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Asparagus Leek Soup

It began with asparagus season this year. I had learned that you can, in fact, freeze asparagus without blanching it, if you’re going to use it in something for which texture doesn’t matter. Like soup! So I spent most of June freezing bags of asparagus and decided, after eating many meals of fresh asparagus, I’d better try out a soup recipe to make sure I like it. I’ll be making plenty of asparagus soup later in the fall and winter with what I’ve got stored in the freezer.

My recipe was inspired by Jim LaPerriere’s Asparagus and Spring Garlic Vichyssoise. Jim is a local chef who participates in the Chef Series each summer at the Holland Farmers Market. I picked up this recipe from him three years ago.

Since I had missed the window for spring garlic, I decided to substitute sweet candy onion. I also used olive oil instead of butter and homemade chicken stock instead of water. (But this would make a nice vegetarian soup if water were used for the base.) Plus, I skipped the potato. And, I opted for raw milk (with fat skimmed off) rather than heavy cream.

Here’s the recipe:

Asparagus Leek Soup

2 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 small leeks, chopped
1 lb. asparagus, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
4 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup lowfat milk

Rinse the asparagus and snap off the bottoms. (Jim’s recipe, as well as several others I found online, suggest saving the tips and blanching them to use as garnish when serving. Me, I’m too lazy to add another step!)

In a large saucepan, saute the onion and leeks in olive oil until tender, about six minutes.

Add the chopped asparagus and saute for one minute.

Pour the chicken stock into the saucepan and bring to a boil.

Cover pan with a lid, reduce heat, and simmer soup for about ten minutes.

Puree in batches. Season with salt and pepper, then add milk.

It’s best to make this soup a day ahead for the flavors to blend. My chicken stock was made from a Spatchcock Chicken so it was full of fresh herb flavor. You may want to consider adding a little parsley or thyme to this soup as it simmers on the stove.

I think this is a delicious summer soup because it’s so light that it doesn’t make you warm and sleepy. Although it’s not an authentic vichyssoise recipe, you could try serving this soup cold. The leeks and asparagus nicely complement each other.

Asparagus Frittata

Asparagus Frittata Recipe

Memorial Day is the traditional segue to summer. And in the Great Lakes, it’s the start of weekend gatherings–at home, at the cottage, and at the campsite. What’s a quick and easy way to enjoy breakfast together? A simple frittata with seasonal vegetables. And right now, it’s asparagus season.

Most people in Michigan can’t wait for the first asparagus to show up at farmers markets and roadside stands. I’m one of them. As soon as the Holland Farmers Market opened in May, I was there with my basket, loading up on this spring vegetable that can be prepared so many ways. Putting it in a frittata is one of my favorites. In addition to the asparagus, I buy the rest of the ingredients from our local farmers at the Holland Farmers Market: pastured eggs from Grassfields, red onions from Visser Farms, and goat cheese from Country Winds Creamery. (Another reason why I love this recipe? You can cook it over a campfire, too!)

Asparagus Frittata

Serves 4.

3 T. olive oil

1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 lb. fresh asparagus, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces

8 eggs, beaten

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup Pecorino cheese,  or dollops of goat cheese

Optional: chopped fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme, tarragon, or parsley

Put 1 tablespoon of olive oil and vegetables into a large oven-proof skillet. Saute onions with asparagus on medium heat until nearly tender, about three minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove vegetables from pan. (Note: You can also leave the veggies in and pour the eggs right over them but I remove them and do the next steps first so the frittata doesn’t stick to the pan.)

Add salt and pepper to eggs, then stir. (If using herbs, add them now.) Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in skillet on medium-high heat until bubbly. When oil is very hot, pour egg mixture into pan. As edges cook, lift up with a spatula and tilt pan so uncooked egg mixture runs underneath. Continue until eggs are no longer runny. (It will still be slightly soft.)

Preheat broiler on high. Spoon vegetables evenly over egg. Sprinkle cheese or place dollops over entire pan. Put pan in oven under broiler flame and immediately reduce to low. Broil about 3 minutes, checking occasionally. Frittata is done when the edges are brown and the cheese is bubbly (or soft for goat cheese).

Remove from oven and let set about a minute. Cut into eight slices and serve.

