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Asparagus with Shallots and Lemon

 Photo by David Bishop

http://www.dbishop.net/

I have loved asparagus since I was a small child. My mother served it often with butter and salt & pepper. In my adult years, upon discovering shallots and the wonders of fresh lemon juice and zest , I have been making my recipe for Asparagus with Shallots and Lemon for many years. The first time I took a plate of this dish to a neighborhood buffet dinner party, the plate was emptied immediately. People were asking me for the recipe because they loved it so much. I went back home and made another platter of it to bring back to the party. Mine was the only vegetable dish, aside from a green salad, the others being popular heavy meat, cheese and starch foods. I was delighted with my recipe’s reception.

Asparagus, with it’s delicate flavor and tender succulent flesh, has been prized as a delicacy since ancient times, especially in Ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece, and was and still is known for its cleansing and healing properties.  Asparagus has often appeared in high brow recipes such as Asparagus alla Hollandaise, though in modern times has become ubiquitous in food markets and is easily procured at modest means. It is a pantheon of health foods with high fiber and nutrients, and has a low calorie count of 36 calories per cup. It can be useful both as cure and preventative for disease.

According to the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board, “Asparagus is one of the most nutritionally well-balanced vegetables in existence. It leads nearly all produce items in the wide array of nutrients it supplies in significant amounts for a healthy diet.” (http://www.asparagus.org/maab/nutrition.html). Wikipedia sites that “Studies have shown that people who have died from Alzheimer’s Disease have extremely low to no levels of folate”, folate being one of the important nutrients in asparagus, among many others. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asparagus)

Other experts agree that asparagus is high in antioxidants and amino acids, has little fat and high protein, is low in sodium and is a diuretic. Furthermore, it is also a great source for: calcium, magnesium, zinc, folic acid, thiamin, riboflavin, rutin, niacine, glutathione, (http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/superhero-antioxidants-pt-1, http://www.amazing-glutathione.com/what-foods-have-glutathione. html, http://www.effectsofglutathione.com/), iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese, selenium, and chromium, “a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asparagus) This last tidbit is especially useful for diabetics.

Asparagus is especially known to cleanse the liver and kidneys  It is also found to help cure gout by dissolving uric acid in the the extremities, and help in bowel evacuation. Water from cooking asparagus is considered to alleviate facial blemishes.

There is much scientific research on the matter of how asparagus makes your pee odorous. After having read them all I still believe that it is it’s property of cleansing the liver and kidneys that causes the phenomenon. Asparagus simply makes your pee smell because it releases the accumulated toxins from your body.

I share with you here my recipe for Asparagus with Shallots and Lemon.

Recipe serves 4 as a side dish: 54 calories per serving

  • 1 bunch of asparagus, about 8 ounces or 2 cups, 72 calories
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced, 1.75 – 2 ounces, 14-16 calories
  • I lemon, zested and juiced, zest is 3 calories per Tablespoon, juice is 8- 10 calories for 1.75 ounces. I used a Meyers lemon for the rich color and sweeter taste.
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil, 120 calories
  • Flake sea salt and ground black pepper to taste, as a finish
  • 2 quarts of boiling sea salted water (about 1/8 cup all purpose sea salt)
  • 2 quarts of ice water in a large bowl
  1. Trim the pale woody ends off the stalks of the washed asparagus. (You can use the ends to make vegetable stock later with trimmings of other vegetables)
  2. Boil the asparagus tips until they are just about tender to the teeth. (I bite the largest cut end of one to check)
  3. Remove the asparagus from the boiling water and place into the ice bath to preserve the bright green color. Drain and dry them thoroughly just before the finished cooking process.
  4. In a skillet amply sized to accommodate all of the asparagus single file, saute the shallots in the olive oil on medium low heat until slightly golden brown.
  5. Add into the skillet the drained and dried asparagus and stir to coat them with the oil and shallots.
  6. Add into the skillet the lemon juice and half of the lemon zest and continue to cook for a few minutes, tossing all the while. The juices and oil will emulsify to form a glaze.
  7. Remove everything to a plate with tongs and season with flaked sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
  8. Garnish with the rest of the lemon zest.

Serve and enjoy as a side dish with your favorite entree and whole grain, or add to a salad.

