May 2, 2008

Spring Rituals – Mother Nature vs. Mother Of The Groom

SEASON TO TASTE
(My monthly food column for Heartland Women)
May 2008

OK, I have to level with you. I am not completely focused on recipes or cooking this month. The chaos at my house right now is just too distracting. Our preparations for an outdoor May wedding got off to a slow start with a helping hand from Mother Nature – the frigid temperatures, the snow, the sleet, the hail, the wind, and the rain, rain, and more rain that continued all winter and into the spring. Now the rush is on to clean up, repair, plant, and generally groom the entire great outdoors – or so it seems. This is a daunting project we are hoping to accomplish, even with a still soggy yard and just a few short weeks left until the big day.

While the father-of-the-groom, and anyone he can cajole into helping, toils outside, I am busy inside organizing projects, ordering stuff, keeping track of invitations and the like. Of course, I have taken this opportunity to have some painting and decorating done, as well. Weddings are one of those life events that just make you want everything to be perfect – whatever that is – including inside the house, even when the wedding is outside! This is the same logic that makes me organize the junk drawer when company is coming for dinner, or clean my closet when I should be writing.

Not to be outdone though, Mother Nature stepped in again. With the recent earthquakes, she left her touch with some very nice cracks in our freshly painted walls! Imposing order on chaos normally clears my mind for more creative pursuits, I guess, but I find Mother Nature to be a formidable opponent and humbling force where this wedding is concerned.

Writing this column every month is a personal challenge I normally relish, but this month I have to admit I turned to my files of “must try” recipes. Fortunately, my files were bursting at the seams with tempting ideas for seasonal favorites like asparagus, Vidalia onions, peas, fresh herbs and greens, strawberries, rhubarb, and lighter fare like seafood. I guess it is a good thing that I save so many recipes, especially right now when my mind is not in the kitchen, but somewhere between a new dock and a freshly painted living space.

So, until I have officially hung up my mother-of-the-groom dress – which I don’t even have yet, thank you for asking! – I am sending you off to the farmer’s market armed with some promising, albeit untried, recipes for Mother Nature’s spring bounty. I’ve been waiting for months to try my hand at these recipes, but I’ll trust you to check them out for me this time around. Should you choose to try any of them, please email me with your review and any variations you tried too.

In the meantime, we’ll be working hard and hoping for sunny weather, warm temperatures, and just enough light rain to keep the gardens and grass looking good on May 24. Oh, and a dress for the mother-of-the-groom would be nice too!

SPINACH AND PEA SOUP
adapted from www.marthastewart.com website
5 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 3/4 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1 lb. fresh peas, shelled or frozen (about 1 c.)
8 oz. fresh spinach, tough stems removed
1 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
3/4 c. mix of tiny greens, fresh herbs and/or edible flowers
Parmesan Frico Bowls

Heat 4 tsp. oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a pinch of pepper; cook and stir for 3 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Add peas and return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until peas are tender and bright green, about 2 - 3 minutes. Stir in spinach; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until spinach is wilted, another 2 - 3 minutes. Working in two batches, puree pea mixture in a blender, filling no more than halfway and adding up to 2 tbsp. water to each batch to achieve desired consistency. Stir in 1 tsp. lemon juice, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/8 tsp. pepper. Divide the soup among 4 bowls. In a bowl, toss the greens with remaining 1 tsp. oil and 1/2 tsp. lemon juice; season with salt and pepper. Divide salad greens among Frico Bowls and float one on top of each bowl of soup. Serve immediately while warm, or chill the soup before assembling with Frico Bowls to serve.

PARMESAN FRICO BOWLS
adapted from www.marthastewart.com website
1 1/2 oz. good Parmesan cheese, grated on the medium holes of a box grater (about 6 tbsp.)

Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle about 1 1/2 tbsp. Parmesan on skillet to form a 4-in. round. Cook until Parmesan is somewhat melted and starting to firm, about 3 minutes. Using a thin spatula, flip; cook until firm but not browned – 20 to 30 seconds more. Gently drape Frico over a small bowl turned upside down and press to form the bowl shape. Cool completely and remove. Repeat to form 4 Frico Bowls.
Note: Frico can also be prepared as flat rounds to garnish or accompany any variety of dishes. Spread the grated Parmesan into circles on a parchment covered baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees just until the crisps begin to color around the edges. Remove immediately to paper towels to cool. Try adding crushed cumin seeds, fennel seeds, dried herbs or coarsely ground pepper to spice them up. Good with wine or cocktails.

STRAWBERRY SOUP
adapted from www.indianapoliswoman.com website
12 oz. strawberries, washed, hulled and cut in half
1/4 c. honey
1 1/2 c. good white wine
1 tsp. fresh lime juice
2 tbsp. heavy cream
strawberries for garnish

Place strawberries, honey and wine in blender or food processor. Puree until smooth. Pour into large bowl and stir in lime juice. Refrigerate for several hours. Just before serving stir in cream. Pour into wine or martini glass to serve. Garnish with a strawberry sliced part way through from tip end and placed on rim of wine glass. Makes 3 cups.

STRAWBERRY TABBOULEH
adapted from www.ivu.org website
1 1/2 c. bulgur wheat
3 c. water
1 tsp. salt
juice of 2 lemons
1 tbsp. olive oil
4 c. strawberries, chopped
1 c. fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 package fresh mint, finely chopped
1/2 c. pecan pieces, toasted

Combine bulgur wheat, water and salt in a pot with tight-fitting lid. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat and cook fifteen minutes. When done, drain off any excess water, fluff with fork and let cook. Combine strawberries, parsley and mint in a salad bowl or large plastic container with lid. When bulgur wheat is cool, add lemon juice ad olive oil to it and mix well. Add bulgur wheat mixture to strawberries and herbs. Toss well. Sprinkle with toasted pecans just before serving.

