How I learned to stop worrying and buy asparagus

I’m from California’s San Joaquin Valley. Growing seasons, orchards, farms as far as the eye can see…this is my homeland. I generally know when different crops are in season, and as much as I might have a taste for grapes in January, I won’t buy them on principle. I’m heartily committed to buying local whenever I can, and I can’t bring myself to reward grocers for selling out-of-season produce that had to travel thousands of miles to get to me. Corn, figs, grapes, TOMATOES: summer. Apples, persimmons, pomegranates: fall. Oranges: winter.

My problem is that the produce I always thought came in the springtime, the vegetables that ARE spring to me – artichokes and asparagus – have been showing up in the fall. I don’t get it. And they’re cheap. And they’re gorgeous. And they’re from the places they’re supposed to be from in California. Well, I’ve given in, and have bought asparagus the last couple of weeks. Today, I turned it into a creamy soup that warmed me on a particularly blustery fall day, but also reminded me of the blossoms and puffy white clouds of spring. (And it’s low fat. No oil added!)

Cream of asparagus soup

  • 1 lb asparagus, trimmed and chopped into 2″ pieces
  • 4 shallots, peeled and sliced
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 red-skinned potatoes, shredded
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly grated turmeric
  • 4 cups veg stock
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, then add the asparagus and the shallots, spray with cooking spray, and sprinkle with kosher salt. Roast for about ten minutes.

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat, and add the potatoes, garlic, and turmeric (1/2 tsp dried turmeric if you can’t get fresh). Stir regularly, and saute for about 3 minutes. Add the veg stock, cover, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low, and let simmer for 5 minutes. Add the sunflower seeds and the roasted vegetables, and let simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Place half the soup into a blender and puree until very smooth. Remove to a bowl, and puree the other half. Stir the soup to combine, and then add the lemon juice and zest. Heat if necessary, and add parsley.


Nachas and tomato soup

Why is it that summer is over, and NOW I can’t get enough tomatoey things? I love a fresh tomato, sliced, sprinkled with a little salt, and popped into my mouth. Or drizzled with a little olive oil. Done. Delicious. But as the weather cools down, what I’m craving is the tomatoey warmth of cooked tomatoes. Enter stage left: San Marzano tomatoes.

Yes, they’re more expensive than regular canned tomatoes, but when you’re making something in which the tomatoes have been cast in the starring role, spending a little extra is worth it. Costco sells them in a four-pack, which brings the price down a little, and they are so rich and tomatoey. Do it.

Today, my daughter was named student of the day for the second time. She had a substitute teacher. I asked my daughter what she did to deserve the honor, and she didn’t know, so I asked the sub. She said she enjoyed having her in class: she was quiet, attentive, and happy. I was SO proud. I asked my girl what she’d like for dinner in light of her honor, and she requested tomato soup.  Here ’tis.

Dreamy creamy tomato soup

  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 1 1/2 cups veg stock
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 15-oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 28-oz can whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes
  • Pinch of sugar, if necessary

Place the cashews in a small saucepan with the veg stock, bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 15 minutes, then remove from heat.

Meanwhile, place a Dutch oven over medium heat and add the olive oil. When hot, add the tomato paste, and saute, stirring frequently, until the tomato paste has melted into the olive oil. Add the onion and carrots, and saute until softened, about five minutes. Add the herbs and salt and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the canned tomatoes, squishing the whole toms with the side of a wooden spoon to release their juices. Let simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Taste for flavor, and add a pinch of sugar if you find it necessary. I generally do not.

Place the cashews and veg stock in a blender and puree until smooth. Add half of the tomato soup and puree. Pour the contents of the blender into a bowl, and then ladle the rest of the soup into the blender, pureeing until smooth. Pour all of the soup back into your Dutch oven, stir well, and reheat, if necessary. Enjoy!

West African Peanut Soup and Ethiopian (not) Honey Bread

A few weeks ago, I saw a recipe on line for this Ethiopian honey bread I’ve been wanting to make, so today was the day!  I knew I’d need to serve it with something dunk-worthy, and tonight being my first EVER back-to-school night, something that could either sit on the stove or be made quickly when I returned, and so I adapted a recipe from my all-time favorite cookbook, Ethnic Cuisine, by Elisabeth Rozin, for African peanut soup.  (And yes, I’m aware that Ethiopia is in eastern Africa, and the soup is western, but they’re still TOTALLY delicious together, so whatever.)

By the way, while I pride myself in making most everything from scratch, you’ll notice a few short cuts here.  Sometimes, a mama’s gotta get dinner on the table!

West African Peanut Soup

  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen tri-color bell pepper strips
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 28-oz can diced tomatoes, pureed in the blender
  • 4 cups veg stock
  • Salt to taste
  • 9-oz pkg pre-cooked French lentils
  • 1 cup frozen pre-cooked quinoa/brown rice blend
  • 1/3 cup + 2 tbsp peanut butter, divided

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the oil when the pot is hot, and then add the chopped onion.  Let the onion get soft, and then add the bell pepper strips and the garlic.  Once the vegetables are fragrant, add the pureed tomatoes and veg stock, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add the salt, lentils, and the grain blend.  Once the pot is boiling again, reduce the heat to medium-low and add the peanut butter.  Let the pot simmer until the peanut butter has melted into the soup, stirring constantly to prevent the peanut butter from sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Puree the soup in the blender, covering the lid with a towel, so you don’t get burned!!  It’s okay to leave some bigger chunks, but it should be mostly really creamy.

Ethiopian (not) Honey Bread

  • 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 3/4 cups bread flour
  • 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour, plus more for the second rise
  • 3/4 tbsp instant yeast
  • 1/2 tbsp table salt
  • 2 tbsp + 1 tsp canola oil, divided
  • 6 tbsp raw agave
  • 1 3/4 cups warm water

Place the rosemary in a small cast iron pan set over medium heat, and toast until fragrant.  Put the flours, yeast, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer, and mix on low speed with the dough hook until combined.  Add the toasted rosemary, canola oil, agave, and then the water, and let the machine knead the dough for about 5 minutes.  The dough should be very sticky and not entirely floured enough to come away from the bowl.  Don’t worry.

Place the last teaspoon of canola oil in a large bowl, scrape the dough into the oiled boil with a spatula, and then, with oiled hands, roll the dough ball around in the oil until it’s oiled.  Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel, and let it rise for about 1 1/2 hours until puffy and doubled in size.

Scrape the dough back into the bowl of the standing mixer, and mix with the dough hook for about 3 minutes.  Place some whole wheat flour on a board, scrape the dough onto the flour, and then generously sprinkle more flour on top of the dough.  Fold the dough over a few times, and then place on a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray, cover with the clean dish towel, and let rise for another 20 minutes or so.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Bake for 20 minutes, until deeply golden brown.

Let the bread cool as long as you can resist cutting into it and slathering Earth Balance on it!