Asparagus Frittata Recipe

Cooking over a campfire? Just place foil on over the pan to cook the top of the frittata.

From My Mother’s Recipe Box: Rice and Cheese Casserole

Rice and Cheese Casserole Recipe

Anyone who grew up when processed food was all the rage has most certainly eaten a casserole. They vary from lasagna to macaroni & cheese to tuna casserole, with the main ingredients ranging from some form of carbohydrate plus a meat or dairy component, and some vegetables thrown in. From the French word for saucepan, it’s basically a meal in a pot or pan.

For some, casseroles are comfort food. For others, it’s a reminder of the harried lifestyle they lived, running from school to sports events to theater practice. To me, moms and casseroles go hand-in-hand. So this year for Mother’s Day, I’m featuring one from My Mother’s Recipe Box: Rice and Cheese Casserole.

Winter Tomato Soup by Martha Rose Shulman

Photo via The New York Times

Photo via The New York Times

One of my favorite writers for The New York Times is Martha Rose Shulman, who always seems to come up with something yummy in her column Recipes for Health. Check out this week’s recipe called Winter Tomato Soup with Bulgur, a simple, Mediterranean vegetarian soup that’s quick to make. Martha tells us that you can make this a day ahead and reheat.

And I suggest—if you have a wheat allergy—try substituting quinoa for bulgur. I would add it at the same point in which the bulgur would go in, and then cook the soup for about 12 minutes, which is about how long it takes to cook quinoa.

If you try it with the quinoa, let me know how it turns out!

Winter Tomato Soup with Bulgur

Serves 4 to 6

1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes in juice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional if desired for drizzling

2 medium onions, preferably red onions, finely chopped

Salt to taste

2 to 4 garlic cloves, to taste, minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 cup coarse (#3) bulgur

5 cups water (more to taste)

Freshly ground pepper to taste

2 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

2 ounces feta, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)

Pulse the tomatoes to a coarse puree in a food processor. Heat the olive oil in a heavy soup pot over medium heat and add the onion and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is very soft but not browned, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and sugar and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down slightly, about 10 minutes. Add the bulgur, water, and salt to taste and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer 30 to 45 minutes, until the bulgur is soft and the soup thick and fragrant. Add pepper to taste and adjust salt.

Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle with mint and feta. Drizzle on a little olive oil if desired. Serve hot.

Bill-Friendly Fried Green Tomatoes

I don’t know about you but I hate to waste food. So when there are green tomatoes on the vine at the end of summer it’s a great opportunity to make fried green tomatoes. But what do you do when most of the recipes include bread crumbs and/or cornmeal—and you’re allergic to wheat and corn like Bill is?

When I tried making them, I improvised the best I could! Here’s how:

Set-up is key, just like when you make stir-fry. You need to have everything prepared ahead of time because the process of dredging, dipping, and frying goes quickly.

First, slice the tomatoes about 1/4-inch thick.

Then put some buttermilk in a bowl. I used leftover buttermilk from my raw milk butter process because Bill can consume raw cow dairy products (as opposed to pasteurized). If you have a dairy allergy you could try rice milk instead.

Mix together oat flour with some paprika, salt, and pepper and put it on a plate for dredging the tomatoes. (In retrospect, I would probably use brown rice flour since it retains less moisture.)

Beat an egg in a bowl.

For the bread crumbs, use old bread, or create old bread by leaving a few slices out the night before. We use Sami’s Millet & Flax Bread because it doesn’t have wheat or corn in it. (If you don’t have a wheat allergy you could use any kind of plain bread crumbs.) Simply smash the dried bread with your hands or a rolling pin to crumble the bread into small pieces.

Once everything is ready, heat some vegetable oil in a large skillet. I used safflower oil and was very liberal with it so the tomatoes wouldn’t stick.

Then it’s just dip, dredge, dip, dredge—from buttermilk to flour to egg to bread crumbs. And into the pan they go.

Fry on each side for about two minutes or until brown and crispy. If you need to fry in batches, keep the cooked ones warm on a plate in a low oven.

We enjoyed ours with a variation on Bill-Friendly Mac & Cheese on a cool autumn night!

Local Fish Tacos

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of my favorite places in the world, and I’m lucky to live so close to it.

