Phil's International Flair

Welcome to Seasoned Cooking and to Phil's International Flair! This month's theme targets the early fresh crops that you will find in your local markets now that spring is in full swing. First, a few tips about shopping...

If you are lucky enough to live near an agricultural area, you will likely find an array of vegetable stands opening up during this time of year. I would encourage you to support your local growers and spend a little time shopping for fresh vegetables in one or more of these vegetable stands. You will find that their produce is not only fresher, but much better tasting than supermarket produce. You will find the fruits, corn and tomatoes sweeter and the greens crispier when purchased at one of these stands.

Still, it pays to be wise when purchasing produce at any store. Select greens that are not wilted and firm to the touch. Make sure that the broccoli has tight heads. Some broccoli, due to cold weather, may appear purple in color. Not to worry, the quality of the vegetable depends more on the freshness. Avoid broccoli that appears yellowish, however, as this indicates excessive age. Asparagus is a popular item during this season, and you will find the price of this vegetable very reasonable with the influx of harvest time. Take advantage of the items that are fresh and seasonal. Fresh tomatoes will come later in the year, but during the month of May you will find many other vegetables ripe for the picking.

Last month was a hectic month for me because we were remodeling my house. And, of course, I had to select some of the better items for my kitchen. After a 4 week break from cooking, I am now finally able to cook on my new Dacor stainless steel cooktop. I must say that it not only looks nice, but cooks much more efficiently than my previous unit. Perhaps I'll show off my new kitchen with some photographs after I get a digital camera. You may also get to see some of my recipes in creation!

The recipes presented this month are from my yet to be published cookbook, Phil's Family and Friends Cookbook. Feel free to email me at with your comments and requests. Be well, and good eating!

Now, on to the recipes!

The Season's Fare

Spring Soup II

This soup is quick to prepare, nutritious and tasty. I presented a previous version of this soup some months back, however this one is a little different, emphasizing the use of seasonal items. Depending on what happens to be fresh in your region, feel free to modify any of the ingredients accordingly. I would suggest, however, that you use each of the ingredients sparingly so as not to overpower the subtle flavor of the other ingredients. This is especially true of the leafier vegetables that release a lot of flavor.
  • 1 can chicken broth plus 1 can water (or homemade chicken stock)
  • 2 spears fresh asparagus, French cut
  • 4 fresh green beans, thin French cut
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh chives
  • 2 tbsp. yellow squash, shoestring cut
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Red Chili Sauce (optional)
  • Additional veggies could include 4 fresh quartered mushrooms, 1 tsp. chopped parsley, chard, spinach, or two sprigs of fresh watercress

While the chicken broth and water is being heated in a pot, prepare the fresh vegetables. For the asparagus, hold each of the spears by the ends and bend to snap off the tougher bottom portion. French cut the tips of the spears and add to the pot. French cut the green beans and add them to the pot as well. When the liquid comes to a boil, turn off the heat and add the remaining ingredients. Serve immediately. If you like a little spice in your life, serve with red chili sauce at the table.

Gourmet's Note: French cut basically means to cut diagonally. When I French cut, I make a diagonal slice (about 45 degrees), rotate the vegetable 1/4 turn, and cut again at the same angle. I repeat the process until the entire vegetable is cut. This type of cutting, in theory, exposes more surface area of the vegetable and thereby releases more flavor.
  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Grilled Asparagus

Asparagus has come to be one of my favorite vegetables. And, at this time of year when the price is reasonable, it is served in my home frequently and in a variety of ways. This recipe was prompted by one similar that I read in a Sunset Magazine. Liking garlic so much, I altered their recipe to one of my own. I tried this at a recent barbeque, and the results were simply outstanding. I think you will like it too!
  • 16 spears large fresh asparagus
  • ¼ cup olive oil (you may substitute melted butter)
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic, crushed and chopped

Pour the olive oil in a small bowl and add the garlic. Allow to sit for about 2 hours before using so that the garlic flavor permeates the oil. Alternately, you can blend the garlic and olive oil in a food processor or blender. Snap off the tough ends of the spears by bending the spears by the ends. Rub the tips of the spears with the garlic oil before grilling.

When your fire is ready for grilling, place the spears on the grill and turn every 2 minutes until they are fully cooked. I found that the flavor is better if you allow them to blacken slightly before turning. Similar to a steak, I think adding that charbroiled flavor to the asparagus brings out the flavor. This is a great idea for a vegetarian barbeque.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 25 minutes

Pasta and Vegetable Stir Fry

Pasta is an old standby in my home. This recipe is easy to prepare and can be very elegant in appearance depending on what vegetables are used. Once the vegetables are prepared, it is very easy to customize this recipe to whoever is eating it. Have all of the vegetables cut, prepared and ready for use. You can allow your guest to select the ingredients they prefer in their dish. Cooking this way, it is easy to prepare food for a number of people in a short time, each dish a little different than the other.
  • 1 lb. mostaciolli pasta cooked al dente
  • 1 head fresh broccoli, chopped into bite sized pieces
  • Sliced peppers (combination of red, green and yellow for color)
  • Sliced mushrooms
  • French cut zucchini
  • French cut asparagus
  • French cut yellow squash
  • Sliced black olives
  • Chopped garlic
  • Chopped parsley for garnish
  • Marinara sauce
  • Olive oil
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Prepare the pasta while cutting the vegetables.

Heat a large skillet or wok and add a little olive oil and garlic to taste. Toss in about a cup of pasta and stir fry for about 1 minute. Add the vegetables of choice and about 1/4 cup of the marinara sauce. Continue stirring (about 1 minute) until thoroughly heated and serve on a plate. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with grated cheese at the table.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Steamed Artichokes with Bernaise Sauce

I love Bernaise Sauce! It has a richness and the subtle flavor of tarragon that enhances just about anything that you use it with. Artichokes are usually served with mayonnaise or melted butter for dipping. The elegance of Bernaise, however, adds a certain quality to the artichoke that is unequalled.

Bernaise Sauce is tricky to make from scratch (see the archives). As a substitute, I sometimes use a packaged powder type that is mixed with melted butter and milk. This is a reasonable substitute and can be doctored with a little extra tarragon if you so desire.

  • 4 large artichokes
  • Bernaise Sauce
  • Fresh tarragon leaves (optional)

Prepare the artichokes by steaming for about 40 minutes or boiling for the same length of time. If you have a pressure cooker, you can instead steam the chokes for about 15 minutes under full pressure.

Prepare the Bernaise Sauce according to package directions or make from scratch. Serve each artichoke with a small cup of the sauce for dipping. Enjoy!

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 40 minutes

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