Spears of Joy

Little lambs are leaping about, apple blossoms shower down from the trees. Flowers on my strawberry plants. Baby plants tucked into their new homes in the garden.

Sigh.

Spring.

But the best bit? The very best bit? The very very very best bit?  (Aside from the birthdays of my most precious creations, obvs!)

It’s asparagus season!

When I was but a youngin’ on the farm in British Columbia, we had wild asparagus growing around the base of the trees in the apple orchard. It was always a battle: who shall chomp first, sheep or girl? I stalked those 400 trees, waiting for the first glimpse of a little point piercing through the grass. This may well be the root of my current desire to forage. Elderflower for cordial, blackberries and damsons for jam and I just love a bit of wild garlic….oh, there is some in this weeks’ recipe, too!

I was beyond excited to find the first early cuts of asparagus at our ‘local’, Palmers Green Market, and although hubbie balked at the price, he did stump up, and I promised him something special.  I could happily chow down on the divine little green wands any which way, but other, previously mentioned fusspots constantly kvetch.

Our dear friend Mr. Oliver has a rather scrum item in his ‘Jamie at Home‘….. here is my version. It is a supremely adjustable recipe, and I have served it a few of the wild birthday bashes we host this time o’ year, and it has never gone amiss. And it’s pretty damn easy, to boot!

Asparagus and Potato Pie

Ingredients:

500 g potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

500g asparagus spears, trimmed

200g ready rolled puff pastry

50 g butter, melted

200 g grated sharp cheese

3 large eggs

284 ml double cream

nutmeg

salt

pepper

wild garlic leaves

Method:

Boil up a large pot of water. I use it first to blanch my asparagus, chucking them into boiling water for about 4 minutes. Pop the green babies to the side, boil and mash your spuds. Mix in your cheese(s). I used some wicked aged cheddar, again from my local market, and some Emmental I found lurking at the back of the fridge. Go wild, and try some interesting combos! As long as you have some strength in the flavour, you’ll be fine.

Preheat your oven to 190 C. Grab an ovenproof dish, whatever shape you fancy. I used a traditional round fluted edged number this time round. Paint the dish with melted butter, then press your pastry in. I am a terrible pastry cheater, and have never been brave enough to make my own. (It IS on the list!) This is also totally fab made with filo, as Jamie does,  and then you would double the butter and brush between the layers. Put your pastry aside for a mo.

Mix together the eggs and cream in a bowl, then add them to the mash mix. Sprinkle in some grated nutmeg. I used about 1/4 tsp, as I’m not a huge fan, but it does work well in this dish. Salt and pepper to taste. Then the best bits….I have some handy herb scissors, and I chopped in 4 good sized wild garlic leaves. Mix it all up, them plop into your pastry case. Arrange the asparagus spears as artfully as your dare across the top, and then brush with the rest of the melted butter.

Into the oven with her for about 20 minutes. Golden brown is our aim! Delightful with a nice green salad, served hot or cold.

Also rather nice straight from the fridge at 11:30 pm. What can I say? It was calling to me!

Asparagus and Potato Pie

Asparagus and Potato Pie

 

Now that my little delicious buds are more readily available, it shall be a free for all….I am thinking dipped into poached eggs, shaved onto salad, drizzled with homemade hollondaise…..oh the glorious gastronomical possibilities! Hark can I hear the angels singing with delight???

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The Mother of Invention….

I am most decidedly not the type of girl that denies herself anything. Be it clothes, food, kitchen gear, or, ahem, a nice bottle of wine. I am the type of girl that likes to stick to a routine, and most especially at breakfast. I am at my most, let’s just call it demanding, first thing in the morning. Some may call it cranky, but not too near to me, or they’ll see just how cranky I can be before 10 am!

For breakfast, I have always been, and will always be, a toast person. Sometimes with avocado, sometimes with smoked salmon. An occasional tomato or cheese. Must be thinly sliced, have lots of butter, and come from a well made loaf.

And so on to the denial of my favourite breakfast. Sigh. No bread. Or pasta or cakes etc….but it is the bread that really makes me suffer. I find it rather annoying how many people tell me they like matza. I think if you could only have matza, you would rapidly come to a different conclusion. (Oh, and it is terrible on the guts) The only saving grace is that potatoes are still on the menu, otherwise their may just be a mutiny here!

There is a positive aspect to Passover cooking. Firstly, the Seder meal is a wonderful experience, and such a marker of how time flies. I have watched all the youngers at the table grow and change, including my own little ratbags. My contribution, year on year, is pudding. For the last few years I have made a divine matza fritter, but the rellies are all a bit sick of them, so I delved into the books….first stop, the goddess herself, Nigella.

I really do pimp every recipe I go near, but Nigella is the exception. I have only very slightly changed her Pomegranate Jewel Cake, substituting pomegranate molasses for juice and  adding in a bit more zest. I am a zesty kind of girl.

Pomegranate Jewel Cake – ‘Feast’ Nigella Lawson (Rosh Hashanah section)

Ingredients

8 eggs

pinch salt

300g caster sugar

300g ground almonds

zest of 2 lemons

zest of 2 oranges

Pomegranate and pomegranate molasses to serve

Method

Grease and line a 23cm springform pan and pop the oven onto 180.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites into a good size bowl, and the yolks in another biggish bowl as this is where the folding and mixing will happen.

Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they are stiff, but not totally dry. It takes me about 10 minutes with my little hand held electric number. Whisk in 100g of the sugar and then pop then off to the side.

