Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Asparagus Season is Here!

Asparagus has very low saturated fats and possess very high fiber content, folic acid, potassium and variety of vitamins (A, B, C and iron). Its minimal Glycemic index makes it excellent for diabetics and diets.  It is also the only vegetable that contains Glutathione, an antioxidant found in the body that is known to fight bad cholesterol, water retention and major diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. But in spite of how good it is for you -  asparagus is absolutely delicious!!!!!

: Choose your asparagus with a firm stalk, tight tips and a vivid color. White asparagus (considered far superior by Europeans) comes from the same plant but is deprived of light so it cannot produce chlorophyll to give it a green color. Thinner stalks mean the plant was younger and more tender than thicker stalks. White asparagus are usually wonderful even when thick.

Asparagus does not keep well (3 days maximum in a wet towel in refrigerator): ideally, they should be consumed within 24 hours of purchase. You can freeze asparagus after blanching 2-4 minutes in boiling water.

Wash asparagus thoroughly under cool running water to remove any sand or dirt. Pat dry with a clean soft cloth. The tip of the asparagus is very tender, but the further down you go on the stalk, the tougher it gets. If you bend the asparagus it will naturally snap at the point where it goes from tender to tough (which is usually about 1/3 of the stalk). To ensure even cooking the large asparagus stalks should be peeled so that they are the same width as the tip. Really thin asparagus do not need peeling.

Cooking Methods:
Asparagus can be served many ways: hot or cooled to room temperature.  Michel Jean of Stissing House tells me that he uses a vegetable peeler to create shavings of raw garden fresh asparagus which he then sprinkles onto his salads.  Steamed they can be added to pizzas, soups, salads, and pasta, enjoyed plain with a bit of butter, salt and pepper or served with a simple vinaigrette sauce.  If not serving hot, spears should quickly be placed in a bowl of ice water or in a colander under cold running water so they will not loose their bright green color. Asparagus can be cooked in various methods. In each the cooking time varies according to the thickness of the stems. They should be soft enough to bite into easily but al dente enough to still hold their shape. They must be drained to remove all excess water. Boiling: Place salted water in a pot on the stove and when boiling starts add asparagus for about 4-5 minutes. (This is easier if they are tied in bunches.) Once plated, sprinkle salt and pepper over it and serve hot.  Steaming: Bring 1 inch water to boil in a steamer. Place asparagus in basket, cover and steam over medium-high heat until asparagus spears are slightly undercooked, 3- 4 minutes for medium spears. Microwaving: place the stems in a microwave safe dish. Add about one-fourth of a cup of water and cover.. Then cook it for 5-7 minutes. If you are using chopped asparagus, 4-5 minutes should be enough. Roasting: Pre-heat oven to 400F. Rub oven tray or pan with some oil and place the asparagus in.  Sprinkle with some pepper, garlic and salt. And cook for 8-10 minutes.

Wine Pairings

Asparagus does not pair well with most wines – the best are Gewurztraminer,
Pinot Grigio or a Chenin Blanc.

Asparagus Vinaigrette
1 Tablespoon of Dijon Mustard. (I prefer, Maille, sold at Marona’s)
1/3 Cup of Red Wine Vinegar (I like Dal Raccolta Old Chianti Vinegar which I buy it at Quattros
1 Cup of Vegetable Oil (I use Peant Oil from Marona’s)
Salt And Fresh Ground Pepper

There are several ways to prepare a vinaigrette but the classical recipe is to slowly add 3 parts of oil at room temperature to 1 part of vinegar, using a whisk, until it emulsifies into a creamy sauce. For this recipe, place mustard at bottom of bowl, add vinegar and season.with salt and pepper before you add the oil (because salt does not mix with oil). Add 1/3 of oil. Whisk until thickens. Add 2nd third of oil. Whisk until thicker. Add last third of oil. Whisk again. VOILA! French Salad Dressing! (By adding the oil in three parts and whisking in between, if the sauce should break apart, you’ll be able to whisk it back together again).

Bring 1 inch water to boil in a steamer. Place asparagus in steamer basket, cover and steam over medium-high heat until asparagus spears are slightly undercooked, about 2-3 minutes for medium spears. Drain and plunge spears immediately into ice water to stop the cooking process. Serve plated with the sauce napped over the tips of the asparagus or on a large serving  platter with the sauce in a gravy boat on the side.

