Asparagus

Asparagus & arugula salad over mozzarella with mint & basil pesto

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Right, right, I know, I know, its 4th of July... I'm suppose to give you some grilling out masterpieces for you last minuet scrambling of grilling out plans and corn on the cobb marathons! Alas, I am doing the same thing, and decided to give you this recipe I made a little while back when I saw this salad in bon appetite. There is plenty of summer left for more grilling recipes and veggie burgers, in fact, we are just getting started.

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Recipe (served 4 as a side) 

Mozzarella - 1 ball, ripped into pieces

Asparagus - 1 bunch, ends trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces

Arugula - Two handfuls, fresh

Lemon - Juice of 1 lemon

Olive oil - 1TB

Salt/pepper - to taste

Pesto

Basil - fresh, 1 packed cup, chopped

Mint - fresh, 3-4TB, chopped

Shallot - 1 chopped

Sunflower seeds - 1/4cup soaked overnight or at least 4 hours, then drained

Garlic - 3TB, chopped

 

Olive oil - A few TB, drizzled in

Salt/pepper - to taste

Place all the pesto ingredients into a food processor or blender, with 2TB olive oil. Blend until smooth, drizzling in more olive oil as needed until it is smooth. 

Rip the mozzarella into pieces and add in 2-3TB of pesto and massage the pesto in until the mozzarella is covered. Place 1TB of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and toss in the asparagus pieces. Cook for about 5-8 minutes until soft and squeeze in the juice of a lemon. Then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and then toss the asparagus in a bowl with the fresh arugula. Spread the arugula and asparagus over the mozzarella and then sprinkle with a bit more pesto and salt/pepper or lemon if needed. 

Happy 4th!!

 

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Tofu-q with a habanero, apricot bbq sauce + avocado & cabbage slaw.

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I'm sitting here in a coffee shop near my house enjoying a big cookie and a cappuccino, with two dogs at my feet, and acting like I've been a Denver resident my whole life. Ok... maybe thats how I feel but, in reality, I probably don't look that way.  Especially when I get on the light rail and ride 10 minutes before I realize I should have been on the bus, abandon mission, and trek half-way through the city by foot. This coffee shop has some parallels to the shop I worked in during college, so I really like it. It serves up giant cookies like the onces we baked, has comically large milk pitchers, offers you drinks in pint glasses meant for beer, has a large loose leaf tea selection, friendly baristas, bakes in-house, is next door to a bar, has a well-loved and welcomed slightly-crazy, semi-homeless person who leaves his bag behind the counter, is not over-decorated, really needs new tables/chairs, and serves up decent coffee with good foam but without the fancy, high-coffee style that comes with perfect pours. Give me a single shot cappuccino in a small cup spilling over with foam and I'm happy. 

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Anyways, I'm getting use to this place. Denver that is, not just the coffee shop. Although I do miss the trees and my dogs miss the grass. Don't get me wrong. There are lots of trees planted in Denver and it is a beautiful, green, cheery place but I'm use to being able to drive 5 or 10 minutes down the road and let myself and my dogs free and go trail running through a deciduous forest. I miss that... those plants and trees are friends I have left behind. Even though my dogs miss grass (it is too dry of a place to grow grass in dog parks and waste precious water resources by watering a lawn solely meant for dogs to pee on... which is a responsible thing for the city to do) they have so much to do, see, smell here. Everyone loves dogs and almost everyone has dogs. Seriously, our first morning here was an insane welcome with the manager of the restaurant we brunched at buying us "welcome to Denver, we love dogs cocktails" and providing us a list of dog-friendly Denver activities. 

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Last weekend we took advantage of the holiday weekend since Ty had Monday off work and we headed out towards The Great Sand Dunes National Park for some camping.  On Saturday we camped at a place called The Orient Land Trust where they have natural hot springs. This true, off-grid community can be found several miles off the highway on a dirt road. You know those types of roads that make you feel like you are in a secret, secluded place as the dirt kicks up around your car in a cloud that streams down the road as the largest feature in a broad, flat landscape. It is a special place. We were hoping to get a walk-in camping spot even though no one answered our morning call. Being Memorial Day weekend we arrived to find all the camping spaces filled up, they have a strict daily entry limit, and I was still hoping we could sweet-talk in a place for our tent. Fortunately they let us pitch our tent at some of the trail heads but we were not allowed to go to the hot springs. It was a little disappointing but more than understandable, we did take some beautiful hikes and watched the low-horizon sun play rumpelstiltskin on all the desert plants by turning them to gold before our eyes.  The rockies were dark silhouettes with a sunset cloak patterned in never-ending colors. Gawking over the sunset our dogs pricked up their ears and turned in the direction of the howling coyotes nearby and watched eagerly at the deer and elk grazing. We had the whole place to ourselves and in that moment we were the only ones. 

