Thursday, April 28, 2011

Where are the spring goodies? I've waited, haven't I?

In May, two of the farmer's markets closest to me will be opening up again, and I can't wait. Hopefully I will finally get some of the goodies I have been waiting so anxiously for, in particular, asparagus and strawberries.  Mark Bittman just posted a chart of various methods of cooking asparagus with some delectable variations. (Actually the graphic posted with the article would make a great poster: Get on it, NYT.) I am anxious to try at least a few of those variations, especially steamed with brown butter (I mean, it's butter, c'mon) and, of course, roasted with bacon. (I could go on all day about bacon, but I will try to restrain myself. I mean, seriously though, bacon...oh yeah, I was going to restrain myself.) I've got another favorite recipe for asparagus that came from the April 2001 issue of Bon Appetit magazine that involves roasting the asparagus and serving it with crumbled goat cheese, crumbled bacon, some lemon zest, and a drizzle of olive oil. So good. (You can find a more detailed recipe here.)

And then, of course, strawberries will be coming in soon. I finally had to cave and buy some organic strawberries shipped all the way here from California to eat with breakfast tomorrow morning (yes, yes, yes, I have decided to be ridiculous / have some fun and try to have crumpets and tea with strawberries and clotted cream to celebrate the royal wedding). My son (four) and I shared a few before dinner, and they were good, but definitely missing that otherworldly, almost savory quality that local, roadside-stand strawberries have. They were pretty though and not too big. The best strawberries are always small. (In fact, those giant strawberries that you sometimes see in the grocery store are octaploids, which means they have eight sets of chromosomes. That's why they get so big, but they are never so tasty.)

While waiting for the spring deliciousness to become abundant at the supermarket, I continue to work on depleting my freezer and pantry. Today's experiment was with red quinoa, a grain that I have never tried before in any form, but I thought that Heidi Swanson of the blog 101 Cookbooks might have some guidance for me, and indeed she did. I found this recipe, which I decided to riff on using the ingredients that I had at home. Instead of asparagus and walnuts, I dug a small piece of pork tenderloin out of the freezer, defrosted it, sliced it as thin as I could and marinated it in a combination of soy sauce, honey, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, dried lemongrass, one piece of star anise, black pepper, and coriander (the last four or five ingredients were sort of tossed in there with an attitude like, well, that's kind of Asian-y, right? I am afraid I am not at all expert with Asian flavors). Then, while cooking the quinoa according to package directions (it takes little longer than the time it takes to cook parboiled rice), I sliced carrots into matchsticks and an onion into slivers, stir-fried the veg in a wok with just canola oil, put that aside and stir-fried the meat, and finally put it all together. I served the stir-fry with the quinoa as a replacement for rice, for which it served its purpose adequately. To be honest, the flavor of the quinoa was pretty nondescript to me, nearly as bland as parboiled rice. The smell of the quinoa was a bit stronger, almost greener (not entirely in a pleasant way), however the little snap of the grains between my teeth was pleasant and kind of addictive. I don't love it, but I will probably try it again.

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