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Growing and Cooking Asparagus

There’s nothing like asparagus that has been picked within hours of cooking. They are so sweet and juicy. Asparagus is at its best right after picking, because the sugars start converting into starches, and the longer it sits around, it loses flavor and toughens. Which is why we started an asparagus patch years ago. Growing asparagus is a bit of an investment, in time (the plants start producing two years after planting) and space (the patch will be fallow from July to April). But so worth it.   I never know how many I’ll find. On a good day, a dozen, on an average day a few. The spears range from thick to thin, and I’ve observed no rhyme or reason why. I like the thicker ones because they are juicier and meatier. But the thin ones have their own concentrated flavor. The way I cook them is like this:  First, peel the bottom third of the stems.  I don’t snap or cut the ends off because the asparagus are so fresh and the stems …

Strawberry Pie

In the spring in Santa Barbara, I’d put off riding back up the canyon after school, and pedal the much flatter streets to a bakery on State Street.  I’d never had anything as delicious as their strawberry pie, whole fresh strawberries suspended in a strawberry glaze, topped with whipped cream. For many years afterwards, Santa Barbara Strawberry Pie remained an elusive, happy memory. I never found a pie like that again. But strawberry season is here, so I tried to recreate this memory.  I used a recipe in the Fanny Farmer baking book (Marion Cunningham edition). First I made a crust. Making pie dough in the food processor is so easy. That’s coming from someone who made it by hand for years and years. The other thing about making pie crust is that the more you do it, the better you get. That’s coming from someone who taught herself how to make pie dough, and had a tough time figuring it out.  but look at this, I rolled out this dough in a circle in …

Flinders Lane: Australian Fusion in Stamford

  Flinders Lane is a culinary destination in downtown Melbourne, Australia, filled with restaurants and cafes offering a range of ethnic and contemporary cuisine. Summer street is a culinary destination in downtown Stamford, Connecticut. And that’s where you’ll find Flinder’s Lane, a contemporary Australian-fusion restaurant. Immigrants always improve the food, especially if the culture has been dominated by English settlers. At Flinders Lane in Stamford, there are Asian and Mediterranean influences on the English food, too.  A classic sausage roll in puff pastry is jazzed up with sambal mayo. Among the small plates, tuna tartar is accented with a plantain chip. Dumplings are filled with chicken and lemongrass.  Italian meatballs are filled with veal and pork, served with tomato sauce and grilled bread. An Australian native species is represented by barramundi perch (the Aborigines have a legend about the fish), which is steamed in green chile lime sauce, and dressed with mint. The other native species on the menu is kangaroo. I tried it in a salad, based on Thai Yum. It tastes like beef, with more of a gamey flavor. …

Prime: American Kitchen and Bar

The location is prime. Right on the water in Stamford, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a harbor filled with pleasure boats. Comfortable, contemporary, and sophisticated, Prime serves an updated American surf and turf menu. Start with sushi, and end with steak. That’s what we did. Prime, which opened 2 years ago, wasn’t on my radar, until I was invited to dinner there by Carolyn Izzo of CIIS.  It’s one of the 8 restaurants in the Bohlsen Restaurant Group, which runs another Prime across Long Island Sound in Huntington, N.Y. The intriguing avocado-wrapped Green Lotus revealed an interior of spicy tuna, lump crab, and Asian pear. The Stamford Landing roll wrapped tuna over shrimp tempura and avocado. For those who avoid sushi, a starter of prosciutto and caramelized figs, with almonds and goat cheese, drizzled with balsamic glaze, was sweet and salty. Prime lived up to its name with this 21-day aged USA Prime porterhouse steak for two. It had a good char on the outside, and was pink, well-marbled, tender and full of beefy flavor.  It …

Brindavan

I recently discovered an awesome Indian restaurant called Brindavan. It’s about a 25 minutes drive from my house in Fairfield, and the distance is a good thing, because if I lived any closer, I would have been back a dozen times by now. I kept thinking about the aromatic, spice-filled food for days afterward. Known for having the “biggest lunch buffet,” Brindavan is in a strip mall in Milford, CT, and on a recent weekday lunch, the long room was filled with a mostly Indian crowd. A woman serving herself from the abundant trays, said she and her colleagues worked at a near-by pharmaceutical company.  A waiter who brought warm naan to the table,  told us that “if we had the time,” come back on the weekend, when the buffet expands to 35 dishes. Brindavan is about the food, not the décor.  Unlike the dingy atmosphere, the food is bright, warm, filled with spices and flavors that made us smile and feel a buzz.  The Manchurian vegetable balls really stood out for, may be because it’s one of the …

Lucas Local Oyster Bar and Woodfire Cookery

Oyster lovers, head inland. The best oysters to be found in Fairfield County are not on the coast but in Newtown, CT, at Lucas Local Oyster Bar and Woodfire Cookery. The other day I sampled some of the freshest and most expertly opened oysters, pristine, glistening, and briny. This contemporary American Sea and Land restaurant is housed in an antique house, renovated with rough hewn repurposed boards, and calming gray walls. Lucas is relaxed and fun, a place to enjoy life by eating well. Owner Vince Capelletti is a seasoned restaurateur, and the kitchen is kicking out some excellent dishes. We were recently invited to a tasting by Max Ex, the restaurant marketing firm. The dish that stayed in my mind afterwards? Shrimp and grits. Coarse stone-ground grits, lightly grilled red shrimp, sprightly fresh scallions, basil oil, and a poached egg. At brunch it’s like the best adult porridge you could imagine. At dinner, pure comfort food, where you’re saying, “ummm,” after every bite. Seared Stonington scallops were simply paired with grilled frisée. Octopus was finished over the wood fire, and paired with hummus …

A Soup to Cure You

At the first hint of a scratchy throat, I make a potent garlic soup, boosted by healthy herbs and spices.  The basis of this soup is my beloved Garlic Soup from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  It’s made with garlic, sage, thyme, fresh parsley, thyme, and water.  I veer off the original recipe to include inflammation- reducing, circulation-enhancing, immune-strengthening herbs and spices. Start with a head of garlic, add mushroom, onion, thyme, black peppercorn,  clove, hot pepper, cardamom pods, cumin seeds, bay leaves, galangal, ginger, turmeric, and Sichuan peppercorns.  If there are other healthy spices you love, add them too. The only reason I didn’t include sage and parsley is because I was out. Add real olive oil. Garlic soup can be veggie, made with water. Or you can use chicken stock.  I needed extra fortification, so I used chicken stock .  Add salt accordingly. Bring to a boil, then simmer, partially covered for 40 minutes. Strain, and mash the garlic cloves through the strainer. If you’ve used water, before serving you could …