Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Asparagus, Avocado and Arugula Salad

Last Wednesday's asparagus curry, which I made up, was very good. But before deciding to make it, I considered an avocado that I had in the fridge. (Yes, refrigerating avocados is a good thing. They ripen more slowly in there.)

Anyhoo, I really, really wanted to make a salad with the asparagus AND the avocado. Green, right? I was kind of in a monochromatic mood. And I adore the thrill of making something memorably tasty with just what I have on hand. But I just couldn't picture avocado and asparagus getting along with each other. I was pretty convinced that in the history of cooking, no one had combined them. So I turned away.

Little did I know that once again, I'd be shown that courageous cooking is the better way. The very next day, I stumbled across this book at our local Barnes and Noble, and there it was! The very salad I thought could not exist!

But it does.
Adapted from The Art of Eating In by Cathy Erway

What a glorious triumph of farmer's market greenery. The original recipe called for watercress rather than arugula. They're both peppery, so either will do. I thought the lemon peel would add, too ... and it does. This is a rich-tasting, lemony, peppery salad that is worthy of a role in a special dinner.

1-1/2 pounds asparagus, tough ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 avocado, diced
3-4 spring onions, white and a little of the green parts, sliced
4 cups arugula, washed, spun and sliced

1 organic lemon

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper

Toss the asparagus into boiling water for a few minutes, until it's tender-crisp but still bright green. Drain and set aside.

Into a large bowl, grate the peel of the lemon. Then cut the lemon in half and juice it.

In a small bowl, toss the avocado thoroughly with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice. This prevents the avocado getting brown.

Into the large bowl with the lemon peel, whisk the remaining lemon juice with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Add the asparagus and toss well, then add the arugula and onions and toss well. Lastly, add the avocado and toss lightly to mix.

Serves 6 to 8.

Update: Two days later, this salad is as attractive and delicious as when it was made. I attribute this to the step of mixing the avocado thoroughly with lemon juice. It didn't get even a little brown!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lemon, Almond and Rosemary Cake

Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons is my go-to cookbook for lush, inspiring photographs and recipes. Whenever we have a lightning storm, I get out this cookbook ... because once I was reading it when a lightning storm with drenching rain struck, and somehow a full-circle connection was created between nature's majesty, me, and this book. It leans definitely to the Middle-Eastern, and ever since that last big storm we had a while back, I've been thinking about trying this cake. I used homemade sourdough bread that already had rosemary in it, organic lemons, organic sugar, and my luscious local eggs.

The author suggests serving it with berries, but my little patch of strawberries is just beginning to produce, so we augmented them with mango when it came time to partake. This cake has a wonderfully grainy texture, a sweet lemony tang, and an exotic, Middle-Eastern syrupy aspect, all infused with the woodsy essence of rosemary.

I know it's not health food, but it's soul food.
Adapted from Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons by Diana Henry

For the cake:

2 ounces stale white bread (3/4 cup crumbs)
3-1/2 ounces (3/4 cup) blanched almonds (non-blanched work fine, too)
2 teaspoons rosemary leaves
3/4 cup sugar

Grated zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup olive oil
4 local, free-range eggs

2 teaspoons baking powder

For the syrup:

Juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
2 sprigs rosemary

Butter bottom and sides of an 8-1/2 inch springform pan. I think you could also use an 8-inch square Pyrex pan, or similar cake pan, if you butter it generously, flour it as well, and run a knife around the edge of the pan when releasing the baked cake.

In food processor, grind bread, almonds and rosemary as finely as possible. Add sugar, lemon zest, olive oil and eggs, and pulse as briefly as possible, just to blend. Add baking powder and pulse very briefly, just until until baking powder is incorporated.

Pour batter into prepared pan, put into a cold oven and turn oven on to 350 degrees. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until cake is brown and a toothpick inserted int he center comes out clean. Cool cake for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a plate.

While cake is baking, make syrup. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Turn heat up and boil syrup for 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Leave rosemary in to infuse.

Pierce holes in the warm cake, and pour the syrup evenly over. Serve with berries, other fruit, yogurt, ice cream, or any other accompaniments that strike your fancy.

Makes 8 servings.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Green Curry of Asparagus, Spring Onion and Fresh Garlic

Although only two vegetable vendors were to be found at today's Pasco Farmer's Market, luscious spring onions, radishes, asparagus, and fresh garlic were on offer. All this greenness made me feel like making something green. Someone once told me that when you wear clothing that is all the same color, you feel calmer. I feel calmer when my ingredients match, too.

