Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Asparagus and Mushroom Risotto

What better in spring than an asparagus risotto?  Very little.  A relatively simple risotto recipe using leftovers in the fridge that made for a delicious and simple dinner.  I added the pre-cooked vegetables to the risotto at the very end which preserved the freshness of their flavor.


1/2 large bunch of asparagus, cleaned and sliced on the diagonal
4 oz or so shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1/2 cup white wine
chicken stock (feel free to sub. vegetable or mushroom stock)
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 white onion
1 shallot
olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
fresh grated parmesan
lemon zest
handful chopped parsley

In a small sauce pan, add the broth and heat over Low

Prepare a bowl with ice water.  In a larger sauce pan bring heavily salted water to a boil.  Add the asparagus and blanch until bright green (just a couple of minutes).  Submerge in the ice water to stop the cooking, drain and set aside.

In a sautee pan, heat a little olive oil and sautee mushrooms until their liquid is released and reabsorbed.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large stock pot heat oil and butter over Medium-High.  Add the onion and shallot, season with salt and pepper and cook until onions have softened. 

Add the arborio rice and sautee, stirring constantly, until rice becomes translucent.

Add white wine and cook, stirring constantly, until liquid is absorbed.

Add warmed stock one ladle at a time, stirring the whole time.  Once liquid is absorbed, add the next ladleful.  Continue stirring and occasionally tasting to test the texture of the rice.

When rice is almost done, stir in asparagus and mushrooms, continuing to stir.  Grate in some lemon zest and a healthy dose of parmesan.  Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed. 

Turn off heat and stir in fresh parsley.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

2010 Chicago in May

This is a picture of the last time I was on my bike (and yes, I realize I'm not really on the bike, but it's the only picture I have and I was transitioning from bike to run).  2003 Memphis in May Triathlon.  2003.

Fast forward 7 years, 2010 Chicago in May.  J and I got our bikes tuned up and we're ready to ride.  We've committed to making bike riding our primary mode of transportation outside of work.  We did our Saturday and Sunday errands and wine tastings all on bikes this weekend.  It's amazing how pleasant it is not sitting in traffic.  It's also amazing how much thinking biking in the city requires and how little thinking I must do when driving a motor vehicle. 

Two glorious days so far of riding.  I think it's going to be a good summer!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Perfect Spring Lunch

So today is a little chilly and overcast, but not so bad that you still can't have lunch out on the porch.

Sandwiches on pieces of a baguette from Cook Au Vin with a little prosciutto, soft pecorino and a big handful of arugula drizzled with a dash of olive oil and sprinkled with a little lemon juice.  A side of sauteed spinach and a few slices of fresh radish with a dash of salt.

J enjoyed a glass of Les Heretiques 2008 while I had a glass of sparkling lemon water.

Now off for a bike ride!

With a Little Help from My Friends...

I am proud that I have been able to incorporate exercise into my regular daily routine.  A lot of that has to do with being able to fit in workouts at lunchtime these days.  But having friends to support you and participate with you helps keep things going.  My co-worker and I hit the gym at lunch as many days of the week as we can.  A few weeks ago a friend and I ran an early morning 5k.  Friday night I was lucky enough to have a friend join me for a yoga class at the gym and then grab an early bite to eat.  This morning I caught up with an old friend over a jog through the neighborhood.

What a difference it makes.  Thanks to all of my running/lifting/yoga friends out there!  Summer's here, who's ready for a bike ride?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Fiddlehead Ferns (or why I should be accompanied when grocery shopping)

I love to grocery shop, I always have.  I hate shopping for clothes, accessories, makeup and all the other things women typically adore.  But roaming the aisles for food, I could do it for hours.  As you may have noted from my previous posts, I am in heaven since the opening of the Dill Pickle Food Co-op.  Everything my culinary heart desired under one roof just minutes from my house.

The co-op provides me a source for new and varied products, spices, fruits and vegetables.  This was the first year I've cooked with ramps and today I purchased something I don't think I've even seen in person, fiddlehead ferns.

