Wild Rice Stuffing

November 11, 2015
Wild Rice Stuffing

Wild Rice Stuffing

Wild rice is precious, even ceremonial, in some Native American cultures. It’s not a grain and not really rice. It’s the seed from a grass growing in or near the edge of a lake or stream. Mature wild rice is gently knocked from the mother plants, rather than the entire plant being cut and threshed as is wheat, or white rice. Wild rice is farmed in California and still traditionally harvested wild in Canada and the northern Great Lakes region. Good wild rice is expensive, not something for every day, but perfect for Thanksgiving. When we consider foods to include in our all-American feast, we look to our original, seasonal produce; wild rice belongs right up there with pumpkin and cranberries.

Wild rice should have firm, even grains and should not smell dusty. It should be shiny and dark. It takes a long time to cook and needs care. I can’t remember when I first started using wild rice with my Thanksgiving turkey, but I do recall the woman who taught me to wash, soak and slowly cook the grain until it swelled, split, and curled, completely tender. She was eating a bowl of warm wild rice with sugar and milk for breakfast.

Whether you call it dressing and cook it in a casserole alongside your turkey or use the wild rice mixture to stuff your turkey, it may turn out to be the tastiest part of your dinner. I think stuffing is the way to go since turkey juices enhance the rice, but a buttered and covered casserole of it will give a great side. It’s whole grain, Midwestern, and native to the America we celebrate on Thanksgiving.

Wild Rice Stuffing

1 cup wild rice

½ pound Italian sausage and/or ½ pound mushrooms sautéed in 1 tablespoon butter

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups chopped onion

2 cups thinly sliced celery

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon chopped green chili or pinch crushed red chili

2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme) or 1 teaspoon dry salt and freshly ground pepper

The night before, rinse and soak wild rice covered in cool water. The next morning, drain and simmer rice in 4 cups fresh water for 30-45 minutes or until the rice is split open, curled and tender. Drain rice in sieve, shake away excess water, return to saucepan, and sprinkle with salt.

Meanwhile, sauté sausage, breaking it apart into crumbles; remove from frying pan. Slice and sauté mushrooms. Set aside. In the same frying pan heat the oil and sweat the chopped onion and sliced celery (cover with butter wrappers). When the onion is tender, add garlic, chili, herbs, and cook until fragrant. Combine the aromatic vegetables with the drained rice and/or sausage/mushrooms. Combine and taste for seasonings, adding more salt and pepper as needed.

Cool the mixture thoroughly if using to stuff your turkey, or scoop into a buttered casserole dish with a tight fitting cover. Bake in a moderate oven for an hour or inside the turkey for the duration of the roast. Makes 6 cups; serves 8—best leftovers!

In my photo caramelized butternut squash wedges surround the stuffing in a primitive wooden bowl with a colonial “coin spoon.”

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon


Homemade Sauerkraut

October 24, 2015

sauerkraut in proacessIMG_0967Before you moan about those winter winds beginning to blow, be sure you’ve shored up your pantry with a bucket of sauerkraut. Through October Farmer’s markets are rolling in cabbage. Giant heads straight from the fields sell for under $2. How can you pass them up? Cabbage is one of our best vegetables, underused and unappreciated. I find it’s a standby year around: shredded in salads, diced into soups, wilted with butter, or fermented into sauerkraut. Is there anything better on a frosty winter night that a choucroute garni? See https://mjcuisine.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/braised-sauerkraut/

We are learning more and more about the benefits of fermented foods, the importance of probiotics in our diet. The lactic acid in fermented food strengthens the immune system and aids digestion. We know we eat better when we stick to seasonal produce and buy what comes from nearby. Supermarket strawberries and tomatoes don’t belong to our winter tables. Apples and pears are at their best, broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts are at peaks, and the forlorn cabbage, inexpensive and nourishing, is there for the taking.

