Grilled Asparagus Soup with Brie Toast

Asparagus is my favorite vegetable.

When I was a kid, we never, ever had asparagus on our table. My father grew up next to an asparagus farmer during the Great Depression (my Dad is nearly 91). According to my Pop, he had asparagus for breakfast, lunch and dinner all Spring long–and well, he hasn’t had a spear in 60 years.

I, on the other hand, love Asparagus–on its own in, in a salad and of course, in soup! Jersey asparagus is in-season now. I found some at Duffields last week. It is so great grilled–and you can grill one enormous batch and use it in recipes all week long. Eat on the side, pop it on a pizza and use some to make this yummy Spring soup, perfect for rainy days.

I started with a homemade veggie broth base–this time around it included leek tops, asparagus bottoms, leftover sliced tomatoes, red onion garlic, parsley stems, salt pepper, bay leaves zucchini ends and other odds and ends from my produce drawer. You can use any store bought veggie broth or even chicken broth. I would just stay away from any broth that is tomato based–I think it messes with the natural asparagus flavor.

The stuff:
2 leeks, just the light green and white parts, quartered and sliced thin
1 shallot diced
2 cloves garlic diced
3 T. butter
1 T. olive
1-2 lbs of grilled asparagus, tips cut off and reserved. Stems, diced.
6 cups broth of your choice
1 cup heavy cream


For the brie toast:
Six 1/2 slices from a fresh baguette
Six 1/4 inch slices of brie


Get to work:

1. Butter 3 T butter into 1 T olive oil
2. Add shallot and garlic, cook until soft over medium heat, about 5 minutes.
3. Add bottoms from grilled asparagus. Cook 1 minute, until warmed through
4. Add broth. Bring to a boil, simmer 15 minutes.
5. While soup is simmering, preheat your broiler.
6. Place baguette, with one piece of brie on each slice under broiler. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until cheese melts and edges of bread are browned.
7. Season soup with salt and pepper. Stir in heavy cream.
6. Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth.
8. Stir in reserved asparagus tips.
9. Serve immediately with brie toast on top. 

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Snowed-in: Macaroni and Cheese


I absolutely adore a good snowstorm. Snowstorms are the perfect opportunity to pause and be home.
Unfortunately, the latest snowstorm hit as we were about to depart for a week in Texas; stranding us at home with relatively empty cupboards.
Okay, so there is always something to toss together or grab from the freezer in my house–but, another fab thing about snowstorms is the opportunity to cook something comforting and hearty.

I gathered the ingredients for this creamy, italian-esque macaroni and cheese from my pantry and some odds and ends in the refrigerator. Perfect for a snowy day or any day when you want to pretend to be snowed in and hide out at home.

The Goods

1 lb of penne (or whatever pasta shape you’ve got)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 1/2 canfuls of water
2 cups mozzarella cheese shreds
1 cup cheddar cheese shreds
1 tablespoon dried garlic seasoning (I used Tastefully Simple’s Garlic Garlic)
Non-stick cooking spray
Italian seasoned breadcrumbs

For the topping:
1 cup chopped grape tomatoes OR small can of chopped tomatoes, drained
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped (I always have a basil plant on my kitchen windowsill–it is a life saver!)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt/pepper

Grated locatelli or parmesan cheese

The Work

Preheat oven to 350F

Boil water and prepare pasta according to package instructions. While pasta is cooking make cheese sauce by mixing mushroom soup, water (use the can to measure water), cheese and garlic in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly until cheese melts.

Spray a 9×12 casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Drain and add cooked pasta. Pour in cheese sauce and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover with a thin dusting of breadcrumbs. Then, spray the top with cooking spray.

Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

While it is baking, prepare the topping. Mix tomatoes, garlic, basil, vinegar and oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Top finished macaroni and cheese with tomato mixture and a heaping spoonful of locatelli cheese.

In Season: Squash Ravioli in Sage Brown Butter


I first laid eyes on the Kitchen Aid mixer pasta maker attachment when Mike and I were registering for wedding gifts. Frankly, it frightened me. I had visions of mangled pasta dough in a rainbow of colors stuck to the ceiling–a nightmarish scene in which the cat and I were entangled in sticky, inedible dough. There was flour everywhere and well, no one was going to eat homemade pasta anytime soon.

