Friday, April 3, 2009

100th Post! April Royal Foodie Joust Entry

Cheese-Asparagus Pesto Pâté w/White Balsamic Lemongrass Reduction and Almond Whole Wheat Crackers

I am celebrating my 100th blog post with this delectable appetizer that will be my entry for the April Royal Foodie Joust hosted by Jenn the Leftover Queen. I was surprised to see that this would be my 100th post, it snuck up on me. Maybe this will be good luck for the competition!

The three ingredients chosen by 5 Star Foodie (winner of last month's challenge) were asparagus, almonds and lemongrass. Unfortunately, my first recipe attempt did not go as planned. I wanted to serve up a white asparagus ravioli, but they kind of flopped. My filling was too loose and I still need to work on the actual pasta construction. I had a hard time getting any filling in them, any suggestions or tips? All was not lost though, I brushed them with a bit of olive oil and baked them until crisp. Very nice with the asparagus pesto, and worth a future attempt. But enough of that, on to the finished dish!

This is a long entry with many photos, so sit back with a cup of tea and read on. My appetizer is made up of a Cheese-Asparagus Pesto Pâté drizzled with a White Balsamic Lemongrass Reduction and served on Almond Whole Wheat Crackers, whew! I borrowed the idea for the pâté from a recipe in Betty Rosbottom's, "Cooking School Cookbook". Her version calls for a traditional pesto and prosciutto layered cheese. I can't even tell you how many times I have made this for entertaining, especially around Christmas/New Years. It's great because you can make a few in advance and have them ready anytime. For my asparagus pesto, I replaced the pine nuts with almonds and used mint and parsley instead of basil. They really complimented the asparagus. The recipe makes much more than needed, but is fantastic tossed with cooked fresh pasta. I was very happy with the cracker recipe and surprised at how easy they were to make. You could really vary this recipe quite a bit. I found the original here, and as you can see, changed a few things ( I suggest reading the comments on the recipe). The addition of the ground almonds made for a dense cracker, great for the spread. I am going to experiment more, leaving the nuts out and just using all flour. Here are the components of this dish, don't think this is overwhelming, you can make so much of it beforehand!

Asparagus Pesto
makes about 2 cups

1# asparagus
1/4 cup whole, raw almonds
1/4 cup packed, fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup packed, fresh parsley
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

After removing the tough ends of the stalks, blanch the asparagus in boiling water for about 3 minutes, till just tender. Immediately immerse in an ice bath and when chilled, drain completely.

Into a food processor add the almonds, mint, parsley and garlic. Pulse until the almonds are chopped, not too fine. Cut your blanched asparagus in half and add to the processor along with the cheese. Pulse again, chopping and blending all ingredients. With the motor running, slowly add the oil through the chute until the pesto just comes together, you want to be able to spread it and not have it be runny. Scrape down the sides and pulse again if needed, then add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to use.

White Balsamic Lemongrass Reduction
makes about 1/2 cup

1 12 oz bottle of White Balsamic Vinegar
1 stalk of lemongrass about 5", chopped a bit
1 tsp organic sugar

Heat vinegar and lemongrass in a heavy pan over medium high heat. When it comes to a boil, add the sugar and reduce the heat to a simmer. Continue to cook, uncovered until the mixture reduces and becomes syrupy. Strain the lemongrass out and refrigerate.

Just a few notes: First, try to so this the day before you are entertaining and preferably when you can have the windows open. The vinegar really has a strong smell. Second, I read a tip that when you first add the vinegar to the pan, place a skewer in and mark the depth. That will help when testing to see how much the liquid has reduced. Last tip, when you are ready to use the reduction (which I like to store in a plastic, squeeze bottle), immerse the bottle in hot water to loosen up the reduction, or simply let it sit out on the counter to bring it to room temperature.

Almond Whole Wheat Crackers
makes 1 cookie sheet

1 cup whole raw almonds
2 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tsp sea salt
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2/3 to 1 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grind your almonds in a food processor until they are fairly fine. Place them in a large bowl. Add the flour and salt to the ground almonds and whisk to blend and sift the dry ingredients.

Add the oil and begin lightly stirring while you add the water. Add just enough water for the dough to come together, it will be a bit sticky, remember, you can always add more liquid. Do not over work the dough.

Now it's time to roll out the dough. I chose to bake mine on my silpat, you could also use parchment paper, or an ungreased cookie sheet. First, spread it out with your hands, then roll with a lightly floured pin until the dough is about 1/8" thick. I then cut the edges in line with the silpat. Lightly score the dough into the sections you desire, not cutting all the way through the dough. Prick all over with a fork, lightly brush with some olive oil and sprinkle with salt (I used kosher flake salt). Place the silpat on your baking sheet and bake until just beginning to brown and crisp up, 25-30 minutes. Be careful not to burn these. They will be a bit dense, if you would like them crisper, roll them out thinner.

Let them cool on a rack and them you can break them up. I think these taste best the day they are made. Ours only lasted that long!

Cheese-Asparagus Pesto Pâté
1 8oz block of regular or 1/3 less fat cream cheese
1/3 cup asparagus pesto
white balsamic lemongrass reduction
mint leaves for garnish
unwaxed dental floss

Place the cream cheese block on it's side ( I like to keep it in the foil package, it handles better). Cut the block into 4 slices with the dental floss. Lay each slice down and spread the pesto, layering as you go. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate 6 hours or overnight. When ready to serve, I like to let it sit out at room temperature for awhile. Place a nice dollop of the pesto on top, drizzle generously with the reduction and garnish with a mint leaf. Don't forget to surround it with those yummy, nutty crackers!

Try this for a new twist this Easter!

Coming soon: Bar Cento Review!


kat said...

Beautiful entry, Happy 100 posts!

Foodycat said...

That is so clever! It looks delicious.

Anonymous said...

This looks wonderful! Happy 100th post! Good luck at the RFJ!!

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

This is awesome, Kimi!!! I love everything about it. A lot of effort and hard work went into it and I think it is very unique and original. I bet it was delicious!

Happy 100th! :) said...

This is wonderful! A lot of love went into this dish and it is just amazing! I love it!

Sherrie said...

This looks delicious !

Corinne M said...

This looks very tasty! Happy 100th post, that is fantastic!

Keep up the great work!

Dee said...

Oh, yumm! The crackers look very, very good.

Rachel said...

Congratulations on your centennial post. I admire a woman who makes her own crackers and the pate looks tasty too.

Dave Jones said...

sounds delicious...happy 100th post.