Lemon Chicken with Asparagus and Avocado

I’ve been missing in action recently, a situation which has presented itself before since this blog’s inception in August of 2009.  This time my absence is due to my new-ish job at Haven’s Kitchen, where I work as a teaching assistant and sometimes as a prep cook for catered events there.

It’s been hectic mainly because I’ve been busy learning how to act as a professional cook and not as a home cook.  The differences between these two types of cooking are numerous, and I’d like to share with you the top 5 most important things I’ve learned about working in an industrial kitchen, and how it differs from cooking at home.

1. Salt your food.  I mean, really salt your food.

  • More salt goes into one dish in a night than I’m used to using in the span of a week- to give you an idea of what I mean,  take the amount of salt you think is appropriate for a dish, triple it, add a few more pinches, and then you’re just shy of the right amount. I suggest you not eat out anymore if this fact scares you.

2. Time is of utmost importance.

  • In my mind, this is the essential difference between a home cook and a professional: at home, you don’t want to spend hours making dinner, but you could if you wanted to.  At work, taking a long time to complete a task is a sign of inefficiency and inability to work properly.  I’m still getting used to this one.

3. Season as you go. Taste everything, every step of the way.

  • I hear almost every teacher say it during classes, and I see chefs doing it during service time for events – every dish should be tasted and seasoned from the very beginning to right before being plated.  This might seem strange to those who cook at home, but it ultimately makes sense:  in order to control the final result, you need to monitor the dish’s taste along the way.  Salt, salt, salt!

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Herbed Asparagus Frittata with Seared Salmon and Feta

 

Another recipe to celebrate the warm weather season, highlighting the deep and plentiful flavor of green asparagus which has popped up on almost every bistrot menu around Paris.  This year more than ever I’m learning to embrace the seasons, which bring along with them the adventure of learning to cook with what nature gives you.  Asparagus is a great ingredient to experiment with because it can be eaten in so many forms, whether puréed in a soup, tossed in a spring salad, or incorporated with eggs as is done here.  If you are left with extra asparagus spears while making this recipe, I suggest tossing the rest of the asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasting in a 220°C/400°F oven.  Once cooked you can top with slivers of parmesan and lemon juice, or balsamic vinegar.

The pairing of green asparagus and eggs is effortless and harmonious, and by tossing pan-seared salmon into the frittata you include enough protein and energy to make this meal for a healthy lunch or dinner.  Fresh herbs such as chives, cilantro, or parsley add brightness and a strong summer flavor.  If you decide to add a cheese such as feta, be prepared for a very particular tang with a slightly salty aftertaste.  Other cheeses that would work equally as well would be goat cheese, ricotta, or perhaps blue cheese for the strong-hearted.

I would definitely pair this frittata with a white wine with hints of spices, such as the Californian J Russian River Valley Pinot Gris.  For dessert, you could chop up two nectarines and slice a few ripe cherries, and toss them with 1 tablespoon honey, a drizzle of oil, and a handful of sliced fresh mint.  If you prefer to finish this frittata in the oven, instead of flipping it over and cooking the other side, place the (ovenproof) skillet under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, until set.

Herbed Asparagus Frittata with Seared Salmon and Feta – serves 1

1 salmon filet, about 6 ounces/185 grams
1 tablespoon olive oil plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1 pinch cayenne pepper
2 eggs plus 1 egg white
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 tablespoons crumbled feta
3-4 stalks asparagus, woody stems removed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 lemon

1. Wash and pat dry the salmon fillet. Rub all over with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper.
2. Heat a small 8-inch/20-cm skillet over medium heat. Add salmon filet, and cook for about 2-3 minutes on all four sides until cooked through. Remove salmon from heat, and with a fork gently break the fish apart into small, bite-size pieces.
3. In a small bowl, combine the eggs, herbs, heavy cream, and a pinch each of salt and pepper (and cayenne pepper if you like things spicy). Whisk together with a fork. Add in the salmon bits and feta cheese, and combine gently.
4. Heat the teaspoon olive oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Add asparagus bits to the pan and cook until tender but still crunchy, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Add the egg mixture to the pan; swirl the pan around to coat evenly. Let eggs cook over medium heat, occasionally tilting the pan to one side and pushing the eggs to the center of the pan to let the runny parts reach the bottom of the skillet.
6. Place a large plate over the skillet and invert the frittata onto the plate. Gently slide the frittata back onto the skillet to heat the runny side. Cook until frittata is set, about 2 minutes longer. Serve on same large plate and sprinkle with lemon juice.

