That’s how Martha describes this week’s dessert. I don’t know that I would go that far, but there are some parts of this meal that are foolish for the foolhardy!
Meal No. 18: Asparagus-Parmesan Tart, Shrimp in Saffron Broth, Couscous with Golden Raisins, Apricot-Almond Ice Cream Sandwiches
Schedule: prepare apricots and fold into ice cream, freeze; form tart shell and chill; cook couscous, assemble and bake tart; cook broth and shrimp; assemble ice cream sandwiches
Asparagus –Parmesan Tart:
We both love asparagus, parmesan and puff pastry. What could go wrong?
Well, for one thing, Martha requires that ten spears of raw asparagus be peeled into shreds with a vegetable peeler. Why didn’t it occur to me that this was a highly impractical insane idea? It quickly became clear, as I clutched the spear in my left hand and managed to peel an inch or two before the peeler could go no further because there was nothing to brace the bottom half of the spear against. I tried cupping it in my hand, but I was afraid of peeling off the skin of my palm. Finally, I rested the peeler on the cutting board and ran the asparagus back and forth underneath the blades. Then there was the matter of what to do about the bulbous heads, which resisted peeling. Ridiculous!
Due to these technical issues, I don’t think ended up with as much asparagus as I was supposed to, based on the photograph in the book. I soldiered on, and prebaked the thawed, frozen puff pastry sheet, which had been scored around the edges. I then tossed the asparagus ribbons/tendrils/slimjims with olive oil, salt and pepper, spread them onto the crust, and sprinkled grated parmesan on top. It baked until the asparagus was tender (and the puff pastry was overdone).
The sum was definitely less than its parts. It tasted grassy, and there was not much to distract from the fact that I was eating a buttery, oily pastry bottom. We split a slice at the time, and no one ate any more of it after that. So sad. I have a terrific recipe for roasted asparagus with lemon vinaigrette that I wish I had used instead.
Shrimp in Saffron Broth over Couscous with Golden Raisins
I debated all week about whether to bother making this meal at all. The Husband is allergic to shrimp and I don’t like fennel or raisins in my couscous. I found some shrimp on sale, and we had a leftover grilled chicken thigh to toss into his half, so I reluctantly decided to try it.
I sautéed the vegetables in one batch, then divided them into two pans to finish the recipe–adding the chicken/shrimp and broth. The only problem I had with the recipe is that the shrimp is added before the liquid; therefore, reducing the sauce to the thickness I wanted would have resulted in overcooking the shrimp.
The shrimp version turned out a lot better than the chicken one, as the flavors were more complex. The chicken version tasted bland in comparison. Lucky for me, the fennel didn’t have much taste once it cooked, but The Husband was disappointed.
I liked this more than I thought I would, but probably won’t make it again, as it’s not the “flavor profile” I prefer–would rather cook the shrimp in Mexican or Italian seasoning. But, since I have friends who like this kind of thing, I will post the recipe. I do think it could use a bit more seasoning, but I am not sure what, exactly.
Also, note that I used 1/3 c dried apricots in place of the raisins, since I had to buy them for the dessert. Also, apropos of nothing, I had to make the shrimp thing at 10 am because it is damn hot in Virginia this weekend.
* Martha style note: “Antique-etched wine glasses, along with aqua-rimmed soup bowls and coordinating plates, are carried to the table on a linen-lined tray.” Carried by whom, I wonder? Servants?
Couscous with Golden Raisins (or dried apricots) (adapted from Dinner at Home, by Martha Stewart)
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1.5 cups Israeli couscous
1.75 c plus 2 T water
1/2 c golden raisins (or 1/3 c dried apricots)
Coarse salt and freshly
1 T unsalted butter*
Heat oil in a 4 qt pot over medium-high heat. Add couscous and stir 1-2 minutes, until lightly toasted. Add water and fruit, season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until couscous is tender and has absorbed the liquid; 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork, and stir in butter. (I actually forgot to add the butter and it was fine).
Shrimp in Saffron Broth
1/4 c evoo
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into 1/4″ dice (2 cups)
3 carrots, cut into 1/4″ dice (1 cup)
1/2 t saffron threads
1.5 lbs large shrimp, peeled and deveined
coarse salt and ground pepper
1/2 c dry white wine
1.5 chicken stock, homemade or low-sodium
Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add oil and heat until hot but not smoking. Cook fennel, carrots and saffron until soft, about 10 minutes.
Season shrimp with salt and pepper, add to pan and cook one minute, then turn. Pour in wine and stock, and cook until shrimp are pink and opaque throughout. Serve shrimp, vegetable and broth over couscous in shallow bowls.
Apricot-Almond Ice Cream Sandwiches:
This should be a surprise to no one, but the dessert involves booze! And creamy stuff! Martha says ice cream sandwiches “are a nostalgic treat any time of year.” If I had been eating ones these booze-y as a kid, a lot of things about my childhood would have been different and possibly better.
The recipe calls for a quarter cup of warm brandy, which we still don’t have. This is becoming a thing, so maybe we should get some. Instead I used Armagnac, which was was poured over 1 cup of dried apricots that had been finely chopped, with 2 tablespoons of apricot jam mixed in. The mixture was refrigerated for five minutes before mixing into softened ice cream. It wasn’t long enough, obviously, as the apricot mixture totally melted the ice cream into a liquid.
I poured the mixed up ice cream into a parchment-lined 8×8 baking pan, covering the top with folded over extra parchment paper. It was supposed to be ready to be cut into squares after 50 minutes of freezing, but it was still soft. Much later, I went back and assembled my sandwiches. I used almond thin cookies made by Jules Destrooper, because they were carried by the store I happened to be shopping at, but the ones Trader Joe’s sells are just as good and less expensive.
Cutting the ice cream into little rectangles wasn’t as hard as I feared; for some reason my keen geometry-judgment skills were activated because I cut them all the perfect size to fit onto the cookies. Still, there’s no reason you couldn’t just put the ice cream in a bowl and stick a cookie in it, although I suppose that wouldn’t be considered ‘fanciful’ (this coming from the woman who suggests putting a grapefruit slice in a glass of wine).
The Armagnac overpowered both the cookie and the apricot flavor. I made a homemade Armagnac ice cream last year that we really liked, so we are no stranger to such things, but if I am going to add three ingredients to something, I’d like to be able to taste them, even though apricots are my least favorite fruit ever.
Martha also says you could use ginger thin cookies, which might hold up better against the boozey-ness.
Now is when I admit that I baked the asparagus tart more than a week before I made the rest of this. I don’t think the dishes would have gone together very well.
There’s no way this takes anywhere near an hour to prepare. I made the tart, entree and dessert on three different days so a total of the time spent is hard to say, but it involves a lot of fiddly prep work that takes quite a while. The tart alone took at least an hour.
Asparagus-Parmesan Tart: D (had so much potential!!!)
Shrimp in Saffron Broth: B
Couscous: by itself it’s pretty plain, but works well with the shrimp
Ice Cream Sandwiches: B+