That’s why it’s become an annual camping destination for my friend Sandy and me. We don’t really “rough it” too much, although three days without a shower may be pushing it. Our focus is on eating–and drinking–well, which is why Day 1 of our camping excursion always includes stops at Good Harbor Vineyards, Stone House Bread, and now Good Harbor Farm.

We used to come up with a cooking theme for each camping trip but the last few years we decided to make it easy on ourselves and just focus on either bringing or procuring locally raised foods. This year, our first dinner was fish tacos with Lake Michigan whitefish from Carlson’s of Fishtown in Leland. (For our previous take on fish tacos, check out the blog post from our 2009 trip when we used shrimp.)

Although I have a one-burner camp stove, which works great for brewing coffee quickly in the morning or making popcorn at night, we generally cook our dinner over a fire.

For the tacos, we cut our one-pound-ish whitefish filet into big chunks so we could marinate them in lime juice, olive oil, onion, and cumin.

Then we sprinkled them with cayenne pepper and put them on foil on the fire grate to cook, flipping them once, for a total cook time of about ten minutes. (You know fish is done when it starts to flake.)

For the vegetables, we used chopped cabbage (which we brought with us from the Holland Farmers Market) and a garnish of fresh cilantro from my garden.

And we made a sauce from my homemade yogurt by mixing it with fresh-squeezed lime juice and a dash of cayenne.

While the fish was cooking we wrapped flour tortillas in foil to heat them on the fire. We made a simple pico de gallo garnish with tomatoes, onion, and jalapeno pepper. And we made a side of organic bok choy (from CJ Veggies at the Holland Farmers Market) steamed with olive oil, salt, and pepper in foil over the fire.

For assembly, you just pull the fish apart with a fork, place it in the middle of the warm tortilla, then top with cabbage, yogurt sauce, pico de gallo, and cilantro.

It’s a quick and easy meal for camping. And it goes great with local wine!

I Made Yogurt!

For a couple of years now I’ve been inspired by my friend JuJu over at The Skinny Daily Post to make my own yogurt. She makes it sound so easy in her recipe. But, I had two problems keeping me from trying it: 1) An old, drafty house that has a stove with no pilot light; and 2) two nosey cats.

Since Bill’s and my raw milk supply has increased for the summer, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to figure out my approach to making yogurt. After doing some research online, I decided to buy a Euro-Cuisine yogurt maker, which I found at Williams-Sonoma. It’s basically just an incubator–but it’s also cat-proof!

It comes with these cute little six-ounce jars to make seven individual servings ready to go. You can change the number in the lid to the production date.

Between the manufacturer’s instructions and the instructions on the yogurt starter that came with the machine, I figured out the process and had success.

Because we get raw milk, it comes with cream, which I skim off before I use any milk and either make ice cream or butter. The Euro-Cuisine machine uses 42 ounces of milk.

As with JuJu’s recipe, the first step is to bring the milk to boiling, around 180 degrees F, for 1-2 minutes. I use a candy thermometer to watch the temperature.

Then you have to get the milk down to lukewarm (about 110 degrees F), which you can expedite by setting the pan in another pan of cold water and ice.

If you have yogurt starter, you mix it into the lukewarm yogurt at this point. You can also use plain yogurt. This recipe calls for 6 ounces, or one jar-ful.

Once you’ve blended the yogurt (or starter) with the milk, you pour it into the cute little jars.

Then you put the jars in the Euro-Cuisine. It has a separate section that holds the lids, which go on after the yogurt is done.

The incubation times vary depending on the fat content, according to the instructions. I don’t know the exact fat content of our raw milk once I skim off the cream but I took a guess that it’s about 2%. So I set the timer for 9 or 10 hours, since I’m still experimenting. (The manufacturer suggests 7 hours for whole milk and up to 10 hours for skim milk.)

I have found it’s easiest to start the process at night and let the yogurt “cook” while I sleep. The fat rises to create a lovely shade of yellow on top.

All you do is put the lids on, let them cool slightly, and put them in the fridge. I prefer making plain yogurt so I can mix it with whatever I want for breakfast–either in a smoothie or blended with seasonal fruit. This time of year: strawberries! It’s also a good substitute for sour cream, and Bill can eat it since it’s a raw milk product, not pasteurized.

Next step in my experiment? Buy Greek yogurt starter to make Greek yogurt!