I wish I had one of my grandmother’s gray stoneware crocks, and I hope whoever has them keeps them in use. In fact I have no crock, but I still ferment kraut every fall in a gallon Cambro plastic container. Enough kraut for 4-5 meals takes around half an hour to prepare and costs under $2. A Best Buy if ever there was one!

Don’t be afraid to try it. People have been souring cabbage for thousands of years. It’s a natural process and just takes some time. The only things to be diligent about are: first, to make sure your fermenting container is scrupulously clean, and, second, that you let your kraut cure slowly in a place that isn’t too warm. A cool garage or basement is just right. The good bacteria that turn cabbage into kraut are living organisms (like yeast) so they don’t flourish if they get either too hot or too cold. Take that cabbage, shred it, salt it, mix it, pack it down, weight it, cover it, and leave it alone while nature’s little helpers create your winter treat.


4-5 lbs. fresh cabbage

9-10 teaspoons kosher salt

Wash and scald a gallon container, a crock, a narrow plastic canister or a heavy glass jar. Drain to air-dry.

Remove few tough outer leaves from cabbage and clean head thoroughly. (Save those tough leaves to chop for soup or a braise. Discard coarse leaf ribs.)

Using a large chef’s knife, cut the cabbage into quarters. Slice the core from each quarter. Shred the cabbage into the largest bowl you have. Use a sharp knife, a mandolin or a cabbage cutter for the shredding. Sprinkle over the salt and using your ultraclean hands, mix and knead the salt into the cabbage. Once the juice begins to exude, pack the salted cabbage by handfuls into the clean crock or other container. Using your fists press the cabbage down until a layer of water floats on the top.

Cover the wet cabbage with a square of clean plastic wrap making sure the wrap comes to the edges of the container sides. Place a saucer that will just fit into the cylindrical opening on top of the wrap. Add a heavy weight to the saucer to keep the cabbage juiced. For a weight you could us a quart jar filled with water, a clean rock, a stone mortar, or a couple large cans of tomatoes.

Store the kraut in process in a cool place, darkish if possible. Check from time to time to make sure there are no off-odors (though at a point in fermentation there will be a mustardy gas sort of smell, a bit like overcooked Brussels sprouts. That’s OK). Once the cabbage looks and tastes like sauerkraut, you may divide it into quart jars and store it in the fridge to use for the next several months.sauerkraut ready


Please don’t let the winter pass without a crock of kraut.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon




Shrimp with Tomatoes and Coconut Milk

September 11, 2015
Shrimp in Tomato and Coconut MIlk Sauce

Shrimp in Tomato and Coconut MIlk Sauce

Tomatoes with bacon, tomatoes with cream, tomatoes on toast or in salads supreme! At the height of our tomato harvest, with colored peppers blending in the mix, each evening’s supper features tomatoes. When “shrimp” was whispered in my ear one night, I set about answering the request the next day. Sweet gulf shrimp with tomatoes and coconut milk makes magic flavor found in tropical cuisines from Brazil to India. The stew may be sparked with spices or kept simple without. Either way it’s a food pairing not to be missed.

The rich creaminess of coconut milk tempers any tartness in the tomatoes, enriches the juice and bathes the shrimp in a sumptuous sauce. Fresh tomatoes melt into the stew in a way that canned tomatoes treated with citric acid can’t approach. Adding ginger, chili, and turmeric gives the dish an East Indian flair. Leaving those ingredients out gives a comfort level even a two-year-old will enjoy.

These days it’s important to check the source of your shrimp. I highly recommend American gulf shrimp if they are available. We’ve all been reminded of the often unsanitary conditions of Thai shrimp farms. For the sweetest, tenderest morsels, know the origin of your shrimp, and buy shell on shrimp. To ease your dinner preparation, simmer the sauce base ahead or even the day before. For a quick meal, steam some rice, blanch a green vegetable, simmer the shrimp in the sauce, and toss a salad.

