Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Chili Almond Asparagus

Asparagus season has finally reached NJ! To celebrate the first of the local crop, I decided to make my favorite recipe.

I got this recipe off of a vegan blog. I have a great deal of respect for vegetarians and vegans - I think that they are necessarily better cooks than us carnivores. You need to be creative to bring a satisfying vegan or vegetarian meal to the table. Think about it - if you're eating a juicy burger, you might not mind a bit of bland steamed broccoli on the side. But if that broccoli is your main dish, you're going to want something a bit more exciting. At least, I would.

This dish does not lack for exciting. Crunchy almonds, zesty lemon and zingy red pepper flakes over beautiful roasted veggies. It's the perfect accompaniment to that juicy burger (which is exactly what we served it with, for a lovely spring dinner on our deck).

Note: I crowded everything onto a too-small baking sheet. If you want more browning, the veggies will need to be spread out a bit more.

 Chili Almond Asparagus
Slightly adapted from Vegan Yum Yum.
1/4 c sliced almonds, roughly crushed
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 lb asparagus spears (I prefer the skinny kind for this recipe - if you use thicker spears, you may need to roast a bit longer)
3-4 carrots (I used 7, which was too many for my pan, but I was trying to use them up. You can peel the carrots if you'd like - I didn't bother)
2 tsp peanut oil
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 lemon (juice and zest)

Preheat oven to 450° F.

Crush the bouillon cube with a mortar and pestle. Mix with half the crushed almonds and the red pepper flakes. Trim the carrots to the length of the asparagus (if possible - mine were far too short for that) and cut lengthwise into thin, flexible pieces. Trim the asparagus ends, if necessary. In a large bowl, toss the carrots and asparagus with the oils. Add the seasonings and toss to coat.

Arrange the vegetables on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake 5 minutes, then broil until just browned. Top with remaining almonds, lemon zest and lemon juice to serve.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Twice-Baked Potatoes

I need to take better pictures. Yes, I am limited by the capability of my camera, lack of counter space to display the food and the abysmal lighting in my kitchen. But I also haven't been trying hard lately. I do enjoy taking pictures of the food I cook. It's just that lately I've been busy and I haven't taken the time to get really nice shots. I promise I'll try harder in the future.

This dinner decision was born out of the desire to get rid of the pile of potatoes sitting in my basement. They needed to be cooked before they turned into a basement potato garden. Fortunately, necessity was the mother of deliciousness. I was able to take Jeff with me to Whole Foods last weekend and he convinced me to get bacon from the butcher counter, rather than the refrigerated case. Excellent decision. The bacon is local - from Simply Grazin', an organic farm in Skillman. This is hands down the best bacon I've ever had. I'm not just saying that because I haven't had bacon since early March - it was amazing. The slices were very thick and the flavor is intense. I think it was a bit lost on this dish, since the bacon is mixed into the filling - you can easily eat it without tasting it. I think if we'd put the bacon on top instead it would have helped us get its full flavor.

One of the things that makes this dish is the salt - the potatoes are rubbed with olive oil and kosher salt before baking. I don't think regular salt would be quite the same. The kosher salt manages to pack a punch with every bite - since it's all over the outside, you can't miss it. It brings me back to my high school days, when I used to go to a restaurant and order potato skins as my meal. Hopefully this is slightly less fattening (since it's not fried) while still incorporating everything that made those potato skins so great.

Twice-Baked Potatoes
From justJENN recipes.

6 russet potatoes
4 slices bacon (2, if you're using the thick kind like we did)
1/2 c shredded cheddar + extra (for sprinkling on top)
1/2 c sour cream
1/4 c milk
2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp kosher salt + extra (for rubbing potatoes)
1/2 tsp pepper

Preheat your oven to 350° F. Place a wire rack on a baking sheet. Wash the potatoes and dry well, then rub with olive oil and kosher salt. Place on the rack and bake for 1 hour. Let cool about 10 minutes before continuing. Meanwhile, fry the bacon and crumble.

When the potatoes are cool, slice each one in half lengthwise and scoop out the inside, leaving a little of the flesh around the edges (I used a melon baller for this part).

Combine the potato filling with the bacon (you could set a little aside to sprinkle on top - we neglected that), cheese, sour cream, milk, butter, salt and pepper. Mash until combined.

Fill the potato halves with the filling, then sprinkle with extra cheese and bacon. Return to the oven for 15 minutes.