veggie Gratin


In the spirit of holiday cheer, my friends at Hamilton Beach have offered another giveaway to Spoon & Ink readers: a Stack & Snap™ 10-Cup Food Processor. They sent me one for testing, and I used it to make an Italian-inspired vegetable gratin. But more on that later. First let’s talk about how you can get your own Stack & Snap – free!

Win a Hamilton Beach Stack & Snap 10-Cup Food Processor!
If you’d like to participate in the drawing for one of these handy time-saving, work-saving machines, all you have to do is leave a comment – either at the bottom of this post or on the Spoon & Ink Facebook page. Just be sure to sign it, and you’ll be entered to win. I’ll be drawing a name and announcing it in a post on Monday, December 22. So leave your comment before then.





The Kitchen Goddess is not one to insist on all the latest appliances. But a food processor is something that even the non-serious cooks among you should have. In fact, many of my favorite recipes would be complete non-starters in the absence of a food processor: Arugula Pesto, Fromage Fort, Greek Almond Cookies, and 3 of the 4 veggie sides I posted about for Thanksgiving (Asparagus Flan, Sweet Potato-Ginger Soufflé, and Watercress Purée). Moreover, the Stack & Snap Processor is so reasonably priced that, even if you don’t win the drawing, it’s easy to fit one into your budget.

The Machine

The Kitchen Goddess was totally in her element with this road test. First, I tried out the processor’s most basic feature: the chopping blade. It nicely pulverized the almonds for a meringue in a recipe I’ll tell you about another day.



So I moved on to the slicing/shredding blade. For convenience, it's a single blade, with "Slice" clearly marked on one side and "Shred" on the other. I wanted to use both features in a single recipe, so I looked around my kitchen and found onions, zucchini, crimini mushrooms, and a package of those adorable grape tomatoes. I took inspiration from a zucchini gratin posted by the great Ina Garten, whose recipes are known to be easy and straightforward, and I tweaked it in so many ways that it no longer looks like Ina’s at all, though it’s still easy and straightforward.

The Stack & Snap performed beautifully, except on the mushrooms, which – frankly – don’t really stand up to any food processor. (Not that it didn’t slice them but it’s too hard to control the position of a mushroom in the feeder tube, so more than a few came out looking like tiny frisbees. I sliced the rest of the mushrooms with my mandoline.) But my Stack & Snap sliced through the onions, the squash, and even the tomatoes like a hot knife through butter. (It’s a Southernism. Forgive me.)
















The shredding side of the slicing/shredding disk made short work of a chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and in no time flat, I had the mise en place for my gratin. Which, by the way, is completely delicious and redolent of Italy.





Italian Veggie Gratin


Serves 6.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, separated
2 large onions (12-13 ounces total), halved and thinly sliced
8 ounces crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
5 small zucchini (about 1¾ pounds), thinly sliced
10 ounces grape tomatoes, thinly sliced
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces fresh goat cheese
2½ ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
1½ cups fresh bread crumbs (or panko or a combination)

Preheat oven to 400º and lightly grease a 2-quart gratin dish (about 12 x 9 x 2 inches).

Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large sauté pan or skillet over medium-low heat and add the onions. Sauté the onions for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The onions should cook but not brown, so if they begin to brown, turn the heat down.

While the onions are cooking, take a small skillet (preferably non-stick) and heat another tablespoon of the butter on medium-high. When the butter is hot, add the mushrooms and sauté, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

Once the onions have cooked, add the zucchini, stir, and cook covered for 8-10 more minutes, until the zucchini are tender. Stir in the tomatoes, the reserved cooked mushrooms, and the salt and pepper. Crumble the goat cheese over the mixture and stir it in. Cover and cook another 5 minutes.


Remove the vegetable mixture to the prepared gratin dish. In a small bowl, stir together the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the bread crumbs. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and stir it into the cheese/bread crumbs, mixing enough to get the bread crumbs well moistened with the butter. Sprinkle the mix over the vegetables and bake at 400º for 20 minutes or until the top bubbles and browns.


Don’t forget to sign up for the drawing to win your own Stack & Snap Food Processor!


Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Rainbow Connection: Painting Cookies with the Kids
What’s cooking? Painted Roll-out Cookies


Today is National Cookie Day – a tidbit I received from a fellow blogger, Linda Anderson, who focuses on activities for kids. Who makes these things up? Not only do Cookie Monsters and bakers alike celebrate the one day, but apparently, the entire week is Cookie Cutter Week. So sharpen your sweet tooth, folks, and start baking/buying/eating.

The Kitchen Goddess, being naturally skeptical, is not one to let these morsels of information pass uninspected. So she went to Wikipedia – the source of all wacky and wonderful information – where she found that the celebration was started in 1987, by the Blue Chip Cookie Company in San Francisco. As reported in the LA Times back then, the president of the company, one Matt Nader, decided on this historic move because, “It’s just like having National Secretaries Day,” said Nader.

So let’s see, ... cookies versus secretaries, cookies versus secretaries... I don’t know – somehow, I don’t see them as being exactly alike. But we can’t argue with Mr. Nader, who died in 1997.

With or without Mr. Nader, the company is still in business, even though the headquarters has moved to Milford, Ohio. In fact, they claim 5 retail locations: 3 in Ohio, 1 in Kansas, and 1 in ... (wait for it) ... Bogota, Colombia. I kid you not. Now wasn’t this little journey worthwhile?

* * *


As it happens, the Kitchen Goddess celebrated the first day of Cookie Week with her granddaughter, who was visiting from New Jersey. In the search for activities to amuse an almost-3-year-old, I came across a recipe for painting cookies. I didn’t know how well the idea would go, but in fact, it was a rousing success, and a lot less mess than icing and/or sprinkles.

It’s exactly what it sounds like, only the painting goes on raw dough. So, you make the dough. You roll out the dough and cut it into shapes. You paint the dough. You bake it. You eat the cookies. Nothing could be simpler or more fun.

Two-year-olds – even the ones who are almost three – have relatively short attention spans. So I accelerated the process by making a batch of my famous roll-out cookie dough the night before we baked. Other techniques to keeping the activity rolling along:

1. Before you start, separate one egg for each color you plan to use. Have ready several small bowls – I used Pyrex custard cups – and deposit one yolk in each. Reserve one egg white for securing the baker’s parchment on the pan. Add a teaspoon of water to each yolk and stir to mix well. Add food coloring to create the desired colors. (KG note: Because of the color in the yolk, it’s difficult if not impossible to create purple using standard food color. But purple is one of my granddaughter’s must-haves, so I used gel paste for the purple, which worked well.)

2. Prepare sheets of baker’s parchment to fit two large sheet pans. Baker’s parchment has a tendency to curl, so brush a bit of that reserved egg white at the corners of the sheet pans before you lay the parchment in. This will secure the parchment so that it lays flat and stays in place.

3. Remember, the painting takes place on raw dough. So you want to warn the child that the dough is VERY SOFT and mushy, which means that the painter needs a delicate hand. No pressing on the dough. No poking the paintbrush into the cookie. Also, I let my granddaughter know that the paint was NOT EDIBLE until it was cooked, and that the minute any paint went into her mouth, the entire activity would stop. She understood, and we had no problems.

4. Cut out only 6-7 cookies at one time. Lay the shapes on the sheet pan with plenty of space around them. Then while the child is painting the first sheet of cookies, you can be preparing a second sheet. While the second sheet is being painted, the first sheet can be baking. And on and on it goes. Baking parchment can be re-used over and over, so there’s no need to replace the sheets between batches.

Artists at work -- it's serious business.

So here are the recipes. I posted the cookie dough recipe in 2009, but will repeat it here for convenience.

Painted Cookies


The Dough: Lee’s Best Rollout Cookies

Makes about 6 dozen. (If you are making this for an activity with a child or children, I’d recommend using only half the dough and freezing the rest for another day.)

1 cup sugar
½ cup Crisco
½ stick unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 eggs
2½ cups flour (use the dipping method to measure)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400º. Prepare two large sheet pans with baker’s parchment.

Cream together sugar, Crisco, and butter, letting the mixer run for a couple of minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. (I know, Crisco is that bad kind of fat, but let’s remember, folks: these are cookies. And you need a fat with a higher melting point to keep the cookies from losing their shapes.)