Shrimp with Coconut Milk and Tomatoes

5 tablespoons olive, canola, or coconut oil

12 oz. onion (one large) peeled and thinly sliced

1 medium sweet red pepper seeded and diced

3-4 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

½ – 1 green or red chili finely chopped*

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

2 cups peeled, seeded, chopped fresh tomatoes**

1 cup canned coconut milk (unsweetened, not lite)

juice 1 lime

1-2 handfuls fresh mint or cilantro, chopped

salt, pepper, cayenne

1 lb. medium Gulf shrimp, preferably in the shell

*Use fresh chili at your own comfort level. I always taste-test my chili first since it will vary in its heat. Use the seeds for more chili kick, or remove the seeds for a milder flavor.

**Save seedy bit from tomato interior. Strain out seeds and use juice as needed.

In a heavy saucepan warm the oil and sweat the sliced onion, covered with butter wrappers, until wilted and translucent. Add sweet red pepper and continue to sauté until the onion just tinges with gold. Stir in the ginger, garlic and chili, cooking until the spices are fragrant. Stir in turmeric, tomatoes, and cover. Reduce heat and simmer until tomatoes are completely tender and broken apart. If needed add a little water or the strained tomato juice. Add coconut milk, season generously with salt and simmer to combine flavors.

While the sauce is cooking, peel the shrimp, season lightly with salt, and refrigerate until needed. Shortly before serving, add shrimp to the simmering sauce and cook only 3-5 minutes or just until the shrimp are pink and cooked through. Add fresh cilantro or mint plus lime juice to taste, and serve with white rice or a simple pilaf. Enough for 4-5.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon




Corn Relish

September 1, 2015
Corn Relish

Corn Relish

Every Saturday since early July we’ve met Pablo next to the big galvanized horse trough heaped with ripe ears of sweet corn in our farmers’ market. $6 a dozen, then $5, and now $4. Each week we bring home another bag packed with the lush grain. I throw the outer husks on the compost pile, stash neat ears in the fridge. I for one am quickly corn-on-the-cobbed out, but happy to have the crisp kernels for pilafs, vegetable salads, succotash, soups, and polenta. Now that we’ve come through a two-month corn cycle, the colored peppers are reddening, and it’s time for corn relish.

Popular throughout the Midwest, the corn relish we know seems to have Germanic origins from Pennsylvania Dutch immigrant farmers. These frugal people—expert preservers, always finding ways to use every scrap of food—corn relish was an end-of-summer means to blend garden vegetables into a savory pickle to can for winter. In some old cookbooks the relish is called corn salad, found in the canning section. Here’s a sweet/tart condiment that could be served with roast chicken, sausages or a supper of leftovers—and stand in for fresh greens no longer a part of winter’s larder.

Once you’re corned out and ready to leave those golden cobs until next summer, try to gather a few more along with some red peppers, onions, cabbage or celery and simmer even a small pot of old-fashioned corn relish. It’s pretty, lively, tasty, and here given a zesty boost with some fresh ginger, garlic and chili. It’s a welcome end of summer treat before the frost is on the punkin.

Corn Relish

2 ½ cups kernels of cut fresh corn (2-4 ears) plus cob scrapings separate

1 tablespoon flour

¾ cup small dice red pepper

¾ cup small dice tender celery, or cabbage

¾ cup small dice onion

2 cloves garlic chopped

1-2 teaspoons chopped Serrano chili (optional)

2 tablespoons finely chopped julienne fresh ginger

1 cup distilled white or cider vinegar

½ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon celery seed or mustard seed

Combine corn kernels, pepper, celery, onion and set aside.

Sieve the corn scrapings and blend flour into the corn milk. Hold aside.

