Here is a quick and easy side dish, perfect for outdoor grilling but can also be pan roasted. A quick marinade gives the asparagus flavor while the grill is pre-heating. A roasting rack would be best to use, as asparagus could easily fall through the grates of the grill.

There is also a skewering technique for asparagus, though it is labor intensive. Keep asparagus whole and skewer both ends. Continue adding asparagus to the skewers until a “raft” is formed with the asparagus. This will prevent the asparagus from falling through the grill grates.

To remove the woody or tough ends of the asparagus, simply grasp the asparagus lightly and bend the stalk. The asparagus will naturally snap where the woody stem ends. At first, it will seem like you are snapping a large amount off of the asparagus, but keep this in mind: it is the tough end that you do not want to eat!

Balsamic Grilled Asparagus

1 lb asparagus, tough ends removed (see above for instructions)
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
generous pinch of salt
cracked black pepper, to taste

Place prepared asparagus in a large ziplock bag. Add remaining ingredients and seal bag. Toss to coat asparagus and let marinade 15-20 minutes. Spread asparagus on grill rack in an even layer and grill for about 5 minutes on each side, or until asparagus is crisp-tender.

Remaining marinade can be used to season meat on the grill, if desired.

If roasting: Preheat oven to 400F and combine all ingredients on a baking sheet. Spread asparagus in an even layer and bake 10-15 minutes, until crisp-tender.

For the first recipe in the Veggie Tales special project, here is a easy to make dish that shows that vegetables can be simple without being bland or boring. This is a great dish to prepare and then roast in the oven while making the rest of the meal. Because the vegetables are so substantial, there is little need to serve with more than an entree, such as chicken, fish, or steak. The wonderful thing about vegetables is that they, quite literally, go with any main dish.

Substitute any available vegetable; the key in roasting the vegetables is to prepare them so they are all roughly the same size and will cook at the same rate. In colder months, use root vegetables (sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips) rather than summer vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, peppers). Other spring and summer vegetables, such as asparagus or green beans, would be good in this dish as well.

Rustic Roasted Vegetables

2 aubergine (baby eggplant) or 1 large eggplant
3 medium zucchini
2 sweet bell peppers, such as red, yellow, or orange
1/2 large sweet onion
1/2 lb baby bella mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic, minced
salt and pepper, to taste
zest of 1 lemon
olive oil
flat-leaf parsley, minced (optional)

Preheat oven to 400F and coat a 13×9 baking dish with cooking spray (or olive oil).

To prepare eggplant, remove cap and stem, then halve lengthwise and cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces. Repeat with zucchini. For peppers, cut into 2-inch wide strips. Place cut side of onion on board and cut in half crosswise, then cut lengthwise into pieces about 2 inches wide. Rinse mushrooms under lukewarm water and halve any large mushrooms.

In prepared 13×9 baking dish, toss prepared vegetables with garlic, salt, pepper, lemon zest, and olive oil. Use enough olive oil so that vegetables are lightly coated. Add minced parsley, if desired.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until vegetables have cooked through and are crisp-tender (or to desired tenderness). If pan dries out, add additional olive oil or water as needed.

It’s May and it’s high time for a Special Project. Let me introduce a Special Project that will (hopefully) run all summer long: Veggie Tales.

Veggie Tales will include fantastic vegetable recipes made from produce found at the farmer’s market or from my own garden (once things start growing). These recipes will also include fruits and mushrooms, which for arguments’ sake will be part of the special project, and to avoid any fruit-or-vegetable debates.

While the recipes may be simple, the goal of this project is to showcase the vegetables as more than a mere side dish. In many cases, the vegetables will be presented in a way as close to their natural, off the vine form. Also part of this special project will be information on certain produce, including how to prepare and flavor profiles for popular vegetables.

So, please join me as we explore the market and the garden during Veggie Tales! New recipes coming soon and continuing on for the summer!

The Best Laid Plans…

April 30th, 2010

Well, 2009 ended with some big plans and ambitions for the website. I had a special project in the works and a new independent study to take the website in a new direction, then suddenly I was taken in a new direction myself.

It started New Year’s Eve, when I turned to James shortly after the ball had dropped and said I had a headache and was going to bed. Three days later we made our first trip to the ER. Three days after that we made our second trip to the ER. It would be two weeks of doctor’s appointments and countless neurological exams before I went back to work. It would be three more weeks until I stepped foot back in the kitchen to make more than instant oatmeal. About two months went by before I began cooking again, and only recently have I been making new things in the kitchen.

Without going into terrible detail, I was diagnosed with a neurological disorder that causes severe headaches and visual disturbances (blind spots). The medication initially caused a wide range of side effects, including extreme bouts of fatigue. My recovery was further derailed by a stomach flu and sinus infection along the way, both of which took exceedingly longer to bounce back from than usual. Within the past two weeks, most all of my side effects and symptoms have subsided, and I have been able to live something resembling my normal life again.

Throughout it all, James and I have been attempting to balance life as I still need to work and help take care of the dogs and the house. Some days are good and some days are not, but more and more the good days are outnumbering the bad ones. While I am not completely recovered, I am hopeful that will come soon given more time.

In the meantime, cooking and food has helped aid the recovery. Being back in the kitchen has helped immensely, even at first when all I could muster was a simple pasta dinner. More recently, my ventures have been more complex and I have been anxious to return to the website. You may notice some posts are dated after December 31, which is because I had a small queue of post-dated entries and they continued to publish (it wasn’t until weeks later that it even occurred to me that some items had posted).

Tentatively, I am hoping to have some new recipes posted next week. As for special projects and the independent study, I cannot say at this point what will come of them. As I continue to do well, I am sure things on the website will progress as well. Please stay patient with me and I hope to be back soon!

Zucchini Apple Pilaf

April 7th, 2010

Here is a twist on a typical side dish. Instead of a rice pilaf, try it with shredded zucchini. This cooks up quickly and can take the place of a side of rice or couscous, and also works as a side of veggies.

Zucchini is easy to shred using a standard cheese grater. Earthy mushroom and tart apple balance the dish. Toasted almonds would also work well here.

2 large zucchini, shredded
8 oz mushrooms, diced
1 large apple, cored and diced
zest of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

Heat a small amount of oil in a large skillet. Add mushrooms and saute 3 minutes. Add zucchini to pan and cook an addition 3 minutes. Season to taste with salk and pepper.  Add apple and lemon zest and cook 2-3 minutes until apple is cooked through.

Tip: after cutting, drizzle apple with a small amount of lemon juice to prevent browning.