Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Glimpse into our Life in Provence

Our two month adventure into living the good life in Provence could be described in four words – fantastic in every way. We returned again to the Bouches-de-Rhone area where we had visited several years ago, but this time we stayed in Maillane, about 7 km north of Saint-Remy-de-Provence, our absolute hands-down favorite village in all of France. We rented a 200 year old remodeled stone mas (farmhouse) named Volets Bleus, which means blue shutters. The mas was beautifully decorated in shades of white and greige with blue accents and included a great kitchen with all of the comforts of home. It was a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house that sleeps 6, living room, dining room, den, library, breakfast room, a very well equipped new kitchen with American style appliances, a powder room on the first floor, laundry room with a washer & dryer, and a very private flower garden, a couple of seating areas and pool in a gated courtyard completely enclosed by a high stone wall. The property was perfect for us and our guests. Since several of you have asked about the house, I thought you might enjoy a few pictures.

If you have an interest in Volets Bleus in Maillane, you can contact our friend Cornelius Alsen here. He is a delightful gentleman and has been a great help to us during our last two trips to Provence. Cornelius is extremely knowledge about Saint-Remy and the surrounding area and is a pleasure to work with. Tell him you heard about the house from Meakin & Sam Hoffer.

It turns out that we were enchanted with Maillane and the people who live there. It is a very small, rural village compared to Saint-Remy and there were two grocery stores, one café, one (really nice) restaurant and a new one on the way, and a small pizza shop. Don’t fret if they don’t have what you need. You can always pop down to Saint- Remy, where there is a very large modern supermarket and a huge open air Wednesday market, so you won’t have to worry about grocery shopping. The French shop for groceries more often than most of us do. Everything is either fresh and in season or it’s not available. We almost never left home without our straw market basket.

We were a bit worried when we discovered that no one spoke any English in the village. We do speak a bit of French, somewhat broken and mispronounced, and on past trips we have always been able to get by. I can write a grocery list in French and am able to read most of the menus in restaurants, I just don’t pronounce the words well. We usually start any conversation off by asking, “Parlez-vous Anglais?” And quite often the answer has been, “Oui, un peu.” But the answer this trip was “Non.” When first realizing that no one spoke English in the village, I confess it was a bit frightening.  

The French are very kind about correcting your French and they do it in subtle ways. For instance I had been mispronouncing the village of Maillane. I said to someone that we were staying in Maillane and pronounced it “My-lane.” “Oh,” they replied, “you’re in My-ane.”

Before long, my darling husband Meakin, who has never met a stranger in his life, was carrying on conversations with the people in this tiny French village, even though he spoke limited French and they didn’t understand English. He devised a way to carry on a conversation by using some French with a few words of English thrown in now and then, adding hand gestures, facial expressions and an occasional Gallic French shrug and, as if by magic, it worked. His French improved as the two months passed and surprisingly a few of them beginning to feel comfortable speaking a little English.

In fact Meakin did so well that we were invited to a French family’s house for aperitifs. The fact that very little English was understood didn’t seem to interfere with our conversation (thank goodness for pads/phones and Google translate). We in turn invited them to dinner at Volets Bleus, which they knew well because the previous owners were friends of theirs. So don’t let language stand in your way of having a good time and getting to know people in a foreign country.

However it’s also very important to know some niceties in French such as bonjour, au revoir, merci, s’il vous plait, and of course how to ask for help, how to make dinner reservations as well as the check in a restaurant. Manners are definitely not dead in France. So much so that it’s expected that when you enter a shop that you say Bonjour Madame or Monsieur and au revoir when you leave. Think about it. You wouldn’t enter a person’s home without saying hello and it’s expected in France that you extend the same courtesies in a shop.

