Kitchen Tips, Side Dishes

Kitchen Tip—Asparagus

You know spring is right around the corner once your grocer’s produce aisle is filled with fresh asparagus. Asparagus is readily available from March–June every year. Since this is the time of year that asparagus is at its peak I thought I would give you some tips on how to select it, as well as some cooking methods to try. Next time you head down to your local market be sure to pick up some of this delicious vegetable.

Where does asparagus come from?
According to the California Asparagus Commission, California produces close to 70% of the United State’s asparagus supply. Together Washington and Michigan grow approximately 30% while small quantities are also grown in a few other states. Asparagus grows very quickly. On a warm California day, asparagus can grow as much as 7” in a day.

How to select good asparagus:
When picking out asparagus, look for long, blemish-free, bright green spears with closed, compact tips, and no flowering. Try to find bunches with similar sized spears. Spears of a similar size will cook at a more even rate. Select a size, which best suits your cooking method. Thicker spears are perfect for throwing on the barbie or roasting in the oven. Thinner spears are great when added to stir fry or an omelet. Tenderness relates to color, not size as one might think. You may find that thicker stalks can be woody, so peel the skin at the base to remove the outer layer.

How to store asparagus:
Keep fresh asparagus cool and moist until you intend to use it. Asparagus may be stored for a longer period of time by placing the bundled stalk upright in a dish with enough water to keep the stalks moist (about an inch). You can also wrap the cut ends in a wet paper towel, then cover the paper towel with plastic wrap and refrigerate. If the tips are slightly wilted, freshen them up by soaking them in ice water for 15 minutes before preparing.

Cooking Methods:
There are several ways to prepare asparagus steam, grill, sauté, you name it! You can even pickle asparagus and store it for several years. My favorite way to eat asparagus is to marinate it in Italian dressing and grilling it. Here are a few other recommended cooking methods

Note: Cooking times may vary. Thinner spears require less cooking time while thicker spears may take a little longer.

  • To boil, place whole trimmed asparagus in a large skillet with 1 1/2 inches of water. Bring to boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 3–5 minutes.
  • To steam, place asparagus on a steamer rack in a large saucepan over rapidly boiling water. Cover saucepan and steam for 6–8 minutes.
  • To microwave, arrange asparagus in a microwave safe dish. Cover dish with plastic wrap, turning back one corner to vent steam. Microwave on high for 3–6 minutes. Let stand 3–5 minutes.
  • To stir-fry, cut asparagus spears in to 2 inch diagonal slices, keeping tips whole. In a large skillet, heat 1 to 2 tbsp of vegetable oil. Add asparagus pieces and stir-fry for 5–7 minutes.
  • To grill, marinade extra large asparagus in Italian dressing for at least 30 minutes. Place directly on the grill turning several times and grill until brown and tender, about 8–10 minutes. I then like to toss the asparagus in the Italian dressing before serving to soak up some extra flavor.
  • To roast, toss extra large asparagus spears with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic. Preheat oven to 375º. Arrange on cooking sheet and place in pre-heated oven for 6–8 minutes.

Nutritional Info:
Asparagus is low in calories and sodium. It’s a great source of vitamins B6, A, C, E, and K, as well as calcium, magnesium and zinc, dietary fiber, protein, folic acid, iron, potassium, and much more.

What’s your favorite way to eat asparagus?

Kitchen Tips

Kitchen Tip—Party Time Saver

When I host a party I like to have as much done in advance as possible. This allows me extra time for visiting with my guests. I found this timesaver online and loved it.

A couple of weeks ago I hosted my son’s second birthday with over 25 people. That is a lot of ice cream to scoop while people are anxiously waiting for desert. To cut down on that wait I prepped my ice cream scoops in advance. The day before the party I removed the ice cream from the freezer and allowed it to soften for a few minutes before scooping. Working with softened ice cream made scooping a breeze and saved some wear and tear on my wrists. I lined my muffin pan with paper cups and scooped the ice cream directly into the cups getting perfectly formed scoops. I then put the entire muffin pan in the freezer so that the scooped ice cream could harden back up over night. With this time saver, serving desert at the party was such a breeze! This was not only convenient and easy, but it was also a nice presentation for a simple scoop of ice cream. Nowadays you can find muffin cups in so many colors or fun prints that you can really have fun with this and get something to match your color scheme or theme.

Kitchen Tips

Kitchen Tip—Measurement Conversion Chart

Sometimes when trying to double or triple a recipe all that math makes my head hurt. And who wants to measure out 12 teaspoons when you can just do 4 tablespoons or 1/4 cup instead? This handy measurement conversion chart is a must have for anyone that cooks. Yes, something like this is probably in one of your cookbooks, but do you really want get it down off that top shelf? Print this cheat sheet out and put it on your fridge or tape it inside one of your cabinet doors for a quick and easy reference. Hope this helps you out in the kitchen!

 

 

Kitchen Tips

Kitchen Tip—Olive Oil

Olive oil is something that I cook with on a daily basis. Yesterday I discovered that I don’t know nearly as much as I thought about this wonderful ingredient. Did you know that extra virgin olive oil is not the best type of olive oil to cook with? I thought I would share some of my findings with you.

Today olive oil is primarily produced in Spain, Italy, and Greece. Together these three countries produce more than 70 percent of the world’s olive oil supply. The flavor of the olive oil can vary dramatically depending on the source, the variety of olive, the soil conditions, weather, etc., just like wine. Olive oil is produced by grinding olives and extracting the oil by mechanical or chemical means.

Olive oil for consumption is broken down in to four categories, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), virgin olive oil, pure olive oil, and lite olive oil. You should have at least one bottle of each in your kitchen as they are all intended to be used very differently.

  • EVOO is the most flavorful and considered the finest. The word “virgin” indicates that the olives have been pressed to extract the oil; no heat or chemicals have been used during the extraction process. The flavor of EVOO is best when uncompromised by heat. It is intended to be used in salad dressings, marinades, or to finish off a dish. For example, drizzle it over your caprese salad, bruscetta, or pasta. Note: Look for bottles that say “cold press” on the label. If it’s not cold-pressed, the heat from the extraction process changes the chemistry and quality of the olive oil.
  • Virgin olive oil is perfect for garnishing and is great hot or cold. It’s essentially a low grade EVOO with a more mild flavor.
  • Pure olive oil is intended for your every day cooking. It has a mild flavor and is perfect for anything cooked over heat. It is actually a blended oil product of refined pomace oil and virgin olive oil. Pomace is produced by processing the leftovers of the virgin olive oil.
  • Lite olive oil is the least flavorful of the olive oils. It is not lower in fat as one might assume. It can withstand heat up to 470º and has a high smoke point. This makes it ideal for frying and baking as it can withstand high temperature cooking and the flavor is not compromised.

Regardless of the type of olive oil you use, be sure to find one with a green tint to it, not yellow. Good quality olive oils should appear green in color.

To delay spoilage of olive oil, be sure to store it in a cool dark place.

Use this chart to convert the quantity of butter called for in a recipe to the required quantity of olive oil for easy substitutions.

Conversion table