Sesame Pistachio Baked Asparagus Fries

2 04 2012

I am truly inspired by the seasons.  As a Chicago native, I used to take the seasons for granted.  I thought everyone grew up sledding and making snow angels in the winter.  I thought everyone knew the feeling of walking on crispy, crackling leaves in the Fall.  I thought everyone anticipated watching the tulips come out in the Spring.  I thought everyone grew up with hot and humid pool days and cool summer nights.  I realize now, that these memories are very specific to Chicago, my home.

When I moved to California, I learned to experience the seasons in a new way.  The weather did not change dramatically but the food did.  From my first job , I was exposed to seasonal farm-to-table cooking.  What does this mean?  It means you only cook with what the farmers are growing at that specific time of year.  This is the way Europeans have always cooked and also why their food tastes so damn good.  It’s pretty simple, eating the freshest ingredients maximizes the flavor in any dish.  Learning what ingredients were grown during each season was a humbling experience for a mid-western girl like me.  I was enlightened to learn that brussel sprouts grew in the fall, squash and root vegetables in the winter, artichokes in the Spring, and peaches and tomatoes in the summer. I tasted an abundance of new fresh flavors and started to associate those flavors with a specific time of year.

Now that I am back in Chicago, I associate the Spring with way more than nice weather and tulips.  To me Spring means cooking with some of my favorite ingredients in the world: green garlic, Spring onions, sweet peas, fava beans, apricots, Morel mushrooms, rhubarb and asparagus.  I love Spring produce because the flavors are delicate, light and complement a variety of dishes.

Last week I bought my first bunch of spring asparagus and was super excited to roast it off with a little olive oil and salt and eat the whole bunch like candy.  Instead of going with this simple approach (that I highly recommend), I started to play around with some other ingredients I had in my pantry to step it up a notch.  I decided to bread and bake the asparagus to add some Asian flavor and emphasize the crunch of the asparagus.  Typically, the standard breading procedure involves flour, egg and breadcrumbs.  Instead of following the rules, this time I substituted coconut milk with lime zest and rice wine vinegar for eggs and added toasted pistachio nuts and an AMAZING sesame spice blend to the breadcrumbs.  I think the secret weapon in this recipe is the Spicy Sesame Salad Sprinkle from The Spice House.  It’s a combination of two types of sesame seeds, dried herbs and salt that complements the delicate sweetness of the asparagus and gives it an Asian twist.  If you can’t get your hands on this spice blend, feel free to use a combination of toasted sesame seeds and dried oregano instead.  I hope you enjoy this recipe and start experimenting with the seductive flavors of Spring!

Sesame-Pistachio Baked Asparagus Fries with a Wasabi-Lemon Aioli

Asparagus Fries Ingredients:

4 oz. lite coconut milk
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 Tbs. rice wine vinegar
1 lime, zested
1 cup homemade breadcrumbs
½ cup pistachio nuts, toasted and blended down fine
2 Tbs. “Spicy Sesame Salad Sprinkle” from The Spice House (a mix of toasted sesame seeds and dried oregano can be substituted)
1 large bunch asparagus, trimmed ends
¼ cup all purpose flour 
Kosher salt, to taste 

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with wax paper.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, sesame oil and lime zest.  In another medium sized bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, pistachio nuts and sesame spice blend.  Season lightly with kosher salt. (Don’t add too much because the sesame spice blend contains salt)

Rinse off the asparagus and pat semi-dry.  In a large bowl combine the asparagus and flour.  Mix together until the asparagus is coated. Dip each floured asparagus in the coconut milk mixture and then dredge through the breadcrumbs.  Place the breaded asparagus on baking sheet.  They should be spaced out so they do not touch or overlap.

Bake for 12 minutes in the oven.  Broil for the last 3 minutes.  Serve hot with the wasabi-lemon aioli.

