Recipes to bridge the gap between winter, spring

Recipes to bridge the gap between winter, spring

It’s cold, then warm, then cold again. Because I choose what I’m going to cook and eat depending on the weather, I feel like I’m going a little up and down along with the thermostat.

One day I crave something light, like a salad, and the next, it’s a hot soup or a bowl of (OK, not-light-at-all) rice pudding.

Instead of being frustrated, I’ve decided not to worry too much about getting into a spring groove before it’s time. Right now I’m happily straddling both seasons while I can, wearing a T-shirt and sandals one day, and a wool sweater, scarf, and shearling boots the next, and planning my meals in much the same way — a little on the fly, which forces me to make things that will work no matter what the weather decides to do.

It also means that dinner is sometimes light and breezy (Spring vegetable empanadas) or a bit heartier (hello, Steak and potatoes with Romesco sauce). Because citrus season is ending, I wanted to make a new version of rice pudding with mandarin zest, but I got carried away and folded in a rich, egg yolky crème anglaise and then decided to make some crunchy and sugary almonds to go on top for texture. So, it’s a little over the top, but it’s terribly homey and comforting, and in a way, grounding when the seasons can’t make up their mind as to who’s going to be the boss.

The garlicky rolls are easy and special because they’re not wimpy, pillowy things; rather, they’re crisp on the bottom and top, so eating them is not unlike getting the prized end of a baguette — le crouton — and dipping it into a saucer of garlic butter. Like all of these recipes, the rolls are special enough for a dinner party but easy enough to make for a weeknight dinner, too.

They could go either way. Or go both ways. Just like this crazy weather.

Ellise Pierce is the author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press). Read her blog (, and follow her on Twitter (@cowgirlchef) and Instagram (cowgirlchef)

Steak and Potatoes with Romesco EDITED.jpg

Add a bit of Italian flair to steak and potatoes with a Romesco sauce.

Ellise Pierce Special to the Star-Telegram

Steak and potatoes with Romesco

Makes 4 servings

  • 2 pounds small potatoes
  • Sea salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the skillet
  • 1 pound flap steak or skirt steak
  • Arugula for serving

Romesco sauce

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onion, sliced into half moons
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
  • 1 jalapeño
  • 2 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 (12-ounce) jar roasted red bell peppers
  • 2/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Spanish smoky paprika
  • 2/3 cup skin-on almonds, toasted

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Halve the potatoes and put them on a large baking sheet. Add sea salt and pepper to taste and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Toss. Place the potatoes insides-down on the baking sheet and cook 20 to 30 minutes (it’ll vary depending on the size of potatoes), turning once, until lightly browned.

3. While the potatoes are cooking, make the Romesco sauce. Put the olive oil in a skillet and add the onion, garlic cloves, and jalapeño. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Add this to a blender along with the rest of the ingredients and puree until smooth. Taste for seasonings.

4. To cook the steak on the stovetop, preheat a skillet (cast-iron or stainless) on medium-high heat that’s been lightly brushed with olive oil. Add sea salt and pepper to both sides of the steak and cook it on one side until brown; then flip it to the other side. Once you’ve seared both sides, reduce the heat slightly and let it continue to cook until it’s medium rare. It’ll depend on the thickness of the meat, but it shouldn’t take more than 5 to 10 minutes total to cook. Let rest under a foil tent for 5 minutes, then slice against the grain. Place the slices on top of the potatoes, add Romesco, and a few leaves of arugula. Serve family-style.

Spring vegetable empanadas EDITED.jpg

Asparagus, peas, ham and Swiss cheese make up the filling for these vegetable empanadas.

Ellise Pierce Special to the Star-Telegram

Spring vegetable empanadas

Makes 8 to 10

  • 1 pound asparagus
  • 1 (12 ounce) package frozen peas
  • 1 (1/4-inch thick) piece Black Forest or other ham, chopped into small cubes
  • 1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
  • Sea salt and pepper

Empanada Dough

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 stick butter, cold, cut into small cubes
  • 1 /3 cup ice water
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 egg for brushing the pastry

1. Remove the ends of the asparagus and slice the spears into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Set a steamer basket over simmering water and steam pieces of asparagus, cooking them halfway (they’ll finish cooking in the empanadas). Set aside.

