Parmesan-Crusted Asparagus

September 28, 2013

Question. How do you get kids to love asparagus. Answer. Cover it is Parmesan. During a recent episode of Cook’s Country, Chris Kimball got it exactly right, when he said that this is a “perfect recipe for people who don’t like asparagus”.  The toasted Parmesan topping adds a wonderful nutty flavor, and the asparagus is perfectly cooked. This is a perfect 5-star recipe; taste-wise I can find no flaws whatsoever. The only drawback to the recipe is that, as only a side-dish, it makes a huge mess. Between sheet pans, bowls and cutting boards, I counted 8 items that I had to wash by hand (things that didn’t fit in the dishwasher). Below, I slightly reorganized the original recipe to get that number down to 5 core items.  While the recipe was presented as a Holiday Meal (when presumably you might have some help in the kitchen), I made it on a weekday after work and faced my after-dinner-kitchen-mess solo.

Asparagus that everone can love.

Asparagus that everyone can love.


  1. Of course, when you go to the supermarket some bunches of asparagus are pencil-thin and others are plump. Cooks country did testing and determined that thin asparagus are better only when steaming. Thick asparagus are better when broiling and sauteing. So bottom line is that you should avoid thin asparagus for this recipe.
  2. The original recipe called for 2 pounds of asparagus, which will serve 6 people as a side dish. Because I only needed to serve 3 people, I cut the recipe in half. And because I cut the recipe in half, I didn’t have to divide the cheese/bread crumbs mixture in half; a step they recommend because it would become too gooey after dredging 2 pounds.
  3. Chris Kimball estimates that 1-1/2 ounces of Parmesan would equal 3/4 cup, but because I used a microplaner I got 1-1/4 cup.

Rating: 5-stars
Cost: $3.80
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Started: 5:15 PM.  Ready:  6:00 PM

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here.  The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

1 pound asparagus (1/2”-thick)
Salt and pepper
1-1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (3/4 cups)
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
Pinch cayenne
1 large egg white
1/2 teaspoon honey

  1. Trim away the tough, woody ends of the asparagus.  Melt the butter in the microwave for 45 seconds and allow to cool.
  2. Use a fork to poke holes all over both sides of each asparagus stalk, placing in a pie plate until finished poking the rest of the asparagus. Evenly sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon table salt, and place on rimmed baking sheet lined with paper towels. Allow to sit for 30 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, use a paper towel to wipe out the pie plate and add 1/2 cup (about 2/3 of your total Parmesan), 1/3 cup panko, melted butter, 1/8 teaspoon table salt, a pinch of ground pepper and cayenne. (If you are cooking 2 pounds of asparagus, empty half of the mixture into a separate bowl, and refresh the cheese mixture after dredging half the asparagus.) Set an oven rack in the middle of your oven and pre-heat to 450-degrees.
  4. After 30 minutes has elapsed, use a standing or hand mixer to bring egg white and honey to soft peak, then use rubber spatula to empty into 13”x9” baking dish. Pat asparagus dry and put into egg whites. Use tongs to gently toss until evenly covered, but working quickly because the salt will deflate the egg whites.
  5. Remove the paper towels from rimmed baking sheet and line with aluminum foil; spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  6. Dredge the asparagus, one stalk at a time, through the cheese mixture, pressing so that the mixture sticks to each stalk. Place on foil-lined baking sheet. (Again, if cooking 2 pounds of asparagus be sure to refill with reserved cheese/bread crumbs when dredging the second pound)
  7. Place baking sheet in 450-degree oven for about 7 to 8 minutes, until it just beginning to brown. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan on top and continue baking for another 7 to 8 minutes, until the cheese becomes melted and golden brown. Transfer to platter. Serve.
Poke holes to avoid soggy crust

Poke holes to avoid soggy crust

Cuban Shredded Beef (Vaca Frita)

September 21, 2013

Having just returned from Mexico my Latin taste buds are their peak, so I was excited to try this Cuban recipe. While I’ve never heard of Vaca Frita (Fried Cow) before, it seemed similar to cuban Ropa Vieja (which means “Old Clothes”).  However, after tasting I see that the recipes are very different, the Vaca Frita is browned, and is not shredded. Traditionally, this recipe is made with expensive Skirt Steak, but Chris Kimball substitutes inexpensive Chuck Roast.  I was very skeptical that $3/lb chuck could be even remotely compare to $10/lb skirt steak. But the smashing technique called for in step 8 of this recipe is brilliant, fooling my eyes into thinking I was really eating beef costing over three times the price.

Great technique made for an amazing dinner

Great technique made for an amazing dinner

Comments and Issues:

  1. I used the full onion called for in the recipe, but I think that 1 regular sized onion was too much. It may not have helped that I overcooked the onion a bit, turning it sweet.
  2. I didn’t have orange juice, so I squeezed squeezed half an orange.

Rating: 4-1/2 star.
Cost: $10.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time: 4:00 PM. Dinner time 6:30 PM.

