Love Food, But Don’t Cook? Get This Book!

Ashton Keefe offers her "Girl's Guide" to put you at ease.

Ashton Keefe, 28, wrote Lemon & Salt: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Culinary Revelry, for her generation.

“All these millenials, who I call ‘the modern girls,’ are reading, writing, talking, blogging, looking up recipes,” says Keefe, who grew up in Basking Ridge. “They are really aware of good food, but not cooking it.”

Why the disconnect?

“The rules of the game have changed a bit,” she says. “People are getting married later, they don’t have huge kitchens. They don’t have a huge budget and don’t really know how to get started.”

Cookbook author Ashton Keefe. Photo: Courtesy Ashton Keefe

Cookbook author Ashton Keefe. Photo: Courtesy Ashton Keefe

Keefe designed her cookbook to settle the nerves of this savvy yet skittish group. Every recipe in Lemon and Salt calls for no more than a dozen ingredients, often less, and can be cooked from scratch in less than 45 minutes with “no fancy tools or flashy equipment.”

This isn’t a new idea, even if Keefe has shaved 15 minutes off the book that put the baby boom generation at ease in the kitchen, Pierre Franey’s 1979 The 60-Minute Gourmet, with an introduction by Craig Claiborne.

Unlike many of her peers, Keefe began cooking at an early age. Her mother was a catering chef and introduced her to the pleasures and principles of cooking. (Keefe’s father worked on Wall Street and started a real estate appraisal company.)

Keefe worked in catering throughout high school and at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, where she majored in entrepreneurship.

After returning to New Jersey, Keefe studied at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan and landed a coveted job as assistant to food writer Gael Greene. She went on to help open Haven’s Kitchen cooking school and event space, also in New York City.

She now works as a recipe developer and food stylist for national online and print magazines and NBC’s Today. She teaches classes at various locations including Heirloom Kitchen in Old Bridge, Kings Cooking Studio in Short Hills and 90 Acres Culinary Center in Peapack-Gladstone.

As a stylist, Keefe prides herself on creating recipes that please the eye as well as the palate.

A true modern girl, she calls her dishes “Instagram-worthy, like the plates we enjoy at restaurants.”

In keeping with the title, most of the recipes in her book rely on the staple flavorings of lemon (or vinegar) and salt. One fine example is her whole roasted cauliflower with whipped goat cheese, roasted mustard and herbed salmon with pea smash and lemon poppy-seed bread.

“Acidity and salt elevate the dish,” she says. “Those are the two things you can add to brighten and step it up to that restaurant quality.”

With more than 50 practical recipes for those who fantasize about “a Pinterested dream kitchen, but live with the realities of limited time, money and space, Lemon & Salt teaches approachable techniques with a use-what-you-have mentality.”

The book is available on amazon and at ashtonkeefe.com for $19.99.

Ashton Keefe's roasted mustard salmon smear with pea smash

Ashton Keefe’s roasted mustard salmon smear

Roasted Mustard and Herb Salmon with Pea Smash

SERVES 8

Salmon

1 shallot, minced

1 cup chopped parsley

1/2 cup chopped chives

1/2 cup chopped dill

4 scallions, green and white parts, chopped

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

1/4 cup whole grain mustard

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons fine sea salt, divided

2 lbs. salmon, skin on

Pea Smash

1/2 cup heavy cream, chicken broth or water

1 (10 ounce) bag of frozen peas, thawed

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Fine sea salt, to taste

 

Remove salmon from the refrigerator 30 minutes before roasting.

 

Preheat the oven to 425° F.

 

Combine shallot, parsley, chives, dill, scallions, lemon juice and zest, mustards and olive oil. Stir to combine and season with 1 teaspoon of salt.

 

On a parchment lined sheet tray place whole fish skin side down. Season with remaining teaspoon of salt and slather the spread on the top of the fish.

 

Cook for 10 – 12 minutes or until fish is firm and falls apart when touched, but not dry in the center.

 

For smash bring your choice of liquid to a simmer, add peas and cook until the liquid is just evaporated. With a fork smash peas to desired texture, add butter and season with salt. Serve under salmon.

 

Make the smash skinnier or more indulgent by choosing between heavy cream, milk, chicken broth or water as your liquid. This recipe also works with frozen corn and edamame.

RECIPE:

Whole Roasted Cauliflower & Whipped Goat Cheese

SERVES 4 – 6

 

Roasted Cauliflower

1 head cauliflower, whole with leaves trimmed

1/2 bottle dry white wine 2 teaspoon fine sea salt, divided

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 bay leaf

1 – 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

 

Heat oven to 400° F. Bring wine, salt, lemon juice, butter, red pepper flakes, bay leaf and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium high-sided pot and then remove from heat.

 

Rub olive oil over cauliflower and season with remaining salt. Place cauliflower in the pot. Place the pot in the oven and roast for 30 – 40 minutes until cauliflower is fork-tender and brown on top. For an extra char, heat the broiler to high and cook for an additional 3 – 4 minutes. Watch carefully to avoid burning.

 

Transfer cauliflower to a plate, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Serve with whipped goat cheese.

 

Whipped Goat Cheese

4 ounces fresh goat cheese

1/4 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for garnish

 

Mix goat cheese and heavy cream, season with sea salt. Transfer whipped goat cheese to a serving bowl

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