A quick glance through my cookbooks proved that I do not have a single recipe for the strange looking spring vegetable.  I did find an entry for them in The Flavor Bible, as follows:

Season:  Spring
Taste:  Bitter
Weight:  Medium
Volume:  Moderate-Loud
Techniques/Tips:  Always serve cooked:  blanch, boil, sautee, steam

Sounds about right for a very strange looking spring vegetable that is not routinely seen in your run-of-the-mill grocery store.

The Flavor Bible actually provides quite a list of recommended flavor pairings.  The bolded or highly recommended flavor pairings include sweet butter, cheese: comte, goat, parmesan, onions, pasta, vinaigrettes and vinegar: balsamic and sherry.  The BOLDED CAPITALIZED (very highly recommended) pairing is wild mushrooms.

Luckily I also grabbed a handful of shiitake mushrooms and a leek.  I'm going to see what a bit of internet research combined with a bit of ingenuity help me come up with in the next couple of days...

***Editor's Note:  A day or two later I did find a recipe for fiddlehead ferns in From Asparagus to Zucchini put out by the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition (MACSAC). 

Pineapple Strawberry Smoothie

I've been incorporating fruit smoothies into my breakfast routine this week.  I randomly bought a pineapple last week at the co-op and managed to acquire a bunch fo strawberries over the weekend.  Combined with Cascade Farms Low Fat Yogurt, flax seeds and bee pollen it makes for a great start to the day.


1/2 cup yogurt
1/2 cup halved strawberries
1/2 - 3/4 cup chopped pineapple
1 Tbsp flax seeds
1 tsp bee pollen
filtered water

Add first 5 ingredients and desired amount of water to blender and process.  Add more or less water to achieve desired consistency.


The other beautiful sign of spring, fresh, local arugula.

My husband and I both love arugula, and I will admit we sometimes succumb at off times of the year and pick up the pre-packaged arugula from the grocery store.  In the middle of winter it seems to satisfy, but eating my first local batch last week, I was reminded of the futility of arugula at any other time of year.

The co-op was selling arugula from City Farm in Chicago.  A simple salad of arugula dressed with a dash of oil, lemon and salt was all I needed.  I felt like I had never tasted anything so fresh. 

The only way we'll eat even more locally is when we harvest the arugula I have sprouting on the dining room window sill!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Ramps Done Two Ways

In the past several weeks I have been experimenting with that harbinger of spring, the ramp.  The co-op is selling foraged ramps from Wisconsin and I can't stop buying them.  I've also seen them in Whole Foods.  I've tried to versions, sauteed and pickled.  Here are the simple recipes for both!


Clean ramps.  Slice bulbs and stems.  Chop greens roughly.

Add oil to a sautee pan.  Add bulbs, stirring.  When softening add the stems.  When both are softened add the greens until wilted.  Delicious. 

You can also just sautee the greens which I did with the leftovers after making my pickled ramps.  I don't think I even added any salt and pepper!

PICKLED RAMPS  (makes 1 qt. jar) - from Michael Symon's great cookbook, Live to Cook

3-4 bunches (3-4 ramps each) ramps
2 cups white vinegar
2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 bay leaf
1 jalapeno pepper (alternately, the first time I tried this recipe I used 2 dried ancho chilis sliced instead of jalapeno since I was out of jalapeno)

In a sauce pan bring the vinegar, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, bay leaf and jalapeno (or other hot pepper) to a boil and let simmer about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool.

Clean the ramps and remove the greens, leaving the bulbs and stems intact.  If you need to separate the bulb and stem so they fit in the jar go ahead.  Set the greens aside and use later as a sauteed green.

Meanwhile in a larger sauce pan bring several cups of heavily salted water to a boil.  Add the ramps and cook for about 2 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

Clean and sterilize your jar.  Pack the ramps in the jar and fill with the vinegar mixture.  You want to make sure the vinegar mixture has cooled to room temperature before adding to the jar.  Conversely, I have also kept the jar soaking in hot water.  However you do it, you want to minimize the temperature differential between the vinegar solution and the jar to prevent the glass from cracking.

