Spring has Sprung

After the long delay of this years winter we are finally seeing fresh crops of my favorite things. Here in the DMV area, local asparagus, ramps, VA strawberries and fiddleheads are abundant.
I’ve recently planted some herbs and cherry tomatoes in my balcony….oh, city living!

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I look forward to harvesting. I am gauging my sunlight and grow-ability but am hoping to pot some sugar snap peas and more soon.

I recently made jam using Truvia for the first time.

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I yielded less than a quart with my strawberries but it’s pretty damn good. Truvia tends to be sweeter so I didn’t use much. The ending result “tastes like a fruit roll-up”. I’ve been spreading this on whole grain tortillas with some PB2.

Asparagus has been beautiful so I ended up with a lot on hand. A BBQ in Rock Creek Park was supposed to consume some of it last week. Never to fail, I packed a great bag of goodies and left it behind. Needless to say, today was the time to pickle it. I boiled some brine and pickled both the asparagus and some lovely spring onions I had. The Spring onions are diced to be a relish-like topping for our next burger or sausage night. The asparagus I cut two ways, tops of the stalks and bias-cut dices. The stalks can be an amazing accompaniment to a Bloody Mary and the slices will serve well for a charcuterie board.
Here is a simple brine to use for the vegetables laying around your place.

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simple brine
Fills 48oz. worth of jars

2 cups white distilled vinegar
1 3/4 cups water
4 Tbsp salt
4 garlic cloves chopped
2 Tbsp peppercorns

This is about as basic as it gets. Boil, pour over veg in your jars.

I will surely have more pickling posts than you can deal with so now I am off to enjoy this long weekend. Cheers!

Mother’s Day

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Today is Mother’s Day, my first without my own Mom. There are many women in my life who have and do provide inspiration to me. Most of my friends have kids and are doing an amazing job on their own. I have aunts, cousins and girlfriends who still find time to listen and love me daily. I am very lucky.
One of the things I feel most fortunate for is having my Mom shape my world. My Mom encouraged every crazy idea I ever had and cushioned the blow of every mistake I made when, maybe, the idea was actually a little too crazy! She allowed me the freedom to be who I was destined to be, always knowing I had a place to come home to but nudging me to spread my wings. It’s always been a question of how I turned out the way I did?! Why do I want to eat fish eggs and oxtail when I grew up with casseroles and well-done steak? Why did I spontaneously move next to the ocean in my 20’s when I had never seen anything larger than a few lakes as a kid? The answer for me always comes back to my Mom. She talked to me about the world, never made me afraid of it. Even though she wasn’t able to afford us the jet-setting vacations or 5-star meals, she taught me to work hard and follow my heart. When I could buy myself the plane ticket, the $200 jeans and the tete de cuvée champagne, she cheered me on (with resistance only to make sure I could also pay my bills!).
I love that my Mom would call me (often while watching the Food Network) and ask me what certain ingredients were. She would say, “What is polenta? It looks delicious.” Or “Have you ever had Uni?” Often she would find a recipe to try to things too. Until my adult life my Moms cooking skills didn’t venture much past homemade Mac n Cheese and barbecue. She had only began to explore and expand her palate in the last few years. It was a great thing to witness. Her eyes widened when she tried Osso Bucco after initially wrinkling her nose when I ordered veal. She ate a fish burger while in DC after decades of thinking that ground beef was the only thing appropriate for a bun. Although I have ventured far from the standard food of my youth, there are a few things that I constantly snack or crave. These things are also what my Mom craved. Every time I eat them (which is pretty damn often) I think of her. For Mother’s Day, let me share a few……

-sliced cucumbers with Lawry’s seasoning salt

-Carrots with dip (the preferred dip of this family is the Hidden Valley mix in sour cream)

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-cauliflower or mushrooms with Grandma’s salad dressing (sorry this is a secret family recipe!)

-hamburger casserole (just a good ol’ box of Kraft mixed with a pound of ground beef and a can of cream of mushroom soup)

-gummies (bears, worms all of it. Mom’s favorites were the sugared bears and gummy raspberries)

I hope everyone has a wonderful day today. Remember to call your Mom or Mom’s you know and thank them for what they do!

Pork Loin & Apple, Jicama Salad

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When you buy good meat and produce, things kind of speak for themselves. Simplicity can go a long way! This easy meal is perfect for Spring and the salad can be made ahead of time and eaten for days after.

Pork Loin

I purchased two 1 lb. Heritage pork loins from a farm in Virginia. There was very little fat but, especially if you buy a typical cut, trim excess fat before anything. For the marinade I used 1 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup Dijon mustard and 1 cup of water. Place the pork and the marinade in a large baggie or container for at least 3 ho

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In a cast iron pan, heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil and sear the pork loins for 3 minutes on each side. Pour 1 cup of apple cider vinegar into pan, cover with lid and transfer to a 400 degree oven. Cook for 18 minutes (until interior temperature reaches 140-150 degrees).

