Monday, April 30, 2012

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Pie

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It has taken me a long time to like rhubarb and thanks to this recipe I now love it.  Why it has taken me this long problably has to do with the fact that somewhere along the line I must have tasted a very bitter rhubarb pie and promptly detested it.  That has been my impression of rhubarb all my life...bitter.  Now that I have had it paired with strawberries and a crumbly top my opinion has radically changed.  What a combo!

Strawberry rhubarb pie has always been the domain of my mother in law who made pies like no one else in the world.  (As a matter of fact, I think it was her pie that I didn't like) When my daughter mentioned a yen for it,  my initial reaction was...nah, nah, not me.  But then I thought about it and decided to give it a go, my way.

Rather than make a pie where the competition would be really stiff, I thought first of a crisp, then a crumble and finally, as a compromise, a crumb pie.  The extra sweetness of a crumble on top might make it less bitter and more palatable to the baker, me.  Next was getting the rhubarb and that was no easy task.  Let's face it, rhubarb is not exactly at the top of everyone's list.  It wasn't on mine.  Not many grocery stores carry it for that reason and you might have better luck finding it at a local farm stand or a place like Whole Foods.  Eventually, after exhausting all possibilities within a 20 mile radius, I had to settle on frozen.   On the other hand, the fresh strawberries I purchased were luscious and certainly made up for all the driving around.  By the time I got home, I too was yearning for a strawberry rhubarb pie.

This recipe is a combination of Ina Garten's and Emeril's crisp with the idea of a bottom crust from the Sous Chef.  Hope you like it.

Serves 6 to 8

1 prebaked ready made crust (I use Mrs. Smith)

4 cups fresh rhubarb, 1-inch diced (4 to 5 stalks) or use frozen

4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and halved, if large

1 to 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar depending on how sweet you want it.

An additional 1/4 cup sugar for the crumble

1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest (optional, I omitted)

2 tablespoon cornstarch (use 3 if rhubarb is frozen)

1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup light brown sugar

Pinch salt

Vanilla ice cream, for serving


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.Prebake the ready made crust for 10 minutes according to directions .  Let cool.

For the fruit, toss the rhubarb, strawberries, 1 cup of the granulated sugar and the orange zest together in a large bowl. In a measuring cup, dissolve the cornstarch in the orange juice and then mix it into the fruit. Pour the mixture into a prebaked crust..


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F

In a mixing bowl, combine 10 tablespoons of butter, flour, remaining 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, the brown sugar and salt and cut together until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit making sure it comes all the way to the edges.



Bake until the topping is golden brown and crispy and fruit is bubbly in places, about  50 to 60 minutes.  If the topping is brown before the fruit bubbles, cover the pie loosely with tin foil and continue cooking.



Cool for at least an hour and serve warm, with a dollop of whipped cream, ice cream, or creme fraiche, if desired.



If truth be told, it was better cold the next day!


I am having problems with Blogger and the fonts.  Please excuse

All Photos Lindaraxa 


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Garden Blooms...Peonies

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It seems that everyhere you look these days, from blogs to decorating magazines, you find photographs of pink peonies .  Well Lindaraxa is not to be left behind.  She has waited years to get some back in her garden and it was the first thing she planted in the new house.

About a month ago we purchased two plants of the well known and perhaps most popular variety, Sarah Bernhart, and a whole bunch of bulbs of various colors from which I expect nothing this year.  Although I know it's best to plant peonies in the Fall, I decided to chance it with a few plants.  Come September though, I will look around for some interesting varieties to plant, especially the varigated ones.

The big decision when you have only two plants and just a few blooms is whether you want to enjoy them in the garden or inside the house.    To me, that was a no brainer.  Guess which one won?

Now my favorite flower sits next to my father in his blue navy suit when he was a young boy.  I wish you could see the shoes....

There's only one thing wrong with peonies...they don't last long enough.  But I guess so much beauty is hard to keep up for more than a couple of weeks!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

An Evening At The Waldorf

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I was looking for a recipe in the old Gourmet magazine website when I came across this article.  It was so sweet and so typical of the times that I thought I would share it with you in lieu of what I planned to post this weekend.  I have my own story of the Waldorf, circa 1965 at the Debutant Cotillion and Christmas Ball but I will save that for another time. In the meantime, grab a cup of coffee, put your feet up and enjoy!

