Asparagus-Parmesan Salad with Garlic Croutons

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I rarely think about asparagus without remembering living in Germany and seeing the piles of white asparagus or spargel that the Germans prized so highly in the shops in Rinteln.  A special spring treat grown under odd (to my eye) hills of dirt to keep it from greening up, this asparagus was thick, sturdy, slower to cook than ours, and sometimes very happily heavily sauced.  Our Russian housecleaner, an asparagus afficionado herself, enjoyed horrifying me with stories of her country’s custom of letting farm stock eat asparagus — green asparagus, that is — that grew wild in the field.  Not fit for human consumption, it was just animal food to her.  Great for cattle or pigs.  Eeeeecchhh.   (Read here for a recipe for spargel.)  Knowing how many years we Americans spend developing our asparagus gardens, this made for teeth-clenching mental pictures.

Here and now in the U.S., we often can find asparagus all year round if we eat Fed Ex vegetables, but it is most precious and thrilling in the spring when it is the quintessential harbinger of all the tasty freshness still to come.  I adore cooking the thicker asparagus — I think it’s a bit more flavorful and even more tender as long as you peel the bottom third — but the tall, slim stalks are many shopper’s favorites and that’s what was in the story yesterday. Continue reading

Cocoa-Chickpea Chili — Lusty Vegan Fare

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I’m on the road, and don’t have much time for a post.  Thought I’d share a lovely, spicy, perky, round and warm chili I made right before I left Colorado for Louisville and St. Paul where we saw our daughter Emily and are now packing up the last of our hundred-year-old Minnesota house, respectively.

This chili is made to fit into Mark Bittman’s Vegan Before Six, which is not new, but is still a solidly healthy eating program.  This sweet, simple life enables me to eat a carnivorous dinner (with wine), but keeps me on all plant foods until I begin to cook the evening meal each day.  I won’t say I’m religious about it –it’s harder when traveling, but not impossible — but I’ve stuck to it more often than not.  You might also think of it as an easy way to eat more vegetables and fruit…and you can change the meals around when you need to.  For instance, if you’re out for breakfast with friends and splurge on an omelet, you have a sumptuous salad for dinner that night.  Flexibility is the key; feeling great is the goal. Continue reading

Ina Fridays — Appetizers and Drinks — Whiskey Sours

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 The first Friday of every month, I blog INA FRIDAYS (all Ina Garten recipes) with a great group of cooks.  Scroll down nearly to the bottom to check out the list of blogs participating, then read up and cook some Ina this weekend!  ♥♥♥

To say that I’m not a cocktail drinker would be almost totally true.  Sweet drinks and I are not fond nor permanent partners.  That said, I’m sitting here drinking the above cocktail while I type.  (Was I supposed to throw it away?)

It wouldn’t be exactly a lie.  I’m not a big drinker of spirits, though I lived through enough Minnesota summers to fall in love with very icy vodka tonics with extra lime, please.  If there’s a twofer on a cruise, Dave and I will each have a vodka tonic and since we’re on the subject, we once watched an old geezer down four in a row right in front of us as we sailed away from Quebec City.  (Walked into the dining room for dinner straight up sober an hour later, too, though he got sent home for no tie.  Returned in five with a bolo.)  Then there’s the once-a-summer margarita when someone fixes them before a Mexican feast. You can’t say no, right?  Face it, if you read this blog, you’ll know I’m a wino born and bred to the 750 ml bottle.  I’m a progressive Christian who believes that if it was good enough for Jesus — and it was — it’s good enough for me.   I’ll have a beer if the bar has wine I wouldn’t serve my dog or if my son’s been brewing.  Now that you know my drinking habits, I’ll look forward to an invitation. Continue reading

Hot Beet Green and Kale Salad with Beets, Goat Cheese, and Pecans

IMG_5466There are moments in cooking life when I’m making not exactly what I’m dying for, but what needs to be made.  Maybe what needs to be eaten.  That might be what’s in the fridge that’s about to expire.  It also could be what a body needs.  Mine or someone else’s.