ROASTED ASPARAGUS WITH GORGONZOLA BUTTER
adapted from www.epicurious.com website
3/4 c. crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (or any other good blue cheese)
6 tbsp. butter, room temperature
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs. trimmed asparagus
1/2 c. roasted and chopped walnuts

Stir blue cheese, butter and lemon juice in a small bowl to blend. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and refrigerate, up to two days. Whisk together olive oil and minced garlic. Lay asparagus on baking sheet and toss with olive oil. (Can also toss asparagus with olive oil and place on hot grill.) Roast to desired degree of doneness; turning once during roasting. Place roasted asparagus on serving plate and top with Gorgonzola butter and toasted walnuts.

VIDALIA ONION CASSEROLE
adapted from www.cooks.com website
5 or 6 large Vidalia onions
8 tbsp. butter
3/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 c. freshly grated Swiss cheese
1 tube Ritz crackers, crushed

Slice onions in half lengthwise and then into 1/4-in. slices across halves. Melt butter in a large pan or Dutch oven over medium-low heat until transparent. In a bowl, blend cheeses and crushed Ritz crackers. Cover the bottom of a flat baking dish with half of the cracker and cheese mixture. Add the cooked onions to the baking dish and top with remaining cracker and cheese mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until top is lightly browned. Great with grilled chicken, steaks or pork chops.

RISOTTO WITH VIDALIA ONIONS AND FETA CHEESE
adapted from Cooking Light magazine – www.cookinglight.com website
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 c. chopped Vidalia onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 uncooked Arborio rice
2 cans chicken broth
1/2 c. crumbled feta cheese
4 tbsp. chopped Italian parsley
1/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Sauté onion and garlic in oil for 1 minute; stir in rice until coated. Add 1/2 c. chicken broth; cook and stir until liquid is almost completely absorbed. Continue to add remaining broth, 1/2 c. at a time, stirring until it is almost absorbed before adding more. Remove from heat; stir in 1/4 c. feta cheese, parsley and Parmesan cheese. Pour risotto into a serving bowl and top with remaining feta cheese.

PAN SEARED SCALLOPS OVER WILTED SPINACH
adapted from www.recipezarr.com website
1 lb. sea scallops, fresh or frozen
2 tbsp. flour
1 1/2 tsp. Cajun seasoning
1 tbsp. olive oil
10 oz. fresh spinach leaves, washed
1 tbsp. water
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. chopped cooked bacon

Thaw scallops, if using frozen ones. Rinse scallops and pat dry with paper towel. Mix the flour and Cajun seasoning in a large Ziploc bag; add scallops and toss to coat with seasoned flour. In a large skillet, add oil and heat briefly; add scallops and cook until browned on one side – do not move until browned and ready to turn! Brown scallops on second side until they are opaque and cooked through. Remove scallops from skillet, and keep warm by covering with foil. Add spinach to skillet and sprinkle with water; cover and cook over medium high heat until spinach is wilted – about 2 minutes. Add bacon pieces; drizzle vinegar over spinach and toss to coat. To serve – place some hot spinach on each plate and top with scallops. Makes 4 servings.

SALMON WITH THYME & TUSCAN WHITE BEAN SALAD
adapted from www.cookinglight.com website
Bean Salad:
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/3 c. finely chopped celery
1/2 c. finely chopped carrot
1/2 c. finely chopped shallots
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
10 oz. fresh baby spinach
2 tsp. chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp. chopped fresh mint
2 tsp. chopped fresh basil
2 tbsp. water
1 (15-oz.) can cannelloni beans, drained

Salmon:
2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp. chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
4 (6-oz.) salmon fillets (about 1-inch thick)
3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 375°. To prepare bean salad, heat the oil in a medium nonstick skillet; add celery, carrot, shallots, and garlic. Cook 4 minutes or until tender; add vinegar and next 6 ingredients. Cook bean mixture 2 minutes or until spinach is wilted and thoroughly heated, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; cover. To prepare salmon, combine thyme, parsley, salt, and pepper in a small bowl; sprinkle evenly over fish. Place fish on a baking sheet or broiler pan lined with aluminum foil. Bake at 375° for 14 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Remove from oven; sprinkle evenly with balsamic vinegar. Serve with bean salad.

RHUBARB SPONGE PUDDING AND STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM
adapted from www.epicurious.com
1 1/3 lbs. rhubarb, cut into 1-in. pieces (about 5 c.)
1/3 c. light brown sugar, packed
2 tbsp. water
1 c. plus 2 tbsp. all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. sugar
7 tbsp. butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
8 tbsp. whole milk
2 tbsp. sugar
strawberry ice cream – get the good kind!

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter 11x7x2-in. baking dish. Place rhubarb pieces in baking dish in even layer. Scatter brown sugar over and sprinkle with 2 tbsp. water. Whisk flour and baking powder in small bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between additions. Fold in flour mixture in 3 additions alternating with 2 additions of milk, mixing just to blend after each addition. Spoon batter over rhubarb, smoothing top to cover. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp. sugar. Bake dessert until top is golden brown and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. Serve with a scoop of strawberry ice cream.