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Eating in Season, Growing in Cooking

Text by: Nanette Steimle

Do you grow tired of thinking of meals to cook? Of how to put excitement back into your family meals? There is no better time than springtime to make changes and "grow" in your ability to try a new recipe, ingredient, or way of creating yummy foods. Spring season provides an abundance of fresh ingredients. It gives you an array of herbs for flavoring. It gifts greens for fresh and fabulous salads. Spring provides you the opportunity to plant a garden of your own. The first of new fruits are being harvested. Strawberries will be first, shortly followed by grapes, blueberries, and then melons. Oh how long we wait for summertime melon.

Food can bring back fond memories of experiences you have had. Those strawberries will remind you of longer evenings and the shedding of sweaters. Melons bring thoughts of resting by a pool or hydrating on the sands of a beach. And the dishes you cook and create for others afford the ability to create these memories, bring family and friends closer, and utilize what is growing in the fields around you during the season you are in. Eating in season! So — let's get started.

It is hard not to be intimidated by finding and executing new recipes. But once you cook something that is followed by "yum, ooh, ahh, I want more" type comments, you will be hooked. Here are some basic steps to grow in your love of cooking:

© Jessica Ceason Photography

1.) Find fantastic recipes: Make only online dishes with 5 Star reviews. Ask friends and family to forward their "top 5" favorite things to make. Thumb through your own cookbooks and pull out dishes that give you fond memories. Most of the work of "testing" recipes has been done for you. Now it's just a matter of finding them!

2.) Plan to shop: Have all ingredients on hand before you start cooking. Make a menu of the week and grocery list. One trip to the store affords a less frustrating experience. I also love to buy fruits and vegetables that are in abundance at the store. This usually tells me they are in season. I then incorporate these things into the following week's recipes.

3.) Don't substitute/cut corners: I have learned that if a person writing a recipe goes to the trouble to be specific, it is for a reason. Do as the recipe says, and you cannot go wrong. If it says to beat an egg 53 times, count to 53! Improvising and substituting can wait until you are more experienced and confident in your cooking.

4.) Don't put too much pressure on yourself: Give yourself time to cook. If you have guests coming over, practice the recipe on a day before your event. Or give yourself ample time to not feel stressed. Turn on music and shake as you stir. This will ease pressure from the process.

5.) Set your table: I love to set the table before I even start. This makes me feel like I have already finished something wonderful. It also sets a mood in the house that something good is on its way.

I will never forget the feeling I had when I found this recipe for Sundried Tomato Chicken Pitas. It's a recipe from the Cooking Light Magazine, one of my favorites. I decided to have my nine wonderful aunts over for lunch in my new home. I chose this recipe because of the crisp baby greens and beautiful spring colors the tomatoes and fresh basil provided. All of these women raved about the freshness and flavor of all these great ingredients. It is a fantastic recipe.

I've also included a few other of my favorite recipes made with fresh herbs and produce. With your table already set, you will bring excitement to your home with this wonderful dish.

Little Italy Chicken Pitas with Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette

Recipe courtesy of Cooking Light Magazine

Use oil from the sun-dried tomatoes to prepare the vinaigrette for this zesty sandwich.

  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar 
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp sun-dried tomato oil
  • 1 Tbsp chopped drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 4 cups shredded cooked chicken breast (about 3/4 pound)
  • 1 cup chopped tomato (about 1 medium)
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Asiago cheese
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
  • 6 (6-inch) pitas, cut in half
  • 3 cups mixed baby greens

Preparation:

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in chicken, tomato, cheese, and basil. Line each pita half with 1/4 cup greens. Divide chicken mixture evenly among pita halves.

**Editor's Notes—we doubled the first 5 ingredients and split them in half, using the second half as a sauce to drizzle at the end.

Balsamic Tomato-Cucumber Salad

  • 1 Cucumber, diced into ½ inch squares
  • 6 Roma Tomatoes, diced into ½ inch squares
  • 1/2 cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan Cheese

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and enjoy immediately or cold from the fridge.

Blackberry Lemonade

  • About 6 lemons
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup picked-over fresh blackberries
  • Garnish: lemon slices

With a vegetable peeler remove zest from 4 lemons and squeeze enough juice from these and remaining 2 lemons to measure 1 cup.

In a saucepan boil 2 cups water with sugar, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Add zest, lemon juice, and remaining 2 cups water and cool.

In a food processor or blender purée blackberries and stir into lemonade. Pour blackberry lemonade through a sieve into a pitcher or other container and chill. Chill lemonade, covered, at least until cold and up to 2 days.

Serve lemonade over ice in tall glasses, garnished with lemon slices.