Ultimate Crispy Salmon

I missed you, farmers’ market!

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When my husband and I first moved to California, our weekends revolved around farmer’s markets.  If we couldn’t make it to the Foothill Farmers’ Market in Auburn on Saturday, we made sure to go to the Certified California-Grown Farmers’ Market in Sacramento on Sunday.  For the most part, we knew what produce was in season, and what we were planning on getting.  We made friends with the vendors, and were greeted with a hearty hello each visit.  It was fulfilling to be part of a community of growers who cared about their animals and land, the quality of food they produced, and the customers they were providing for.

Over time though, we weren’t able to dedicate as much time to farmers’ markets.  And since moving to Sacramento just a half-year ago, we’ve only made it out a handful of times.  However, my husband and I just moved to the Southside Park area of Sacramento late last month.  We are now only a few short blocks away from the Sunday Farmers’ Market, and we could not be more excited!  Our passion for shopping the local markets has been renewed!

After completing our move two weekends ago, we planned to head to the farmers market the very next weekend.  So, with much anticipation, and our canvas bags in tow, we headed out bright and early this past Sunday.  We were tickled pink to be able to walk there.  At first, I thought it was just me, but my husband commented how excited he was too.  We couldn’t wait to see what secret gems we would find – after all, it is fruit season!

We headed straight for The Little Fish Company and picked up some great looking fresh salmon, smoked salmon, and marinated poke.  We knew we wanted some peaches and nectarines from Twin Peaks Orchards, and blackberries from Hooverville Orchards, and after “window shopping” a bit, we also wound up with heirlooms tomatoes, summer squash, English peas, and cherry plums (super sweet, and equally as tart!!)

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With the salmon and peas, I knew exactly what was on the menu for dinner: Tyler Florence’s Ultimate Crispy Salmon.  We picked up some supplemental ingredients from Whole Foods (fresh herbs, lemon, watercress, Greek Gods yogurt in place of crème fraiche, and fresh assorted pearl onions – why not continue the “fresh” trend?), and I headed straight for the kitchen.

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After shelling the peas, I blanched them in boiling water for a minute or two, and then shocked them in an ice bath to stop them from cooking further.  This is essentially the process that manufacturers follow before they freeze and package produce.  I did the same with the pearl onions to help loosen their skins for removal.  (FYI, go with frozen pearl onions.  Fresh is not really worth the hassle here!)

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As for the salmon, I saw Jaime Oliver grill salmon skin once, and have been eating it ever since.  So I usually cook the salmon skin-side-down first until the skin is nice and crispy.  Then I flip the salmon over to cook the other side, and remove the skin.  Once the salmon is done, I put the salmon skin back on the pan to get it even crispier. Yum!

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With those small substitutions, I pretty much followed the recipe in the link I provided earlier.  Here’s my version of Tyler Florence’s Salt and Pepper Salmon, Smashed Potatoes, Peas, and Pearl Onions, and Dill Crème Fraiche.

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Enjoy!

– Christine R.

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Blackberry Jam

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Last weekend I made blackberry jam and canned it! I had a blast and the jam is delicious. For me it was worth making despite the sugar because it reminds me of summers in Michigan at my Grandmother’s cottage. We traveled back almost every year when I was growing up and I loved walking through the woods out into the field with my Grandmother to help her collect wild dewberries (closely related to blackberries).

Back then that was the extent of my involvement in the jam making process. After returning to her cottage, I rushed back out to swim in the lake while my Grandmother spent time in the kitchen making batch after batch of jam. At the end of our visits she always gifted us a few jars of fresh Michigan jam to carry back with us to California.

Ever since I did a little reading about food preservation (motivated by our interview with Smokey Ridge Charcuterie), I knew I wanted to try canning. Since then I read the canning section in The Encyclopedia of Country Living, while at the same time bugging my wife to let me get some canning equipment. For Father’s Day she “surprised” me with twelve 8oz Ball canning jars and this Ball Jar Canning Utensil Set.