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The next day we woke up early and got to the sand dunes around 8 in the morning, before the welcome center even opened. I've been to a similar desert before and I know how hot the sand can turn under the fierce afternoon sun. There was only a handful of people at the dunes so early, lucky for us. (If you plan on going I recommend going early. When we left there was a streaming tail of cars filled with impatient faces waiting to get in.) We trekked the dunes from 8-12 and banjo sniffed the sand, pawed at it playfully and ran around in circles like she does in the snow. We kept climbing up big peaks, pausing to take in the view and then sprinted in a path straight down the dunes as fast as we could, with both hands failing in the air. Eventually we had to turn back even though each new dune peak was taunting us; begging to be climbed. The sand heated up and we had left our shoes behind at the car, while puppy paws had received an exfoliation treatment better than any spa could do. I love the duney desert, the grit in the air, salt in your mouth, and the wind in your hair. Leaving the dunes you resolve to an awe over how diverse and beautiful this country is. I've now seen this country from tippy-top north to low-country south and from east to almost west; it is truly magnificent. The weekend was for the spirit of remembrance, and gratefulness. Despite the bad, we have a whole country filled with beautiful things to be grateful for.

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On memorial day we felt a responsibility to use our roommates grill. After-all, it was Memorial Day, we are American, and neither of us had lived with a real grill before. Still sandy and with skin warm-to-the-touch, these spicy, tofu-q's with a cooling slaw hit the spot. You really want to factor in at least a few hours of marinating time, you can even leave it in the refrigerator overnight. 

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Tofu & sauce recipe (Makes 2 big ones) 

Buns - 2 buns

Extra firm tofu package - Pressed for 30 minuets and then sliced thinly.

Habaneros - 3, chopped (I didn't take the seeds out but you can)

Apricot - 1, peeled/sliced (I think you could use 2 without it being too fruity tasting)

Onion - scant 1/2 a sweet, yellow onion, chopped. 

Tomatoes - 2, chopped

Tomato paste - 6oz can

Garlic - 3-4 cloves, chopped

Honey - 2-3 TB

Apple cider vinegar - 1Tb

Liquid smoke - 1tsp optional (vegetarian version)

Chile powder - 2tsp or 1TB - depending on your desire for spiciness. 

Cinnamon - scant 2tsp

Paprika - 2tsp

Salt- to taste (about 1-2tsp for me) 

Slaw recipe - also makes a good side

Purple cabbage - about 1/6 a small head of cabbage, slivered

Onion - 1/4 an onion, slivered

Avocado - 1, sliced

Limes - 2, juiced

Salt - to taste

 

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Press the tofu for about 30 minutes. Once pressed, sliced into thin "patties" the size of the tofu block. While the tofu is pressing make the sauce. Chop up all your vegetables. Place the olive oil in a small saucepan on medium heat. Add your garlic and onions and let it cook for a few minutes, until slightly soft. Add in your habaneros and apricots and let cook for a few more minutes until soft. Add in the tomatoes and tomato paste. Stir until well combined and let cook for 3-5 minutes until soft, slightly bubbling, and evenly dispersed. Then add in all the rest of the ingredients and let cook for a few more minutes, until just fragrant. Add the mixture into a blender and blend until smooth. Adding in some water if needed to bring the sauce to the desired consistency. Taste and adjusted spices. Layer the tofu in between a generous amount of bbq sauce, making sure all the tofu is covered. Let it marinate on the counter for several hours (2-3 at least) or overnight in the fridge. The extra bbq can be stored for later use (think veggie kabobs or pizza sauce).

Heat up the grill (or grill pan) and cook the tofu straight on the grill (rubbed down with a little oil since tofu can stick) or cook on top of bamboo skewers on the grill (soaking the skewers in water for a hour first). Cook the tofu for about 5 minutes on each side. Brush over some more bbq sauce after flipping. We even threw our burger buns on the grill for 1 minute to crisp them up.

For the slaw, toss together the onion and cabbage. Add in the avocado and stir, slightly mashing up the avocado among the slivers of onion and cabbage. Squeeze over the lime and season with salt.  

To assemble the burger spread a little of the paprika aioli below (admit for vegan), top with strips of tofu and then pile on a good bit of slaw on top. No shame in adding some more bbq sauce too... bbq is suppose to be messy. Serve with grilled asparagus. 

