Monday, March 21, 2011


Pair asparagus, the Queen of the spring garden, with eggs for a meal suitable for any vernal table. I avoided the frittata, an Italian dish very similar to a large omelet, until I owned a frittata pan. Now that I have the pan, I realize it's totally unnecessary. Any non-stick skillet or well seasoned iron skillet will work. If you use the oven to finish the dish you don't have to do any flipping, which is the purpose of the frittata pan.

There are so many ways to use a frittata: appetizer, side dish, or full blown main course. By adding different vegetables and cheeses you can literally have hundreds of combinations. Be adventurous and try your favorites. I recommend precooking any vegetables, and draining well before adding to the egg mixture. The frittata cooking time really isn't long enough to completely cook a vegetable.

You can also add cooked meats, for example bacon, sausage, ham, chicken, salmon, to the egg mixture before cooking. The possibilities are endless, and have led to a parade of frittatas through our kitchen in recent weeks.

Spring Frittata

2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced, then cut the slices in half

2 T extra virgin olive oil

Salt and Freshly ground pepper

4 green onions, roughly chopped (save some of the greens for garnish)

6 slices of bacon, cooked, drained and crumbled

16 small asparagus spears, cut to about 5 inches

10 fresh eggs

One-half cup heavy cream

2 T fresh thyme leaves, plus a little more for garnish

One-half cup blue cheese crumbles

Preheat oven to 375°.

Add the olive oil to a ten inch non-stick skillet over medium heat. Place potato slices over the bottom of the pan, cook for a couple of minutes and turn before adding another layer of potatoes. Keep turning until they've all had a turn on the bottom of the pan and are lightly browning and tender, about ten minutes total. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the green onions and crumbled cooked bacon. Stir to combine and cook for a couple of minutes.

Meanwhile bring salted water to a boil in a small saucepan, and blanch asparagus for a couple of minutes. Remove to paper towel and drain well.Beat eggs with heavy cream, thyme, salt and pepper.

Pour egg mixture over the potatoes in the skillet and stir around to separate potatoes. Fan the asparagus on top of the egg mixture.

Put pan in oven and bake for about ten minutes. Then add blue cheese to top and continue baking for another ten minutes, or until eggs are set.

Slip frittata to serving dish, garnish with onion greens and thyme. Slice and serve.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Corned Beef Two Ways for St. Patty's Day

For St. Patty's Day we're skipping the traditional corned beef and cabbage and going straight to Reubens. A good Reuben sandwich is hard to beat. I tried to find a little history, but no one seemed to have a definitive answer. It probably happened just as our Reubens do: left over corned beef with added ingredients that naturally compliment the meat flavor. Corned beef and cabbage have always been a good pairing, but corned beef and sauerkraut: priceless. Add good bread, I prefer pumpernickel instead of rye, Russian dressing and swiss cheese, plus grilling the sandwich with butter and you have the perfect Reuben. Serve your Reuben with dill pickles and Leek and Potato Gratin for a full meal.

If you want the traditional meal, begin exactly the same way—with a good corned beef brisket. I rinse the meat and cut off the excess fat cap. My brisket weighed 3 lbs. I put it in my heavy stock pot, covered it with beef broth, added the spice packet and a quartered onion and simmered on low for 2 ½ to 3 hours. For sandwiches, remove the brisket from the broth and let it rest for fifteen or twenty minutes before slicing. Thinly slice, sprinkle with a little cooking broth and cover until ready to make the sandwiches.

If you're going the traditional route, I usually cook the meat a little longer, and add halved red potatoes, carrot pieces and cabbage during the last hour of cooking. Either way, corned beef is a great way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day around the table.

Leek and Potato Gratin

(I saw this recipe in the New York Times, and then changed, using the ingredients I had on hand.)

3 leeks, remove the tops and discard

6 T butter, divided

2 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

Salt and Pepper

1 cup sour cream

One-fourth cup milk or cream

One-half teaspoon dried thyme, or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

One and one-half cups shredded cheese of choice (cheddar, gruyere, asiago, parmesan)

Preheat oven to 350°.

Slice leeks open lengthwise and rinse under running water. Dry with paper towel.

Cut into quarter inch rings.

Add 2 tablespoons butter to saute pan over medium heat.

Saute leeks in butter until softened.

Salt and pepper potato slices, add about a tablespoon of melted butter and mix potatoes well with hands, coating and separating slices.

