Saturday, April 18, 2009

Fresh Asparagus Tips

Fresh asparagus is in season and at its lowest cost for the year. I like both white and green asparagus. The difference is that the white has been covered with soil and not exposed to light, so it doesn’t turn green. White asparagus is a bit milder in flavor and sometimes requires peeling. For recipes, I use both interchangeably depending on what seems to be the freshest and best value at the farmers market. Note: when choosing asparagus at the market, look at the bases to ensure they aren’t dried out. When storing asparagus, keep the base ends in water.

Fresh Asparagus Soup – for two.

Use one bunch for two people. Prep time - 2 minutes.

  1. Cut the asparagus into 1/4 inch lengths and set the tips aside.
  2. Bring the cut pieces to a simmer in 4 cups of chicken stock (or water with two chicken bullion cubes) and simmer for 15 minutes.
  3. Add the tips and simmer an additional five minutes.
  4. Salt and pepper may be desirable for taste, but the seasoning in the stock or bullion should suffice.
  5. Add 1/4 cup condensed milk, or sour cream or crème fraîche. To avoid lumps with the latter two, it’s easiest to remove a bit of the stock from the soup into a coffee cup when the tips are added, let it cool while the tips are simmering, beat in the sour cream or crème fraîche, and then add it back to the soup at the end of the cooking time.

Blanched Asparagus

Blanched green asparagus make a super appetizer or starter served with a horseradish sauce. It can also be served as a salad drizzled with a salad dressing of 1 part Dijon mustard, 1 part red wine vinegar, 1 part diced shallots, a dash of sugar and a little fresh sage, or roasted red bell pepper sauce.White asparagus can be served with red wine vinaigrette with finely diced shallots.

  1. Bring salted water to a rolling boil and add trimmed whole asparagus. If you have a blanching basket, use it.
  2. Once the water returns to a rolling boil, let the asparagus simmer exactly 3 minutes for fine, 4 minutes for medium or 5 minutes for thick asparagus.
  3. Plunge the asparagus into the coldest water possible and let it remain until it is fully cooled.
  4. Remove it from the water and pat dry with a lint-free towel. You may refrigerate it until serving.
See the following additional recipes at

Roasted Asparagus

Roasted Asparagus Quiche

Roasted Asparagus Risotto

Asparagus Omelet - follow the method for a basic mushroom omelet, substituting asparagus for the mushrooms covering the asparagus during simmering for about 20 minutes.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Exploding Pressure Canner

I had a friend who told me her old weighted gauge pressure cooker nearly exploded the other day. She went into the kitchen and noted that there wasn't any steam venting either from the steam valve or the safety valve (there was no safety fuse). She turned the pressure cooker off and gently opened the pressure cooker and had a burst of steam, which burned her. She had been cooking green beans (I don’t know where she got fresh green beans in early April), overfilled the pressure canner and there were pieces of green beans blocking both of the vents.

So, what could we do to avoid this?

  1. Review often and strictly adhere to the manufacturer’s recommendations. I review them every year at the beginning of the canning season. If the manufacturer has a website, then visit it and make sure you have any updated information. If the manufacturer’s instructions aren’t available, then consider getting a new pressure cooker or pressure canner.
  2. Don’t overfill a pressure cooker and following the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  3. Stay close to a pressure cooker or pressure canner and monitor it often. I set my kitchen timer and check mine every five minutes during the first half hour and then every ten minutes thereafter. If you have a weighted gauge canner, this can be done by ensuring a mild and constant flow of steam is leaving the pressure canner. A dial gauge canner is a bit easier as it tells you the exact pressure within the canner. If the pressure increases beyond the desired pressure, reduce the stovetop heat setting. In the case of my friend Christine with a blocked gauge, the pressure reading would have dropped to zero; although the internal pressure was quite high, or I guess we should say explosively high. This should be remembered because a faulty or blocked gauge will give a false reading and not indicate the actual pressure.
  4. NEVER open a hot pressure canner or pressure cooker. Let them cool down completely before opening. When canning, I normally just let it sit overnight and then open it the next morning - what's the hurry?
  5. Only use a pressure canner or pressure cooker that is listed by Underwriters Laboratories (UL). UL develops rigorous and voluntary safety standards using their expertise and representatives from the industry for each product for which they publish safety standards. The manufacturers then send their products to testing laboratories to ensure they comply with the applicable standard. Once the product is approved, the manufacturer is permitted to apply the UL label. UL visits the factories, usually on a quarterly basis, to verify the products manufactured and labeled are identical to those that were tested.