Add eggs, mixing in one at a time, and vanilla and lemon juice. Sift together the dry ingredients and add them to the wet. Mix until the dry is completely incorporated, then wrap the dough in a sheet of wax paper and refrigerate at least a couple of hours. (I try to let this be overnight.)


The dough rolling part is what always put me off until my mother-in-law suggested I roll it between two layers of wax paper dusted with flour. What a difference. And the dough is more manageable if you divide it into two parts, refrigerating the scraps in between working with each half. I like my cookies crisp, so I roll the dough to a thickness of about one eighth of an inch, but you should experiment and see what works for you. For the painted cookies, I rolled the dough a bit thicker than usual. Bake painted cookies 8 minutes at 400º.

Rolling is easy if you have enough Play-Doh experience.

The Paint 

For each color, separate one egg, and save the white for another use. Add 1 teaspoon of water to the yolk, and stir until well combined and consistent color. Add food coloring to achieve the desired color and stir. Even the egg yolk “paint” isn’t thick, so painting a second coat on the cookies works well to get brighter baked color.

Also, while researching this activity, I found a recipe for painting dough that used a corn syrup-based paint. It sounded a little more carefree than the raw egg yolks, but the colors and finish didn’t emerge nearly as nicely from the oven. I recommend using the egg-based paint and just warning your child against eating it.

The samples got a bit overcooked. So it goes. Fish on the left got corn syrup-based paint.

* * *

And now, the Kitchen Goddess moves on to decorating almost 200 roll-out cookies that she has baked for the neighborhood holiday party this weekend. Someone just shoot me.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fresh Takes on Old Friends – Day 4 in a Marathon of Sides
What’s cooking? Root Vegetable Gratin



Good news! If you are still hunting for that one more dish, here it is. The even better news is that your grocer might be out of potatoes, but they’re hardly ever out of rutabaga, turnips, and parsnips. Why? Most people don’t know how delicious they can be with the right treatment. And the Kitchen Goddess has just the right treatment.

For years, I thought rutabaga was a made-up word. Maybe that’s because a dear family friend – a slightly nutty guy who was in the advertising business – often used it as a curse word.

“Rutabaga!” he’d shout after he’d stubbed his toe or bumped his head on a cabinet door. And all the kids would laugh. He was always making jokes and puns, so I naturally assumed it was a word he’d invented. And it seemed like a fun thing to say.

Even after I discovered the truth, it was many years before I tasted one. It’s a cross between a cabbage and a turnip, with the texture of a turnip but the subtle sweetness of a cabbage. And while they’re most often served in a mash, they can taste remarkably like potatoes, with half the calories. So this gratin is much easier on your figure than the same thing made with potatoes, and it’s a great taste. Much easier to justify the cheese and cream. And the dicing/parboiling of the veggies can be done the day before.

Kitchen Goddess note: The KG knows you’re just about crazed by now with the cooking, the last-minute shopping, and the ridiculous list of things you’re trying not to forget. But she wants to just call your attention to two bits you may have not yet focused on, and links to those topics on which the Kitchen Goddess has done her best to help:

1. Candles – Don’t forget the candles. They make everyone look better; they encourage everyone to relax, and they make the meal more celebratory.







2. Table settings and napkin folding – Not that I have the best ideas, although I think they’re pretty good. But sometimes, you just need a tiny pinch of inspiration.










* * *



Root Vegetable Gratin

Serves 8.

1½ pounds rutabaga (about 3 small), peeled and cut into ¾-inch dice
1 pound white turnips (about 3 medium), peeled and cut into ¾-inch dice
1 pound parsnips (about 6 medium), peeled and cut into ¾-inch dice
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1¼ cups grated Gruyère (about 5 ounces)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
salt/pepper

Bring a large pot with about 4 quarts of water to a boil, and stir in ¼ cup of salt. Cook the rutabaga until crisp-tender, 7-8 minutes, and transfer with a slotted spoon or long-handled strainer to dry on paper towels.

In the same water, cook turnips until crisp-tender, 3-4 minutes, and transfer with slotted spoon or long-handled strainer to dry on paper towels.

In the same water, cook parsnips until crisp-tender, 3-4 minutes, and transfer with slotted spoon or long-handled strainer to dry on paper towels.


Toss together the vegetables in a large mixing bowl. The vegetables can be prepared to this point a day ahead and chilled, covered.

