Asparagus Tarts for Spring and Early Summer

 

asparagus tart

 

Posting this recipe feels kind of, sort of, almost like cheating. It’s a variation on the savory tart/quiche recipe I’ve been using all the time since this past fall. With the late spring in the Midwest this year, there’s still a lot of asparagus around, and I’d have a hard time thinking of anything easier and more satisfying to do with it than this. I made the tart shown here with about a pound of asparagus, and some fresh thyme. A week or so later, I made another one for a new friend who’s eating gluten free, without the crust, with slightly less asparagus, and adding some leftover potatoes and onions. This really is one of those recipes (my favorite kind) that encourage experimentation and new flavor combinations.

 

Asparagus Tart Variations

 

Refer to the original recipe for the cornmeal crust, if making a crust, and more filling ideas.

For the asparagus, either broil it lightly first for more smoky flavor, or simply wash, and chop it into approximately equal diagonal segments, discarding any tough or dried out ends.

Optional: prepare potatoes as for the potato and green chile tart, or use any other leftover cooked potatoes you happen to have around.

 

For the Filling:

4 eggs

A generous splash heavy cream or milk

A few Tablespoons grated cheese (I like a hard cheese such as Parmesan)

Fresh ground pepper

(Salt is optional, depending on your taste, and saltiness of cheese)

Fresh thyme or other fresh herbs to taste (Tip: if the stems are sturdy enough, you can get most of the thyme leaves off by grabbing the stem near the top and running the fingers of the other hand down the stem from top to bottom.)

Feel free to add an extra egg, and a little more of the other ingredients, if it seems like there’s not enough filling for the veggies you have.

If not using a crust, make sure to grease your pan thoroughly.

Mix the cut asparagus (and potatoes) in with the filling, and pour into the pan/crust. For the second variation, I sprinkled the top with minced garlic and more Parmesan, which puffed and browned as the tart cooked for a tasty crispy top.

Bake at 375° F for about 40 minutes, turning once, until the tart is golden on top, puffed up, and just moist inside when tested with a knife.

 

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How to Make French Toast—and Happy New Year

With variations, tips and tricks to customize your own perfect French toast recipe.

 

french toast in skillet

 

It took me long enough, right?  (Can you believe it’s been almost two years?  Yeah, me neither.)  For a blog with this name, which features recipes, the lack of actual directions for making French toast was getting a little ridiculous.  Here’s the thing, I didn’t want to post just a recipe for French toast, that seemed silly, everyone already knows how to make French toast, right?  Instead I would put together some marvelous, unheard-of combination of toppings and put that in a post, with the actual French toast just included almost as a by-the-way, here’s how I make it.

I started off yesterday morning with just such a plan, to make a seasonal orange-based sauce.  I wasn’t going to tell you this next part, but it now seems important: it did not go well.  In fact, it reminded me specifically of the part of the year just passed that I would very much NOT like to repeat in the year to come: me trying very hard for a goal which I (perhaps) have somehow misjudged in one or more ways, expending a lot of time and energy but not quite getting where I’d like to go.

I like to think I’m not superstitious, but at first, this seemed like the most inauspicious possible sign for January 1.  Then, as it rolled around in my brain a little more, I started to think that maybe the failed orange sauce (it came out ok after all) was a cautionary tale, and if I took it the right way, I could use it to steer away from the process I don’t want, and towards the one I do.

 

french toast on plate

 

I started thinking; maybe just French toast is enough.  Of course not everyone already knows how to make it.  Especially since I have some tips and ideas to get you started with your own never-before-seen, awesome variations.  After all, this space is supposed to be about empowering you to make things, and not about me showing off, even though I love sharing the things I make here.

In 2014, I’d like to be more grounded, less hectic.  I still have a million dreams of every kind, so many things that I’d love to do.  But my journey towards them might not be about reaching as far as I possibly can in one grasp, or frantically trying to fit as much as I possibly can into every single day.  Maybe it will be more about doing one little bit at a time, and even about recognizing and sharing the good bits I already have right in front of me.

