Asparagus with Beet-Lemon Dressing

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It’s finally spring, and asparagus is abundant. Like many of you as well, I love asparagus. Simply steamed or packed into a savory pie, it’s a lovely vegetable with a punch of flavor.

Asparagus of course works well as a side vegetable, with a little olive oil and salt, but it also lends itself to a dressing or vinaigrette.

I posted on warm leeks with a spicy Creole dressing on the blog. It just shows that just about any vegetable can also be a salad.

For the salad, I decided to use a dressing made with beet juice and lemons. I use beets a lot in my cooking, and when I use canned beets, I always save the beet juice. That way, I can reduce the juice and create a fabulous beet syrup that can be turned into a number of things, like the beet-lemon dressing below.

Asparagus with a Beet-Lemon Dressing

Strained juice from 1 can (15 ounces) of beets, about 1/3 cup
Juice of 1 lemon, strained
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Generous pinch of salt
Few grindings of pepper
1 pound fresh asparagus
1 diced shallot, optional

Place the beet juice in a small pan and begin reducing it over very low heat. It’s best not to leave the kitchen during this process because it can happen quickly towards the end.

When only about 2 tablespoons of the reduced juice remains, remove the syrup from the heat and let it cool.

Whisk in the lemon juice and oil well, then add the salt and pepper.


If you don’t like the look of the syrup separating from the oil, place the mixture in a mini blender. If you prefer it a little creamier, add a 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise or cream, but know it will be pink! Set aside.

Meanwhile, clean the asparagus, which means removing the hard, woody ends. I simply snap off the ends where they snap.

Some people prefer to shave the ends, using a vegetable peeler. There’s really no right or wrong here. When you have a pile of asparagus ends, use them to make asparagus broth using a little onion and garlic, and use that for asparagus soup! It just adds a deeper flavor.

For this asparagus salad, I steamed the asparagus. They can be steamed with any kind of contraption, as long as the asparagus is sitting above water, in the steam, and the pan has a lid. Once the steaming begins, I don’t ever go beyond 5 minutes, but you’ll have to play with this time.

Once cooked, place the warm asparagus on a plate, and add some of the beet-lemon dressing. Sprinkle with some extra salt, if you like.


If you like shallots, sprinkle some on top.

Also, a bit of crumbled goat cheese or chopped toasted walnuts or chopped hard-boiled egg would also be good on this salad. It would make a fabulous first course.


Note: I know some people try to pick out the skinniest of asparagus, thinking that they are more tender, but they all come out of the ground in varying thickness, and are all tender, as long as the weather hasn’t gotten too hot.

Yogurt and Chèvre Cheesecake

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Before you get too excited, I must warn you that this cheesecake is not for dessert! I have made sweet cheesecakes with chèvre before, and they’re fabulous, but this one is classified as a savory first course – perfect for a holiday meal.

I had a recipe once for something similar, but for the life of me I can’t find it anywhere. I’d made it for a party I catered, and it really confused people. They just weren’t too sure what to do with it, even though I’d sliced it up into thin wedges, which I thought made it obvious. Some people stuck crackers in it, treating it like a dip, and I can’t remember what else occurred. I’ve probably blocked it for psychological reasons. Sometimes it’s an anthropological study watching people eat at parties. Which reminds me, I’m really glad I don’t cater any longer.

But back to this cheesecake. I was inspired by Chobani’s #MadeWithChobani project to create a yogurt-based recipe. And immediately this recipe came to mind, although I ended up creating one out of thin air.

As with all yogurt with which I want to cook or bake, even Greek yogurt, I first placed the 32 ounces of yogurt into a paper towel-lined colander placed in a large bowl.
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I then let it sit in the refrigerator overnight, or about 8 hours. About 1/2 cup of whey came out of the yogurt, which you can keep to use in cooking. Yogurt can certainly be used as is, but I prefer the more yogurt cheese-like texture for cooking and baking.

This cheesecake “batter” can be mixed with basil pesto or sun-dried tomato pesto for completely different flavors. In fact, they can be layered for a really Christmassy look. But I wanted the yogurt texture and the chèvre flavor to really shine in this simple, yet stunning appetizer.

