It’s one of the biggest challenges and conundrums of my cooking, blogging, writing, and teaching life. Folks are so very interested in food, love to chat about it, are crazy about eating, and seem to know lots about ingredients and technique (Food Network and “Top Chef”, I guess). But somehow they often have an awesome amount of trouble getting into the kitchen and actually cooking. There are myriad reasons and I needn’t name them.
Still have some openings in upcoming classes, which begin next Thursday, April 16, 5-8pm at Shouse Appliance in Colorado Springs. There are two available spots each in the FRENCH CLASS, April 16 and in the BRUNCH class (we’re learning how to make homemade sausage!), April 25, as well in the rest of the series. Click at top on CURRENT CLASSES for list and registration info. Can’t wait to cook with you!
Orzo, the tiny rice-like pasta, and vegetables is a favorite combination of mine and you’ll see it on the blog a time or two. Or more. This particular comforting oh-so-green pasta dish, which is easily made vegan, seems to catapult spring vegetables such as asparagus, fennel, and baby spinach way up onto their long-awaited pedestal. It also feels and nearly looks like risotto minus the questionably constant stirring, angst, and jaw-clenching risotto seems to engender. While it bubbles away nearly untended, you can look to other occupations like pouring wine, chatting, setting the table, or if you’re like me, petting Rosie–just spayed and not too happy with it. Poor baby. She does like the pills that come all wrapped up in cream cheese for easy swallowing.
For other meals, I cook orzo separately and make a heartier dish or pasta salad, adding feta, tiny tomatoes, celery or peas, basil or parsley, and a vinaigrette. Either variation is easy to make ahead early on a warm day for a potluck or as a bed for that night’s grilled fish, shrimp, chicken or chops. You can find regular orzo easily in the pasta aisle of your B-flat grocery store, but there are also some brands that sell the whole-wheat variety, which adds fiber and protein. Try this:
ONE-PAN ORZO “RISOTTO” WITH ASPARAGUS, FENNEL, AND CHERRY TOMATOES
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.
|Bacon, Spinach (the “L”), and Cherry Tomato Risotto|
|Here spinach is mixed with baby kale for a powerful side.|
|Herb-Spinach Egg White Omelet|
If I don’t make an egg white omelet, I make salad or have spinach instead of lettuce on a sandwich or..
|Alyce’s Tomatoed Cod on Fennel with Sauteed Spinach|
I might pair it with fennel as a side for my fish.
Yesterday, my tomatoes (volunteers left on their own for the summer) were picked by a neighbor and deposited on my back step. She knew I’d been away; she’s a gardener.
|These were volunteers from the yard and driveway. I left them to see what’d happen over the summer. They took over the side bed.|
|Hybrids ready to eat; they were pretty tasty!|
Hot on the back porch, the tomato scent wafted dizzily through me when I reached down and picked up the container. What to do with them besides pop one (ok, three) in my mouth as is?
My larder isn’t full yet; we’ve only been home from Colorado for a couple of days. I did, however, have bacon in small packages in the freezer (one of my mainstays), rice in the pantry, and spinach (which serves as the L in BLT) in the frig. Way back in the corner was an old chunk of Parmesan our house sitter hadn’t eaten. B”L”T Risotto was born. Need I tell you this was the risotto from heaven? (Neighbor got a bowl, too.) Try it today:
b “l” t risotto
2-3 pieces bacon, chopped into 1″ pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 cup arborio rice
Pinch crushed red pepper
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1 cup white wine
4-5 cups chicken stock, low sodium
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 – 1 1/2 cups fresh spinach leaves
|Set table before you begin.|
- In a heavy 4 qt saucepan, cook bacon over medium heat until nearly crisp and remove to a paper-towel lined plate leaving bacon fat in pot. Set aside. Add butter and onion to the saucepan. Cook 4-5 minutes until onion is softened; add garlic and rice. Stir in crushed red pepper, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper. Stir well to coat rice. Cook 1 minute or so.
- Add white wine; raise heat a bit. Cook a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until wine is absorbed.