Wasabi-Lemon Aioli:

Ingredients:

1 clove garlic
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
¾ large lemon, juiced
½-1 tsp. wasabi paste (depending on the spice level desired)
1 cup vegetable oil
kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

In a food processor, add the whole egg, egg yolk and garlic.  Turn on the motor and slowly add the vegetable oil.  The mixture should start out loose and bind together  (emulsify) as the oil is slowly added.  At this point the mixture should change from a loose liquid to a thicker consistency, like the texture of mayonnaise.  Mix in the lemon juice, wasabi and season with salt and pepper.

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Quinoa Pasta with Mushrooms, Asparagus and Truffle Oil

14 03 2012

For those of you that know me, you know that I am obsessed with pasta.  I make pasta by hand on a weekly basis.  I use only the best dried pasta from Italy or fantastic domestic sources.  If someone called me a pasta snob, I would have to agree.  The idea of pasta made without wheat has never sounded good to me.  Obviously, there are many people who are gluten-intolerant and I think rice pasta is a great option for them.  But since I have the choice, I would always pick the real deal.  Until now….

Monday night I was over at my chef-friend Erica’s house to watch The Bachelorette finale.  Yes, it was tremendously girlie, but a fun night nonetheless.  I expected the highlight of my night to be the tragic proposal Ben made to Courtney, the queen bitch/villain on the show.   But it was not.  Erica whipped up a simple pasta dish with shaved brussel sprouts, brown butter, lemon and Parmesan cheese.  With my eyes glued to the juicy reality tv show, I took a huge bite of pasta and was shocked. I urgently asked Erica, “why does this pasta taste so good?  What brand is it?”  She answered ,”it’s quinoa pasta.  My favorite?”

The pasta was absolutely delicious and tasted so far from a replacement healthy pasta choice.  Quinoa is not only high in protein and essential amino acids, it is one of the most healthy grains you can eat in the world. (it’s health benefits are similar to spinach and beets)  How could something so damn healthy taste so good?  My favorite part of the pasta was the texture.  It was perfectly al dente (with a little bite) and held onto the succulent flavors of garlic, lemon, and brown butter in the dish like true Italian pasta.  Three portions later, I was hooked!

Yesterday morning I woke up inspired to try my own version of this incredible pasta.  I already had a bunch of asparagus (which is finally in season and tastes great), dried mushrooms, truffle oil, Parmesan cheese and lemon in my refrigerator.  All I needed was the quinoa pasta, which I found easily at Whole Foods.

I invited my good friend over for dinner, opened up a bottle of Italian Proscecco and made up a new pasta dish.  I learned a few things in the process:

1.  Quinoa pasta takes a shorter amount of time to cook than regular wheat pasta (approximately 7-9 minutes)

2. When you put it in boiling water it clumps together, so make sure you stir it as it boils.

3. Dried mushrooms can add fantastic flavor to a pasta dish.  When you use dried mushrooms you reconstitute them by soaking them in boiling.  After 15-20 minutes ,  the mushrooms come to life are ready to be cooked.  The benefit of this technique is that the boiling water used to soak the mushrooms becomes a rich mushroom broth.  This broth can be added to the pasta as part of the sauce for more savory flavor.

Here’s the recipe I created for dinner.  I hope you enjoy all of the flavors.  Most important, I would love to know what you think of quinoa pasta!

Quinoa Pasta with Shitake Mushrooms, Roasted Asparagus and Truffle Oil:

Ingredients:

3.5 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 bunch asparagus, stems trimmed off

1.75 oz. dried shitake mushrooms (or any other exotic dried mushroom)

3/4 cup mushroom water (from the rehydrating of the dried mushrooms)

8 oz. quinoa spaghetti or linguine

1/2 lemon, juiced

1.5 Tbs. truffle oil

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.   Toss the asparagus in 1 Tbs. of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 8 minutes, or until tender.  Let the asparagus cool down and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.  Set aside.

Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl.  Cover with boiling water and soak for 15-20 minutes.  Remove the mushrooms from the water (reserving the mushroom water) and place them on a cloth.  Squeeze the mushrooms in the cloth together like a sponge to get rid of all of the liquid.  Pat dry and slice them thin.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the quinoa pasta and let it cook for 7-9 minutes, stirring occasionally to break up  clumps.  Drain under cold water, toss with a little olive oil and set aside.

Heat a large saute pan.  Add the remaining olive oil and let it get hot for 30 seconds.  Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds.  Add the sliced mushrooms and 1/2 cup of mushroom water, season with a pinch of salt, and saute for 4-5 minutes.  Add the asparagus, quinoa pasta, lemon juice, truffle oil and 1/4 cup of mushroom water.  Season with Kosher salt and lots of black pepper.  Cook over moderate heat for 3 minutes, stirring with tongs to let all of the flavors come together.  Garnish with fresh Parmesan cheese and serve hot.





Salad in the City

9 03 2012

Daily life as a culinary entrepreneur can be pretty strange sometimes.  You don’t have set hours.  You don’t have an official office.  You don’t have to get up at 8am, run to Starbucks by 8:30am and be at your desk at 9am like everyone else in the world.  Someday’s I love the freedom of making my own schedule.   Other days, I wish I could succumb to corporate america and feel more normal.

So what do I do?  I make my own schedule to structure my life.  I go to yoga four days a week and take it as seriously as having a business meeting.  I assign specific days each week to get out of my pj’s, put on a cute outfit, and work at a coffee shop with other self-employed people in Chicago.  What continues to amaze me is how many people are working for themselves these days.  Coffee shops make “the outsiders” feel comfortable.  I look around as I sip on my chai latte and feel understood.

As a result of my coffee shop work days, I have tasted all kinds of cafe food in Chicago.  My expectations for the “soup de jour”or cafe “signature salad” are never high, but once and I while I am impressed.  Today I was at my favorite cafe in the city, Swim Cafe  at 1357 Chicago Ave (Ukranian Village). It’s not my favorite place to do work because it’s posh or decorated nice.  But they have THE BEST cafe food in the city.  You could easily pass by this place without any idea that it’s a hidden gem.  But believe me, GO INSIDE!!!!!  Everything I have eaten at this dive is delicious. (including their Seitan Gyro with feta cheese….I have never liked seitan before trying this sandwich)

My favorite thing on their menu is definitely the Summer Salad.  It’s full of basically every ingredient I am in love with: avocado, tomatoes, hearts of palm, toasted sunflower seeds, thinly sliced shallot and mixed greens.  The best part is their signature Green Goddess Dressing.  The flavors are herbaceous, acidic, yet well-rounded and earthy.  Every time I order the salad I spend at least 10 minutes tasting the dressing and thinking about why it is so damn good.  It never occurred to me to simply ask the chef what is in it.  Today….I got the goods. (and obviously I am sharing them with you!)

Swim Cafe’s Green Goddess Dressing:

1 bunch parsley, stemmed

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup tahini

Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Blend all of the ingredients together and store it in a air-tight container.

*It’s fabulous on any salad but would taste great over fish, chicken, scrambled eggs or bread.  I’m obsessed.

Let me know what you think!





Less is More

15 02 2012

Sometimes less is more when it comes to food.  The Italians definitely understand this concept.  Italian food is all about using the best ingredients in their truest form.  While I tend to complicate my recipes with a list of 15 ingredients, my new goal is to restrain this impulse and use less to develop big flavors.

What does that mean to me?  It means, sourcing food that is in season.  If food is in season then you don’t have to add all sorts of fats, sugars or spices to make it taste better.  It’s simply delicious and full or flavor to start.  I also try to use one unique speciality ingredient in each recipe for a “wow” factor. Last, I try to focus on delicately balancing flavors in a dish.  When I am using only four ingredients, they are all strategically picked to form a ying and yang balance.

