Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dairy I Do, Dare I don't

This post has been so long overdue….. and here is my explanation for those of you who don’t know - at my day job I have to work for a very demanding and difficult boss – ME!

OK….so on with the post.

A few weeks, actually more like a month ago I offered to help my dear cousin D an amazing baker (she really needed NO help, but was just being polite and not refusing) with a chocolate cake that she was going to bake and I was going to ice/decorate.

A bit of background, I DO NOT BAKE DESERTS.

I have never baked a cake/meringue/pie that has not fallen, cracked, undercooked, overcooked or burnt – yes, the bottom floor of the oven and the cake too…(pineapple upside down in a spring form pan…I know, I know the tray was not placed under the pan) Even if it did make it after all the possible disasters, it just tasted insipid!

Like Rachel Ray, I cannot bake to save my soul!

After all this I still landed at D’s kitchen with eggs and butter in hand. D had all the other ingredients prepared and ready to be mixed. Moi, I kept chattering incessantly while D and the Kitchenaid were trying to do their things...…(mistake 1).

After all the many mixings and beatings the dough was ready to be poured into the pans and I offered to even the dough out, I shook and patted and swirled the pan to remove air bubbles/pockets (mistake 2) and we were ready to bake.

I presume you have by now figured out where we I am going with this………

When the cakes came out they looked good and the aroma was heavenly, infusing the whole house. Cousin D set it to cool and goes about getting the icing ingredients going, while I continue to chat incessantly (mistake 3).

D planned to fix a Caprese salad for the now hungry folks watching this drama unfold - me and my big mouth, suggested I make a pasta to go along with the salad (???). So D politely let’s me take over (read raid) her kitchen and helped me search for all the things I need like kosher salt, a variety of olive oils and we found a wonder fresh wedge of Parmesano Reggiano cheese.

I get the pasta water going and make the pasta sauce – Asparagus and baby spinach in a garlic cream sauce.

Meanwhile the icing was made and the cake brought back…..with big ole holes in the center of the cakes (looked liked large donuts)…yup, the inevitable happened….the curse of the doomed desert! Since I had to decorate the cake, I was advised to fill the centers with some icing -as chance would have it D made a generous double batch…maybe it was intended that way by some supreme power that knew the outcome before us! The cake was iced and decorated with an off center Fleur-de-lys. By the time it got to the table, it was devoured before we had a chance to take pictures of it with cousin S’s new hotshot Canon DSLR, but we did capture some nice shots of folks with cake plates in hand…….the cake tasted delish, really really delish!

I think D has learnt never to invite me “help” her bake a cake….maybe just to decorate, her husband, S does a bang up job at decorating her cakes, I might be let go off......permanently!

But here is something nice for you – giving it an Italian name makes it taste even better.

Penne alla Spinaci, Asparago con Parmesano

1 bunch asparagus (about 15-20 stalks)
2 – 3 cups baby spinach
2-3 tomatoes, finely chopped
8-10 cloves of garlic, peeled and grated
1 cup cream or half & half
4-6 tbsp milk
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp olive oil
¾ freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Red pepper flakes, optional
¼ tsp freshly grated black pepper
salt to taste
Penne/Penne Rigatoni/Farfalle….pasta of your choice (recipe yields enough sauce for a bout a ½-¾ package of pasta)

Cut the asparagus into bite size pieces (discard about bottom 1/3). Meanwhile, cook the pasta to al dente. Drain & set aside. In a low to medium skillet, combine olive oil & butter and add in the grated garlic allowing it cook for a few minutes taking care not to let the garlic burn as it will taste bitter. Add asparagus, baby spinach and tomatoes. Cook until the spinach has wilted and add milk, cream, ground black pepper, red pepper flakes and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat, add pasta and cook on low just until the sauce coats the pasta. Adjust to add more milk/cream if sauce seems too dry. Finally liberally sprinkle the Parmesan cheese, spoon into bowls and decorate with a few shavings of the cheese and serve warm.