Asparagus Bisque with Fresh Dill (and some Black and Whites)

After a long winter break, the farmers markets were (finally) slated to reopen. But hail and rain were in the forecast and just as I stepped out the door it started raining...hard. The prospect of going to the market on the other side of town, with a toddler and infant in tow (sans the protection of our trusty umbrella which somehow disappeared), just didn't seem worth it. 
So I decided to go to In Season, our local market that only stocks locally grown produce that season. "We are at the end of asparagus season here in Colorado," I was told by an incredibly knowledgeable woman at the counter. "Right, of course you are," I said. No asparagus. But I really wanted to make this bisque that I had seen in Love Soup by Anna Thomas.
While I try to purchase local, sustainable, seasonal fare as much as possible (it tastes better and is often cheaper), if I'm craving something that is not exactly in season, it's no big deal. I found some really bright, delicious looking asparagus at the Sunflower Market by my house (grown in California), but before I left In Season I picked up some dill, fennel bulb and the most amazing (makes you want to clap your hands) ricotta cheese made by Laz Ewe 2 Bar Goat Dairy in Del Norte, Colorado. Oh man, that is the good stuff!
About the bisque. It is packed with fresh dill and the lemon juice gives it a nice cut of acid. And, like all of Anna's recipes I've made before, it was delicious. (Anna's Old Fashioned Mushroom Soup.)
I topped a toasted crostini with some goat cheese and served it along side a big bowl of bisque. That really made the meal complete. 
Asaparagus Bisque with Fresh Dill (Courtesy of Anna Thomas, Love Soup)
1 1/4 lbs. green asparagus
2 medium leeks
1 large fennel bulb
zest+juice of a lemon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (you could substitute with olive oil)
3 tablespoons arborio rice 
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
2 1/2 cups light vegetable broth
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh dill, plus more to taste
white pepper (I used black)
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)
Using a vegetable peeler or sharp knife, thinly peel the bottom 2 or 3 inches of the asparagus stalks, then snap off the toughest bits at the bottoms (peeling the bottoms first allows you to keep much more of the stalk.) Cut the stalks into 1-inch pieces; you should have about 4 cups.
Wash the leeks and chop the white and light green parts only. Trim, wash, and chop the fennel bulb. Grate the zest of the lemon, making sure to get only the yellow and none of the white pith.
Melt the butter in a large skillet or soup pot and cook the leeks over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until they are soft and begin to take on a hint of color. Add the asparagus, fennel, lemon zest, rice, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer uncovered for about half an hour, or until all the vegetables are tender.
Add 2 cups of vegetable broth, the dill, and a pinch of each pepper and cayenne.
Puree the soup in a blender, in batches, until it is perfectly smooth. (I usually use an immersion blender for pureed soups, but asparagus is fibrous, so you might want to use that blender in order to get it really smooth.) Add broth if the soup seems too thick. Return the pureed soup to a clean pot and stir in a couple of teaspoons of fresh lemon juice, more if you like. Bring the soup back to a simmer, taste it ,and season with tiny amounts of pepper, and more salt if needed. Stir in 2-3 tablespoons of cream if you are making the asparagus a bisque (or more precisely a "cream soup" as traditionally bisque refers to smooth, cream soups, based on a broth from crustaceans).
Ladle and enjoy!
* * *
As I mentioned, we had a rainy Saturday here in Denver, so it was a good excuse for us to stay indoors. While we weren't able to go to the farmers market, we tidied up our little abode and we also did a lot of cooking...
Roasted Potato, Leek and Kale Soup (by way of Not-Eating-Out-In-New-York)
Spinach and Feta Risotto (by way of Ezra Pound Cake)
Zucchini Olive-Oil Cake with Crunchy Lemon Glaze (posted here on Sparrows & Spatulas)
Beet and Tahini Dip (by way of A Lovely Morning)

Sensing that the boys were restless and could use some physical activity, I opted to let them "up-down-up-down" on our bed. Then I took these black and white photos with my 50mm lens, which I'm still fooling around with.
It wasn't long before the rain stopped and the sun was out again. The next 10 days? Sunny with temperatures in the 70s and 80s. And hopefully a lot of farmers markets in our future...
Not a bad way to spend a rainy afternoon.

