Asparagus Binge

it's officially spring... asparagus season has arrived!

simple roasted asparagus with lemon-dill mustard:

1 large bunch of asparagus, stems trimmed
splash of olive oil
sea salt & pepper
chili flakes

toss together asparagus, oil and spices in a shallow roasting pan. heat oven to 450 and place your asparagus in the oven as it warms up. by the time it reaches 450, turn oven to broil. broil for about 5 minutes, or until fork tender. be sure to watch them carefully! they can get mushy very quickly! now if only i had an outdoor grill... my asparagus would be so much more tasty.

i've recently become addicted to earth & vine provisions lemon-dill mustard. it is amazing on practically any roasted vegetable. i'd like to experiment with grinding my own mustard seeds soon - but for now, try mixing a good quality dijon with fresh chopped dill, lemon juice and lemon zest!

in case you were wondering... asparagus contains a sulfur compound called mercaptan - also found in onions, garlic, rotten eggs, and in the secretions of skunks. most people have an enzyme that breaks down mercaptan in our digestive system, contributing to a quite distinctive - um - oder in your urine. i suggest not thinking about this too much.

fun times!

a meal without bar codes

(contributions from maria h.)

the goal of tonight's meal was to create a dinner using local foods. why local? if the environment is a concern - eating local is a great way for consumers to help protect the environment. local foods travel less distance and less energy is expended to get food to your table. if one is concerned about the local economy - buying local helps support local farmers and workers, giving them the opportunity to remain an independent farm and resisting industrialized agriculture companies who practice such methods as the use of pesticides and the use of genetically engineered foods. if taste is of concern - local foods is hands down going to be fresher and tastier too.

above: cream-top (unhomogenized) milk from golden glen creamery, sun-dried tomatoes preserved in oil from a lovely friend's garden - thank you francisca - along with some honey from the bees that she keeps in her yard (the honey, we decided, is being saved for a cooking project soon to come!)

the remainder of our ingredients were gathered from the farmers market, local bakeries, maria's herb pots, and foraged wild garlic. the delicious result...

a savory sun-dried tomato bread pudding:

1 loaf or 2 baguettes of stale bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 leeks, halved length wise, and sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
tons of roasted garlic, diced after roasting
2 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained - dice half of them, leaving the other half whole
3 cups milk
4 eggs
fresh thyme, parsley or rosemary, chopped
grated cheese - parmesan or gruyere cheese work nicely
lots of salt and pepper
butter for greasing pans

heat oven to 350 degrees. if your bread is not crispy-stale, toast the bread cubes in the oven for 10 or 15 minutes. in the mean time, saute leeks and shallots with oil for about 5 minutes (we used the extra oil drained from the sun-dried tomatoes.) grease ramekins or casserole dish with butter (local, grass-fed-cow butter that is...)

whisk together eggs and milk in a separate bowl. add in your chopped herbs, salt and pepper.

in a super large bowl, mix together bread cubes, sauteed vegetables, the diced tomatoes, roasted garlic, and half of your grated cheese. pour half the egg and milk mixture over your bread cubes and mix everything together with your hands.

transfer this mixture into your baking dishes and drizzle the rest of your egg/milk mixture on top (you want this to be very moist!). top with whole sun-dried tomatoes and sprinkle with the other half of the grated cheese. salt and pepper as you wish.

bake at 350 for about 35-45 minutes until browned and crisp on top, but moist on the bottom (may be shorter for small ramekins). we served our bread pudding not with chives, but with wild garlic foraged from near the burke gillman trail!

the salad on the side was an amazing combination of pickled peppers - jarred and brought to us by melisa - along with arugula, parsley, apples and olive oil. note to self - next summer, i will have to pickle some peppers like these!

the urban gleaner

(contributions from anna b.)

students from all fields of studies are actively participating in a food justice course at the uw. but there is so much more for us to learn about deep local food than from a class room. we needed to get outside, find real local food, and cook! here is the story of a few of us who ventured out with an pro forager to discover edible plants hiding around the uw campus...

our guide, arthur jacobson
"there are many edible plants, but not all are worth eating. like beer - there may be many on tap, but not all are worth drinking" ... arthur guides us through the cream of the crop for foraged foods.

sweet violet stunningly lives up to its name

the first plant was the evergreen huckleberry. hidden under a mat of springy hair, plant expert arthur jacobson was explaining his color preference for its berries (take the blue ones over the black, any day). arthur, who has authored more than 330 articles and several books on wild plants in the Seattle region, had graciously agreed to take a group of us on a foraging tour around campus on a pleasantly sunny day in early february.

for two hours straight, Arthur helped us navigate through the wild world of weeds, pointing out everything from “stinky bob” to tall oregon grape. he identified numerous plants, including chickweed, miner’s lettuce, and fennel, that border the segment of the burke-gilman trail that is alongside the uw farm. he located raw garlic near the uw gym, warned us against foxglove (which closely resembles comfrey), and advised us on the best places to gather berries and hazelnuts in the coming months.

what you thought was just weeds, may be herbs - like fennel!

one notable observation from the trip was arthur’s insistence on practicality. a tree might produce berries with pits too large, a variety of weed might have a spine that complicates its preparation, or a tasty plant might just be too dinky. the focus on convenience extended to influence his gathering sites; arthur admitted that he doesn’t discriminate between cultivated or wild plants for his nightly pre-dinner collection. on a typical evening he will forage 20-30 different types of plants from around his neighborhood, but noted that he has made salads with upwards of 130 kinds just to prove that it’s possible. "like people who shop at the nearest grocery store, i mostly just forage close to my home." it's amazing what you can find when you know what to look for in an urban landscape... wild ginger, stinging nettles, wild carrot, dandelion flowers, sweet violet, vetch, berries, wild garlic...

the dark green leaves on this indian plum tree taste exactly like fresh cucumber - it's unmistakable

blueberry sauce

i tend to overly-cherish the summer goodies stored in my freezer to the point of never wanting to use them because i fear the day i run out of them before summer returns. i've been slowly dwindling my supplies of strawberry freezer jam and blueberries i froze after hours of picking berries last summer in carnation. but it is january! and i have yet to make it through half of my blueberries! what better time to enjoy a perfectly sweet summer berry than in the middle of winter? something had to happen... blueberry sauce!

so simple and so good:
4 cups frozen blueberries
2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/4 - 1/2 cup mesquite honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste
zest and juice of 1 lemon
pinch salt

heat water in a large pot and dissolve cornstarch and honey into the water. pour in your blue berries and cover with top to let them thaw out at a medium temperature. once blue berries are thawed, mix in vanilla, lemon juice and zest, and salt. simmer at medium heat, stirring occasionally until mixture thickens. adjust sweetness to taste with honey. i like mine tart (1/4 cup honey). let cool completely and then store in jars in the fridge. or freeze the sauce for a later date!

i apologize if i am only taunting you with the idea of fresh blue berries. save this recipe for summer and try it out when the berries are in season!!