- Add 2 cups warm chicken stock and cook about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until broth is absorbed. Repeat. Add last cup of broth (if rice is still too hard to eat–you want it between al dente and fall-apart tender.) Please relax about constantly stirring the risotto. Pour a glass of wine, turn on the music, and stir only as necessary.
- Stir in tomatoes, Parmesan, spinach, and reserved bacon. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
- Serve hot with steamed green beans or asparagus. (See below.) Pass black pepper at table.
I liked a crisp grassy Sancerre with this, but I like a crisp grassy Sancerre with almost anything. Chardonnay, which is lovely with creamy dishes, would also drink.
Note re seasonings: The heat of the crushed red pepper is one that will build in your mouth as you eat the risotto; be careful not to add too much black pepper at the end.
Cook’s Note: For ease of preparation, here’s how I do the asparagus or beans in the microwave while the last cup of broth is cooking away in the risotto pan:
Just 2 minutes for rinsed (no more water) asparagus on high:
Beans will take a couple of extra minutes unless they’re haricots verts. Add a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of pepper.
Sing a new song; eat risotto, too,
|Alyce’s Asparagus Soup a la Silver Palate|
Every Friday for the foreseeable future, I’ll be blogging one of the 38 healthiest ingredients from POWER FOODS : 150 DELICIOUS RECIPES WITH THE 38 HEALTHIEST INGREDIENTS by the editors of Whole Living Magazine.
38 Power Foods is a group effort! Stop by these other blogs and see what they’re cooking each week as we team up to bring you some of the healthiest cooking available:
Sarah – Everything in the Kitchen Sink
As we go along, I’m guessing we’ll get some other writers involved. If you’re interested in joining the gang writing each week, get in touch with Mireya from My Healthy Eating Habits: Mireya@MyHealthyEatingHabits.com
Read me regularly and you know asparagus is just about my favorite vegetable. Maybe zucchini is first; I don’t know. But I cook asparagus at the drop of a hat. In lots of ways. Here’s one of my favorite recipes, worth buying some gorgeous tiny bowls for (think antique store) so you can make this as a first-course. I first made Asparagus Soup as a starter for the lunch celebrating my daughter’s baptism, and have been making it ever since.
alyce’s asparagus soup a la silver palate
4 main course servings 6-8 first course servings
- 1 1/2 medium onions, chopped coarsely
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 2T butter or olive oil
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 6T fresh tarragon (or 2t dry), divided
- 1/4 c fresh parsley, chopped
- 2# asparagus, trimmed well and chopped
- 1 1/2-2 quarts chicken broth, unsalted*
- 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1 stalk celery with leaves, chopped
- 4-6 drops hot sauce (I like Tabasco.)
- 1/4 c low-fat sour cream*
- Lemon rind
|If you live in St. Paul, my tarragon is right off my back porch in a whiskey barrel; you’re welcome to pick some.|
|Here’s my fast Clam Chowder. Should it go in the new book???|
If you shop Trader Joe’s, you might know Israeli couscous–a bit more like round orzo than couscous. Maybe you buy it? And if you live in the metro D.C. area or read papers online, you might have read a recipe from the Washington Post a few weeks ago for a Toasted Israeli Couscous Primavera. I do not live in the D.C. area, though I did for years; these days my traveling husband occasionally brings me a WP home to Saint Paul. I’m always glad to get it because it was the first paper away from Chicago to which I became really attached. And as a food blogger, I like seeing what’s going on somewhere else food-wise. If you’re a regular reader, you know I rarely blog a recipe from a newspaper. Until recently when I jumped on board the fun 50 Women Game-Changers in Food blogging adventure, I blogged almost exclusively original recipes. This one’s yummy, though, and I wanted it on my own site–if only for my own self! You can, and I did, buy everything you need to make this recipe at any Trader Joe’s.
I don’t know how you feel about Trader Joe’s. People praise it to the highest heavens and you would have thought our lives were being saved from the plague if you listened to the around-town chat before the store opened on its tight corner with underground parking. I was in grad school at St. Thomas that summer, and even I heard about it. And this is a city with fine, locally-owned groceries we can walk to in nearly every neighborhood. The beauty of Saint Paul!