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I’m having fun making my way through Carla Emery’s book, but I’d recommend a simpler more focused book like the Joy of Cooking All About Canning & Preserving which I picked up at our library along with the Grapes of Wrath and a cookbook by Chez Panisse Cafe. And with all of that said the actual recipe I followed is from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (after all my Grandmother never put ‘tart green apples’ in her berry jam, and I’m pretty sure apples and berries aren’t in season at the same time!)

Side Note: Jam is pretty much the easiest and safest canning you can do. The key with any canning is to make sure your recipe is reputable (you can check recipes out here) and that you don’t deviate from it. For example, the sugar in jam recipes is the preserver. If you skimp on the sugar you weaken the shelf life and increase chances for spoilage. Finally low acidic foods (not the case with jam) require a pressure canner and are much more dangerous if canned incorrectly (botulism can kill you). Canning is safe if you follow the recipes.

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Ingredients

  • 4 cups blackberries
  • 3 cups sugar (this is a ratio of 1.33, the USDA’s jam is a ratio of 1.5, but in the Fannie Farmer recipe the berry liquid is reduced before the sugar is added. By all means follow the USDA recipe linked above if you’d rather)
  • 4 8 oz Ball Jelly Jars with new lids (it’s OK to reuse rings)

Directions

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Sanitize your clean rings and jars (DO NOT BOIL THE LIDS) by boiling them for 10 mins in a large pot of water. Turn off the burner under the pot when the 10 mins are up, but leave everything in the hot water until it’s time to fill the jars. The pot should have a wire rack at the bottom to keep the jars from touching the very bottom of the pot (I tried to use an upside down cake tin with mixed results). The pot should be deep enough so that you have room for at least 1 inch of water above the tops of the jars when they are sitting on the rack (my 5 gallon pot for making homebrew beer was deep enough).

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Prepare your lids by letting them soak in a bowl of warm to hot tap water (very hot or boiling water ruins the seal).

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Wash and clean your berries. Discard any berries that don’t look fresh. Add your berries to a large pot (not your canning pot) and mash them with a potato masher. Simmer the berry mash for 15 minutes. Add your sugar and bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Boil the berry and sugar mixture until it gets to 214°F on a candy thermometer. The thermometer is optional, but it’s also only $10 and will last a lifetime so I recommend taking the guess work out of it. Turn off the stove and skim off the foam from the top of the mixture.

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Using canning tongs (or regular tongs) remove the sanitized jars from the canning pot and set them on your counter. Insert your wide mouth canning funnel and pour the hot jam into your jars until the jam is 1/4″ from the very top of the jar. (The Ball Jar Canning Utensil Set has a nifty tool for measuring the head space for any canning recipe). Place a lid on top of the jar. Screw a ring on until it is comfortably snug but not overly tight, which prevents it from sealing. Set the jar aside and repeat using the rest of your jars, lids and rings until the mixture is all used up.

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Any left over partially filled jar (more than 1/4″ head space) should be placed in the fridge and used within a couple of months. The rest of the filled jars should be returned to the canning pot. Bring the pot back to a boil (add water if needed to get more than 1″ above the lids) and boil everything for another 10 minutes.

That’s all it takes. The next morning make yourself a piece of toast, butter it and spread on your homemade blackberry jam!

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Lolo’s Dad

Chicken Liver with “Melted” Apricots

What’s Inside Your Chicken?

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In general, I prefer buying whole chickens over chicken parts. Per pound, they are less expensive than their choice part alternatives (i.e. chicken breasts), which can be useful in offsetting the cost of organic free-range birds. Separating a chicken yourself can save added convenience fees that a vendor might charge, and cooking it whole (read: in “bulk”) might leave leftovers for another day. To really get the most out of a bird though, think offal and stock.

Most whole chickens come with a package of offal inside the body cavity. This package, often referred to as “giblets”, contains the chicken neck, heart, gizzard, kidneys, and liver. Most people throw this package away, not knowing what else to do with it.  However, it’s a gold mind of vitamin-rich protein that comes virtually for free. With a little TLC, it could become a lovely meal or two.