Originally Published in Gourmet Magazine in December 1978

This delightful, timeless account of young love and an old hotel inspired more responses from our readers than anything else ever printed in the magazine.

This is a true story about a young couple in love and the most glamorous hotel in the world. We are telling the story together because it is so indelibly a part of both of our lives that we didn’t think either of us could tell it alone.

One rainy October evening, thirty years ago, I sat in my room at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, staring at a navigation lesson and thinking of Jean. I had met her the previous August in Chicago, just before my summer leave expired, and I had fallen in love with her. Three days later I was back in Annapolis, surrounded by rules and regulations, while she was a thousand miles away, surrounded by eligible bachelors. Things looked bleak indeed.

There was one bright spot on the horizon. Jean had promised to come east to Philadelphia for the Army-Navy football game in November. We had been invited to spend the weekend as houseguests of my uncle and aunt in New York. If there was going to be any hope at all for me, that weekend was going to have to be one that she would never forget. I shoved my books aside and wrote the following letter:

Room 5455 Bancroft Hall
U.S. Naval Academy
Annapolis, Maryland

15 October 1948

The Manager
The Waldorf-Astoria
New York City, New York

Dear Sir,

On Saturday afternoon, November 27th, I expect to pick my way across the prostrate bodies of the West Point football team to a seat in Memorial Stadium where a girl will be waiting—a very special girl who I hope will some day follow me from port to port on the “Far China Station.” We will hie away by taxi to the railroad station where we will entrain for New York. Once there we will again take a taxi, this time to your hotel—and that, dear sir, is where you and The Waldorf-Astoria come in.

I am very much in love with this young lady, but she has not yet admitted to an equivalent love for me. Trapped as I am in this military monastery, the chances I have to press my suit are rare indeed. Therefore this evening must be the most marvelous of all possible evenings, for I intend to ask her to be my wife.

I would like a perfect table—neither too close to nor too far from the orchestra. There should be candlelight, gleaming silver, and snowy linen. There should be wine and a dinner that will be the culmination of the chef’s career. Then, at precisely midnight, I would like the orchestra to play “Navy Blue and Gold” very softly, and I intend to propose.

I would appreciate it very much if you could confirm this plan and also tell me approximately what the bill will be. I am admittedly not getting rich on thirteen dollars a months, but I have put a little aside. So please give me your estimate of the cost—and I’ll bet it will be plenty!

Very truly yours,

E. S. Ince
Midshipman, U.S.N.

I sealed the envelope and, before I could lose my nerve, stuffed it into the mailbox. The minute it was gone I regretted having sent it. It seemed to me that it was callow and smart-alecky and, above all, presumptuous. The manager of the most famous hotel in the world was certainly not going to be interested in the love life of an obscure midshipman. The letter would be thrown into the wastebasket, where it belonged.

An old postcard from the Waldorf

One week went by and then another. I forgot about the letter and tried frantically to think of some other way that I could convince Jean in thirty-six hours that she should spend the rest of her life with me. Then one morning I found on my desk an envelope upon which was engraved “The Waldorf-Astoria.” I almost tore it to shreds in my eagerness to open it, and read:

Dear Midshipman Ince:

Your very nice letter has been receiving some attention from our staff here. Just for fun I am going to attach the reply from our Mâitre d’, the famous Rene Black.

Frankly, unless you have private resources, I think it is entirely unnecessary to spend so much money. I would be happy to make a reservation for you in the Wedgwood Room and will see to it that you have a very nice table, the best of attention, flowers—and you and your girl order directly from the menu whatever intrigues you. You certainly can have a couple of cocktails and very nice dinners and a bottle of champagne for one third of what Rene Black suggests. However you are the only one who can make the decision so let me know how you would like to have us arrange your little party.

Best wishes,

Cordially yours,

Henry B. Williams

P.S. I think your delightful letter inspired our Mr. Black!