If you are staying longer than a couple of weeks and need a car, which you definitely will if you’re in Provence, it’s more economical to lease a car rather than rent. We always lease a Peugeot in advance to be ready for us when we land in Marseille. When you lease, you can specify everything including the model and color of the car. Don’t expect any car, including rentals, to come with automatic transmission or GPS or air conditioning – you must specify it. The best thing we did was get GPS because it got us everywhere quite easily. Oh, occasionally it was wrong or we made a wrong turn at a round-about, but it was essential. One of our guests brought their own GPS from home with the European maps and it wasn’t nearly as reliable as the one that came with our car. We would never be without GPS in the car again. When we turn our lease car back in, it is then sold as a “gently used” car and used cars as opposed to new cars don’t have the VAT tax, so it is a good deal for us as well as whoever French person purchases the car after we turn it in.

The other tip I can pass along is arrange in advance with your bank at home for you to have some Euros with you when you land. If you have a few, you don’t have to race around to find an ATM to convert your money the minute you get there. Traveler’s checks are passé and a debit card is essential to get cash from a bank or ATM. It’s also smart to tell your credit/debit card company that you will be out of the country so they’ll know it’s you when you use it. If I had known how to tell Facebook I would be abroad, I would have. I didn’t and they blocked my account until they could correspond with me to make sure it was “me.” I had to change my password and that was no big deal, but it was inconvenient to be blocked for a short time. So plan in advance as much as you can.

This interesting Provencal style sink is in the powder room. Notice the soap dispenser, which we found quite unusual. There was another dispenser just like it in the laundry room. The soap is a special soap from Marseille called “Savon de Marseille.” 

Savon de Marseille is an olive oil based soap and has been crafted in the South of France since the Middle Ages. In 1688 it became law that only soaps made according to strict ancient methods could bear the famous mark. Only a few savonneries (soap factories) near Marseille still make this soap in the traditional manner, so take care than you don't buy a fake. It takes a soapmaster two weeks to make Savon de Marseille. You can read more about this legendary soap here and also purchase it. One of our guests joked that if the soap ran out, he guessed that they would have to sell the house. But it seems that there is a little shop specializing in regional products in Saint-Remy where you can buy refills as well as the entire dispenser for it as seen below. The small soaps make a nice gift for a friend or yourself. I always bring a few back with me.

If you stay in rural villages, don’t be surprised if you have a farmer for a neighbor and as it turns out we did. Monsieur Bernard was a large scale farmer by French standards and had many fields in various sections outside the village, but his warehouse was directly behind Volets Bleus and sometimes we could hear him and his wife working late into the evening packing their trucks and vans with produce from their farm to take to the markets the next morning. They were very kind neighbors and here is a bouquet of freshly picked artichokes and several Cavaillon melons that he shared with us that were freshly picked that morning.

Melons have been cultivated in the Cavaillon region since at last 1495 and as you might imagine are quite popular in the region. We dined on Cavaillon melons with prosciutto many a day for lunch on our stone terrace. More about the melons here.

When we serve melon, we like to squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over it and crank some freshly ground peppercorns on it before draping with the prosciutto. Here we’ve served the melon with a fresh green salad dressed in Vicki Archer’s (of French Essence fame) favorite balsamic vinaigrette, which she learned from one of the best French cooks she says she knows, Christiane, the wife of their farm manager. Christiane’s secret (and now it will be mine as well) is to let the salt (French fleur de sel sea salt from the Camargue region of Provence is THE best) and pepper dissolve into the balsamic vinegar before adding the olive oil. You’ll find Christiane’s balsamic vinaigrette recipe here on French Essence. If you’re not familiar with French fleur de Sel, it is sea salt that is hand raked and harvested in France. The name Fleur de Sel comes from the aroma of violets that develops as the salt dries and only the premium top layer of the salt bed is used. My favorite Fleur de Sel is the brand I saw most predominately while we were in Provence - Le Saunier de Camargue Fleur de Sel from the Camargue region of Provence near Arles. With its real cork top and eye-catching container, it is available at numerous sources in the US including Amazon, link here. I never leave Provence without several containers of Fleur de Sel in my bag.