I'm really pretty excited about how good this dish turned out. You can see that the sauce would suit itself to a variety of other vegetables and meats. The garlic was so fresh that I just sliced the whole head without peeling.

If you don't have mint, use cilantro or basil, or just skip the herb. For fish sauce, you could use soy sauce, but it won't have the same flavor, of course. I didn't have any limes, but if I had, I'd have squeezed a bit of lime juice over everything.

And if you don't have free-range chicken, deranged chicken will do.

1-1/2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
4 large (2-inch diameter) spring onions, white and light green parts only, sliced
1 head very fresh garlic, sliced (or a couple of garlic cloves, chopped)
3 cups local, free-range chicken, boned, cooked and cut into 1-inch chunks

1 small (6-ounce or so) can of coconut milk
1 tablespoon Thai green curry paste
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
1 tablespoon sucanat or brown sugar

1/3 cup or so fresh mint, chopped

In large skillet, pour coconut milk and whisk 'til smooth. Turn heat to medium, and add curry paste. Cook, whisking, 'til sauce is hot and bubbly. Add fish sauce and sucanat, cook another minute or two.

Toss in all the veggies and the chicken pieces and cook, stirring often, until the veggies are crisp-tender. Asparagus should still be bright green.

Mix in mint and serve with rice or couscous.

This makes a light but flavorful sauce for everyday meals; if you want a richer dish, and you'd like the vegetables to be really saucy (like in a Thai restaurant), double the sauce recipe.

Makes 4 very hearty servings.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Food Fads: A Mini-Discussion

Food Fad #1: Dessert Shooters

Once in a while I feel strongly enough about a food fad to speak up. These creepy little things have shown up in many major restaurants, and are being hailed all over creation as something "you gotta try!"

Now, I know there's lots of craziness out there in the world, and people are irrational fairly consistently, and there's no accounting for taste. But dessert shooters? If you want a small dessert, why not plate it attractively so you can enjoy looking at it (horizontally) and enjoy its unique shape and texture? Why shove it into a glass cylinder, making it a generic, stuffed-test-tube looking kind of thing?

You might say, "Becky, did you not just blog quinoa pudding and strawberry-rhubarb trifle? And are they not served in glass cylinders?" Of course! Puddings and trifles are SUPPOSED to be served like that. There's some integrity there. And they're accessible, not served in beakers, for goodness' sake!

My point is that in many cases these imposter desserts are called by the same name as real desserts--key lime pie, or apple crisp, for example. Key lime pie is PIE, people! Served in a SLICE, a TRIANGLE, a SHAPE, for heaven's sake, that you can recognize as a portion of something that was created whole as a dessert.

And apple crisp ... even a small portion of apple crisp ... is vastly more attractive on a plate, with a dab of ice cream or whipped cream nestling alongside it, with maybe a drifting of cinnamon over the plate so you can admire it for a bit before tasting it. Why should your serving of apple crisp look like something from your high school science lab?

It has to be said ... dessert shooters look like the cooks have just shoved leftover dessert components (and who knows what all bits of things they found in the back of the cooler) into those little glasses and are trying to pass them off as something creative!

I predict that dessert shooters will totally disappear within two years, and sanity in the dessert world will be restored.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mediterranean Orzo Salad with Fresh Greens

I do love a sturdy salad. This one travels well, and if you take it to a potluck, you might as well take copies of the recipe with you. People are going to ask.

The recipe is from an old Cooking Light magazine now long lost. I usually stick pretty close to the original on this one, but I did substitute fresh sliced farmer's market arugula for some of the spinach, and local green onions for the red onion. And I added garlic and oregano. I usually add more spinach than it calls for; it seems to be absorbed in the salad, and I love upping the nutrient count!

Reminds me of our old family joke ... whenever Mom says "I made it just like the recipe called for," we wait a beat and say, "Except ..." Sure enough, almost always she's made some kind of substitution. But that's creative cooking!

The green onions were from my friend Elizabeth, and the tomatoes I used were grown by my Dad and dried by my Mom. How grateful I am for the sharing of bounty.

You'll want to at least double this recipe; the salad keeps well, but you probably won't have any left.
From Cooking Light magazine, adapted as described above

1 cup uncooked orzo pasta

1 small clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes,* drained and chopped
1/4 cup chopped red onion or sliced green onion

1 6-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, undrained
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved

2 cups (or more to taste) baby spinach or arugula, or a mixture, chopped
3/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Cook orzo according to package directions. Drain, rinse with cold water, and place in a large bowl. Stir in the garlic, oregano, tomatoes, and onions.

