To old friends and new salads

and SPRING, glorious spring!  Even in California, without ‘true seasons,’ it’s pretty obvious when spring arrives.  Sunshine truly becomes abundant, daffodils and hydrangeas fill the parks, and asparagus and strawberries pop up in abundance at farmer’s markets.  ❤

I met up with my old college roommates and their little mini-me’s (3 daughters between the two of them!  so cute!) for a picnic lunch yesterday.  I remember well how we all greeted spring in college – we’d find excuses to eat or sit outside ‘to study’ in Dunster House’s courtyard.  One year, after taking my MCAT, I came home after the 8 hr exam to be greeted by champagne and strawberries in the courtyard.

Yesterday’s picnic felt a little like old times, with some delightful additions: three little girls who liked to chase after ducks and risk a dunking in the pond in their curious pursuit of koi fish and turtles.  We had a delicious assortment of cheese, sandwiches, fresh strawberries and grapes, and I brought along two new salads to provide some vegetables: Grilled Zucchini and Leeks with Walnuts and Herbs and Asparagus with Meyer Lemon and Farro.  Both can be made nut-free for those with allergies, but the almonds and walnuts add texture and heartiness.

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A duo of salads packed for picnicking!

Grilled Zucchini and Leeks with Walnuts and Herbs (recipe from here) – serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 1 garlic clove, finely grated (I used a microplane)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large leeks, white and pale-green parts only, halved lengthwise with some root attached
  • 2 large zucchini (about 1 pound), halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup (lightly packed) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves with tender stems

Instructions:

  1. Prepare grill pan for medium-high heat.
  2. Toast walnuts in a dry small skillet over medium heat, tossing often, until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Chop very coarsely.
  3. Toss warm walnuts with garlic, lemon juice, and 3 tablespoons oil in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper.
  4. Brush leeks and zucchini with remaining 2 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper.
  5. Grill vegetables, turning often, until tender and charred in spots, 5-8 minutes for leeks, 8-10 minutes for zucchini.  Try to keep vegetables al dente, or they will be floppy (not a desirable texture).
  6. Transfer vegetables to a cutting board. Trim roots from leeks and cut leeks and zucchini into bite-size pieces.
  7. Add vegetables and parsley to bowl with walnuts and toss to combine; season vegetables with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice, if desired.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Asparagus with Meyer Lemon and Farro (recipe adapted slightly from here) – serves 3-4

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces (5/8 cup) pearled farro (I used Trader Joe’s 10-minute farro)
  • 4 ounces (5/8 cup) pearl couscous or orzo or Trader Joe’s Harvest Grain Blend
  • 1 Meyer lemon, zested and juiced
  • 3/4 pound asparagus, trimmed
  • 2 tbl olive oil, plus extra for roasting
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 2 ounces soft goat cheese, chilled and crumbled
  • Flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Salt the water generously. Add the farro, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes or until al dente. (If substituting another grain such as spelt or wheat berries, follow package instructions or use this method: A No-Fuss Method for Cooking Almost Any Whole Grain.)
  3. Meanwhile, in another 2-quart saucepan, cook the pearl couscous or Harvest Grain Blend according to package directions.
  4. Spread the grains and pearl couscous on a large baking sheet and set aside to cool. Zest the lemons over the grains and stir to combine.
  5. Trim the asparagus and cut into 1-inch pieces. Toss w/ a little olive oil and season with a little salt.  Roast at 375 degrees F until crisp-tender — about 5-7 minutes, depending on how thick the stalks are.
  6. Toss the cooled grains with the asparagus in a large bowl.
  7. Whisk the Meyer lemon juice with olive oil and season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Taste and adjust. Pour over the grain salad and toss, along with salt and pepper to taste.**
  8. Just before serving, stir in sliced almonds and goat cheese.

**This salad lasts very well in the fridge; the herbal flavors of the Meyer lemons bloom nicely when it sits.

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Unplugged.

J and I decided that for our next brief trip (all of 4 days!), we were going to be completely unplugged from work.  Since starting, I have yet to be separated from my work inbox, with its daily onslaught of patient messages, calls, labs, staff messages, prescription refills, etc, etc.  I try to clear it by the end of the day, only to log in several hours later to find that it is once again filled with new things to address.

To that end, I brought my phone along on our trip but otherwise made a point of leaving my computer at home.  I admittedly had separation anxiety and was fidgeting to check in as day 1 approached.  By day 2, I couldn’t believe how it felt to be unplugged.  It. was. so. l-i-b-e-r-a-t-i-n-g!  As grateful as I am to have an electronically medical record and the technological advances we have, it has so blurred the lines between work and home that I never feel completely done with work.  It makes it hard to find some semblance of work-life balance…I went into this field knowing it could and would consume most of my waking hours and energy, but I do not think this means neglecting personal priorities.  Physician, heal thyself – otherwise, how can I possibly hope to care for others?

And so, during one of our mornings free, I made this lovely frittata – it felt celebratory in more ways than one, featuring spring’s fresh and sweet asparagus.

