Cooking with Lady Smokey: Springtime Color & Duets

One thing I absolutely love about living in the South is that there are four very distinct seasons every year. I love how one season gently shifts into the next. Our clothing layers begin to shed, all creatures become more active, moods and energy levels are elevated, and the neighborhood produce stand begins to flourish- spring starts gradually and a few new items begin to emerge and then as summer moves in it explodes with all these amazing ripe colors and flavors.

Our kitchen is always a perfect reflection of this. The last couple of weeks, some lingerings of the foods we’ve been eating all winter have started mingling with some new colors and veggies popping up here and there. It is a gentle transition. I thought I was finished with the winter squash varieties and then these cute little mini butternut squash caught my eye at The Turnip Truck. Who could resist this cuteness?

I tossed them in my basket without much thought of how I would prepare them. That happens sometimes. Once they were in our kitchen, however, I realized I was done with winter squash and I had to do something completely different with these. I decided to thinly slice them and roast them with some olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. And then I created this veggie meal around that idea.

We had lightly steamed asparagus which I cut in 1 inch pieces and then tossed with the juice of a slice of lemon, sea salt, chopped fresh mint, and shaved Grana Padano. I sauteed mushrooms in a little butter with 2 tablespoons each of Sherry and Balsamic vinegar. And I made this simple yummy herbed rice with toasted pecans.

Herbed Pecan Rice
• 1 cup Basmati Rice (I like Lundberg, it seems like a good company and they have many organic varieties.)
• 1 1/2 cup Water
• 1 cup Raw Pecans, toasted (I just saute them in a dry iron skillet.)
• 1 small bunch of Flat Leaf Parsley, chopped
• 1 small bunch of other Fresh Herbs, chopped (Or you can use dried herbs, such as an Italian blend.)
• 2-3 Tbsp Butter
• Sea Salt & Ground Black Pepper to taste

Combine water and rice in a pot and bring to a boil on the stove. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Keeping lid on, let the rice steam for another 10 minutes. Meanwhile, roast pecans. Chop pecans and herbs and mix together. Melt butter. Fluff the rice with a fork and mix with the melted butter, pecans, and herbs. Add salt and pepper.

We had lots of rice left over and Grant suggested stuffing a chicken with it. This idea turned into a beautiful one pot meal. I soaked the chicken for a few hours in a simple brine. Then, I simply patted the chicken dry and stuffed the inside with the leftover rice. I rubbed the outside with a little olive oil, butter, fresh and dried herbs (I used fresh chopped parsley, thyme, and a little dried Italian blend), salt and pepper.

Next I placed it in an iron skillet (I pretty much cook everything in a cast iron skillet!) and surrounded the bird with lots of colorful veggies. I roasted it in the oven at 375 degrees for about an hour and a half.

The Brussels sprouts, radishes, and carrots were a beautiful and tasty addition.

And then, we had tons of chicken leftover. A two-person family can yield many leftovers. What better to do with leftover roasted chicken and veggies? Make soup! We used all the chicken bones to make a nice chicken stock. This made a perfect spring soup- I added a half cup more rice, some garlic, an onion, sliced mushrooms, stock, and about 1/2 cup of Sherry. This soup was packed with veggies and super delicious!

And speaking of soup, I know it’s getting a little warm for soup but it is asparagus season and Asparagus Soup is a favorite springtime treat! I made this one for a recent neighborhood potluck and I think it turned out really well. I used tarragon, which I am not as familiar with. It is so good with lemon and the soup was delicious served hot or cold. This recipe is an adaptation of a Food & Wine recipe I found online. I served this with little Italian herbed biscuits.

Springtime Asparagus Soup With Tarragon and Lemon Zest
• 5 cups Vegetable Broth
• 2 Tbsp Butter
• 1 Onion, chopped finely
• 1 1/2 pounds Asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces (Break off tough ends and save for the stock.)
• 1/4 cup Tarragon Leaves
• 1/4 cup Italian Parsley Leaves
• 1 cup Cream
• 1/2 cup Frozen Petite Peas, thawed
• Salt and Ground White Pepper
• Finely Grated Lemon Zest, for garnish

Heat the vegetable stock in a medium pan and add asparagus ends (you can also add in your onion skins, some garlic cloves, etc). Heat on medium heat. I like to think this makes your vegetable broth tastier and imparts more of an asparagus flavor while using the scraps. In a large pot, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook over medium heat, stirring, until softened. Add the asparagus and cook for 1 minute. Add the broth (after you strain it of course) and simmer until the asparagus is tender, about 10 minutes. Add the tarragon and parsley. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender. Return the soup to the pot, add the cream and peas; rewarm. Season with salt and white pepper. Garnish with lemon zest.

Italian Herbed Biscuits
• 3 cups White Lily Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
• 2 Tbsp Baking Powder
• 1 ½ tsp Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
• 2 Tbsp Italian Herbs (a blend of Rosemary, Oregano, Basil)
• 1/2 – 1 cup Parmesan Reggiano, finely grated (depending on how cheesey you want your biscuits)
• 10 Tbsp cold Unsalted Butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
• 1 1/4 cups Buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix the salt, pepper, herbs, cheese, and baking powder with the flour in a medium mixing bowl. Add the chilled butter work it into the flour with your fingertips until the butter pieces are a little larger than an English pea. Work quickly so that the heat of your hands won’t melt the butter. Pour in all of the buttermilk and, using light pressure, fold the mixture a few times until it holds together. Do not overmix.

In order to make light biscuits, it is important to work the dough as little as possible. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and fold it quickly and gently 4 to 6 times or until it begins to hold together. Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour so that it won’t stick to the rolling pin. Roll the dough out to about 1/2-inch thickness. Cut the dough with a little biscuit cutter and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 14-15 minutes.

I’ve been thinking a lot about duets (as I often do). Country duets to be more specific. My friend Allison and I host a fun little house party every so often and this past weekend our theme was “Country Duets.” We had so much fun, thanks to our very talented friends and neighbors. It was a great way to welcome spring.

And speaking of duets, there are quite a few new country duet albums out right now that I wanted to make you aware of…

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell’s new albumOld Yellow Moon, has been getting rave reviews. I haven’t heard it yet but can’t wait to go buy this one. It’s an idea that has been much anticipated for years- by the two of them and their fans.

Big talk in the world of Americana Music for New West Records’ release, Buddy and Jim, the new duets album from musicians and songwriters, Jim Lauderdale & Buddy Miller.

Friend, neighbor and Grammy nominated man about town, Eric Brace, has a new album out with his musical partner, Peter Cooper. Their new album is titled, The Comeback Album. They’ll be playing all over Nashville town this week to celebrate the release.

Buddies, LeAnne and Joel Ulmer have a new album out called, 2 Country 4 Nashville, with a warning on it that reads, “This album contains REAL Country Music!” And thankfully, it does!  They’ve got some fun songs and are a great singing pair.

And Texan country music couple, Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison have a new album out that is worth checking out. I love these two!

Melissa McClellan & Luke Doucet at The Basement September 2010

And although not real country at all and from Canada, Whitehorse obviously has a little country soul in them and they were proud Nashville residents for a few months some years back. Husband and wife duo Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland have been personal favorites of mine for years now and this latest project is a perfect blend of both their talents. I just love both of their voices so much. I will close with this little video I found of them performing the song, No Glamour in The Hammer, from their latest album which was released last August. Who doesn’t love a woman who stomps and a guy who plays a White Falcon?

And this song, Broken, that I have been obsessed with for a couple years now.

Happy Spring Y’all!!!!!!!

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