Seven years later and I am still without my pasta maker attachment–so a good Nana-in-training must improvise. For this ravioli recipe, you just need a package of won ton wrappers. For about $3 or less, you can get 50 of these handy little squares of dough that are perfect for wontons, dumplings and of course, homemade ravioli.
For the filling, I made use of squash puree from our Galeux d’Eysines squash. You can use any winter squash you like from butternut to pumpkin. You could even skip the fresh puree and use a can of pumpkin puree (although it won’t taste as fresh!).
And the best part: you can make a bunch quickly and freeze it–it cooks up in a few minutes and makes it a great meal to bank in your freezer. This recipe yielded about 30 ravioli.
Ingredients:
1 large egg
1/4 cup romano cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
pinch of nutmeg
Salt/Pepper
60 won ton wrappers (which is about 2 packages)
1 stick of unsalted butter
2 tablespoons of fresh, chopped sage leaves
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Steps to yumminess
1. Place squash puree, egg, romano and ricotta cheese and nutmeg in a food processor. Process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
2. Make your ravioli, filling each with 1 heaping tablespoon of squash filling. Follow directions here (Ravioli making 101). Freeze ravioli (flat) for at least 30 minutes. You can leave any ravioli that you don’t intend to cook in the freezer.
3. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add ravioli and cook until it floats-about 3 minutes. Keep an eye on it–the ravioli will explode if you overcook.
4. While ravioli is cooking, melt butter over high heat (in a large pan). Add sage and cook until butter begins to brown and sizzle. Remove pan from heat, whisk in balsamic vinegar.
5. Use a slotted spoon to carefully remove ravioli from cooking water and place directly into brown butter sauce. Serve immediately.
A fab side for Squash Ravioli: I died and went to Rouge Salad.

Techniques: Homemade Ravioli 101

Making homemade ravioli can be super fast and super impressive using store bought won ton wrappers. These handy little packages of dough squares are inexpensive.
Here are step by step instructions on filling your own, homemade ravioli.
1. Grab your won ton wrappers, a couple cookie sheets, a small bowl of water, parchment paper and the filling of your choice.
2. Line each cookie sheet with a sheet of parchment paper. Lay out won ton wrappers in a single, non-overlapping (no touching!).
3. Then add a scoop of your filling–typically about 1 tablespoon-2 tablespoons a wrapper. Place the filling right in the center of the wrapper.
4. Moisten a finger tip with a small amount of water. Draw a line on water on the outside edge of each won ton wrapper. Just do a couple at a time (you don’t want the water to dry out before you top it!
5. Then place another won ton wrapper on top, smoothing the edges right up to the filling. Try to gently smooth out any air. Moisten your finger tip again and trace along the outside of the top won ton, to seal. Continue until all raviolis are filled and sealed.
6. Place cookie sheet of completed raviolis in freezer for at least 30 minutes–the longer the better. When raviolis are frozen, you can remove from cookie sheet to cook in boiling water (3-4 minutes until floating and remove with slotted spoon) OR freeze on cookie sheet overnight and then place in freezer bags for a future meal.

Kitchen Quickie: I died and went to Rouge Salad

Back in college, Mike worked at the swanky and marvelous restaurant Rouge on Rittenhouse Square. Mike learned so much about food and I got to partake in amazing, gourmet meals. One of my favorite dishes: the Bibb and Endive salad. This salad was topped with crunchy, spicy cashews and creamy roquefort cheese. It is simple and yet tastes complex and well, to quote Lily, “fancy!”


My version of this salad pulls together in less than 5 minutes! It is a quick and sophisticated side dish–perfect for Fall meals and for company. Instead of cashews, I use pre-packaged sweet and spicy pecans from Trader Joes. I love these pecans–they retail for $3.99 in South Jersey and really add a wow to the salad. You can find various sweet/spicy nuts at your local grocery store if there is not a Trader Joes nearby.


Ingredients:
  • Spring Mix (I love the versions of pre-bagged spring mix that include fresh herbs. Trader Joes has a version as does Earth’s Best Organic)
  • Dried cranberries
  • Sweet and Spicy Pecans (from Trader Joes or substitute something you find locally!)
  • Gorgonzola cheese (or you can use plain jane bleu cheese. Not a fan of the bleus, try feta)
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette or, if you want to be super fancy, truffle oil and balsamic vinegar

Pile a generous handful of Spring Mix onto your salad plate. Top with a sprinkling of cranberries, pecans and cheese. Drizzle about 1/2 – 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinaigrette on top OR drizzle with truffle oil and balsamic vinegar. Salt/Pepper to taste.