 

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Grilled asparagus recipe + paprika aioli

Asparagus - 1lb with 1 inch of the ends trimmed off

Olive oil - 2Tb

Salt/pepper- to taste

Egg yolk - 1 large egg yolk

Lemon - Juice of 1 lemon

Olive oil - several TB

Paprika - scant 1 tsp

Salt/pepper - to taste

Pumpkin seeds - a handful, coarsely chopped (optional) .

To make the aioli add in the egg yolk, lemon juice, and salt into a small bowl. Beat with a whisk. Slowly drizzle in the oil in a very small, steady stream while whipping with a whisk. The aioli with start to thicken up and lighten as you whisk. I let my aioli get to about a medium consistency since I didn't need much and didn't want to use too much oil. Add in the paprika and more salt and pepper if necessary. Whip until combined.

Toss the asparagus in a bowl with the olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Lay on a pre-heated grill and cook several minutes, rotating the spears with tongs. You want the asparagus to get soft, a little brown in spots, but still retain a slight crunch. Lay the asparagus on a tray, top with some aioli and the sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.

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Asparagus fritters + a chive sauce

Fritters.

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Fritters have kind of reached that "cult favorite" status in the foodie world, along with things like hand pies. There seems to be at least one fritter recipe in new cook books and a constant stream of new fritter recipes online. And, why not? They are delicious and adaptable, you can pretty much make any vegetables into fritters. What is not to love? But really, I think we just have an obsession with things that are bite sized, it makes it all the more fun. Fritters are not something I frequently make. I really like fritters but they have never been a meal sort of thing for me. They are more finger foods in my mind, really good for bringing to potlucks. So it really surprised me when I found myself making these. These fritters, served on a bed of spring greens and drizzled with a yogurt, chive sauce makes a really delicious fritter meal. Fritter, happier. 

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Recipe (makes about 10 fritters)

Asparagus - 1 bunch, sliced into thin rounds

Young vidalia onions - 3 (replace with shallots or a sweet yellow onion instead), sliced

Lemon zest - from 1/2 a lemon

Lemon juice - 1 lemon

Whole wheat flour - 1 cup, generously heaped

Eggs - 3

Milk - about 2/3 cup depending on the amount of your onions

Chives - 1/2 a bunch, finely chopped

Yogurt - 2/3 cup plain whole milk or greek yogurt

Chervil - heaping 1/2tsp (dried)

Salt/pepper- to taste

Coconut oil - 2TB (ok to use olive oil but I prefer coconut oil at higher temperatures)

Spring greens - a few small handfuls

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Slice and chop up all your vegetables. In a large bowl beat together the milk and eggs. Then beat in the flour. The mixture should be a thin cake batter at this point. Stir in all your chopped up veggies (except the chives) until combined. Then add in the lemon zest and juice of 1/2 the lemon, stir until combine. Season with salt and pepper to your taste. 

Heat up a large skillet on high heat with 1Tb of the coconut oil. Once the oil is hot, scoop in desired amounts of the batter onto the skillet and let cook on each side for about 3-4 minutes. As needed, add more coconut oil to the pan. I could fit about 4 fritters in the skillet at once. While the fritters are cooking in a bowl stir together the yogurt, chives, remaining lemon juice, chervil, and salt/pepper. 

Once the fritters are cooked, serve them on a bed of spring greens drizzled with a generous amount of the chive sauce. Enjoy! Fritter, happier.

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Shaved asparagus, tarragon pizza & spinach, basil, goat cheese pizza

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It's spring and pizza is in the air. We got into making homemade pizzas a long time ago when Laurie, a best friend and past roommate, use to work at a stone-fired pizza place during college. She could take this little baby-bottom soft piece of dough and toss it out into a disc, top it, and have it slipped into the oven in no time. One early summer's afternoon we decided to have a pizza-luck. Laurie got a bunch of dough ball "butts" from work and everybody pitched in and brought toppings. Doing this at the house was extremely fun but not without difficulties. We had pizzas popping out of all different shapes, sizes, deformities, colors, flavors, until the power all over the block mysteriously gave out. So we were oven-less, secretly I was thankful for this, our tiny house felt like a sweat lodge after running the oven for hours and our AC didn't work so well. So we gave the pizza stones a rest and all retreated outside, sat around in our big yard with good friends, drinks, and plenty of pizza to share. 

I made these pizzas when we had two friends from Athens, who now live in Charlotte, visit us in Virginia. It was the first asparagus of the season for me and I wanted to do something special with it. Clearly, pizza is special and it is worth the grace of the seasons first asparagus. Make your own dough at home with the recipe below, buy your own pre made dough (usually found at Earthfare or Whole Foods), or use a pre-cooked crust. 

