In the blink of the eye, it’s April. What? Where did the time go? I’m quite sure that it was just the other night when I was doing my usual New Year routine…falling asleep wa-aaay before midnight, and here we are, and it’s April already. I think I write this every year. And yet every year, without fail, I can’t fathom how quickly the time passes.
However, I do see the time passing…everyday as I look in the mirror! I see it in my children who are growing up so quickly that they’re not little kids anymore. Even my baby turns 11 this year; him growing up is the hardest for me to wrap my head around. I know that’s how life works but it’s still very hard to get older and watch your children growing up and getting older themselves. I think what’s even harder is when you can remember your youth like it was yesterday.
Ok, enough of this getting older business! I’m just happy that I don’t let my age define me, in my mind, I’m still 21 🙂
So, how about all this spring loveliness? I may be a winter person, but I love when spring finally makes an appearance and everything begins to turn this beautiful green. The shops begin to liven up with spring colours and flavours. I know I’m not the only one who gets excited to see mounds of ruby red rhubarb, stacks of asparagus neatly tied up in bunches, zesty purple tinged spring onions and bulbs of pungent green garlic. The vibrant citrus of winter gives away to the feathery lushness of spring. I love how Mother Nature gives us so much joy every season with a variety of fruits and vegetables and an abundance of happy colours to keep our souls and tummies nourished.
Colorado’s growing season is still a while away. But this is one time I will buy non local because I’m tired of eating winter root vegetables! I need colour, I need freshness, I need variety! The farmers markets are starting up now but are mainly stocked with seedlings and plants. It won’t be till June when we get Colorado produce, and I cannot wait! My local farm stand carries a lot of green house grown produce right now and they are finishing up their fall and winter harvest.
I didn’t realise how much I missed the green until we went to the Pacific Northwest a couple of weeks ago. It was such a difference between grey, snowy Colorado. Spring was in full force and it was really soul lifting to see the vibrant greenery and the colourful bulbs, all in full bloom. The incredibly, fragrant cherry blossoms laid out a snowy carpet under each tree and I came across a couple of heady honeysuckle bushes too and just stood there breathing in the heavy scent.
I was really excited to be visiting that part of the country and looked forward to putting my camera to good use. Yeah….spring in the Pacific Northwest…nothing but rain. Every. Single. Day. All my photos ended up being taken with my iPhone. They’re not bad but not quite the artistic works I was hoping for! I was asked to share some, so here are my excellent iPhone photos. The photos maybe blah, but the experience was wonderful. I really enjoyed my time in a beautiful part of the country.
This salad is a spring take on a winter salad I was making for many of the events at work. It ended up being quite the hit with lots of requests for the recipe. In that particular salad, I was using Farro grain tossed with roasted sweet potatoes, sautéed mushrooms and fresh spinach that was wilted in the heat of the warm salad. The whole salad was tossed in a sweet tart balsamic dressing and lots of fresh, citrusy herbs to liven up the heavy salad. Since winter is over, I have redone the salad with spring vegetables, this can be served warm, room temperature or cold, since these spring vegetables work well in all temperatures. I’m not a fan of raw mushrooms so I always cook mine but feel free to keep them raw if you don’t mind them that way.
It’s a great accompaniment to roasted or grilled meats and you really don’t need anything else. I roasted my harissa chicken and we had this salad along side. Since the grains and greens are all in one, a big pile of salad and some chicken is all that is needed for lunch or dinner.
Serves: 10 servings
- Barley Salad
- 8 oz/250g pearled barley
- 1 lb/500g asparagus
- ½ lb/250g sugar snap peas
- 8 oz/250g mushrooms, sliced
- Young pea shoots or other field greens
- 2 small watermelon radishes
- ¼ cup chives, chopped
- ¼ cup parsley, chopped
- 2 teaspoons oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cup/235ml vinaigrette
- White Balsamic Vinaigrette
- ½ cup/120ml white balsamic vinegar
- ½ cup/120ml extra Virginia olive oil
- 1 tablespoon honey or agave
- 1 large garlic clove, minced or grated
- Salt and pepper
- Start by making the balsamic vinaigrette.
- Add a ½ cup white balsamic vinegar to a medium size bowl.
- Mince or grate the garlic clove with a Microplane, and add to the vinegar.
- Add the honey and mix together until honey has dissolved.
- Add the ½ cup olive oil whisking as you add to emulsify.
- Check for salt and pepper and season to your taste.
- Put aside until the barley is ready.
- Cook the pearled barley according to package instructions.
