Every spring, I harvest a nice crop of asparagus. What’s especially nice about it is that it’s asparagus that I never planted or cultivated. It has taken root in a couple of retaining wall planting beds on the west side of my house, the product of seed-spreading birds.
This spring, starting my second year of early retirement, I have finally had time to really clean up those garden beds that had been neglected over the years when I was busy working, raising a son, and in the last couple of years, earning a pilot’s license. (My ultimate bucket-list item).
But this year was the year to get all my gardens back on line. I figured I would simple uproot the crowns from my flower beds, and transplant them into the vegetable garden. Simple, right?
Turns out, it wasn’t that simple. Those asparagus crowns were HUGE and as tough as cement. After chipping out one small piece and transplanting that, I figured it was way too much work, gave up and simply mulched over them. They still continue to come up, so I snap off asparagus spears from between my narcissus and daylillies. I figure I’ll let a few go to fern to keep the crowns going, and just live with the non traditional location of my accidental asparagus bed.
A little about asparagus. Again, this was one of the vegetables I never liked until I had it prepared properly. My mother, like most women in the 1970s, always overcooked asparagus. Thus, it was limp, olive green and slimy – and for years I though I hated it. Whatever you do with asparagus, you must only cook it until it is just tender and still a fairly bright green. This only takes about 5 minutes, and sometimes less. For this soup, I would err on the side of slightly undercooking the pieces, knowing that there will be more cooking as the soup comes together.
This soup is a great and different way of using asparagus aside from the usual steaming, roasting, etc. It makes a great brunch or lunch dish.
Trim off tough ends of asparagus and cut into 1 inch pieces. Bring about 1 to 1&1/2 cups of broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add asparagus pieces and cook until just tender – they should still be fairly light green – about 5 minutes. (Tip – start with stem pieces for a minute or two before adding tips to keep from overcooking tips. Also, if asparagus is of varying diameters, start with thickest first, adding thinnest after a minute or two).
Remove about 1 cup of asparagus pieces and set aside. (Tip – start with the tip pieces as they make a nicer presentation at the end). Place remaining asparagus pieces with broth in a blender or food processor; blend until smooth.
Melt butter in a large saucepan. Whisk in flour until smooth; cook 1 minute while still whisking. Gradually whisk in remaining broth, cook until slightly thickened. Stir in asparagus puree, milk and cream, salt and pepper. Finally, add reserved asparaugs pieces and cook until heated through.
You might have noticed that my blog is very light on baked items. That’s because I’m primarily a cook, not a baker, and don’t have a huge sweet tooth. However, I do make a few exceptions. Yeast breads and rolls are one of them.
Amid the distruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s felt like a good time for making some of the comfort items I rarely make. Because this is a cooking blog, I’ll present the recipe in this post, but what I’d really like to do is to share some thoughts about change (and consistency) in this very strange time.
It’s been quite a different month than what I anticipated. At this time, my husband and I should be timing track meets for Saugatuck Public Schools, as we have done for many years. But schools are closed and sports are cancelled. Our son, Sam, should be going off every day to his physical therapy clinical at a Grand Rapids rehabilitation hospital. But clinicals have been suspended due to the virus, and his doctoral class is has been dealing with the uncertainty of how this will be handled and how it will affect graduation. So instead, he is stuck at home with us – all day, every day – working on his doctoral case studies, but otherwise with nothing to do due to the stay at home order.
Three weeks ago, Sam was planning on earning money bartending after May graduation until he took his licensing exam in July, and got a job in physical therapy. Now there is worry about when the Saugatuck restaurant he has worked at every break for five years will be able to open for dining in, and how business will be when they do. And, there is concern about how the PT job market will be until elective surgeries are allowed again.
A year ago, I was congratulating myself on retiring early and we were enjoying unprecidented growth in our retirement accounts. Instead, we’ve watched that growth melt away in a week and scrambled to move money to more conservative and safe funds.
With nothing else to really do except worry, buy groceries once a week, watch Coronavirus briefings, work out and take walks, it’s no wonder I have been drawn to baking. And gardening.
I’ve always been a gardener, as I like to grow a lot of my own vegetables and flowers. But I’ve never been able to put the time into it that I should. Until now. And I find it’s been greatly theraputic, not only in getting my mind off current uncertainties, but in showing me that there still are a lot of things that are certain.
Like the coming of spring.
As I busily clear dead growth and pull weeds in my flower beds, I become aware of the birds. The house finches are building a nest, as usual, behind the DirectTV satellite dish. A pair of bluebirds ducks in and out of one of our bluebird boxes. The tree swallows swoop and twitter as they start building a nest in another of the boxes. The phoebe sits on the hot tub cover on the deck, pumping her tail and “fee-beeing” in between building her mud and grass nest under the tractor port. A robin is busy on a nest in the rafters not far from the phoebe. And the barn swallows should be back soon to add to the avian neighborhood under the tractor port.
I take a break and take the dog into our woods for a walk. I notice the folded umbrellas of the mayapples sprouting through the dead leaves on the ground, and see the first spring beauties beginning to bloom. The bloodroots have buds, and should be open in a week or so, along with the Dutchman’s breeches and trout lilies. I hear the spring peepers chorusing from the swampy area at the back of the woods.