Also visit my professional website at  www.marilinda.com and my food column on the Huffingon post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marilinda-hodgdon/

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Chocolate Cupcake with Mocha Cream

Photo by David Bishop

http://dbishop.net

When you hear the words “Chocolate” and “Cream”, what comes to mind is moist, rich heavenliness. What we don’t think of is frugality in the “calorie and fat” department. To have both at the same time is in fact “To Have Your Cake and Eat It Too”. I strive to create scrumptious food that is exemplary as tasty delight and healthy choice. Flavor and texture are the primary elements that drive excellence in the culinary experience. The highest quality and purist ingredients comprise the muse components as inspiration for creating delectable recipes. My years of experimentation with a multitude of products has given me a broad palette for discovery in this endeavor.

I present to you here a recipe for Chocolate Angel Food Cupcakes with Mocha Cream that will knock your socks off…your shoes and pants too…But you can leave your hat on. (As per Joe Cocker’s song lyrics)

I have included calorie counts for all of the ingredients used in the recipe. Having totaled and divided for per serving consumption, each cup cake has about 58 calories. Using 1/8 cup of the Mocha Cream for each at 19 calories, the grand total per serving is a mere and astounding 77 calories, with none of it from fat.

Angel Food Cup Cake Recipe- pre-heat oven to 375′ F

  • 3/4 cup Coconut Crystal Sugar (from your local health food store), 180 cal
  • 1 cup unsweetened Cocoa Powder, 197 cal
  • 1/3 cup water, 0 cal
  • 1/4 tsp salt, 0 cal

Heat the ingredients together in a sauce pan until they are dissolved and smooth of lumps. Let cool.

  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour, 100 cal
  • 2 teaspoons Baking Powder (I use aluminum free brands), 0 cal

Whisk together flour and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.

  • 1/4 cup Meringue Powder (powdered egg whites), 60 cal
  • 1/2 cup Water, 0 cal
  • 2 Teaspoons Pure Vanilla Extract, 40 cal
  1. Beat the meringue powder, water and vanilla extract with an electric mixer on high until soft peaks form, about 5 minutes.
  2. On a lower speed, mix in the chocolate sugar syrup.
  3. Gradually mix in the dry flour mixture.
  4. Pour batter equally into about 8 – 10 paper lined cupcake pan portions.
  5. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes until a pick comes out cleanly. Let cool while you make the Mocha Cream.

Mocha Cream

  • 2 cups 0% fat Greek Yogurt, 260 cal
  • 1/2 cup Coconut Crystal Sugar, 120 cal
  • 1/2 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder, 98.5 cal

Whisk together in a small bowl until smooth and set aside.

  • 1 cup very strong Espresso Coffee, 0 cal
  • 1/2 cup Meringue Powder, 120 cal
  • 1/2 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract, 10 cal
  1. Beat together the meringue powder, coffee and vanilla with an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form.
  2. Lower the speed and mix in the Mocha Yogurt mixture.
  3. Using a pastry bag with a # 2 tip (about 3/8″ diameter), poke the cupcakes in the center almost to the bottoms to fill the interiors and cover the tops with the Mocha Cream, about 1/8 cup per cupcake.
  4. There will be lots of Mocha Cream left over. It stores covered in the refrigerator for days. It can be re-whipped to use it again.

Enjoy your low cal, no fat, chocolatey dessert with or without your hat on.

Also check out my professional web site at www.marilinda.com and my food column at  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marilinda-hodgdon/

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Arctic Char Marinated on Ice

Photo by David Bishop

See David’s link at http://www.dbishop.net

Marinating fish, whether whole, filleted, steak cut or chopped, is one of the tastiest ways to take advantage of seafood’s sweet and tender flaky flesh. Marinades not only impart flavor to food, they preserve moisture and tenderness. Add delicate vegetables and herbs to a palette of sweet, savory, salty, spicy and acidic liquids and seasonings to a fish filled oven proof covered baking dish, and bake gently for a foolproof ragoût de poisson.

Pictured here, the Arctic Char, vegetable and marinade presentation is being readied for the baking dish and oven. The beautifully colored whole fish was scaled and cleaned by the fish market, leaving the head and tail on for an elegant service. The cavity is stuffed with thinly sliced lemons and red onions for flavor and color.

I have been told more than once that this combination of fish, marinade and condiments is one of the best ever tasted. The marinade is a blend of high quality Mirin (Naturally sweet Japanese sake wine-Avoid using the cheap artificially sweetened corn syrup imitation), soy sauce, olive oil, toasted sesame oil, and Sambal Oelek Ground Fresh Chile Paste & Siracha Hot Chili Sauce (Chinese pepper vinegar preparations available in the Asian section of your grocery store). For amazing dazzle, sprinkle with sliced scallions, slivered fresh ginger, capers, dill, baby Funnel Chanterelle mushrooms (also known as yellowfoot or winter mushroom) and Maldon Natural Sea Salt Flakes.