IMG_3433 IMG_3439Asparagus, Leek and Mushroom Frittata (recipe adapted from here)

Ingredients:

  • 1.5-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only)
  • 1 12-ounce bunch thin asparagus, trimmed, cut on diagonal into 1-inch pieces (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 1 cup sliced stemmed shiitake mushrooms
  • 8 large omega-3 eggs
  • 1 cup diced Gruyere cheese, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions:

  1. Preheat broiler.
  2. Heat olive oil in 10-inch-diameter nonstick skillet over medium heat.
  3. Add leeks and sauté 4 minutes. Add asparagus and shiitake mushrooms, sprinkle lightly with salt, and sauté until tender, about 6 minutes.
  4. Whisk eggs, 3/4 cup Gruyere cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in medium bowl.
  5. Add egg mixture to skillet; fold gently to combine. Cook until almost set.
  6. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup Gruyere cheese and Parmesan cheese over. Broil until frittata is puffed and cheese begins to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve.

Saffron: worth its weight in gold

Or more, if you attach to it the immense thoughtfulness that my friend Erika had in bringing back a good quantity of it for me from her travels in Turkey, Morocco, and Greece.  I couldn’t join her on her travels, but she helped me get a taste of her adventures by bringing back this cherished spice and inspiring me to experiment with it in the kitchen.

Saffron, with its sweet and grassy notes, is truly a labor-intensive spice to collect.  It is derived from the stigmas of Crocus sativus.   Each plant bears up to four flowers, which each only have 3 stigmas.   It takes 150,000 to 170,000 flowers to glean just 1 kg of the precious saffron threads, and requires the equivalent of 40 hrs of labor.  It is widely used in the cooking of many cuisines, including the paella of Spain, the Milanese risotto of Italy, the bouillabaisse of France, and the biryani of South Asia.  Its vibrant beautiful color adds brightness to all of these dishes, as well as a unique flavor.

J and I have used it lately to make paella (recipe to come later!) but tonight I used it very simply to poach cod, with delightful results.  I paired the poached cod and saffron broth with a refreshing shaved asparagus salad.  It was a quick and healthy weeknight meal, full of bright and interesting flavors!

Gently simmering the cod in the broth is key to achieving buttery, flaky cod (and avoiding rubbery fish).

IMG_3432Poached Cod with Saffron-Tomato Broth (adapted from here)

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ~1 cup (8 oz) of quartered grape tomatoes
  • ~2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • bay leaves
  • pinch of saffron threads
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • two 4-5-oz. skinless cod fillets

Instructions:

  1. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes) and cook, stirring often, until fragrant (garlic should not take on any color), about 3 minutes.
  2. Add tomatoes, wine, bay leaf, saffron, and ~1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until flavors meld, 5–7 minutes; season with salt and pepper.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low; season cod with salt and pepper and place in skillet. Cover and cook at a bare simmer until cod is opaque throughout and beginning to flake, 5–7 minutes (thicker pieces will take longer to cook).
  4. Gently transfer cod to shallow bowls and spoon poaching liquid over.

Shaved Asparagus Salad with Lemon-Parmesan Dressing (original recipe from Food and Wine)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound large asparagus
  • 1/4 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (3/4 ounces)
  • 3/4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon warm water
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1.  Using a vegetable peeler, shave the asparagus into long, thin strips and transfer to a large bowl.
  2.  In a small bowl, mix the Parmigiano-Reggiano with the lemon juice, water and olive oil. Add to the asparagus and toss to coat. Season the salad with salt and pepper and serve at once.

On sweet revenge…

It’s been a busy week, with a few more downs than ups after a fun-filled birthday weekend.  I’ve started developing a little carpal tunnel syndrome from all the chart documentation I’ve been doing since I started working.  The EMR is both a blessing and a curse.  I spend more time in from of a computer than I do with my patients, and no, that is *not* why I went into medicine.

That said, it’s been a full week, too.  March is a month full of joyful birthdays!  One of my closest childhood friends has her birthday on St. Patrick’s day, so her birthday is always doubly lucky and green ;).  I dug out the green shirt and made a vibrant green salad to celebrate the day, even though I couldn’t join her for a green beer!

IMG_3361Green Salad with Cilantro-Lemon Vinaigrette (inspired by this recipe)

Ingredients:

For the dressing (makes extra, so save for another salad!):

  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 small shallot, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1 tsp honey
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salad:

  • 2 cups arugula
  • 1/2 avocado, cut into thin wedges
  • 2 tbl shelled salted pistachios
  • 8-10 (about 1/2 lb) spears fresh spring asparagus
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • shaved parmesan (optional)

Instructions:

  1. In a blender, blend the oil, lemon juice, shallot, honey, and 1/4 cup of the cilantro. Season the dressing with salt and pepper.
  2. Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Fill a bowl with ice water. Cut off 1 inch of the asparagus tips and cut stalks into 2 inch segments.  (If using larger asparagus, cut off 1 inch of the asparagus and cut each tip in half lengthwise. Using a peeler or mandoline, shave the asparagus spears lengthwise.) Blanch the asparagus tips and segments (or strands) in the boiling water until just heated through, 10 seconds. Drain and transfer to the ice water to chill; drain well. Pat dry and transfer to a bowl.
  3. Add the arugula, pistachios and the remaining 1/4 cup of cilantro leaves to the asparagus.  Toss with a little dressing.  Add avocado and parmesan (if using) and drizzle with dressing as desired.  Enjoy!

