Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tasty spring salad: grilled chicken with pasta, asiago, cherries, sugar snap peas and walnuts

This quick and easy springtime salad is perfect for a family or a crowd, and the mix of sweet and savory, crunchy and tender makes it a pleasure to eat.

Grilled chicken salad with cherries, sugar snap peas, asiago, and walnuts

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 lb pasta: penne, rigatoni, or similar shaped pasta
8 oz. fresh cherries
8 oz. fresh sugar snap peas
1/2-1 c. chopped walnuts
1/4 c. freshly grated Asiago cheese
Fresh zest from 1 lemon
~1 c. mayonnaise
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Fresh spinach, lettuce or mixed greens

1. Lightly coat the chicken with oil, season the chicken with sea salt and black pepper, grill until cooked, set aside to cool.
2. Cook the pasta according to directions, set aside to cool.
3. Clean the sugar snap peas, trimming off stem ends as necessary.
4. Remove the stems and pits, from the cherries, then cut into quarters.
5. Dice the chicken breast, add to pasta.
6. Mix in cherries, peas, and walnuts.
7. Add mayonnaise, stir.
8. Mix in lemon zest and cheese.

Serve on a bed of greens (fresh spinach, lettuce, or mixed greens. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4-6

Monday, June 20, 2011

Asparagus awesomeness

Spring/early summer is one of my favorite food seasons (okay, let's be honest here, I don't think I have a least favorite food season, but anyway....) because with it comes asparagus. Asparagus is a fairly new food to the list of foods I would eat, simply because until 3 or so years ago, the only time I'd had it, it was served to me rather mushy, slimy, and essentially flavorless. I was offered some by the ladies of Jay Hill Farm while at my local farmers' market a few years back; initially I declined, but then after talking with them about how to prepare it and  basically being "dared" to try it again, I bought some, took it home, cooked it according to their directions...and went back and bought some every week after that until asparagus season was over. As with many foods in my diet, I generally only eat asparagus seasonally, which means I get it for roughly a month to a month and a half, so I enjoy it as often as I can.

Typically I either grill the asparagus or sautee it in Meyer lemon infused olive oil and butter with a little fresh ground black pepper, but this season I was given one recipe and came up with my own method of serving asparagus that have only added depth and dimension to what is now one of my favorite vegetables.

The first is a recipe that comes from the previously mentioned Jay Hill Farm. Asparagus with spring garlic and Asiago is simple, easy, and quick to make, and is a nicely complex dish to serve. The link to the recipe is here, the entire dish takes 15 minutes to make, which is a huge bonus when pressed for time at home, and the ingredient list doesn't necessarily require purchasing anything out of the ordinary, aside from maybe the Asiago cheese:

1 lb. Fresh Asparagus
1 bunch Spring Garlic
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 Tbsp. Butter
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 to 2 Tbsp. Freshly grated Asiago Cheese

For this recipe, I picked up a small brick of Asiago and grated it myself, which I would definitely recommend doing, simply because there is a definite taste difference between freshly grated and pre-grated cheese of any sort. As you can likely tell from the picture, I did grate a bit more than the 1-2 tablespoons in the recipe, but I love Asiago, so I admittedly went a little crazy.

My next method of serving asparagus is a simple sauteed asparagus with hollandaise sauce and sliced fresh strawberries. I love the fact that asparagus season and strawberry season overlap, giving me the opportunity to have this sweetly savory side dish that I served with grilled pork chops. I would definitely not use frozen strawberries for this dish: the flavor and texture just wouldn't even come close to the same. My recipe for the hollandaise sauce comes from the ever-indispensable Joy of Cooking, a book that should be a staple in every cook's kitchen. I used the quick whole-egg hollandaise recipe simply for convenience and not wanting to deal with separating the eggs (I admit that I used an organic, bottled lemon juice for this recipe). NOTE: if you've never made hollandaise sauce before, it is HUGELY important that once you start, you don't stop until it is ready to pour onto the plate. Hollandaise requires constant stirring and will overcook and curdle quickly. If it does, you can rescue it by putting it into a blender, but it's better to not have to do that in the first place.

So what are you waiting for? Asparagus season is almost over! Get cooking!