If you don’t have a lid for your baking dish, cover the fish with a sheet of parchment paper and seal the dish with aluminum foil. I don’t like to let the foil touch the food to avoid adding aluminum residue, especially when acid is present in the food.

Recipe: Serves 4-6 (All measures are approximate and can easily be adjusted to your needs and taste)

Fish:

  • One fresh whole cleaned 3-4 Lb. fish with head and tail; Arctic Char, Salmon, Bass, Grouper, Snapper, etc.

Stuffing:

  • 1/2 thinly sliced lemon
  • 1/2 thinly sliced red onion

Marinade: Whisk together

  • 1/2 cup Mirin
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 cup soy sauce
  • 1/8 cup toasted sesame oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Sambal Oelek Chile Paste
  • 1 Teaspoon Siracha Hot Chili Sauce

Flavor Garnish:

  • 1 cup baby Funnel Chantrelle Mushrooms, or your favorite mushroom
  • 1/4 cup sliced scallions
  • 1/4 cup capers
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill leaves, torn
  • 1/8 cup slivered fresh ginger
  • Pinches of sea salt flakes

Directions: Pre-heat oven to 350′ F

  1. Wash and dry cleaned fish
  2. Prepare marinade
  3. Rub marinade into the cavity of the fish
  4. Stuff the cavity of the fish with lemons and onion slices, alternating them
  5. Pour a bit of the marinade into the baking dish, just coating the bottom so the fish won’t stick
  6. Pour the marinade over the fish
  7. Sprinkle the flavor garnish over the fish and baking dish
  8. Cover the fish and dish with parchment paper
  9. Seal the baking dish with foil, or cover it with a fitting lid
  10. Bake for about 20 minutes for a larger fish and less for a smaller fish. Do not over cook. The fish should be just flaky and moist.
  11. Serve topped with excess marinade and flavor garnish as needed

Also see my food news column in the Huffington Post under Life & Style/Food at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marilinda-hodgdon/

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Cheese Burger in Paradise

Photo by David Bishop

No backyard barbecue or summer party is complete without the quintessential All-American Burger. Though burgers are ubiquitous in America they are not always divine. Careful attention to detail of every ingredient is the secret to making truly great burgers, both for taste and for visual appeal.

Start with the bun. It should be as fresh and delicious as possible, preferably baked that day. Whichever is your favorite, plain or seeded, egg or potato dough, a bit of grilled toasting on the insides will add another layer of flavor. Try brushing the grill side of the bread with butter, mayonnaise or mustard for greater intensity.

So many times I see meat patties disproportionate to the size of the bun. It is essential for flavor distribution as well as artful compositional balance that the patty be formed with careful consideration of the bun size and shape.  It is especially important that the patty spans at least, but not much more than, the diameter of the bun. Taking that first anticipatory bite only to find yourself with merely a mouthful of bun and condiments is such a let down. I like to have the “meat” of the sandwich, whether it is really meat, a savory vegetable patty or a succulent grilled marinated portobello mushroom, in every bite. The first rule of thumb in making it so, is that meat patties tend to puff thicker and shrink in diameter when cooked. Ergo, when forming your patty, make it thinner and wider than you intend for it to be when finished cooking.  When I do them for film, I do a test patty, weighing and measuring the before and after to find the optimum raw size. I have also found that ground beef at about 85% makes both a very juicy burger and a patty that cracks and deforms the least. I always make sure that the edges (only the edges) are compressed well while forming the patties to help minimize cracking and to hold in the juices.

We all adore flame grilled barbecue flavor. If you don’t have access to outdoor space, electric grills are available or try using your broiler. If the sides don’t get the char you would like, take a propane or butane torch to them. Available at your local hardware store, small hand held torches are handy for many kitchen cooking tasks. As with any indoor flaming, be sure to have proper ventilation.

To really make a superb meat patty, try seasoning the ground meat before you form the patty for extra flavor. Salt, pepper, or one of my favorites, sauteed minced shallot, make a great start. Add whatever seasoning you like best, just don’t make the bits too big. Cheese, peppers, eggs, bread crumbs, herbs, spices, dried fruit, vegetables…all are eligible innovations at the right place and time.

Whether they are old stand-by’s or new favorites, condiments, like the patty and bread, need to be of the freshest, ripest and best quality, and be distributed evenly over the sandwich for admirable results. Go wild and grill up some thinly sliced juicy ripe pineapple, slather with scallion, jalepeno & nutmeg laced mayonnaise, and add fresh cilantro sprigs to a chicken, turkey, crab or shrimp burger.