Celebrating with Shades of Green

Spring has sprung! There's no doubt about it. I've worn short sleeve three times in the last week, and I do mean outside. It's going to be 70 degrees...for 5 days straight! Buds are starting to form on the tree branches and perennial plants are pushing through the dirt. Little blades of green grass are popping up and we just turned the clocks ahead. I really love this time of year. The Germans have a word for it. They call it Frühlingsschnipsel, or snippets of spring.
This means that St. Patrick's Day is just around the corner. And I'm wondering how to celebrate the man who chased all the snakes out of Ireland and into the sea.
I was toying with the idea of making Cabbage and Mushroom Galette with Horseradish Sauce. But then I saw how time consuming it was and how many steps were required for the dough and filling. I decided to skip it (for now). I've learned to keep it simple in the kitchen these days, as there's a toddler and infant to watch over. One day I'll make some more-involved dishes (oh Eleven Madison Park cookbook, I've got my eyes on you) but for now I'm keeping it easy.
When I think of Ireland the first three words that come to mind are: song, drink (Irish coffee and Whiskey) and green. Sure, there are rolling hills and majestic cliffs, amazing literature (Angela's Ashes is one of the few books I managed to read cover-to-cover last year), great films, and ancient castles...but I'm going to take my cooking cues from the first words that came to mind and work a menu around things that are green and things that you drink...while listening to some classic U2 albums.
Lucky for me I spied two recipes in my most recent Martha Stewart publication that I wanted to make. One is for a Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Kale (it's green!) and the other is for Irish Coffee Blondies. Yum!
Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Greens (Adapted from Martha Stewart)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Sea salt (season the soup well)
1 medium head cauliflower (about 3 pounds), florets and stems cut into 1-inch pieces (8 to 9 cups)
2 1/2 cups water

2 cups vegetable stock
(The original recipe used 4 1/2 cups filtered water. I used a combination of water and stock.)
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish
5-6 large kale leaves, tough ends removed, and leaves roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat; cook onion, covered, until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and a pinch of salt, and cook for 3 minutes more. Add cauliflower, and pour in filtered water until it reaches just below the top of the cauliflower.
Bring to a boil over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons dill. Reduce heat to low, and simmer until cauliflower is just tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in greens, and simmer for 3 minutes.
Let sit for 5 minutes to cool slightly. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons dill. Puree soup in batches in a blender until very smooth, adding more water (about 1/2 cup) if it's too thick. Return to pot, and reheat. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with dill, black pepper, a drizzle of oil, and pinch of sea salt.

On to another green matter: the Mordecai Children's Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens reopened this past week, ending their winter closure. The children's section has a wonderful rooftop alpine garden, among other things. I took the boys last week and we had a blast. Otis loved climbing the rocks near the Springmelt Stream. Theo had fun in the sandpit. Something tells me these two boys are going to be real nature-enthusiasts! (And yes, those are the Rocky Mountains in the background!)
A few hours after our trip to the Botanic Gardens all hell broke loose. I put Theo down for his nap and when he woke up a short while later he was covered in a deep red rash, his eyes were practically shut and his face was swollen. 
Now, I pride myself on being a down-to-earth mother who doesn't usually panic...but this was too much. I knew it wasn't a mite or something contagious because I was fine, as was Otis. Theo had been a bit red in the face when we went back to New York for Yana's wedding two weeks ago. He was bumpy and there was a slight rash, but then it faded completely. I wasn't sure what was going on, but it was time to go to the ER. I thought, perhaps, he was going into anaphylactic shock. I was starting to panic.
Well long story short we went to a pediatric dermatologist at the Colorado Children's Hospital (it's No. 5 in the country for a reason) the next day. After a diagnosis (eczema that became unbearable, probably due to a virus that was long gone) and some topical steroids, everything is great and back to normal. Theo is comfortable. The rash and discomfort are gone...completely. He's also sleeping really well, so that's good for him...and great for me! 
I seemingly had a ridiculous amount of energy last week because the day after our stint in the ER and Children's Hospital, we were off to Golden to visit the Colorado Railroad Museum. Otis was a really, really big fan of the trains (he's kind of obsessed). And  Theo was happy not to be itchy. 

After we got back from the train museum I made this one-pot soup. It was so easy and so delicious. Click here for the Caramelized Leek and Minted Yogurt Soup recipe from the Moro Cookbook
Next week I'm delving into Persian cooking. Until then, have a great week/end. 