- You want to cook the barley to the firm side and not too soft as it will be in a salad.
- While the barley is cooking, prep the vegetables.
- Bring a pit of water to boil and once it reaches boiling, add the asparagus.
- Cook the asparagus for about 5 minutes pulling them out while they are still a vibrant green and crunchy.
- Pull them out into a bowl of ice water to cool them down,
- In the same boiling water, blanch the sugar snap peas.
- Once again, cook them briefly, 3 minutes, and pull them out while still green and crunchy into a bowl of ice water.
- Once the asparagus and sugar snap peas are cool, chop them into bite size pieces if desired.
- Cut the asparagus into smaller pieces and the sugar snap peas into halves or thirds.
- Sauté the mushrooms in a hot pan with 2 teaspoons oil
- Just lightly brown them to cook out the rawness and get a smoky flavour.
- Keep aside once cooked.
- Once the barley is cooked, drain the excess water if needed and rinse under hot water to get out the starchiness.
- Toss the barley with ¼ cup of the vinaigrette.
- When ready to serve, toss the mushrooms, asparagus, sugar snap peas, pea shoots or field greens and the herbs together.
- Add the remaining vinaigrette, start with ½ cup and add as needed.
- I used all 1 cup since the barley absorbs the liquid.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve warm, room temperature or cold.
One of the great things about these whole grain salads is that the vegetables can easily be swapped out with the seasons. I’m envisioning heirloom tomatoes, copious amounts of mint and basil, grilled squash or even corn for a summer take.
I hope everyone is having a fabulous start to the week. I am off this week so I’m having wonderful time! I am excited to take part in BlueStar training event on Wednesday but what I’m really excited about is getting to visit Uncorked Kitchen
Uncorked Kitchen is a food kitchen in Centennial, Colorado, where events, cooking classes, couples classes, corporate events, take place. Their kitchens are outfitted by BlueStar ranges which are some of the most powerful ones in the market (open burners) I haven’t had an opportunity to play with any of these so I’m thrilled to finally get a chance. I’m also thrilled to be attending Uncorked Kitchen because it opened a few months ago and is having great success. I’ve been wanting to drag my husband to a cooking class but let’s just say, they’re a little pricey. So, on Wednesday, since it is a training class, we’ll be going for free with the other guys and girls from work. Score!
Is it just me or is time really flying by? I am quite certain it was Christmas time just a few weeks ago, but here I am with my calendar telling me it’s almost June. What?! Where did the weeks go?
Understandably, most of my weeks went by in a blur because I was sick for almost 8 of them. But still, it’s almost June!
This time warp has also really affected my cooking, blogging and writing (and posting) Before I can press “publish” on the last post, it’s already time to schedule another one! As you can see, I’m woefully behind. Behind with creating, behind with posting and behind with visiting cherished friends.
I have no idea where my week goes. It’s this haze of kids, school, shopping, cooking, and a few work things thrown in. Before I know it, it’s Friday and I am scrambling to create a menu for work the following day and to go shop for it all. It’s a good thing I don’t work outside of the home everyday!
As a result, the blog has been sorely neglected. I do feel guilty because I realise it’s this blog that has given me the opportunities I have right now. It’s still the thing that starts the conversation at work with the new people I meet.
One of my most asked questions is “How did you get into cooking?” My answer is always that my interest in cooking and creating led me to write a food blog. So, even if I wanted to give up my little piece of the web, I can’t. Cooking for work and cooking for home is overwhelming and to think about cooking for the blog is just exhausting but I will have to post when I can.
In the meantime. I have little boy who turns 10 next week and his party is this weekend. I just outsourced it this year! The bowling alley can do the work. I’m making a cake for him and that’ll be it.
I also have a 17 year old drama queen who is about to graduate from high school, also next week (on Laith’s birthday, actually) I couldn’t outsource this party so we’re having friends over after the ceremony for a cookout.
Hamburgers, grilled herby chicken or maybe kebabs, and a bunch of salads. I’m keeping it easy and there’s no cake. I’m tired of cake. We can’t have a cookout without blueberry cobbler and strawberry shortcakes, the very vision of summer! Though, here in Colorado, we’re still struggling with the dregs of winter.
Mother’s Day saw snow again this year. I love snow on Mother’s Day but it left quicker than it arrived and the weather is back to cool spring like interspersed with some violent rain storms. We don’t complain, here in our dry climate, we welcome every rain drop.
