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TIP OF THE DAY: Create A Spring Dinner

A few days ago, our wine collectors group had its scheduled team spring dinner, an annual event that celebrates the emergence of spring fruits and vegetables.

Problem is, nature isn’t cooperating. We’re still waiting for some of our favorite spring produce to show up in stores in the chilly Northeast.

Even though some of them are now available year-round, in our grandmother’s generation and before, people had no choice but to eat seasonally. Hence, the popular roast leg of lamb with spring peas, and a delicate salad of butter lettuce, always on Nana’s menus.

Thus, when when have a dinner to honor spring, we go full-out locavore. Here’s what you can choose from (we’ve left out the exotics; here’s the full list).

SPRING FRUITS & VEGETABLES

Because of imports from the southern hemisphere where the seasons are reversed, Americans have year-round access to what locally has been seasonal. There’s always someplace on earth that grows asparagus, for example.

Spring Fruits

  • Apricots
  • Blackberries
  • Black mission figs
  • Honeydew
  • Mango
  • Oranges
  • Pineapple
  • Strawberries
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    Spring Vegetables

  • Asparagus (for fun, look for the purple variety)
  • Belgian endive
  • Beets
  • Butterhead/butter lettuce (Bibb and Boston varieties)
  • Dandelion greens
  • Fava beans*
  • Fennel
  • Fiddlehead ferns
  • Garlic scapes
  • Morel mushrooms
  • Mustard greens
  • Nettles
  • Ramps
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Spring (English) peas, snow peas, Chinese pea pods
  • Vidalia onions
  •  
     
    THE NIBBLE’S SPRING EDITORIAL DINNER

    COCKTAIL: Blood Orange Margarita, Mimosa or Screwdriver with fresh-squeezed blood orange juice, or this Cherry Blossom cocktail.

    FIRST COURSE: Spring sauté: asparagus, fiddleheads, garlic, morels and ramps, sautéed in good butter and swerved with a sprinkle of salt. It’s simple, yet memorable.

    MAIN COURSE: Leg of lamb, spring peas, baby potatoes. We like to cook a leg for leftovers: lamb salad† and lamb sandwiches. See our Lamb Glossary for the different cuts and types of lamb.

    SALAD COURSE: Belgian endive, butter lettuce (Bibb or Boston), fennel, snow peas and garlic scapes, dressed with a Dijon and sherry vinaigrette and garnished with fresh parsley.

    CHEESE COURSE: Spring cheeses with black mission figs. We can find bucheron and charollais affine (goat), coulommiers (cow) and Pyrénées brebis (sheep), plus cheeses from local American artisan cheese makers. Ask your cheesemonger what he/she has that’s newly arrived in spring.

    DESSERT: Rhubarb, any way you like it; blood oranges supreme, or in sorbet. Since strawberries, now available year-round, are a traditional spring fruit, a strawberry-rhubarb pie or galette (photo #5) does the trick.

    Of course, there will be more than one spring dinner.

    We’ll feature more of the menus as we make them, and look forward to any contributions from you.
     
     
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    *Fava beans require a level of patience to shell, which we lack. Should you be come across shelled fava beans, it’s worth paying the premium for the labor involved.

    †Recipes: lamb, cucumber and watercress salad, lamb niçoise salad and Thai lamb and asparagus salad.

     

    Blood Orange Margarita

    Sauteed Ramps, Morels

    Leg Of Lamb

    Spring Bibb Lettuce Salad

    Lille Cheese Vermont Farmstead

    Strawberry Rhubarb Galette

    [1] Blood Orange Margarita (here’s the recipe via Betty Crocker). [2] A spring sautée (here’s the recipe from Honest Food. [3] Leg of lamb with spring peas (here’s the recipe from Good Eggs). [4] We love how the bibb lettuce is stacked in this salad (the recipe from My Man’s Belly). [5] Lillé, a cheese from Vermont, is the American-made version of French Coulommiers. [6] A strawberry rhubarb galette is the perfect seasonal pie (photo Hewn Bread | Chicago).

