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.

Loving leeks! A fish confit…

Apparently, the word confit comes from the French verb confire (to prepare), which in turn comes from the Latin word (conficere), meaning “to do, to produce, to make, to prepare”. The French verb was first applied in medieval times to fruits cooked and preserved in sugar.   These days, confit generally indicates food that is cooked in fat, oil or sugar water/syrup at a lower temperature than deep frying.

When cooked en confit, leeks become luscious, sweet, and oh-so-tender.  Paired w/ fresh halibut, cooked just until flaky and moist, it becomes a wonderful weekday meal that barely requires any supervision before it is ready for the table.

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Halibut Confit with Leeks, Coriander, and Lemon

Halibut Confit with Leeks, Coriander, and Lemon (original recipe from here) – makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 tbl coriander seeds, plus more very coarsely chopped for serving
  • 2 leeks, white and pale-green parts only, halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 2″ pieces
  • 4 sprigs cilantro, cut into 2″ pieces, plus leaves for serving
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced, seeds removed
  • Kosher salt
  • 1.5 pound skinless halibut fillet, halved lengthwise

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Coarsely grind 1 tablespoon coriander seeds in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle. (Alternatively, you can coarsely chop with a knife.)
  2. Toss leeks, cilantro sprigs, oil, half of lemon slices, and 2 teaspoons ground coriander in a large roasting pan; season with salt. Roast, tossing occasionally, until leeks are tender and starting to brown, 15-20 minutes.
  3. Remove roasting pan from oven and carefully pour infused oil into a large heatproof measuring cup.
  4. Reduce oven temperature to 275°F. Season halibut with salt and arrange over leeks in roasting pan. Top with remaining lemon slices and ground coriander and pour infused oil over fish. Roast until halibut is just cooked through and starting to flake, 30-35 minutes.
  5. Cut halibut into large pieces and serve with leeks and lemon topped with chopped coriander seeds and cilantro leaves.****Prep notes: Halibut can be roasted 1 hour ahead. Let cool and cover.

An easy puff of bliss

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I decided to surprise J with this quick and easy (but delightfully indulgent!) dutch apple pancake this morning.  It’s based on David Eyre‘s pancake from The Essential New York Times Cookbook and is cross between a pancake and crepe, sweet and tart with crispy edges and a moist center.  Similar recipes have referred to this delicious baked pancake as Dutch baby pancakes, German pancakes, or Dutch puffs.  Regardless of what they are named, they make for an easy and impressive breakfast or brunch treat!

They are traditionally served with lemon juice and powdered sugar.  I added thinly  sliced Honey Crisp apples to mine.

Apple Dutch Baby (serves 2-4)

Ingredients:

1/3 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup milk

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 tsp cinnamon

4 tbl unsalted butter

1/2 small apple, thinly sliced (about 1/4-inch slices or thinner)

2 tbl powdered (confectioners’) sugar

juice of 1/2 lemon (I used a Meyer lemon)

Instructions:

  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Combine the flour, milk, eggs, and cinnamon in a bowl. Beat lightly. Leave the batter a little lumpy.
  2. Melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet with a heatproof handle (cast iron would work very well for this) over medium heat.  Add apple slices and cook for 3-5 minutes, until slightly softened.
  3. Pour in the batter and carefully place in heated oven.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the pancake is puffed and golden brown.
  4. Sprinkle with the sugar and return briefly to the oven for about 1-2 minutes.
  5. Sprinkle with lemon juice and serve warm, with additional fruit as desired.