Asparagus with Poached Eggs & Parmesan
Makes 4 servings.

2 pounds asparagus 
cut into 5- to 6-inch lengths
Sea salt, or “fleur de sel”
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil  
Freshly ground black pepper 
4 large fresh farm eggs 

1 cup (lightly packed) parsley leaves
chopped, grated or shaved parmesan at room temperature
truffle shavings (optional)

Cook spears in boiling salted water until just tender, approximately 4 minutes for medium stalks. Remove from heat, drain, and toss with olive oil and salt and pepper. Divide asparagus among 4 dinner plates and keep warm. In a separate skillet bring about 2 inches of water to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Add a tablespoon of white vinegar. (Vinegar helps the egg hold its shape.  Without it, the eggs will become skeins of protein tangling up in the water. Do not add salt, which would loosen the whites.) Break each egg onto a separate small cups. Quickly slip all eggs carefully into simmering water by lowering the lip of each egg cup a half inch below the surface of the water. Let the eggs flow out. Immediately cover with a lid and turn off the heat. Set a timer for exactly three minutes for medium-firm yolks. Lift each perfectly poached egg from the water with a slotted spoon, but hold it over the skillet briefly to let any water clinging to the egg drain off.  Place a warm poached egg on top of each asparagus portion; dab with a paper towel to soak up any visible water. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, parsley and parmesan. Serve immediately. Optional:  Shave a few slices of truffle over the egg with a truffle slicer or a vegetable peeler. The warmth of the egg will release the wonderful aroma of the truffle.

If you have tried any of my recipes let me know how it went at

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Secret to Spring Lamb – Keep it Simple!

Lamb is sold year round, but is so much better in the Spring, that I only roast it in the months from April to August.  Lamb is young sheep less than one year old. The very best is “milk-fed lamb” which is from an un-weaned lamb, typically 4-6 weeks old. This is very hard to get as most Americans will not pay the price. Almost as good, and almost as rare is “baby lamb” - a milk-fed lamb between 6-8 weeks old. Most of us can get and enjoy “spring lamb” - a milk-fed lamb, usually 2-5 months old, born in late winter or early spring, fed on the first grass of the season and sold by summer’s end. Anything older than a year is no longer lamb, but mutton which has a gamey flavor. American lamb, usually corn fed, is generally milder in flavor than grass fed Australian and New Zealand lamb. In spring, the French love “Navarin D’Agneau”. It is composed of spring lamb and all the new spring vegetables (fresh peas, turnips, baby carrots, etc). making it is too work intensive to explain here, but I do know that it is being served in April at La Mangeoire in Manhattan and Stissing House in Pine Plains.  Here are six secrets to simply roasting spring lamb:
Secret #1/.
The most important thing to remember is to not over-cook it or over prepare it. Spring lamb has such wonderful flavor and is naturally so tender, that it will be good as long as it is still a little pink inside. I believe it a shame to muck it up with marinades that denature the meat. (That trick is for older lamb).
Secret #2/.
Lamb is best when cooked on the bone, basted with its own natural juices and served piping hot.
Secret #3/.
Like all meat, lamb should be at room temperature when placed in the oven.

Secret #4/.
Roasting (the cooking method of choice for large cuts of tender meat) is done in a shallow, uncovered pan, preferably with the meat raised slightly on a rack to allow heated air to circulate around it and au jus to be formed from the drippings.
Secret # 5/.
In general, a roast should have a crisp brown surface and a juicy pink interior. This is accomplished by searing the meat at high heat in the oven for about 10 minutes and then reducing to 350ºF. Cooking times (after the roast is seared) are: 10 minutes/lb for rare meat, 12 for medium-rare, 15 for medium, and 20 for well-done. My personal favorite is 11 minutes per pound which is for the rare side of medium rare.
Secret #6:

Allow lamb to rest, loosely covered with foil for 10 to 20 minutes after removal from the oven. This rest period minimizes the loss of juice and allows the meat to become a bit firmer, making carving much easier. Cooking will continue during the resting period so that internal temperature will rise at least 5º- 10ºF.
Serve with green beans, roasted tomatoes, zucchini au gratin or potatoes. You can find these recipes at my blog: Comments are appreciated at

