Friday, March 25, 2011

Early spring always makes me so impatient. I wake up on a warm Saturday morning, throw on a light sweater and a pair of sunglasses and hike on over to the Greenmarket, expecting to see a huge bounty of ramps and greens and young garlic and teeny tiny baby peas, and maybe even a few strawberries? But when I get there, it quickly becomes obvious that even though today feels like May for us city-dwelling human beings, it's still winter in the vegetable world. Bummer!

But when you cook with the seasons, you learn to make do with what's available. The big pile of wintered-over onions for sale reminded me of this onion tart from Cooking Light magazine. It looked so good and so easy, I just couldn't resist!

White balance, why can I not master you?!

And it was good. I made a few substitutions - full fat swiss instead of light, and no feta cheese - just straight up, onion-soup-style caramelized onions and swiss. I also added a splash of white wine to the onions after they'd cooked for a bit. I think it gave them a little bit of extra flavor. Ed and I shared this tart for a simple weeknight dinner with a chevre chaud salad on the side - greens dressed simply with oil and balsamic and topped with breaded and fried rounds of goat cheese. Along with a glass of white wine, it was the perfect meal to make one feel that they're eating al fresco during springtime in Paris! (Even when one is actually eating on one's couch watching reruns of the Jersey Shore.)

Early spring is also a good time to sneak in those last few hearty wintery dishes like stews and potpies, since pretty soon you're gonna be all, "Stew?! You crazy? There's aspargus in the fridge, you nut! Snow peas! Little baby radishes!"

This shrimp pot pie was an excellent way to clean out my fridge - and freezer - to make room for the spring bounty that I know is right around the corner. The forgotten carrots, the half full bag of frozen peas, the shrimp I'd bought on a whim - they all come together in an onion-y broth with a touch of cream and a "crust" made out of crescent rolls from a can. (One of my many, many guilty processed food pleasures.)

My penance for that shrimp pot pie meal was this spectacular kale salad.

I used to be afraid of kale, until I had a really amazing kale, feta and lemon dish at my friend Beth's dinner party. It was so great, in fact, that I started making it myself at home all the time. And then a funny thing happened - I started actually craving kale. And this salad is a great way to eat it. I think it's the way that all of the different flavors work together - sweet apples, tangy cheddar, tart lemon, toasty walnuts, all jumbled up with earthy kale and olive oil and salt. I made mine with apples and cheese from the Greenmarket, so the cheese was a little bit milder than cheddar, but it still worked incredibly well. Oh man. I am in love with this salad. I want to marry it and have its babies. No joke.

But hey, speaking of love...

I'll leave you with this proof that I actually can master my camera's white balance every once in a while: the chocolate cream pie with heart-shaped sprinkles that I made for Ed for Valentine's Day. It's my sister-in-law's recipe, one that we beg her to make for every big occasion where such a pie could possibly be eaten. (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, the Fourth of July... hell, when is it ever a bad time for chocolate cream pie?) Hers always comes out way better than mine did - possibly because I failed to follow the directions precisely. But even slightly messed-up chocolate cream pie is a pretty great thing. Which is appropriate, of course, because my Valentine is a pretty great thing, too.

Chocolate Cream Pie
adapted from a cookbook, but I'm not sure which one, so temporarily presented without proper attribution...

store-bought graham cracker crust
3/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. cornstarch
1/2 t. salt
3 3/4 c. whole milk
5 large egg yolks
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 T butter, cut into pieces
2 t. vanilla extract
1 c. whipping cream

In heavy saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. With wire whisk, stir in milk until blended and smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until milk mixture has thickened and boils. Boil 1 minute.

In a small bowl with wire whisk, lightly beat egg yolks. Beat 1/2 c. hot milk-sugar mixture into beaten egg yolks. Slowly pour egg yolk mixture back into milk mixture, stirring rapidly to avoid curdling. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is very thick or until temperature on candy thermometer reaches 160.

Remove saucepan from heat and stir in melted chocolate, butter and vanilla until butter has melted and chocolate is smooth. Pour hot chocolate filling into graham cracker crust, press plastic wrap onto surface and refrigerate until filling is set. (About 4 hours.)

When ready to serve, whip cream until stiff peaks form and top the pie.