Thursday, May 18, 2006

I'm on vacation this week...

...but I'm still cooking! Butter poached lobster tails, anyone?

I'll be back next week with vacation tales and birthday adventures!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Asparagus Souffle

Fellow Knoxville food blogger Kevin has been working on a project after my own heart, because it extolls the virtues of one of my most favorite vegetables. Every Monday you can find a round up of the most sublime asparagus recipes at Kevin's Asparagus Aspirations, and after days and days of wracking my brain for the perfect entry, I came up with this puffy wonder.

This souffle was a very proud achievement because I worked off of no pre-existing recipe, a daunting task when dealing with finicky egg whites. Armed with my vague knowledge of ingredient proportions and some extremely fresh spring asparagus, I set to work.

The results were better than I had dreamed. I managed to maintain the bright green color (that was my first concern, that I would end up with muddy greenish-brown puffs), and each bite truly tasted of asparagus first. The additional ingredients simply served as the supporting cast for this impressive dish. And, should you worry that you are wasting half of your asparagus stalks, I refer you to this recipe for a cold asparagus soup that makes excellent use of the woody stalks.

While I made two larger souffles, I think this would make a lovely first course for four people, served in demitasse cups or small ramekins. Feel free to try different cheeses--I think chevre or Gruyere would be quite nice as well. And of course, if you prefer perfect, flat-topped souffles, knock yourself out and smooth the surface evenly. I like the pillowy, free form mounds, myself.

Asparagus Souffle
serves 2-4

3 large eggs, separated
1 lb. asparagus
2-3 Tbsp vegetable or chicken stock
sea salt
freshly ground pepper
.25 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the asparagus stalks in half, for this recipe you only need the most tender green ends. Boil the asparagus in lightly salted water until just tender--about 3 minutes. Drain and let cool. Chop the blanched spears roughly and toss into a blender or food processor. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, and some of the stock and pulse until smooth. You may need a dash or two more of stock, you want a very smooth green puree. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream the egg yolks, flour, mustard, Parmesan, and asparagus puree until well combined--about 3 minutes. With the bowl sitting over a pan of simmering water, whisk until paler in color and quite thick, roughly 5 minutes. Replace on mixer stand, and cream for an additional 3 minutes, until light and beginning to cool. Transfer to a clean bowl and set aside. At this point you can wait up to 2 hours before completing the souffles.

In a clean mixing bowl, whip the egg whites until they hold a stiff peaks. Be careful to not over beat the whites. Whisk one third of the egg whites into the asparagus mixture until well combined, then carefully fold in the remaining egg whites. Scoop the souffle mixture into ramekins or tea cups, leaving about.5 inch at the top, and making sure to not deflate the fluffy mixture.

Place ramekins onto a baking sheet and bake until puffy and golden brown, 10-12 minutes. Garnish with an asparagus spear (if desired) and serve immediately.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Eating Local in Knoxville

There has been much talk of "Eating Local" over the past few weeks within the food blogging world, leading up to this months Eat Local Challenge. I think this is a wonderful idea in concept, but to try and execute a month's worth of meals coming from within 100 miles of this area would be an impossibility. After all, in this temperate mountain valley, spring fruits and vegetables are just barely starting to make an appearance, and there is a multitude of ingredients that I could never find locally.

And so, since the challenge encourages people to make it work the best they can, I set out this weekend to the first Farmer's Market of the season, and I came away with a pretty good bounty: local organic skirt steak and a chicken; gorgeous fresh eggs, with little bits of feather still on them; a loaf of bread, chocolate chocolate chip cookie for Chris, and some homemade granola; fresh butter; and a pile of really lovely Swiss chard. I then moved on to our local co-op, conveniently located about a mile from our neighborhood, and picked up some cheese, pasta, avocados, and snacky stuff. Even though the bulk of what I picked up at the co-op was not local, it was all organic and helped support the institution, so I figured that was the next best thing.

I'm pleased with how well this first attempt at local eating went. I was able to make a supremely delicious meal Saturday evening using ingredients that were 100% local or organic (I'll write about that meal next). Some things were decidedly more expensive (the chicken was double what I would pay at the grocery store, and you can see the price on that butter), but some were surprisingly cheap (the skirt steak was $5/lb, and the eggs were $2.50/dozen). All of it was definitely of wonderful quality, and I loved meeting the people who worked so hard to bring these things to market.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006