2. In the same steamer basket over simmering water, add the peas and cook for 2 minutes. Remove them and let them cool.

Note: You may cook the vegetables a day in advance and keep them in the fridge until you’re ready to make the empanadas.

3. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

4. Make the empanada dough. Put the flour, sea salt, and cold butter in a food processor and pulse a few times until the butter resembles large pebbles. Add the water, pulse a time or two, then add the beaten egg and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. Dump it out onto a piece of plastic and refrigerate for an hour.

5. Divide the dough and roll out half into a large rectangle. Slice into rectangles about 5 inches by 3 inches. Refrigerate while you roll out and slice the other half of the dough.

6. Fill one of two pieces of dough by adding about 1 tablespoon of each ingredient: asparagus/peas/ham/Swiss. Sprinkle a little sea salt and pepper on top. Place the other piece of dough on top and with fork tines, press around the edges to seal. Make three slits on top and brush each pastry with the other egg, beaten with a little water. Repeat with rest of dough. Bake for 20 minutes or until nicely browned.

Rice pudding with orange crème anglaise and almond caramel crunch

Serves 8 to 10

  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup Arborio or any other short-grain rice
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Crème Anglaise

  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Zest of 1 mandarin, plus more for serving

Almond Caramel Crunch

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup whole almonds, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons water

1. Make the rice pudding. Combine the milk, 5 tablespoons of sugar, rice, and sea salt in heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil.

2. Reduce the heat to medium-low (to a simmer) and cook until rice is tender and mixture is thick and porridgelike, about 20 to 35 minutes. When it’s ready, remove from heat, pour into a bowl, and add the vanilla.

3. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure to press the plastic down onto the top of the pudding, and refrigerate for a few hours or until it’s completely cool.

4. Make the crème anglaise. Set a colander over a bowl. In a medium saucepan add the milk, half the sugar and sea salt. Turn the heat to medium and let cook until the milk warms through, the sugar melts, and there are tiny bubbles on the side. Let cool for 30 minutes. Note: You don’t want this to boil.

5. Whisk together the egg yolks with the remaining sugar.

6. Pour a little milk mixture at a time into the egg yolk mixture, whisking vigorously as you do so. After you’ve poured about half of the milk into the egg yolk mixture, pour the combined mixtures back into the saucepan and turn the heat to medium, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. When the custard begins to thicken and coats the back of your spoon, pour it through the colander into the bowl to catch any eggy bits that may have cooked on the transfer. Add the vanilla and zest. Let cool, then cover with plastic wrap and completely chill.

7. To make the almond crunch, put the sugar and water in a saucepan over high heat. When it begins to brown on the edges, add the almonds and sea salt, stir, and let cook until it’s a dark caramel color. Pour immediately onto a piece of parchment paper. Let cool. Once it firms up, break into pieces.

8. Before serving, mix 2 cups of the crème anglaise with the rice pudding. Serve with almond crunch and additional mandarin zest on top.

Cowgirl Tip: Make meringue cookies with the egg whites.

garlic rolls EDITED.jpg

These garlic rolls will turn out crispy on the top and bottom, more like a baguette.

Ellise Pierce Special to the Star-Telegram

Garlic rolls

Makes 4 dozen

  • 1 package yeast
  • 2 1/3 cups warm water
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a little more for the bowl
  • 6 to 7 cups bread flour
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 stick butter, melted
  • Flat-leaf parsley, chopped, for serving

1. Put the first 5 ingredients in a mixer bowl and stir. Let sit until the yeast is foamy, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the flour and mix until it’s a solid mass. Put into a bowl greased with a little bit of olive oil and cover. Let rest in a warm place for an hour.

2. Punch down the dough and roll it out to 1/2 inch thick. Slice lengthways and then across so you have dough squares that are about 1 1/2 inches square. Put them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, brush with garlic butter and let rise for 1 1/2 hours.

3. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake the rolls for 20 minutes or until browned. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.