Tag Archives: asparagus

A Celebration of Old Classics: Chicken, Asparagus and Gruyère Crêpes

Harvesting Dinner is barely two years old and I have enjoyed writing every single post!While I jumped in blindly with little direction, knowing only that I wanted to share my insane attraction to our edible world by writing recipes, telling little stories about my life, sharing the joys of eating out or the effects of eating too much, I didn’t know what personality this little diary of mine would take on. If I were to choose a new name, I may be tempted to select something like “Heritage Kitchen”, “Legacy Cooking” or “A Mother’s Pantry”, which would surely better capture the essence of this blog… I seem to gravitate towards heirloom recipes and stories; I am inherently attracted to the cooking of the mothers in my life… I love the mixed heritage of my kitchen where French Canadian, French (from France) and East European all collide with international cuisines! And I am deeply rooted to my family’s origins through the traditions and knowledge these humble home cooks have imparted on me. In my home, I tend to prepare the simple yet comforting dishes of everyday cooking when a budget needs to be respected and time is often elusive. Although I have the expertise to take on intricate recipes and I do enjoy cooking elaborate meals from time to time, this type of cooking does not portray what goes on in my everyday kitchen which is the one I share with you most often. I will seldom post dishes that require extremely elaborate preparations within this blog unless I decide to share a culinary experience that is well worth it. As simple as it is, my cooking is no less inviting: it is all about awesomely good food, warm & comforting, served with love and abundance, to enjoy in the presence of people who truly matter. Whether it is a simple weeknight tête-à-tête with the King , a small gathering of the family or a grand celebration, I aim to serve foods that beg for seconds and “take home” care packages. I also like to «be» with my peeps at mealtime and I will favour dishes that can be prepared ahead so that I am free to partake in all the conversations that are happening at the dinner table. I am definitely the queen of one pot dinners, of tough pieces of meat bubbling away  softly in a fragrant broth until they render their full potential and fall off the fork tender. I love simmered dishes the most: those that fill the house with mouth-watering aromas for hours until you can’t stand it any longer and must dig in. I also enjoy the carefree approach to summer grilling paired with fresh produces enhanced with perfectly balanced vinaigrettes.

I do favour simple cooking over intricate, that is for sure.  Yet, simple does not necessarily mean quick! There are times when you just need to soak things overnight, simmer all day or spread the prep over a day or two… The time spent preparing a meal is not a reflection of how difficult the recipe is; it simple means that the recipe requires a bit more planning. For me, simple cooking also means familiar: food prepared with “easy to find” ingredients (not too many) that are budget friendly. I love old classics and appreciate having been taught the rudiments of French cuisine: I can whip up a great hollandaise, make my own mayo, serve a silky smooth sabayon and bake bread. And although I often refer back to recipes for proportion, especially when it comes to baking, I can make a bechamel sauce without even taking a peek into a book!

One classic preparation I am particularly thrilled I have learned to master are crêpes; they are so versatile! They really are easy to make: the most difficult part of making crêpes (if one can call this difficult) is knowing how much batter to pour into the pan to ensure the right thickness and size. It really isn’t that hard: I always mess up the first one which I am sure I subconsciously do on purpose so that I can eat a hot crêpe right away!!! There are many things I love about crêpes: they can be done in advance, they can be sweet or savoury, they can be served hot or cold, they can be filled, rolled or drenched in syrups, whatever your fancy! They are neutral enough to be a perfect vehicle to an infinite combinations of ingredients yet are just as delicious sprinkled lightly with sugar… What matters most to make really great crêpes is time: the batter really needs to “relax” in the fridge for several hours, preferably overnight. It only takes about 10 minutes to whip a batter up in a food processor or a blender and just a tiny bit longer if you have to whisk everything by hand. What takes the longest is the cooking time as each crêpe must be done individually. There are pans that are specifically designed to make crêpes and they work extremely well. However, any good old frying pan you have on hand will do. I made crêpes for decades before I splurged and bought a crêpe pan…

This savoury crêpe recipe I am about to share with you is a long time family classic. It does require planning and involves several steps but none of them are difficult. What I like best about this particular recipe is that it can be prepared entirely in advance AND the ingredients are easy to find. Simply pop it in the oven one hour before serving. Pair with a nice crisp salad and you have a festive meal that will make your guests very happy!