Roast Leg of Lamb on the Bone (serves 6-8 people)
1 bone in leg of lamb
8 cloves organic garlic, halved
fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon freshly ground organic black pepper
1 teaspoon coarse unrefined sea salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, sliced into long thin strips
At least 2 hrs before cooking, cut 16 slits, about an inch deep, all over the top and sides of the lamb. Push a piece of garlic into each slit, as deep as it will go. Lightly rub olive oil over the surface of the lamb and season with salt, pepper and rosemary.  Preheat the oven to 425F.  Place the lamb on its rack in the roasting pan, fat side up. Roast the lamb for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, baste with the pan drippings, place shallots under the lamb and return to the oven. Cook for another 10 minutes. The drippings should begin to caramelize the shallots. Add ½ cup of water to the bottom of the roasting pan and mix with the shallots. Baste the lamb. Return to the oven, After 10 minutes remove the pan from the oven, baste with the pan drippings, and return to the oven. Turn the heat down to 300 degrees. Cook for another 30 to 50 minutes, depending on how you like your lamb - basting every 15 minutes and adding ½ cup water each time if needed to keep the juices liquid.  This liquid is what is called “au jus”. If you need more, just add some water and reduce.Spoon over meat and/or serve in a gravy boat.
Rack of Lamb (serves 6-8 people)
2 racks of spring lamb, frenched by your butcher. 
salt, pepper, olive oil

Rack of lamb is expensive but wonderful. You may need to order it from your butcher in advance. It is the eight lamb chops left together for cooking purposes and then cut into chops for serving. Cooking them as a rack improves the flavor, makes them easier to cook for a larger number of people, produces more rare or medium rare meat and makes a better presentation
Remove lamb racks from refrigerator 1-2 hours before cooking. Preheat oven to 400°F. Rub the racks with olive oil, salt and pepper. Score the fat, by making sharp shallow cuts through the fat, spaced about an inch apart. Sprinkle the rack all over with salt and pepper. Place the two racks standing up with the meat on the bottom and the bones crossing each other. Roast at 400°F for 7 minutes, then lower the heat to 350°F. Cook for 8-12 minutes longer (until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat shows 125°F for rare or 135°F for medium rare). Remove from oven, loosely cover with foil and let rest for 5-10 minutes. Cut lamb chops away from the rack by slicing between the bones. Serve 2-3 chops per person.
Serve with:

Zucchini Au Gratin
3 lbs of zucchini
3 eggs (beaten)
8 oz Crème Fraiche (Vermont brand, I buy at Adam’s – or mix 4oz  of heavy cream with 4oz of sour cream). 
5 oz of grated Swiss Cheese
Butter, Salt, Pepper, Nutmeg
Rinse and dry zucchini (do not peal). Cut into large cubes. Cook in salted boiling water for 15-20 minutes. Drain and squeeze in a colander to remove excess water. Place zucchini in a buttered oven dish and mash with a fork. In a separate bowl mix beaten eggs, cream and ¾ of the cheese and some salt, pepper and nutmeg.. Add mixture to zucchini and mix with a fork.  Sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the top. Place in preheated oven (350F) until it is golden brown. (30- 40 minutes)

Slow Roasted Tomatoes
Cherry, grape or small Plum tomatoesWhole cloves of garlic (One for every 4 tomatoes)Olive OilFresh Thyme
Preheat oven to 225F. Halve each tomato..(crosswise for round ones, lengthwise for long ones). Line a baking sheet with parchment and place the tomatoes cut side up on top with cloves of garlic interspersed amongst the tomatoes. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with thyme. Bake in the oven for 2hrs and 45 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

If you have only one oven, make the tomatoes in the morning and keep at room temperature (Tent with aluminum foil). Bake the zucchini au gratin (when cooled wrap with aluminum foil). While lamb is resting and being carved put the gratin and the tomatoes both back in the hot oven (350F)  and reheat before serving. 

Gerard’s wine suggestions:
La Gardonne, Medoc 2003 – majority Merlot, blackberry and cherry aromas follow through to a full-bodied palate, with silky tannins and a medium finish. $15.99 @ Arlington Wine & Liquor
Présidial, Bordeaux 2009 – 100% Merlot, blackberry with some mineral and floral character. Medium-bodied, with fine tannins and a clean, fresh finish. $18.99 @ Pine Plains Fine Wines – discount on quantity
Prieur de Meyney, St-Estephe 2005 – “majority Cabernet Sauvignon, this is the second wine from Chateau Meynet. A great red with structure and finesse. $22.99 @ Arlington Wine & Liquor
Bourgogne Pinot Noir Laforet 2007, Joseph Drouhin – « the hue has usually a brilliant ruby-garnet color. The nose offers effusive aromas of crushed berries. On the palate, the wine is full of charm and very pleasant to drink : fresh and fruity - $14.99@ Arlington Wine & Liquor.
Nuits St Georges 2006, Nicolas Potel – “this is very “Nuits” in character with an intensely wild nose of earthy and lightly spiced crushed dark berries. Rich, full and admirably fresh flavor underpinned by good energy on the delicious, serious and sappy finish that is firmly structured. Exceptionally priced for Easter at $39.99 instead of $52.99 @ Arlington Wine & Liquor

