Green asparagus and new potatoes with gremolata

Green asparagus on newspaper IIIn the Spring I simply cannot decide which green vegetable to start cooking with first — peas, broad beans or asparagus. The arrival of the first clay covered new potatoes at the farmers market is a thrill and a promise that winter’s root vegetables are no longer my sole source of kitchen  inspiration. With fists full of bright green spears of asparagus, I look back with absolutely no regrets on the end of limited hours of daylight for three glorious new seasons. With the door temporarily closed to the cold, I look forward to a gorgeous spring, a brightly colored summer and an unforgettable harvest season in the fall. The following recipe is distinctively Italian and made with three of the best earthy ingredients — grilled asparagus and potatoes with lemon-parsley gremolata. This is deliciously real fast food.

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Fashionable cauliflower

CauliflowerMy days are filled with food and its preparation.  Kitchen-related questions pop up in my mind unexpectedly in the midst of other seemingly unrelated tasks. The study of food — of how and why it is prepared in various ways —  are my professionally acceptable obsession. Food topics make a definite impression on me. For this reason I thought I might simply be misreading the appearance of the colorful vegetable at every turn of a page. I considered it to be yet another example of looking at the world from a cook’s perspective. Yet based upon the content of my email inbox and the current topics in the social media, a vegetarian lifestyle is no longer considered peculiar or curious. In fact, vegetarianism is fashionable.

A shift of focus has most definitely turned the tables and plates full of garden ingredients are tagged as highly desirable.What at first seemed to be a casual trend is fast becoming a weekly ritual. “Meatless Monday” is in the news, even more so than the more traditional “Fish on Friday”. Completely in keeping with the new-found focus on vegetables, the simple cauliflower is now in the limelight. Old-fashioned visions of a soggy white vegetable covered in an equally vague white sauce are fortunately part of the distant past.  Instead, Jamie Oliver’s whole-roasted cauliflower with thyme and smoked paprika,  Yottam Ottolenghi’s red-onion cauliflower tart and Green Kitchen Stories’ cauliflower pizza are catching the world’s attention — just to name a few.

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Blood oranges and dates for dessert

Blood oranges and chocolateEvery season has a striking ingredient,  an outstanding color, an out of the ordinary shape and form that catches the eye and keeps attracting attention. Every cook has preferred flavors where prominent elements in the kitchen evolve, influenced by life’s experiences and the aesthetics of the moment. The best recipes, like a favorite book, are a mixture of the old and the new — of memory and discovery. Cooking does not always involve long labor at the stove or an elaborate process of preparation. In fact some of the very best inventions just happen by chance. My prominent fruit of the moment is the crimson blood orange and my preferred method for dessert is simple, quick and easy. The following recipe is a collection of just a few of winter’s most impressive ingredients — the blood orange and the Medjool date.

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Preface to a Beautiful Food Special Edition

Rosemary and thyme with salt and pepper

The kitchen is not just a place for cooking everyday food for my family.  I am a cook by profession. Despite and perhaps because of my profession I believe that food is not only essential to life, but equal to happiness among friends and family. My mother taught me the love of cooking and I am intent upon extending love and good memories to my children from the kitchen table.

I realize that we are a bit out of the ordinary as a family. My oldest child sat next to me while I cooked at nine months old, playing with tea cups and measuring spoons. As a toddler he stood happily on a wooden chair leaning against the countertop. His preferred toys were wooden spoons, mixing bowls and flour. My youngest came to work with me as a baby and often slept in a vegetable crate filled up with blankets while I cooked and chopped my way through a professional kitchen.  Later she pushed around her own wooden cart through my work space, pretending to shop for groceries and prepare for dinner by filling up her miniature grocery cart with tomatoes and eggplant and any other ingredients within her reach. At preschool she decided she wanted to open a restaurant when she grew up. She even had a name for it. Her restaurant fantasy was called “Mmmmmmm”.

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Beautiful Food Special Edition: Homemade herbal salts

Part I.

Homemade herbal salts

Celtic sea salt tastes like the ocean, is pale green and moist in texture. Himalaya salt is pink in color, has a distinct mineral-like flavor and the grains are very hard. Fleur de sel and Maldon salt are light and flaky. Making herbal salts with them is simple since the salt grains soft. Experiment with different kinds of salt combined with aromatic herbs, doubling or tripling the recipes below. Herbal salts keep well for months when kept in glass jars with a well-fitted lids. Continue reading

Beautiful Food Special Edition : Vinegars and Spices

Vinegar trioPart II.

Vinegars and Spices.

Vinegar is an essential ingredient in a natural kitchen, especially when the accent is on vegetables.  Whether made from apples or raspberries, or from fermented red and white wine, this most sour of ingredients goes generally untouched on the pantry shelf until it is poured over greens with a drizzle of olive oil.  I like to steam vegetables in warm vinegar baths to serve them as an appetizer or as a filling for salad.  I discovered while experimenting with pickling that vinegar marinades taste better with time. The cooking liquids left over from pickling cauliflower, beets, red onions and radishes become colored vinegars for salad dressing.  I make a habit of mixing double recipes of vinegars and spices and save what I don’t use right away in glass jars in the refrigerator. The results of my efforts give a shelf full of interesting colors and flavors readily available for the making of homemade vinaigrettes and jar dressings The following vinegar trio are made in no time at all and make activity in the kitchen just that much more interesting. Continue reading

Beautiful Food Special Edition : Family Favorite Vinaigrettes

Olive oil and herbs

Part III.

Family Favorite Vinaigrettes

With herbal salts and homemade infused vinegars, making jam jar dressings to dip raw vegetables in, or vinaigrettes to toss through roasted vegetables is effortless. The following vinaigrettes  serve as a stepping stone to many simply dressed vegetable dishes in my kitchen.  Like the vinegars above, they are tools to uncomplicated cooking. Homemade vinaigrette makes a perfect dip and will keep well for at least a week in the refrigerator. Make more than needed for one particular meal because this makes cooking just that much easier. Continue reading

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