A few weeks ago,  I was in Ann Arbor Michigan again with my close Italian friend, Cristiana visiting Monique, the owner of “Al Dente” pasta.  Monique proposed a challenge to me, “come up with a pasta recipe using only three main ingredients.  I want this pasta to be easy to make, economic, and delicious.”  I am not the most competitive person in the world, but I love challenges when it comes to food.  My mind started wrapping around flavor combinations that would not only showcase the pasta but make a unique statement.

That afternoon while we were walking around a fish market in Kerrytown, I passed by some high-quality Italian tuna in olive oil.  Immediately my mind flashed back to last year in Italy when was I was shopping for one of my first meals in Pisa.   I went into the best specialty shop in town and carefully examined the case of cured meats, cheeses, fish and antipasti.   What stood out to me was this huge chunk of gorgeous tuna sitting in a large bowl of golden olive oil.  Everyone in the store was buying a bit of the tuna, so I knew I had to try it.  I purchased about 1/2 lb. for 15 dollars.  The high cost assured me this tuna was going to taste a hell of a lot better than our fishy canned tuna “Starkist” in the states.  That night I made a meal, flaking the tuna into a pasta dish with some local ingredients.  The flavors of the tuna were savory and delicate (with no fishy taste at all) combined with the bitterness of arugula and creamy Parmesan cheese.  I was thrilled to discover how sexy and seductive tuna could taste with a simple pasta dish.

So my decision was made, right then and there in the Kerrytown fish market.  I was going to create an Italian flaked tuna pasta recipe with seasonal ingredients for Monique’s challenge.  I picked out some gorgeous pink turnips, fresh blossoming spinach, and imported  Tonnino Italian Tuna in oil and set out to re-create that magical dish inspired by the Tuscan market.

Monique, her friends and Cristiana all loved the pasta!  I hope this recipe makes you appreciate good quality canned tuna and inspires you to play around with new combinations of flavors.  Please let me know what you think!

Flakey Tuna and Roasted Turnip Fettucini:

Ingredients:

6 large turnips, cut in small pieces

4 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

1 clove of garlic, minced

6 oz. fresh spinach (or arugula)

6-7 oz. high-quality Italian Tuna in olive oil

1.5 Tbs. capers, minced

1/3 cup Parmesan, freshly grated

½ lemon, juiced

1 bag (10 oz.) whole wheat “Al Dente” Fettucini

Kosher Salt and Black Pepper, to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut each turnip in half horizontally.  Cut each half of turnip in eight pieces and put the small pieces on a sheet tray.  Repeat with the rest of the turnips.  Toss with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until tender and caramelized.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil from the jar of tuna.  When the oil is hot, add the minced garlic and sauté for 20 seconds.  Toss in the fresh arugula, seasoning with a pinch of salt and black pepper, and sauté for 3-4 minutes until the spinach is wilted.  Flake in the tuna over the spinach and add the capers and roasted turnips. Turn off the heat.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook for 3 minutes.  Before draining, add 1/3 cup of pasta water to the pan with the arugula, tuna and turnips.  Drain the pasta and add it directly into the pan with the other ingredients.  Stir over low heat for 2-3, adding the lemon juice, 2 Tbs. of olive oil, fresh Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste.  Enjoy!





Alberto’s Pasta Carbonara

22 12 2011

There is nothing better than eating an incredible meal when you have no expectations.  Last year when I lived in Italy for four months I had a ton of over the top food experiences.  Most of them were when my mom or friends came to visit and we went to fancy hot spots in Florence, Chianti and Sienna.  The raw ingredients in Italy were so incredible that it was truly hard to have a bad meal.

However, one of the most memorable dinners in Italy was when my boyfriend at the time, Alberto, offered to make me dinner.  Now I have to be honest, in the four months I lived with this man, I never saw him make a sandwich.  Alberto was a total guy’s guy.  The refrigerator would have been empty if I didn’t live there…completely bachelor style.  He actually went home on his lunch breaks from work to eat with his family because his mom made elaborate three course meals. (could you blame him?)  So the night Alberto said, I’m going to make you my “famous Carbonara”, I didn’t get too excited.