Quichetastic Monday–Chicken and Asparagus Quiche

Of course there is a story behind my Chicken and Asparagus Quiche. I made a verison of this quiche for Lily’s first birthday party in 2007. The theme: Pink Poodles in Paris (she has always been fancy!) and the menu was French inspired with quiche, Nicoise Salad and other goodies. As usual I made way too much and had to freeze one of the quiches.

The quiche did not reappear until 2 months later. Lily was at CHOP and we were living in the pediatric ICU while she recovered from a brain tumor resection. Olga, Mike’s mom, was here running our lives while we fought for Lily’s and making sure we ate healthy food. Being the resourceful mama that Olga is, she dug through our freezer and found the quiche.

When we ate it for dinner, reheated in the PICU communal microwave and dished up paper plates–I traveled elsewhere. In my mind we were back at Lily’s very first party–back singing and celebrating and enjoying tastes of simple, delicious food.

The second time I made this quiche was for Karen–my childhood bestie. This August, I had the joy of visiting and celebrating the birth of her son, Andrew. Of course, I cooked–soup, stuffed peppers and this quiche.

The original recipe for this quiche came from a french cookbook I borrowed from my dear friend Tracy. My verison may differ slightly (I misplaced my copy of the original.). It pulls together super quick and can easily make two (you will have left over chicken and asparagus). Make two and share one with a friend!

The Stuff

1 pre-made pie crust

Asparagus–8 full spears plus 1 cup diced asparagus

1 cup of diced rostierrie chicken ( breast and thigh meat, save the extra meat for another quiche or salad; save the bones/carcus for making chicken broth)

4 eggs, beaten until frothy and fluffy

3/4 cup milk

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 T dried mustard

1cup grated swiss cheese

Salt/Pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400F

2. Carefully roll out pie crust into pie pan and score the bottom

3. Sprinkle diced asparagus onto bottom of pie crust. Then sprinkle diced cooked chicken.

4. Fold 1 cup milk, garlic, mustard, swiss cheese and salt/pepper into the egg mixture.

5. Pour egg/milk mixture on top of asparagus chicken. Arrange remaining asparagus spears on top of uncooked quiche

6. Bake 45 minutes or until firm and slightly browned.

Soupy nights: Autumn mushroom and wild rice soup

While dark chilly rainy days can wear on the soul, I love the potential it brings–potential for soup, tea, red wine, an afghan and a book (or a movie or some knitting or all three all at once for people like me who cannot sit still, even when sitting). It is a delicious, cuddly time of year.

This soup is super earthy and grounding. The rich broth and meaty mushrooms pull you right back down to your plate. With each hearty bite, you can taste Fall and the harvest. And it is an easy way to go meatless–the mushrooms and wild rice are super filling.
Allow about an hour to prep and cook the soup. You can use any combination of mushrooms you like–I used shitake, baby bellas, white buttons and baby petites (which I left whole). My girls helped by washing the mushrooms with a damp paper towel.
If you don’t have vegetable broth, but do have chicken broth, feel free to substitute. You will find dried porcini mushrooms in or near the produce department. If you can’t find porcinis, try any other dried mushroom.

Soupy stuff:
1/2 ounce dried porcinis
kosher salt/pepper
1/2 cup wild rice
EVOO, a few tablespoons
10 cups assorted mushrooms (My combo: 5 oz shitake, sliced; 8 oz, baby bellas, sliced, 6 oz baby petites, left whole; 8 white button, sliced)
3 leeks, white and pale-green parts (save the tops for broth!), quartered length wise and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup chianti
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1. In a sealed ziploc bag, crush up the dried procini mushrooms, until they are a coarse powder.
2. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup water to boil, then add a pinch of kosher salt and wild rice. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low. Cook under tender, 45-50 minutes. Drain and set aside.
3. In a large pot, heat about 1 tablespoon of EVOO over medium-high heat. Begin cooking the mushrooms in batches (1/3 at a time) with salt and pepper until browned and tender, about 7 minutes, per batches. Add more EVOO before adding a new batch of mushrooms. Set cooked mushrooms aside.
4. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Melt butter, added sliced leeks. Cook, stirring often, until soft and translucent about 5 minutes. Stir in porcini mushroom powder, cook 1 minute. Add chianti and soy sauce, cook 1 minute more.
5. Add vegetable broth to pot; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, reduce heat to medium and cook 20 minutes. Stir in wild rice, heavy cream and parsley. Serve with crusty bread