I particularly like to put the big three saucy burger toppings, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise, in squeeze bottles for easy application. I find store bought ketchup & mustard sometimes too runny, so I drain them first. Just empty the bottle or jar onto a sheet pan lined with about 10 layers of paper towels and wait about 10 to 20 minutes. The ketchup or mustard closest to the toweling will be thicker. Using a rubber or metal spatula, scrape the contents off the tray into a bowl and whisk until homogenous. Empty the bowl into a zip lock bag, sealing the zipper and cutting a little off one bottom corner, then ease the contents into the squeeze bottle. The mayonnaise has a little bit different story. I find off the shelf jars of it to be lumpy. I empty the jar into a bowl and whisk the mayonnaise until smooth, then fill the squeeze bottle like I do the others.

There are no hard and fast rules. It’s all about what you and your audience like. I am happy to answer any questions you might have at http://www.marilindahodgdon@gmail.com

Also check out my articles on the Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marilinda-hodgdon/  and my professional web site at www.marilinda.com

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Puff Pastry Cherry Pie

Photo by David Bishop

A box of frozen puff pastry sheets from the store is one of my favorite go tos for creating easy and beautiful, delicious confections. Add some seasonal fresh fruit to the rich and buttery pastry, and voila, a treat everyone will love. Cherries macerated in cognac and sugar elevate this dessert to elegant status, while topping it with semi sweet whipped cream or vanilla ice cream makes it irresistible.

The amount of cherries you need depends on the size of your dish. Test the amount you need in the pan you choose to use. Pit about two cups of cherries. This is made enormously easier with a sweet little gadget I found at both Bed, Bath and Beyond and at Sur La Table, made by Progressive. It pits 4 cherries at a time cleanly and neatly with the push of the lid and without staining your fingers and kitchen surfaces  Mix the cherries into a medium size bowl with 1/4 cup of cognac, a tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of all purpose flour. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes.

While the cherries are soaking up the good stuff take the time to prepare the pastry. Following package directions, take out only as much pastry you will use, one sheet in my case. Seal the rest and store in the freezer until you need it next. Lightly flour your working surface and the pastry sheet and cover it with a dish towel while it thaws, about 1/2 hour.

Choose a baking vessel that is appropriate in size and style for the occasion. I used a pre-seasoned cast iron Au Gratin baking dish From Sur La Table to make a pie for two. Trace the outline of your dish on a piece of paper and add two inches diameter for the crust. Cut out the paper form and lay it onto the pastry. If your form is bigger than the sheet of pastry, you may need to roll the pastry out a bit with a rolling pin, making sure you sprinkle flour as needed to prevent the pastry from sticking to your rolling pin, surface or hands. Cut the pastry oval out with the tip of a very sharp knife, tracing the paper, and lay it evenly over the baking dish. Gently form it to the bottom and sides.

Fill the pastry with the cherry mixture, including the liquid, piling it high. Form the edges around it. Beat an egg with a teaspoon of milk and brush the pastry top. Sprinkle both the pastry and the cherries with about a tablespoon of granulated sugar. Bake it in a preheated at 425’F oven for about 10 minutes until it is puffed and browned. To prevent over browning while finishing the internal cooking, turn the heat down to 325’F and bake for another 10 minutes.

Garnish with lemon zest when cooled.

Styling Tips

  • Before baking, use a thermometer to validate the oven’s temperature. If the thermometer is new, check it against two other thermometers. Most ovens aren’t accurate to the dial settings.
  • A pizza stone helps keep the oven temperature from fluctuating wildly, which most ovens do. Adjust a shelf to the middle of the oven and place the stone on it while the oven is cold, to prevent breakage.
  • Make sure the oven achieves 425’F before putting the pie in the center on the stone. The stone will also help the bottom crust cook thoroughly and prevent sogginess.

Check out my new column with the Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marilinda-hodgdon/ and my professional site at http://www.marilinda.com

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Roasted Quail on Crispy Pasta Nest

Photo by David Bishop

Quail is one of my favorite poultry choices. The meat is delicate in both texture and flavor. Most quail available for purchase is boned except for the legs and wings. I used a half of apricot to plump up the breast for structure, flavor and juiciness. Using white sewing thread, I stitched the opening and trussed the legs. The cute little birds are seasoned with white pepper, seared in butter and roasted at 400′ F for about 15 minutes, glazing with a pastry brush during cooking at least 3 times, until browned and tender. I usually brine poultry before cooking for flavor and tenderness. If you choose to do this, be sure to brine the meat before it is stuffed and dry it well. As an appetizer use one bird per person. For an entree 2-3 birds each.