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My tall, gorgeous son Sean –himself a phenomenal cook — occasionally mentions something about not ever having eaten much kale.  Maybe not even knowing much about it.  I’ll tell him and you this.  Kale recipes, which are a huge hit on my blogs, seem to be something folks were looking for a lot over the last couple of years, but just exactly why is somewhat of a mystery.  Kale was the millstone around most CSA participants’ necks in Minnesota and elsewhere.  There was kale and there was kale and there was… you get the picture.  I remember blogs and fb posts about apartment building residents who took turns cooking dinner one night a week.  During the loooong kale season, some apartments would offer kale soup over and over, much to the chagrin of families whose small children didn’t know from kale. (Where was the chicken?)  But to introduce Sean to a bit of superfood kale, I thought I’d make a lentil soup with kale and beet greens (don’t throw them away for God’s sake), as well as a hot salad with the same greens and cooked beets plus the ubiquitous goat cheese and pecans.   (Below: Here’s the soup.)

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I posted the soup on Dinnerplace and here’s the salad, which is done in about a half an hour and is lovely hot or leftover for lunch. Did I say this was cheap? Add a little whole whatever bread–or some whole wheat crackers–to complete this meal.  I’ve included a vegan option, which simply eliminates the cheese and replaces the honey with sugar.  (If you’re uninitiated to beets, be prepared for a not-a-problem red surprise in the toilet next day. Perhaps this is TMI, but it’s frightening to some.)  Try this:

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hot beet greens and kale salad with beets, goat cheese, and pecans

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It Might as Well Be Spring Soup — Lusty Vegan Fare

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IMG_5407In Colorado, spring comes in fits and starts, swirling itself in and out through March, April, and sometimes May.  There are warm days where we heat up the grill at five pm followed by frozen hoarfrost mornings perfect for stew-making.  We, unlike most of the northern United States, have truly fine days long before the real start of spring; January and February can breed 55 or 60 degrees Fahrenheit afternoons when the windows are thrown open for the stagnant winter aromas to dissipate into sweet, albeit temporary, breezes floating down from the mountains.  A cook who lives within the seasons and responds accordingly often doesn’t know what to do but be exceedingly spontaneous and keep a daily eye on the weather channel.

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Despite snow still appearing on an at least weekly basis, I have for weeks been dreaming of spring vegetables and a new soup to celebrate them.  It’s not that we have any spring vegetables cropping up (good pun) in Colorado Springs; we have so little rain that locally-grown vegetables are like gold.  And where we live, up on the mesa, it’s bedrock, bobcats, coyotes, deer, and bears.  If you had the good luck to get anything to grow, you could be sure something not-so-human would be eating it.  I grow copious amounts of herbs in pots and often have cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets on the deck.  That’s about it; that’s all I can protect from the wildlife.

below:  one of our local young and scrawny bucks making his way through our back garden

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Still–the idea of spring food is dear to my heart and I have lovely memories of the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market and its bounty.  (In Saint Paul, the Farmer’s Market is still selling winter products, I’m sure.  Way too early to plant, though they’re all dreaming and many are starting seeds indoors.)  Happy spring vegetables like fennel, asparagus, and leeks deserve their very own dishes with luscious and copious amounts of fresh herbs to encourage them along.  While I love asparagus soup ( and who doesn’t), adore leek and potato soup (same thing), and will put sautéed spicy fennel on just about anything, I kept thinking of a soup that featured all of them. Together.

