Grilled Spring Spear

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Asparagus is the most revered spring vegetable. The word asparagus comes from the ancient Persian word asparag, meaning a sprout. The ancient Egyptians cultivated asparagus and offered it to numerous gods and the Romans had an expression, “Velocius quam asparagi coquantur”, meaning faster than you can cook asparagus. It was a rare and expensive vegetable in the 1890s in the United States, but then cultivation helped to tame the price. It was inevitable that the asparagus should be treated as an aphrodisiac given its shape, which, an Elizabethan writer remarked, it ‘manifestly provoked Venus.”  

Tips:

Although grown in quite a large scale and in many countries, asparagus is available in abundance from March to late June. There are over 300 varieties of asparagus, only 20 of which are edible. 

They are divided into three main categories: 

Green asparagus. This is the most common type of asparagus. It is harvested at a height of about 8 inches. 

White asparagus. Grown in the dark (covered with soil to keep it from turning green), white asparagus is harvested as soon as it emerges from the ground. Although more tender than the green variety, it tends to be less flavorful, and is more expensive, since more work is required to grow it. 

Purple asparagus: This variety has a fruity flavor and is harvested when only 2 to 3 inches high. 

How to buy asparagus: 

Whether asparagus are thin or thick, choose them with firm, crisp stalks and compact brightly colored heads with no trace of rust or softness. The bottom of the stalk should be moist when squeezed, not dry and woody. Avoid yellowish asparagus with soft stalks that are beginning to flower, these are signs that it is old.

Store asparagus vertically in 1 inches of water in a container, stem-side-down in the refrigerator.

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Serve this easy make-ahead dish as a starter or a side.  The asparagus is enhanced by the marinade and grilling.

Grilled Asparagus

Makes four servings

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George Hirsch Lifestyle

1 pound fresh asparagus

1/4 cup olive oil

juice and zest of 1 lemon

4 cloves

Caramelized Garlic

, chopped

1 Tablespoon  of fresh oregano, chopped

2 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup calamata olives, pitted and split

Fresh ground black pepper

Cut the stem ends off the asparagus and discard; peel the asparagus up to the beginning of the tip ends with a vegetable peeler. 

Combine a 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and oregano in a shallow rectangular dish. Marinate the asparagus in this mixture for 1 hour. 

Preheat the grill or a grill pan to medium temperature.

Remove the asparagus from the marinade and grill for about 5 minutes, basting with the marinade. Turn the asparagus as needed so they do not burn. 

Remove the asparagus from the grill, top with lemon zest, parmesan cheese and olives. Top with remaining 1/4 cup olive oil. Serve at room temperature.

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Old Fashioned Coffee Break

When actually was the first coffee break? Possibly in 12th or 13th century in Africa. But, the officially dedicated daily event in the US, the 1900s.

In 1952, a Pan-American Coffee Bureau ad campaign urged consumers, "Give yourself a Coffee-Break - and Get What Coffee Gives to You." (source, NPR)

The coffee break was and still is such an important part of everyday lifestyle and now our culture. For more than three and one half million people in the US, the very ritual of having a cup of coffee gives good reason to get together, talk and even gather your thoughts, even if for just 10 to 15 minutes. I look forward to a later afternoon coffee break everyday.

Whether you take your break mid-morning or mid-afternoon, pair that freshly brewed coffee with my old fashioned style sour cream coffee cake. 

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Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Makes a 9" Bundt Pan, about 10-12 slices

 chefgeorgehirsch.com | George Hirsch Lifestyle

For the Crumb Topping:

1/2 cup light brown sugar

6 Tablespoons sweet butter, softened

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Place the butter, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and vanilla in a bowl and crumble together with your fingers until it forms a crumb mixture. Add in the nuts. Reserve and mix cake batter.

For the Cake:

1/2 cup sweet butter, one stick softened

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, beaten

2 cups All-Purpose Flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup low fat plain yogurt

1/4 cup 2% milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon fresh grated orange rind

Grease and flour a tube, Bundt-style, or a regular-sized 9 1/2-inch baking pan.

Cream together the butter, sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Mix in eggs, vanilla and orange zest, one at a time. Scrape the sides of the bowl again.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, combine sour cream, yogurt and milk together. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately in three stages with the sour cream, yogurt, and milk mixture; stirring and scraping the bowl with spatula after each addition. Mix until just blended. Do not over mix.

Place half the batter in the pan, and sprinkle with half the topping mixture. With the back of butter knife swirl the batter slightly to mix the crumb mixture slightly into the bottom of cake batter. Add remaining batter, then the crumb topping.