I channel my eight year old tomboy self and roll over logs, looking for salamaders. I find one (a red-backed) laying belly up, cold and unmoving. I pick it up, and very quickly the warmth of my hand brings the little creature out of its torpor, crawling suprisingly quickly through my fingers with its riduculously stubby legs.
I place the salamander carefully back under the log and take a look around. Nature’s on schedule, I realize. Spring hasn’t been cancelled. The larger forces of nature are consistent, and can be counted on. And I find that very comforting.
Combine milk, sugar, salt and butter in a small saucepan. Heat over low heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Cool to lukewarm.
Meanwhile, dissolve yeast in the warm water in a warm bowl. Add lukewarm milk mixture, eggs and 2 1/2 cups flour. Mix for 2 minutes at low (speed 2) in a standmixer with dough hook.
Add more flour, 1/2 cup at a time, continuing on speed 2 until dough clings to the hook and cleans the sides of the bowl. (You may not need the full amount of flour). Continuing kneading with dough hook on speed 2 about 2 minutes longer. (Dough will be somewhat sticky).
Place dough in a greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes to one hour.
While dough is rising, place brown sugar, sugar, butter, flour, cinnamon and nuts (if using) in a bowl. Mix with stand mixer at speed 2 with flat beat for one minute, or until mixture resembles pebbles.
Assemble, Proof and Bake Rolls
When dough has doubled in bulk, turn dough out onto a floured board, and roll to a 10 x 15 inch rectangle. Spread filling evenly on dough.
Roll dough tightly from long side to form a 15 inch roll, pinching seams together. Cut into 10 1 1/2 inch slices.
Place 5 rolls each into two greased cake pans.
Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes to one hour.
Bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes, or until lightly browned.
While rolls are baking, combine heavy cream and brown sugar in a small saucepan. Cool over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture begins to boil. Remove from heat.
Place cream mixture, 3/4 cup powdered sugar and vanilla in bowl. Mix with stand mixer with flat beater on medium speed (speed 4) until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add more powdered sugar if glaze seems too thin.
This is one of those dishes with an interesting history in its development and people’s attitude toward it. I had assumed that the origin was purely French, but it turns out it’s not that simple.
Quiche actually has its origins in the medieval kingdom of Lothringen, under German rule. This area was later renamed Lorraine by the French. The word ‘quiche’ comes from the German ‘Kuchen’, meaning cake.
The first quiche Lorraine was an open pie with a bottom crust of bread dough, and a filling of an egg and cream custard with smoked bacon. Cheese was added later, along with the crust changing to either pie dough or puff pastry. Then at some point, onion was added, which turns out is actually more traditional than the leeks that I and some others use.
Quiche became popular in England sometime after the Second World War, and in the U.S. during the 1950s. However, in the 1980s, that era of Trivial Pursuit and wine coolers, it became considered kind of a “chick thing”, not to be eaten by real men, as the saying went. It was definitely a dish associated with yuppies (I should know, I was one back then), and not everybody understood it. (Legend has it that my father in law once saw it on a menu and asked the waitress what the “quickie” was. This was before I joined the family, but this is the story my husband claims his sister told him. I’ll have to ask my sister in law to verify that.)
Now, however, the cliche surrounding quiche seems to have faded, and just about anybody will eat it, given that it’s a dish you can put just about anything in. For me, the Lorraine will always be number one, because, well, it has bacon. (Need I say more?) There are many versions out there, mostly varying in the ratios of eggs vs milk/cream, and whether onions or leeks are used.
This is the version I’ve come up with. You’ll notice that I specify a prebaked pie shell, in order to keep this recipe more straightforward. At some point, I may get into a pastry post, but in the meantime, there are plenty of good pie pastry recipes out there in the blogosphere. And there’s not a thing wrong with using a good quality frozen or refrigerated pie shell, either, if you’re short on time and/or patience. Heck, quiche is actually perfectly acceptable without a crust, if you have carb or gluten issues. Just grease up your baking dish so it won’t stick, and watch the time – it may bake quicker.
So here it is, in all its rich glory. This makes a lovely brunch dish when served with fresh fruit, or even a light dinner along with a green salad.
1small bunchfresh thyme, about 5 or 6 stems,leaves stripped from stems
white pepper,to taste
2 ozgruyere cheese,shredded
Prebake pie shell according to instructions
Preheat oven to 375°
Dice bacon and saute on medium high heat until just short of crisp. Remove from pan to drain and cool, reserving about 2 tablespoons of bacon grease in pan.
Split and wash leeks to remove grit. Dice white and green parts and add to pan in which you have reserved a couple tablespoons of the bacon grease. Add thyme leaves and salt and white pepper to taste. Saute over medium heat until leeks are just starting to become translucent. Remove leek mixture from pan and cool.
Shred gruyere and swiss cheeses in food processor or box grater
Whisk eggs and egg yolk in bowl, add heavy cream and milk, along with cheeses, cooled leek mixture and cooled bacon, mix thoroughly. Pour into prebaked pie shell. Place on cookie sheet in center of oven.
Bake at 375° for about 30 minutes until center is set and top is golden brown.