In a medium saucepan bring garlic, chili, ginger, vinegar, sugar, salt, turmeric, mustard and seeds to a boil. Add corn, pepper, onion and simmer 10 minutes; add corn milk + flour and simmer 5 minutes more until thickened. Cool uncovered. Keeps in glass jar for a month in fridge. Makes 3 generous cups.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon




Summer Squash Cakes

August 5, 2015

summer squashcakes photo-18Hiricas lived in a shabby wooden farmhouse on a couple of acres next to our place. All their linoleum-floored rooms were dark—a dim porch with a ceiling swing and stacks of rumpled Czech newspapers, a black heavy table and buffet in a dining room that was never used, and a low ceilinged grease-stained kitchen with a coal range and smells of old world garlic. For eight-year-old me, this was Gothic. I was drawn almost hypnotically to cross the east orchard and rap at their back screen door. I didn’t venture into the dirt cellar basement, but I’d climb the creaky stairs to the kitchen always hoping there’d be something good to eat—something I’d never find at home.

Now many decades later, there are only a few tastes I remember. In autumn there were sweet, doughnut-like fried rolls filled with the freshly ground poppy seeds harvested from the opium poppies grown alongside the gravel driveway. That creamy, soft, nut flavor can’t be duplicated from the usually stale poppy seeds sitting on grocery shelves. Those rolls and the walnut potica remain a memory.

But back to the subject: In the heavy afternoon heat of late summer, I might find a plate of fried summer squash left on the oilcloth-covered kitchen table. Mrs. Hirica, always eager to offer something to her curious neighbor, helped me buy my first cookbook about European food—a collection of Czech recipes.

Last Sunday I found an almost too large, lumpy skinned yellow summer squash in my garden. It was about seven inches long and too mature to grill or stir-fry. It was from my own carefully tended vine, too precious to toss on the compost heap. I remembered Hiricas’ decadent and delicious squash cakes. My mind whipped back to a memory of something I hadn’t put on a plate in almost forever. As a treat for a meatless Monday supper, my lumpy skinned squash became creamy-centered, crisp cakes served with a pool of basil scented yogurt sauce. Tucked next to a corn and kale pilaf alongside beans stewed with tomatoes and zucchini, a crookneck squash took me home again.

Summer Squash Cakes

1 yellow summer squash no more than 3 inches in diameter



1 egg

1 cup fine, dry bread crumbs

olive, canola or grape seed oil

Remove stem and blossom ends from squash. Cut into ½ inch slices. Sprinkle both sides of slices lightly with salt and allow to stand on a wire rack for 15-30 minutes. Blot away excess moisture with paper towel.

Prepare a plate of flour, a bowl of beaten egg and a plate of breadcrumbs. Dust each slice of squash with flour, dip in egg and then coat with breadcrumbs. Place the crumb covered slices back on the wire rack to dry a few minutes.

Heat a heavy cast iron skillet filmed with oil, and add the squash slices to the hot oil making sure they aren’t crowded. Keep the heat moderate. The squash will need to cook 10-15 minutes per side or until the coating is nicely browned and the center is tender (when pierced with a toothpick). Serve the squash cakes immediately, hold in a low oven or cool to room temperature and leave on the kitchen table for your little neighbor who might knock looking for a snack.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon






Chilled Beet Soup

July 14, 2015
Chilled Beet Soup

Chilled Beet Soup

While we’re waiting for summer’s sun-ripened tomatoes, we have beets. Heaped now in farmers’ market vegetable stalls, deep red beets with fresh leafy greens lie next to kale, chard and kohlrabi. Beet tops make a great “mess of greens,” as we used to say; to find a recipe for cooking any summer greens go to: https://mjcuisine.wordpress.com/2010/04/16/mary-jos-kitchen-2/

A few days ago I needed a do-ahead fancyish first course for a birthday dinner party, and this chilled beet soup filled the bill. It’s colorful, delicate, and light. Even the reluctant anti-beet eater will be tempted to taste it in this guise, cousin to the classic Russian borscht.

