Cooking 101: Finally, it’s time to lighten up

April is the shedding season.

Time to strip off those extra layers, those wrap-around scarfs and down mittens and heavy woolen socks, those bulky coats and clunky boots and, oh my, yes, those spiky yak tracks that have kept you upright most of this wretched winter.

Time to throw back the insulating drapes and let the radiating sun from the longer days warm the rooms and the bones too long chilled by the bitter and blustery winds.

Time to stash the Crock Pot and the roasting pan and the casseroles, to sweep through the collecting clutter of the fridge and the freezer, tossing the heavy and the hearty.

Time to lighten up!

Now is not the time to spend all day in a warm kitchen, fussing over homemade stocks and sauces. Now is the time to sit on the deck in the warming mid-day sun, eyeing the long-neglected grill and barren gardens, dreaming and devising the fresh meals ahead.

Perhaps there’s a tiny shoot of chive poking through the thawing soil? Yes! Grab it! The beginnings of a simple springtime feast beckons. A bright brunch, a light lunch, a simple supper. Yes. Yes. Yes. It is time.

Scallions and strawberries and spinach and salmon and salads. Ahhhh …

A BRIGHT BRUNCH

A nice quiche, a fresh fruit salad, sparkling juices or champagne. Serve on a sunny patio if you can.

SPRING QUICHE

1 pie crust

4 tablespoons butter

2 cups diced fresh veggies – asparagus, mushrooms, spinach, artichokes, scallions, ramps, leeks, fiddleheads, whatever is fresh

1?2 cup chopped chives

4 eggs

2 cups cream or half and half

1?2 teaspoon each nutmeg and lemon pepper

2/3 cup Gruyere

Roll out crust into rectangle and place in pie plate. Beat eggs. Brush crust with some of the beaten egg. Sprinkle with lemon pepper. Beat rest of the spices and cream into the eggs.

Saute? veggies in butter until just tender. Spread

on bottom of pie crust. Top with half the cheese. Pour egg mix over veggies and crust. Sprinkle with remaining cheese, pushing down slightly. Bake at 350 degrees 45 minutes to one hour, until set.

FRUIT SALAD

Sliced strawberries, fresh orange and grapefruit segments, kiwi rounds. Arrange on plates. Drizzle with fresh lime juice seasoned with a pinch of ginger and maple syrup or honey.

A LIGHT LUNCH

CREAM OF ARTICHOKE SOUP

1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped (reserve liquid)

1 cup fresh mushrooms, diced

1?2 stick of butter

3 tablespoons flour

3 cups chicken stock

1 lemon, juiced

1 cup heavy cream

Black pepper, chives, fresh thyme leaves, scallions

Saute? artichokes and mushrooms in butter. Sprinkle with flour and cook a few more minutes until thick and brown. Add stock, reserved artichoke juice and lemon juice and cook, stirring, until well blended and smooth. Add cream and black pepper and heat through. Just before serving top with chives, scallions and thyme.

GRILLED CHICKEN SALAD

1 pound chicken breasts

1?2 cup yogurt

1 lime, juiced

1?4 cup olive oil

1?4 cup diced fresh cilantro

Trim chicken. Mix yogurt, lime, oil and cilantro until well blended and marinade chicken for several hours. Grill or broil until cooked through. Cool, then slice into strips.

On a plate, spread a layer of baby spinach or mixed greens. Add chicken strips, sliced fresh strawberries, candied pecans, fresh sliced radishes, chopped chives – any fresh salad toppings that catch your eye in the produce aisle. Drizzle with a light dressing: 1?2 cup olive oil mixed with 1?4 cup orange juice, 1 teaspoon maple syrup and 2 teaspoons vinegar.

A SIMPLE SUPPER

Both the seafood cakes and asparagus can be topped with Hollandaise sauce or served with tartar or cocktail sauce or fresh lemon.

SHRIMP AND SALMON CAKES

1 cups fresh cooked salmon, chinked

1 cup fresh cooked shrimp, coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons scallion

1 tablespoon dill

2 eggs

2/3 -1 cup Panko bread crumbs

Olive oil

Mix the seafood, scallions and dill. Beat the eggs and add to fish, mixing gentle. Stir in crumbs. Shape into fish cakes and chill until set. Heat oil in large pan. Add fish cakes in single layer and saute? until brown. Flip and cook until browned on the other side.

CITRUS ASPARAGUS

1 pound asparagus, tough ends broken off.

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons butter

Place asparagus in saute? pan and cover with water. Bring to boil. Cover and let sit until asparagus are crisp tender. Drain. Add grated zest to softened butter. Add butter to asparagus in pan, turn up heat and stir fry quickly.

EASY HOLLANDAISE SAUCE

3 egg yolks

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1?2 teaspoon salt

Pinch of cayenne

1 stick of butter

Place egg yolks, lemon juice and spices in a blender and puree.

Place butter in saucepan and bring to boil. With the blender on high speed, slowly add the hot butter to the egg yolk mixture until the sauce is blended and thickened.

RHUBARB PIE

What says spring better?

11?4 cups sugar

1/3 cup flour

1?2 teaspoon each cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger

4-5 cups rhubarb, diced

2 tablespoons butter, cut up

2 tablespoons diced minced ginger (optional)

Double pie crust

1 egg beaten

2 tablespoons coarse sugar mixed with cinnamon

Roll out crust and line bottom of pie pan. Brush with beaten egg. Sprinkle sugar/cinnamon mix. Mix flour, sugar and spices in large bowl. Add rhubarb and toss to coat. Spoon into prepared crust. Dot with butter. Top with remaining crust, crimping edges. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar/cinnamon mix. Cut 2-3 vents in top crust. Bake in 375 degree oven about 45 minutes, until rhubarb starts to bubble through vents. Cover with foil if crust browns too quickly.

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