So I’m of mixed emotions over what’s there–inside Trader Joe’s, I mean. First off, I’m not drinking that wine not no-how. Not even in Sangria. I mean, have you tasted it? I’d rather drink Coke and be sober. Secondly, the produce (even though you can get cool things like fresh English peas) looks a little sad, a bit used, and not real green in both its meanings. I mean, why wrap Italian parsley up on paper plates and in plastic? The other thing is I have the sense (with no reason, I think) that some of this food might be processed in ways I wouldn’t like or in China maybe. I feel like a snob. And guess I am. I repeat: I have no basis for these feelings or ideas. I even looked on the boxes of a few things I bought. The Israeli couscous, for instance, says “Made in Israel.” Duh. The canned salmon is wild from Alaska. Huh.
|The chef is always right. This sign is right by my main prep space. Just cookin’.|
But I go. Once in a while. I’ll only go at very specified times. Like 10am on Tuesday. If you try and shop at our Trader Joe’s in the afternoon, evening, or on the weekends, you just can’t get in and out of the parking lot or nearby streets. The location, albeit the only one they could obtain in our city, is crowded, crowded. While I’m there, I grab up stuff like sparkling pink lemonade in beautiful liter bottles, peanut-butter stuff pretzel chunks that are addictive, boxes of 100-calorie each scrumptious Belgian milk chocolate, and maybe even a plant or two. Sometimes a little cheese, though I feel guilty not buying it at our local cheese shop, St. Paul Cheese, which is all of four blocks from my house.
Just because I should, I did a little digging and, if you’d like, you can read a professional review–a bit dated– of Trader Joe’s here. It’s all good. Nothing to substantiate my weird, stuck up feelings.
Well, now that that’s off my chest…I can go on about the recipe. Right?
|I tape upcoming recipes on the door.|
|Things I’m testing or things I’d like to make sometime go up. The couscous was up for a while before I got to it.|
A wonderfully simple all-in-one spring side dish (or summer-add whatever vegetables), we enjoyed this as a foil to a rosemary-roasted pork loin drizzled with homemade barbeque sauce for our second annual “Lilacs are Blooming” dinner party. (A leek soup with a bit of bacon was the first course that night, but that’s another blog.) Appearing and tasting something like risotto, this is much easier; the couscous is cooked in only 10 minutes and the entire dish in about 15–no long-lived ladling and stirring. My notes or changes are in red. Try this:
toasted israeli couscous primavera courtesy WP/Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
4 main-dish servings; 6 side-dish servings
2T olive oil, divided
2/3 c chopped scallions (1 bunch, white and light green parts) I used ramps
1 1/2 cups dried Israeli couscous
Freshly ground black pepper
1 3/4 cups no-salt added or homemade chicken broth, heated just to boiling
Finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice from 1 lemon (2t zest, 2T juice)
8 oz asparagus, woody ends trimmed, cut into 1″ pieces
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted, or blanched fresh peas
2 oz baby spinach leaves
Aleppo pepper to taste
2T fresh parsley, chopped
- Heat 1 T of the oil in a 2-3 qt over medium heat. Add the sallions; cook 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently, until just softened.
- Add the couscous and season with salt and pepper to taste; stir to combine. Add the hot broth, lemon zest and juice.
- Bring to a boil and add asparagus and peas; cover. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat so the broth is barely bubbling at the edges, until the liquid has been absorbed and the couscous is cooked through.
- Combine the spinach, the parsley and the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large serving bowl. Add the cooked couscous and vegetables and stir until the spinach has wilted.
- Dust with aleppo pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve immediately.
Author’s Notes: Couscous cooks quickly, and when it’s done, it will stick to the pan. Keep a close eye on it, and stir every few minutes. After cooking, the couscou will clump together if you let the dish sit too long. Serve immediately, or add more oil if you plan to make the dish ahead of time. Vegetable broth can be substituted for the chicken broth if desired.