I recently made this dish and took the opportunity to take plenty of pictures at every stage. Then our guests arrived and ya know, we got into cocktails and instant conversation… I was way too happy being with my friends than hidden in the kitchen and not only did I completely forget to set my timer, I also forgot to check in on the crêpes! A lovely intense smell of melted Gruyère eventually got my attention and as a result, I over baked the crêpes by a good 35 minutes. The verdict? Although the crêpes were still very delicious, they had absorbed most of the sauce. I hesitated to add the final picture because it should be much saucier but then I figured that mistakes happen even with the best of techniques and planning. So expect a saucier dish if you decide to make this recipe: that is how it should be 🙂

Chicken, Asparagus and Gruyère Crêpes

This recipe serves 4 and can easily be doubled (I always double, left overs are great!)

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The result of overbaking: a little «dry» yet still delicious

 

Part 1 – Crêpe Batter

What you need:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (250ml)
  • 1 cup milk (250ml)
  • 1/2 cup water (maybe a bit more) (125ml)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (2.5ml)
  • 2 tbsp melted butter (30ml) plus 1/4 cup (65ml) melted butter for cooking

How to make it:

  1. Using a food processor, blend together the eggs, flour, milk, water and salt until well blended. With motor still running, pour in the melted butter and whip until well blended.
  2. Transfer batter in a jug or a bowl, cover and refrigerate 2 to 12 hours.
  3. Making the crêpes: strain the batter using a small sieve to remove any lumps. The batter should be silky smooth. Add  water if the batter is too thick, a little bit at a time: it should have the consistency of buttermilk or hollandaise.
  4. Heat a wide pan over medium-high heat. Using a pastry brush, coat the pan with a small film of butter. Drop about 1/2 cup of batter in the pan spreading quickly by tilting the pan in a swirl motion. How to video, click here
  5. Once all your crêpes are done, set them aside. You can stack crêpes in a plate, they will not stick together. Crêpes can also be done a day ahead and refrigerated : simply wrap very well with plastic wrap to avoid drying and refrigerate. Crêpes also do well in the freezer for a few weeks.image

Part 2 – Chicken and asparagus filling

What you need

  • 2 large chicken breast, with skin and bones
  • 1 onion, peeled and left whole
  • 2 carrots, peeled and left whole
  • 3 celery branches, with leaves if possible
  • 2 bay eaves
  • 1 tbsp salt (15ml)
  • 1 tsp pepper (5ml)
  • 1 large bunch of asparagus
  • 2 shallots finely chopped (or 1/2 cooking onion)
  • 1/4 cup butter (65ml)
  • 1/4 cup flour (65ml)
  • 4 cups milk (1l)
  • 1 tsp salt (5ml)
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper (fine grind)
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream, 35% (180ml)
  • 2 cups grated Gruyère* cheese (500ml)

*Swiss cheese will do but Gruyère really takes it to the next level… If you can splurge 🙂

