Spring

peasoupWho doesn’t love Spring? With days growing longer, buds turning into blooms and winter produce giving way to spring’s greens, it’s the season of re-birth and renewal.

But in Southern California–with daily highs hitting 80 and nights dipping to 40–spring is also a season of contradictions. (How else could we explain short-shorts worn with Uggs?)  And for those chilly evenings, here’s a soup that’s hot and hearty but still seasonal and skinny: Light and Lovely Spring and Split Pea Soup.

Dried green split peas–high in fiber, protein, B vitamins and complex carbohydrates–are one of the world’s healthiest foods.  But like all dried legumes, once cooked, they have about 300 calories per cup.

And though turning dried peas into soup made with low fat broth can reduce calories, most recipes for split pea soup also tend to have an obnoxious amount of pork and fat. (Paula Deen’s recipe, for example, calls for bacon and sausage and butter and adds up to 1020 calories and 30 grams of fat per 2 cup serving.…almost two-thirds of the calories an average 5’5 woman should have in a day.)

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solechanterelleOftentimes simplicity is the answer to most everything. Simple recipes with ingredients cooked in an unadulterated way yield very flavorful and inspiring results. For me that's always the case when cooking fish. Here I'm always reminded of the story of Julia Child's culinary revelation, when she is presented with a sole Meunière at a restaurant where she and Paul are dining after arriving in France. Most of us has read about this or has seen it in the movie Julie and Julia. Can it be so simple that a dish of sautéed fish with butter sauce inspired her to cook? Yes!

Here is my take on that sole dish but served with woodland mushrooms. On a recent Greenmarket trip I purchased a handful of beautiful chanterelles from Honey Hollow Farm, which forages its mushrooms from the wild in Middleburgh, N.Y. These mushrooms are one of the more pricey varieties, but their delicate flavor is worth it. That flavor is best maintained with simple cooking methods. That's why I sauté them in butter. Pair them with a seared mild fish such as sole along with a buttery sauce and it makes for a very nice meal. I bet Julia would have loved this dish for dinner any day of the week.

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"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...

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SALAD.ketchup.dress 1Over 10 years ago, my friend Karen offered to bring a spinach salad to one of our many Sunday night, 5 family dinners. Being the gracious hostess that I was, I gleefully said of course. Then I thought spinach salad, big whoop. Not so exciting, right? Wrong!

Spinach is spinach. It’s great in a baked pasta, sauteed with garlic, tossed in a big pot of lentil soup or eaten on a sandwich instead of lettuce. But spinach tossed with a dressing so out of the ordinary is addicting. The dressing is the perfect balance of savory and sweet therefore the “accessories” that are thrown in with the spinach is what makes this salad a winner.

A few years back, Karen picked up and moved her family back to Florida. But, she left her recipe and all of our great memories behind.

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easyasparahusWhile I wait (and wait) for our local asparagus, it occurs to me that everyone else is not waiting. The grocery stores are full of asparagus (from elsewhere, wherever that is) and it is hard to walk down the produce aisles without snatching up a bunch. I understand, really I do, and that is probably why my two blogs on asparagus from last year are getting hit up a lot these days. So okay, I can’t be my stubborn self and wait another month to offer up more asparagus recipes. Especially because there are about a gazillion different ways to cook asparagus—almost all of them pretty darn quick—so I can come back to this provocative vegetable again. Soon.

While I love quick-braising and sautéing asparagus, I think the method that may be the absolute speediest may offer up some of the best flavor, too. It’s stir-frying. Two to three minutes, and you’ve got a beguiling roasty-toasty flavor and a nice crisp-tender texture. A few keys here: Slice the asparagus thinly on the bias for the best browning; don’t use a lot of fat; keep the heat cranked up. (I love the bowl shape of my non-stick stir-fry pan, but you can substitute with a nonstick skillet—just stir more frequently.)

I like to include a bit of garlic, some sliced scallions or shallots (as in the recipe below), or a combo of ginger and garlic in an asparagus stir-fry—but not much more. I don’t make a finishing pan sauce for it, in order to let that pure flavor shine through. (I do, however, sometimes like a cool, creamy garnish for this dish—crème frâiche is lovely.)

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