I often save the giblets, as well other random parts (skin, wing tips, backs), until I have enough to make a meal. Since I had already accumulated several freezer bags full, I figured it was about time to make chicken stock (future post), chicken liver, and chicken chicharones.

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I had planned to make the classic liver and onions, but since my husband forgot to bring home onions from the store, I had to improvise. A good friend of mine had just gifted me a ton of freshly picked apricots from her family farm, Saeed Farms, in Yuba City. I figured they would pair well with the liver. Since liver can be bitter, a bit of sweetness would help to offset this.

I prepared the liver simply, seasoning it with salt and pepper, giving it a light dredge in flour, and a quick sauté in butter and grape seed oil. The apricots were sautéed in a little butter for just a few minutes until “melted”. If they are left on the heat too long, they will break down too much, leaving you with apricot sauce instead. I rounded out the meal with some steamed broccoli and a side salad.

To use up some chicken parts, I also decided to make chicken chicharones (crackling).  I threw some chicken skin in a skillet and let it render its fat on low heat until the skin was crisp, then threw some sea salt on it to finish.

Now, I will admit, I’m not the biggest fan of liver, but this meal was really tasty! The textures were fun as the creaminess of the liver melded into the soft apricots, contrasting the crunchiness of the chicharones. And the flavors were spot on too; the bitterness of the liver played off of the sweetness of the apricots, and the saltiness of the chicharones.

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Pretty good for an offal meal!

Chicken Liver with “Melted” Apricots

Ingredients

  • 1 lb chicken livers
  • ½ cup of flour
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 6 fresh apricots, seeded and halved
  • 2 tsp butter

Directions

Rinse the chicken livers, trim off excess fat, and cut into bite size pieces. Pat the pieces with paper towel to remove excess moisture. Season with salt and pepper. Melt the butter on medium heat, add the oil, and heat until just shimmering. (The butter will add flavor to the dish, and the oil will increase the smoking point so the butter doesn’t burn as easily.)  Dredge (lightly coat) the liver in flour, shaking off the excess, and sauté in butter and oil mixture for 2 minutes per side, until slightly pink in the center. Cooking too long will make the liver chalky in texture.

Melt the 2 teaspoons of butter on med-low heat. When the foam from the butter subsides, saute the apricots cut side down for 2 minutes. Flip to warm the other side, but do not leave on for too long as the fruit will break down.

Serve, eat, and enjoy!

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– Christine R.

Lengua Estofada (Smothered Beef Tongue)

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Today’s recipe post is a guest post. I met Christine five years ago in Philadelphia at the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers college recruiting conference. I manged to sneak my way onto the interview team representing my firmware lab. Christine was set to graduate from The City College of New York with a degree in Computer Science.

A couple of months after I had returned to Sacramento my manager setup a set of onsite interviews for Christine and we flew her out from New York. The rest as you say is history. Christine has been in my lab now for 5 years.

In addition to her interests in engineering and technology, Christine has always enjoyed cooking. Recently she took a 22-week culinary course through The International Culinary Center (founded as The French Culinary Institute) in Campbell, CA. She is also a fan of the Slow Food movement like we are.

One area of our own cooking that I’d like to improve upon is our ability to use more parts from the animals we eat. As you will see this post is definitely inspiring to say the least! 

Thanks Christine, we look forward to more posts from you!

Lolo’s Dad

Slow Food – The Puerto Rican Way

In recent months, I have been drawn to offal. The amateur chef in me is learning not only to be more selective of the quality of meat I choose, but also less finicky about the cut of meat. It gets me to practice “nose to tail” cooking as best I can. So when a friend suggested a cooking day to learn more about my Puerto Rican heritage, I knew exactly what would be on the menu: beef tongue.

Beef Tongue = Offal. Offal = Slow Food. Slow Food = LOVE.

