Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

How to Cook Asparagus

posted in Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

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Asparagus with Guy Kawasaki’s Teriyaki Chicken

For dinner at home, with or without company, I like to serve asparagus because fresh asparagus can get cleaned, trimmed and steamed in the microwave in less than 10 minutes. I steam the “spears” just to the point where they are tender but still have a bite to them. Then I just add a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and sometimes a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and the asparagus is ready to serve.

Buy asparagus that has nice bright green stalks and doesn’t look dry or shriveled. Depending on the season, you can buy asparagus that is pencil thin or stalks that are three times thicker than a pencil! I prefer slightly thicker stalks which I then peel. Many years ago my old friend Roger Bennet (from London, Montreal and St Remy) taught me the peeling trick. (See below.)

Asparagus is sold by the bunch. There are approximately 14-18 spears of asparagus per bunch. Count on about 3 to 5 spears per serving.

Make only what you are going to eat for dinner. Asparagus cooks really fast in the microwave so there is no point in making enough for leftovers.

If you are not going to use it immediately, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator. It should keep about 3-4 days.

Preparation:

Wash one bunch of asparagus under cool running water.

Trim away the bottom 1/3 of the stalk. The tip of the asparagus is very tender, but the farther down you go on the stalk, the tougher it gets.

If you bend the asparagus it will naturally snap at the point where it goes from tender to tough (which is usually about 1/3 of the stalk).

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Leslie demonstrates this method in startcooking.com’s post on Roasted Asparagus with Garlic Sauce.

You can now use the new shorter “broken” asparagus as a guide to cut the rest of the bunch.

Peel the stalks so that they are the same width as the tip. This ensures even cooking. Really thin stalks of asparagus do not need peeling.

Lay the asparagus two to three deep in a rectangular dish.

Add one Tablespoon of water.

Cover the dish with plastic wrap. Leave a small vent in the corner for steam to escape. (This also helps the plastic wrap from almost shrink wrapping itself over the asparagus. When that happens it’s a lot harder to remover the plastic wrap. (Be careful not to get burnt from the hot steam!)

Set the microwave on high heat and cook the asparagus about 2 minutes and 30 seconds. If you want your asparagus to be more tender, cook it for another 30 seconds or so.

Be sure not to overcook asparagus. Overcooked asparagus not only turns to mush, but it develops into a very unappealing shade of green.

Asparagus is great served either hot or cold. If you are going to be serving it cold you need to get the cooked spears cooled off quickly or they will loose their bright green color. You can either put the hot spears in a bowl of ice water…

…or in a colander and run cold water over the spears.

For more startcooking.com tips on blanching vegetables check out Keep it Fresh: Learn How to Blanch.

Cheers!

Ingredients:

(Makes 3-4 servings)

  • One bunch of asparagus
  • 1 Tablespoon of water
  • Salt and Pepper

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Pasta: Dry, Fresh or Frozen?

posted in Pasta, Rice and Grains by Lisa Freeman

cooking pasta

Before you choose the shape and size of pasta you want to cook, you will need to decide if you are going to buy either dry, fresh or frozen pasta.

Dry Pasta

Dry pasta is the most readily available type and can be found in boxes or bags on the grocery store shelf. It can be stored for up to a year. Some folks think dry pasta is a supermarket invention, but it has actually been preserved and sold this way in Italy for centuries. It takes longer to cook dry pasta (usually 10-12 minutes) than it does to cook fresh pasta. There are many different brands of dry pasta on supermarket shelves, as well as plenty of gourmet dry pastas, in all kinds of shapes and colors.

Fresh Pasta

Fresh pasta is found in the refrigerator section of the grocery store. It can also be found in many specialty shops, nestled in a protective layer of semolina flour. Fresh pasta is in a semi-dry state, but still considered fresh. In many supermarkets, it is common to see fresh pasta in a clear plastic container. Fresh pasta cooks quickly — it usually takes 4-6 minutes to get it al dente. If unopened, a package of fresh pasta can typically be stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks, or in the freezer for a month. (Be sure to check the “sell by” date before buying fresh pasta.) Keep in mind that if frozen, it will require a few extra minutes of cooking.

Frozen Pasta

Frozen pasta has been flash-frozen to lock in the flavor. Gourmet shops usually sell it in small cartons offering exotic flavors like lobster ravioli. But these days you can also find frozen pasta at the supermarket. Bagged frozen pasta meals require about 10 minutes of cooking. Some include chicken or meat, veggies and a sauce, which can make a full-fledged meal in minutes.

No matter which pasta you end up going with, the golden rule is not to overcook it. Fresh pasta turns into a mushy mess when overdone; dry pasta gets gummy if it is undercooked — so be sure to watch your pasta as it boils and follow the directions on the package. Before draining the boiling water, taste your pasta to make sure it is tender and properly cooked.

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Be sure to check out startcooking.com’s pasta roundup for some great tips and recipes!

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Mother’s Day Recipes Anyone Can Cook

posted in Kitchen Basics, Recipes by Kathy Maister

Mother’s Day is traditionally one of the busiest days of the year at restaurants. Why not forget the restaurants this Mother’s Day and try whipping up some home-cooked treats.

Breakfast:

Chocolate chip pancakes are the perfect start to the day. If starting from scratch is a bit daunting, you can always try making pancakes from box mix!

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Pop some bacon (video) in the microwave, pour some orange juice and you’ve got a meal fit for a queen!

Lunch:

Salads quickly become a filling and satisfying meal by adding a bit of protein to the salad. Both kids and adults love Taco Salad!

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Grilled Chicken is a perfect addition to a Caesar Salad.

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You can buy pre-washed lettuce or wash your own lettuce.

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If you want to really impress her, make your own Salad Dressing!

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Dinner:

Whip up some Pan-Fried Scallops in less than 5 minutes.

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Think of how good these would be with steamed asparagus and some rice. Or try steaming salmon in the microwave in the morning so that after a day of fun, dinner will be all ready to just pull out of the refrigerator!

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Dessert:

You can’t go wrong with simple, fresh, Apple Crisp. Plus, it’ll make the house smell fantastic.

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Frozen Berries with White Chocolate takes minutes to prepare. Just be sure to freeze the small berries ahead of time

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Tip: Don’t forget to make the table look special for mother’s special day!

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