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Food a La Carte

"Awesome Asparagus"

Asparagus

"Awesome Asparagus For May"

Spring is finally here and with it brings all sorts of wonderful fresh vegetables to our grocery stores, and this month our Farmer's Markets will open with the freshest of the fresh! I am happy for the beginning of the best season of the year, in my humble opinion. I am so ready for sweet, fresh vegetables and all the delicious ways to cook them.

I have always loved a good quiche and I'm starting off the recipes this month with a yummy recipe for Spring Asparagus Quiche, highlighting the wonderful and oftentimes overlooked asparagus. Asparagus seems to be one of those vegetables that you either love...or not. I did not appreciate the deliciousness of asparagus until I was well into adulthood, having been the child of a mother who, unfortunately, had a tendency to cook vegetables until they were mush.

Asparagus is one of those vegetables, at least to me, that quickly develops a bitter taste if overcooked, just like broccoli. And the texture (I am REALLY big on texture) of any overcooked vegetable is completely lost when it's cooked too long; asparagus and broccoli become completely inedible when cooked to mush. In my world, the only vegetable that should be cooked until soft is a potato. That being said, please be careful when pre-cooking your asparagus in the microwave. If you're not sure about the strength of your microwave, err on the side of caution and check your asparagus for doneness after 3 minutes, instead of cooking the whole 4 minutes.

I like to take shortcuts whenever possible when it doesn't affect the final product and with quiche, I usually buy frozen, ready-to-fill piecrusts. However, using the refrigerated product in your own pie pan does look like you made the whole dish from scratch, if that's important! And, just to be safe, I always choose a deep-dish pie crust to avoid potential overflow.

Our second recipe is a absolutely delicious dish called Pasta with Asparagus and Prosciutto. It reminds me of Fettuccine Alfredo; the recipes are quite similar. But then there's the asparagus and the prosciutto. The prosciutto adds a depth of flavor and smells quite amazing while cooking, I might add. Then, add in the aroma of the garlic and fresh thyme...oh my goodness your kitchen will smell fabulous!

As always, feel free to make substitutions to suit your pantry and family. Use whatever type pasta you have on hand; if you don't have any prosciutto, bacon or pancetta makes a great substitute. If you don't have heavy cream, you can use half and half or even whole milk. If you don't want to use wine, substitute chicken or vegetable broth. The recipe calls for a quarter cup of grated parmesan, but I always use more. I like to add some of the shredded Italian cheese blend, too. There's no such thing as too much cheese, in my opinion!

The final recipe this month is a cake recipe I ran across that has been around for probably close to 100 years and is definitely a winner for its longevity alone! It is called a "Wacky Cake" and from the reviews I read online, it is as delicious as it is easy - that makes it a "Winner Cake" for me!

This cake is called a "Wacky Cake" because it lacks most of the normal ingredients in a cake - no milk, eggs or butter. The lack of these ingredients made this a very popular recipe during World War II due to the rationing of these items. There's no rationing today, but this is an easy dessert to make without a trip to the grocery store! I do seem to remember my mother making this cake when I was a child. Mom did like to experiment in the kitchen; I guess that's where I get my love of experimentation in the kitchen.

The Wacky Cake is a great recipe where you can get the kids involved, too. The recipe is super-easy to make and no dangerous kitchen tools or heat are needed until the cake's ready to pop into the oven. It only uses one pan; any recipe that reduces the number of dirty dishes in my sink is a recipe I'm keeping! Many people who have tried the Wacky Cake claim that it's their very favorite chocolate cake, yet another reason to try it.

You can vary the Wacky Cake recipe, too. You can use melted butter in place of the oil, 6 tablespoons will do the trick. Try adding a teaspoon of cinnamon to the batter. The cake is so good, it really doesn't need any icing. For a light, but still plenty sweet, version of the Wacky Cake, leave off the icing and serve it with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. For a beautiful finish, place a disposable, perforated doily over top of the cake before sprinkling on the powdered sugar. Carefully remove the doily and you have a pretty decorative design on top of your cake. Or, you can always top your Wacky Cake with mounds of whipped cream for a delicious, delightful finish to your meal.