I had picked up a tongue a few weeks prior from Whole Foods, and though I had never cooked it before, I figured this was the perfect time to try my hand at it. Besides, I can find no better way to say, “Welcome to my home!” than a pot of stewed meat.

I found a recipe in my highly prized cookbook, Puerto Rican Cookery by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli (the English translation of her original cookbook, Cocina Criolla), and found a few other recipes to round out the meal.

Puerto Rican staples are harder to find here than in my native NYC, so I headed to La Superior SuperMercado in Natomas. What I found was disheartening: a virtually non-existent organic produce section, no sign of locality/seasonality, questionable meats obtained from who-knows-where, and high fructose corn syrup, MSG, and myriad of preservatives in all the well-known Puerto Rican staples. This is a far departure from the farmers’ market shopping I have grown to love here in the Sacramento area, but not surprising.

Working with the available selection, I purchased green plantains, yuca, salted cod, fresh farmer’s cheese made in-house, guava paste, and a variety of Malta (malt soda) from different countries. I was satisfied with my purchases, and rushed home to prepare.

I invited friends, and friends of friends over to my apartment, and set up the evening like a cooking class; everyone attending was going to help prepare the meal from start to finish. The only thing I had to prepare up front was the beef tongue, which needed to boil for a few hours to tenderize.

I was squeamish at first, but after a few minutes I was able to inspect the tongue, and feel its varying textures from the rough spiky taste buds at the tip, to the swirly, pad-like taste buds at the base of the tongue. I then put it in the pot to boil. After a few hours, it was time to remove its outer skin. This took a bit more work than anticipated, but I managed to get it off in one piece.

As evening time rolled around, the smells in my apartment were inviting, and I was so excited for my guests to arrive. Once they did, I put them right to work!  We spent a few hours cooking, which was intertwined with questions, story-telling, tons of laughter, and some snacking in between.  I could not have asked for a better time spent with friends.

We prepared tostones (fried green plantains) with garlic sauce, Spanish style chorizo (spicy cured sausage), bacalao (salted cod) salad with boiled yuca, and of course the beef tongue. Unfortunately, by the end of the night, we were too tired to even try the tongue! Though I did make sure that everyone went home with a piece of our delectable creation.

Note to self: don’t plan a slow food cooking night on a Monday!

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Lengua Estofada (Smothered Beef Tongue)

From Puerto Rican Cookery, by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli, Serves 8.

Ingredients

A (phase one ingredients)

  • 4-lb fresh beef tongue
  • Water – (measure by quarts to cover tongue freely)
  • Salt – (use 1 teaspoon salt for each quart of water)

B (phase two ingredients)

  • 4 peppercorns (whole black peppers)
  • 1 teaspoon whole dried oregano, crushed
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 quart (4 cups) water

C (optional ingredients)

  • 1 ½ cups sweet or dry wine (see Note)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 12 dry prunes, pitted
  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces
  • 1 pound onions, peeled and slices
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Directions

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1 – Scrub the tongue with a vegetable brush under warm running water.  Drain and dry.  Place in a large deep kettle.  Add water and salt included in A.

2 – Bring rapidly to a boil, reduce heat to low, partially cover kettle, and simmer for 2 hours.

3 – Remove tongue and plunge into cold water.  Remove from water and allow to cool slightly.  Trim off bone and gristle at thick end.  Peel tongue.

4 – Place tongue in a large caldero or heavy kettle.  Add ingredients included in B and bring rapidly to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until the tongue is almost fork-tender.

5 – Add ingredients included in C and bring rapidly to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until tongue is fork-tender.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

6 – Remove tongue.  Boil sauce over moderate heat until sauce thickens to taste.

7 – Cut tongue in slices and arrange on a serving platter, garnished with potatoes.  Serve sauce in a deep dish.

Note:  Sweet wine imparts distinctive flavor to the recipe, but it can be replaced, according to taste, by Burgundy or any other good dry red wines.  Rest of ingredients included in C are optional.

– Christine R

Pasta Primavera

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A couple of weeks ago when our highs all seemed to be hitting 90° it felt like we had skipped spring and gone straight into summer. Last weekend our heatwave broke (we even had a little rain yesterday) which helped us remember it was actually spring!