My expectations were in-line with the Americanized Pasta Carbonara which is typically pasta with bacon, cheese, eggs, garlic, green peas and cream.  Nothing about that combination ever seemed too sexy to me, primarily because my tummy doesn’t do well with rich heavy dishes. (lactose intolerance doesn’t help).  I’m an olive oil kinda girl.  That’s why I love Italian food!

Alberto’s Carbonara was full of simple ingredients, bold flavor and was amazingly light for a Carbonara.  He shared his special tricks with me and I’d love to share them with you.  If you notice, there is no cream, butter, or peas in this recipe.  Instead, the whipped raw eggs and Parmesan cheese naturally make a light creamy sauce.

Watch the video and try this recipe for satisfying and delicious winter meal!

 
Alberto’s Pasta Carbonara: (with a Kasey twist)
Ingredients:
12oz. fresh spaghetti or linguine pasta (I recommend Al Dente Pasta)
½ large yellow onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
7 slices of thick cut bacon, sliced in thin lardoons
2 extra large eggs, at room temperature
4 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
1 handful of fresh arugula
½ lemon, juiced (optional)
Kosher Salt and Fresh Cracked Pepper, to taste
 
Put the thin slices of bacon in large sauté pan over medium heat.  Let the bacon render and begin to crisp for 10-15 minutes over low heat. In a separate pan, heat 1-2 Tbs. of olive oil.  Saute the slivered onion and minced garlic and for 4-5 minutes, until the onions start to caramelize. Place the cooked onion, garlic, bacon and bacon fat in a big bowl. (reserve the bacon fat to add later)  In a separate bowl, scramble the eggs with 2 oz. of Parmesan cheese.  Set aside.
 
Boil the pasta in a big pot of salted water.  When the pasta is al dente (just done with a bite), drain it with a slotted spoon and put the hot pasta in the bowl with the bacon, onion and garlic mixture.  Stir in the scrambled egg mixture and the bacon fat.  Mix together while slowly adding in the rest of the Parmesan cheese. Season with lots of fresh black pepper and Kosher salt.




Cedar Paper Grilled Salmon

5 12 2011

What I love about cooking is finding ways to make a single ingredient shine.  I’ve never been big on smothering a dish with butter or cream, like many restaurants do, in order for it to taste good.  If you start with fantastic product you should be able to end with fantastic results, using good cooking techniques of course.

Last weekend one of my clients asked me to make grilled salmon for a very high-end dinner.  At first I was a bit stumped thinking, “how can I seriously impress these people with a simple piece of grilled salmon?”  I went to Whole Foods to find the most pristine salmon I could get my hands on.  When chatting away with the fish specialist I asked him if he had any cedar wood planks for grilling fish. Grilling on cedar wood planks infuses fish (of whatever you are grilling) with a subtle hint of smokiness while retaining its natural moisture.  It is a fabulous way to showcase a great ingredient without completely overpowering its natural. (and that is what I am ALWAYS looking for!)

The fish specialist looked around for planks, said he was sold out, but showed me a new product that just came in: Cedar Wood Paper!  I immediately got psyched!    What a genius invention!  Pliable cedar wood that can be wrapped around fish. This would give the fish more moisture and flavor and it would look gorgeous for presentation.  I bought a bunch of scallions, some honey and whole grain mustard and left the grocery store ready to fire up the grill.

So how did I prepare the salmon and cedar paper?

1. Soak the cedar paper under water for at least one hour (this will prevent instant burning on the grill)
2. Bring a small pot of water to a boil.  Trim the white ends of the scallions and blanch the scallions in the water for 1 minute.  (they should be wilted but not super soft)
3. Sprinkle the salmon generously with Kosher salt and a pinch of freshly cracked pepper on both sides
4. Place individual pieces of salmon in the center of the cedar wood paper, skin side down. (i recommend having the skin taken off for you when you are purchasing it)
5. Combine equal parts of honey and whole grain mustard in a bowl and mix.  Brush this “glaze” on the top of the fish.
6.  Fold both sides of the cedar paper over each individual fish. Tie the paper together with a scallion.
7. Place a piece of foil over the grates of a hot grill. (this is super important because the cedar paper and fish will burn if you do not put the foil down)  Place the individual pieces of wrapped salmon on the grill and cook for 10-12 minutes, depending on how you prefer your salmon and how thick it is.  Serve immediately!