Squash Soup 1: Coconut and Lemon grass

We have a bumper crop of this gorgeous heirloom squash called Galeux d’Eysines. The name means “embroidered with warts from Eysines (a small town in France). ” These warts are actually produced from the sugar in the squash.
Mike grew squash because we eat it often-roasted, on salad greens and in soups. I made this fabulous Coconut and Lemon grass soup last week–the perfect transition from Summer to Fall. The coconut and lemon grass are reminiscent of a tropical, beach-y meal. There is nothing more “Fall” than creamy smooth squash.
While I used our Galeux d’Eysines, you can use any variety of winter squash or pumpkin for this soup. To make your life easy, pick up a package of pre-cut and peeled butternut squash in the produce department.
Lemon grass add a light citrus flavor to the soup, balancing the richness of the coconut milk and squash. You can find fresh lemon grass in the produce department. Find a great guide on the use of lemon grass here. I could not find fresh lemon grass, but found prepared lemon grass, in a tube, in the produce department at Wegmans. Use either option–although the tube option is quick and easy to use!
This soup cooks quick and freezes great. The recipe below serves 4. Serve with some garlic Naan or a baguette.

The ingredients:

3 cups squash–peeled, cut into 2-3″ chunks (any variety, butternut, acorn, pumpkin)

1 tablespoon EVOO
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 shallot, diced
1 whole jalapeno
1 inch of fresh ginger root, peeled and diced
1-2 stalks of fresh lemon grass, yellow/fleshy section, chopped OR 2 tablespoons of prepared lemon grass (in a tube, source: Wegman’s produce department)
15 oz can of coconut milk
Fresh cilantro
Get soup-y
Preheat oven to 400F. Place squash chunks in a large baking dish, toss with olive oil and salt/pepper.
Bake for 30 minutes or until it is soft, with some brown caramelized edges.
After squash is cooked, remove form oven and put aside.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large pot. Add to butter shallots and ginger, cooking over medium heat and stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes until shallots are translucent and ginger is fragrant.
Add WHOLE jalapeno and lemon grass, stir. Cook 2-3 more minutes.
Add cooked squash, stir.
De-glaze the pan with can of coconut milk and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil.
Cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove jalapeno.
Using an immersion blender, puree in pot until smooth. Or, puree in a blender in batches.
Top with fresh cilantro and serve immediately.

Eggplant Prep–salt, sweat and rinse

A common complaint amongst eggplant or aubergine lovers is the sometimes bitter flavor.
Most smaller varieties of eggplant (japanese, fairy tale, etc) do not become bitter when cooked. The larger eggplant varieties can be bitter. (The seeds contain something related to the tobacco plant that produces that bitter flavor when cooked).
To reduce and avoid bitter taste, slice and salt the eggplant (using kosher salt). Let the salted eggplant sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. The eggplant slices will “sweat” and then you can rinse the slices, removing the bitter flavor.
Salting and sweating the eggplant will also reduce the amount of oil absorbed when frying or sautéing. It is a quick, fabulous step that will ensure the rich flavor of the eggplant shines through!

Triple mini tomato bruschetta

Tomato bruschetta was the first grown up dish I learned to make. Over the years, I’ve played with my recipe a bit and finally, I think I’ve stumbled on the most brilliant variation using food from the season.

I am absolutely loving the variety of summer tomatoes. You will love this triple mini tomato bruschetta made a mixture of yellow grape tomatoes, purple cherry tomatoes and red teardrop tomatoes. The variety of mini tomatoes infuse this bruschetta with sunshine and soil. It is absolutely fantastic. Bruschetta is great on fresh bread or use to top a salad, as a no-cook pasta sauce or on chicken or fish.

The good stuff:
About 1 pint–mixed variety of mini tomatoes (grape, cherry, teardrop), cut into quarters
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small red onion, chopped
1 cup of fresh basil leaves, snipped/chopped into thin strips
1/4 cup EVOO
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Kosher Salt
Fresh cracked black pepper
2 baguettes, sliced in 1/2 inch pieces
Mix tomatoes, garlic, onion, basil, EVOO, vinegar and salt/pepper (to taste). You can serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with sliced baguettes.