(10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare)
By Lisa Messinger
Food and Cooking at Creators Syndicate
Often, we fill our pantries, refrigerators and produce baskets with ingredients that mark --- and spark --- the season. Spring, for instance, might mean your baskets are overflowing with peas, asparagus, mustard greens and leeks (sometimes known as spring onions). Lamb chops might be broiling. Perhaps you will toast with a mint julep.
What if instead, though, it took just a mere dash of an item you had on hand to give a dish a seasonal splash? For time-pressed cooks who still wish to impress and bring the season into their repertoire, herbs and spices are quick fixes.
"Dainty and light as a feather are the herbs of springtime...that lend unmistakable flavor and fragrance of freshness and green," write the keepers of Puget Consumers Co-op (PCC), a more than 50-year-old co-op in the Pacific Northwest.
Fragrance and color isn't the only difference for spring fare. Cooking technique comes into play as well. While seasonings may simmer and roast in winter cuisine, PCC recommends to add spring herbs "near the end of cooking for optimal color and flavor."
Some fresh choices include:
Following are a few spring twists I recently created. All ingredients --- and seasonings ---are to taste.
Fun fare like this also proves food preparation can be easy, nutritious, inexpensive, fun - and fast. The creative combinations are delicious proof that everyone has time for preparing homemade specialties and, more importantly, the healthy family togetherness that goes along with it!
Another benefit: You effortlessly become a better cook, since these are virtually-can't-go-wrong combinations. They can't help but draw "wows" from family members and guests.
- CHILI FOR A WARM SPRING DAY
In your favorite chili recipe, substitute ground lamb for ground beef and peas for beans. Other than chilies, salt and freshly ground black pepper, use only tarragon and chervil as the seasonings.
- SIP A SEASONAL SMOOTHIE
In a strong blender add water, fresh lemon juice, 1-inch pieces of leftover cooked asparagus, arugula, hulled strawberries, honeydew melon balls, mint, lemongrass and pea protein (a powder from peas, often available where soy or whey protein powders are sold, which also may be substituted) and ice cubes. Blend until smooth.
- OVERJOYED FOR THIS OMELET
Just at the end of whisking the eggs for an omelet, gently fold in chopped: parsley and dill as well as mustard seeds. Toward the end of cooking, fill with leftover cooked, diced honey-glazed ham.
- SPRING CARROT CAKE MADE WITH CARE
To the batter of your favorite carrot cake recipe, add fresh lemon juice, hulled, minced strawberries, mint, rosemary and marjoram. In addition, gently mix some of the minced mint into cream cheese frosting before spreading.
QUICK TIP OF THE WEEK: The question is whether you will be more voracious for food or for additional stories after devouring Cara Nicoletti's Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books. Nicoletti is a Brooklyn, NY-based butcher (from a long line of them), former pastry chef and author of the literary recipe blog Yummy Books. Lucky for us, she is as avid a reader as she is a talented cook and also inventive to have come up with this interesting premise. I was hooked when I saw that part one in the book was all about childhood and extracted tales and treats from some of my all-time favorites, such as the Little House on the Prairie (breakfast sausage) and Nancy Drew (double chocolate walnut sundae) series, Pippi Longstocking (buttermilk pancakes) and The Secret Garden (currant buns). The book continues cleverly on through adolescence/college years and adulthood. The recipes continue to get more sophisticated, such as selections from the adult section, like a red wine-rosemary bread inspired by The Odyssey, goat cheese pumpkin pie by The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether and grilled peaches with homemade ricotta by Goodbye to All That. You'll either come away a more informed cook or reader, or, better yet, both.
Lisa Messinger at Creators Syndicate is a first-place winner in food and nutrition writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the National Council Against Health Fraud and author of seven food books, including the best-selling The Tofu Book: The New American Cuisine with 150 Recipes (Avery/Penguin Putnam) and Turn Your Supermarket into a Health Food Store: The Brand-Name Guide to Shopping for a Better Diet (Pharos/Scripps Howard). She writes two nationally syndicated food and nutrition columns for Creators Syndicate and had been a longtime newspaper food and health section managing editor, as well as managing editor of Gayot/Gault Millau dining review company. Lisa traveled the globe writing about top chefs for Pulitzer Prize-winning Copley News Service and has written about health and nutrition for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Reader's Digest, Woman's World and Prevention Magazine Health Books. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.