Butter casserole dish.

Layer potatoes into dish and cover with leeks.

Heat sour cream, milk, remaining butter and thyme in pan that held leeks. When warm, add cheese, stirring until cheese combines with cream. Taste for salt and pepper.

Pour mixture on top of leeks.

Cover casserole with foil and bake for one hour, or until potatoes are tender.

Reuben Sandwiches

3 lb. Corned beef brisket with spice packet

2 quarts beef broth (or enough to cover brisket)

1 onion, quartered

Russian Dressing*

Prepared Sauerkraut (I used Kroger brand refrigerated section)

Spicy Brown Mustard

2 lb. Swiss cheese sandwich slices

1 stick butter, melted

1 loaf Rye bread (I prefer marbled rye or pumpernickel), sliced

Dill pickles

Cook brisket in beef broth with added spice packet and onion for about 3 hours, on low heat at a slow simmer, slightly covered.

Remove brisket and tent with foil, letting it rest until ready to slice.

Heat heavy iron skillet or grill pan. Butter outside of both pieces of bread for one sandwich. Spread Russian dressing thinly on inside of each piece of bread. Add a little spicy mustard to inside of slice.

Build sandwich beginning with bottom slice of bread, swiss cheese, thin layer of sauerkraut, several slices of corned beef, another slice of cheese and then the top of the sandwich.

Grill on each side until bread is toasted, and cheese is melted.

Serve with dill pickles.

*Russian Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise

One-fourth cup chili sauce

1 shallot, finely minced

2 T sweet pickle relish

1 T Worcestershire Sauce

1 tsp. Prepared horseradish

Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate until ready to use.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mai Fun in March

Try something new this spring! It may be too early to plant, but it's never to early to plan. I saved the seeds from a little Sprite Melon last year. I love the small size and pear/honeydew flavor. It's time to get the seeds started inside. I'm going to plant some in peat pots, and later I'll try some seeds directly into the warm ground. We'll see which works best. Look for the Sprite Melon at your farmer's market in a couple of months. It's a fairly new melon being grown predominantly in North Carolina.

How about a new hobby that would make you a provider of locally grown food? When I drove by the feed and seed store last week and saw their sign, I began thinking about an old dream to have honeybees—bees that would produce wonderful honey made from the surrounding field flowers. This idea has been in the back of my mind for a long time.

There are clubs for beekeepers dedicated to raising and protecting the honeybee in Southwest Virginia. Since the honeybee is essential to pollinate many crops, there are even grants for more serious entrepreneurs. Call the Virginia Cooperative Extension for more information, or stop by your farm supply store.

Meanwhile, here's something new and a little different to make at home. Mai Fun doesn't have to come in a box. I'm not a big fan of 'almost homemade' because it usually leads to an 'almost good' result, but for this recipe I did use some packaged products.

House Fried Mai Fun with Chicken and Vegetables

1 lb. Skinless chicken thighs

Asian Orange Ginger Stir Fry Sauce (I use La Choy) or other similar sauce of choice

1 quart Chicken Broth

2 cups small broccoli florets

1 cup small carrot sticks

6 oz. Mai Fun (thin rice noodles)

2 T vegetable oil

3 spring onions, including greens, chopped

1 small can sliced water chestnuts, drained

2 eggs

1 (¾ ounce) package Fried Rice Seasoning Mix or other similar seasoning mix (I use Sun-Bird)

Preheat oven to 350°.

Spray casserole dish with Pam.

Coat chicken thighs with Orange Ginger Sauce, place in casserole and bake until meat is tender, and coming away from bone, about 45 minutes. Remove from dish, and when cool enough to handle, remove meat from the bones and shred it. Return shredded meat to drippings left in casserole.

Add broth to sauce pan, bring it to a simmer, add broccoli and carrots and blanch, cooking for only a few minutes. Drain, setting vegetables aside, and save hot broth.

Soften noodles by covering them with the very hot broth. Allow them to stand for ten minutes. Drain noodles, saving one-fourth cup broth.

In large nonstick skillet add oil over medium-high heat. Add drained noodles and onions and stir fry for 2-3 minutes. Next, add seasoning mix and reserved one-fourth cup broth and stir to combine. Push noodles to the side and add eggs, cooking just until scrambled, then stir them into noodles.

Finally, add blanched vegetables, chicken and water chestnuts to noodles. Stir to combine and heat through.