Drain artichoke hearts and RESERVE THE MARINADE. Cut artichokes into quarters or eighths as you prefer. Place marinade in a small bowl, and the artichokes in another bowl.

To the artichokes, add the kalamata olives.

To the marinade, add salt and pepper and whisk well.

Pour marinade over orzo mixture and stir well. Add feta cheese and spinach, and stir well. Add olives and artichokes and mix gently.

Makes six servings.

*Or use fresh tomatoes, or dried tomatoes that you have soaked and to which you add a little olive oil. If you use oil-packed tomatoes, they may be seasoned already; adjust garlic and oregano accordingly.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Coconut Quinoa Pudding with Rhubarb

Curious about using the new coconut beverage product for cooking, I decided to take the plunge and try this recipe using it. This is not coconut milk like you'd find in cans, but a beverage made for use like milk.

Quinoa is really quite a nutritious grain, high in protein, and tasty besides. This pudding is really easy to make, and you could of course use any fruit of the season.
Adapted from this recipe

3-1/2 cups coconut beverage (I used vanilla; if you use unsweetened, you may need more sucanat)
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon sucanat
A pinch of salt

Fresh cooked rhubarb from the farmer's market

In medium-sized, sturdy saucepan, bring coconut milk to a simmer over medium heat. Add quinoa and sucanat, stir, and reduce heat to low. Simmer 20 to 30 minutes, stirring frequently as the quinoa absorbs the liquid. Add 1/2 cup coconut milk if needed to thin the pudding. When the pudding reaches the texture you desire, remove from heat and cool, or serve warm. It will thicken on standing and when you refrigerate it.

Layer however you please with the rhubarb, or just top a bowl of the pudding with the fruit.

Makes 4 generous servings or 6 stingy ones

Chai-Soaked Shrimp with Spring Onions

These days, when I see something languishing in the fridge like the partially-used box of Pacific Chai tea concentrate, I begin to wonder what I can make with it. How about a marinade for .... shrimp? Googling "chai shrimp" turned up a recipe which, of course, I altered significantly.

Don't you think "soaked" sounds more saturated and luscious than "marinated?"
Adapted from this recipe

About 20 medium shrimp (can be frozen)

2 cups chai tea concentrate
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Thai chili paste

1 tablespoon coconut or vegetable oil

A generous amount of sliced spring onions (I added a lot more after the photo was taken)

Basmati rice for serving

Mix the soaking ingredients in a small bowl or flat dish that will just barely hold the shrimp. Submerge the shrimp in the soak and refrigerate for a few hours, turning occasionally. If shrimp are frozen, you can leave the bowl out at room temperature.

Remove the shrimp to another bowl, and pour the soaking liquid into a medium-sized skillet. Over medium-high heat, boil the liquid down to about a cup or so. Add the coconut oil and toss in the shrimp and cook quickly, turning, until they all turn pink. You have to look closely, because the marinade will make the shrimp brown, too. Don't overcook them or they'll be tough.

Scatter the spring onions over the shrimp, stir briefly, and serve with basmati rice, spooning the sauce over.

Makes 4 abstimious servings and 2 very hearty ones

Monday, May 10, 2010

Slaw of Coles with Tarragon and Mint

The other day I was reading how plants in the cole family contain important nutrients for humans. As I looked over the list of coles, I was amazed to see 16 plants, most of which will be available in abundance at our farmer's markets this summer and fall. At any given moment, I probably have three or four coles in my fridge. It struck me that combined in a "found" salad, they would probably be very tasty!

The coles are: kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, collards, bok choy, tatsoi, chard, cauliflower, broccoli, turnips, rutabagas, radishes, horseradish, mustard, arugula, and watercress.

By now you probably realize that I am trying to develop and promote the technique of getting maximum benefit from seasonal, market-fresh, local ingredients. To do that, a wonderful shopping technique to use is to buy what looks fresh and good to you at the market, then figure out what to do with it. That way, all your ingredients will appeal to you and be so very fresh that you can't, as I've said so many times before, go wrong.

The habit of buying the freshest ingredients and creating dishes will eventually provide you with a fistful of favorite recipes, and you will begin to look at a motley collection of vegetables and see, instead, a salad, side dish, soup, or other tasty combination.

The mint was added when I looked out the window and saw that my pot of mint had started to sprout.

