Spring

Strawberries are Springtimes Favorite Treat

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by Susan Russo

strawberries.jpgWhen my in-laws from Rhode Island were visiting recently, I mentioned that our strawberry season was coming to a close.

My mother-in-law said, "You mean it's starting, right?

"Nope," I said. "California's strawberry season usually starts in January and ends in June."

"But I don't understand. That's when our strawberry season is just starting," she said. 

Exactly.

California is the advanced-gifted child in the classroom of strawberry production. The United States produces about 2 billion pounds of strawberries every year, 90% of which are grown here. Thanks to our temperate climate, we're able to produce strawberries in the wintertime and ship them across the country. That's why people in Massachusetts can buy fresh strawberries at the Stop & Shop in frigid February.

Crispy Pan-Seared Salmon with Sautéed Fiddlehead Ferns

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by Joseph Erdos

fishfiddleheads.jpg One cooking feat that has eluded me until now is searing fish with extra crispy skin. I've finally managed to do it after much experimentation and lamentation. After eating so many fish dishes with crispy skin in restaurants, some so crispy that it seemed I was eating a potato chip, I've wanted to try cooking it myself. The technique I use here is a lot like the one used on roasting chicken, where you smear it with butter before setting it in the oven to ensure a crispy brown skin. Here I smear the salmon skin with butter and sear it skin-side down. The result is not only crispy but also a lovely brown—it's just delicious.

For a unique springtime pairing, I adore fiddlehead ferns, which can only be found in early spring. You won't necessarily find them at the market since their harvested in the wild, but more likely at the farmers' market. But it just so happens that I did find mine at my local supermarket to my surprise. They were so beautiful that I couldn't resist buying a bagful. They look quite funny, because they're actually unfurled fern leaves. Don't worry, they are edible. Some say they taste like a cross between asparagus and artichoke, but I think they taste even better—of fresh spring.

Fun with Artichokes

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by Susie Middleton

chokered.jpgWell, I am embarrassed to admit that I got overwhelmed in Whole Foods the other day. Here I am a Food Professional (whatever that is), and the sheer abundance of goodies in the store was just too much for me. Granted, it was a quick stop—I only had 10 minutes to troll the store, as I was on my way to a book signing at Andover Bookstore in Andover, MA. Since we don’t have a Whole Foods on the Island (nor a grocery store anywhere near the size and breadth of this kind), I try to stop in one of these stores when I’m off-Island, mostly to see what the produce selection is like, but sometimes to pick up a specialty ingredient.

So it’s a little frustrating to be in a store with zillions of different products and not much time to peruse them. But honestly, even if I had hours on my hands, or a store like this nearby for regular shopping, I’d still probably be a bit blinded and a tad frazzled by all the colors and sounds and choices and crowds. It’s just a personal preference for me these days—I like things simpler and quieter, and I don’t mind a few less choices.

Spring Lunch in Maine

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by Brenda Athanus

scalloprisotto.jpgIt isn't hard to be inspired when your store's refrigerator is bursting with boxes of carefully bunched asparagus all lined up in neat rows. My first reaction is to pair the asparagus with the fresh diver's scallops that have arrived this morning, but I have my whole working day ahead to fine tune exactly what I am going to create for dinner with these two extraordinary ingredients. Something fairly quick and something that causes silence at the table. What is quicker than an risotto and what is faster that pan sear scallops? Ah, dinner in 40 minutes, now I am getting hungry!

I defrost a quart of chicken stock that seems to reproduce in my freezer and chop off the woody asparagus end and simmer the two together to give my risotto a more intense asparagus flavor so I can add the other end of the asparagus later on in the rice cooking process without running the risk of overcooking and losing that bright Spring green. In a two quart pot melt 2 tablespoons of butter and the same amount of olive oil, to this heated fat add 3/4 of a cup of finely chopped onions – I use yellow spanish onion but a red onion would really be beautiful in the finished risotto.

Spring Feast

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by Craig Goldwyn

"Just a little sheep dip. Panacea for all stomach ailments." Mae West

2010-05-07-sheep_dip_on_grill.jpgIf you say you don't like lamb, you probably really mean you don't like the preparation of lamb you were served. If you have never savored the rich, tender, beefy (never gamey) flavor of a lamb loin chop, you are missing what I consider to be the best nugget of red meat in the world. Period. Really. No cow.

Loin chops are the porterhouse steaks of the lamb, with a T-bone separating the strip steak on one side and the filet mignon on the other. But they are a lot smaller than beef porterhouses. The best, cut 1.5 to 2" thick, are no bigger than a child's fist.

Lamb is a traditional spring dish, and this recipe uses an extremely quick and easy marinade and cooking technique. The marinade, I call it my Sheep Dip, is great on all cuts of lamb including rack, leg, and kabobs. If you don't think you like lamb, try this and you may swear off beef for life. The output is amazingly flavorful and tender and juicy and succulent and...