A word about making your own crust. I've tried so many different pizza crust methods/recipes and none compare to Peter Reinhart's overnight fermentation method. The problem is that I rarely make this recipe because I am usually not planning on making pizza the day before. You have to start his recipe the day before, it is essential. But if you do plan ahead, seriously, locate his recipe and make it; it is a gem.

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Dough, the short version ( makes two pizzas )

Flour (I used bread flour) - 1 1/2 Cups

Olive oil - 1/3 cup

Warm water (110-115 degrees)

Active dry yeast - scant 1Tb (or one packet)

Sugar - A big pinch

Salt - 1.5tsp

Place your warm water into a 2 cup pyrex, make sure it is between no warmer that 115degrees and no less than 105degrees. You need it to be warm enough for the yeast but not too hot or else it will kill your yeast. Add in your good pinch of sugar and whisk to somewhat dissolve. Add in your yeast and whisk until it is dissolved. Let this mixture sit in a warm place for 10 minutes until it starts to get foamy and fluff up.

Meanwhile mix your flour and salt in a mixer with the dough hook attached. You can do this by hand, just need a big bowl and a wooden spoon. Once the yeast mixture is ready add it into the mixture while it is going and then add 1/2 the oil. Let the dough start to come together and finish adding the oil when it looks like it needs it. You want the dough to be soft but not tacky. I left a little oil out of the dough mixture so I could later grease the bowl with it. Let it mix in the mixer for a few minutes.

Lightly flour a clean surface and take out your dough and knead it with you hands for several minutes and form it into a round. Grease a large bowl with your extra oil, roll the dough round to coat the top with oil. Let it covered with a cloth in a warm place to double in size, at least an hour. Once it is doubled in size, turn the dough out and divide in in half, forming each half into a round.

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Asparagus pizza

Asparagus - 1 bunch

Yellow onion - 1/2 slivered

Garlic - 3 cloves minced

A good parmesan - 1 cup grated

Tarragon - scant 2Tb chopped fine, fresh

Lemon - juice of 1 lemon

Egg - 1

Olive oil - 2Tb + some for brushing

Salt/pepper - to taste, I used generous pepper

Preheat your oven on 500degrees. Take a mandoline or a vegetable peeler and peel your asparagus into long ribbons. This may take awhile but it is worth it. It is ok if they are uneven or different sizes/thicknesses. I used a vegetable peeler and held the end of the asparagus (the part you usually cut off) as a handle. Place all your asparagus ribbons in a bowl. Heat up a deep skillet on medium heat with 2Tb olive oil. Add in the minced garlic, cook for 1 minute. Add in the onions and cook for several minuets until softened. Add in the asparagus ribbons. Cook for several minutes until just starting to soften. Squeeze in the lemon juice and season with salt/pepper. Turn off the heat and stir in the tarragon. 

Take one of the dough rounds and place it on a floured surface. Roll out the dough into a circle about 9" in diameter. Transfer the pizza onto your pizza stone or baking sheet now, before you top it. I then brushed the outer few inches of dough with olive oil and rolled the edge in about 1" to make a crust. Scatter 1/2 cup of parmesan over the pizza. Top with the asparagus mixture, spreading evenly. Scatter the other 1/2 parmesan over the top. Part some of the asparagus in the center to make a slight well and crack your egg in it. Finish by brushing the edges with olive oil. Place your pizza in the oven and cook for about 20 minutes (maybe a little longer or a little less) Keep an eye on cooking your egg. It is tricky to get it out when the whites are set but the yolk is still runny. I took mine out a little too early then put it back in but when I went back for it, it was too late and my yolk was cooked. You could try cooking your pizza without the egg for 1/2 the time and then pull out the shelf, crack in the egg onto the already hot pizza, then finish cooking. Experiment.

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Spinach, basil, goat cheese

Spinach - Several handfuls of fresh spinach

Goat cheese - 4Tb about

Parmesan -1/2 cup grated

Basil - 2Tb slivered, fresh

Pepper - generous amounts.

With the oven still at 500 degrees. Roll out your second round like you did with the asparagus pizza. Transfer the pizza dough onto your pizza stone or baking sheet at this point. Crumble the goat cheese around the disc and the smear the goat cheese with a knife, gently, into a thin layer covering the crust. Scatter over the fresh basil. Top with the handfuls of fresh spinach and then the parmesan. Brush the crust edges with olive oil. Finish with a generous sprinkling of black pepper over the pizza. Place in the oven and cook about 10-15 minutes.

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