Needless to say, I hastily unfolded the piece of yellow paper on which Rene Black had typed his reply. Here is what it said:

When Lucullus dined with Lucullus, his gastronomic accoutrements were planned as you now do, every detail in presentation of the festivity. Times and manners have changed but little the unobtrusive elegance and distinctive “savoir faire” of amphytrionic distinction—to include Hors d’oeuvre deluxe; the Potage generally omitted by ladies (and not to be forced on her); the traditional fish course to be presented as an entr’acte of surprise; the resistance of the menu to show the bird being caught in the nest (which will help your philology in carrying the battle of the nuptials), or as we say in French “la poulanie,” and like Talleyrand, will highly praise the artisan of the casserole as having been the Cagliostro of your machinations.

The price of this manoeuvre, including wines, gratuities, flowers, and everything named, will be in the vicinity of one hundred dollars, with which we hope your little cache is fortified for complete victory. Following is a description of your menu—

Black pearls of the Sturgeon from the Caspian Sea, stuffed into the claws of lobsters, and eulogising the God of the Oceans.

The Filet of Pompano known as the Demoiselle of the Atlantic, placed in a paper bag with the nomenclature “Greetings from the Poseidon.”

The Breast of Chicken served in a little nest to represent the safety of the ketch, with its escort of vegetables and green salad.

An excellent dessert bearing the nomenclature “Ritorna vincitor” from Aïda, and little galettes. A sweet liqueur to seal the anticipation.

Wines in small quantities but of choice bracket, of lip-smacking delectability. Pink Champagne. Flowers. Candles, music, etc. All this will blossom with those hundred dollars that you were so provident to save.

Gen Eisenhower with son and daughter in law, Wedgewood Room 1945

I was thunderstruck with excitement and full of gratitude to the two busy men who had taken time to write, but I was also dismayed. I didn’t have even close to one hundred dollars saved. With my November paycheck included, I would have a grand total of sixty-six dollars and twenty-five cents when I met Jean after the game, and there were train fares and other expenses to consider. Regretfully I wrote Mr. Williams that he had made a much closer estimate of my resources than had Mr. Black, and I would appreciate it if he would reserve a table for me.

I heard nothing further from The Waldorf. The days went by with no confirmation of my reservation—nothing. I was sure that my letter had never reached Mr. Williams, or that the whole thing had been taken as a joke. Finally it was the weekend of November 27th. The Brigade of Midshipmen went to Philadelphia and watched their inspired team hold highly favored Army to a 21-21 tie in one of the most thrilling football games ever played. After the game I rushed to meet Jean, and she was just as pretty and wonderful as I had remembered her.

The entrance on Park Avenue in the 40's

On the train to New York I blurted out the whole story and showed Jean the letters from Mr. Black and Mr. Williams. I told her that I wasn’t sure that we had a reservation at all, and I questioned whether we should even go to The Waldorf. We decided that we should, and that, even if we didn’t have a reservation, we would at least see the famous hotel. So we got into a taxi at Pennsylvania Station, and I said the enchanted words, “Waldorf-Astoria,” trying to sound as though I said them every day. In minutes we were at the door.

The lobby

We walked into the lobby. To the right, at the top of a short flight of steps, was the Wedgwood Room. There was a velvet rope at the bottom of the steps, and another at the top, with a majordomo posted at both places. A crowd of fashionably dressed couples was patiently waiting for admittance. They all looked fabulously rich. Jean and I were wide-eyed as we stared at the magnificence of the lobby. I looked at her, and she looked at me. Finally I gulped, “Here goes,” and went fearfully up to the majordomo at the foot of the stairs. I felt like Oliver Twist when I said, “Sir, I am Midshipman Ince, and I wonder if you by any chance might happen to have a reservation for me.”

Like magic he swept away the rope! “Indeed we do,” he said , and suddenly we saw the headwaiter at the top of the steps smiling and saying, “Midshipman Ince?” “Yes, sir,” I managed. “Right this way,” he said, and snapped his fingers. A captain popped up out of nowhere like a genie from a lamp and led us across the room toward a beautiful table. Two waiters were leaning over it, lighting tall white candles.…

Walking ahead of Bud, I looked in amazement at the table. Centered between the candles in a low white vase were flowers—white stephanotis and pink sweetheart roses. When the red-coated waiter seated me I found a box at my place. Tucked under its ribbon was a card that read, “With the compliments of The Waldorf-Astoria.” Catching my breath, I opened it and found a corsage of white baby orchids. A menu, unlike any I had ever seen, lay on the table in front of the centerpiece.

