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Spring Pea and Asparagus Soup

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It’s time again to play “Last Week’s Supper Is This Week’s Soup”!

It’s not quite as desperate as it sounds. I like this game because it’s teaching me a lot about combining various in-season vegetables and neatly preventing me from having to waste any leftover produce even after the first or second dish I needed it for has long since been consumed.

This week I was also able to introduce a new player into the basket–peas! As I have been not hesitant to mention, the debut of fresh peas at the local farmers market is particularly exciting to me. I quickly claimed 2 lbs., as if the ladies standing around me were a threat and might snatch them all away before I could make my purchase.

Home again I checked the fridge only to realize I’d “lost” a bunch of asparagus from last week in the bottom of the crisper drawer. But there it had sat, well wrapped but without water for quite a few days. I also came up with some mint and a few spring onions. These forces combined, I had a soup bursting with bright green color and all the refreshing and energizing taste I was hoping to capture.

Green Spring Pea and Asparagus Soup

4 spring onions, sliced
one bunch asparagus, woody ends trimmed and spears cut into 1″ pieces
3 cups fresh peas
4 cups vegetable broth
handful of mint leaves, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Place broth in a large soup pot and bring to a boil. Add asparagus and onion to the pot and cook for 5 minutes. Add peas and cook 3 minutes more. Remove pot from heat, add in the mint, salt, and pepper, and puree. Stir in the buttermilk and adjust seasonings as needed. Enjoy warm or chilled.

Green Spring Pea and Asparagus Soup

Warmer Than Springtime

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Sunshine: 87 degrees worth this past weekend, to be exact, triggering that desperate need for shoes that are not boots and a few new dresses free of olive oil stains. Yes, these are the signs, here in Mid-Atlantic Wonderland Kitchen, that we have finally shut the door and thrown the deadbolt on the chilly months and plunged into the humid swamp that will keep us cooking well into October.

Even more than all that, however, it was the scent coming from the bag of dill, cilantro, and basil that I had picked up at one of my favorite market stands that got me excited about the possibilities of the…new year? Yes, this time has always felt like much more of a beginning than that celebrated calendar change buried in a case of snow and ice. Trailing the smell of fresh herbs with every step, home I came with enough feeling of prospect that I snapped the first petite “market haul” pic of 2012:

market haul

See that cloth bag up there at right? My regular sister-in-produce Marie gifted me a few of those snazzy sacks sewn as part of a great initiative here in Baltimore, and I am hooked. You can learn more about the project here.

Once all these fine bits of produce were unloaded onto my counter top, my favorite game of “suss out the magic formula” began, during which I wracked my brain, my bookcase, and the internet for the perfect use of the assembled raw ingredients. This week’s winners?

Rhubarb Chutney

First off, the inaugural canning project of the season was successfully completed: Rhubarb Chutney. Thanks to a lovely, small-batch recipe I discovered through Food52, the exercise proceeded without a hitch. It’s sweet and tart and cries out to be smeared on grilled cheese sandwiches, served with fancy crackers and goat cheese, and probably tastes lovely with roasted fowl, if you’re into that sort of thing. Honestly, the only real usage challenge I anticipate will be to keep from eating all this newly jarred deliciousness immediately.

rhubarb chutney: process

I also snuck a few more flats of Mason jars and a gallon of apple cider vinegar into the house over the weekend, so this preservation adventure has only just begun!!

Ahem. Okay, back to the food at hand.

Spring Radish, Asparagus, and Potato Salad

1 1/2 lbs baby red potatoes, cut into 1″ pieces
1 bunch asparagus, tough ends removed and lower stalks peeled if necessary
1 bunch mild radishes, quartered

For the dressing

1 cup strained yogurt (I happen to have a lot of this on hand because I love its sour cream-like consistency and because I’ve been using the whey in fermentation projects. It’s easy if you have one of these. However, any thick yogurt will do.)
1-2 spring onions, finely sliced
2 tsp. chopped dill
salt and pepper to taste
sunflower seeds to garnish (optional)

Boil potatoes just until fork tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside to cool.

Blanch asparagus for 2 minutes, or just until tender crisp. Immediately plunge into an ice bath. When cool, slice into 2″ pieces.

Place the potatoes, asparagus, and radishes in a large bowl and set aside while you prepare the dressing. Combine yogurt, onion, dill, salt, and pepper and spoon dressing over the vegetables. Toss to coat. Adjust seasoning and chill. Garnish with sunflower seeds before serving if desired.

celery soup

Cream of Celery Soup
adapted from Twelve Months of Monastery Soups

I often find soups too heavy to start a meal with, especially in the warm months, but this one is truly light and appetizing. It works well served both hot and chilled.