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Secrets of Cooking Today’s Pork

After 20 years of living, cooking and eating in France, Italy and Portugal, I came back to the US and had to adjust to cooking with mostly American ingredients. The single greatest disappointment was anything I cooked with pork. During the years I had been away American pork had changed. Pigs were bred to be less fatty and pork was marketed “as the other white meat.” With this 50% leaner pork - all of my recipes produced dried out pork meat. Here is how I learned to adjust!
Secret # 1 - Fat Content
Look for the most marbled pork you can find. Where you can actually see fat within the meat or have the butcher bard it with lard for cooking.  You don’t have to eat the fat – but you must cook with it to produce juicy and tender meat.
Secret #2 - Do not overcook.
Old recipes tell you to cook pork until it is at 170F which means “well done”. Pork meat has always been safe to eat at 137F, but since the meat had such high fat content it was still juicy when well done. Today,
the National Pork Producer’s Council & USDA recommend cooking pork to "medium" or an internal temperature of 160F. They suggest removing large cuts of pork such as roasts, from the oven at 155F and letting the meat continue to cook from its own heat while resting for a few minutes before carving.  
Secret #3 - Pork Stock
Pork stock is time consuming to make and relatively rare to find. Consequently many recipes call for water or chicken stock to baste a roast or create a sauce. But water or chicken stock dilutes the pork flavor, so I use Kitchen Basic’s Pork Stock. (Marona’s now carries it.)

Wine pairings:
Millbrook Winery Cabernet Franc 2008 (18% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 75% Cabernet Franc),with aromas of berries and cocoa with earthy undertones. A good Cabernet Franc to drink a bit cool. $15 @ Village Wine in Millbrook.
Chinon Couly-Dutheil La Coulee Automnale 2007 from the Loire Valley (100% Cabernet Franc).  $12.99 @ Alrlington Wine & Liquor.

Here are two pork recipes – use these secrets and either wine with both!

Pork Rib Roast with Braised Red Cabbage
Serves 6-8
Rack of Pork – One chop per person
(Paul at Marona’s barded &“frenched” it for me.)
16 fl oz of Pork Stock
1 Glass of Red Wine.
Salt, Pepper
Pork Fat or Butter & Oil
1 Red Cabbage (cored and sliced)
2 Apples (peeled and sliced)
1 Sweet Onion (sliced & separated into rings)
1 Cup Cider Vinegar
1/2 Cup Sugar
1 Tablespoon Butter
4 Teaspoons Cornstarch
Preheat oven to 350F. Place roasting pan (not Pyrex) on the stove. Melt fat and brown pork roast on all sides. Place in hot oven. Roast 20 minutes per pound basting every 15 minutes with some of the stock.  In a dutch oven toss cabbage, apples and onion. Add 1½ cups of water, vinegar, sugar, butter and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for an hour and a half.  When meat is done (should be 155F) remove from pan. Allow to rest 10 minutes outside the oven tented (covered loosely) with a piece of aluminum foil while you make the sauce. Put the roasting pan back on the stove. Add wine and scrape the bottom of pan as the liquid reduces.
Dilute 4 teaspoons of cornstarch in 4 teaspoons of boiling stock. Add half to the cabbage, bring back to boil for two minutes. Remove from heat and keep covered. Add the other half to the pan juices to thicken the sauce. Whisk. Add rest of stock ¼ cup at a time to pan. Keep whisking. Remove bard from roast and cut in between the ribs to give each portion one chop. Serve on a hot platter. Spoon some of the sauce over the meat and the rest in a gravy boat.  Serve with the braised red cabbage and mashed potatoes.

