Book Shelf: Twenty Dinners

coverxxdinners

There is no greater joy than feeding your friends and family. I used to lose sight of what’s important: spending time with your guests. I would plan complicated menus with dishes that would take a lot of prep and cooking time. Over time, that has changed. Instead of making complicated appetizers, I just serve a gorgeous cheese plate with all sorts of accoutrements or crudités with unexpected dips. The main dish is usually a simply prepared protein, like a roasted chicken or quickly pan-seared fish. Since I can prepare dessert in advance, I might put most of my time and energy into that. And of course, there always has to be a cocktail. At my place, the cocktail is usually a bourbon sidecar.

That is my comfort zone when it comes to entertaining. I’m always looking for inspiration for easy menus, and when I saw the book Twenty Dinners by Ithai Schori and Chris Taylor, I immediately knew that it was my kind of book. What’s best about it is that it is separated into sections for each season: Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer. It also has sections on wine and stocking your home bar. There are cocktail recipes and/or wine recommendations to go along with each dinner. The book is good not only for entertaining ideas, but also for simple family dinners. If you are looking for dinner menu inspiration, this is the book for you.

I’ve made shakshuka countless times, but I couldn’t resist making Ithai’s version from the book, which is flavored with za’atar and paprika. There are many other recipes that I want to try soon. The lemon verbena tart, and spiced red wine-poached pears are next on my list of things to make.

Ithai's Shakshuka

Ithai’s Shakshuka

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Twenty Dinners for review purposes. I was not compensated for writing this post. All views are my own.

Ricotta-Asparagus Tart

Ricotta-Asparagus Tart

Monday’s post was all about ramps, but I also got three big bunches of asparagus at the market. I thought that the best way to showcase them would be in a pretty tart. These asparagus were not too thick, so they did not require peeling of the stems. If you get really thick asparagus, that’s something you might want to do.

Another ingredient that I just love is ricotta cheese. Mine has to be whole milk. I recently discovered Bellwether Farms Basket Ricotta from Sonoma. It is the most delicious ricotta I have tasted. I highly recommend it. Other great brands are Calabro–which is available at most grocery stores, and Blue Ridge Dairy which is available at several farmers markets in the DC area. Whole milk ricotta is such a versatile ingredient. It can be used to top crostini, in ricotta pancakes, to dollop over pasta, and in this ricotta-asparagus tart.

The tart takes no more than 10 minutes to put together. You could make a green side salad while the tart is baking. I hope to make this a few more times now that asparagus are abundant.

Ricotta-Asparagus Tart Before Baking

Ricotta-Asparagus Tart

  •  1 sheet puff pastry (I used Pepperidge Farm, it is readily available)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, finely chopped (or any other herb you have)
  • ¼ cup shredded Gruyere + 2 tablespoons (you could substitute Parmesan)
  • About 10 asparagus
  • Olive oil
  • Zest of 1 lemon, to sprinkle over the tart before serving
  1. Pre-heat oven to 400F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Lightly flour your counter and a rolling pin, and place the puff pastry on top of your floured counter. Very lightly roll the rolling pin over the dough, just to even it out. Now transfer the dough to the prepared cookie sheet.
  3. Cut a one inch strip from every side of the puff pastry sheet. You will have four 1 inch strips and 1 rough square. Using a paring knife, lightly score a 1 inch margin all around your square of pastry. Lightly brush that one inch margin with beaten egg. Now place the strips on top of that margin, on each side of the square. Trim the 1 inch strips to fit the square. After you place the strips on top of the square, lightly brush the strips with egg as well. Using a fork, poke holes all over the inside square of dough. This will prevent the inside square from puffing up. Place the cookie sheet in the freezer for about 10 minutes, while you prepare the filling.
  4. Trim the asparagus to fit on the inside square of your puff pastry. Set aside.
  5. In a small bowl, add the leftover beaten egg, ricotta, nutmeg, black pepper, salt, parsley, and ¼ cup of Gruyere.
  6. Remove the cookie sheet with the puff pastry from the freezer. Spread the ricotta filling on the inside square of the puff pastry using an offset spatula. Place the asparagus on top. [I didn’t think of this at the time, but you may want to alternate the asparagus so that there is a top spear on each side like this. That way everyone will get asparagus tops in their serving]. Sprinkle with Gruyere cheese, and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until dark golden brown.
  7. Remove the tart from the oven, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and lemon zest. Let cool for 5-10 minutes, and serve. Serves 4.

Ramp Pesto, and Ramp and Asparagus Frittata

Spring Produce: fresh garlic, ramps, and asparagus

Spring Produce: fresh garlic, ramps, and asparagus

Spring has arrived with all of its delicious seasonal produce. This is the time when shopping at the farmer’s market is a lot of fun. Meals can be driven by whatever seasonal ingredients I purchase. This weekend there were still some ramps at the Dupont Circle farmers market. The season is very short, so if you see any don’t hesitate to purchase them. Ramps are a wild leek, with a mild garlic flavor.

