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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The True Olive Oil Experience!

16 01 2012

Yesterday was an incredibly special “Culinary Gathering” co-hosted by my wonderful Italian friend Cristiana.  We met last year in San Casciano, her home town in Chianti, Italy.  She opened the doors of her life to me as we ate wonderful meals at her family’s home, toured her famous Tuscan farm and nursery, wine-tasted all over the region, met local pasta makers and olive oil producers and traveled to different regions of Italy together.

Yesterday Cristiana was in my home. It was quite an honor to share my life, my home and and especially my passion for food with her. We hosted an “Italian Culinary Gathering” to share the unique recipes from her Grandmother’s kitchen, “La Bruna”, with some of my most loyal clients.  The food was unlike any Italian food I have tasted in the US.  It was full of bursting flavors and unusual techniques that I have never considered in my approach to cooking.  Most importantly, this “Culinary Gathering” was full of love, warmth and appreciation for a fantastic culture.

I’d like to share with you a small clip of Cristiana teaching the class how to taste the olive oil from her farm.  It’s a tradition in Italy called “Fettunta”: The only way to celebrate the new olive oil of the year.

To purchase Maldon Salt check out The Spice House in Chicago or Evanston





Spice Video, Ep. 2: Coriander

22 09 2011

Today I am going to take you inside my apartment for a little cooking adventure.  I encourage you all to try this recipe at home.  It’s easy, super healthy and something you’ve most likely never made before.  Let me know your feedback!

Recipe:  Creamy Millet with Coriander and Parmesan Cheese
(Serves 2)
 
Ingredients:
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 shallot, minced
1/2 cup milllet 
3/4-1 Tbs. coriander, freshly ground
1/2-1 Tbs. kosher salt
2 cups water (or stock)
2-3 Tbs. Parmesan Cheese, grated fine
 
Heat 2 Tbs. of olive oil in a small saucepan.  When the oil is hot, add the minced shallot and saute for 20 seconds.  Next, add the millet to the pan and toast the grain, stirring occasionally, for 30 seconds over medium heat. Add the water/broth and bring the liquid up to a simmer.  
 
While the liquid is heating up, place 1 Tbs. of whole coriander in a small saucepan over medium heat (without any oil or butter).  Heat the coriander, stirring the pan, until the seeds are hot to the touch.  Transfer them directly to a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.  When the coriander seeds are cool, grind them to a fine texture.  Add 3/4-1 Tbs. of the freshly ground coriander to the millet and season with kosher salt.  
 
Once the millet has come to a boil, lower the heat and let it simmer for 18-22 minutes.  Stir in the shaved Parmesan cheese and season to taste with kosher salt.  Serve immediately.
 
* For breakfast, creamy millet goes wonderfully with poached eggs, soft scrambled eggs, bacon or some seasonal vegetables
 
*For dinner, creamy millet is a wonderful accompaniment to seared fish, meat or roasted vegetables.  
 
 
 
 
 




Spice Video, Ep. #1

6 09 2011

Over the next month, I have decided to take a culinary adventure with you.  The topic: Spices.  Why? Because spices are underrated and they add incredible flavor, color and nutrients to food.  I think more people need to feel comfortable using spices when they cook. It’s important for people to know you don’t need to add butter or oil to make their food taste better.  Spices, in their freshest form, can transform any normal dish to an exotic delicious creation.

I have to be honest, I don’t remember everything I learned in culinary school.  But I will NEVER forget learning about spices from Tom, the owner of “The Spice House” in Chicago.  Tom’s lecture literally rocked my world….teaching me so many facts that I had never considered about spices.

Key Points that I remember:

1. Grocery store spices are not dated.  They can be packaged and sit in a warehouse for years before they make it to shelf of a supermarket.  At the supermarket they are usually never rotated so a “new spice” you buy is most likely expired by the time you use it.

2.  It matters where your spices come from.  If you go to a store that specializes in spices, they come directly from the source (Africa, South East Asia, Spain) and the flavors taste 100 times stronger and have a higher nutrient value.

3.  It’s always best to buy spices in their whole form. (whole seeds vs. ground)  They don’t go bad this way.  When you are ready to use them, you toast and grind them yourself to get the freshest taste and quality.

4.  Spice grinders are cheap and super easy to use.  They are basically the same thing as an expresso grinder and cost 20 bucks at Bed Bath and Beyond or Target.

5.  There are hundreds or different types of salts that you can use for different reasons.  Salt not only adds flavor to our food, it preserves, tenderizes and gives our body essential nutrients.

If you’ve never been to the Spice House in Chicago or Evanston, YOU NEED TO GO!  Don’t be intimidated if you don’t know what to buy at first.  Start with a spice blend or some finishing salt and take baby steps to the exotic stuff.  I’d love to share a video of my experience at the Spice House in Chicago this week:

This month I am going to continue to do video’s featuring some of my favorite spices and share the recipes with you. If you have any questions or want to chat about spices, respond to the blog or visit one of the two Spice House locations.

Locations:

Spice House Chicago, 1512 N. Wells St, Chicago Il. 60610  (in Old Town)

Spice House Evanston, 1941 Central St., Evanston Il. 60201