As with any visit to France, food plays a big part of your everyday life, starting with a morning stroll to the boulangerie for a fresh baguette and a look around to see if any pastries are “calling your name” that day.

And believe me, there will be many days when a crispy little elephant ear shaped goodie called a palmier or a gorgeous little tart, fresh out of the oven and topped with perfectly cut pears or ripe red juicy raspberries will speak to you while you are peering into the case and say, “Take me home with you.” You are in for a treat with the boulangerie. Meakin met the baker and asked permission to take pictures inside a real French bakery where the baking was actually taking place, so you won't want to miss that upcoming post.

After we’d been up and around for a while, we began planning our day by scrolling down the pages of one of the guide books we brought (most of the guides are computerized now and there’s no need to lug heavy books along when you can read them on your Pad or phone) to decide which village we should see and the best place for dejeuner (lunch). Truly life in Provence was no more hurried than this.  

Open Tuesday - Saturday 7:30 - 12:30 and 3:30 to 7:30. Sunday from 8 until 12. Closed Monday.

We quickly learned to slow down and take at easy in Provence. No one hurries and most shops close for lunch each day and often aren’t open on Sundays and Mondays, especially in Provence. The sign above is typical of shop hours in small villages.

We enjoyed shopping locally and often while we were there. As I said earlier, Maillane has two small grocery stores. It is amazing how much is available in the small shops and the best part about the small shops is you can get to know the owners. Claudette and Christopher owned the Utile Market, a French retailers cooperative, and part of the pleasure of shopping there was the opportunity to visit with them on a regular basis. They are a charming couple and despite the language barrier we managed to discuss a range of subjects from politics to retirement during our frequent visits to their store. Many, many evenings our meals consisted of foods prepared by Christopher, who is a 6th generation butcher in Maillane. He graciously shared some of his recipes with us, which I’ll tell you much more about later. My philosophy on vacation, especially in France, is if you can buy exquisitely prepared foods made with the freshest of ingredients, why bother cooking. Of course we did cook, because who can resist taking advantage of the abundance of all of the fresh food found in their markets. I admit we ate more than our share of fresh strawberries and cherries while we were there.

We became reacquainted with quite a few old friends who amazingly remembered us from our past trip and also met quite a few new ones.  Our friends Claude and Dana above, who owed Bistro Decoverte in Saint-Remy, have since sold the bistro and have opened a new Italian restaurant named La Cantina. Claude makes the best pizza we’ve ever eaten. They are an adorable couple and very interesting people to visit with. You can be sure there will be a post on La Cantina later.

We invited author and Francophile Vicki Archer above to join us for lunch one day at La Cantina, which happens to be one of her favorite restaurants in Saint Remy too. I know many of you know Vicki from her two gorgeous books, My French Life and French Essence and her blog French Essence. She was as charming and lovely as you might expect. We chatted about life in France and what it was like to take on the massive task of their restoring ancient abandoned 17th century mas (farmhouse), Mas de Berard, which she and her husband David remodeled several years ago in Saint Remy. It is the main subject of Vicki’s first book My French Life. Here’s a link from an interview from Cote de Texas with lots of photos of Mas de Berard. You can’t help but be impressed.

Recently Vicki and her husband took on a new project and renovated their new guesthouse in Saint-Remy, Le Petite Bijou. You can read about it in that same interview as well as on Vicki’s website French Essence here. Le Petite Bijou is very tastefully decorated by Vicki and conveniently located in the heart of Saint Remy. Just steps from your door is the very popular do-not-miss weekly Wednesday market, which you’ll see more about on a future post.

Vicki shared some advice with us that she had received from a French friend who explained that the sound of someone trying to speak another language with a foreign accent was charming and she said that it helped here overcome the fear of speaking French and in turn it helped us both be a little braver about speaking. I especially want to thank Vicki for being so helpful to me on planning my wardrobe for our trip. Based on her advice my wardrobe consisted of neutrals in black and white for cooler weather and, as the weather warmed, light colored creams and tans worked well. Here is a link to French Essence with more tips and advice about traveling to Provence.