I decided to use the tops in a quick pesto, and the white bulbs in a frittata. Both are easy to make and delicious.

Ramp pesto

Ramp Pesto

Ingredients

  • 2 bunches ramps, green parts only (about 1 packed cup)
  • ¼ cup toasted walnuts (you can use any nut: pine nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pecans, or even pistachios)
  • Finely grated zest of one lemon
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Procedure
Add ramp greens, walnuts, lemon zest, and garlic clove to a food processor and pulse several times until the ingredients are finely chopped. With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil and lemon juice. Scrape the sides, then add the Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Transfer to a glass jar until ready to use. Makes about 1 cup.

Thin spaghetti with ramp pesto

Ramp and Asparagus Frittata

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 small potatoes, in 1 inch dice
  • 8 asparagus spears
  • 2 bunches ramps, white parts only, sliced (about 1/3 cup, you can use onions instead)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ cup whole milk ricotta
  • 1 tablespoon shredded Parmesan
  • Reserve 1 ramp top, and slice to sprinkle on top of the frittata

Procedure
1. Pre-heat oven to 350F.
2. Whisk the eggs, milk, salt, and pepper in a bowl, and set aside.
3. Fill a medium saucepan with about 4 inches of water and bring to a boil. Add a few large pinches of salt. Cook the potatoes. Add the potatoes to the boiling water and cook for about 7 minutes, just until they get tender. Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and set aside.
4.Blanch the asparagus in the same saucepan of boiling water. Add them to the boiling water and blanch for about 45 seconds. Remove and rinse under cold water.
5.Add the oil to a 9 inch non-stick, oven-proof skillet. Turn the heat to medium. Add the sliced ramps bulbs and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the potatoes and the egg mixture. Stir the egg mixture around until it starts to set. Turn the heat off. Add dollops of ricotta on top of the egg mixture, then top with the blanched asparagus. Sprinkle the shredded Parmesan and the sliced ramp top on the frittata. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until just set in the center. Place the frittata under the broiler for about 2 minutes, or until the top starts to get golden brown in places. Serves 4.

Asparagus and ramp frittata

Do you have a favorite use for ramps?

Salty Lime Soda from Summer Cocktails

Salty Lime Soda from Summer Cocktails

Summer is just around the corner and I can’t wait for all the delicious summer produce. I’m mostly looking forward to peaches, apricots, and corn. When summer arrives, I will have many summer cocktail recipes to try from the new book Summer Cocktails by Maria del Mar Sacasa. The book also has cocktail bites recipes like scallop ceviche, pickled shrimp, and peanut masala.

I love cocktails, but I always stick to some basic ones: bourbon side cars, gin & tonics, & anything with sparkling wine. I’m ready to explore new cocktails with new flavors. The recipe below, for Salty Lime Soda is perfect  for right now. It’s salty and smoky, and addicting. You can find curry and kafir lime leaves at ethnic grocery stores, sometimes they are in the frozen goods section in little plastic bags. I actually used dry curry leaves because I had some in the pantry. However, I do have a small kafir lime tree and I used fresh leaves from my tree. This was a bit too salty for my taste, and I used half the amount of salt called for in the recipe for my second batch which was just perfect.

I hope you try it and let me know what you think. What are some of your favorite summer cocktails?

Ingredients:

  • 6 fresh curry leaves
  • 2 kafir lime leaves, cut into thin ribbons
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 fresh lime juice
  • 2 ounces white rum (I used my favorite dark rum instead)
  • ice cubes
  • 1/4 cup club soda, chilled

Toast curry leaves in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant and dry, shaking pan often, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a shaker. Add lime leaves, sugar, and salt and muddle. Add lime juice, rum, and ice and shake vigorously. Strain into an ice-filled glass and top with club soda. Serve.

FullSizeRender

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Summer Cocktails for review purposes. I was not compensated for writing this post. All views are my own.

Cherry Blossoms in DC

This past weekend was the peak blooming time for yoshino cherry blossoms in DC’s Tidal Basin. My friend Annie was in town, and we spent Saturday morning walking around the tidal basin and enjoying the beautiful cherry blossoms. The weather was gorgeous: sunny and breezy.

Here are some photos from the cherry blossoms. If you haven’t been to DC during cherry blossom time, you definitely should add it to your bucket list.

Cherry Blossoms in the Tidal Basin and the Washington  monument

Cherry Blossoms in the Tidal Basin and the Washington monument

white cherry blossoms

pink cherry blossoms