Food

Asparagus terrineEven though I love oven-roasted asparagus year-round, something about spring makes me want asparagus even more. And I don’t think I’m alone in that. At a recent cooking class at the Shoals Culinary Complex in Florence, Alabama ( http://www.shoalsec.com), director Sherry Campbell taught us how to make this gorgeously easy and delicious Asparagus Terrine. One of those impressive dishes that always gets you compliments, it’s perfect for spring luncheons celebrating weddings, graduations, Easter and Mother’s Day. And, surprisingly, it’s great to make ahead and also is conveniently totable for  covered-dish get-togethers. Sherry says to look for asparagus with plump, closed tips for freshness. She uses most of the whole stalks, too, but I don’t like that slightly woody flavor and trim mine pretty closely. But then I don’t like broccoli stems, either, so what do I know?

Asparagus Frittata Terrine

Peel and finely dice 1 medium onion and saute over medium-low in 1 T. olive oil until translucent. Add 1 T. sugar, increase heat to medium-high and stir until lightly colored. Add 3 peeled and minced garlic cloves and 1 T. white-wine vinegar and boil until vinegar is evaporated, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper and cool to room temperature.

Trim white ends off 2 pounds asparagus spears and microwave until slightly cooked.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line small loaf pan with plastic wrap, letting excess hang over sides. Trim asparagus if longer than pan and save ends. Place single layer in bottom of pan, alternating tips and ends and filling in with trimmings. Spoon over half cooked onions and add layer of cooked bacon or 40-42-count shrimp. Season with salt and pepper and add freshly minced tarragon, dill or mint. Continue layering, sprinkling herbs on top.

Whisk 6 eggs in a bowl with salt and pepper until well-blended. Pour into loaf pan, moving a knife between asparagus spears and lightly tapping pan on work surface to evenly distribute. Fold excess plastic over, cover with tin foil and place in hot-water bath. Bake until eggs are set, 50-60 minutes. Remove from bath.

To serve warm, let settle 15 minutes then run knift around rim and unmold and slice 1/4-inch thick. To serve at room temperature, let cool and then unmold and slice or prepare ahead, refrigerate and then bring to room temperature before serving. Serve with Tarragon Sauce: Whisk 1 T. each mayonnaise and Dijon mustard and add 1 T. white-wine vinegar. Pour in 3/4 cup olive oil in slow, thin stream while whisking. Mix in 1 T. freshly minced tarragon and salt and pepper to taste. Can make ahead and refrigerate before using.

Vegetables

Vegetables and dipWho doesn’t know by now that we’re supposed to eat more vegetables? But you can fix steamed broccoli only so many times before your family stages a revolt. At a recent cooking class at the Shoals Commercial Culinary Center in Florence, Alabama — a kitchen incubator for small food businesses that’s part of the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center — we learned some delicious new ways to serve vegetables. My friend Sherry Campbell is the culinary center director and she’s a great cook and teacher. Here are her recipes for Creamy Red Pepper-Basil sauce that’s wonderful as a dip for fresh veggies and easy make-ahead Broccoli with Lemon-Herb Sauce that’s a perfect portable dish. Learn more about the center at http://www.shoalsec.com/facilities/SCC_index.html 

Creamy Red Pepper-Basil Sauce

With the processor running, drop 3 garlic cloves through the food chute and process unti minced. Add 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil and process 5 seconds until chopped. Add 1 12-ounce drained jar roasted red peppers, 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground pepper. Process until smooth. Serve at room temperature. Makes 2 1/2 cups.

Broccoli with Lemon-Herb Sauce

Cook 1 1/2 pounds broccoli in 3 cups vegetable broth until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Remove broccoli with Broccolitongs and chill in ice water. Reserve 1 cup broth and chill. Dry broccoli and chill. Heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add 1 cup chopped green onions, 1/3 cup minced shallots and 1 teaspoon sugar. Saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon minced garlic, saute 2 minutes. Stir in reserved broth, 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme and 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest. Simmer until slightly thickened and liquid is reduced to about  1 1/4 cups. Season with salt and pepper. Cool to room temperature. Put broccoli in serving bowl and spoon sauce over. Spring with 1/4 cup chopped green onion and 1/2 cup diced seeded red bell pepper. Serves 8.

Vegetables and Flowers

vegetable-flowers-004This is a flower arrangement to decorate the table at a typical meeting, right? vegetable-flowers-006Nope. Look closer. It’s not made of flowers. It’s made of … vegetables! Yes, these are vegetables and not flowers. The “mums” and greenery are leeks, the “paintbrushes” are green onions, the “roses” are rutabagas and turnips and the splash of organge is from carrots. Emily Kelley, a chef and caterer and educator in Florence, Alabama, has been creating vegetable bouquets like this for years vegetable-flowers-0081and recently showed fellow American Association of University Women members how to do it. She made it look easy, and really it is simple — with patience and the right equipment. For instance, the roses are slices of rutabagas and turnips shaped and toothpicked together — the slices’ natural curves create the flower, but you need a commercial slicer to get the pieces thin and consistent enough. (Emily recommended making friends with someone who has one.) The mums and paintbrushes are the bottoms of leeks and green onions cut along their natural lines. The carrots were the hardest part — she sliced them horizontally and then cut the slices in a way that each one was still intact but had individual slices in it that curved out when she toothpicked the ends together. (I know that doesn’t make sense — sorry!) Emily does all the blossoms first, then puts them into ice water to stiffen. Then, when she puts the arrangement together, she threads a bamboo skewer through the blossoms (hiding the skewers in green-onion greenery) and arranges them with florist tools such as vases, tape and foam to perpetuate the flower illusion. We were all amazed and astounded, and one young woman declared she now wanted these instead of floral decorations for her wedding!

Vegetables

brussels-sproutsMy friend Sherry is on a mission to bring Brussels sprouts to the world — or at least to our little corner of Alabama. They are her favorite vegetable and she feels they’re underrated and unappreciated. She’s right. Brussels sprouts probably rank low on most folks’ lists of favorite vegetables. But that’s because, Sherry insists, we haven’t had them done right. I have to admit that when she fixes them, Brussels sprouts are tasty and delicious — sort of crunchy and nutty with a nice fresh flavor. Who knew? I have noticed the mini cabbages showing up as sides on restaurant menus lately, so maybe Sherry’s started a trend. A longtime cook, she’s also the director of the Shoals Commercial Culinary Center in Florence, Alabama, http://www.shoalsec.com/facilities/SCC_index.html, that’s part of the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center that nurtures small businesses. Her cooking classes at the culinary center are fun and informative and filling, because those in the audience get to eat the results! Here’s Sherry’s Brussels sprouts recipe:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Cook four strips thick-cut bacon in large skillet over medium-high heat until crispy. Drain on paper towels then roughly chop. In same pan with bacon fat, melt two tablespoons butter over high heat. Add one pound Brussels sprouts, halved, and a half large onion, chopped. Cook and stir occasionally until sprouts are golden brown, eight to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and toss bacon back into pan. Serve immediately.