And as a reward for a looooonnnnggg and tiring week, what better way to forget the week’s worries by indulging in a bowl of chocolate-y goodness?  Which, surprisingly, isn’t all that unhealthy for you, packed w/ fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3s?  Oh, sweet revenge!

Mexican Chocolate Chia Pudding with Strawberries IMG_3373

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup chia seed
  • 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or milk of choice)
  • 5 to 6 medjool dates, seeds removed**
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons cocoa powder (depends on the intensity of the cocoa powder)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (use 1 tsp if using unflavored almond milk)
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cinnamon (depends on how spicy you like your chocolate!)
  • pinch of sea salt

Instructions:

**You need a high-powered blender such as a Vitamix**

  1. Put chia seed in bottom of blender and add almond milk and dates.  Allow chia seed to soak up milk and become gelatinous, at least 60 minutes, but you could also soak it for longer.
  2. Add cocoa powder, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt and blend at high speed until very, very smooth.
  3. Spoon into serving dishes/bowls and refrigerate until set.  Garnish with shaved chocolate and strawberries and enjoy!

** instead of dates, you can also simply use the sweetener of your choice – a little honey or agave syrup would work well!

Miso…hungry!

Have you ever had days when the hours flash by so quickly that by the time you’ve stopped spinning and finally have the chance to catch your breath, you realize that you’ve been running on fumes and that you are now officially…HANGRY?  Considering that I do not have that many mouths to feed (yet), this worries me a little…how am I going to feed co-dependents not so keen on fumes for sustenance?

All silliness aside, I have slowly been working on my repertoire of quick meals, precisely for these HANGRY times.  It also helps to be less than 10 minutes from a decent grocery store with organic produce.  Even in NYC, I was among the few denizens who did not routinely order delivery, to the consternation of my roommates.

One of the items I always have in my pantry is miso.  Made from fermented soybeans, miso is chock full of protein, vitamins, and minerals and adds a salty, sweet, earthy, and savory dimension to sauces, marinades, and soups.  It lends itself well to both traditional and modern cooking, and is extremely versatile.  I used it to make a quick side dish to pair with my Pan-Seared Sake Sea Bass the other night, and it made one hangry MD much happier after a long day.

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Miso Butter Glazed Mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp butter
  • 16 oz variety of mushrooms – wiped clean and sliced if larger (e.g. crimini, oyster, shiitake)
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced with white and green parts divided
  • 1 tbl white (shiro) miso
  • 1/2 tbl water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp sesame oil

Instructions:

  1. Heat well-seasoned wok over medium heat.
  2. Melt 1 tsp butter and stir-fry white scallion parts and mushrooms, allowing some time between stirs for the mushrooms to get some color.
  3. Combine miso, water, and sugar.  Add to mushroom and white scallion mixture, tossing to coat.  Sauce will thicken slightly.
  4. Drizzle with 1-2 tsp sesame oil, toss in sliced green scallions, and remove from heat.  Serve immediately.

IMG_3239

Pan-Seared Sake Sea Bass with Ginger and Scallions (serves 2)

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz sea bass filet
  • 2 tbl canola oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • 3 1/4-inch slices of ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • ~2.5-3 tbl sake
  • 1/2 inch piece of ginger, julienned
  • 2 scallions, sliced thinly on diagonal, green parts only
Instructions:
  1. Bring sea bass to room temperature by leaving out on the counter for at least 10 minutes prior to cooking.  Season liberally with kosher salt and pepper.
  2. Heat a heavy skillet over medium high heat.  Add oil and heat, adding smashed garlic clove and slices of ginger to infuse the oil while it is heating.
  3. Once the ginger and garlic are fragrant, sear fish, skin side down, about 6 minutes, or until skin is golden and fish is 3/4 cooked.  Baste a few times with oil in the pan.
  4. Lower heat slightly to medium, turn fish over and cook 2 minutes more, until just cooked through.  Transfer to heated plate and keep warm.
  5. Remove ginger and garlic used to infuse the oil, add julienned ginger to remaining oil and lower heat while ginger cooks for ~10-15 seconds.
  6. Deglaze the pan with sake, scraping up browned bits.  Remove pan from heat, add scallions and stir to wilt slightly.  Spoon scallion and ginger mixture over the sea bass and serve immediately.

Lemon Roasted Asparagus

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 bunch asparagus
  • olive oil
  • lemon zest
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Wash asparagus and trim tough ends.  Pat completely dry.
  3. Toss with just enough olive oil to coat.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Grate fresh lemon zest over to taste.
  5. Roast until crisp-tender, ~10-15 minutes.