As always I bought lots and lots of scarves at the Saint-Remy Wednesday market from our friend Kim above, who remembered us from our last trip. It was great to catch up with Kim and she invited us to visit Goult, the lovely perched village where she lives in the Luberon region of Provence. We drove over several times during our visit for their weekly Thursday market and had lunch afterwards in a small bistro that quickly became one of our favorites.

I totally agree that "travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer." I also think travel changes you for the better and makes you a more well rounded and open minded person. But I'll borrow a line from one of John Denver's songs - "Hey, it's good to be back home again." I've missed you all.

That’s it for now. There’ll be much much more coming up later.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday.
Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Off for a leisurely 2 month stroll through Provence & the South of France

Perched village of Gordes

We’re off for a very leisurely 2 month stroll through Provence and the South of France. That’s what people do when they retire. They don’t hurry or run, they stroll. We’re plan to take our time and leisurely enjoy the glorious sights and smells of Provence, stopping often by the side of the road to enjoy the fields of sunflowers and lavender that grow in that region. And of course live the good life.

The truth be told, we already live the good life. The only difference is that we’ll be living the good life à la française. We’ve rented an old stone Mas (a French country house) a few kilometers north of Saint-Rémy de Provence. Saint-Rémy de Provence is located in the heart of the Alpilles region of Provence where we stayed on our last visit.

We’ll shop in the outdoor markets of small villages & enjoy the charm of the typical Provencal way of life. We’ll stroll along the boulevards under the shade of century-old plane trees, wander around narrow little streets, discover squares with fountains, and of course dine outside at many of their cafes and restaurants and sip wine and eat fabulous Provencal cooking based on locally produced products.

We plan to rise early each morning and walk with the locals to the village’s boulangerie for a fresh baguette and carry it home under our arm.

Perhaps later in the day visit the pretty lady in the patisserie to pick up a couple of flaky pastries or a tart (tart citron is my favorite) for the evening.

We’ll hum Starry, Starry Night as we walk in the steps of Van Gogh where he painted some of his most famous masterpieces in the plein air of Saint-Rémy & Arles.

Saint-Paul Asylum

While in Arles we’ll enjoy the Romans ruins of the ancient city & see where bull fights are held.

Seems the Romans were all over Provence. On our last visit we drove to the Pont de Gard, a Roman monument built halfway through the 1st century AD. The long aqueduct supplied the city of Nimes with water.

We’ve planned day trips from Saint-Rémy and will visit other villages such as Isle Sur la Sorgue, where the river Sorgue surrounds the city and walk along canals that run between the ancient narrow streets. Sunday is flea market day in Isle Sur la Sorgue and crowds come from all around looking for vintage items and treasures. Hmm, I should start my list now...

Perhaps we’ll visit the medieval village of Fontaine de Vaucluse again as one of our day trips and have a leisurely lunch overlooking the beautiful clear blue river that gushes by.

There are many perched villages in Provence. One of our favorites is the beautiful old village of Gordes, situated high in the southern edge of the Plateau de Vaucluse with its stone buildings built tight against the base of cliffs. Photo of Gordes shown in the beginning of the post.

Larger side trips include a visit north to Normandy see the beaches and also from Nice we plan to drive over to northern Italy and Modena in particular. Modena is famous for it's balsamic vinegar of course and it's also opera singer Luciano Pavarotti's home. But there's another reason to visit Modena. It also happens to be the home of Erzo Ferrari and the Ferrari factory. I'm sure we'll see plenty of shiny cars to ogle.  

Promenade des Anglais, Nice 

And of course throughout the trip we'll eat and sip wine until our hearts and bellies are content.

And visit a winery or two or three.