Bake coffee cake in a preheated 350°F oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cake tests done. Cool for 15-20 minutes, and then remove from pan by placing a large plate over top of cake and invert pan. Tap the sides of cake pan to free cake from pan. Plate serving platter over the bottom and invert again. The crumb topping should be on the side up to serve. Allow to cool at least 2 hours (if you can) before slicing!

Cover cake once fully cooled.

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The G is Silent

Gnocchi, pronounced n-yo-key. This dish reminds me of one of my favorite places on earth - Castelletto di Montebenchi, the heart of this small medieval city in the Tuscany Region. One of my chef friends, Antonio from Northern Italy makes the best gnocchi ever! When I can't connect with Antonio, I just make my own.

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Gnocchi are excellent accompaniments for meat and poultry dishes. When prepared right they are light as pillows. The secret is not to over mix the dough and to use just the right amount of flour. There are so many ways to make gnocchi, I prefer to bake the potatoes instead of steaming to make a softer dough.

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Potato Gnocchi

chefgeorgehirsch.comGeorge Hirsch Lifestyle 

2 pounds russets (baking potatoes)

Approximately 2 cups flour (variable) 

1 large egg

A pinch of sea salt

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake potatoes until easily pierced with a fork or a paring knife will easy slip through potatoes. Cool slightly, then peel the potatoes. 

Mash them while they’re still warm (a potato ricer or food mill works best). Season the potatoes with a pinch of salt and slowly knead in enough flour to obtain a fairly firm, smooth, non-sticky dough; exactly how much flour depends on the moisture from the potatoes. Add the egg, and enough flour so the dough does not stick to your hands. 

Knead the dough for 4-5 minutes, as it will resemble regular pasta dough. Divide the dough into four pieces.

Roll the dough out into a rope shape about 2/3 of an inch thick, cut the rope into one-inch pieces, and gently score the pieces crosswise with a fork to obtain slight ridges. With your finger, gently roll the pressed doughback off the fork. This may take a little practice. If the dough sticks to the fork, dip the fork in flour before you press the dough against it. Making this shape will help the gnocchi grab on to the tasty sauce it’s served with. 

Cook the gnocchi in abundant salted boiling water, removing them with a slotted spoon a minute or two after they rise to the surface. Drain them well and serve them with a few leaves of sage, melted unsalted butter and Parmesan, or meat sauce, or pesto sauce. 

Serve immediately while they are full of steam. The gnocchi are wonderfully light when hot. Once they cool off they become dense like a tire without air.

Make ahead Tip: Place any remaining uncooked Gnocchi in a container, dust with corn meal and freeze until you are ready to boil.

George's Spicy Tomato Sauce

Makes 4 cups |chefgeorgehirsch.com

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup chopped pancetta

10 cloves garlic, chopped fine

1/2 chopped onion, chopped fine

1/4 cup prosciutto, chopped fine

2 cups canned plum San Marzano tomatoes, crushed

1/4 cup dry white wine

2-4 teaspoons hot pepper flakes

10-12 fresh basil leaves, lightly torn

Grated Parmesan cheese

Heat a saucepan and heat the olive oil.  Add the pancetta and cook until it becomes light brown.  Add the garlic, onion and prosciutto and cook 2-3 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, white wine, hot pepper flakes, basil and black pepper, stir well and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  You can regulate the spiciness of the dish by adding more or less hot pepper flakes.

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Spring Crisp

Rhubarb Crisp is also known as early spring tart. Rhubarb, known as the pie plant, is a tart vegetable used to make tasty desserts + sauces; which happens to be rich in vitamins and minerals. Rhubarb is also a sign of spring, being one of the earlier harvested vegetables of the season in the Northern Hemisphere. This is good news - happy Spring!

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Rhubarb Crisp

Makes 4-6 servings

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4-6 cups rhubarb stalks, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

juice from one orange

1 Tablespoon orange zest, finely grated

1 cup Turbino sugar (sugar in the raw)

3/4 cup flour

Cover rhubarb with half of the sugar (1/2 cup) sugar, orange juice, zests and marinate 1 hour. Mix remaining sugar and flour together and combine with marinated rhubarb. Grease a 9 inch ovenproof casserole or several small individual ramekins; add marinated rhubarb and sugar flour mixture to greased baking dish.

For the topping:

3/4 cup flour

1/4 cup butter

1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon.

3/4 cup rolled oats (not instant oatmeal)

1/2 cup light brown sugar

Mix flour, butter, ground cinnamon until it makes a smooth pastry dough. Add oatmeal and brown sugar, crumble together and place on top of marinated rhubarb in baking dish. 

Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until top is light brown and the top is crisp and rhubarb is tender. Serve warm with coffee ice cream.

Tip:

Mix apples, pears, peaches, plums or berries in with rhubarb for seasonal dessert variations.

Mix in a hand full of pecans or walnuts for a crunchy addition.

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