Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Asparagus and Cream Cheese Pastry

Asparagus season!  Asparagus season!  Spring time in New England=new posts on How Does Your Garden Grow!

I've been avidly buying as much asparagus as my wallet can handle from Springdell Farm in Littleton.  Yum.  Wait, I need to say that again.  Yum!

I've been roasting it with Parmesan (from my days as a Patch food writer).  I've added it to grilled goat cheese and veggie pitas (from my sister-in-law's super fun Battle: Yum site).  I've made lemony quinoa and asparagus shrimp scampi (a favorite recipe I pulled out of the Boston Globe years ago and love to make every spring with fresh local asparagus).  Finally decided to go through my recipes and try something new.

What I ended up deciding to make was a contest winner from a Philadelphia cream cheese contest.  Can I be a little all-foodie-er-than-thou for a moment?  I kind of hate recipes that are "sponsored" by a specific brand.  I'm usually disappointed.  But this one:  it's asparagus and cream cheese on puff pastry.  Um, delish much?  Yes please!  And I just happened to have a single sheet of puff pastry hanging out in my freezer, just looking for a new recipe.  Cooking destiny!

I had pulled this recipe out of a Taste of Home magazine, but just found it on Allrecipes when I was looking for a link.  I made just a few changes, so feel free to go back to the award winning original if you'd like.  It truly is a spectacular recipe!


1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed according to package directions
1 bunch of asparagus (not too fat, not too skinny...you want them to cook at the same speed as your pastry!  I cherry picked stalks from two different bunches to try to get similar sized perfect stalks)
8 oz package of cream cheese, softened (I won't force a brand on you, though I must admit I did use Philadelphia!)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I used real grated, not that green can)
1 teaspoon dried basil (oh  my, the recipe calls for fresh, which sounds awesome to me, but it's still too cold out for basil plants so I only had dried.  Use fresh if you've got it--recipe calls for 5 leaves--I'd double that to 10!)
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder (or knock yourself out and use fresh minced garlic--I didn't have any on hand)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Olive oil to drizzle
More Parmesan cheese for sprinkling


 Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix together softened cream cheese, grated Parmesan cheese, dried basil, garlic powder, and lemon juice.

Unfold the thawed pastry and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.  Cut into thirds along the "fold" lines, then cut each third in half to make rectangles.  Move the piece slightly away from one another.

Spread each pastry rectangle with the cream cheese mixture, leaving a little edge of pastry uncovered.

Trim asparagus to the length of your pastry rectangles.  Place a few asparagus spears on each pastry rectangle.  Original recipe called for 4 spears per rectangle, but I only used three and it was fine. (Note:  I saved the extra stem part that was too long and I had to cut off and used it in a batch of the lemony quinoa and asparagus recipe I linked above.  Don't waste that asparagus!)

Drizzle lightly with olive oil.

Bake for 20 or so minutes, until pastry is golden brown and puffed.  Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle a little extra Parmesan on top. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Fresh Eggs are Egg-cellent!

Did you know that the eggs you buy from your local grocer are probably one to two months old when you purchase them?  In addition, compared to conventional store eggs, pastured, free range eggs contain*:
  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • 2/3 more vitamin A
  • Two times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • Three times more vitamin E
  • Seven times more beta carotene – converts to vitamin A
  • most recently noted, 4-6 times more vitamin D

Not only that but they taste much better too!  And that means everything you make with them will taste better - whether it's hollandaise sauce, a frittata or your favorite batch of chocolate chip cookies. Trust me.   From the moment you see that deep-yellow-almost-orange-colored yolk, you will be smitten!

Actually, don't trust me.  Try them for yourself and let your taste buds be the judge.  If you live in my beloved Berkshires, here's a short list of local farms from which you can purchase fresh eggs from pastured, free range chickens.  There are many, many more options - feel free to share them in the comments section, these are just a few of the farms from whom I have personally purchased eggs.
You're also likely to find pastured, free range eggs at your local farmer's market.  Local author, Jennifer Trainer Thompson, just published an entire cookbook dedicated to fresh eggs.  It's called, what else, but The Fresh Egg Cookbook!  Available through Storey Publishing, you can also find copies at the Cricket Creek farmstore.  It contains a fabulous variety of recipes.  In the meantime, here are a couple of my favorite concoctions.

Soft-boiled Eggs on Toasted Challah
Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Gently lower one or two eggs into the water (I use a ladle to do this) and lower the temperature to simmer.  Set a timer for 5 minutes (no longer, no less).  Prepare a bowl of iced water (and when I say iced water, I mean place several cubes of ice in the water).  In the meantime, toast one or two slices of Challah bread.  As soon as your egg timer goes off, remove the egg(s) (again, I used a ladle) and place them in the bowl of iced water for 30 seconds.  If all goes according to plan, your bread will be done toasting and you can lightly butter it, while you wait for the eggs to cool in the iced water.  Once 30 seconds has elapsed, you should be able to crack the shell at the tip of each egg and peel it!  I like to break mine open right on top of the Challah toast.  Season with salt and pepper as desired - YUM!

Fried Egg on a Bed of Spinach
Saute a VERY large handful of spinach (or whatever type of green(s) you prefer - Chard works well too) in a small amount of butter.  After a minute or so the greens will wilt down.  Make a 'well' in the middle to crack and egg into and dot the spinach/greens with feta cheese.  This particular cheese is from Cricket Creek Farm and is made with cow's milk vs. goat.  Put a lid or cover on the pan and turn the heat off, allowing the egg to cook and the cheese to soften.  Season with salt and pepper as desired and serve with freshly toasted bread.

Here's to the incredible, edible egg!  Bon Appetit!