What's Cooking in Carolina?

Mainly creative menus and recipes (usually healthy) and always from scratch with tips for party planning, theme parties, weddings and decorating tips so you can give swank parties or dinners to delight your guests from a part time caterer, owner/operator of a coming soon Entree Vous, but mainly a cook and eater who grows much of her own food and loves to laugh.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Asparagus Recipes: Spring Food Fest (Asparagus: Shopping, Prepping, Cooking, Serving, Recipes)

We are in the last weeks of April. Spring is upon us. In a matter of days the light green new growth has filled the air pockets and closed us in to the privacy of summer, blocking the view to the neighbor we can only see in winter. The dogwoods, viburnum, wild azaleas and sweet Betsy are in full bloom, the red buds and Ribes odorata are waning. The smell of spring is everywhere. We saw out first 2 hummingbirds several days ago so our feeder is up and ready for the season when we refill them every few days. Our spring garden was planted late, and we just put in the seeds for the main garden; late too, but we’ll still have an abundance of produce to eat fresh and put up. And we are digging a plot for our first asparagus bed, finally.

When ever we get into the planning and planting, we get hungry for the foods that are on our minds, especially the foods of spring and the grocery stores are full of them. We are fortunate to have wonderful markets with fresh produce and we can find them before our garden produces. What comes to mind this time of year is asparagus, peas, new potatoes, onions and strawberries, among others.

Asparagus So in this issue, we are going to provide ideas on what to do with asparagus.

How to shop for and prepare fresh asparagus: Make sure they are firm and the spears are fresh. They get slimy when older. We like the small ones, thin as a pencil. They don’t need peeling, they cook quickly and taste great. If you get the bigger ones, peel the ‘skin’ below the spear with a vegetable peeler. Regardless of size, cut off the bottom few inches or break at the breaking point.

Four ways to cook asparagus:

Roast: Spread out asparagus on a sheet pan covered with parchment (so you only have to throw away the parchment and not clean the pan! Lazy? No! Practical and time saving! If you are doing this for 100, trust us, it saves time and money!). Brush or spray with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in 400 degree oven for 7-10 minutes, turning and testing for doneness. Be careful not to overcook.

Boil: Bring water to boil in large skillet. Put in asparagus and boil 5-7 minutes or until tender. Be careful not to overcook!

Microwave: Put cut & trimmed asparagus into gallon zip-lock. Close all but 1½” of bag. Lay asparagus as flat as possible in zip-lock. Microwave 1 minute and 45 seconds on high. Turn over; microwave 45 seconds. Close bag and immediately douse in ice water bath to stop cooking.

Grill: Like roasting, preheat grill to medium; oil grill. Brush asparagus lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill asparagus, turning frequently, until just done. We would remind you not to overcook but if you haven’t heard it by now, you deserve mushy asparagus.

Recipes or ideas for recipes:

You can take any of the above methods of cooking and serve as is. With the microwave version, it is best to serve cold. Dress any with lemon vinaigrette.

With roasted or grilled asparagus, add garlic, garlic and lemon zest, sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds, or butter. Serve with aioli, flavored with saffron, lemon or garlic. Top with onion rings, bread crumbsbread crumb, garlic & lemon zest topped asparagus, or grated egg white then grated egg yolk Roasted Asparagus Topped with Egg. You can roast or grill your favorite other veggies (sliced eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, onion, mushrooms or portabella) with the asparagus and serve a platter full or top pasta or stack in a grilled panini sandwich with your favorite cheese. Asparagus sandwiches are gaining in popularity everywhere; some ideas: turkey and asparagus, hot chicken and asparagus, or some kind of bread (pumpernickel or rye), some kind of cheese (jack, cream blue, fontina, or cheddar), some kind of dressing (thousand island, mayo, Italian, or lemon butter) and maybe some kind of topping (grilled onions or pickles)

Serve cooked asparagus with a cheese or hollandaise sauce.

Proscuitto wrapped AsparagusTake ½ strips of prosciutto, wrap raw trimmed asparagus, spread on sheet pan and spray with cooking spray. Broil a few minutes, turning. Serve as an appetizer.

Another asparagus appetizer: Wrap each spear in puff pastry, roast until golden brown. Cut in several pieces and serve on end. If you are in a rush, roll spear in a slice of ham. Cut in two pieces. Pretty!

Make Veal Oscar or Eggs Oscar (Benedict style with crabmeat and asparagus) or Omelet Oscar (with asparagus, crabmeat and hollandaise). We like Cream of Asparagus Soup and asparagus risotto. Serve in a pasta salad making asparagus the star or mix in a variety of complementary veggies: green onion, peas, or whatever strikes your fancy.

You can do stir fries, all veggie, chicken, pork or beef with asparagus, or add other vegetables like shitake mushrooms.