Let the meat rest for about 10 minutes and then slice and serve.

Apple, Jicama Salad
3 medium apples
1 jicama
3 leeks
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp dry white wine

Dressing:
1/4 cup dry white wine (I used a dry Trocken Riesling this time)
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp mayo

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Peel jicama. Slice jicama and 2 apples into matchsticks and place in a bowl. Set aside.

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Chop leeks and one apple. Cook on stovetop in 1 Tbsp olive oil and 2 Tbsp wine. Stir frequently for 10 minutes over medium heat.

Combine cooked leeks and apple into raw jicama and apples.

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In a separate bowl, whisk together dressing. Mix dressing into salad and stir thoroughly. Add a little salt and pepper to taste if needed.
Keep in fridge until you are ready to plate and serve.

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Spring Pea Spread & Scratch Hummus

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Confession; I get a natural high when I get to entertain. There is joy in being able to feed friends and share my home (even if I only have 1000 sq ft to squeeze them in). Quite often I find it appropriate to have something sitting out in case anyone arrives a little hungry. This is especially important if a full meal isn’t being served or if a meal is coming more than an hour after people arrive.
Most recently, I made a platter of spreads and meats to snack on. Since Spring is here and it’s arrival brings some of my favorite vegetables of the year, I decided to play around with Spring Peas. I also made hummus from dried chickpeas.
These two spreads were served alongside a tray of toasted baguettes and dipping oil.

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I also sliced up a few gourmet sausages. I highly recommend both the Olympic Provisions Chorizo Rioja from Oregon and Olli Salumeria Wild Boar Applewood-Smoked Salumi from Virginia. These artisanal products are far better than anything from a box grocers deli and the few extra dollars are always worth the reward. You will also find that everything from the method of raising the animals to the curing process is cleaner, therefore healthier overall.

The Spring Pea Spread was inspired by a salad that I make. I basically took my mental “flavor-wheel” for a spin and really, really liked the results!

3 cups of shelled fresh peas, cooked (or a 16 oz bag of frozen organic peas, defrosted)
6 large basil leaves
6 large radishes
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano, grated
2 tsp ground black pepper
Salt to taste

Begin with peas and chopped basil in a large mixing bowl. Using a hand blender or a masher, begin to blend and smush up peas.
Add very finely diced radish and continue.

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Add pepper and Pecorino cheese. Mix well and taste. Gradually add lemon juice. The lemon juice really helps the flavors pop! Add a little salt, if needed, to preferred taste.

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Scratch Hummus

1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas (doubles when hydrated)
1/2 onion
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup tahini
2 lemons, juiced
4 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp cumin
Salt & Pepper

Place dried chickpeas in a bowl and cover with a few inches of water. Put in fridge overnight (12-24 hours).

Before:

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After:

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Strain chickpeas and set aside.
Roughly chop garlic and onion and sauté.

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Add chickpeas to the pot and cover with water, about two inches above the chickpeas.

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Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for an hour. The onions and garlic will impart flavor into the chickpeas.
After an hour strain the mixture, keeping the garlic and onions to blend as well. Set aside.

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In a blender or food processor, mix tahini and lemon juice for 2 minutes.

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Gradually add chickpea/onion/garlic and blend in 1-2 minute intervals. Add a portion of water, olive oil and spices with each turn. Make sure to taste for flavor and consistency.

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Sprinkle with a little paprika or chili powder for presentation.

Easy, Delicious Dessert

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This recipe would fall somewhere along the cake spectrum….not sure whether to call it a cobbler, a shortcake or what. However, it is extraordinarily simple to make and incredibly yummy. The best part is that you can add anything your heart desires to the batter.
I picked up some ripe blueberries and strawberries on Friday. We’ve now had this twice already the weekend. I did not add any sugar to the berries, but feel free to toss them in a little sugar or cornstarch if you want a sweeter finish or if they aren’t ripe enough.
A few other ideas to add to this would be chocolate chips, nuts and raisins, your favorite jam and peanut butter or candy bits.
Place your add-ons into a ramekin that has been lightly dusted with cooking spray or oil. Pour the batter over the top.

Easy, Delicious Batter
Makes 4 (in 6oz ramekins)

3/4 cup Flour
3/4 cup Milk (I always use Almond Milk)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder

Mix all ingredients together well. Should be slightly runny.
Heat oven to 375 degrees and bake for 20-25 minutes.
Use a toothpick to make sure they are baked through.

Let cool for 10 minutes and top with ice cream or whipped cream.

Before:

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After:

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Pan-seared Scallops & Curried Carrot Purée

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Scallops are one of my favorites to cook. They are so versatile and can be paired with a plethora of flavor combinations. I was really craving a nice bottle of Burgundy so I opted to build the dish around the wine pairing.
I like to add color to the plate (which conveniently often comes with rich nutrients too).
The above photo shows the accompaniments of carrots, shiitake mushrooms and rainbow chard.