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Plate Decorating With Sauce

    Octopus With Swirled Sauce

    Lava Cake With Sauce

    Squeeze Bottles

    Dessert Sauce Squeeze Bottles

    [1] These “flowers” are simply polka dots pulled together with a toothpick (see the video below; photo courtesy Gardenia | NYC). [2] Any food that isn’t made in a sauce can be decorated (photo courtesy Shalit Foods). [3] Keep your favorite sauces in the fridge, ready to squeeze (photo courtesy Pure Joy Concepts). [4] You can buy sauces or make them (photo courtesy Melissa’s).

     

    When you get your food at a good restaurant and the chef has made beautiful chevrons, flowers or hearts from the sauce, are you impressed?

    If so, know that some of these are so easy, that all you need are a couple of squeeze bottles and a toothpick or skewer to make them at home.

    In fact, the hardest thing to do is to decide which sauces to use with your dish.

    So watch the video below, or plenty more on YouTube under “sauce decoration.”

  • Start with polka dots of sauce before moving into more complex designs.
  • Look for the color impact as well as the flavors when you select sauces.
  • The lists below are just guidelines. You can use whatever goes through a squeeze bottle (but steer clear of sauces with inclusions—bits of dill, mustard seeds, etc.).
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    SAVORY SAUCES

  • Aïoli (garlic mayonnaise) or other flavored mayonnaise 
  • Alfredo (parmesan) or other cheese sauce
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Cream sauce (plain, basil, curry, ginger, tomato, wasabi, etc.)
  • Hoisin or plum sauce
  • Horseradish sauce
  • Lemon sauce
  • Mustard sauce
  • Ranch sauce
  • Sriracha sauce
  • Vegetable coulis*
  • Yogurt-based (e.g. garlic-yogurt sauce)
  •  
    SWEET SAUCES

  • Berry coulis*
  • Butterscotch/caramel sauce
  • Chocolate/white chocolate/mint chocolate sauce
  • Cinnamon sauce sauce
  • Coffee/mocha
  • Custard/crème anglaise
  • Honey or maple syrup
  • Kiwi coulis
  • Lemon or other citrus sauce
  • Mango coulis
  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • Yogurt-based (e.g. honey-yogurt sauce)
  •  
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    *Coulis (COO-lee) is a sauce made from puréed and strained vegetables or fruits (i.e., no seeds remain).

     
    This video shows three easy techniques for both sweet and savory sauces.


     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Sharpen Your Knife Skills

    Wusthof Knife Set

    How To Cut A Squash

    How To Butcher A Chicken

    How To Filet A Fish

    It’s easy to learn how to cut and slice the correct, efficient, safe way. You’ll feel good about it, too (photos courtesy Wüsthof).

     

    Most of us have never taken a knife skills course.

    Most likely, we learned from watching food prepared at home or on TV, or simply by freestyling.

    After all, we’re intelligent; we can figure it out. Right?

    Not exactly.

    Unless you can do the following to your satisfaction, you’ll benefit by investing a few minutes on the Wüsthof website.

    You’ll become a better cook just by seeing:

  • How to cut consistent slices and dices. Different thicknesses don’t cook evenly, and the finished product doesn’t look as good.
  • How to chop garlic, herbs and onions into very small, consistent pieces.
  • How to slice different types of vegetables, including the formidable winter squash group.
  • How to work faster and safer. Practice makes perfect—and speedy.
  •  
    WÜSTHOF KNIFE SKILLS VIDEOS

    General Skills

  • The basics: The 3 essential knives: chef’s, paring and serrated knives and how to use them.
  • The pinch grip.
  • Sharpening with a steel.
  • Using a hand-held sharpener.
  • How to sharpen serrated blades.
  •  
    Proteins

    Learn how to break down whole chicken or filet a whole fish, and you’ll enjoy big savings, too.

  • Butcher a chicken.
  • Filet a fish.
  • Carve a turkey.
  •  
    Produce

  • Break down a squash.
  • Chiffonade herbs and greens.
  • Dice an onion into uniform pieces.
  • Julienne (cut matchsticks).
  • Slice a pineapple.
  •  
    There are 36 videos.