For those of you who follow My Carolina Kitchen on Facebook, you can catch me there as I will try to post some pictures from Provence from time to time while we’re away. Click here to follow on Facebook.

So we leave you with an à bientôt (see you soon) and lots of promises for many fun-filled posts about Provence when we return near the end of June. Take care everyone and we hope you have a lovely spring.

I will return early to mid July with posts about our trip and new recipes after we get settled in for the summer in the mountains.

See you then.

Sam & Meakin

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Chicken Breasts with Pancetta Cream and Peas

We were so impressed with this recipe that we thought it qualified as a special Sunday dinner. The sauce tastes as rich and creamy as a Béchamel, but actually it’s just a white wine and chicken broth based sauce made from the fond left in the pan from browning the chicken and thickened with a small amount of mascarpone and a bit of flour. Baby English peas are scattered across the top for color and additional flavor.

Both the chicken and sauce come together in under 45 minutes and would be a welcome addition to your list of dinner party recipes or would come in handy when you have a house guests. I served it with tomatoes Provençal, which I’ll post about later this spring.

It’s one of Cooking Light’s most popular recipes ever. Feel free to substitute bacon for the pancetta and for the mascarpone I used cream cheese because I had it on hand. Don’t pass this one by.

Chicken Breasts with Pancetta Cream and Peas
Adapted from Cooking Light’s The Weeknight Chicken Book – serves 4
Printable Recipe

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 small garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 ½ ounces pancetta or bacon, chopped
4 6-ounce skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup unsalted chicken stock
2 tablespoons mascarpone or cream cheese – I used low fat cream cheese
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons water
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed (unthawed worked fine)

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add garlic; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove garlic from pan using a slotted spoon, and then set aside. Increase heat to medium-high. Add pancetta and sauté 4 minutes or until crisp. Remove pancetta from pan using a slotted spoon and reserve.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and sauté 4 minutes on each side. Remove chicken from pan. Add wine; bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook until the liquid almost evaporates (about 3 minutes). Return chicken to pan. Add stock; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook for 6 – 8 minutes or until chicken is done. Remove chicken from pan and cover to keep warm.

Add mascarpone or cream cheese to pan and stir with a whisk until smooth. Combine water and flour, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture to pan. Bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes or until sauce is thickened and creamy. Stir in reserved pancetta, garlic, and peas. Cook 1 minute. Spoon sauce over chicken.

Cook's notes: If you don't serve this with something red such as the tomato Provencal and want to add a bit of color, you can add some red bell pepper, cut up in small pieces and sauteed until crispy to the sauce. We did that with the left-overs and it was delicious as well as pretty.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

I’ll be sharing this with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen’s Full Plate Thursday.


Onto an another note - Life is full of surprises. One minute you're on top of your game & the next minute you're flat on your face. That's exactly what happened to me. The other day I was flying high and feeling great and before I knew what happened, I tripped on a step and found myself flat on my face on the concrete - literally flat on my face. Needless to say that has definitely taken the wind out of my sails.

Add to that - we depart in a matter of days for a 2 month adventure in Provence and the South of France. Consequently those two things have altered my plans somewhat for the blog. I thought I would have time to prepare some preplanned posts for you and have them come on automatically while we were gone, but that plan flew out of the window with my fall. I'm black & blue (add to that a black eye and bruises on my face), am very sore and quite frankly just not up to the task. But I do know I lucky I am and how much worse it could have been. We are still excited about the trip and I do have a new post scheduled for next week to tell you about our trip and where we're going. 

For those of you who follow My Carolina Kitchen on Facebook, you can catch me there while we're gone. I plan to post some pictures from time to time while we're away. Click here to follow on our trip on Facebook. 

So I'll leave you with an à bientôt (see you soon) and lots of promises for many fun-filled posts about Provence & the South of France when we return near the end of June. Next week I'll explain where we're going and some of the things we plan to see. 

In the meantime, take care everyone and I hope you have a lovely spring.

