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Any other time, I wouldn't give a second glance to a recipe for celery soup. I use celery when I make a pot of stock, and sometimes I add it to salads and slaws. It goes into mirepoix to use as a flavorful base for sauces, soups and stews. But unless its ribs are filled with peanut butter and dotted with soft raisins, I ignore celery. I read an article the other day about the results of an online audience poll that San Francisco's Bi-Rite Market conducted. In an effort to help their customers cut down on food waste, they asked them what food they wasted most.
I watched intently as Katie Novotny, owner of St. Paul Classic Cookie Co., dumped dry ingredients into a large metal mixing bowl. She used a knife to slash chunks of chilled butter into the same bowl. It seemed making perfect scones would be quite simple. Novotny had graciously agreed to share some of her baking expertise with our group of seven food-and-fun-loving females in her small shop on Territorial Road in St. Paul. After running her bakery in the skyway in downtown St. Paul for 3½ years, she moved to her current location and opened up shop in January 2010.
When the guy at the checkout asked me if asparagus could hold up to freezing temperatures, I thought he was referring to a malfunctioning refrigerator. Then, he put his hands in the air, layering them 4 or 5 inches apart. "My asparagus is about this big already," he said. "It's supposed to get down into the 20s tonight. I'm worried about the asparagus." I couldn't give him an answer about how overnight freezing temperatures would affect young asparagus shoots.
I recently attended the annual conference for the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), held in New York this year. Breakfast was included on a few of the days. Throughout the large eighth-floor gathering room of the Broadway Millennium hotel, long tables were arranged with a display of help-yourself fresh fruit, small cartons of yogurt and plates of fancy rich pastries, puffy New York bagels and muffins. I passed up the pastries and made a beeline for a table in one corner of the room every morning.
I watched with intrigue as a young woman at the next table picked up her teaspoon and expertly slid the edge of it between the emerald green flesh and thin brown skin of half a fuzzy kiwi she held in her other hand. I had noticed kiwi amid a rainbow of cut fresh fruit that was part of a lavish Sunday buffet brunch at Madden's Resort on Gull Lake in Brainerd, Minn., last summer. Guest chefs from The St. Paul Grill, Pazzaluna, RJ's American Grill, Tria, The Saint Paul Hotel and Enjoy! Restaurant along with Madden's chefs had prepared the feast that ended Madden's Food and Wine weekend.
Four adults lined both sides of the island in my kitchen on a recent Sunday afternoon. Picking and choosing from an array of brightly colored fresh vegetables to include in roll-ups, we looked like young children involved in a pre-school food project, tasting, laughing and chatting as we worked. Or played. Once we realized we weren't stuffing flour tortillas to create behemoth burritos, we began forming perfect spring rolls. I remember the first time I ate a spring roll. I was dining in a Vietnamese restaurant in St. Paul.
First there was fire. Then there was flatbread. The first hard mixture of hand-ground flour and water was baked in hot ashes or on a stone over flames more than 6,000 years ago. Since then, flatbread has gone global. Now, cookbook author and cooking instructor Shelley Holman has written a soon-to-be released cookbook celebrating the versatile bread that takes little time to prepare. The Arizona woman taught a Flatbread Fantasy class I recently attended at Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School in Scottsdale.
The month of March is one that always keeps me guessing - is it spring or is it still winter? One day the thermometer may read 2 degrees below zero, the next day 42 above. I pay more attention to food-related signals that guarantee spring is right around the corner. Just as sweet, juicy clementines begin to disappear from their winter spot in the produce department at the grocery store, my favorite mangoes appear, ready to take their place. That is when I know spring is near. On the first weekend of March, I celebrated this month of transition by making Pumpkin-Mango Upside-Down Baby Cakes.
Whether Irish or not, as March 17 approaches, many home cooks start thinking green. Food coloring and sprinkles turn cookies and cupcakes into special treats for St. Patrick's Day. The more health-conscious create fruit salads with green grapes and kiwi or big bowls of bright tossed salads made of mixed fresh greens. This year I'm making soup - green soup. An unlikely combination, watercress, peas and pears simmer together in a pot and magically produce a sublime, creamy green soup.
I've always enjoyed eating broccoli. One of my favorite ways to prepare the green cruciferous vegetable is to steam it until it's still a little crisp, yet tender enough for a fork to pierce into the stem.