Preheat oven to 350° and butter the sides and bottom of a 2-quart gratin dish (about 12 x 9 x 2 inches).

Stir together the milk and cream and set aside. In the gratin dish, arrange one-third of the vegetables and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon flour, ¼ cup of the Gruyère, and salt and pepper to taste. Add another layer of vegetables – half of the remaining vegetables – and sprinkle on the remaining tablespoon of flour, another ¼ cup of cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the remaining vegetables over the cheese and pour the milk/cream over all. Sprinkle the remaining ¾ cup of cheese over the vegetables.


Cover the casserole with foil and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake the gratin until bubbling and golden, about 40-45 minutes more.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Fresh Takes on Old Friends – Day 3 in a Marathon of Sides
What’s cooking? Asparagus Flan


I’ve just realized that each of the first three dishes in this year’s Marathon of Sides requires a food processor, a tool that wasn’t even available when I started cooking.

I warned my husband early in our marriage that appliances were not acceptable as gifts. I’d been witness to the disappointment – maybe even rage – in my mother’s reaction to kitchen-related gifts, and figured I should head that likelihood off at the pass.

Then one day shortly after our first son was born, my darling man showed up with a gigantic box containing a microwave oven. I scoffed at him. (I did. Must have been the hormones.) I said it was impractical and almost useless and took up a ridiculous amount of counter space. “Whatever will we do with it?” I said.

Well,... I discovered that it could take the baby’s bottle from cold to just the right temperature in less than a minute. And when you’re-really-really-tired-and-you-have-to-be-at-work-the-next-day-but-the-kid-has-to-eat,-right?, that’s a lifesaver and worth whatever the damned machine cost.

A couple of years later, I called my Aunt Marcy for the recipe for cranberry relish she’d always made. She told me she was now using a great new machine – a food processor – that took all the work of grinding those oranges and cranberries down to mere minutes. So I had to get one. It took a bit to convince my hubby when I put it on my Christmas list, but there it was.

In more recent years, I’ve put any number of appliances in my letters to Santa. An electric ice cream maker, a KitchenAid stand mixer, and last year, a VitaMix, which the chef/author Michael Ruhlman recently called “the Maserati of kitchen equipment.” Is this what it means to eat your words?

So tomorrow’s post will not require any electrical appliance other than an oven. But for today, you really should try this asparagus dish. Even though asparagus is now available pretty much all year long, it still carries the caché of a “company” vegetable, and it’s endlessly adaptable. The flan seems particularly novel to me. I usually make it in individual custard dishes, but you could as easily bake it in an oven-proof casserole dish and allow guests to serve themselves. In either case, you will be carried away by the marvelous custard texture, firm but creamy with melt-in-your-mouth asparagus flavor. I’ve served it often at dinner parties, and it always delivers.

Kitchen Goddess note: The recipe calls for 2 pounds of asparagus, but it works best if you have 2 pounds of the veggies to work with – i.e., without the woody ends. So I prefer to buy 3 pounds and use as much as I need to get to a working 2 pounds.


Asparagus Flan

Adapted from Gourmet magazine, April 1996

Serves 8.

2+ pounds asparagus (see note above), woody stems trimmed
3 tablespoons heavy cream
½  teaspoon dried tarragon, crumbled
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter well the sides and bottoms of eight 6-ounce soufflé dishes or custard cups. Line the bottoms of the dishes with rounds of wax paper or parchment, and butter the paper as well. (I find a glass that fits and use it to trace around.) Line a baking pan large enough to hold the dishes with a kitchen towel.

Cut the asparagus stalks into 1-inch pieces, saving the final 2 inches of the tips. Cut the tips in half lengthwise, unless they're very thin, in which case you can use them as is. In a steamer rack set over boiling water, steam the asparagus tips, covered, until crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Transfer the tips to a colander or large sieve and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Drain the tips well and lay them out on paper towels on a rack to dry.

Steam the asparagus stalks, covered, until tender but still bright green, about 8 minutes. Transfer the stalks to paper towels on a rack and pat dry. In a blender or food processor, purée the stalks with the cream, tarragon, cheese, salt, and 3 tablespoons of the butter until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until combined and add the asparagus purée in a stream, whisking until smooth.