Primavera means spring in both Italian and Spanish. We enjoy making primavera by selecting whatever vegetables are in season when we go to the market, then coming home and using them up. This is exactly what we did with the asparagus, broccolini, and mushrooms we picked up last Sunday at Nugget Market.

The funny thing about grocery shopping is how quickly you can convince yourself to turn off your filters. As soon as we saw the asparagus we wanted it for our primavera. It didn’t even cross my mind to check where it was from. I convinced myself it would be impossible for this asparagus to not be from California. After all we are in the middle of asparagus season and had just enjoyed Stockton’s asparagus festival the weekend before.

So the asparagus was purchased without a second thought and it wasn’t until I started cooking that I noticed “Washington” staring at me from the rubber band holding the asparagus stalks together. It’s not like the state of Washington is across the globe or even across the country from California, but I do find it ironic that a California grocery store chain would source asparagus from a grower outside of the golden state! Note to self: farmer’s markets, farmer’s markets, farmer’s markets.

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Ingredients

  • Pasta
  • Fresh vegetables (we used asparagus, broccolini and mushrooms)
  • Butter
  • Garlic
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 lemons
  • Basil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parmesan cheese

Directions

Bring water to boil for the pasta while preparing your vegetables. The vegetables should be chopped or sliced into bite sized pieces. Add the pasta and cook it according to your pasta’s directions.

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Saute each vegetable separately in a large skillet over medium heat with a tablespoon of butter until they start to soften, then set them aside. Add the garlic near the end of your last saute cycle.

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Empty the skillet then add the tomato sauce, heavy cream, basil and juice from the lemons. Simmer the sauce until it thickens slightly. Salt and pepper to taste. Add all of the sauteed vegetables back to the sauce and simmer for a minute or two prior to plating.

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Dish out your pasta, add some of the sauce and vegetables, then top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Enjoy!

Lolo’s Dad

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Beer Can Chicken and Grilled Asparagus

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Right now in California we are in the height of asparagus season. This meant it was time for the annual Asparagus Festival in Stockton. For those not familiar with California, Stockton is usually in the news for very negative reasons. Earlier this year Stockton became the largest U.S. city to declare bankruptcy. Unfortunately it is also regularly in the news for murders (mostly gang related). In fact it has more murders per capita than Chicago.

We have loosely made plans to attend the Stockton Asparagus Festival in years past, but we never made it until last Saturday. After parking and walking to the festivals downtown location situated next to scenic McLeod Lake (a tiny lake connected to a channel that eventually leads out to the delta) we quickly realized that like most things Stockton is a lot more complex than one would think from the news.

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We left our house at 10 and got the festival around noon; just in time to eat again! We made our way over to asparagus alley and got deep fried asparagus plus steak and asparagus sandwiches. I made the mistake of going to get waters before I had snapped a photo of our deep fried asparagus so what you see was my half.

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While we ate, Lolo went down for a nap on her blanket in the grass. We woke up to Major League Eating setting up on the main stage for their deep fried asparagus eating contest. Their paid emcee was probably the best part of the show. He spent about 30 minutes pumping up the crowd for the 10 minute competition. Those 10 minutes were fast, furious, and epic though as an upset was in the works. Matt Stonie literally inhaled 9.5 pounds of asparagus in 10 minutes to oust the reigning champ Joey Chestnut.

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After the competition we got up and walked around different areas of the festival. There were ponies, a kissing sea lion, numerous rides, and carnival games for kids. For adults there was food, music and alcohol. We also found the California Asparagus Commission‘s tent and learned that the farmers prefer to eat jumbo asparagus because it is from younger plants and it is meatier, yet still tender. They told us that most consumers falsely believe that jumbo asparagus is older and tougher and so we tend to purchase smaller stalks at the market. You’ll also find a ton of great asparagus recipes to try on their website.