Happy New Year, friends!  May it be a good one for all.

 

How to Make French Toast

 

First, and most importantly, you need bread.  You can use any kind, and it’s not just a metaphor, or part of the 6 words I chose to describe my life, it really is the best possible use for bread that’s staler than you’d like to eat it.  Brioche, or banana bread, or any other thing that’s called a “bread” and maybe borders on dessert, will make amazing, Ann-Sather-worthy French toast.  I’ve used my homemade bread for our most recent versions.  As always, a quality bread (or any ingredient) will lend even more layers of subtle delicious flavor to the toast (or any finished dish), but it also may be a tastier use for a less-than-stellar bread than eating it alone.  How much batter the bread will soak up varies wildly depending on the type of bread and how dry it is, etc.

Next, you need some egg and stuff to soak the toast in.  I like it to be mainly egg, because I do not like the inside of the bread to be soggy when it’s done.  I like to whisk up the egg etc. in a glass dish with a flat bottom rather than in a bowl, so I can put a few pieces of bread in to soak at a time, and not be left with a little well of liquid at the bottom that the bread can’t reach.  For about 6 pieces of bread (again, this varies a LOT depending on your bread, but you can always add a little more to the pan) I use:

3 eggs, whisked up well with:

1/4 cup milk (it’s Ok to substitute non-dairy milk here)

A pinch of salt

A larger pinch of sugar

Next, add some flavorings to the egg mixture—whatever your heart desires.  A generous sprinkle of cinnamon, a pinch of ginger and a pinch of cloves is a good way to start, especially in winter.  A splash of liqueur is good—for an especially luxurious version, substitute a generous splash of cream for the milk, and add the lost liquid back in by way of brandy or rum etc.  Vanilla extract is good (but probably choose it or liqueur), or try another extract, maybe paired with a spice or two, for a unique flavor.  I especially like to compliment whatever I’m planning to put on top with a bit of something in the batter, but keep it fairly subtle.

french toast soakingSoak the toast in the batter for a few minutes, then flip the slices over, and let them soak for another couple minutes.

To cook the toast, heat up a heavy skillet over medium heat and melt some butter in it, maybe 1/2 Tablespoon butter for four slices (in my little skillet I used less).  The toast should sizzle when it hits the pan, and the egg batter should start to set up right away.  It only takes a few minutes to get lovely brown spots on the bottom side, at which point flip the toast over.  You may need to add a little more butter between batches.

If not all of the toast is done at once, you can keep it warm on plates in the oven at 200° F, until you’re ready to serve it.

For toppings, really, the sky is the limit.  It’s—ahem—delicious with just real maple syrup and homemade crème fraîche.  A little orange zest (or even iffy orange sauce) is really good with this basic setup.  Practically any fresh seasonal fruit is amazing on French toast, strawberries in spring are particularly wonderful.  Any jam you have is good.  Coarsely chopped toasted nuts are great (bread with nuts in it would also be great as base).  Melted butter, fruit syrup, whipped cream . . .

Some of my favorite flavor combinations may yet appear as time goes on.  Please share yours as well!

 

Two Everyday Recipes -or- Revenge of the Quiche

 

leek potato green chile tart

 

So this last week I found myself feeling swamped, just completely underwater on things to do.  I’m not sure how it happened, but suddenly not only was there not enough time for all the things I’d like to do (never is), there wasn’t enough for all the things I needed to do.

I’ve been feeling a milder version of this all fall, like I’ve got a lot to do, and while I still want to eat a homemade dinner every night, I don’t necessarily want to make one up from scratch every night.  Much less do I want to make something separate for lunch!  Woe to those who might ask me what’s to eat when I’m feeling overwhelmed . . .

I’ve been making a lot of these (and a lot of soups, too), things that last well beyond the initial meal and are pretty much ready to go subsequently.  I’m calling them tarts, like the savory French tarts.  I kind of wore out my own use and conception of the word quiche in the first year I ever joined a CSA.  That time, Bryan and I split a share with my parents, and my dad and I, who were the main cooks of the project, fell back on quiche again and again as a way to use up all the greens we got.  After that (and discovering more uses for the green stuff), I didn’t make it much.  At all.  For years.