Broccoli Soup with Lemon and Ricotta

Before I was getting most of my recipe ideas from Pinterest, I had spent a considerable amount of time on Saveur magazine's list, "Sites We Love." I came across one that I thought had a really cute idea- pairing dishes with music. The site is called "Turntable Kitchen" and each of the recipes has a suggested musical accompaniment. This was of particular interest to me because I had just commented to a friend that I needed to expand my musical repertoire. I think somewhere around the age of 30 I noticed that I had been listening to the same artists over and over (and over again). And I wasn't really downloading anything new on my iPod. It's like, you hit a certain age, you are x number of years away from your college graduation, and you find yourself thinking "Who the hell is that?" while watching the Grammys. What I like about the aforementioned site is that you can find some inspirational ideas for the kitchen and satisfy that new-music craving too. 
Everyone in our family loved the soup, but you really have to season it well. Since there are so few ingredients, good seasoning is key to making this soup successful. 
What I like about the soup is that the real flavor of broccoli comes's not hidden under a pound of cheddar cheese (though, confession: there is a cup of cream in the pot). It feels light and the fresh ricotta and lemon add nice texture and acid. I served it with a thick slice of Italian bread from the Denver Bread Company. It totally hit the spot and it was the perfect lunch.
So, get this soup going while you listen to The Shins- Chutes Too Narrow...or just come up with a pairing that you like better. Enjoy! 
Broccoli Soup with Lemon and Ricotta (Courtesy of The Turntable Kitchen, adapted from Donna Hay)
Serves 4
1 tablespoon of butter
1 leek, thoroughly rinsed and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 large or 2 small heads of broccoli (florets + stems), roughly chopped
4 cups of vegetable stock
approximately 1 cup (packed) of spinach
1 cup of heavy whipping cream (Next time I think I'll use a 1/2 cup and a little bit of milk)
1 tablespoon of freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon of lemon zest
sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper (season the soup well)
1/2 cup of ricotta
1. Add the butter to a medium soup pot and heat it over medium-high heat, until it melts. Add the leek and garlic, and cook for about five minutes (until the leek has softened). Stir occasionally to keep the leek from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
2. Next, toss in the chopped broccoli and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then cook over medium-high heat for another 10 or so minutes (until the broccoli is fork-tender). Toss in the spinach, cooking for another few minutes.
3. Remove the pot from the heat and use a hand blender to whiz the soup into a puree.
4. Pour in the cream and stir until it is well-incorporated. Next, add in the lemon juice and zest, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
5. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and top each with a hearty spoonful of ricotta.

Serve with a Side of Dreidel: Non-Traditional Latkes (Leek and Cardamom Fritters)

I love holidays that are celebrated with lights and food. Around this time of year there are plenty of holidays that fit that bill. There's St. Lucia Day in Sweden, Kwanzaa, Christmas and Chaunkah (or Hanukkah), to name a few. I'm focusing on Chanukah here.
The holiday commemorates the triumph of Judah the Maccabee over the King Antiochus in the 2nd Century BCE. Hooray for the revolutionaries! There was also a little miracle that happened in the Temple. A small amount of oil miraculously burned for 8 days (yes, that's one long lasting flame). To commemorate this surprising event, latkes are served because the oil in which they are fried is symbolic of the aforementioned miracle. Latkes, in modern tradition, are made of grated potatoes, but historically they were made with whatever local ingredients were around-- vegetables, legumes, etc. I decided to try some non-traditional latkes this year, opting for Leek and Cardamom Fritters. I figure that since they are pan fried in olive oil, they are still very much in the spirit of Chanukah. They are shallow little pancakes that contain flour and egg- which is similar to the traditional potato latke. I think these work well for the holiday.
The recipe is a Mark Bittman adaptation of a Yotam Ottolenghi dish. It was printed in The New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago. Special thanks to my friend Richard who sent me the link and to Melissa who sent me the hard copy of this recipe.
Happy holidays! 
Leek-and-Cardamom Fritters (Courtesy of Mark Bittman, New York Times Magazine, adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi)
Yield: 4 servings (about 8 large fritters)
About 2/3 cup olive oil
3 leeks, thickly sliced
5 shallots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 fresh red chili (like Thai), seeded and sliced
1 cup fresh parsley (leaves and fine stems), finely chopped
2/3 cup fresh cilantro (leaves and fine stems), finely chopped
2 to 3 ounces manouri cheese, broken into large chunks (or drained ricotta cheese or young goat cheese)
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg white
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 whole egg
1/2 cup milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Lemon wedges for serving.
1. Heat the oven to 200. Put 1⁄3 cup of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the leeks and shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, cardamom and cinnamon and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Transfer the onion mixture to a large bowl and add the chili, parsley, cilantro, manouri and salt. Allow to cool, then stir gently.
2. Beat the egg white until soft peaks form, and fold it into the onions. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, whole egg, milk and butter to form a smooth batter. Gently fold it into the onion mixture.
3. Put 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, ladle four spoonfuls (about half of the batter) into the pan to make four large fritters. Fry them until golden and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels, then transfer to a platter in the oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining batter, adding more of the oil as needed. Serve warm or at room temperature, with lemon wedges.

