Spring is here! Well, not technically according to the calendar, but the snow has completely melted, I hear birds chirping frequently, it rained all of last week, and it was a balmy 52 degrees Fahrenheit today. Back in February, Scott and I mad a bet on when the first day of snowless ground would be. He optimistically bet March 2nd and I optimistically (for me anyway) bet March 10. Turns out I was spot on! I think as the winner of this bet I’m going to have Scott either give me a massage or make me some Compost Cookies. I’ve never had these cookies before but they sound terribly intriguing. You simply add in three cups of whatever you want to get rid of. For example, I have some old Chex mix and pretzels that would definitely be added to the cookie dough, along with a bag of butterscotch chips that I bought when I thought I was out and then got home to realize that I already had an unopened bag that I had mistaken for chocolate chips. Oh, and of course, chocolate of various forms would be added as well! I’m not crazy people, this may sound weird, but it’s not. After all, the creator of the recipe is the pastry chef for Momofoku Milk Bar, one of the famous Momofuku restaurants in New York City, and ever since the recipe has been made public, people have been going crazy for these cookies, adding such things as Bugles chips and other snack-like oddities and loving the results. But I’ve gotten off track, we were talking about spring before my Sweet Tooth interrupted and perfused all my thoughts. . . hmm, I think it’s clear what I’m going to have Scott do since he lost the bet. ;)
I have decided that spring is officially my favorite season. It is just so reviving and full of new life! Such hope! The sun reappears and tickles you with warmth until you laugh with joy, the birds chirp and twitter as they play hide-and-seek, moving to a new hiding place just as soon as you spot them, and the smell of earth perfumes the air in the morning after a night of rain. You can just imagine the first daffodils excitedly working to push their sunny faces up through the soil. If all is well, they’ll call out to their friends, Tulip and Hyacinth, to get moving and see what awaits them above the darkness of the dirt. Of course, flowers aren’t the only things on the move; fresh herbs and asparagus are soon to follow leading the rainbow parade of summer produce. In fact, asparagus is already making a show at the grocery store, the last three weeks it has been greatly on sale! I’ve been buying some every time I go and making it in all different ways with nearly every meal. One of our favorite meals was roasted asparagus with quinoa* and lemony mushrooms. Thanks to the generous amount of lemon, the flavors of it are so bright and peppy they put a “spring” in your step! (Oh DEAR, I am so sorry for that pun, it was very bad indeed, but my nerdy side won’t let me delete it--forgive me!) We first enjoyed this meal, sans the asparagus, the very first time I cooked with quinoa. We love how cooking the quinoa in chicken stock brings it extra flavor and then tossing it with the lemon and garlic juices used to marinate the mushrooms gives the dish a nice “jolt” to make you sit up and pay attention to what’s on the plate. I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we do and that it can get you all revved up for spring and boost you out of winter’s dreary funk. This dish is also very easy to prepare so if you want to get outdoors and not spend the whole day cooking, you can!
*Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is native of South America and was cultivated by the Incans as far back as 3,000BC. While quinoa looks and cooks like a grain it is actually a seed from the goosefoot plant (apparently named so because the leaves of the plant look like webbed goose feet). Since it is a seed, it has a very high protein content (12-18%), often doubling that of other whole grains. Not only that, but it is a complete protein as it has an almost perfect balance of all eight essential amino acids needed for tissue development in humans. Thus it is quite a popular food for vegetarians. Quinoa also has calcium, iron, vitamin E, and several of the B vitamins. Finally, quinoa has an outer coating of saponin that is quite bitter and prevents birds and other animals from eating it. For almost all quinoa available in the USA this coating has been rinsed off but it is always a good idea to rinse and strain with the quinoa again before use. You can buy golden, red, or black quinoa in the USA.
Roasted Asparagus with Lemony Mushrooms and Quinoa
Inspired by Giada De Laurentiis' quinoa and Nigella Lawson’s mushrooms
Serves 2 (or 4 as a light meal)
For the asparagus:
½ bunch (8oz) of asparagus
extra virgin olive oil
For the mushrooms:
5-6 oz. (about 3 cups) whole button or cremini mushrooms, sliced as thin as possible (1/8th of an inch)
¼ cup (2 fl. oz.) extra virgin olive oil
1 small clove of garlic, finely minced
zest and juice from half a lemon You may want to add this to taste, Scott and I love lemon so we add a bit more than this but your tastes might prefer less.
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley or 2 tsp. dried
½ Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves or ½ tsp. dried
For the quinoa:
1 1/3 low-sodium chicken stock
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¾ cup quinoa, rinsed well and drained
Parmesan cheese (for serving)
Freshly ground pepper (for serving)
Preheat oven to 400F. Snap off the bottom third of the asparagus stalks, place on baking sheet, lightly drizzle with olive oil, toss together to coat with oil and then sprinkle with salt. Once the oven is at 400F roast the asparagus for 8 minutes, roll them so the opposite side then before touches the pan and roast for another 3-4 minutes. Remove from oven and once cool enough to handle chop the asparagus into bite size pieces.
In a medium saucepan, add the chicken stock, lemon juice and quinoa. Over medium-high heat bring to a boil first and then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 12 to 15 minutes.
Toss sliced mushrooms in a bowl with olive oil, salt, garlic, lemon juice and zest, parsley, and thyme. Let marinate for 15 minutes. Add the asparagus and mushroom mixture to the cooked quinoa. You should have plenty of marinating liquid so add enough so the quinoa is nicely coated and reserve the rest to put on a salad or on any extra quinoa that you have left over so that the quinoa can be kept moist in the fridge. Stir to combine and serve warm, at room temperature, or even cold with freshly grated parmesan and cracked pepper.