You can also half the ingredients in the Wacky Cake if you want a smaller, 8" x 8" round cake. The Wacky Cake holds up well in an ice cream cake, too. Just make two 8" round Wacky Cakes, and layer alternately two layers of cake and two layers of ice cream. For easy assembly, let the ice cream sit on the counter for 15 to 20 minutes so it will be easier to spread. Frost the assembled cake with whipped topping and serve immediately. Don't bother leaving room in the freezer for leftovers, for there won't be any!

I hope you will try the Spring Asparagus Quiche. Serve it with a fresh salad and some hearty bread for an easy, nutritious, light dinner that will satisfy the entire family. Fresh, tender asparagus is such a treat, don't let the season go by without enjoying some.

For dinner that's ready in a flash, Pasta with Asparagus and Prosciutto will be a hit with the whole family. And be sure to try the Wacky Cake. Any cake that's been around for 100 years is worth trying once, at least.

Enjoy the bounty of spring and come back next month for more Food a La Carte!

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Spring Asparagus Quiche

Spring Asparagus Quiche

Prep. time: 20 minutes; Cook time: 50 minutes - Serves 6

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 package refrigerated piecrust (only use 1 sheet)
  • 1 pound fresh asparagus
  • 6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 small can sliced mushrooms, drained
  • 1 5 ounce package grated Swiss cheese
  • 5 eggs
  • cup half-and-half
  • 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Unroll 1 sheet of piecrust and place in a 9-inch pie plate. Fold piecrust edges under and crimp, then set aside. Or, pull your premade pie crust out of the freezer and set aside.
  3. Snap off tough ends of asparagus and discard ends. Cut asparagus into 1-inch pieces and place in a small microwave-safe baking dish. Cover dish tightly with heavy-duty plastic wrap; fold back a small corner to allow steam to escape.
  4. on high for 3-4 minutes, or until crisp-tender; drain well.
  5. Place asparagus and mushrooms in bottom of prepared crust. Top evenly with crumbled bacon and cheese.
  6. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, half-and-half, tarragon, salt, and pepper. Pour over cheese.
  7. Bake quiche for 45 to 50 minutes, or until set.

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Pasta with Asparagus and Prosciutto

Pasta with Asparagus and Prosciutto

Prep: 15 minutes; Cook time: 15 Minutes - Serves: 4

INGREDIENTS:

  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup diced prosciutto (about 3 1/2 ounces)
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
  • 12 ounces fettuccine
  • 1 1/2 pounds asparagus, tough ends trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the prosciutto in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it renders some fat and begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook until the garlic just begins to soften, about 30 seconds. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the wine. Return to the heat and cook until the wine evaporates slightly, about 2 more minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Add the cream and nutmeg and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 3 more minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook as the label directs, adding the asparagus during the last minute of cooking. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain the pasta and asparagus.
  3. Add the cheese to the cream sauce and stir to combine. Add the pasta and asparagus and toss to coat, adding some of the reserved cooking water to loosen, if needed. Season with salt and pepper. Divide among bowls and top with more cheese.

Wacky Cake

Wacky Cake

Prep: 10 minutes; Cook time: 25 Minutes - Serves: 12

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup baking cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 3/4 cup oil
  • 2 cups water

ICING:

  • 1 stick margarine
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • powdered sugar

CAKE DIRECTIONS:

  1. Mix flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a 9x13 pan.
  2. Make three holes in the flour mixture. In one hole, put vanilla; in another the vinegar, and in the third the oil.
  3. Pour the 2 cups of water over all and stir well.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees F until it springs back to the touch or a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean - about 25 - 35 minutes.

ICING DIRECTIONS:

  • Melt margarine and add vanilla and milk. Add powdered sugar until desired consistency - loose but spreadable. The icing will thicken as it cools.

ENJOY!