Ina's Roasted Potato Leek Soup with Crispy Shallots

I feel like climbing on my fire-escape and screaming "Hallelujah!" Spring is finally in the air and the winter doldrums are slowly being washed away by mild temperatures and extended sunlight. Thank goodness. I'm no meteorologist, nor am I a climatologist, but I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say that this has been a particularly difficult and harsh winter. After Snowmaggedon I and II, frigid temps and an ice storm, things are starting to look up. This past Friday it was 67 degrees and I spent over two hours at the Harmony playground in Prospect Park. Everyone in the park was in a cheerful mood. Which, I hate to say, is rare for this part of Brooklyn.
Mild temperatures yield spring vegetables such as ramps(sometimes called wild leeks), spring onions, garlic scapes, and scallion. I'm really excited about eating more local and seasonal produce (we just got a membership in the Greenwood Heights CSA) and having a more varied diet. For the past few months I've been eating pasta, lentils, beans, carrots and potatoes. Every winter I pretty much eat my body weight in potatoes, and I'm not even Irish. Sometimes I pick up something seasonal like winter citrus (see Avocado and Grapefruit Salad) or a squash. But for the most part, my consumption of fresh fruits and veggies decreases substantially over the winter (as is the case for most people, I think). And things are about to change...
Leeks are in season from October through May, and I found some gorgeous leeks at the market so I decided to make this soup. This soup has a hearty winter feel, but also has hints of spring and the flavors to come. 
Though I can't consume much wine these days (my second pregnancy is underway), I think this soup would go well with my new favorite Chardonnay from the C. Donatiello Winery. We were given a bottle as a gift when we left our apartment in Prospect Heights, and it was absolutely delicious.
Anyway, enjoy this soup and give yourself a pat on the back for surviving the winter. And then get ready to move those clocks forward...
Roasted Potato Leek Soup (Courtesy of Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa
Serves 6 to 8
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
4 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts, cleaned of all sand (4 leeks)
1/4 cup good olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups baby arugula, lightly packed
1/2 cup dry white wine, plus extra for serving
6 to 7 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (I used organic, low-sodium vegetable stock)
3/4 cup heavy cream
8 ounces creme fraiche
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for garnish
Crispy Shallots, recipe follows, optional

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Combine the potatoes and leeks on a sheet pan in a single layer. Add the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss to coat the vegetables evenly. Roast for 40 to 45 minutes, turning them with a spatula a few times during cooking, until very tender. Add the arugula and toss to combine. Roast for 4 to 5 more minutes, until the arugula is wilted. Remove the pan from the oven and place over 2 burners. Stir in the wine and 1 cup of the chicken stock and cook over low heat, scraping up any crispy roasted bits sticking to the pan.
In batches, transfer the roasted vegetables to a food processor fitted with the steel blade, adding the pan liquid and about 5 cups of the chicken stock to make a puree. Pour the puree into a large pot or Dutch oven. Continue to puree the vegetables in batches until they're all done and combined in the large pot. Add enough of the remaining 1 to 2 cups of stock to make a thick soup. Add the cream, creme fraiche, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and check the seasonings.
When ready to serve, reheat the soup gently and whisk in 2 tablespoons white wine and 1/4 cup of Parmesan. Serve hot with an extra grating of Parmesan and crispy shallots, if using.

Crispy Shallots:
1 1/2 cups olive oil or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 to 6 shallots, peeled and sliced into thin rings
Heat the oil and butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat until it reaches 220 degrees F on a candy thermometer.
Reduce the heat to low, add the shallots, and cook for 30 to 40 minutes, until they are a rich golden brown. The temperature should stay below 260 degrees F. Stir the shallots occasionally to make sure they brown evenly. Remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon, drain well, and spread out to cool on paper towels. Once they have dried and crisped, they can be stored at room temperature, covered, for several days.

Yield: about 1/2 cup