Divide the mixture among the dishes and arrange them on the towel in the baking pan. Add enough hot water to the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the dishes and bake the flans in the lower third of the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted in the center of a flan comes out clean. Remove the dishes from the pan and let the flans cool on a rack for 5 minutes.


While you are waiting for the flans to cool, heat the asparagus tips in a small skillet with the remaining tablespoon of butter. To serve the flans, run a knife around the edges of the dishes and invert the flans onto plates. Top with asparagus tips.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Fresh Takes on Old Friends – Day 2 in a Marathon of Sides
What’s cooking? Sweet Potato-Ginger Soufflé



I think most people, when they look at the menu in a restaurant, focus on the entrée item. But increasingly, I find that I choose my entrée by what comes with it: the wild mushroom risotto, or the spiced quinoa, or maybe the baby onion compote. I call it “getting sidetracked,” in the sense that sometimes, I can’t even remember what I ordered. The right sides – or maybe just the most interesting ones – are what appeal to me.

This particular side could be the whole meal, as far as I’m concerned. I found it in an ancient little cookbook put out by Williams-Sonoma – the publication date is 1993 – and you can only now get it through amazon.com resellers. It’s Chuck Williams’ Thanksgiving & Christmas, and what I like most about it is its simplicity. A handful of instructions on equipment and carving techniques, then six full menus for those two holidays. A photo of each item, and never more than a page of directions. For such a small collection, I’ve enjoyed many of the recipes.

I’ve made this soufflé for groups large and small, and there’s never any left over. And for my money, this beats the marshmallow treatment for sweet potatoes by a mile. It’s lighter and more savory, with the occasional tiny burst of sweetness when you bite down on a sliver of candied ginger.

Kitchen Goddess note on candied ginger: The KG flat-out loves candied ginger, and has even been known to eat it straight. But she learned the hard way that the taste can vary widely. And it’s not cheap, so she recommends that you buy just a little and taste it before you plunge in for a big package. The Kitchen Goddess buys only from either Penzey’s or Spice Island. Generally speaking, the ones she doesn’t like come in large lumps.

My chopped ginger. The pieces in the upper left corner are the size I buy.

By the way, Chuck Williams calls this a pudding, but it’s much more in texture like a soufflé, so that’s how I refer to it. Also, you should know that you can boil and purée the sweet potatoes ahead of time. If you are not boiling the potatoes ahead of time, use that 30 minutes to get your mise en place, if you know what I mean. Grate the zest, chop the ginger, separate the egg whites. There’s a lot to do, but the results are soooo worth it.




Sweet Potato-Ginger Soufflé


Serves 8.

2 pounds sweet potatoes, not peeled
salt
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
⅓ cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
1½ cups heavy cream
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 egg whites

Put the sweet potatoes – whole and unpeeled – in a large saucepan with a tablespoon of salt and cold water to cover. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer the potatoes, covered, for 30-35 minutes or until fork-tender. Drain the potatoes and let sit until cool enough to handle.

Preheat the oven to 350º. Butter a 2-quart soufflé dish.





Peel the cooled potatoes (the paper-thin skin will come off with amazing ease) and process to a smooth purée using a food processor. Transfer the purée to a large bowl and stir in the lemon zest, ½ teaspoon of salt, and the crystallized ginger. Add the cream and nutmeg, and stir until well combined. Adjust seasoning (salt and nutmeg) to taste. (This is where I invariably add more fresh nutmeg. You can rarely have too much fresh nutmeg.)

In a separate mixing bowl, beat the egg whites on high until they form soft peaks. Lighten the sweet potato mixture by gently stirring in several tablespoons of the whites, then use a rubber spatula to gently but thoroughly fold the remaining whites into the mix. (You want the combination to be consistent without deflating the whites any more than is necessary.) Spoon the mixture into the buttered soufflé dish.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 60-70 minutes, until the top is relatively firm and slightly golden in color. Serve as soon as possible.


 Kitchen Goddess note: As with any soufflé, this one looks best right out of the oven. But the heaviness of the sweet potato mixture will keep the soufflé from rising much, and it won’t deflate the way a standard soufflé will. Which means there’s no cause for panic –  it’ll still look pretty good even if it has to wait a few minutes.