How to make it

  1. Cook the chicken: In a large stock pot, place chicken, onion, carrots, celery, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Add just enough water to cover the chicken. Bring to a full boil on high heat, then reduce heat and cook over a gentle boil, partially covered. the chicken should take about 30-40 minutes to cook through.
  2. Remove the chicken from the broth and let cool before removing the skin and bones.
  3. Meanwhile, discard the celery and onion from broth. Remove the carrots and set aside. Strain the broth in a fine mesh sieve. Return carrots to broth and save for another time. The broth will not be needed in this recipe
  4. Once the chicken has cooled enough to handle, remove skin and bones. Chop meat into cubes: this should yield 3-4 cups of chicken (750-1000ml). This variation will not impact the recipe much. Refrigerate
  5. Set a pot to boil filled with plenty of salted water
  6. Chop the shallots and grate the cheese
  7. Prepare the asparagus: clean well snap off the hard woody part off the stem, normally a lighter green that the rest of the asparagus. Cut asparagus in pieces about 1 inch long (2-3cm). Once the water is at a full rolling boil, add the asparagus. They will cook very quickly. I find that they are done once the water reaches the boiling point again, usually 3-4 minutes. As soon as the water starts boiling again, strain the asparagus and immediately immerse in cold water to stop the cooking process. Change the water frequently until the asparagus have cooled, strain and reserve.
  8. Make the bechamel sauce: in a mid-size saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter until it starts to foam slightly. Add the shallots (or onions) and cook until translucent 1-2 minutes. Add the flour and stir well, cooking for an additional 23 minutes. The only trick here is that you want the flour to cook without browning. Slowly start pouring in the milk, whisking well as you incorporate. I usually add about half first, whisk well and then pour in the rest. To avoid lumps, it is best to use cold milk. Because this bechamel has shallots in it, you will not be able to strain it to remove the lumps. Add salt, white pepper and nutmeg. Continue whisking over medium heat until the sauce reaches a soft boil and it has started to thicken. Remove from heat, whisk in the heavy cream. Cover with parchment or plastic wrap by sticking directly onto the sauce to prevent a crust from forming. Set aside to cool.image

Assembly:

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This is a double batch
  1. In a large bowl, combine the chicken, the asparagus, 1 cup of cheese and just enough bechamel (about half) to moisten the preparation.image
  2. If you plan on baking right away, preheat oven to 350F.
  3. Butter the sides and bottom of a large casserole dish, like a lasagna dish for example. If you do not own a large dish, use two smaller ones.
  4. Spread the filling evenly between each crêpe. Roll by first folding the left and right side towards the middle, then rolling to close. Place the crêpes seam down in the baking dish. Do not stack crêpes on top of one another: if you run out of room, it is best tu use a second baking dish.image
  5. Spread the remaining bechamel evenly over the crêpes, sprinkle with cheeseimage
  6. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until the cheese starts to take on a golden hue and bubbles lightly at the edges
  7. Let sit 10 minutes before serving

Notes:

  • The baking time may need to be increased slightly if the crêpes have been refrigerated
  • The entire dish can be prepared a day in advance, which makes it a great party dish!
  • This dish also freezes very well: freeze in individual portions for easy weeknight dinnersimage

 

Judy’s Gift – Asparagus and Feta Pasta Salad

Being on vacation this week is blissful. Being on vacation this week without any plans at all is pretty sweet. Being on vacation this week with ample time to write and add to my blog is heaven! It is extremely rejuvenating to simply breath… To wake up with the sun, grab a coffee, read stuff I never take the time to read, in my PJs until late in the morning, now this is what I call a real vacation from life! I can even take the time to write without guilt: no chores really, no appointments, no meetings. I am hanging up my everyday life on the line to dry for a moment and doing the little fun things that never seem to fit in the agenda of that everyday life.

It’s a beautiful summer day here today in Canada’s National Capital. I will soon shut down my computer to go for a long walk and soak it all in, maybe even grab a little lunch. If the energy stays high, once I return from my promenade on the market and around Parliament Hill, I may take my bicycle for a ride along the Rideau Canal. It is that type of day: blue skies, warm sun, not too hot, not too cool, lovely breeze and zero humidity. Niiiiiiice! But before I go out and play tourist in my own hometown, I am diving into my blog sharing another little delicious morsel of life in my kitchen. Because I have the time!!!! Yay!

So I decided I would share a gift from Judy. Judy is my King’s cousin. A very lovely person I am happy to count as family… Judy is also an amazing cook. If you tell her, she will brush off her talent with genuine humility, stating that she is simply passionate about cooking. She is more than simply passionate: she is one of that «breed» of home cooks that «gets it». When we get together (sadly not as often as we should), we can talk hours on end about food, about how this ingredient works well paired with that ingredient, about this new technique, this perfectly balanced soup… And of course,  when we taste something the other has done that is purely genius, we share recipes. Like the King, Judy’s heritage is East European and she often dips into her knowledge of Old World cooking, concocting recipes intertwined with history, family as well New World living. A bit of modern mixed in with the old! I call it generational gastronomy: the legacy of mothers teaching their daughters the culinary secrets their own mothers had parted with, each one adapting the recipes slightly to suit their own needs, taste and ingredient availability. This may sound rather gender biased but the truth of the matter is that more often than none, generational cooking and family heirloom recipes are kept alive mostly by the women of a family… And so because of Judy’s extreme talent and knowledge in the kitchen, her secret stash of prized family recipes, her passion for all food related topics, I truly cherish the recipes so generously handed to me as true gifts!