White Bean, Asparagus, and Sesame-Crusted Shrimp Salad

Not every one falls in love with Paris, but I find that those who do are hooked for life.  Whether it happens over a café crème on a sunny terrace or during a never-ending picnic rife with cheap red wine and crunchy baguettes, this city is capable of leaving you mesmerized, walking through the charming streets as if in a daydream.   And while living here may be just a fantasy, an image of a life I want to believe I’m leading (I recommend watching Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris to get a better idea of what I’m talking about), there are certain rituals I have come to adopt that remind me that, even if Paris embodies a city that is bordering fantasia, there are still many things, mostly in food form, that capture my heart and remind me that true talent and beauty lies in the heart of the city.  One such ritual is enjoying lunch at le Comptoir, undoubtedly one of my favorite restaurants in Paris and likely the favorite of many other frequenters.  While it’s almost not worth going for dinner as it requires a reservation six months in advance, if you arrive on the early side (12pm sharp) for lunch you can enjoy a lovely table on the sunny terrace.  This is precisely what I do when I want to enjoy a refreshing glass of white wine and the best salad I’ve ever had in my life, the Salad Niçoise.  I assume you’ll immediately tell me that you don’t like Salad Niçoise, because it is boring or bland, or that you don’t like anchovies.  But, my dear reader, I felt the same way before trying this salad, which has changed my life and made me think about the perfect harmony of a salad in a new way.

I am grateful to this salad niçoise, not only for making my stomach and eyes extremely happy, but additionally for reminding me that salads don’t need to be light or boring to be enjoyed.  They can be a scene for extreme experiences: marriages of flavor that develop and change with each bite.  Dig around the plate to find a little bit of egg or some crispy caramelized onions that will forever change your next bite from your last.  Although the salad that I’m posting today has nothing to do with a nicoise salad, it was with this appreciation for the greener side of life that I hoped to present to you a salad that is at once hearty, healthy, and complex.  This is essentially a new version of a shrimp and arugula salad that I have been making for a while.  Because it’s springtime and the fruits and vegetables are at the beginning of their glorious high season, I had to include roast asparagus, which for me is one of the easiest springtime things to make and can be tossed with just about anything: in a frittata, with pasta, or just roasted and eaten in its pure form. 

If you have to buy more asparagus than the recipe calls for, I would recommend either saving the remainder and using them at a later time (they will keep for up to 5 or 6 days in tupperware in your fridge), or roasting all of them and eating the remaining asparagus as a snack over the next few days.  Roast asparagus is something I would liken to roast sweet potatoes, in the sense that both of these ingredients change personality entirely to acquire a salty, almost creamy air about them once exiting the hot oven.  Needless to say I’m a huge fan.  Also, don’t forget to remove the ends of the asparagus which are not tender enough to be eaten: take each asparagus in your hands and snap it in two – the asparagus will naturally break where it is no longer tender.

I of course added shrimp because I am a seafood lover jusqu’au bout, and fresh, large, jumbo shrimp can make a cameo on my dinner plate any day.  The addition of sesame seeds adds a nice extra dimension of saltiness and protein (and it’s really easy to put together, I promise!) which pairs very well with the sautéed basil.

Lastly, if you decide that you would like to try to make the shallot/shrimp medley but you don’t care for the lettuce or roast asparagus, I would recommend removing the tails off the shrimp, cutting them into bite-size pieces, and eating them in a burrito with sliced avocado and sour cream or on toasts.  And now I’m hungry once again.

White Bean, Asparagus, and Sesame-Crusted Shrimp Salad – serves 1
 
For the asparagus:
6 to 8 stalks of green asparagus, ends trimmed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil or sunflower oil
coarse sea salt
 
For the Salad:
1/2-cup sesame seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 jumbo shrimp, peeled, heads removed and tails left on
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 handful fresh basil, thinly sliced
1 lemon
1/2-cup white beans
2 large handfuls arugula
 
To cook the asparagus:
1. Preheat the oven to 220°C/425° F. Line a baking sheet that is large enough to hold all the asparagus flat with tin foil. Add all the ingredients and toss thoroughly with your hands to combine.
2. Roast in the oven until crispy yet tender, about 12-15 minutes.
3. Once cool enough to handle, cut into matchstick-sized pieces and set aside. If there is any oil remaining on the baking sheet, set it aside to add to the sauce
 
To prepare the salad:
1. In a shallow bowl or dish, spread out the sesame seeds.
2. Toss the shrimp with 1 tablespoon olive oil, cayenne pepper, and salt; pass the oiled shrimp through the sesame seeds to coat.
3. In a large skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the sliced shallot, and cook, stirring occassionally, until softened, about 6 minutes.
4. Turn the heat to medium- high, add the shrimp, and cook until shrimp are cooked through, about 2 minutes on each side.
5. Add the juice from half of the lemon (or more if necessary, you want to make a sauce). Remove from heat, add the basil slivers, and toss to combine. Add any remaining oil from the roast asparagus.
6. Place the arugula and white beans on a plate. Top with shrimp and shallot sauce. Add additional lemon juice or olive oil as neccesary, and season with salt and pepper.

Spring Pasta with Zucchini Ribbons

 

“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” ~Oscar Wilde

 

I won’t go into the details of why cooking for yourself is a great way to dive into this so-called romance as Mr. Wilde puts it, but I thought this quote might inspire you as it did me.  I also would like to apologize for not having written any recipes for exactly two months.  When it comes to this blog, consistency is clearly is not my strong suit.