The immediate feature of this soup is its brilliant color. To hold this bright tint, tender, cooked, diced beets simmer in the stock base for only a minute before meeting their pureed state in the blender jar. Beets left to rest in the hot stock will fade, and the resulting soup will pale. (Thank you Ballymaloe for this essential tip.) Plan to have the beets cooked, diced and ready while the buttered onion simmers in its broth, and remove the beet mixture from the saucepan quickly after just heating through. Pureed and packed in a glass jar, the soup can easily wait in the fridge for a couple of days before finding places in simple small bowls. A swirl of cream-thinned yogurt and a snip of dill will bring the passion of deep purple and sweet summer to your table.

Chilled Beet Soup with Yogurt Cream Swirl

3 baseball sized beets, about 20 oz. (with tops recommended) 2 ½ c. diced cooked*

3 tablespoons butter (or half oil)

6 oz. (1 ½ cups diced onion)

2 cloves garlic

2-3 sliced green chili (optional)

knife point ground cloves (optional)

3 cups light chicken or vegetable stock

salt and white pepper, sugar

plain whole milk yogurt thinned with half and half

(1/2 cup yogurt + ¼ cup half and half, salt)

chopped dill, dill flowers, shredded basil, etc.

*Cover scrubbed beets with water in snug saucepan. Add salt and little sugar. Simmer covered about an hour or until tender (press with finger and test with toothpick). (Alternatively, beets could be wrapped in foil and baked.) Cool, peel, dice.

Sweat the onion in butter under butter wrappers until soft but not colored. Add garlic, chili, cloves, sauté few minutes longer. Add stock and simmer 5 minutes. Add cooked diced beets, simmer for 1 minute. Pour contents of saucepan into a bowl to stop the cooking (any longer cooking will cause beets to lose color). Puree in blender as soon as possible. Season with salt, white pepper and a pinch of sugar if needed. Chill.

Before serving, thin the yogurt with light cream and season with salt. Ladle soup into bowls and spoon yogurt cream on top of soup. Swirl with toothpick and garnish with dill. Serves 8.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon



Favorite Granola

June 16, 2015

granolaHot oatmeal doesn’t appeal on muggy summer mornings. Looks like this is the time for dry cereal (or what some folks call cold cereal). Even the simplest flakes or o’s aren’t very appealing when we read the label’s nutritional details, knowing they leave us feeling hungry in a couple of hours. I’d like to recommend enhancing dry cereal, with sprinklings of nuts, berries or diced fruits and the good crunch of granola. Here’s a sound summer breakfast that will carry you though the morning.

Most of us don’t realize that granola, almost as common today as corn flakes, grew out of a nineteenth century religious fervor for healthy living, to prepare for The Rapture. Sylvester Graham, Presbyterian minister, promoted graham flour, a stone-ground whole-wheat flour (hence graham crackers). James C. Jackson, founder of The Home on the Hill water cure spa and a Seventh Day Adventist advocating vegetarianism, baked the moistened graham flour in sheets, ground it into granules and suggested this granula as a new breakfast food. John Harvey Kellogg, also an Adventist and sanitarium director, copied the granula, got into a lawsuit, and named his version granola. Charles W. Post copied Kellogg’s cereal but named his Grape Nuts. Even my grandmother’s Dunker Brethren Inglenook cookbook published in 1915 has a graham flour recipe for Granula. Granola then faded into the wings until the hippie movement of the 1960s dusted it off, substituted oats for the graham flour, and the product became a wild success.

The granola recipe I keep going back to is one from the 60s. I came to it through a circle of Quaker friends who cooked with whole grains. It’s sweetened with a puree of dates and brown sugar. Brown sugar doesn’t burn as fast as honey used in most recipes, so this granola easily bakes slowly into crisp clumps, making it perfect to eat out of hand as well as to sprinkle on cereals, fruit or yogurt. It toasts best in a low oven over a period of a few hours, but it doesn’t demand a lot of stirring. It can be half cooked one day and finished off the next. Basically it’s foolproof unless you forget it’s in your oven. During a rainy weekend or a quiet evening, a low oven won’t pump out much heat, and the tantalizing aroma of toasting granola will waft through the whole house. Airtight in glass jars, granola will keep for weeks.