Sam & Meakin

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Spanish Chicken, Rice, Shrimp & Chorizo turned into a mock Paella

This dish began as a simple Spanish chicken and rice dish and by adding some saffron, Spanish chorizo and shrimp I was able to turn it into a party friendly version of mock Spanish paella. It’s a flavorful one dish meal that comes together in less than an hour. To round out the meal, serve with a crusty baguette, a lightly dressed green salad and pour a good Spanish red wine from the Rioja region.

If you research paella on the internet, you’ll find many versions. I found this one from Tio Peppe’s restaurant in Greenwich Village very attractive and a doable presentation for a home cook. If you look at their paella picture here, you’ll see that the Chef garnished his paella with well placed slices of roasted red peppers, then sprinkled green peas atop the red peppers and a few slices of Spanish chorizo were strewn about to give the dish a big pop of color and flavor. I noticed that he chose to serve the paella in a dark bowl, which I also found appealing from a color standpoint. So there’s no stopping what you can do with a simple base of chicken and rice simmered together in a tomato and wine sauce.

Spanish Chicken, Rice, Shrimp & Chorizo turned into a mock Paella
Adapted from Real Simple – serves 4
Printable Recipe

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of excess fat & cut into 2 ½” inch pieces
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, crushed & torn into pieces, including liquid
¼ teaspoon dried saffron, crumbled (optional)
1 cup long-grain white rice
¾ pound peeled & deveined wild caught shrimp (optional)
1 cup frozen green peas
¼ cup pimento-stuffed Spanish olives, cut in half
4 to 5 ounces Spanish chorizo, roughly diced (optional)
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped + extra sprigs for garnish

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook until golden brown, 2 minutes per side.

Add the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine, tomatoes and their liquid, saffron, rice, salt, and freshly ground black pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, or until 5 minutes before the rice is done. Stir in shrimp and continue to cook for 5 more minutes until rice & shrimp are done.

Stir the peas, olives, & chopped chorizo into the rice and chicken and cook, covered, until heated through, about 2 minutes. Spoon the chicken and rice into a platter or onto individual plates and sprinkle with the parsley. If desired, garnish with a sprig of parsley.

For better viewing, click photos to enlarge.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday.
Have a great weekend everyone.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

6 Easy Asparagus Recipes for Easter or any time of the year

Asparagus is one of our favorite dishes to serve at Easter. It spells springtime for me and besides, most everyone loves asparagus. I usually poach the asparagus because it holds up well at room temperature or it can be served chilled. Foods that can be served at room temperature are a real plus. They can sit on a buffet while the main meal is being put together or they are perfect to take to someone else’s house.

I’ve chosen a very simple asparagus dish to feature this year – poached asparagus spears drizzled with a lemon vinaigrette and garnished with sliced lemons.

Grilled asparagus lovers take note - this recipe will work for you as well.  Just grill the asparagus instead of poaching it, drizzle with the lemon vinaigrette, garnish with the lemon slices and you’re good to go.

If you prefer to steam your asparagus, then steam them rather than poaching them and proceed with the remainder of the recipes calling for the poaching method.

You’ll also find a medley of 5 of our other favorite asparagus recipes shown below. They are also perfect for your Easter table or for that matter, any time of the year. Any of these recipes can be doubled or tripled to feed a crowd.

Asparagus with a Lemon Vinaigrette
My Carolina Kitchen by Sam Hoffer – serves 6 - easily doubled or tripled
Printable Recipe

For poached asparagus, My Carolina Kitchen’s Basic Recipe for Poached Asparagus is shown below. If you prefer to GRILL or STEAM your asparagus, just dress the grilled or steamed asparagus with the lemon vinaigrette, garnish with sliced lemons and serve right away.

