Asparagus soup that will warm you up

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I’ve never done much with asparagus other than cook it on a stovetop or bake it. Since the weather has been freezing, I’ve been coming home to make dinners that will warm me up.

This cream of asparagus soup from Joy is a great way to use the vegetable. It takes about 45 minutes from start to finish, and has a nice consistency — it has cream, but doesn’t become too thick. I didn’t have chicken broth, so I used bullion and water. It was saltier than I wanted it to be, so next time I’ll use less than 1 tablespoon of bullion per cup of water.

I garnished the first bowl with shredded Parmesan, but that wasn’t quite right. The bread cubes were a much better choice.

All in all, this was a nice soup that I will be making again because it don’t involve a lot of ingredients, nor does it take too long to make.

Ingredients
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup coarsely chopped onions
1 1/2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups poultry stock, chicken broth or other light stock or broth
1/2 to 1 cup heavy cream, half-and-half or milk
Salt
White or black pepper

Melt butter in a soup pot over medium heat.

Add onions and cook, stirring, until tender but not browned.

Stir in asparagus. Cover and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in flour.

Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until the asparagus is very tender, about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Using a food processor or an immersion blender, process until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and stir in heavy cream. Heat through, but do not boil.

Add salt and pepper. Garnish with grated cheese such as cheddar or Parmesan, or add 1-inch cubes of bread.

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A sweeter spin on scalloped potatoes

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Some vegetables stump me when it comes to figuring out new ways to prepare them. Sweet potatoes are one I struggle with. Outside of baking them or cutting them up into small pieces and frying them, I didn’t really know what else to do with them — that is, until I saw a recipe for Pumpkin Scalloped Potatoes on Pinterest.

The sauce for this recipe is sweet, and the thyme lends a really nice flavor to it. The first time I made this, I used both Yukon Gold potatoes and yams, but the combination of the sweeter sauce and the Yukon Gold potatoes didn’t taste quite right to me. I liked the idea of making a pumpkin cream sauce with herbs for the potatoes, so I made the dish a second time only using yams. It was much better.

I used a mandolin slicer to cut the potatoes, and it was really nice to have all the pieces cut uniformly. I used cheddar and Parmesan, since that’s what I had in the fridge. The cheese added a much-needed savory flavor to the dish, which helps balance the overall taste.

This dish is a great way to make the most of fall flavors. It’s a nice comfort food for cold days, too. I may consider making it for Thanksgiving this year.

1scallopedsweetpotatoes111013Ingredients
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 sprig fresh thyme (or 1/3 teaspoon dried thyme)
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (freshly grated is best!)
2 large yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch slices
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces Fontina, Havarti or cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 2-quart casserole dish with nonstick spray.

In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, pumpkin, thyme, garlic and nutmeg and heat over medium-low heat. While the cream sauce is warming, prepare the potatoes.

Create three rows of potatoes along the bottom of the dish, overlapping slightly and alternating the two types of potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove the cream from heat (fishing out the thyme and garlic and discarding those) and spoon 1/3 of the cream sauce over the potatoes. Combine the two cheeses in a medium bowl. Sprinkle 1/3 of the cheeses over the potatoes too. Create a second layer of potatoes, sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with 1/3 more of the sauce and 1/3 more of the cheese. Create a third layer of potatoes, sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with the remainder of the sauce.

Bake the potatoes, uncovered, for 50 minutes. Sprinkle the remainder of the cheese on top, and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until the cheese is slightly browned and bubbly.

Smashing expectations with simple scones

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I have never met a scone I liked. Every scone I’ve ever had has been dry, plain and crumbly. They were all like eating a stale biscuit. So, for the majority of my life, I’ve avoided them. Last week I decided I make them at home to see whether I would like them better. I did.scones2

The recipe I used was the Simple Cream Scones recipe from The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. I figure it’s always best to start with something simple. I added a vanilla bean to the recipe and the flavor of the scones was great. They didn’t crumble all over the place when I bit into them like ones I’d purchased from coffee shops did. They were soft and a bit moist inside instead of dry through and through. They were enjoyable, instead of being overly sweet. They were perfect for breakfast.

As with most recipes, I made a mistake on the first try. I left the oven rack in the upper third of the oven and didn’t rotate the scones halfway through the cooking process as instructed. I left them in a little longer than I should have, but they were still good. In fact, the next weekend I made them and added about a half cup of chopped strawberries to the mix and I liked them even more than the vanilla bean scones.