Date Granola

 ½ lb. pitted dates, sliced

½ lb. brown sugar (l cup plus 2 tablespoons)

¾ cup oil (pure olive, canola or sunflower)

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

1 ½ lbs. old fashioned rolled oats (8 ½ cups)

1 ½ cups raw wheat germ or ground flax or a mixture of both

1 ¼ cups dry, unsweetened grated coconut (or coconut powder)

1 ½ cups raw natural almonds coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

Press the dates into a glass measure and add just enough water to barely cover. Soak overnight or microwave briefly until dates are softened. Combine dates, soaking water, brown sugar, oil and vanilla in food processor. Blitz to make a thick puree.

Preheat oven to 250°. Combine oats, wheat germ and/or ground flax, coconut, almonds, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Pour over the date puree. Scrape the processor clean and mix the puree into the oats with your hands, coating all dry ingredients with the puree. Divide the mix between two rimmed baking sheets, patting it out evenly and scrape your hands clean. Bake the granola for an hour, stirring every half hour; then reduce the heat to 200 and continue to bake 3-4 hours or until the granola reaches the desired toastiness. Turn off oven and allow to cool in the oven. Granola will crisp as it cools. Store air tight. Makes 4 lbs.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon








Fresh Mint Raita

June 3, 2015
Fresh Mint Raita

Fresh Mint Raita

I’m always looking for a little sauce. Just that extra bit of savor and juice brings the meal together. Whether it’s grilled eggplant, steamed new potatoes, sautéed fish or roast chicken with carrots, sauce saves the day. A roast or pan-grilled something lends itself to a pan sauce of simple stock reduction sometimes lifted with a little wine, lemon juice or Dijon mustard swirled in to boil up the tasty pan drippings. But when supper’s a collection of warmed up leftovers, or a big composed salad or something off the grill, there’s always yogurt to bring flavors together. I’m continually telling people that no fridge should be without at least a couple jars or cartons of plain whole milk yogurt. It’s one of our most perfect foods, and little dollops here and there along with a swirl of olive oil take even the simplest bowl of beans and rice to Olympian heights. (See my blog post from September 6, 2014 about homemade yogurt.)

So what are we going to do with this yogurt to turn it into a classic sauce? During the cool, damp spring, mint grows in such profusion I have to keep pulling it up, or it will take over the entire garden. So: gather a hefty handful of mint. If you have no garden mint, look for it in the farmers’ market, grocery store—or substitute parsley.

We’re ready to spend ten minutes turning this lovely green herb into a classic Indian sauce. Raitas, made from all sorts of vegetables, herbs and fruits combined with yogurt, accompany spicy Indian foods, and add zest to almost any table. The green herb part of this raita is best prepared with a mortar and pestle, but if you don’t mind cleaning all the parts, you can also use a food processor. I’m sticking with the mortar, which gives a better result, since the herb meets no heat from a motor. The mortar can also double as a serving bowl. I’ll need a little garlic, salt and a sliver of chili to liven up my green mash, and I’ll dust a bit of ground cumin over the top for a finish. Ready, set, grind.

Fresh Mint Raita

1 small/medium clove garlic

¼ teaspoon coarse salt

2 thin slices green chili (Serrano) (optional)

2 loose cups fresh mint leaves (stripped from 1 ½ oz. bunch mint stems, washed and spun dry)

½-2/3 cup whole milk yogurt (not Greek)

few drops virgin olive oil

pinch ground cumin

Slice the peeled garlic into the mortar; sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Add chili and grind to a paste. Gather mint leaves into a bundle on cutting board and slice with chopping knife. Add mint to the mortar a handful at a time, grinding and pounding with the garlic mixture. Add pinches of salt as needed. (The salt as grit helps dissolve the mint, but take care not to use too much.) In a couple of minutes, the mass of mint leaves will have reduced to deep green mounded tablespoon of intense mint paste. Stir in the yogurt adding more or less to the desired minty-ness and check for salt. Top with a few drops olive oil and a light dusting of ground cumin. Serve with almost anything savory. Makes a scant cup; serves 2-4. Will keep 2-3 days in fridge though color may fade.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon



Asparagus with Poached Eggs and Hollandaise

May 14, 2015
asparagus with poached egg and Hollandaise

asparagus with poached egg and Hollandaise

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, and waiting for real June strawberries makes them sweeter, then surely spring asparagus lives up to its anticipated arrival. When our farmers’ market opened for the season a few days ago, I arrived early at the First Orchards stand for thick purple asparagus and boxes of newly laid pullet eggs—spring treasures in any cook’s book.

Now is the time to eat my fill of asparagus. While it lasts, I make it my main green vegetable and select the purple variety if it’s available, always choosing the thickest spears for prime flavor. When it disappears for the season, I’ve had my fill. I’m not tempted by the imported sallow-flavored spears that turn up in supermarkets throughout the year. It’s easy: Just say no to asparagus from Peru or Mexico when Michigan’s bounty promises to return.

Asparagus and eggs have long been a perfect match. Whether in a quiche, an omelet, a frittata or a soufflé, they are the ideal pair. When a new clutch of hens begins to lay, their first eggs, called pullet eggs, are treasured for richness and flavor. Young chicks are pickier eaters, seeking out the best bits, and their first miniature eggs taste better than what they will produce later in life. The pullet egg season is brief, so be sure to include them in your shopping whenever you see them.

Home again with my basket of asparagus and eggs, one of the best spring treats for brunch, lunch or a dinner first course is quickly cooked asparagus topped with a poached egg. To guild the lily further, add a spoonful of homemade Hollandaise sauce, which is far easier to make than you imagined and your small plate will become ultimate high-end restaurant fare. With a quick wrist and a couple of saucepans, your humble egg and early “sparrow grass” will dazzle royalty.

 Asparagus with Poached Eggs and Hollandaise

For each serving:

3-4 thick spears Asparagus

1 small poached egg

1-2 tablespoons Hollandaise Sauce

Hollandaise Sauce

6 tablespoons butter, room temperature

2 egg yolks (freeze whites for meringue)

2 tablespoons water

pinch salt

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Whisk egg yolks with water and salt in a small stainless or Pyrex bowl that fits over a saucepan of simmering water (or use a double boiler). Cook, whisking constantly over simmering water until mixture is hot (test with your clean pinkie finger), begins to thicken and fluff. Gradually beat in butter 1 tablespoon at a time until mixture mounts like a soft mayonnaise. Season with lemon juice, pepper, chopped chives and fresh tarragon if available. Makes about 2/3 cup. Hold the warm sauce near the stove, over lukewarm water.

To prepare the asparagus, cut the spears into 4-inch lengths and diagonally slice the remainder of each stalk. Blanch the spears and slices for 3-4 minutes in boiling, salted water, until just tender. Hold on a warm sheet pan.

To poach the eggs, bring a shallow saucepan or skillet with at least 2 inches of water to a boil, season with salt and add a teaspoon of white vinegar. Crack each egg into a small cup. Use a spoon to swirl the simmering water into a whirlpool and slip in the egg. Make another whirlpool and slip in the next egg, etc. Cook each egg about 3 minutes or until the whites are firm and the yolks still soft. Eggs may be poached ahead of time and reheated in a pan of hot water for a couple minutes. Farm-fresh eggs poach beautifully with few shaggy white tails.