There was no payment or any kind of compensation for my use of the Chobani yogurt. I’ve purchased it many times and it’s a quality product. And you can participate in this project as well!

Yogurt and Chèvre Cheesecake

2 tablespoons butter
Approximately 1/3 cup bread crumbs
12 ounces Chobani plain yogurt cheese (see above), at room temperature, made from Greek yogurt
8 ounces chèvre or other creamy goat cheese, at room temperature
1 egg
2 egg yolks
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

For this cheesecake, I used a shallow, oven-proof baking dish, with an 8″ base. I didn’t want a really thick cheesecake because they’re more challenging to bake properly, and a small slice is all you need for an this appetizer.

Start by melting the butter in the dish using the microwave.
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My bread crumbs were made by processing a piece of French bread, with the crusts mostly removed. I toasted them in a skillet just until golden.


Tilt the dish all around to get the butter all around the sides and bottom. Then add the bread crumbs and do the same. There should just be a light coating of crumbs; set aside.

Using an electric mixer, mix the yogurt cheese, the goat cheese, eggs, and salt until smooth.

Carefully place the yogurt cheese mixture into the dish, smoothing the top.

Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 325 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes. At this point test the cheesecake to make sure it has baked thoroughly. If it needs a few more minutes, just turn off the oven and let it sit for about ten minutes more. It should be slightly firm, and not wiggle in the middle.
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Then remove the cheesecake from the oven and let cool slightly and set.
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When you’re ready to serve the cheesecake, carefully cut into wedges. I served this particular cheesecake with a salad of greens with blackberries and toasted walnuts. The dressing was orange oil and balsamic vinegar. I also added a generous sprinkling of salt.
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You will notice that this cheesecake has a slight mealiness to it. But unlike a poorly, overcooked cheesecake that becomes horribly mealy, this texture instead is from the yogurt cheese. It’s also still important not to overcook this version, just like all cheesecakes.

I hope you all enjoy this savory twist on a cheesecake, and from my family to yours, Merry Christmas!!!

Leeks Creole

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I have never thought of leeks as an accessory ingredient because of this recipe. These leeks, topped with a warm spicy vinaigrette, could be a first course, a side dish, or a salad. But however you eat these leeks, you will always have respect for this fabulous Allium, if you didn’t already. They’re not just meant to be a filler for potato soup.

This recipe is in the Creole and Acadian recipe booklet from the Foods of the World series of Time Life. I actually remember the first time I made these leeks, as part of a full Creole meal.

Creole/Cajun/Acadian is an American regional favorite of mine, because of the spiciness, mostly.

leeks

The recipe is quite simple. It’s just a matter of first cleaning the leeks. Trim them and slice in half lengthwise. Then let running water rinse them off. If you need help with the cleaning technique, click here.

Place the cleaned leeks in a shallow pan, and cover with water. Bring to a soft boil, put a lid on the pan, and let the leeks cook for not more than 10 minutes. Using two spoons, carefully place the cooked leeks onto paper towels and let drain and cool off slightly. Alternatively, they could be steamed if you have a large enough steamer basket.

Meanwhile, prepare the spicy vinaigrette, recipe follows:

Creole Vinaigrette Sauce
To make about 1/2 cup

2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon Creole mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt
6-8 tablespoons olive oil

The way the recipe has you make it is like making a fairly thin aioli. I opted to just place all of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk them together.


And by the way, I didn’t have tarragon vinegar, so I used a combination of apple cider vinegar and fresh tarragon.

The recipe suggests that you serve the leeks cold. I notated on the recipe page that they’re good cold or hot, but I think the flavors really pop when at least the vinaigrette is warm. Alternatively, if your leeks are still warm, the room temperature vinaigrette will warm up on the leeks. The heat really enhances the spiciness.

Place the drained leeks on a serving plate. Then gently pour on the vinaigrette.

As you can tell, I also sprinkled the leeks with tarragon leaves.

The sweetness of the leeks really pairs beautifully with the spicy, warm vinaigrette.

You just have to try them!