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On our way out of the festival we picked up one pound of fresh jumbo asparagus. I’m starting to realize that seasons are a treat and we should gorge ourselves with what is in season and fresh. When we are sick of any one item we will be saved by the changing of the season. In the meantime we’ll be eating the best tasting fresh asparagus, or what have you, going.

Now finally for the beer can chicken and grilled asparagus recipe.

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Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1 can of beer (16 oz or more recommended)
  • Dry rub seasoning of choice
  • 1 lbs asparagus
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

We purchased a 20 oz can of Dale’s Pale Ale which worked out perfectly for two reasons. First the longer can fit the chicken beautifully. Second you don’t need 20 oz of beer so I started by opening our beer and drinking half of it!

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Next season both sides of your chicken, then insert the can into the chicken cavity. I cooked our beer can chicken on our grill, but you can also use a regular oven. You are roasting the chicken though, so if you do use a grill be sure to keep the chicken off the direct heat. I had my two left burners on full and the chicken over the right side burners which were off. I only opened the lid twice. Once would have been even better. I did rotate the chicken once because the left side looked a bit darker than the right.

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Cook at around 400 degrees for an hour to an hour and a half. The drum sticks should pull off easily when the meat is finished.

When our beer can chicken was finished I let it rest while I worked on the grilled asparagus. Start by breaking off the dry ends of the asparagus (asparagus will naturally break at the right location if you flex it from the bottom). Then season the spears with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on the grill and cook them briefly, around 2 to 5 minutes total, rotating as needed.

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Enjoy!

Lolo’s Dad

Local Ingredients Used

Mary’s Free Range Chicken – Fresno, CA, Asparagus – Stockton, CA

Cream of Asparagus Soup

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We mentioned in our post last Friday that we celebrated my wife’s birthday at Ella’s in Sacramento. During our dinner we both ordered their asparagus soup. One thing we both noticed right away and really liked was that they left some of the asparagus stems as a garnish. This left a nice crunch in the cream soup that we both enjoyed. We were inspired to make our own version at home.

Barbara Kingsolver talks about asparagus in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. What I didn’t realize about asparagus is that it is the very first spring vegetable. Even more amazing is that asparagus plants only look like the asparagus we’d recognize at the farmers’ market for one day a year. As soon as the spears show up, you have to cut them. This means that fat spears and skinny spears are simply random. If you don’t cut the spears the day they arrive then, as Barbara describes, “each triangular scale on the spear rolls out into a branch, until [the spear] becomes a four-foot tree with delicate needles.” Lastly, asparagus is one of the few plants we eat that is a perennial. If treated well and not cut too aggressively it will produce for many seasons.

America’s Test Kitchen is one of our go to recipe books. We really like that they take the time to try out many different methods and products and provide some side bars with other cooking tips and suggestions. For this cream of asparagus soup recipe I followed the Americas Test Kitchen recipe but reserved six asparagus stalks for the garnish and skipped the flour.

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Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lbs fresh asparagus
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1 onion, minced
  • Salt and pepper

Ready to cook?  Lolo was!

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Directions

Chop six or so of your asparagus stalks into medium pieces and set them to the side. Finely chop the remaining asparagus stalks.

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Saute the onion until tender. Add the broth and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. Add the finely chopped asparagus only and simmer for another 10 mins until the asparagus is tender.

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Puree the soup in small batches. A food processor works fine and so does the small blender we used which is built for shakes. Return the pureed soup to the pot and add the heavy cream. Add salt and pepper to taste, then bring the soup back to a brief simmer before removing from the heat.

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Grab the remainings stalks you chopped into medium sized pieces and add them to a pan with a little water. Heat the water in the pan to boiling and quickly boil the asparagus. Two minutes should be plenty, you don’t want to kill the crunch.

Dish up the soup and add a few asparagus chunks to each bowl. Americas Test Kitchen says you will serve 6 to 8. We had two dinner sized bowls of soup.

Lolo’s Dad

Local Ingredients Used

Tony’s Fruit Stand Asparagus and Onions – Marysville, CA