I chose to present the quail as an appetizer on a nest of fried spaghetti for drama, and garnished with pine nuts, fried zucchini flower, chervil and sauteed apricot pieces.

Brine

  • 1 gallon of water
  • 1 cup sea salt
  • 1 small onion cut into pieces (optional)

Dissolve the salt and chill the solution. Soak the quail for one hour in the refrigerator, making sure they are completely covered . Dry thoroughly before stuffing.

Glaze

  • 2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice with pulp
  • 1 cup honey

Whisk the juice and honey together. In a sauce pan reduce the mixture over medium heat by half, being careful not to scorch, Brush it on the quail before, during and after roasting. Roast on a parchment lined 1/2 sheet pan at 400’F for about 15 minutes, until browned and tender. Serve with the remaining glaze.

Also, check out my Huffington post site at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marilinda-hodgdon/

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Kaleidoscopic Lollipop

Photo by David Bishop

Many years ago I was hired for a food styling job for a Dominoes Sugar billboard campaign. They supplied me with their recipe for hard crack candy, which can be used in making lollipops. The premise of the campaign was that anyone can make them, and that free form lollipops are fun. Given the parameters of both holiday and everyday themes, they asked me to come up with forms that would serve their vision and could be incorporated into their ads. I used regular lollipop sticks for some and knotted ribbons in others, for hanging adornments, ie. Christmas trees. I had tons of fun creating many lollipops and learned so much in the process.

My mother had a passion for unique & interesting Christmas tree ornaments, so I wrapped selected be-ribboned lollipops with waxed paper and stored them boxed in plastic in a cool dry place until Christmas, as a present to her. The translucence of these colored candies lend a lovely light quality to any occasion. The stick versions make fun centerpieces in a vase, or wrapped in translucent candy bags, tied with ribbons as party favors. The accouterments (sticks & bags) can be had at gourmet cooking stores.

I will guide you through the process of making free form lollipops with all the helpful styling and safety tips I learned along the way. Here is what the ad looked like.

Domino Lollipop Print Ad

To recap the recipe, directions and tips:

Lollipops

  • 2 cups granular cane sugar
  • 2/3 cup clear corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Flavoring and food coloring, as desired
  • Colorful Ribbons, lollipop or ice cream sticks

For safety sake, fill a large bowl with ice and water as an ice plunge, and have it nearby in case you splash any hot candy on your skin. If you do, plunge your skin immediately into the ice water. Prepare sheets of aluminum foil on cookie sheets or straight on the counter, to receive the liquid candy. Have lollipop sticks, knotted colored ribbons and small candies ready to stick into hot candy lollis. The candy cools right away, once poured, so do them one at a time. You can re-heat the candy in the Pyrex in a microwave oven if the liquid gets too thick to pour easily.

  1. In a metal sauce pan, combine the first three ingredients together, stirring over low heat until they are completely dissolved.
  2. Increase to high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil for about 15- 20 minutes, without stirring, (the quicker the better to avoid discoloration) . Using a candy thermometer, or fryer thermometer, let the mixture just come to 300′ F, hard crack candy stage. Remove from heat.
  3. Blend in flavoring and color, stirring carefully.
  4. Half way fill a one cup Pyrex liquid measuring cup to use as a pouring vessel. Never over fill your poring vessel!
  5. Pour shapes according to your own imagination and quickly add ribbons, sticks and candies.
  6. Let cool to room temperature.

Here is are some simple yet pretty versions

Lollis with Flavorful Seeds

Photo by David Bishop

To make them Kaleidoscopic, as pictured in the intro photo, use the above recipe and directions to make sheets of your personal color palette, tinted hand poured candy onto smooth flat surfaces of foil. Let them cool to room temperature and break into small pieces. Place the pieces of each color separately onto appropriately large trays or plates, so that you can see the individual pieces.

Make a batch of clear, uncolored candy and pour shapes, one at a time, on foil as before, placing the sticks in immediately, and adding the colored shards in the patterns you desire. Re-heat some of the clear candy, and pour over your colored pieces to ensure they adhere to the clear base lolli.

Flavoring suggestions:

Extracts of; orange, lemon, grapefruit, vanilla, peppermint, cinnamon, hazelnut, almond, rose and lavender, or whatever you think of or find.

Visit my Huffington Post blog at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marilinda-hodgdon/

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