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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Frying Onions

print recipe card posted in Vegetables and Beans, Vegetarian by Kathy Maister
Difficulty:

Frying onions inevitably results in someone saying “what smells so good”?

I’m going to show you how to fry onions two ways. First, we’ll fry (or “sauté”) the onions very quickly on a high heat. Second, we’ll “caramelize” the onions, which means frying them very slowly on a very low heat.

Sauteed Onions & Caramelized Onions

Sautéed onions have a slightly crispy outside and a very soft center. Caramelized onions are very soft and very sweet. You don’t need to add anything to make them sweet, since the natural sweetness of the onion develops through the slow cooking process.

This post is going to be a slightly longer than normal, since I am going to be showing you two different techniques.

Both approaches to cooking the onions require the same ingredients to start: – onions, butter, olive oil and salt and pepper.

For 2-to-4 servings of the sautéed onions you will need:

  • 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, butter, or a combination of both
  • 4 medium onions
  • Salt and Pepper

I have already discussed how to peel an onion, as well as how to slice an onion. Because we are slicing so many onions you may want to stick them in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes before you start peeling and slicing them. That way, they won’t bother your eyes as much.

Using a sharp knife, slice the onions into ¼ inch, or smaller, slices.

Melt the olive oil or the olive oil & butter combination, in a very large fry pan over medium high heat. Be careful not to burn the butter! If it starts to smoke, turn down the heat!

Add the onions.

Quickly cook the onions, moving them around the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula. It should take no more than 10 minutes at the most for the onions to get nicely browned.

These onions are great on hamburgers, steaks, mashed potatoes or just as a delicious side dish.

How to Make Caramelized Onions

To make caramelized onions you will need time but not a tremendous amount of cooking skill. You will also need:

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 3 pounds of onions
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup of dry white wine or water
  • Grated Parmesan Cheese

By the time you finish caramelizing the onions they will have cooked down to about half their size.

Peel and slice the onions.

In a really large fry pan melt the butter and olive oil over really low heat. Add the onions to the pan

Sprinkle on 1 teaspoon of salt.

Cook the onions over the lowest heat possible for about 1 hour. (Yikes! That’s a long time!) Don’t be tempted to increase the heat. You can not speed up this process. Over the course of 1 hour they should not turn brown. Be sure to give them an occasional stir. This is what they will look like after 15 minutes of cooking.

This is after 30 minutes of cooking.

This is after 45 minutes of cooking.

After about one hour increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the onions are well browned. That could take another 25 minutes. There will be a lot of brown bits stuck on the bottom of the pan. Those bits are full of flavor. To get them off the bottom of the pan and incorporated into the onions turn off the stove and pour ½ cup of dry white wine (or water) into the pan.

After the wine is added turn the stove back on. This will ensure the alcohol doesn’t catch fire and flame up.

The wine will dissolve all the bits and make the onions even darker.

Now remove them from the heat. Add salt and ground pepper and even a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese.

Caramelized onions are great on their own or can be added to stews and sauces.

Enjoy!

Adapted from: Joy of Cooking

Sauté Onions Ingredients:

(2-4 Servings)

  • 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, butter, or a combination of both
  • 4 medium onions
  • Salt and Pepper

Caramelized Onions Ingredients

(makes about 4 cups)

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 3 pounds of onions
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup of dry white wine or water
  • Grated parmesan cheese

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How to Mince, Dice and Chop Onions

posted in Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

The photograph below shows minced, diced and chopped onions. Minced (on the left) is the smallest cut. diced (in the middle) is a bit bigger, and chopped (on the right) which is cut, at most, into about ¼ inch chunks.

When it comes to chopping an onion or any vegetables, choose a knife that you are comfortable holding. As long as it’s sharp, it really comes down to what knife you feel you can control well.

So, let me show you how to chop an onion.

This is the root end of an onion.

Leave the root end intact. It will actually help to make cutting the onion easier.

Cut off the top of the onion (the other end.)

Peel off the outside skin (the dry, papery layer.)

Sometimes you end up removing the first layer of onion as well which is ok.

Cut the onion in half from the top end to base. Place the cut side down on the cutting board.

Always hold the onion with bent fingers while slicing and chopping. This allows you to use your knuckles as a guide against the side of the knife and not the tips of your fingers under the knife. It will feel pretty awkward at first but it’s the only safe way to hold the onion!

For chopped onions, with the knife tip pointed towards the root, slice the onion to within 1/2 inch of the base. Make about 1/4 inch parallel cuts.

Now cut perpendicular to the slices you just made.

Oh look! Chopped onions!

“Diced” onions are nothing more than onions cut into smaller pieces. For diced onions do the exact same thing, only with smaller cuts. Minced is even smaller!

If the onions need to be chopped finer you can run your knife through them in a rocking motion. Be sure to hold down the tip of the knife, otherwise the onions are going to go flying around the room.

If cutting onions makes you cry, try putting your onion in the freezer for about 20 minutes before cutting it.

Cheers!

Kathy

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