Pork Tenderloin with Apples & Potatoes
(Inspired by a Guy Savoy recipe)
Serves 4
2 tenderloins of pork
2 lbs Small Potatoes
Yukon, White Creamers or Red-
Washed and boiled in salted water for 25 minutes. Drained and left to cool in their skins)
1 Apple (peeled and cut first in quarters and then each quarter in thirds lengthwise). 
1 Onion (peeled and diced)
½ cup of lemon juice
1 cup of apple juice
8 fluid ounces of Pork Stock
Butter, Sugar, Chopped Parsley, Salt & Pepper

Brown the tenderloins in butter on all sides for about 10 minutes.  Add the diced onion and let cook for about 20 minutes. Peel the cooled potatoes. In separate skillets, brown the potatoes in melted butter for about 10 minutes and the apple pieces for about 5 minutes. Mix the lemon and apple juices. Remove meat from skillet and keep warm. Pour  juices into the hot skillet, scraping the bottom to get meat flavors to dissolve into the liquid. Add a teaspoon of sugar and ½ of the stock. Whisk. As it thickens add the rest of the stock and keep whisking until it forms a glossy slightly thick sauce. Slice meat and serve on a warm plate with the potatoes on one side and the apples on the other. Nap with the sauce. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pasta - Italian Style

Before I lived in France for 15 years, I lived in Italy for 2. There, I ate pasta everyday, often twice a day! I have never been so thin in my entire life, neither before nor since. So, I do not believe that pasta is fattening.  I learned from my Italian friends that the art of making pasta is a bit more complicated than we seem to think. Here are some simple guidelines and tips.

Matching pasta shapes with sauce…
There are many different shapes of pasta because there are many different textures and consistencies of sauce.  Long thin strands (spaghetti, etc) are best with smooth sauces or pestos. Wider long noodles, such as fettuccine and tagliatelle are well suited to creamy sauces like Alfredo.  Short tubular or molded pasta shapes with non-smooth surfaces are made to trap chunkier sauces. Sauces with small to medium chunks are perfect with fusilli or penne.  Sauces with very large chunks are best with shells, rigatoni, or other large tubes.

Boiling the Water
No kidding. There is a right way and many wrong ways! Pasta must be cooked in a great deal of well salted boiling water. About 4 quarts of water with at least one tablespoon of salt for one pound of pasta is the general rule. Check the instructions on the box for how long it should cook, remember that timing starts once the water has started to boil again after the pasta has been submerged. Do not add oil (it prevents the sauce from sticking properly to the pasta). Do not rinse the pasta; it washes away the starch and makes the pasta taste watery.

Easy but delicious Meatballs

I used to mix three or four types of meat to make meatballs which were then baked in the oven before adding to the sauce. Recently, I learned a much easier and better tasting recipe. Just 1 lb of ground beef mixed with finely chopped onions, parsley, 2 tablespoons of plain bread crumbs soaked in 3 tablespoons of water, and one beaten egg (I like to add a tablespoon or two of Parmesan cheese). Make medium size meatballs by rubbing in the palms of your hands and dropping into simmering tomato sauce to cook for about 45 minutes.  Makes about 12-15 medium sized meatballs.

Easy but delicious Tomato Sauce

I also spent many years making my own sauce for hours on end with many different combinations of ingredients.  It was never better than what I do now in just a few minutes.  One jar of Paul Newman’s Tomato & Basil sauce (Marona’s carries it) mixed with two cans of
Del Monte stewed tomatoes (One Italian Style and the other Original Style). Blend together with a mixer. Let simmer on the stove with some fresh basil if you have it.  (This makes enough sauce for a pound and a half of pasta which feeds 6 people).

The wines:
Let us succumb to the charms of a superb Chianti Classico (100% Sangiovese) - a dry red wine full of sun and plenty of fruit.
Chianti Barone Ricasoli 2008
Intense ruby red.Chianti with its full body minerality and tanginess.with floral hints and the spices of cloves, pepper, chocolate and wild cherries.  $13.99
Viticcio Chianti Classico 2006
A rich, sensual wine bursting with sour dark cherries, French oak, new leather and flowers. The wine’s inner perfume emerges with melding beautifully into the soft, creamy finish. $19.99
Chianti, Fattoria Lucignano 2008
Medium intensity ruby red. Intense nose, overflowing with fruity aromas of black cherry and violets. Soft and medium bodied on the palate it balances its tannins with moderate acidity. $13.99/btl - $21.99 magnum
All three wines can be found at Cascade Spirit Ship in Amenia.
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