For Curried Carrot Purée
2 cups carrots
1 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp Heavy Cream
1 Tbsp yellow curry powder

Peel and chop 2 cups of raw carrots. Add carrots to boiling water and cook until soft.
In a blender or food processor, place carrots, yellow curry powder, butter and heavy cream. Purée to preferred consistency.

For Sautéed Rainbow Chard

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Chop chard down to stems (you can cook and add stems as well).
Chop 2 cloves of garlic and 2 Tbsp of red onion.
Add onion and garlic to 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a sauté pan. Cook for 3 minutes. Add chard and cook for an additional 3 minutes.

For Red Wine Pickled Mushrooms
1/2 lb. mushrooms (I like shiitake or oyster mushrooms)
1 cup of dry red wine (I used an earthy Chinon)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp dry mustard
2 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp pepper

Add wine, vinegar, mustard, salt & pepper to sauce pan and bring to a boil.
Chop mushrooms (removing stems). Add mushrooms to boiling liquid, reduce to low heat and cook for 12 minutes.

For Pan-seared Scallops

6 Scallops (U-10)
4 Tbsp butter
Salt & Pepper

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Season scallops with salt & pepper on each side. Heat butter and place each scallop in pan. Using a small spoon, spoon heated butter over the exposed side of scallops. Flip scallops after 4 minutes. Repeat with other side and cook for 3 minutes.

***** A few things on cooking scallops….
-Cook time is perfected with practice and using your visuals. There is nothing worse than a rubbery, overcooked scallop. The scallop should be browned on both sides, cooked almost through, but fading to somewhat translucent in the middle.
-I ALWAYS cook my scallops in butter. You can use oil or stock to be healthy, but the texture and flavor of scallops is hugely complimentary to a little browned butter.
-Scallops are measured by how many would be in an average pound. For example, U-10 scallops are large enough that about 10 make up a pound. U-20 scallops = 20 scallops per pound etc.

Now for Plating
I started by creating carrot pillows for the scallops

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Next I centered the rainbow chard on the plate

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I then added the scallops to each pile of purée

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And finally, I placed the mushrooms at 3-6-9 o’clock, respectively.

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The flavors worked together incredibly well.

And worked with the wine as well!

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An Ode to Lambrusco

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Lambrusco is both the name of a grape and the name of the wine made from it. In the late 1970s/early 1980s, Lambrusco was widely available and popular in the US. Unfortunately, what infiltrated the market was primarily the dolce(very sweet) style. This typically is reason for pause when I talk to folks about Lambrusco today.
Fear not, wine lovers! Lambrusco, in all of its forms, is available and delicious. Let me give you a few facts that will help you choose the right bottle and enjoy this Italian gem.

-There are eight Lambrusco DOC regions, all within Emilia-Romagna. You will see the region denoted on the bottle. The regions are Colli di Parma Lambrusco, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce, Reggiano Lambrusco, Colli di Scandiano e Canossa Lambrusco, Modena Lambrusco, and Lambrusco Mantovano.
-There are six main Lambrusco varietals and plantings vary by region. The varietals are Lambrusco Grasparossa, Lambrusco Maestri, Lambrusco Marani, Lambrusco Montericco, Lambrusco Salamino, and Lambrusco Sorbara.
-Most Lambrusco is frizzante(lightly sparkling) in style. Do not expect bubbles like champagne! Think more along the lines of a Lambic beer or a seltzer water that has been left out for a few hours.
-The three sweetness levels are secco(dry), amabile(subtly sweet/off-dry) and dolce(very sweet). Depending on your preferences, look for these words on the label to choose your poison.
-Most Lambrusco is made NV (non-vintage) and is meant to be drank young. Lambrusco can be a wonderful ‘food wine’ and is a great pairing for pizza, sausages, salads, antipasti and more.
-Lambrusco should be served chilled. Keep in mind, this is a red sparkling wine.
-Lambrusco ranges between 8% and 12% alcohol. Thanks to its lower booziness, you may not hate yourself in the morning if you drink the whole bottle!

My recommendation for the best things to look for: I prefer an amabile Lambrusco so it’s not too sweet but has a little residual sugar to help the fruit “pop”. I also lean towards Lambrusco Sorbara. In this region/varietal you find the most acidic styles. The acid helps balance the hint of sweetness and really helps the wine work with food.
One of my favorites at the moment?

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Nicchia Lambrusco di Sorbara
This one has lovely dark fruit and ripe berries throughout the palette. It has subtle sweetness and a balanced, dry finish. The vineyard has been around since the 1920s. The best part is that you can find this wine between $10-12.
Try Wine Searcher to see if it’s available near you.

If not, please grab what you can find and start to explore Lambrusco. It’s fun, fizzy and perfect for the warm days ahead. Since it’s chilled when served, you can enjoy a little red wine with your sunshine.

Cheers.