2 lemons, sliced thinly and seeds removed

Lemon Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ to 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
Dash of hot sauce such as Tabasco
Maldon sea salt, or other good sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place all of the ingredients into a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake well.  Easily doubled or tripled. Set aside while you cook the asparagus. This vinaigrette saves well in the refrigerator for a day or two. The mustard is used to emulsify the vinaigrette and keeps it from separating and the shallot and hot sauce bring added flavor and are highly recommended.

My Carolina Kitchen’s Basic Recipe for Poached Asparagus
From My Carolina Kitchen – Sam Hoffer

1 lb fresh asparagus, tough lower ends snapped off
2 teaspoons salt
Water flavored with low sodium, low fat beef broth* to taste

After tough ends of asparagus have been removed, peel the remaining ends unless the asparagus is thin; if thin, leave as is. Bring water flavored with beef broth and 2 teaspoons salt to a boil in a shallow pan. Add asparagus, turn heat to low and cook for about 4 minutes until asparagus is crisp tender, taking care not to overcook. Immediately plunge the asparagus in an ice water bath to stop the cooking and retain the green color.

After a minute or two, remove the asparagus and dry well with a towel. Dress with a vinaigrette. Then you may either chill it for about an hour or serve it at room temperature.

Cook’s notes: I like to flavor my asparagus water with beef broth. It isn’t necessary, but it does bring a very nice flavor to the cooking broth.

Asparagus with Fig Vinaigrette & Shallots uses fig balsamic vinegar to make rich, dark vinaigrette, tossed in some chopped shallots, and served it over crispy poached asparagus at room temperature. Chopped Mission figs can be added to the garnish if you wish for even more fig flavor. My basic vinaigrettes are always three parts oil to one part vinegar or acid.

Feel free to grill or steam the asparagus rather than poach it, then top the asparagus with the fig vinaigrette and the garnishes.

Printable recipe
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Grilled Asparagus with Melon & Fresh Mozzarella Cheese shown above is a very versatile recipe in that the asparagus can be cooked outside on a gas or charcoal grill or in your kitchen on a stove top grill, which is what I did. The melon and cheese make a great fresh topping full of flavor and have real eye appeal, plus it tastes great. What more can you ask for from a recipe?

Printable recipe 
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Asparagus Mimosa, also known as Asparagus Goldenrod is an elegant, easy to prepare dish that can be made ahead of time. It’s perfect for an Easter buffet and is an ideal companion to baked ham. Basically it is poached asparagus, served cold with a light vinaigrette and garnished with grated hard-boiled eggs and capers shown above or with chopped radishes shown below. It’s known as Asparagus Mimosa because the grated hard-boiled eggs resemble mimosa blossoms. The name Goldenrod comes from the bright green asparagus garnished with yellow egg yolks. Classic dishes such as this were a mainstay on the menus of the grand hotels in a bygone era.

If you wish to grill or steam the asparagus, toss the grilled or steamed asparagus with the vinaigrette and garnishes either with the grated eggs and capers or radishes.

Printable recipe with capers
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Printable recipe with radishes
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Asparagus served on a Bed of Arugula with Roasted Red Peppers & Kalamata Olives is super easy to prepare and very impressive on the plate. It’s broken down into three recipes, two of which are very basic recipes that are nice to know how to make without needing a recipe - poached asparagus and a basic balsamic vinaigrette. The last is the gussied up part – the arugula and the toppings of roasted red peppers, red onions, and kalamata olives.

Again, you could grill or steam the asparagus if you wish, then toss in the vinaigrette, serve on the arugula and garnish with the roasted peppers and olives.

Printable recipe 
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Asparagus with Hearts of Palm, Grape Tomatoes & Silvers of Red Onion tossed in a Lemony Olive Oil Vinaigrette is easily put together in 15 minutes or less and is very colorful on the plate. The hearts of palm give it a tropical twist.

This recipe would work equally well with grilled asparagus. Toss the asparagus in the vinaigrette and garnish with the hearts of palm, grape tomatoes & slivers of red onion.

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This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm and Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday.
We hope each of you have a blessed Easter.