Celery Soup

4 cups celery, diced
3 shallots, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 white boiling potatoes, cubed
6 cups water
1 1/2 cups milk
2 T corn starch
2 T butter
scratch of nutmeg
1 T chopped dill
salt and pepper to taste

Place celery, shallots, garlic, and water in a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the white sauce. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Dissolve the cornstarch in 1/2 cup of the milk and, when the butter begins to bubble, add this mixture and stir for several seconds. Add the remaining milk, salt, pepper, and the nutmeg, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and continue cooking, stirring often, until the sauce has thickened. Reserve.

When the simmering time is complete, puree the soup and return it to the pot. Add the white sauce and the dill, and adjust the seasonings as needed. Enjoy hot or cold!

Can’t Wait, Won’t Wait: Quick Spring Pickles

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The Preservation Kitchen. Canning for a New Generation. If reading material is any indication, this is going to be the summer of packing things into jars. And if not jars, then bottles.

Still, though I am perhaps past the desperate early-April rush to consume the first fresh greens of spring right now, this minute, I have neither the budget nor yet the patience to actually commit any of my market finds to long term caning storage–no matter how lovely the little spears would look lined up on my pantry shelf. Still, I was anxious to do something with all these recipes and glassware I’ve been gathering, so this weekend, I split the difference and did a bit of quick pickling with ramps and asparagus. I know I can’t wait 6 mos., but 24 hours I should be able to manage. More or less.

More than anything, I was out to try this quick pickled ramps recipe once I spied the inclusion of juniper berries, an ingredient I just happen to have on hand due to my adventures in mead making. I’ve already snuck an early sample with breakfast, and better find some restraint or they will all be gone by nightfall.

(Do check out Andrea’s entire “Where the Wild Things Are” series if foraging and herbs and such get your imagination fired. I get ridiculously excited when I see there’s a new post.)

ramps

ramps: pickle prep

pickling the asparagus

asparagus on ice

Pickled Ramps

Pickled Ramps: Bet you can't eat just one.

There Can’t Be Only One: Spring Asparagus

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Spring asparagus. Not the dry and woody and confusingly available in the grocery store in January kind, but pencil thin and freshly picked. Who could limit themselves to just one bunch (@ $2 each!) per week? Not I, said the little cook. And so, after asparagus tart, there was asparagus…well, pesto, in a sense. Puree in another. Sauce? Condiment? Dip? Yes, yes, and yes. Pass the crackers. Hell, pass a spoon.

After my “first of spring” produce splurge this weekend, I had stretched the grocery budget too tightly to handle a whole cup of pine nuts, and so I swapped in the walnuts I already had in the pantry and saved the few pine nuts available for garnish; it was still fantastic. This is an awesome dish from Super Natural Cooking, no matter what you smear it on.

(P.S. It was Heidi Swanson who taught me to make pesto-type toppings out of many green things, including broccoli. So check her out, be brave, and get creative; it’s awesome on the green side.)

Spring Asparagus Pesto
from Super Natural Cooking

1 bunch asparagus spears trimmed (I also cut mine in half to better fit in my pot)
a few generous handfuls of baby spinach
2 garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
3/4 cup toasted pine nuts (1/2 cup walnuts work as well, if that better suits your budget as it did mine)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 T lemon juice
salt

In a pot large enough to accommodate your asparagus, bring salted water to a boil. Boil asparagus for two to three minutes, until just tender. Drain and transfer to a food processor, along with the spinach, garlic, Parmesan, and nuts of your choice (toast them first, if you can spare the time). Turn processor on and puree, drizzling in the olive oil while it runs. Add lemon juice and salt. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Pesto can be tossed immediately with pasta or kept in a sealed jar in the refrigerator. Cover the exposed puree with olive oil to prevent discoloration.

A Feast of Green (Spring is Here! Edition)

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This was the first weekend my Saturday market produce haul has truly felt exciting in quite some time. And even though I’m usually tempted to purchase a rainbow of vegetables on these outings, this was a monochrome venture and that was fine with me. The bright greens of pencil-thin asparagus, Brussels sprouts, spring onions, and cilantro captured my eye. Some of this was imported from our neighbors to the south, admittedly, but I’ll take their hinting promises; no peas yet, but they are assuredly on the way.