Why am I so obsessed with Cedar Paper?  Because it add’s a “wow” factor to such a simple preparation of fish.  Also, it is so incredibly versatile!  You could use the same technique listed above with meat, tofu or vegetables.  You can add any spice blend or aromatics to this dish and make it your own.  Go to your local Whole Foods or World Market and buy this fabulous cedar paper and let me know what you decide to make!

 




Delicious Fall Pasta Recipe

5 10 2011


A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a “Slow Food” dinner party at my friend’s house.  The objective of the night was to create an amazing meal, using local and seasonal ingredients, for only 5 dollars a person.  The idea was to raise awareness that eating healthy and organic food does not have to be expensive.  That night I enjoyed a wonderful dinner of grilled eggplant and tomato bruschetta, an incredible pasta dish with stewed sausage, braising greens, Parmesan cheese and garlic and Italian vanilla gelato smothered in espresso.  I ate like a queen and felt amazed by how much great food you could eat with such a tight budget.

That night I was exposed to a fantastic brand of local pasta called “Al Dente”.  I’m typically not too excited about dried pasta because I spent too long in Italy getting spoiled with the real deal I love to make my own home-made pasta.  But I have to admit, this brand “Al Dente” is delicious and really accessible (Whole Foods sells it everywhere in Chicago).  It’s delicate like fresh pasta and it only takes 3 minutes to cook.

Last night I had a serious craving to re-create my “Slow Food” dinner experience.  Even though I wasn’t entertaining, I was inspired to cook a huge batch of pasta for myself with Fall/Italian ingredients and obviously some red wine.  I combined the sweet flavors of caramelized onions and roasted squash with the bitter crunch of radicchio and the funky brilliance of Taleggio cheese.  I am not going to lie, the pasta turned out great!  This recipe is easy, economic and super flavorful.  Let me know your thoughts!!!

Recipe:

Spinach Fettuccine with Roasted Squash, Caramelized Onions, Radicchio and Taleggio Cheese

12 oz  Al Dente Spinach Fettucine Noodles
6 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 lb. Delicata Squash (substitute with Butternut Squash if necessary)
4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/4 head of Radicchio, thinly sliced
3 oz. Taleggio cheese, cut in small cubes
3 oz. Parmesan cheese, shaved thin
Kosher Salt and Black Pepper, to taste
 
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Cut the squash in half, lengthwise and trim off both ends.  Thinly slice the squash in 1/8 inch slivers.  Toss the squash with 1 Tbs. of olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Lay the squash evenly on a sheet tray (without overlapping) and roast for 12-15 minutes. (to get some nice color you can turn the oven on broil for the last 2 minutes)
 
While the squash is roasting, heat a large saute pan with 3 Tbs. of olive oil.  When the oil is hot add the slivered garlic and saute for 30 seconds.  Add the slivered onion, season with kosher salt and pepper, and slowly cook for 15-20 minutes, until the onions are caramelized.  Add the radicchio and roasted squash and cook for 1 more minute.  Add the Taleggio cheese and turn off the heat.  
 
Bring a large put of salted water to a boil.  Add the bag of spinach fettuccine and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the noodles are “al dente”.  Immediately drain the noodles,  rinse with cold water for 15 seconds and then pour the noodles in the pan with the onions, garlic, radicchio, squash and Taleggio.  Stir all of the ingredients together, adding 2 Tbs. of olive oil, kosher salt, black pepper and Parmesan cheese.  Serve in a large family style bowl garnished with slivered radicchio and Parmesan cheese.
 

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