It’s baaaack … and better than before!  I’ve been making a crust with a little cornmeal in it, and a variety of interesting new fillings.  My two current favorites (recipes below) are: leek and potato with green chile, and sweet potato with greens.

 

Savory Tart Crust with Cornmeal

Note: if you are going gluten free, or just happen to run out of flour, it’s easy to make these recipes crustless.  Just grease your pie pan well, and skip to the fillings.

If you’re making a crust, make it first, so that it has plenty of time to chill.

Mix in a small bowl:

1 cup flour (white, whole wheat, or a mixture, your choice)

1/4 cup corn meal (blue is my favorite)

1/2 teaspoon salt

Using your fingers or a pastry blender, cut in 5 Tablespoons butter until the biggest chunks are pea-sized.  Mix in very cold water just a little bit at a time, until the dough holds together, and then put the dough in the refrigerator.

 

Potato, Leek and Green Chile

Cut off the tops/dark green parts of 2-3 medium-sized leeks.  (Did you know you can use those tops instead of onions for soup stock?  I’ve been doing it all the time lately.)  Slice the leeks in half, rinse out dirt, and chop into fairly thin slices.  Melt 1 Tablespoon butter over med/low heat, add the leeks and a generous splash of white wine or sherry (or water, but I recommend the wine).  Continue cooking, covered, on low, adding more wine if necessary to keep moist, until the leeks are translucent and slightly gooey.  (I got this idea from a recipe for leek confit on Bon Appétit, and it’s been a go-to for leeks since.)

Set the oven to 425° F.  Slice 2 small/medium potatoes fairly thin, skin on (scrub them first).  Place them on a cookie sheet and drizzle with a little olive oil, and salt if desired.   Toss to coat and roast for about 10 minutes, until browned on one side, turn the slices over and roast another 5 minutes or so, until both sides have golden brown spots.  Set aside.

Chop 1-2 roasted green chiles (depending on heat).  (Aren’t you glad you froze some?)

 

sweet potato greens tart

 

Sweet Potato and Greens

I used kale for this, use 1 bunch of whatever greens you need to get rid of.  Slice or pull the leaves from the ribs, and steam them in a steamer basket over simmering water until bright green and wilted.  Chop or pulse in the food processor depending on how fine you want them chopped.

Roast sweet potatoes the same way as the potatoes above.

 

Egg Filling & Assembly

Lower the oven temp to 375° F

For either version (or your own creation) get out the crust, and roll it into a rough circle.  It doesn’t need to be too thin, the recipe makes plenty.   I use a 9″ pie pan.  Set the crust in your pan and press it into shape.  If necessary adjust the sides by pulling off overhanging pieces and sticking them in gaps.

Beat together (you can use the pie crust bowl):

4 eggs
Update: I’m not sure how or why, but when I first started making these I thought 4 eggs was plenty … now I don’t, and I almost always use 5. If you find that you’ve made more filling than you intended and it doesn’t seem like there’s enough egg in the mixture, you can even use 6. The whole thing will be thicker and may take a little longer to cook, but it’s up to you!

A generous splash heavy cream

A few Tablespoons grated cheese (seriously, any cheese you have on hand and like is good.)

Fresh ground pepper

(Salt is optional, depending on taste and saltiness of cheese)

 

Pour a bit of the egg mixture into the bottom of the crust (or the pan if you are going no-crust).  Add your vegetables.  If you are using potatoes I highly recommend putting them on top, so they get nice and browned.  Bake for about 40 minutes, turning once, until the tart is golden on top, puffed up, and just moist inside when tested with a knife.

 

One of these makes a good part of a dinner, plus a few more lunches/brunches for me and Bryan—hooray!  It might be a good option to stave off the hungry hoards while you work on Thanksgiving dinner, or a good make-ahead family breakfast for a special day.  Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving all you Americans!