Cooking Notes – April

This month’s cooking adventures, updated throughout the month as usual. You can see previous months’ records by clicking on the “Cooking Notes” link in the right hand column.

Baking and Desserts

  • Chewy Nutella and Oatmeal Bars The Nutella glaze gives these bars a rich, “grown up” flavor, but the texture seemed off. A nice treat to make once, but I probably won’t reuse the recipe.
  • Strawberry Freezer Jam– Actually I made this in late March but I’m too lazy to scroll down and update that month’s post. My neighbors brought me fresh strawberries from Florida, and between those and another carton in the fridge I couldn’t eat them all in time so I made jam. This was my first attempt at freezer jam. It’s fairly simple and tastes good, but something minor must’ve been marginally off with the pectin ratio because it came out ever so slightly more on the jello rather than jam side of textures. Not enough to ruin it though – I’ve been enjoying it with breakfast frequently, and two more containers of jam wait in the freezer for future months.

Main Dishes and Sides

  • Cream of Asparagus Soup – From a favorite source, The Silver Palate Cookbook. In childhood, eating asparagus ranked on par with death by hanging. As an adult, I learned it tastes quite nice when drowned in sufficient butter and cream. I make this rich and flavorful soup regularly, especially with the first fresh spring asparagus crop. It’s very forgiving, and easily modified. The cookbook is wonderful and worth the money for a copy of your own. Occasionally it seems unnecessarily complicated and over time, I’ve developed a few shortcuts on the basic recipe for everyday cooking. My version: melt a stick of butter over medium heat, and simmer/stir three or four chopped yellow onions until very soft and golden, about 20 minutes. Add 2 quarts water and equivalent amount chicken bouillon (or two quarts stock if you have it). Bring to a boil, and add 2 pounds asparagus (less the woody ends) chopped into 1/2 inch pieces. Cover and simmer about 45 minutes (don’t go short on this one – the asparagus really needs the full time). Puree – I use my immersion blender (a favorite sanity saving wedding present). Season with salt and pepper, remove from heat, let cool slightly so cream doesn’t curdle, and stir in 1/2 cup heavy cream or buttermilk. Serve up with thick slices of bread and butter. If you plan to freeze part of the soup for later, hold off on the cream and add it when you reheat the meal later. Cream and many dairy products don’t freeze well. Can also be served cold. Delicate enough for a ladies’ lunch, hearty enough to draw happy “man being well fed” noises from Carl and his Army buddies.
  • Pizza with pesto, tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella – Homemade pizza is one of my favorite fast backup meals. I cheat. Rather than making completely homemade dough with all the mixing, kneading, and rising, I use the mix packets from the grocery store. My favorite is actually the generic Walmart brand dough mix – costs about forty cents, and only takes ten minutes mixing and rising. I partially pre-cook the dough before adding toppings for a crisper crust. We usually have a few basic pizza ingredients on hand for days when the fridge and pantry need restocking: dough mix, pepperoni (doesn’t need refrigeration until the package is opened), canned pureed tomatoes for sauce (plus herbs and spices in the cupboard) and mozzarella cheese in the freezer.
  • Buffalo wings and Creamy Goat Cheese Polenta – Buffalo wings are a long-time favorite treat at restaurants, and they’re easy to mimic at home. I watch for wings and/or drumettes on sale and keep them in them in the freezer. Defrost, toss in a pan, bake at 500 for 20 minutes (healthier than deep frying) and toss with wing sauce. I buy the cheapest generic option for most foods, but I’m picky about wing sauce. The goat cheese polenta seemed an odd pairing at first but, 1) the Pioneer Woman hasn’t failed me yet, 2) I felt like polenta, 3) some Feta in the fridge needed using up, 4) wings with bleu cheese dressing is a normal combo, so the sharp cheese flavor pairing isn’t a new innovation, 5) you can’t get more traditional than cornbread with barbecue, and polenta isn’t far off. The combination turned out well, as the creamy polenta helped temper the mouth-burning spice from the wings. I’ll definitely be using the Pioneer Woman’s polenta recipe for leftover cheese bits and nubs in the future.
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