That should get you started. We actually have recipes for all of the above and more. If you are interested, send us a note (info@swankcatering.com) and if we get a few requests for a few recipes, we’ll send them to you directly; if we get a lot of requests, we’ll publish them, either on our blog or on our website (www.swankcatering.com).

Your comments are welcome, in fact, we would love to hear from you.

Take care and until next time,

eat, drink, laugh, and have fun with food and your friends!

Pookah and Di

Thursday, April 14, 2005

How to Throw a Tropical Party on the Lawn

A summer nears and the weather draws us outside any excuse to throw a party will work. You don't need to be an expert to impress your guests. Remember to keep your theme in mind and plan a time line. (You can't do everything in the last few hours, so plan your menu and decorations with this in mind.) Here are a few ideas that may spark your creative juices and get you started.

Diane needed to give a reception. We decided on a date in early June. (We are in NC therefore the landscaping is showing good color by then, but it usually isn't unbearably hot yet.) We settled on a Luau theme and menu. We started at a local Target store for a few seasonal decorations to get our inspiration. We purchased some paper napkins in a wild tropical stripe with coordinating plastic beverage tumblers and floating candles that looked like hibiscus blooms. With the color palette established, we went to my party rental store and ordered a tent, tables, chairs, linens, and dishes.There were 6 guest tables.
We used round clothes to the ground in each of the bright colors found in the paper napkins: cobalt blue, light blue, raspberry,orange, bright yellow. For the food service area, we chose one round 48" table flanked by 2 serpentine tables with pale gold linens.
Our tropical atmosphere was well on it's way. (Keep in mind that it doesn't cost anymore to get colorful linens than just plain white.)

Now on to the centerpiece and table decorations. We started with one of those therma-lite urns that you can find everywhere now. Ours was purchased at the grocery store. The urn was about thigh high and large enough inside to accommodate a one gallon palm, also purchased at the grocery. We bought pineapples, oranges, mangos, grapes and those cool little baby bananas (also available at Chinese markets). We placed the urn in the center of the 48"table, popped in the palm using crumpled newspaper around the tree to secure it and insure that it stays straight.
We took the back end of an old wooden spoon to make a few holes in the dirt around the tree. A couple of hours before the guests arrived, we inserted tall stems of ginger and bird of paradise into the holes in the dirt. We then added some small wooded dowels,leaving 4 to 8" sticking out. The dowels allow you to prop the fruit around the base. The pineapples and larger fruits go toward the center, with bananas and grapes hanging over the sides. We purchased a second palm cut the fronds scattering them around the table to accent our white serving platters. We also used red banana leaves under some of the food displays (between the platter and the food).Once the food was out, we finished the look with more fruit and those colorful plastic tumblers. We filled them partially with water and used them for the floating candles. This was problematic, as every time the table got a little bump the water put the candle out. A much better ides for the future would be to use play sand. The centerpieces on the other tables were a snap. We just put one tall and 2 short tumblers in mixed colors with sand and the smaller hibiscus candles. A little sand and a few flower petals sprinkled around the base and there you are.

The best part of the plan is the recycle after the event. On the day of the party you have one large arrangement to do, nature has already started it for you. It should really only take 15 minutes to create a fabulous showpiece that towers over your guests like something in the lobby of a fine resort.When you dismantle the thing, you eat half of it then put your palm and your new urn on your porch or in your sunroom. We spent around $50.00 at Target, the urn was $65.00 and the two palms were $15.00 each. Rental costs depend on your guest count. We do recommend that you rent a tent for an outside event. It is worth the cost to not have to worry about the weather. You have enough to do. We are a big fan of renting the linens and dishware. You don't want to spend the next few days after an event digging your way out of the mess. Take out the trash, put away the left-overs and let the rental staff pick up the dirty linens and dishes. COOL!

To view the menu for the party go to

link to www.swankcatering.com/island_theme_party_menu

The recipe for The Lime Sauce to go with the coconut shrimp:
1 cup sour cream
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 small shallot, finely diced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 T sugar
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper, preferably habenero, very finely diced
salt and pepper to taste

Combine in small bowl, mix well, refrigerate until ready to use.

We have to tell you about the cake. Who, but Diane, would have thought to put a bright orange cake on a hot pink table cloth. It was beautiful and wonderful. One person got out of her car from yards away and told us all she could see was that cake; that it was positively glowing.

This is our first blog entry: we plan to periodically write articles about party planning, theme parties, wedding planning, menus, recipes, and decorating tips for parties. We like to share our creative ideas so that you too can execute beautiful, swank parties with wonderful foods to wow your guests. We hope you enjoy our ideas and give us feedback including input to what else you would like to hear about.

Take care and until the next time,
eat, drink, laugh, love!
Pookah and Di
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