I am not joking when I say that my inspiration has gone. I have lost my mojo it seems. All this beautiful, seasonal spring produce and I can’t think of a thing to do with it. The asparagus has been roasted or blanched or thrown in a tart and eaten; no photos. no recipes. The over- wintered spinach from the farm stand made it home many times but ended up in a curry or just sautéed with garlic and devoured. I just haven’t had much of a desire to eat, let alone cook. There is something seriously wrong I think 🙂
So, when I found local rhubarb, I actually felt a little spark ignite inside. I brought it home from the farm stand and it stayed in my fridge for 2 weeks, no joke, 2 weeks. Because it’s so fresh, it lasted all this time and finally this week, void of any imagination, I ended up making some jam.
Serves: 7 jars
- 2 lbs/900g strawberries
- 1lb/455g rhubarb
- ¼ cup/60ml water
- 2.2lbs/1kg sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 7 half pint jars and lids/bands
- Wash the jars and the lids with warm soapy water.
- Line the jars on a sheet tray and place in the oven to dry and sterilise.
- Turn on the oven to 250F/120C.
- Put the lids in a bowl and pour in boiling water.
- Place two small plates in the freezer to get cold so you can check the set on the jam later.
- Cut the strawberries in the size you desire.
- I don't like my jam too chunky so I cut the strawberries and rhubarb pretty small.
- Don't keep them whole since there is no added pectin in this jam and a whole berry jam will not set.
- Chop the rhubarb in a small dice around ½" chunks
- In a large, heavy bottomed pan, place the rhubarb and the water.
- On medium heat, let the rhubarb cook a little and break down and get tender, about 5 minutes.
- When almost all the rhubarb is soft, add the strawberries.
- Allow the strawberries to soften and break down just a bit, another 5 minutes.
- Then add the sugar and lemon juice and on medium high heat, bring the mixture to a simmer.
- Allow the sugar to dissolve and the mixture to cook and thicken.
- There's no set time for this.
- Jams thicken at different rates and some won't set completely.
- This jam is a soft set, it's not a firm set and the mixture is a dropping consistency.
- It's great on toast but also great for spooning on ice cream and yoghurt.
- Check the jam after 5 minutes of simmering.
- Stir the jam occasionally to make sure it's not sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- Take out one of the plates from the freezer and put a drop of jam.
- Let it sit for a couple of minutes.
- If the jam thickens up and if you push up against it with your finger and it stays in its place and doesn't run together again, it's ready to be jarred.
- If it's still runny even after being cooled, than boil for a bit longer, another 3-5 minutes.
- Make sure jam isn't catching at the bottom.
- Check the set with the second freezer plate.
- I only simmered mine for about 10 minutes and then bottled the jam.
- Remove the jars carefully from the oven.
- They will be hot.
- Ladle in the hot jam into the jars, almost to the top.
- Remove the lids from the boiling water and dry.
- Place on top of the jar and tighten, not too tight though.
- If you are going to process them in hot water, bring a canning pot or a large pot with water to a boil.
- I throw in a small kitchen towel in the bottom to protect the glass jars knocking against the pot when boiling,
- Carefully grab the jar with tongs or canning tongs and place into the boiling water.
- A couple of rubber bands tied around some togs helps them to securely grab the jars without slipping.
- Place as many jars as will fit in your pot, being careful the water doesn't over flow.
- Process the jars for 10 minutes.
- After 10 minutes, carefully remove the jars and let cool.
- After the jam is cool, pop open a jar and try some!
- Place the jars in a cupboard and enjoy through the winter.
- If you don't want to process the jars in the hot water, just place the cooled jam jars in the fridge and use within 2 weeks.
Strawberry and rhubarb is my most favourite combination and there are many recipes on this blog with that combo. Here’s another, strawberry and rhubarb jam. One of my most favourite jam combinations as well. I try and make this jam every year and when I lived in Houston, I was able to get local strawberries at the same time as rhubarb. In Colorado, our strawberries make a late appearance but our rhubarb is here. I just made do. It’s some what local but totally seasonal, totally organic and totally delicious.
Hopefully, we won’t go through all the jars in one sitting but we’re already done with one so it’s not looking good. I really like to save some for fall and winter. Oh well, I’ll have to make some more.
My posts may be a bit sporadic from now on. I’m starting a new project at work and it will take up more of my cooking hours. It’s also the beginning of the summer grilling events at work, and then Ramadan. I will try and post regularly and I will try to visit you all as much as I can.
Happy summer and happy cooking!!
How was everyone’s weekend? In the US, Sunday was Father’s Day and it was a beautiful day, a bit hot for my liking but nice nevertheless. What did you all do for the special fathers in your life?