The Wedgwood Room, Waldorf Astoria

The menu was hand-painted in water-color. A gray Navy ship steamed toward the upper right-hand corner, and high-lighted on the left was a sketch of a girl’s head with blue lovebirds in her hair. Printed with a flair in French, it read:


Le Fruit Ninon

La Volaille Bergerac

Légumes Testida

La Salade Pigier

La Friande Agrippina

Mayan en Tasse

Wedgwood Room Nov. 27, 1948

At the very moment when our excitement over the flowers, the table, and the menu had subsided to a point admitting of intrusion, our waiter said to Bud, “I have just one question to ask you.”

(I was sure he was going to ask if me I could pay for all of this!)

“Would you like a cocktail?”

We agreed that we would like a Manhattan and that was indeed the only question we were asked all evening.

Waiter in the Pecock Alley

The dinner began. Silver sparkled and crystal glistened in the candlelight. Eddie Duchin and his orchestra played in the background. Service was constant, attentive, and unobtrusive. We never felt a waiter near us. Everything simply happened as if by sorcery. Wines we had never tasted, “in small quantities but of choice bracket, of lip-smacking delectability,” appeared with each course. The

Fruit Ninon was splendid. La Volaille Bergerac was sealed in parchment, which the waiter slit to release its steaming aroma. The Légumes Testida never dreamed that under other circumstances one could think them beans. The Salade was perfection. Everything was perfection. Each course was more lovely than the one that came before it, and every taste and flavor would have thrilled the most meticulous epicure.

About halfway through our dinner a distinguished gentleman with silvery-gray hair and a large Gallic nose approached our table with a smile and said, “I am Rene Black, I just came over to make sure that you were not angry with me.” Bud leaped to his feet, and I beamed as we poured out our thanks to the man who had planned this evening. He drew up a chair and sat down and talked, delighting us with anecdotes of his continuing love affair with his wife, the origin of omelets, and a wonderful tale of a dinner party he gave his regiment in France during World War I. When we asked him if he had painted the menu he smiled, turned it over, and quickly sketched the head of a chef with his pen. Under it he wrote,

“Si l’amour ne demande que des baisers à quoi bon la gloire de cuisiner?“ (If love requires only kisses, what is the use of the fame of the cook?)

Waldorf's Head Chef with Rene Black, Maitre d' 1945

After Mr. Black left our table, I looked at Bud. I had made plans to come to see the Army-Navy game and to spend the weekend with him, and the plans had been exciting. I had finished college and was trying my wings as a “career girl,” but as I fell asleep on the Pullman on the way to Philadelphia, I wondered how I would feel about the dashing midshipman I had met so briefly last summer.

Here we were in The Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York. I had seen it from the street before and had listened to conversation about Peacock Alley and the Starlight Roof, but now we were really there! We had just talked with the famous Rene Black; we had been served a dinner to delight royalty and were sipping wine together. How wonderful. How wonderful. How wonderful!

A photographer came up to us and said, “Mr. Black has asked me to take your photograph with the compliments of The Waldorf.” The flash caught us, raising our glasses to each other, in perhaps the happiest instant ever recorded on film.

A few moments later Eddie Duchin left his bandstand and came to our table. The already legendary orchestra leader was warm and friendly as he talked about the great game Navy had played that afternoon. “I was cheering too,” he said, and went on to tell us about his own service in the Navy during World War II. When Jean’s attention was distracted for a moment, Mr. Duchin leaned over to me and whispered, “‘Navy Blue and Gold’ at midnight. Good luck!” He rose, grinning, and walked back to his piano.

He had hardly left when there was a stir and a buzz of conversation on the other side of the room. Jean and I looked for the source of the excitement, and then we saw it! Our dessert, La Friande Agrippina, carried triumphantly aloft across the dining room in a rainbow of colored spotlights. Great clouds of vapor billowed from silver cups filled with dry ice at each corner of the silver serving dish. In the center was a nest of ice cream within which rested two meringue lovebirds.