My notes: I didn’t add more oil, but I did add more broth to keep the dish moist. I made it right before our guests arrived for dinner, turned it off, and reheated it for serving. It was tender, moist, quite warm, and was not over-cooked even though I had kept it covered.
|Made Derby pies for a friend’s Derby party…
Congratulations to Poor Man’s Feast--the blogging winner for the James Beard Awards! Give a shout-out!
Sing a new song,
Last Friday night was a use-what’s-on-hand night:
- The first of the Minnesota corn (very tiny kernels, but yummy)
- One of the pork tenderloins I’d gotten on sale at Kowalski’s (froze 4 of them in April)
- Salad makings that wouldn’t be good the next day. I sautéed the greens with garlic and lots of fresh herbs:
|My own garden herbs: marjoram, sage, chives, tarragon, basil, and thyme.|
|I added raisins and chopped cashews to the sautéed greens.|
|The first of our tomatoes went in at the end.|
Despite heat and humidity that all Minnesota is ready to get rid of, we ate outdoors under our big maple tree that reaches toward the house and garage, creating a canopy to cover the patio. That soft, shady spot is often the coolest place anywhere and you can bet I’ve looked. Along with everyone else on Wheeler Street.
Next night, a quick look-see in the frig assured me I had enough to throw together some sort of salad as I had a snake squash (can’t find right name) from my victory garden neighbor:
|Tastes like a cross between a mild zucchini and yellow (summer) squash.|
Some asparagus (now out of season, but still my favorite) was sagging in there and a little bit of the pork tenderloin called me. What really appealed was the rest of my fresh cheese (blogged at Dinner Place), which I knew would fry. Could there be anything bad about fried cheese?
|Alyce’s 2-1 cheese|
What about a salad of greens, sautéed squash and asparagus, with avocado, blueberries, and thinly sliced pork tenderloin topped with fried cheese? With a perky, ramped up orange vinaigrette? I was sold. Moral of story: make up your salad as you go along.
|I cooked the squash and asparagus in a bit of oil, salt and pepper, and set that aside.|
|Sliced up my avocado. Creamy and fatty, it would be a good foil for my spicy greens.|
|Blueberries for color, texture, contrast of taste, and sweetness.|
|About 3-4 oz cooked pork tenderloin–or how much of whatever meat you have.|
|My homemade cheese fried in olive oil and black pepper. Dave was so excited.|
Fried Cheese Snake Squash Salad with Orange Vinaigrette
MAKE YOUR VINAIGRETTE FIRST:
Place the following ingredients in a small jam jar, close tightly with lid, and shake well until emulsified. I like to do this to “America” from West Side Story: Shake to this rhythm..123,123, 1—2—3—. (Thanks, Leonard Bernstein.) Set aside while you make the salad.
- 1T fresh orange juice
- 1/4t kosher salt
- 1/8 t freshly ground pepper
- pinch crushed red pepper
- 1/2 t honey
- 1/2-1 t minced shallot (or garlic)
- 2T extra virgin olive oil.
MAKE THE SALAD:
- 2 T olive oil, divided
- 1 cup each: sliced zucchini (or snake or summer squash) and chopped asparagus (or green beans)
- Kernels from 1 ear of fresh cooked corn (you can cook it in unshucked in the microwave.)
- 1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced
- 6-8 cups baby greens, your choice
- 1/4 cup fresh herbs of your choice, optional
- 1/2 cup fresh blueberries
- 1/4 cup toasted walnuts chopped
- 2-4 ounces sliced, cooked pork tenderloin, steak or chicken
- 2T fresh lemon juice
- Kosher salt and Freshly ground pepper
- 6-8 small pieces fresh cheese
- Orange vinaigrette (above)
- In a large skillet, sauté squash and asparagus in oil over medium heat for five minutes. Dust with salt and pepper.
- Remove veggies from pan and place in a large bowl. (Keep pan out; you’ll use it for the cheese)
- To the squash and asparagus, add the corn, chopped avocado, blueberries, walnuts and pork, keeping the ingredients at the center of the bowl.