We had a bit of a late and lazy start but eventually when everyone was ready, we headed out to one of the many State parks we have and walked/hiked around, well, I mainly hobbled but it was still really nice to get out in the open and enjoy nature. I have missed being outside.
We took a ride up to Golden Gate Canyon State park, about 40 minutes from where we live in Broomfield. It’s not very mountainous as such, but a beautiful canyon with a river carving through, lush green vales and hills and a few precarious rock formations.
We drove through to the open space and it was just perfect. We could see the plains of Denver on one side and rocks and hills on the other, and we were standing in the middle surrounded by an endless prairie. It was beyond beautiful and peaceful.
We didn’t do anything fancy for dinner; came home and slapped some burgers on the grill, chips on the side and warm brownies for dessert. I think it was perfect and the man of the hour thought so too.
Today’s post is nothing new but definitely an old favourite classic of many. This one particularly so, because it’s an adapted Julia Child recipe. You can’t get more classic than that. My first experience with soufflé probably wasn’t the greatest because it was the frozen, throw in the oven kind. It wasn’t bad and I rather enjoyed it. As time’s gone on, I have of course, made my own from scratch. Apart for the dessert kind, my favourite is the spinach soufflé.
Over the winter, the only thing that was available at the farm was the over wintered spinach. I wasn’t familiar with the term and come to find out it basically a hardy variety of spinach that can be grown, covered, in the winter time. It is SO good. So good that I went back many, many times to stock up on this sweet, sweet green. I made lots of Spinach and Potato curry, I made Spinach and Feta cheese borek, I sautéed it with garlic and I made soufflé.
Julia Child’s recipe is made in one big soufflé dish, but I wanted to make mine in individual ramekins as a side dish to serve with my kefta kebabs. My ramekins were a bit small and I recommend a 1 cup or 1½ cup ramekins, otherwise you may have batter leftover (which you can put in a dish and bake).
They were light, fluffy and delicious. Mine did rise nicely but deflated before I could photograph them.
Serves: 1 large dish or 8 ramekins
- 3½ tablespoons butter
- 4½ tablespoons flour
- 1½ cups/355ml milk
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- a pinch of cayenne pepper
- a pinch of nutmeg, ground
- 6 egg yolks
- 1 cup blanched and cooked spinach
- 2 tablespoons red onions, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 7 egg whites
- pinch of salt
- ½ cup Swiss cheese, grated
- 2 teaspoons butter
- 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheer, grated
- 1 8 cup soufflé mould or
- 8 1 cup ramekins
- Preheat the oven to 400F/200C
- Start by buttering and sprinkling cheese on the moulds.
- Put aside.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan on medium heat
- Add the flour and mix until a thick paste forms.
- Drizzle in the milk and whisk out the lumps.
- Beat vigorously and add the seasonings.
- The sauce will be very thick.
- Add the egg yolks and mix until combined thoroughly.
- Cook the red onion sin the butter until softened.
- Add the cooked spinach and the salt and stir over moderately high heat to evaporate as much water as possible.
- Remove from the heat.
- Add the spinach to the egg yolk/white sauce soufflé base.
- Put to the side while preparing the egg whites.
- Beat the egg whites and salt until stiff, using a hand or stand mixer.
- Stir in ¼ of the whipped egg whites into the spinach mixture to lighten it .
- Stir in all but 2 tablespoons of cheese.
- Fold in the rest of the egg whites, gently but thoroughly.
- Pour the batter into the prepared mould or divide amongst the 8 ramekins.
- Fill the ramekins pretty full, almost to the top.
- They will sink when cool.
- You may have some batter left over.
- This can be baked off in a small dish also.
- Sprinkle with the remaining cheese over the top.
- Place in the middle rack of the oven and lower the heat to 375F/190C.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes without opening the oven door.
- If you like the centre creamy, remove it at this point.
- If you prefer a well cooked soufflé, cook for another 5 minutes.
- If you are using ramekins, they will be ready at 30 minutes.
I hope everyone’s had a good week. It’s been a bit hectic for me with cooking demos, and then the World Cup. It was disappointing to see England lose their first game but I am still hoping for the best. I had the best time watching the game with a bar full of other Englishmen and it was like being home 🙂 I had a blast.
Have a great week everybody!
Asparagus season is quickly coming to an end here in Colorado. I find that asparagus is one vegetable I insist on eating only in season. Other vegetables I often let slide and eat a few here and there. Corn and asparagus are two I refuse to buy off season, though from somewhere, we seem to have them available all year round!