Fasten the lid finger tight and set out the jar cools to room temperature.  Store in the fridge for up to a month.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mexican Black Bean Salad

I served this salad alongside my Turkey Tacos.  Delicious and healthy.  You can also serve it over romaine lettuce


1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 can petite diced tomatoes with zesty jalapeno (in tomato season, use fresh tomato, but I wouldn't risk it now)
4-5 radishes
1 large orange bell pepper diced
1 cucumber diced
1 jalapeno diced
juice of 1/2 lime
cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.  Let sit for awhile to let the flavors meld.  Serve alongside Turkey Tacos!

Turkey Tacos for Cinco de Mayo

For over a week I have been craving Mexican food, Cinco de Mayo working on my subconscious!  I had some frozen ground turkey meet in the fridge and figured a great way to use it up would be to make some turkey tacos.  A quick trip to the co-op for a variety of vegetables, a delicious Cascade Farms sour cream and a stop by Strack & VanTil for the tortillas and shredded cheese and I was in business.  Turkey tacos with sauteed zucchini and bell peppers, a variety of toppings and a side of black bean salad.

Over the years I had developed a disdain of turkey meat.  Thanksgiving is my least favorite holiday from a culinary standpoint and I let that color my feelings toward eating the bird at any time of year.  But my experimentation with the turkey burger and mini turkey meatloaf muffins has been quite successful so I am starting to change my ways. 

The most labor intensive part of this meal was chopping up everything for the bean salad and taco toppings.  My next step is to develop my own taco seasoning mix.  The pre-packaged mix I had stashed in my cupboard is delicious, but after the list of spices there are a significant number of ingredients I don't recognize. 


1 lb ground turkey meat
1 package taco seasoning
Corn tortillas

Heat a skillet over medium heat.  Add the turkey meat and stir in taco seasoning.  Cook until meat is nice and browned.

Heat oven to 200 and throw a few tortillas on a sheet to warm.


1 zucchini sliced
1 large orange bell pepper cut into slices
chili pepper

Heat oil over medium heat in a sautee pan.  Add zucchini and bell pepper slices.  Season liberally with salt, cumin, cayenne and chili pepper (at this point I had run out of coriander while making the bean salad or I would have added that as well).  Cook thoroughly, until all veggies are softened.


Chopped green onion
1 roasted poblano pepper, cut into strips (roast the poblano just like you would a red pepper)
Chopped cilantro
Shredded taco cheese
Sour cream (I recently tasted the Cascade Farms brand and love it)
1/2 avocado sliced
lime wedges

Take your tortilla, top with turkey meat and whatever vegetables and toppings your heart desires, serve with a side of black bean salad and enjoy!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ramps, the Sweet Scent of Spring

Spring has become my favorite season of the year.  It used to be summer, when everything was already green and lush and bountiful.  However, over the last couple of years I have come to appreciate the anticipation of summer, the first small signs that winter is ending.  The first of the local produce that starts popping up elates me and with the co-op I'm getting the freshest and localest produce around. 

And what I've been doing this spring is going crazy for ramps.  This is the first year I have ever bought and prepared my own ramps.  They are a funny creature, kind of a blend between a green onion and garlic with a good measure of earthy funk thrown in. 

They stink when they're raw.  I highly suggest buying them immediately before consuming.  I can't imagine what they would do if left in your refrigerator overnight.  They stunk up the car with just a 20 minute side trip.

But cooked they are amazing.  I've been sauteeing both the bulbs and the greens and mixing them into an isaeli couscous as well as having them bulked up with some sauteed spinach greens.  And I just finished my first ramp pickling (just a refrigerator pickle, I haven't delved into the hot water canning yet). 

Maybe it's because Chicago really seems to be giving us a spring this year.  Maybe it's my 4 day work week.  Maybe it's that my condo is really at its best during these in between seasons, not too hot, not too cold, but front and back porches open with a slight breeze blowing through.  But I've been happier the last month than I've been in a long time.  It has a lot to do with taking pleasure from even the smallest things.  Like ramps.