Years ago, we had a family gathering potluck style and Judy brought along this amazing pasta salad. I fell head over heels in love with that salad. Moonstruck! Later on, this salad became a very popular menu item in my restaurant. I even landed a spot on a televised cooking competition with that recipe! Judy will tell you that the following recipe I am about to share is not exactly her original recipe because of course, I have tweaked it to make it my own. That is the nature of those who have a love affair with cooking: to get inspired by recipes and to freely adapt on a whim. However, there are very few variations to the original here: Judy’s ultimate salad was finished with thin slices of prosciutto and, if my memory serves me right, she used toasted pine nuts  instead of almonds. I removed the prosciutto from my recipe simply because the lemon’s acidity  altered the colour and texture of the ham rather quickly: to avoid this, when I do add  prosciutto to my salad, I add it at the last minute because it simply pairs sooooo well with the rest of the ingredients. Like with any recipe, to ad lib is the most fun: feta can be swapped for any cheese that can withstand being tossed around with vinaigrette. Asparagus can take the side road when not in season and be replaced with courgettes, green beans, sweet peas, in fact, any vegetable that enjoys the company of lemon juice and salty cheese! It is a simple and fresh alternative to the good old macaroni salad, perfect for a family BBQ, a picnic and can even become the main of a simple dinner when the outside temperature makes any cook shy away from working over a hot stove for any longer time than needed. . As a matter of fact, all ingredients can be prepared and tossed together ahead of time , adding the vinaigrette just before it is time to serve. Because it does not contain mayonnaise, it will tolerate picnic conditions quite well. Although the pasta will absorb a fair bit of the dressing after a while, it still keeps pretty good when refrigerated overnight becoming a great easy “grab and go” lunch on the next day.

I hope you enjoy Judy’s gift to me which I now pay forward to you!

Asparagus and Feta Pasta Salad

What you need

1 bunch (about 1lb/450g) asparagus trimmed and cut in 1 inch length
¾ cup slivered almonds, toasted
¾ cup crumbled feta
2 tbsp finely chopped green onions
1 lb (450g) pasta cooked al dente. I like to use farfalle because they hold their shape really well and the dressing lodges itself in the crinkled centers. fusilli, orchiette or rotini would be a great alternative
½ cup fresh chopped parsley

Vinaigrette

The zest and juice of one lemon, about ½ cup (125ml)
1 tbsp grainy mustard
1 cup (250ml) olive oil
1 tsp salt
Salt and pepper to taste

How to make it

  • Whisk together lemon zest & juice, mustard and salt and pepper. Add oil and shake well. Set aside
  • Set a large pot of water over stovetop and bring to a boil. Add 2 tsp of salt.
  • Cook pasta until al dente. Do not over cook as pasta: it will become soggy when the vinaigrette is added ahead of time if the pasta is overcooked
  • Add the asparagus to the pasta for the last few minutes of the recommended pasta cooking time. Again, do not overcook. About 3-5 minutes will do: 3 minutes for thin asparagus and 5 minutes for asparagus with very thick stalks. Check often to ensure asparagus are not overcooked. Immediately rinse and submerge pasta and asparagus in cold water. Let cool thoroughly and drain. If you are not comfortable gaging the asparagus cooking time by adding them to the pasta water, cook them separately. As per usual, I like to reduce the clean up time in the kitchen and this one pot cooking option works great for me.
  • In large bowl, toss asparagus, pasta, feta and green onions, using your fingers to toss well. Add enough vinaigrette to cover the salad. Adjust salt and pepper.
  • Toss in the toasted almonds and parsley and mix everything well
  • Optional last minutes toppers: fresh or crisp prosciutto, crisp bacon bits, shave parmesan flakes…

Time to unwrap the gift and enjoy!