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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Asparagus from the Asparagus Capital!

Although the Pioneer Valley where I live in Western Massachusetts is well known for its colleges (Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and UMass are all in the area), and for its exquisite fall foliage, we also have another distinction. The small town of Hadley is known as the “Asparagus Capital” of the U.S.

Right about now, as we head into May, local farmers start to bring their asparagus crops to our markets. The minute I see the signs “Locally Grown” sitting atop mounds of the native spears, I fill my cart with bunches. There are so many ways to use this spring produce. I serve them as an appetizer with a bowl of aioli for dipping, or I grill or blanche them, then season them with a sprinkle of lemon zest and a hint of fleur de sel. Sometimes they even become part of the main course as in the recipe for Penne with Asparagus, Mushrooms, and Prosciutto featured here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Food, Fashion, and Paris

Parisian Chic

Food and fashion seem to be the first two things to come to mind when we dream of Paris. I was reminded of this truism yet again this past week. A friend, off to Paris next month for the first time in many years, emailed to ask if I’d share some of my favorite restaurants.

I immediately sent her a note suggesting that she check out my website and click on the Paris tab at the top to see the current food venues I love in the City of Light, including both Sola and Le Casse Noix, two recent discoveries.

 To my  amusement, a second email arrived several days later from this lovely woman, requesting fashion advice. It began, “May I ask you, not a food question, but a clothes question?” and ended with the endearing line, “I'm not a high-style dresser at age 78, but don't want to look frumpy.”

I recommended Ines de la Fressange’s Parisian Chic, an inexpensive style guide written by a former top French model. This little paperback reveals the secrets of what smart Parisian women wear and where they shop. (Full disclosure--I’m as passionate about clothes as food when in France’s capital.)

Le Casse Noix

Yes, everyone goes to Paris to eat divinely. And, for some, looking their best while taking a sip of soupe à l’oignon gratinée or biting into a glorious millefeuille is de rigueur. My septuagenarian pal definitely belongs to the latter contingent. She has already ordered a copy of Parisian Chic!

Friday, April 13, 2012

All-In-One Roasted Fish Supper

I’m a sucker when it comes to roasting fish and vegetables, then serving the two together.  For my blog and website, I’ve combined seafood and vegetables more than once in the past few months. There were cod fillets served atop ratatouille (scroll down for recipe), and also over a potato gratin (scroll way down for recipe). Fillets of salmon paired with bok choy and shiitakes, and halibut steaks set atop a spicy piperade(scroll down for recipe) also made appearances.

Well, here I go again, this time partnering salmon fillets with roasted fingerlings and baby broccoli. This idea was spawned during a rushed visit to my local Whole Foods. I’d put a bag of fingerlings and a bunch of broccolini (those slender broccoli stalks) in my cart and was trying to decide what might work well with them. Presto! I was at the fish counter with some gorgeous salmon jumping out at me.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pull Out the Grill for Easter Lunch

Does this sound familiar? You’re short on time, but need to plan a menu for Easter lunch THIS Sunday. You’d like the meal to be special and memorable, but don’t have hours to spend shopping and cooking. Well, grilled lamb chops with buttered couscous tossed with asparagus, almonds, and mint is a perfect dish for this spring holiday.

Several years ago I created this main course as the centerpiece for a class titled “Fast Lane Entertaining.” Students loved the simplicity of the colorful dish so redolent of the season, and were thrilled that it took only about an hour to prepare. Tender rib lamb chops are marinated in orange juice, garlic, and oil, then popped on the grill for only a few minutes. Buttered couscous tossed with sliced, blanched asparagus, toasted almonds, and mint makes a fast and delicious side. The recipe serves four, but can be doubled or tripled easily if needed.