We had finished the delicious confection and were sipping a liqueur when the waiter told me that there was a telephone call for me in the lobby. I excused myself and followed him, wondering who in the world could be calling me, only to find the headwaiter waiting just outside the door. He handed me the bill and said, “We thought you might prefer not to have this brought to your table.” I turned the slip of paper over fearfully and looked at the total. It was thirty-three dollars—exactly one third of Mr. Black’s one hundred, and exactly what I had written Mr. Williams I could afford. It was clear to me that this amount couldn’t even begin to cover the cost of the evening to The Waldorf, and equally clear that the reason the bill was presented with such exquisite finesse was to save me embarrassment had I not had thirty-three dollars. I looked at the headwaiter in amazement and gratitude, and he smiled and said, “Everyone on the staff hopes that all goes well for you.”

Bud came back to the table gleaming, and, in answer to my curiosity about the telephone call, said, “It was nothing important. Shall we dance?” I felt his hand on my arm, guiding me gently to the floor.

Other couples danced about us chatting, and it seemed to me, smiling on us as they glided past. I saw only Bud. We were living a fairy-tale evening, and it was all real. Bud was real, the midshipman who had charmed me during the two evenings we had spent together last August and who had existed since only through letters. I had spun dreams about him during those three months of paper and ink, and now I looked into his face as we danced. “I’m in love!” I thought, “How wonderful. I’m in love.”

At five minutes till midnight we were sitting at our table in a glow of happiness. Suddenly the wine steward appeared at my side with a small bottle of chilled Champagne. He opened it with a subdued “pop” and filled two crystal goblets with the sparkling golden wine. I raised my glass to Jean, and at that moment the orchestra drummer ruffled his drums softly, as if in a command for silence. Eddie Duchin turned toward us, smiled, and bowed. He raised his hand and brought it down, and suddenly we heard the melody of that most beautiful and sentimental of all college alma maters. “…For sailormen in battle fair since fighting days of old have proved the sailor’s right to wear the Navy Blue and Gold.” It was the magic moment to which every other moment of the evening had led. I looked at Jean, my wonderful Jean, and with a lump in my throat said, “Will you marry me?”

Bud and I were married the following June. Now, thirty years later, with our five children grown and establishing their own lives and the Midshipman a Rear Admiral, we sometimes turn the pages of the lovely wedding gift we received from Mr. Williams—a handsomely bound limited edition of the history of The Waldorf-Astoria. In it one can read about the princes and potentates, presidents and kings, who have been guests of that glamorous hotel. But there is one evening that is not included there—an evening in which kind, warmhearted, gently romantic men opened a door of happiness for a young couple in love. That evening is ours, and its testimony is Mr. Black’s wedding gift. Framed and displayed in a place of honor on our dining room wall, it is a water color sketch of a little chef tending his spit in an ancient kitchen. Printed in his familiar hand across the top he has repeated the words

Si l’amour

ne demande que des baisers

à quoi bon

la gloire de cuisinier

Postscript: In 1998, on the occasion of their fiftieth wedding anniversary, Jean and Bud Ince returned to New York City. They invited former editor-in-chief Gail Zweigenthal to join them at The Waldorf, where together they raised a glass to the famous hotel, to the magazine that enabled them to share their story with so many, and to the magic of lasting love.

Now, wasn't that better than a recipe???!

All photos Time Life via Google

Sunday, April 15, 2012

How To Make The Perfect White Rice

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My daughter laughed when I told her my first recipe in this blog was going to be for white rice..then a long silence. That was 3 years ago, almost to the day, and I still haven't published that post. Today, after three long years and almost 600 recipes I am going to do so.

It took me years to come up with the perfect method for cooking rice seeing that I always cooked it the way my mother does, and although she's a fabulous cook, she's a terrible rice maker.  Making good white rice is not as easy as it seems.  It is an art and the mark of a good Latin cook.  Believe me, I have had my share of bad ones and very seldom have I experienced the real thing.  The quality of the rice, the amount of water and the pot used to cook the rice are the most important equations in achieving perfection. And no, a rice maker won't do the trick, it will just make you a good amateur rice maker.

Unlike Chinese or Japanese white rice, boiled white rice as eaten in the Americas, Europe and the Middle East should not be sticky.  Asian rice is sticky for a that you can easily pick it up with chopsticks!  The only time I increase the water to twice the amount of rice and cook it covered until done is when I make it to accompany Chinese food.  For all others I use the quantities and method a specified below.