- Around the pile of veggies and meat, place the salad greens and fresh herbs.
- Set aside or in refrigerator.
- In the skillet, pour another tablespoon of olive oil and heat over medium heat once more. Grind some black pepper into the oil as the pan heats. Place the cheese slices in the pan and cook a few minutes or until nicely browned. Turn carefully with a spatula and let the other side brown.
- Take the salad and drizzle with the lemon juice. Dust the whole thing with some salt and pepper.
- Drizzle the dressing over the salad and top with the browned cheese.
- Eat immediately. Won’t keep.
- Take downstairs and watch movies.
Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the ‘Hood
|On the wall ladies’ room in restaurant The Angry Trout|
|In our south garden|
|Heavy, heavy hydrangeas after rain– next to drive|
|As my mom would say, “Morning, Glory.”|
|This incredible flower showed up in my corner garden yesterday.
My pharmacist’s assistant tells me this is a perennial hibiscus.
|I’ve been making blueberry jam, actually blueberry-orange conserve.|
Hot and muggy. Lots of storms and rain. Tomatoes are coming. The first ones weren’t so good. Wonder if it’s like pancakes–throw out the first ones?
Sing a new song; enjoy August,
If you have a yard surrounded by old lilacs, spring is a good time for a dinner party.
And, if it’s spring, it’s a good time for Pasta Primavera (Spring Pasta).
And, if it’s time for Pasta Primavera, it’s a good time for pink wine. French rosé. Or Oregon rosé.
You needn’t be picky about the wine, though it must be dry and young (2010). It shouldn’t cost much–not more than $15 and often much less. Just make sure you have enough. A variety of choices would be a kind gesture to both you and your guests.
And if you were really loving that day, you might make an appetizer platter of tapenade and local goat’s cheese blended with fresh basil and grated lemon rind. Some proscuitto and tiny tomatoes make the plate.
The rosé will be quite stunning with that goat’s cheese. Promise.
I’m sold lately on lemon ice cream. In fact, it’s a perfect solution to dessert.
|Picture taken later after the ice cream had been in the freezer.|
I used a recipe from epicurious. com (Gourmet, 1993), though I didn’t use as much sugar. I thought 2/3 c was plenty and it was. The brightness and/or sourness of the lemon can easily be overwhelmed by too much sugar. (Click on the purple recipe.) Note that the mixture must be made ahead, cooked briefly, chilled very well, and have more half and half added right before freezing.
About the Primavera... you could look up twenty recipes for Primavera and they’d all be different, except that they should all have spring vegetables of some sort (leeks, ramps, scallions, peas, asparagus, baby greens, fennel, etc.). If you go to the farmer’s markets now (when you think there’ll be nothing), you should find some spring vegetables. If not, pick up your favorites at the grocery and use those.
|A gorgeous fennel bulb..use the fronds for garnish. There’s a core here much like in cabbage. Cut it out and slice the fennel into half moons.|
|Fresh pea shoots–leaves, shoots, and tendrils from pea plants. Yummy greens.|
The basic directions (serves 4) that would include your choice of vegetables would look like this (and I don’t think the Primavera police are out tonight if you want to change the process):
|Ramps–quite like scallions|
1. Bring a big pot of salted, peppered, and herbed pasta water to a boil. (Fresh herbs only–parsley, if it’s all you have. Parsley’s a perfect herb and quite nutritious.) Lower the heat to low until you need the water in a few minutes. That is, unless you’ve timed it perfectly. Ha.
2. Meantime, in a large, deep skillet, saute in a tablespoon of olive oil a half cup of sliced something(s) from the onion family: scallions, leeks, ramps (kind of like green onions…sort of between them and lilies of the valley), a mixture…even a bit of garlic, though just a bit–say 1 clove, minced. I would include fennel here (another half cup if you have it) as it requires a similar cooking time. Do not brown these vegetables, just cook until softened. A shake of salt and pepper wouldn’t come wrong here. Remove them from the pan and reserve.