To plate, place three thick warm asparagus spears in the center of a salad plate and nestle a few slices alongside. Top the asparagus with a warm poached egg blotted on a tea towel. Spoon over 1-2 tablespoons of Hollandaise sauce. Garnish with chopped chives or parsley.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon



Floating Island

April 22, 2015
Floating Island

Floating Island

Something’s happened to my tolerance for sweets. I used to be mad for a scoop of ice cream or a slice of cake with my afternoon coffee. I looked forward to the occasional chocolate bar or sticky toffee pudding. Now everything seems too sweet, and I find my tummy tightening when I spread icing on family birthday cakes. Last Christmas while everyone around the table happily tucked into the Buche de Noel (our chocolate and caramelized almond French rolled cake), I was content with a little bowl of poached meringues in crème anglaise. These individual meringues, about the size of a giant marshmallow, and their mother custard have become my current dessert of choice. They pair well with poached fruit, fresh berries, roasted nuts, caramelized sugar and offer the experience of real dessert with a light touch. I recently prepared these floating islands with raspberries for a luncheon pudding, and a swoon fell over the table.

We have here a two-part recipe. Each is easy to make and can be finished well ahead of serving. First there’s the custard sauce, a lightly sweetened rich milk thickened with egg yolk and perfumed with vanilla. Many cooks suggest a crème anglaise as thick as pudding, but I prefer a lighter, thinner sauce, the consistency of heavy cream. Second, we use meringue made from the egg whites. Traditionally the meringue balls are poached in simmering water or milk, but I recently discovered a method of poaching the meringues in custard cups or ramekins where they maintain perfect shapes and are easy to store for several days. The meringues with custard are delicious on their own and they can be made more festive garnished with a few sugar-macerated berries or poached rhubarb and a sprinkling of crushed caramelized almonds. Here’s the perfect pudding for spring—especially suitable now as we’re all trying to use LESS sugar.

Floating Islands or Snow Eggs (Oeufs a la Neige)

 Crème Anglaise

20-22 fl. oz. (2 ½-¾ cups) whole milk* (use larger amount for extra large yolks)

4 large or extra-large egg yolks (save whites for meringue)

2 oz. (scant 1/3 cup) sugar

half a vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

* Include ¼ cup heavy cream for extra luxury.

Heat milk with split vanilla bean in 2-quart saucepan. In medium bowl whisk egg yolks with sugar. When milk is very hot, but not boiling, whisk 1/3 milk into egg yolks. Whisk and return milk and yolk mixture to remaining hot milk. Exchange whisk for metal or wooden spoon, and stir custard constantly in a figure-eight motion until it coats back of spoon. Test by drawing finger through custard on spoon; it should leave a definite trail. (As custard cooks, you will notice the fine netting of foam on top develop into a web of larger bubbles on the surface. Once the bubbles disappear, cook the custard about another 3 minutes to reach the doneness test.)

When custard is ready, immediately pour it back into mixing bowl to cool, scrape seeds from inside bean into custard, stirring from time to time to prevent a skin from forming. When custard has cooled to room temperature, add vanilla extract if did not use bean. Pour into glass jar and refrigerate. Makes 3 generous cups.


4 egg whites

8 tablespoons sugar

tiny pinch salt

few drops vanilla

Before whipping egg whites, have ready 10-12 small ramekins or custard cups that will fit in a shallow pan of simmering water. (Cook 3 or 4 at a time if necessary).

Whip egg whites with salt until soft peaks form. Add sugar 1 tablespoon at a time and beat until stiff. Stir in vanilla. Spoon mounds of meringue into each of the cups/ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap. Place cups in wide skillet of simmering water; cover and cook 5 minutes after water returns to a boil. (You will notice the meringue puffs as it cooks then falls a bit as it cools) Remove cups from water and cool. Store at room temperature 2 hours or refrigerate 2-3 days.

To plate: place a circle of berry slices or halves and juice near edge of small dessert plate; pool 3 tablespoons custard in the center; tip meringue from custard cup and float in center. Sprinkle with crushed caramelized sugar if desired. Serves 8 with extra custard.

Note: try half a recipe for starters, Making 5-6 meringues and 1 ½ cups of custard sauce.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon




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