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Mashed Potato Eggs — Breakfast, Lunch, or Dinner

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IMG_5386You perhaps look in the fridge on a regular basis and wonder how to use a certain leftover.  I mean, we try hard to be conservative with the food we buy or make  –  waste not, want not.  Some things are easy–pizza, for instance.  I like it just heated up, but I also like to take the toppings off a piece that has seen better days and use them with pasta or in an omelet.  Ham’s another.  Grind it for ham salad, make a sandwich, bean soup, or a chef salad.   But mashed potatoes sometimes get me.  I mean, I make gorgeous potato cakes, totally crispy in their hot butter.  But there weren’t enough for potato cakes for all of us.   If I had only thought of it, I could have thrown them in my potato soup last night.  But I didn’t. Think, that is.  There were just enough mashed potatoes for me.  (Actually it was colcannon – potatoes mashed with kale or cabbage-that I made with salmon the other day.) And I wanted them for breakfast. Why not?  You could be perfectly happy with these for lunch or dinner, too; after all, what are leftovers for?

Think of your eggs, desperate for you to try something new with them, next time you bring a scoop of mashed potatoes home from a too-big restaurant dinner:

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mashed potato eggs — breakfast, lunch, or dinner  serves 2

You’ll make one serving at a time.  Keep one warm in the oven while you make the other.

  • 2 teaspoons salted butter
  • 4 tablespoons milk
  • 2 cups mashed potatoes or colcannon
  • 4 eggs
  • Kosher salt, fresh-ground pepper
  • Salsa or chopped parsley or scallions  for garnish, optional

Heat 1 teaspoon butter in an 8-inch non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Add 2 tablespoons milk and let warm.  Press 1 cup mashed potatoes into the pan and heat until hot and beginning to crisp underneath.

Push potatoes to the edges of the pan, leaving about a 4-inch diameter space at the center.  Crack two eggs, side by side, into the space and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cover, lower heat a little, and cook until the eggs are done to your liking –about two minutes for runny, sunny side up.  Lift the whites a time or two to let the uncooked portions fall back into the pan.

Slide a large rubber spatula under the potatoes and eggs to loosen and slide the breakfast onto a plate.  Garnish with salsa or chopped parsley or scallions.  Serve hot.

Repeat for second serving.

Cook’s Notes:  If you like scrambled eggs, just beat your eggs together in a small bowl before pouring into the center of the pan. 

Just for fun, I thought I’d share a photo of my Irish Soda Bread from last night.  Instead of baking it in a heavy glass round dish, I baked it free-form and was much happier with the results.  It was scrumptious.  We invited our neighbor, Mary Pat, over for a serve-yourself potato soup and bread supper eaten in front of the tv so we could watch John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in “The Quiet Man” for a family-style Saint Patrick’s Day celebration.  We didn’t eat all of the bread, but almost.

IMG_5378KITCHEN CHANGES:

This may be the last time I look at my kitchen in exactly the same way.  Dave and I have finally decided to commit to a kitchen re-do, though we’re not sure what it will mean for us.  Our first choice is to move our kitchen entirely to the sunroom so that we have a room that is twice as big and has windows!  If that proves unfeasible, we’ll revert to updating  the footprint we currently have, albeit with a few changes.  What we have is a one-butt galley kitchen that also serves as the hallway to the deck and the garage — read that how everyone gets in and out, including all of the dogs.  You see what I’m talking about.

The designer arrives today and will take more pictures (she has some), look at my likes and dislikes notes on houzz.com, measure the two rooms, and give us a couple of design choices and price points.  I would love for this to be done in time for our 40th anniversary, which is 14 July.  What do you think?  It could happen!  As I write and wait for her, the wind whips between 50 and 60 miles per hour.  On my phone are dust storm warnings for today :  DO NOT TRAVEL!  it says.  We’ve also had bouts of swirling dervish snow squalls.  To the north are white-out conditions on the interstate.  Yesterday afternoon, I drank my tea out on the front porch in the 70 degree F sun.

IMG_5341Miss Gab and Tucker with Blue, one of our two grand dogs staying with us just now.  Though Blue often looks hangdog, she is loving, caring, sweet, and quite a watch dog.