Fresh Beets: The Polarizing Spring Vegetable

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by Susan Russo

beet.jpgCilantro haters have been vindicated.

The New York Times recently ran a story: Cilantro Haters, It's Not Your Fault, in which Harold McGee, respected food scientist and author, explained why cilantro really does taste like soap to many people.

According to experts from flavor chemists to neuroscientists, some people "may be genetically predisposed to dislike cilantro." Turns out that cilantro's aroma is created by fragments of fat molecules called aldehydes. Flavor chemists have shown that "the same or similar aldehydes are also found in soaps and lotions...."

So cilantro-haters are not crazy after all. But what about beet-haters? Why do so many people say beets taste like dirt or metal? Is it chemistry? Canned beets? Craziness?

Mention beets and people react extremely. Lovers wax that beets are as sweet as sugar. Haters wane that they're dull as dirt. Literally. This could be because they failed to properly clean their beets and ate dirt, which studies have shown tastes like dirt.

What To Do With Ramps

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by Joseph Erdos

ramp.jpgEvery year with the arrival of spring comes the short-lived season of ramps. From about April to May ramps are available in farmers' markets in the Northeast. Here people go crazy over ramps. Sometimes I wonder why they're loved so much. Last year I cooked and pickled ramps for the first time and grew very fond of them. Ramps are unique in that they're harvested from the wild. If you know where to find them or know of a forager who can find them for you, then you're very lucky to get them for free. But the rest of us have to buy them at the market.

This past Saturday I visited the Union Square Greenmarket and was excited to find ramps still available at one of the market's best stands. Mountain Sweet Berry Farm is know for their stellar ramps. You can't miss them, they have a very large ideas board on display that includes recipes for ramps from local chefs. So if you're ever in the city this month, stop by the market and look for the long line of customers and the board of famous scribbled recipes. Not only will you grab a bunch of these unusual edibles, but you might pick up a few new cooking ideas. Read more about ramps and see the board in this great article at Leite's Culinaria.

Asparagus, Bacon & Cheese Quiche

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by Joseph Erdos

asparagusquiche.jpg One of the first signs that spring has arrived is the availability of bright green vegetables, like asparagus. There is something special about an asparagus spear emerging from the ground. Right now asparagus is available at the Union square Greenmarket. In the supermarket it's available all-year round, but the best time to get pencil-thin asparagus is during springtime. It's at its most tender and succulent. Steamed for a few minutes, roasted, or grilled, asparagus is a delightful vegetable prepared in any which way. Its color becomes vivid green after cooking and for me that represents the essence of spring.

I enjoy eating asparagus in many forms, but I like it most in quiche, one of the favorite brunch foods here in the States. Though the French even eat it for lunch or dinner. Quiche was originally meant just for breakfast in the French province of Lorraine, from where it originated. Surprisingly the tradition of quiche-making comes from a time when Lorraine belonged to Germany. The dish used to be called kuchen, which is German for cake, and instead of a pie crust, it was made with bread dough—basically a pizza. Once the region changed rule, the German name was eventually transliterated into French and the recipe changed too. The most well-known recipe is Quiche Lorraine, filled with just bacon.

Spring Steak Salad

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by Joseph Erdos

steakspringsalad.jpgSpring brings many colorful bounties, but the best of the season comes in green. This time of year farmers' markets are brimming with tender, young vegetables. That's why my friend Caroline and I decided to take a trip to the Union Square Greenmarket this past week to see what dish we could create together.

With all the beautiful salad greens available at the market, we naturally decided upon making a salad. After browsing all the produce to see what was the freshest and most appealing, we found some beautiful spinach for our base. We also gathered baby fingerling potatoes, baby red onions, and radishes. Caroline had the perfect idea, to flash pickle the radishes. And for a lean protein, I suggested a steak, which we picked up at the nearby Whole Foods Market. Once we had all our ingredients, we were ready to cook—and eat.

What we achieved was a colorful and healthy salad with a combination of earthy vegetables that encapsulated the flavors of spring.

A Reason to Be Bitter in Spring

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by Mark Bittman

From the New York Times

springgreens.jpgLike radicchio and other bitter, tough greens, escarole can survive the winter in many places and appear early in spring. But unlike radicchio, escarole is inexpensive. And it’s more versatile: it tastes better cooked than does its round, red cousin.

In fact, escarole is at its most appealing when sautéed or braised, as the flavor becomes softer and even a bit buttery. It’s especially excellent with loads of garlic, and this traditional Italian soup — one of my go-to comfort recipes — is a prime example.

Though you might try other bitter vegetables here (watercress, curly endive, even celery come to mind), you definitely want short-grain rice, the kind used for risotto — arborio being the most familiar, though any short-grain rice, including those from Asia, will work well. All have a high starch content, so they turn creamy when they absorb liquid (which, by the way, should be homemade chicken stock, if at all possible). My second choice would be good vegetable or mushroom stock.

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