Back at home, there was also a largish pile of actual cookbooks that I had been stocking up all winter and have now finally put to use (as opposed to looking again to my normal kitchen fuel—the cooking blogs of others). I first turned to Nigel Slater’s doorstop of a vegetable Bible Tender, a book I had been drooling all over, with its vegetable-by-vegetable recipes and amazing garden photographs. Even though my own vegetable patch will once again be restricted to about 18 sq. ft. this year, I’m looking forward to following him in the kitchen as if I was producing much more. To start, I put some of the asparagus towards his Tart of Asparagus and Tarragon. Though I had a bit of a pastry fail here (my error, as I added too much water to get the dough to come together, and then disliked the texture of the bottom crust, so take care) the interior was rich and silky. I tossed in a handful of chopped spring onion because I could not resist. (I know! I’m bad like that.) If I had managed the dough with more finesse, it would have been a perfect addition to a spring brunch table, for sure.

Tart of Asparagus and Tarragon

Tart of Asparagus and Tarragon Makings

Next up was a bag full of Brussels sprouts. It sometimes shocks those who have never eaten these beauties roasted in Balsamic vinegar that this vegetable is a household favorite, but even we were getting a little tired of that method. Epicurious kicked out a Roasted Brussels Sprouts recipe in the Momofuku fashion that two out of two Baltimoreans definitely agree should be added to the regular dinner rotation. Don’t be afraid of the high oven heat, but do keep an eye on them. My delicate sprouts needed a bit less time to brown darkly. Also, mind your salt/sugar/heat balance in the dressing and don’t be afraid to adjust to suit your tastes, then only add enough to coat, not to drown. I had plenty left over, into which I scooped enough peanut butter to thicken it a bit. It will serve as a fantastic salad topping for the week.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

A recipe from Heidi Swanson’s inspiring Super Natural Cooking rounded out this feast. I had a mix of red and truly, deeply purple fingerling potatoes that were much too small (some not much larger than jelly beans) to Hasselback as her roasting recipe indicated, but her dish did include harissa (!) which I just happened to have a nice jar of, plus a garlic yogurt dressing. I was in heaven just reading about it and would not, could not let size stand in my way!

Roasted Purple and Red Potatoes with Herbed Garlic Yogurt

Roasted Purple and Red Potatoes with Herbed Garlic Yogurt
Adapted a bit from Super Natural Cooking to suit smaller potatoes

2 lbs. fingerling potatoes, mix of red and purple, in 1-inch chunks
3 T olive oil
2 tsp. harissa
salt

For the dressing

1 cup Greek yogurt
2 garlic cloves smashed and minced
3 T cilantro, finely chopped
3 T fresh mint, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
black pepper
lemon juice (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F.

Mixed the oil and harissa together, drizzle over potatoes and toss to evenly coat. Spread out on a foil-lined baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with salt. Roast 40 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Meanwhile, to prepare the dressing, mix the yogurt, garlic, cilantro, mint, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Thin with a bit of lemon juice if desired.

Springing Into the Season

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To introduce ourselves to Baltimore, Three Points Kitchen threw its second real-world, y’all-come-on-over event this past Sunday. Friends from far and near were kind enough to stop by and sample our kitchen’s offerings.

It was a Mad Hatter Tea Party of sorts, celebrating the arrival of the fresh produce of the season–bright pea and mint soup, roasted rhubarb, pencil-thin asparagus with wasabi dressing, duck egg salad on slices of warm baguette fresh from the oven, and radishes, baby greens, and homemade lemon butter slathered over just-baked rye bread. Plus sweets worthy of the Queen of Hearts, if we do say so ourselves.

We stopped just shy of breaking out the croquet mallets. The local Waverly Farmers Market provided most of the produce, including beautiful strawberries from the Eastern Shore that we topped with a St. Germaine Crème Anglaise. And just a few minutes shy of closing, the always-friendly staff at the Wine Source helped us procure all the parts of the Light Guard Punch we served alongside a watermelon lemonade for the abstainers in the crowd.

Want to try out what we ate? Here are a few of the recipes (if you have questions, just post ‘em in the comments):

Chilled English Pea-Mint Soup

(N.B.: If you have 2 pints of heavy cream, you can make your own butter and use the remaining buttermilk to make this soup. It’s foodie pretension taken to the limit, but also incredibly satisfying kitchen crafting. If you don’t gloat too much about it, it’s really just 100% tasty.)

Asparagus with Wasabi-Mayonnaise Dip

Cornmeal Parmesan and Poppy Seed Crackers

French(ish) Baguettes

Graham Crackers

Rye Bread

Braided Lemon Bread

Spinach and Mushroom Phyllo Dough Triangles

Rhubarb Penuche Tart

Tiger Tea Cakes

St. Germaine Crème Anglaise

Light Guard Punch

Watermelon Lemonade

And finally, this post gave me the idea to embed a peony in a block of ice to float in the punch–a highly recommended decorative touch. Wish I had gotten a photo snap before it melted away.