3. Add a bit more oil, heat it to medium-high, and cook a cup of freshly sliced mushrooms for three or four minutes until golden. They needn’t be –though they could be!–expensive; button mushrooms will do. Don’t salt them til later. Do, however, add a tablespoon or so of fresh chopped herbs to them and pepper it all lightly. (I like marjoram, but rosemary or thyme is so good, too.) Remove them from the pan and add to the onion mixture. Note: Like meat, you must leave mushrooms unmoved for best browning. Don’t stir until well-browned on one side. Watch closely!
4. A little more oil, medium heat, and cook 1/2 cup each new peas (or frozen if you can’t find new), chopped asparagus, chopped haricots verts (very slim green beans), even a bit of zucchini or yellow squash sliced thinly–despite the fact that they are summer vegetables. We’ll let you slide by with it. After they’ve cooked a couple of minutes, add 1T cup each of your favorite fresh herbs (basil, rosemary, etc.) and a generous pinch of crushed red pepper. Throw in the onion-mushroom mixture, taste and adjust seasoning, and set aside. These vegetables should be just barely done…not crunchy like a salad, but not granny-done, either.
5. Cook your pound of pasta as directed (10 minutes for dried thin noodles like spaghetti or linguine…just a few minutes for fresh), drain it and add it the vegetables. Mix well. I do not believe in the ubiquitious addition of pasta water here.
6. If desired, a 1/2 cup – 1 cup of very fresh ricotta can be included here, as well as 1/2c-1 c fresh baby greens (pea shoots, baby spinach, watercress…). Serve warm or at room temperature. (Good cold, too.)
7. Pass Parmesan (you’ll need 1-2 cups grated), chopped parsley, cherry tomatoes (heirlooms are tasty), and white pepper at the table.
Alternatively, and much more quickly, you might try this method for ease of preparation: Bring a 10-12 qt (2/3 full) pot of well-seasoned water to boil; add 1 lb pasta and cook 7-8 minutes. Throw in peas, chopped asparagus, chopped green beans, etc. and continue cooking 2 more minutes. Drain well and drizzle with olive oil. Add a handful of mixed fresh herbs (parsley, basil, etc.), 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes, and 1/4 c sliced green onions. If you like ricotta, and have some, stir in 1/2-1 cup. Season quite liberally with salt and pepper and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Serve hot and pass a generous bowl of Parmesan and a grinder for black pepper around the table.
|Nothing like fresh ricotta.|
This is a fun meal to make if you like interactive dinners. Have each guest bring their favorite vegetable, cleaned and chopped. Someone who doesn’t cook can bring a couple of different rosés. Let a strong person grate the cheese, a detail-oriented friend supervise the pasta, and definitely get a wino to make sure everyone tastes all the wines. The ice cream can be put into the freezer (if it’s a small one) when you sit down to dinner.
If you’re a fan of Mark Bittman (NYT), as am I, here’s a link to his recent take (and ideas for variations) on Primavera, which he contends is American. Who am I to argue with Mark Bittman? Mr. Bittman also has ideas for pastas that, since they require fewer ingredients (and seldom meat), are pretty inexpensive. Which is always good.
Well–all that said:
It’s spring. The flowers are in bloom. Sit outdoors if it’s not too cold. Put spring flowers on the table and think loving thoughts.
Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the ‘Hood
The house is still in process, but crystal is in the china cabinet, boxes are out of the living room, and I am walking, gardening, and practicing again.
|I must be home. The cream soups are here.|
|House being prepared for paint.|
|St. Paul Farmer’s Market Scallions|
|Made rhubarb pie yesterday…may blog it! From…|
|Farmer’s market rhubarb.|
|Flowers at the market downtown–a fine way to spend Saturday morning.|
|Our side yard (south)|
|Front yard tree.|
|Our house from the north.|
|Our driveway garden becoming a jungle.
I’m planting herbs, columbines, tomatoes, impatiens, pansies, alyssum…and looking for more light in the yard!
Happy Spring as you sing a new song, my friends!