The original Cook’s Illustrated recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared the recipe today is as follows:

2 Lbs boneless beef chuck-eye roast
Kosher salt and pepper
3 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 limes: 1-1/2 teaspoons grated lime zest plus 1 tablespoon juice, plus lime wedges for serving
1 onion
2 tablespoons dry sherry

  1. When selecting the beef, choose a well-marbled roast.
  2. Pull the roast apart at the fat seams. Trim away any large knobs of fat, but don’t remove all visible fat. You will use some of the rendered fat in stead of vegetable oil. Cut the beef into 1-1/2″ cubes.
  3. Place 12″ non-stick skillet over medium-high burner, add beef cubes, 2 cups of water and 1-1/4 teaspoons kosher salt (or 5/8 teaspoons table salt).  Bring up to a boil.
  4. Reduce burner to low, cover the skillet, and allow beef to gently simmer for 1h45m, until the beef becomes very tender. Chris Kimball suggest that you check the beef every 30 minutes, adding water so that the lower 1/3 of beef remains submerged. However, I saw very little evaporation during the simmering, and did not have to add any water.
  5. Meanwhile, press 3 garlic cloves directly into a small bowl, add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, and 1/4 teaspoon cumin. In a second small bowl, add orange juice, lime zest and lime juice. Set aside both bowls until Step 12.  Cut onion in half and thinly slice.
  6. After 1h45m, increase burner to medium and remove the lid from skillet to allow the water to evaporate. Allow to simmer for 3 to 8 minutes, or until all water evaporates and the beef begins to sizzle.
  7. Using slotted spoon, move the cooked beef to a rimmed baking sheet, then pour fat from skillet into a small bowl.
  8. Place sheet of aluminum foil over beef and, flatten the beef with a meat pounder or a heavy sauté pan until it is 1/8″ pieces. Pick through to remove any large pieces of fat or connective tissue. Some of the beef will become shreds, but most will resemble skirt steak in texture. If some pieces are too large you can just tear them in half.
  9. Rinse out the skillet and dry it using paper towels to dry; put over high burner. Add back 1-1/2 teaspoons reserved fat to skillet (supplement with vegetable oil if you don’t have enough). Pre-heat until the fat begins to sizzle, then saute onion and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt for 5 to 8 minutes, until the onions become golden brown and some spots become charred.
  10. Add sherry and another 1/4 cup water. Cook for 2 minutes until the liquid has evaporated. Empty onion to bowl (you can use your serving bowl to minimize clean-up).
  11. Put now empty skillet back over high burner, adding 1-1/2 teaspoons reserved fat (supplement with vegetable oil if you don’t have enough). Again, pre-heat until the fat begins to sizzle. Add beef and cook for between 2 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until beef becomes crusty and dark golden brown.
  12. Decrease burner to low heat, and move beef to sides of skillet. Saute garlic mixture in the center of the skillet for 30 seconds, then remove skillet from burner. Add orange juice mixture and sauteed onion, and stir until combined.
  13. Adjust salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately with wedges of lime.
A meat pounder made it look like skirt steak

A meat pounder made it look like skirt steak

Taxco, Mexico

September 13, 2013

Our final stop on our journey across Mexico’s colonial highlands brought us to Taxco (pronounced like ‘Tabasco’ without the ‘ba’), located on the side of a mountain between Mexico City and Acapulco. It’s whitewashed stone buildings, red-roves, nearly vertical streets and lively Zocalo (main square) made this a perfect place to relax and enjoy our last few days of summer vacation; before returning to work and school. Taxco is also a silver mining town, but on a smaller scale than Guanajuato. Taxco is also famous for its artisanry, turning the silver mined from underneath the mountain into beautiful silver jewelry, platters and religious crosses.

Here are a few other sites from around town.

Latin America’s largest caves, Grutas de Cacahuamilpa, are situated about 30 minutes from Taxco. We visited the caves on our way back to D.F. (Mexico City), because its most of the way down the mountain. The cave system is immense and impressive. We walked 2km into the caves, but they extend another 2km beyond that. At places the “rooms” (salon) are nearly 300 feet in height.

Mexico City

September 6, 2013

One of my main reasons to visit Mexico was to see Mexico City’s iconic Zocalo (main square), which I had only visited once for a few minutes about 15 years ago.  Zocolo is Latin America’s greatest main square, rivaling Red Square for its grandeur. However, once I got there I saw that for the past few weeks the Zocolo has been occupied (a la Occupy Wall Street) in protest. The Mexican President is trying to pass education and financial reforms.  Obviously, our little vacation took a back seat to the fundamental shifts in Mexican economy. So we stayed in the Zona Rosa, near the Angel, went to Six Flags Mexico, and the Pyramids of Teotihuacan (Third largest pyramids in the world).

Amazing View of Angel from our Hotel Room

Amazing View of Angel from our Hotel Room

The protesters had occupied the Zocolo, completely blocking every possible perspective to see its immensity. But we were still able to see a few of the Cathedrals.

By far the most amazing sight in Mexico City were the pyramids. I have seen many other pyramids (Including Tikal, Chichen Itza, Palenque and Copan), and these were definitely the largest. The pyramids tower over the site, and fortunately we are allowed to climb the largest; Pyramid of the Sun. I had always thought these pyramids were Aztec, based upon their geography, but the decline of this city around 500AD pre-dates the Aztecs by almost 1,000 years.

Pyramid of the Sun

Pyramid of the Sun

Pyramid of the Mood

Pyramid of the Moon

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