This recipe makes a very light slaw with a delicate tarragon and mint flavor. It's a good accompaniment to a substantial main dish. If you'd like the slaw to be heartier, stir in a tablespoon of Dijon, an extra tablespoon of olive oil, and a little honey. You can also use the creamy dressing from this salad (adjust amounts to suit the volume of your greens) or go Oriental by adding fresh ginger and garlic.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
A grind of pepper

2 cups shredded cabbage
2 cups sliced arugula
1 bunch sliced radishes
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon

Whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper thoroughly in a large bowl. Toss in the coles and herbs and mix well. Refrigerate for an hour or so before serving.

Makes 6 hearty servings.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Strawberry and Rhubarb Trifle

Here again is a simple yet brilliant culinary tradition brought to us by the British. What could be a more perfect way to showcase fresh, seasonal fruits than to loosely combine them in a delightful muddle of sponge cake, custard and whipped cream? If you don't have a trifle dish, use another pretty dish, or make individual trifles in glasses or parfait dishes.

The variations on the basic trifle are endless, which merely reaffirms its status as a truly classic recipe. All of its components can be changed to suit what you have on hand. Use almost any fruits, or use jam. The cake can be chocolate or any other flavor, or use ladyfingers or other cookies. (Just don't use Twinkies, you hear?) The custard layer soaks into the cake, so you can use other sauces and puddings to your heart's content.

A lovely way to celebrate a Mom who is the cream of the crop, as mine truly is.

3 pints fresh strawberries, trimmed and either left whole or sliced

Some fresh rhubarb that you have washed, trimmed and cooked with a little water and sweetener of your choice (I used agave syrup)

1 recipe Creme Anglaise from Joy of Cooking, or any custard sauce recipe you like; you'll need about 2 cups.

1 8-inch square (or 13- x 9-inch) sponge cake (or any firm cake) from your favorite recipe, cooled and cut into approximately 1-inch cubes

1 cup lightly toasted sliced almonds

1 to 2 cups whipping cream, whipped and lightly sweetened if you wish

Spread a little rhubarb in the bottom of the trifle bowl. Top with half the cake cubes. Pour half of the Creme Anglaise evenly over the cubes. Arrange half the strawberries over that, and spread a generous layer of rhubarb over them. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the almonds over the rhubarb. Add the remaining cake cubes, pour the rest of the Creme Anglaise over them, and arrange remaining strawberries on top. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to serve, up to a few hours.

Spread whipped cream evenly over top of trifle and scatter remaining 1/2 cup almonds over. Serve onto plates or into bowls. I used a wedge-shaped flat pie server to cut vertically down into the trifle like a pie, and lifted out roughly wedge-shaped, gloppy servings. But a big spoon would work too.

This dish served 6 people, with almost universal second helpings, with about 4 servings left over. Remember that you can size this dish smaller quite easily!

Pasco Farmer's Market, Saturday 5/8/10

As the seasons change gradually, so go the farmer's markets. Asparagus is still figuring heavily; the girls at the Middleton Farms booth (at right in the picture) spent lots of time getting all their bunches of asparagus sorted and bundled according to similar size, something that those of us who cook with asparagus appreciate.

My CSA farmer had a number of products on offer, and hinted that the Winter CSA might happen again next year; he's got Brussels sprouts planted already. I happily purchased from him rhubarb, spring onions, arugula, and salad greens. I found lovely head lettuce from Hermiston, and fresh, sweet, local strawberries, the likes of which you won't find in the supermarket because (drum roll) they are developed for flavor, not shipping! Tender and delectable, what strawberries should BE.

And after tasting the offerings at the Monteillet Fromagerie booth, I selected a fresh goat cheese spread with chives and other herbs.

All these things were procured with an eye toward a special Mother's Day lunch ... the Spring Chicken Pot Pie and Strawberry Rhubarb Trifle.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

First 2010 Farmer's Market Visit

The Pasco Wednesday market consisted of just three vendors this morning. I knew it would be a small market, and ALMOST didn't go. But one of the things I can do to support local farmers is simply to show up and buy their produce. And as always, I was rewarded with beautiful produce: Chard, spinach and mustard greens from Hermiston, and herb plants for my garden (parsley, rosemary, spearmint, oregano, thyme, and sage) from Buggirl's Garden.

We've had a few days of travel recently and the diet of richer foods that seems to go with that. Greens seem to naturally offset richness, and I'm looking forward to making the chard and spinach into this dish tonight. Or maybe I'll just saute them with a little olive oil and garlic. You can't go wrong with fresh, fresh greens like this.