    Each is succinct, enabling you to play it as many times as you need without wasting time.

    So grab your phone or tablet, head to the kitchen, pull out a cutting board and start cutting—the right way.

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: How To Sauce Pasta

    Mound Of Sauce On Pasta

    How To Sauce Pasta

    Angel Hair Pasta

    [1] Don’t sauce pasta like this. It may look neat, but it doesn’t cover all the pasta, and eating it can be a mess (photo courtesy International Pasta Association). [2] The correct way: Toss the pasta and sauce in a pot or bowl to fully cover each strand (photo courtesy All-Clad). [3] Authentic saucing (photo courtesy Davio’s Boston.

     

    Every great pasta experience requires a great sauce. It’s not just the flavor of the sauce that matters, but when and how the sauce and pasta get come together.

    Correctly saucing your pasta is the difference between cooking authentic Italian and following an incorrect culinary path.

    Americans have been trained to place a pool of sauce in the middle of a plate of pasta.

    No! No! Do not pour sauce on top of un-sauced pasta, as in the top photo. According to DeLallo, an importer of Italian foods, a dish of pasta served in this manner in Italy would be a disaster.

    Americans have been accustomed to serving pasta as a mound of undressed spaghetti or other noodles in a bowl or on a dish, topped with a ladleful sauce.

    We couldn’t track down how this practice originated, although it is definitely an American practice. It likely began in Italian-American restaurants, and our guess is that the first cook who topped pasta with sauce this way did it for aesthetic reasons. It does look prettier.

    But it isn’t as functional.

    In authentic Italian cuisine, the sauce is always incorporated into the pasta before serving. Every strand of pasta is thus coated with sauce, and the eater doesn’t have to work to coat his/her own—many of us creating drips and spatters in the process.

    Plus, the amount of sauce used is just enough to coat the pasta—not to create a sea of sauce. Authentic Italian pasta dishes do not swim in sauce.

    SAUCE YOUR PASTA THE CORRECT WAY

    1. Heat the sauce by the time you add the pasta to the boiling salted water. Keep the sauce on a low simmer until the pasta is ready. Your pasta shouldn’t wait for your sauce to cook; the sauce should be awaiting the pasta.

    2: Moderation is everything. Use at most a quarter cup of thick sauce per person (such a tomato- or cream- based sauce), or two to three tablespoons of an oil-based sauce. The ratio is 1.5 cups sauce to 1 pound of cooked pasta, or 1 cup of oil-based sauce to 1 pound of cooked pasta.

    3: Reserve some of the pasta water in another container when you drain the pasta (we use a cup). Never rinse the pasta: That will eliminate important starches that help the sauce stick.

    4. Return the empty saucepan to the stove, over high heat. Add the drained hot pasta and the heated sauce, and toss to coat evenly (hot pasta will absorb more sauce and flavor). This quick toss in a hot pan allows the two components to meld and and create a beautiful flavor and texture. The starches from the pasta will slightly thicken the sauce.

    Tip: We’re a bit messy, so rather than clean sauce spatter from the stove, we first toss the pasta and sauce in a large bowl; then add it to the pan.

    5: Add a couple tablespoons of the reserved hot pasta water to the pan, to smooth out the sauce. Reserved pasta water contains starch that can be used to thicken the consistency of the sauce, so add another couple of spoons if you like. Total time of the pasta and sauce together on the stove is about 2 minutes.

    6: Transfer the pasta to a warm serving bowl or individual plates.

     
    10+ MORE WAYS TO LOVE YOUR PASTA

    Pasta terms and shapes: a glossary of explanations with photos.

    Ingredient substitutes: What to do when you don’t have sauce or parmesan.

    Leftover pasta for breakfast: You’ll love it!

    Make stir-fried pasta with leftover pasta.

    Turn leftover pasta into an antipasto.

    More recipes for leftover pasta, from green salad to cole slaw.

    How to sneak veggies into pasta: Your family won’t complain!

    Breadcrumbs on pasta: a Southern Italian tradition.