To begin with,  I never use Uncle Ben's rice. When we first came to this country in the 60's that is all we could find in the grocery stores.  Then I moved to Miami in the mid 90's and discovered Mahatma, which is what most Latin cooks have been using for years.  Luckily, you can find it in any grocery store nowadays.

Second, I use less water than usual, and third but most important, I cook it uncovered for the first few minutes until the water is almost all absorbed and then cover and continue cooking in low heat until the rice is done. A Colombian cook showed me this method and she used to make the best rice I have ever tasted.

As to the right pot, there is only one.  A caldero is a cast iron cooking pot, similar to a Dutch oven, with a tight-fitting lid. It is used to cook rice, braise meat, and simmer stews and soups.  It is indispensable not only in the making of rice but for anyone interested in making good Latin food.  If you live in Miami, you can find them everywhere including Publix supermarkets.  You can also order them online through Amazon here, but do not order the set of 3, they are not made of cast iron aluminum.. 

18 centimeter cast aluminum caldero by Imusa

Calderos are a wonderful and inexpensive alternative to Le Cresuet braisers and if you need to put them in the oven just cover the plastic black button on top of the lid with aluminum foil.  It works! The 18 centimeter size is the one I use most often.  It is perfect for 1 to 1/2 cups of rice.

Latin cooks will have as many as four Calderos in varying sizes and prefer those made of cast aluminum because it gets seasoned with use. A seasoned Caldero is as personal to a Latin cook as a baseball mitt is to a ball player or a wok to a Chinese cook. Most use their caldero daily.

Oh, and one last thing, do not wash the rice before cooking!

Here are the measurements for 1 cup of rice which serves 3-4 people.

1 1/2 C of water
1 tsp. canola or other neutral oil or butter (i use the latter)
1/2 tsp salt
1 C Mahatma Rice

In a saucepan with a covered lid or caldero bring the water, salt and butter to a boil.  Add rice, stir with a fork to ensure rice is level  and covered in water and lower temperature to low.  Cook uncovered until half the water is absorbed .

 Then cover and continue cooking until all the water is absorbed.*  DO NOT TOUCH THE RICE.  If you see that the rice is not fully cooked when the water is almost all absorbed, add a little more water, cover and continue cooking. 

Once rice is done, lift cover, fluff with a FORK and remove from the stove.   Let all the steam come out. You can place the cover back after a couple of minutes to keep warm.  Rice should be served immediately after it's done.


*Some cooks place a folded paper towel between the rice and the lid in the last minutes of cooking. This helps to absorb extra moisture

Photo #1 Getty
All others Lindaraxa

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Beef and Asparagus Stir Fry

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This post should really be titled "cleaning the refrigerator",  for that is exactly what I did.  With food prices the way they are today, you can't afford to throw anything out so take a look and plan your meals around what needs to be used up, particularly after a holiday  The flip side of this coin is you will surprise yourself at the results.

A stir fry takes no time to prepare and is perfect for a midweek repast.  There are all kinds of substitutions you can make for the asparagus, like broccoli or snap peas.  Just use what you have or what's in season. If you want it hotter, just add more red pepper flakes.     

Serves 4

  • 1 1/2 lb. skirt steak, cut into thin strips
  • 3 Tb cornstarch. 
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 Tbs. dry sherry
  • 1 tsp. chili oil
  • 1/4 cup peanut oil
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 lb. slender asparagus, trimmed and cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • Steamed rice for serving


Cook the beef and vegetables

In a bowl mix the beef strips with the cornstarch.  Add salt and pepper.  Let it rest for 10 minutes.

In another small bowl, stir together the hoisin sauce, sherry, and chili oil. Set aside.

In a wok or large fry pan over high heat, warm the peanut oil. Working in batches, if needed to avoid crowding, add the beef and cook, turning once or twice, until lightly seared, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate.

Add the onion and asparagus to the pan and cook until tender-crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and stir-fry for 15 seconds.

Finish the dish

Return the meat and any juices from the plate to the pan, add the hoisin mixture and stir well. Simmer briefly until heated through.