Add the rest of the sugar, and  the zests to the yolks and then beat until light and airy. I used a balloon whisk for about 5 minutes. It’s thick and rather gloopy, and folding in a good dollop of the whites makes it easier to manage. Now start folding the whites into the yolk mixture, about a third at a time. Be light handed so as not to knock the air out of the batter, but don’t be a wimp about it either.

Pour into the tin and pop into the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, checking it regularly after 25 as it burns quickly because of the high sugar content. If the cake is browning nicely, but still wobbly in the middle, pop a bit of foil on top.

As soon as you take the cake out of the oven, pour over some slightly watered down pomegranate molasses so it seeps down into the cake. You can also use the juice of one pomegranate, but I prefer the molasses as it adds a slightly smokey flavour to the cake.

Cool totally before removing from the tin, and then cover with the pomegranate seeds.

Serve with fruit salad and ice cream, a la Shapir Seder.

Pomegranate Jewel Cake

Pomegranate Jewel Cake

(A LITTLE NOTE: after posting this, and tweeting the picture, “Star of our Seder”, The Goddess herself, Ms. Lawson sent me a PM: ‘So pleased.’ TRUE FREAKING STORY!)

 

I did not, however, stop with the above (post mauling). I have a terrible tendency to go a smidge overboard. So, I also brought some Matza ‘Crack’ along. I make a double batch at the beginning of Passover partially to use up some matza, and partially to try and convince myself that it is not one of the most foul foodstuffs available.

The recipe comes from David Lebovitz, who is a god of the kitchen.

Matza Crack

Ingredients

4 to 6 sheets matza

1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, cut into chunks

1 cup (215g) firmly-packed light brown sugar

big pinch of sea salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup (160g) plain chocolate chips

 

Method

Line a rimmed baking tray with foil, making sure the foil goes up and over the edges. Cover the foil with a sheet of baking parchment.

Preheat the oven to 190.

Line the bottom of the sheet with matza, breaking extra pieces as necessary to fill in any spaces.

In a good sized, heavy duty saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together, and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the butter is melted and the mixture is beginning to boil. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, add the salt and vanilla, and pour over matza, spread evenly.

Put the pan in the tray and reduce the heat to 175. Bake for 15 minutes. As it bakes, it will bubble up but keep an eyeball on it to make sure it’s not burning. If it starts to get too dark in places, remove from oven and reduce the heat to 160C before popping back in to finish off.

Remove from oven and immediately cover with chocolate chips. Let stand 5 minutes, then spread with an offset spatula. I love this bit as it is terribly cathartic. Love that spreading!

Top off with a liberal sprinkling of Maldon salt flakes.

Cool it completely and break up it up to whatever size you fancy. We are greedy, so they are big chunks in our house! Keep in a container for up to a week, so really most of the torturous bread-less event.

 

Enjoy….the countdown is on! I am already looking forward to making a divine potato and asparagus pie next week 😉

Matza Crack

Matza Crack

(Note: I love the story of the Exodus, the remembrance of our time as slaves, and the appreciation of our freedom. It’s just the matza I hate! )

 

Cheater, cheater, pesto eater

I have a confession to make, so please brace yourself.

I cheat.

Every single day. In a myriad of ways. With wild abandon, and not a hint of remorse.

But not on my taxes, and not on my husband.

I cheat in the kitchen.

Life is a full, crazy, and unpredictable ol’ thing. Mine no less than anyone elses. Once upon a time, I stayed at home, and had plenty of time to slave over that hot hob on complicated and perfect meals. Basically, I was in the habit of spoiling my hubbie and kids rotten. Now that I am working again, I have less time to do so, but I still  want to keep the standards high. I do have a certain reputation to uphold, after all.

There are some days that I find my dining table has had a revolving door attached to it. Mondays are particularly hideous. Between picking up extra kids, snack time, tutoring, picking up more kids, schlepping them around to Cubs and gymnastics, by the time we eat, it’s 8pm, and I can barely muster the energy to boil water.

But you see, I am a cheater, so all is not lost. Admittedly, cheating requires some planning, but it does save the (long) day. My best, and most cherished cheat is the glorious, versatile and damn tasty PESTO.

I make a big pot of it once every ten days or so, and it allows me to feel satisfyingly smug that I have not fallen down on the job. Now, this green goodness is not just for pasta, oh no! I slap it on cod and bake it, cook up chicken breast and toss it about, use it on a tart base with some goats cheese and artichokes…..Getting the idea? Hello, versatile!

There are not really any hard and fast rules with this…You like a little less garlic? Cut down the garlic! Not a fan of pine nuts? Use walnuts instead. The point is, it is one of those things that, with some imagination, can get you through a tough day.

You will need a food processor of some sort, and a sterilized jar.

Ingredients:

Fresh basil, 100g

pine nuts, approx 75g

grated parmesan, approx 75g

garlic, one clove, crushed

olive oil, 175 ml

sea salt, a mighty pinch

 

Method:

Now, this is probably one of the simplest things around. Grab a pan to toast your pine nuts. On medium heat, brown those babies. It takes them a bit to get started, but once they start to toast, stir/flip them in the pan, and keep a close eye as they will burn pretty fast. Pop them aside, and sort the rest.

Wash and shake off your basil. I use the whole thing, including the stalks. Just bend them into the processor’s bowl. Pour in the oil, toss in the rest of the ingredients, including your slightly cooled pine nuts.  Now get whizzing. How much depends on your texture preference. We like ours pretty smooth, but sometimes it is slightly crunchier than others. That’s just how things roll. Now, boil that water, or turn on the oven, or just chuck some on some leftovers…(my boy likes it mixed into rice, actually!)

Pesto

Pesto

 

 

Let me know how you get on, and send on any pictures of your creations!