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A Tribute to Spring

Spring Flowers

Guacamole with Tortilla Chips, Pistachios
Shaved Asparagus Salad with Lemon and Parmesan
Roasted Halibut with Gingered Tomato Mango Salsa
Mini Potatoes Anna
Mixed Berry Gratin
Chocolate Cookies

Gardens are bursting with colour and markets here in Vancouver are selling gorgeous fresh halibut, asparagus and berries. OK, the asparagus and berries are not exactly local yet, they are from California, but they do taste more like the real deal at this time of the year. This menu is a tribute to my favourite season, Spring: full of colour, new growth, and promise. I hope this menu lives up to your spring expectations!

Shaved Asparagus Salad with Lemon and Parmesan
This salad, with thanks to Smitten Kitchen, is a lively balance of textures and flavours with the raw asparagus, Parmesan, nuts and lemon. The quantities can be adjusted to taste. Just make sure that you buy very fresh asparagus with medium-thick stalks.

1/4 c. pine nuts, toasted on a baking sheet in a 350ºF for 5-10 minutes, watching closely so they don’t burn
1 lb. asparagus, rinsed
1 lemon, halved
olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 – 2 oz. Parmesan cheese

No need to snap off the tough ends of your asparagus. Lay a single stalk on its side on a cutting board. Holding onto the tough end, use a vegetable peeler to shave off thin asparagus ribbons from stalk to tip, peeling away from the tough end in your hand. They will look like this:

Asparagus Salad, Shaved

Discard the tough ends once you’re done peeling, but if there are some good pieces of asparagus that didn’t shave evenly, save them and add to a soup or pasta dish another time. Gently pile the ribbons on a medium-sized serving platter, or onto individual salad plates. Squeeze some lemon juice over the asparagus, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss gently and then use your peeler to shave curls of Parmesan right off the block, over the asparagus. Sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts.

In Advance: You can grate the asparagus several hours ahead and keep it chilled until ready to assemble and dress the salad. Pine nuts can be toasted several days in advance and kept in a covered jar in the fridge.

Roasted Halibut with Gingered Tomato Mango Salsa

Tomato and Mango Salsa

This recipe was inspired by Dorie Greenspan’s scallop dish. The tomatoes, mangos and  preserved lemon are a wonderful marriage of colours and flavours, very fitting for this Spring menu. I used halibut, but you could also use scallops, or any other fresh white fish.

2 green onions, finely sliced (or finely sliced red onion)
About 2 t. minced fresh ginger
1/2 preserved lemon, rinsed well and finely diced
1/2 jalapeno or other chile, seeded and minced
1 or 2 limes
1 large mango, ripe but firm, peeled and cut into small cubes
1/2 pint (or more) grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered
Arugula and/or mixed greens

6-5oz. centre-cut skinless halibut filets
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t. Kosher salt
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper

For the salsa: Toss the green onions (or red onion), ginger, preserved lemon and chile into a mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper, pour in a tablespoon or two of olive oil, grate the zest of one lime over the mix and give everything a good stir. Stir in the mango and tomatoes, squeeze the lime juice over the salsa and taste for seasoning and for more juice and/or olive oil.

For the fish: In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper until smooth. Pour the mixture into a sealable plastic bag or a glass baking dish. Add the halibut and coat it with the lemon mixture. Refrigerate for 35 minutes.

In Advance: You can make the salsa and combine marinade ingredients for the fish several hours in advance. Cover both and leave at room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 400 ºF. and spray a small baking sheet or glass baking dish with vegetable cooking spray, or brush with olive oil. Remove the halibut from the marinade and arrange on the prepared baking sheet. Roast until the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 10-15 minutes.

To serve, place some arugula or other greens on the plate and top with the halibut. Add salsa and one Mini Potato Anna to finish plating.

Mini Potatoes Anna (photo below was taken before the final baking)

Mini Pommes Anna

This is a recipe contributed by Molly Stevens to Bon Appetit magazine, November 2012. It appeals to me because it can be mostly prepared in advance, and makes for easy individual plating.

1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter
12-24 small tender thyme sprigs plus 2 t. coarsely chopped leaves
1 garlic clove, minced
1 3/4 pounds small waxy potatoes (such as Yukon Gold), each slightly larger than a golf ball
2 t. Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

A standard 12-cup muffin pan; a mandoline (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Brush muffin cups lightly all over with butter. Line bottoms of a standard 12-cup muffin pan with parchment-paper rounds. Arrange 1-2 small thyme sprigs in centre of each round. Drizzle 1/2 t. butter into bottom of each cup.

