A Spring Feast + Grilled Artichokes with Garlic Aioli

Spring Feast with Grilled ArtichokesLast week started with a half-foot of sloppy, wet snow and ended with 80°, sunshine, barbecues, patios, ice-cream, pansies, and pink wine.  Yes!  Spring!  Finally!

As you might imagine, after making it through 6 months of cold and snow, everyone in Minnesota goes bonkers on the first warm spring weekend.  Puffy down-jackets and boots are traded in for sundresses and sandals.  Patio bars overflow with warm-weather revelers.  Parks are packed with picnickers.  Ice-cream gets scooped like it’s going out of style.  You go from living and working in what was feeling like a really depressing ghost-town to being back in a city with a pulse, with people on the streets, instead of the skyways.  Everyone you encounter has unsnarled their face and regained the bounce in their step.

As for myself?  I celebrated the coming of spring as I celebrate any significant event, with food and drink. Yes, I had ice-cream.  Pink wine made an appearance.  I ate my weight in fish tacos.  Margarita?  Heck yes.  And I grilled to my heart’s content.

All winter, I’d been dreaming of my first grilling episode: grilled artichokes with garlic aioli.  I’m not sure which is better, the charred artichokes or the assertively garlicky, super rich homemade mayonnaise, but together, they’re enough to make life worth living.

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Olive Tapenade + 10 Ways to Use It

Olive Tapenade

It’s no secret I love olives.  The evidence of my addiction is scattered all over this blog; you’ve seen recipes for salmon tartare with olives and avocado, olive and endive tiellapork shoulder braised with olives and blood oranges, among others.

What you haven’t seen are the countless deli containers of olives I’ve munched from while standing in the kitchen, waiting for a risotto to come together or a chicken to roast.  Out of control.  And you haven’t seen the batches of tapenade I’ve made and smeared on sandwiches and pizza, stirred into pasta, and dolloped onto pots of steamed mussels.

Today’s the day though.  Olives will take center-stage and we’ll put together a batch of tapenade.  Soon you, too, will be garnishing your life with black olives and loving every moment of it.

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Potato, Leek & Artichoke Soup

Potato, Leek & Artichoke Soup

Some people head off to a spa to relax.  Others sign up for yoga classes or spend a day poolside in a chaise lounge sipping drinks with paper umbrellas.

Me?  I make soup.

When I need to chill out, nothing relaxes me like chopping vegetables, sautéing onions, and stirring a batch of soup.  It’s a soothing ritual that’s downright therapeutic.  I can zone out, let my mind wander, and when I come out of my zen-like state to return to the reality of life beyond my kitchen, I’ve got a big pot of soup that’s going to comfort and nourish me for days.

This particular soup is one of the classics: potato-leek.  We’re going to spiff it up for spring with the addition of artichokes and a splash of white wine.  Ready?  Let’s relax…let’s make soup.

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Vanilla-Orange “Dreamsicle” Panna Cotta

Vanilla-Orange Creamsicle Panna Cotta

Dreamsicle or creamsicle?  I never know which it is.

What I do know is that the combination of creamy vanilla and orange is amazing.  I know that every time I hear the ice cream truck singing on the next block, I’m going to grab my stack of quarters, have a moment of gratitude for the fact that ice cream trucks still exist, and run out to the street to buy my favorite ice cream treat.  I’d encourage you all to do exactly the same.

The only problem is, when you invite friends over for dinner, you can’t count on the ice cream truck pulling up at the exact moment you clear the dinner plates.  Especially, if it’s only April.  And slurping a dreamsicle in a candlelit dining room seems a little strange.

But I’m all about solutions to everyday problems, so I came up with dreamsicle panna cotta.  It’s a creamy, dreamy vanilla bean panna cotta, topped with orange curd.  It’s the deliciousness of our favorite ice cream treat, dressed for a proper dinner.

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Asparagus, Fontina & Speck Ham Panini

Asparagus, Fontina & Speck Ham Panini

I promised myself I wouldn’t write another post about the current weather situation in Minnesota.  But when mid-April looks like this…

April Showers

…it’s hard not to.  It affects your life.  I’m passing up my cute, new skimmers in favor of fur-lined snow boots.  I spend my mornings shoveling snow instead of turning over the garden.  I spend hours, daily, talking myself out of heading to the airport and grabbing the first flight to anywhere but here.  But we shan’t dwell on the negative today.  Let’s focus on the positive.

How are these for positives?  Melted cheese.  Golden, toasty bread.  Fresh asparagus.  Smoky speck.  We wouldn’t be indulging in this spectacular grilled cheese if it were 70° and sunny, now would we?  This gooey panini is the silver lining of a very gray spring, people.

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