Thursday, May 26, 2011

Salad Days

I go through phases with salads. Once upon a time, I was a vegetarian and grew tired of salad being the only non-meat option, which led to their being long-absent from my diet. Fortunately, I'm happy to eat them now! Sometimes, I will eat them for weeks on end without tiring of them; other times, I can go for months without eating them or wanting them. Sometimes, it takes a fantastically fresh and delicious salad to get me back on the kick. Now that the weather is warmer, it's an excellent time to get back on the salad kick.

At a recent brunch, I was served a fantastic salad of baby spinach, mandarin oranges, toasted almonds, and a simple vinaigrette. Yum. The other day, a friend gave me some lettuce from his garden. I washed it, spun it in my salad spinner (yes, they make a difference), tore it, and tossed it with some yummy toppings-- dried cranberries, walnuts, goat cheese, and raspberry vinaigrette. It was so good!

When I do salads, I like to combine the greens, a fruit of some sort, cheese (more often than not), a nut or something crunchy (like noodles), and a light yet flavorful dressing. Look for what's in season and what looks good. Experiment! Throw on some grilled steak, chicken, or shrimp if you want-- I recommend marinating it first, or at a minimum, seasoning it well. There are so many possibilities.

Tell me: how do you most enjoy your salads?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Roasted Asparagus

As a child, I could not stand asparagus. Fortunately for me, especially in this season, I have grown to love the stuff. It is easy to prepare and quite lovely. This bunch came from an asparagus farm near Fredericksburg, Virginia. If you can get fresh local asparagus, you will be nicely rewarded! It has a beautiful flavor that blows the all-season stuff away.

Asparagus can be done in a variety of ways-- grilled, sauteed, or roasted as I have done here. There are other ways as well, but these are quick and require a minimum of effort. You can add additional flavors according to your preferences so have fun with it! Here, I have added chopped shallots, scattered over the asparagus for the last five minutes of roasting. I also added some unsalted butter, which gave a depth of flavor. Enjoy!

You'll need:
- fresh asparagus, enough to put in a single layer on a baking tray
- salt and pepper to taste
- olive oil
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter (optional)
- 1 roughly chopped shallot (optional)

To begin, preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Make sure there is a shelf approximately in the middle so you don't get the asparagus too close to the heat.

Wash your asparagus, dry it, and snap off the stringy ends. To do this, gently flex the stalk towards the lower end and determine where it will break. Snap the end off. You can either use this as a measure to cut the remaining ends off with a knife, or you can snap each stalk, which I enjoy (and is an excellent job for a sous chef of any age).

Line your baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy cleanup. The non-stick foil is wonderful for this. Arrange your asparagus in a single layer.

Drizzle the asparagus with a bit of olive oil (not so much as to have a puddle-- about a tablespoon or two), then add the butter, if using, in small pieces arranged evenly in the layer of asparagus. Season with salt and pepper, then place in the oven for ten (10) minutes.

If using the shallot, roughly chop it. When the asparagus has been roasting for ten minutes, add the shallot, scattered evenly around the layer of asparagus. Let it roast for five (5) more minutes.

Serve with tongs, scooping up your shallots.