Divide the rice among shallow bowls, top with beef and asparagus, and serve immediately.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Asparagus And Fontina Sformatto

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The word sformato comes from the Italian verb sformare, meaning “to unmold.” A sformato is a soft, usually savory, custard that is baked in a mold (or individual molds as here), turned out onto a serving plate and served warm. Besciamella (bechamel sauce) often serves as the base to which vegetables, meat or cheese are added. This cheese and asparagus version can serve as a side dish or the main dish of a luncheon. Buttering the ramekins and lining the bottom with parchment paper assures that the custards will unmold easily. 

Serves 6 


  • Unsalted butter for ramekins, plus 2 Tbs.
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup grated fontina cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 bunch thick asparagus spears, about 1 lb. total, tough ends removed
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted


Preheat an oven to 350°F. Butter six 3/4-cup ramekins and line the bottom of each with parchment paper cut to fit. Butter the paper. Line a shallow baking pan with a kitchen towel.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk just until small bubbles appear along the edges of the pan, then remove from the heat.

In another saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the 2 Tbs. butter. Using a wooden spoon, stir the flour into the butter to make a roux. Cook the roux, stirring constantly, until it bubbles gently, about 2 minutes. Slowly pour in the hot milk, whisking constantly until the sauce is smooth. Bring the sauce to a simmer and stir constantly until it thickens, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese until it melts. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap placed directly on the surface of the sauce to prevent a skin from forming and set aside to cool slightly.

In a large fry pan over medium-high heat, bring about 2 inches of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook until tender, about 6 minutes. Using tongs, carefully transfer the asparagus to a large strainer. Run cold water over the stalks and drain. Lay the asparagus on a paper towel-lined plate. Cut off the bottom two-thirds of the stalks, leaving 3-inch-long tips. Set the tips aside. In a food processor, process the stalks until pureed.

Whisk the beaten eggs into the cheese sauce until blended, then whisk in the asparagus puree. Divide the custard among the prepared ramekins.

Place the ramekins in the towel-lined baking pan and pour hot water into the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the custard is set, about 30 minutes. Carefully remove the baking pan from the oven and turn off the oven. Lift the ramekins out of the water, transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes.

Place the asparagus tips in a pie dish, drizzle with the melted butter and put them in the still-warm oven for about 5 minutes.

To unmold the custards, run a thin, sharp knife around the edge of the ramekins. Place a serving plate on top of each ramekin and invert together. Gently lift off the ramekin and peel off the parchment. Arrange some of the warm asparagus tips around each sformato and serve warm.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking, by Cathy Burgett, Elinor Klivans & Lou Seibert Pappas (Oxmoor House, 2008).

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Easter Brunch After The Egg Hunt....A Children's Menu

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Oh dear, pray for me.  This coming weekend we will be babysitting the grandchildren for four days while the parents go to a wedding in Charleston, South Carolina.  It so happens that it will also be Easter Sunday so the whole thing will be about kids, Easter eggs and bunny cupcakes.

I have been buying so much stuff to decorate and keep them entertained I don't know where to begin.  Keep in mind these two are toddlers, as in 3 and 18 months! By the time Easter Sunday comes along I know I will be exhausted but Easter is one of my favorite cooking holidays and we will go the full monty.  After all, these kids are gourmets.  They eat everything and they drink water.

A baked ham is a must.  Children love it and I wouldn't miss the leftovers for the world.  Don't worry about the bourbon...they get a dash, I get the bottle. Next week I will be parceling out freezer containers of split pea soup  and freezing leftover ham for croquettes.  These children love fruit so as a treat, I will be making the Ambrosia I posted earlier on the lake blog.  I know it's not the real Ambrosia but they will enjoy it, particularly the miniature marshmallows.  The omelet muffins should take care of the rest of the food groups and the biscuits are a treat for the Easter Bunny.  If you are having a mixed group of children and adults, you might want to dress this menu up a bit.  An asparagus tart would be great instead of, or in addition to, the omelet muffins.  It would definitely be my choice.

If you are new to this blog, don't despair, there is a menu for grownups here, booze included.

A Kids Easter Menu

Egg Nest Cupcakes

and a big batch of Bloody Mary's for the staff (wink)

Happy Hunting!

Photo # 1 Martha
 Photos #2 and #3by Jenny Steffen Hobbik for Williams Sonoma The Blender
Photo #4 Anna Williams

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