Until last month, I had never tried a truly, local grown asparagus. Let me tell you in one word, wow. In Texas, I shopped from a local farm but they didn’t grow asparagus. I don’t know if asparagus can be grown in Texas! This farm had Southern specialities like all kinds of fresh beans, fried pies and then your usual farm fare.
So, as long as local, Colorado grown asparagus is available, I’ve been rushing to the farm every week piling up on the grassy goodness. I have never tasted asparagus this sweet and perfect. Store bought asparagus is absolutely no comparison.
My most recent visit, I grabbed two bunches of perfectly, green, crisp asparagus spears. I had no idea what was planned for these beauties but I knew they would be the highlight of my dish.
Pasta Primavera is one of my favourite springtime dishes. It’s substantial enough for lunch and dinner, versatile enough to use up what you have in the fridge and light enough to not bog you down in the warmer months.
I loaded up the pasta with the fresh asparagus, a light tomato cream broth and a handful of spinach. Asparagus Pasta Primavera is the perfect dish to highlight the sweet and tender asparagus against the neutral pasta. It is so good. If you can still get some asparagus, make this!
I used whole tomatoes in this dish because I had a bowl of organic tomatoes that urgently needed to be used up. I, usually, like cherry or grape tomatoes in my primavera. I like how they heat up, pop and release just the right amount of juice; mixed with the olive oil, garlic and a drop of cream and a splash of pasta water, it makes a perfect sauce.
Homemade pasta would be the ideal pasta to use here but since my husband left my pasta machine behind in Texas, I used dry pasta. I haven’t bought another machine as yet, because I know when I do, there’ll be no stopping me. I have a weakness for pasta. But, I have lived four years without one, I think it’s time. I have a birthday this week and I am thinking of asking one for my gift 🙂 Better start dropping those hints 😉
I blanched my asparagus in salted water because I wanted the green colour intact, but you are welcome to just sauté them and build your sauce from there. Also, this pasta dish is vegetarian, but I’ve made many primaveras with chicken or sliced sausage; so good. Great thing here is; you don’t need a lot of meat because it is vegetable heavy.
- 1 pound/500g pasta, any shape
- 2 pounds/1kg fresh asparagus
- 3 cups cherry tomatoes or 4 medium tomatoes
- 4 cups fresh, baby spinach leaves
- 1 red onion, sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup chopped herbs of choice, basil, parsley, mint
- ¼ cup heavy cream (optional)
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper
- 1 cup pasta water from boiling the pasta
- Start by boiling some water in a big pot to blanch the asparagus.
- If you want to just sauté the asparagus instead, then skip the blanching step.
- When the water is boiling, add a teaspoon of salt, and add the asparagus.
- Simmer for no more than 5-7 minutes.
- Remove from the boiling water onto a bowl of cold water to stop cooking.
- Cool down the asparagus.
- Chop the asparagus in medium bite size pieces.
- In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil and add the garlic.
- Let cook for a minute and then add the cherry tomatoes, or chopped whole tomatoes.
- Let the cherry tomatoes cook and pop and release their juice.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Cook the pasta according to the package directions, pulling them off one minutes shy of being done.
- Drain the pasta reserving a cup of pasta water.
- Add the coked pasta to the tomato sauce in the pan.
- Toss around and add a bit of water if needed.
- Add the asparagus, the spinach, herbs and heavy cream, if using.
- Toss until the pasta is cooked and coated with the light sauce.
- Add as much pasta water is needed to loosen the pasta.
- Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and toss through and serve.
I hope everyone has been enjoying the lovely summery days we’ve been having. I have to say though, it’s getting a little too hot, a little too quickly! Last few days in Denver have been very hot. I don’t do hot. I envy all the Southern Hemi people enjoying autumn.
I’ve been trying to make my rounds and catch up with my blog reading but it’s been slow going. I haven’t forgotten you! I am just moving so slow that it takes me twice as long to do anything which means I have no time left at bedtime to catch up on my reading! Imagine how long it’s taking me at the grocery store! So, I’ll be by to see you all.
This week has been hectic all around with the kids last week at school and all their activities. I have to say that they made me proud. After all the screaming I do during term time, and all the non listening they do, I am surprised they finished the school year like they did. My eldest daughter finished her first year in college with an all A report card, my second daughter finished 11th Grade with a 4.0 GPA and my youngest daughter graduated 8th Grade with Excellence in all classes, I am chuffed (#proudmama). As for Laith, well I’m just happy he got up everyday for school and made it there on time!
Have a great week, y’all!