Sing a new song,

Alyce

Colcannon and Salmon in the Little Skillet Pot

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(above:  Cliffs of Moher- A. Morgan, 2003)
 
    In 2012, I blogged daily in a Lenten journal.  You can go day by day or read as you like.  For instance, today is day 9 of the 40 days; read it here.
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Most St. Patrick’s Day dinners, you’ll find a pot of potato soup and a grand loaf of Irish soda bread on my table.  I’ve been making it for as long as I’ve been responsible for the dinner. So if that’s what you fancy, you’re in for a treat; I’ve blogged it already here. One year, however, I also did a great Guinness Beef Pot Pie with Cheddar Biscuits. It’s not hard, but it takes a while to make. (Worth every minute of it.)
  
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This year I’ve a notion to create something — one meal — out of two favorite Irish dishes — colcannon (mashed potatoes with cabbage or kale and milk) and salmon, a lovely, healthy fish that thrives along Ireland’s west coastline.  While I love both colcannon and salmon, I’ve never had them together and certainly never cooked them together in one skillet.  Today’s the day, but first listen to this sweet song (click on title for link) “Colcannon,” by the Black Family– sometimes known as “The Little Skillet Pot”.  Lyrics are below.
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Roasted Potato-Asparagus Salad with Mushrooms and Sweet Onions

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When the first day that truly feels like spring arrives — as it did yesterday —  I’m likely to wander around wondering what to cook that feels like spring.  If Dave’s in on the conversation, he’ll be talking grill while I’ll be dreaming salad.  And not only will Dave be talking grill, he’ll be thinking hamburgers.  As I rarely eat hamburgers unless he cooks them at home, I jumped in the car and ran to the store for low-fat ground beef and whole wheat buns.

Today, just so you appreciate Colorado weather, is thirty-something with snow and winds gusting at 50 miles per hour. I can’t see beyond the yard. The photo below was of yesterday’s blue skies and grilling weather.

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Ina Fridays — Desserts — Double Chocolate Pudding

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The first Friday of every monthI blog INA FRIDAYS (all Ina Garten recipes) with a great group of cooks.  Scroll down nearly to the bottom to check out the list of blogs participating, then read up and cook some Ina this weekend!  ♥♥♥

This post is dedicated to my friend Chaya and all those she loves.

Chocolate pudding.  The words bring smiles to faces. Raised eyebrows.  We picture kids with big chocolate smiles or toddlers with their fingers in the bowl, going straight from the high chair to the bathtub when the last of the pudding is gone.  In the U.S. and maybe in quite a few other places, those words also bring to mind a box that looks something like this:

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(courtesy JELLO)

And I have no beef with that box, having opened it a time or two myself when my kids were little.  In fact, it took a few years of cooking for me to realize that our simple box pudding was basically a bit quicker and not-so-rich version of pastry cream--in the vanilla flavor, I mean.  Scratch, or homemade, pudding — pastry cream’s luscious, but spoonable poor relation — is worth the extra few minutes it takes to make; there’s no doubt.  The chocolate version is, if possible, even better.  (Click here for a bona fide Emeril chocolate pastry cream recipe. Scroll down for link to Ina’s pudding recipe.)  Instead of having the sugar, cornstarch, and flavoring (vanilla extract or real chocolate) dried up in the box how many eons ago, you add them yourself, fresh,  in two shakes of a stick.

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Marinated Sirloin with Asparagus-Fenced Cheddar Mashed Potatoes

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IMG_5209I admit it’s difficult or a bit embarrassing, maybe, to put up a grill recipe.  It was -12 in St. Paul, Minnesota today.  But it’s 60 here and while winter is only a day or two away from returning, I’ve been taking advantage of our brief spring respite for the past couple of days.

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(above:  first robin in our back yard this spring)

If I drive around the grocery store parking lot, there are still piles of gritty-gray and black snow several feet high.  I know it’s nothing like up north, but winter hasn’t disappeared totally and I know it’ll be back to bite us on the butt again.

(below:  the tiny woods between our house and our neighbors’ this week– complete with young doe who still runs around with her mom)

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