I am going to keep it fairly short today, and just give you the run-down with this pasta, a healthy dish that comes together nicely and showcases the prime vegetables of the season.  While I like cooking year round, cooking in springtime is a special treat because I am finally able to cook with fresh produce that is full of fragrance, flavor and texture.  The silky zucchini complements perfectly the crunch of the asparagus and peas, and fresh basil adds the final touch to remind you that better weather really is on its way!

Of course this springtime bliss is only relevant to those living in seasonal areas in the northern hemisphere, but hopefully you will all enjoy making this pasta no matter where you call home.  As with pretty much any recipe on this blog, feel free to change it up as you see fit: replace the peas with fava beans, use fresh mint or cilantro instead of basil, and you may even want to omit the bacon, in which case you would need to use olive oil to cook the zucchini and asparagus. 

One last note: if you have leftover zucchini and asparagus, why don’t you dice or slice everything and cook it in the next few days in a frittata?

Happy spring to every one, may your next meal be absolutely delicious, wherever and whatever you find yourself eating.  And please give feedback/comments/new recipe ideas!  The more the merrier!

Spring Pasta- Serves 1
 
1 zucchini, ends cut off, peeled
1/4-cup lardons, or two slices bacon, cut into small dice
2 ounces papardelle pasta, or any other pasta you want to use (you’re making this for yourself, so go nuts!)
1/2-cup fresh or frozen peas (if using frozen, make sure to thaw them)
3 stalks asparagus, trimmed, sliced thinly on the diagonal
1 garlic clove, minced
1 lemon
4 basil leaves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon freshly grated parmesan, or more as desired
good-quality olive oil (optional)
 
1. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil.
2.  Using your vegetable peeler, cut the zucchini vertically into pasta-like ribbons.

3.  In a small or medium saute pan, cook the lardons or bacon bits over medium heat, until well browned, about 4-5 minutes.  Once cooked through, remove from heat, leaving the fat in the pan.
4.  Once water is boiling, add pasta and peas and cook pasta to package instructions. 
5.  Return the saute pan to heat and cook garlic in the remaining bacon fat until browned, about 30 seconds.  Add the zucchini ribbons and saute until slightly softened, 2 minutes.  Add the asparagus and cook until asparagus pieces are just slightly tender, 2-3 minutes.
6.  Once pasta is ready, drain in a colander along with the peas.  Add pasta, peas, and bacon bits to the skillet containing the asparagus and zucchini, and toss to combine.  Add lemon juice as desired, probably 1-2 tablespoons. Season generously with freshly ground pepper.
7.  Remove from heat and toss in the basil.  Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan and drizzle with good-quality olive oil if desired.
 
Booooon appetito!

>Spicy Vermicelli with White Asparagus and White Wine

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The short and sweet season for asparagus, both white and green, has started!  Sunday was the first time I saw them at the “bio” food market, and I believe they will be available for the next 2 or 3 months.  I don’t have much to add to this post except to say that I hope you try and make this, because it’s easy, vermicelli is awesome, and who doesn’t like some spicy pasta once in a while?

I’ll just give you a few tips/notes: firstly, the vermicelli I bought came in neat little bundles, one bundle being a serving size for one person.  I believe most vermicelli is sold this way, but if not, then you’ll need about two handfuls of vermicelli to make this for yourself.  Secondly, I think white asparagus has a slightly less obvious taste than green asparagus and absorbs white wine better, which is why I used it in this recipe, but I’m sure you could use green asparagus and it would still taste good.  Lastly, I didn’t want to use nuts because I wanted to keep this recipe on the lighter side, but you if you’d like, feel free to add some chopped nuts, maybe walnuts, cashews, or hazelnuts, at the same time as the asparagus – I think that would taste great!

Enjoy the springtime, wherever you may be reading this, and have a fantastic day.

Spicy Vermicelli with White Asparagus and White Wine – serves 1

1 tbsp olive oil
1 round (1 bunch) vermicelli noodles
1 tsp chopped fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, chopped
5 white asparagus spears, peeled and stems trimmed
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1/2-cup dry white wine
1 tbsp sliced basil leaves (optional)
grated parmesan (optional)

1.  Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil, and cook vermicelli according to package instructions (usually between 4-8 minutes).  When done, drain and set aside in a bowl.
2.  Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the olive oil, garlic, and ginger, and sautée until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3.  Add the asparagus spears, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper, and sautée until asparagus are slightly softened, about 5 minutes.
4.  Add the white wine, and simmer until most of the alcohol has burned off and the asparagus pieces have softened, about 5 minutes longer.  If the white wine evaporates too quickly and there is none left, add more in small amounts, until there is about 1/4-cup liquid remaining.
5.  Remove the skillet from heat, add the vermicelli, and toss thoroughly to combine.
6.  Top with sliced basil leaves if desired, and grated parmesan.