I’m glad I decided to make them at home because now I know that not all scones are dry and crumbly. Not all scones are bad biscuits. Not all scones are worth writing off.

scones4Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder (use 3/4 tablespoon if at high altitude)
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and chilled
1 vanilla bean
1 cup heavy cream

Adjust oven rock to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment on, stir flour, sugar, baking powder and salt until combined. Add butter and stir until mixture resembles coarse meal with some slightly larger pieces of butter.

Cut both ends off the vanilla bean and cut the bean in half lengthwise. Using the back of a knife, scrape the seeds from inside and add them to the mixture. Stir until just combined. Stir in cream until dough begins to form.

Turn dough and any floury bits onto a floured counter and knead until a slightly sticky ball forms. Pat dough into a 9-inch round and use a knife or pizza cutter to cut into eight wedges.

Place wedges on prepared baking sheet and bake until tops of scones are lightly golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes (10 to 12 minutes if at high altitude), rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack and let cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Vanilla ice cream ready for scooping

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I have finally made scoopable ice cream. Those of you who read my blog regularly know this is something I’ve been struggling with for a couple months now, so I was thrilled when the latest edition of Bon Appétit showed up with ice cream on the cover.

One of my best friends from college randomly decided to visit this weekend. I hadn’t seen her in about five years, so I was really looking forward to the visit. Which also meant I was thinking about what I could have for her when she arrived. I decided to give a new ice cream recipe a chance.

When tackling a new kind of dessert, I like to find a great base recipe before I really start experimenting with flavors. It turns out that can be a tricky task when it comes to ice cream. But, after trying about five different recipes, Bon Appétit’s True Vanilla Ice Cream was the winner.

I have to admit that when I finished the custard mixture, I was a little nervous about how it would turn out. The custard was thinner than the custard other recipes produced. But I think that’s why this recipes works. Instead of getting a dense frozen custard after putting it through the ice cream maker, you get a nice, flavorful — and, most importantly, scoopable — ice cream.

I’m really happy with the way this ice cream turned out. Now I feel confident that I can start trying more flavors.

2Vanillaicecream072813Ingredients
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 egg yolks

Combine heavy cream, whole milk, 1/4 cup sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape in seeds; add pod (or use 1 teaspoon vanilla extract). Bring mixture just to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat. If using vanilla bean, cover; let sit 30 minutes.

Whisk 5 large egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl until pale, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in 1/2 cup warm cream mixture. Whisk yolk mixture into remaining cream mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat a wooden spoon, 2 to 3 minutes.

Strain custard into a medium bowl set over a bowl of ice water; let cool, stirring occasionally. At this point, you can transfer the mixture to a bowl and cover it by putting plastic wrap directly on the top of the custard. It can cool overnight in the fridge and be processed in the morning.

Process custard in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container; cover. Freeze until firm, at least 4 hours and up to 1 week.

Cooling down with homemade ice cream

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The recent hot weather in Tahoe has made me reluctant to turn on my oven. When temperatures hover near 90 degrees, I don’t want to do much of anything.

My best friend recently gave me his old Cuisinart Automatic Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker, so last night I decided to turn it on and see how it went. I looked up the manual for the model online and downloaded it to figure out how the machine worked. Included in the manual were some basic ice cream recipes.

When I first decided to make the ice cream, I thought starting simple with a vanilla bean ice cream would be the way to go. Then I discovered I had some apricots that were just about to go bad. I also had almonds in my baking supplies cupboard. I used the manual’s recipe for strawberry ice cream as a guideline and improvised using the ingredients I had.

I didn’t have enough eggs to make any of the premium ice cream recipes, so the texture was more like that of frozen yogurt. The flavor was perfect. Next time I’ll make the higher-quality recipe for the firmer ice cream texture.

I stored some of my ice cream in plastic tupperware and turned the rest into popsicles. I think I might prefer this as a popsicle — it tasted like an apricot-almond creamsicle. While the tupperware is not ideal, it helps prevent freezer burn for a little while. I may invest in an ice cream-specific freezer container, because this definitely won’t be my last batch of homemade ice cream.

2ApricotAlmondIceCreamIngredients
6 ripe, soft apricots, mashed
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup sugar, divided
2 1/4 cups soy milk or whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup toasted almonds, chopped finely
2 drops amaretto oil
1/4 teaspoon cognac

In a small bowl, combine the apricots with the lemon juice and 1/3 cup of the sugar; stir gently and allow to sit for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, use a whisk to combine the milk and granulated sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the heavy cream, amaretto oil and cognac, plus any accumulated juices from the apricot mixture.

Stir the almonds into the rest of the apricot mixture and set aside.

Turn the machine on, pour mixture into freezer bowl through ingredient spout and let mix until thickened, about 25-30 minutes. Add the apricot-almond mixture during the last 5 minutes of freezing.