Add chopped thyme and garlic to remaining butter in saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Using a mandoline, a sharp knife, or a slicer as shown here, slice potatoes crosswise into very thin rounds (less than 1/16-inch thick) placing them in a large bowl as you work.

Mini Pommes Anna Grating

Pour herb butter over and season with salt and pepper; toss to coat well. Divide potato slices among muffin cups, layering overlapping slices to create a circular pattern. Lightly press centre of each to make compact. Drizzle over any remaining butter and seasoning from bowl.

Cover muffin pan tightly with foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake until potatoes can be pierced easily with the tip of a knife, about 35 minutes. Remove foil; invert a rimmed baking sheet over pan. Turn, lightly tapping on counter, releasing potatoes onto sheet. Rearrange any slices that may have fallen out. Discard parchment.

In Advance: Potatoes can be assembled, baked and released onto a baking sheet, then covered and chilled.

Increase heat to 425 ºF. Uncover cakes if needed. Bake until bottoms and edges are golden and crispy, 25-30 minutes.

Mixed Berry Gratin

Berry Gratin

This idea comes from Huffpost Taste, April 2013. Warming the berries enhances their flavour and the browned cream topping adds elegance to a simply prepared dish.

1 c. heavy cream
1 t. vanilla paste or 1 vanilla bean
4 eggs, separated
3/4 c. superfine sugar
1 T. cornstarch
Splash of rum or Grand Marnier (optional)
18 oz. mixed summer berries, such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries

Heat the cream in a saucepan on low heat with the vanilla paste or cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds with a small knife into the pan, and add the bean to infuse. Don’t let it come to a boil.

In another saucepan, beat together the egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch and slowly pour the hot cream over the mixture. Place the pan over low heat and stir continuously until the custard thickens to the consistency of thin yogurt, 5 to 6 minutes. Don’t leave the custard on the stove without stirring or you will end up with scrambled eggs. Once thickened, take it off the heat and remove the vanilla bean, if using. Add a splash of rum or Grand Marnier at this stage, if you wish.

In Advance: Pour custard into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for a few hours, until ready to assemble dessert. Wash berries and slice or halve strawberries, if large.

Preheat the broiler and place the upper rack about 4″ from the heat. Scatter the mixed berries in the bottom of either individual heatproof bowls or one large baking dish.

Beat the egg whites with a hand-held electric mixer until firm peaks start to form and carefully fold into the thickened custard. Pour the mixture over the berries and place under the broiler until an even golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve warm.

Chocolate Cookies

Chocolate Cookies

With another nod to Smitten Kitchen, these intensely flavoured chocolate cookies pair well with the Berry Gratin, and can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks. They also freeze very well.
Makes 40-48 2″ thin cookies, fewer if thicker.

1 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. cocoa powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 to 2/3 c. granulated sugar (less for a more bittersweet cookie)
1/4 t. fine sea salt
1 large egg yolk
1/2 t. vanilla extract
3 1/2 oz. semi- or bittersweet chocolate, grated or finely chopped until almost powdery in a food processor
Coarse sugar (such as Demerara) for sprinkling

Sift together the flour, cocoa and baking soda onto a piece of waxed paper or into a bowl and set aside.

Cream butter, sugar and salt together in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk and vanilla, beating until combined, then scraping down sides. Add dry ingredients and grated chocolate together and mix until just combined.

Scrape dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, wrap it up and chill it in the fridge until just firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. No need to get it fully hard, or it will be harder to roll out. Dough can be refrigerated until needed, up to two days, or frozen longer, but let it warm up and soften a bit before rolling it out to make it easier to roll.

Heat oven to 350 °F. On a floured surface, roll dough gently — it will still be on the crumbly side, so only attempt to flatten it slightly with each roll — until it is 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick. Cut into desired shapes and space them an inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle decoratively with coarse sugar. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes (for thinner cookies) or 10 to 12 minutes (for thicker ones). Leave cookies on baking sheets out of the oven for a couple minutes before carefully transferring them to cooling racks, as they’ll be fragile until they cool.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sally #

    Beautiful photo of tulips! And I can’t wait to try this, especially the imaginative approach to asparagus. I’m always looking for one more way to eat as much as I can, in spring 🙂

    April 17, 2013
  2. Rooky #

    Fab menu. Would love to discuss in person,

    April 18, 2013

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