    Dessert pasta: from berry lasagna to chocolate pasta.

    Toast uncooked pasta for a toasty, nutty flavor.

    The history of pasta: It began in China.
     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Brighten Up Winter Meals

    Grape Salsa Bruschetta

    Goat Cheese Cheesecake

    Salmon With Grape Salsa

    Cod With Grape Salsa

    [1] Start with grape salsa and bruschetta, with wine and beer, as a snack or a first course (photos #1 and #3 courtesy California Table Grape Commission). [2] Another savory appetizer/first course: goat cheese cheesecake. What’s missing? The grape salsa! Here’s the recipe from Love And Olive Oil. [3] Move on to the mains; here, grilled salmon with grape salsa. [4] White cod with grape salsa. Here’s the recipe from Food And Wine.

     

    To add color to a plate of white, beige or brown food with an easy sauce or colorful garnish.

    But if it’s a simply grilled chicken breast or fish fillet, look to salsa.

    Even in the winter months, with no good tomatoes, stone fruits, etc., a colorful, delicious and nutritious sauce can be made from…grapes.

    Salsa is not just for taco chips. The original translation is the generic “sauce”; it was used for millennia before tortilla chips were invented (in the late 1940s, in L.A.).

    RECIPE: GRAPE SALSA

    We adapted this recipe from a suggestion by the California Table Grape Commission.

  • 2 cups seedless grapes, assorted colors
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions (scallions) or red onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice or vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Sriracha, jalapeño or other heat to taste
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    Variations

  • Black olives
  • Chopped basil or mint
  • Lemon or orange zest
  • Substitute orange and red peppadews for the grapes
  •  
    Preparation

    1. SLICE or chop the grapes. For a sauce with protein, slice the grapes in half. For salsa with chips or crostini, chop coarsely.

    2. COMBINE all ingredients in medium bowl; mix well.

    3. LET stand at least 1 hour before serving for flavors to meld. Drain excess liquid before serving.

     
    WAYS TO USE GRAPE SALSA

  • Baked Brie
  • Cheese plate condiment
  • Chips
  • Cottage cheese
  • Crostini/bruschetta
  • Greek yogurt
  • Grilled cheese, ham, turkey and other sandwiches
  • Main course sauce (roasted/grilled chicken, fish, pork)
  • Omelet or scrambled eggs
  • Salad: spoon over greens with optional blue/goat cheese crumble
  • Savory cheesecake topping
  • Taco topping
  • Turkey or veggie burger
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    GRAPE NUTRITION

    Grapes are good for you. For those avoiding fruit because of the sugar, grapes have a relatively low glycemic index, with GI values ranging between 43 and 53.

  • 1.5 cups have just 90 calories, no fat, and virtually no sodium.
  • No cholesterol.
  • Lots of antioxidants.
  • An excellent source of vitamins C & K, wit a good supply of other minerals and nutrients.
  • Healthy carbs: A serving contains 24 grams of good carbs and 1 gram of fiber.
  •  
    THE HISTORY OF GRAPES

    Different wild grape varieties were first cultivated around 6000 B.C.E. near northern Iran, between the Black and Caspian seas.

    By 3000 B.C.E. grapes were being cultivated in Egypt and Phoenicia, and by 2000 B.C.E. in Greece.

     
    Viticulture reached Italy, Sicily and North Africa by 1000 B.C.E., and by 500 B.C.E. had spread with the Roman legions to Spain, Portugal and France, and finally across Europe to the British Isles.

    America also had wild grape varieties, which were cultivated in of themselves, and joined by cultivars brought from Europe. In the mid-1800s, a Hungarian emigré, Colonel Agoston Haraszthy, brought 100,000 cuttings of Vitis vinifera varieties from Europe to California.

    In 1860, English settler William Thompson planted a Mediterranean grape called the Oval Kishmish near Yuba City, north of Sacramento. This popular green grape variety became known as the Thompson Seedless.

    In 1970, per capita consumption of grapes in the U.S. was 2.5 pounds. Today, it’s around 8 pounds.
     
      

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