Asparagus and mushrooms recipe

A trip to the City Market last Saturday netted me a few goodies including two bunches of fresh Edgar Farms asparagus (where I bumped into Sharon from Only Here for the Food when we both raced there to grab some before they sold out), and a 1 lb. basket of mixed wild and domestic mushrooms from Mo-Na Food. I also picked up a small container of morels to experiment with, but more on that on another post. I did think about some fiddleheads as well, but I’ve bought them a couple of weeks in a row and I needed a bit of a break from them.

My farmers’ market bounty inspired to cook up a simple vegetarian dinner.

I snapped the bottom ends of the asparagus and gave them a quick rinse, then popped them into some boiling water for a very quick parboil. I then popped them into cold water in order to shock them and stop the cooking process.

While the asparagus cooled, I cleaned and roughly chopped up my mixed mushrooms, diced a couple of garlic cloves, and chopped up another six portobello mushrooms that I had bought at Costco and added that also to the mix. I stir fried the whole lot with about three tablespoons of margarine and reduced the heat to a medium high temperature.

stir-fried mushrooms

stir-fried mushrooms

Once they cooked through, I splashed in about a tablespoon and a half of shao hsing Chinese cooking wine and added salt and pepper to taste (very little salt, as the cooking wine has salt in it already).

I then started plating. First, some drained asparagus. Then, spoonfuls of mushrooms. And to top it all off, scoops of the sauce over the whole thing.

asparagus and mushrooms

asparagus and mushrooms

Simple, fresh, nutritious and delicious. Great with a side of brown rice, or maybe some roasted potatoes. Myself, I toasted some whole grain bread and dipped it into the sauce until it soaked everything up.

Alternatives to the Chinese cooking wine include soy sauce, cooking sherry, or oyster sauce.

A warning – the amount of mushrooms that I cooked were enough to make at least 6-8 servings. I had plenty of leftovers.

My pee smells funny a.k.a. asparagus is in season)

This past weekend I was a little busy but the weekend before that I managed to make it down to the downtown farmer’s market to pick up a few vegetables and other assorted goodies. I was very excited to see large bunches of fresh asparagus at the Edgar Farms booth, and bought some for that evening’s dinner.

Edgar Farms asparagus

Edgar Farms asparagus

According to the tag on my bunch of asparagus:

“Edgar Farms is a sixth generation family farm established 1907, located in the beautiful parkland just west of Innisfail in central Alberta. Our cool climate produces extremely tender and sweet asparagus. To further enhance the sweetness of our individually hand picked asparagus it is chilled immediately in ice cold water to remove field heat quickly.”

In my experience, their asparagus tastes 10 times better than anything you can buy in a regular grocery store. They sell their food at both the Calgary and Edmonton farmer’s markets so if you have the opportunity to try their products, I highly recommend that you do so. Their farm isn’t quite within a 100 mile radius of Edmonton, but it’s pretty darned close. (It does fit the Calgary 100 mile diet, however.)

The majority of the time I will quickly blanch asparagus, cooking their tips for slightly less time than the bottom halves, and eating them straight up like that instead of bothering to add butter. Since I bought three bunches this time I decided to do something a little different with one bunch. Roasted asparagus tastes best straight from the oven, as when it gets cold it will become slightly soggy.

roasted asparagus

roasted asparagus

Roasted asparagus

1 bunch asparagus
olive oil
some sort of coarse salt like kosher or sea salt
pepper
balsamic vinegar

To prepare your asparagus, the easiest way is to grip the two ends of the asparagus and let the end naturally snap off. The asparagus will snap at the point where the vegetable is harder and more fibrous, leaving you the more tender part to eat. Wide pieces of asparagus will snap higher on the stem; narrow, more younger asparagus will snap closer to the bottom.

Rinse and lay the stalks on a baking tray. Add a liberal amount of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste, and toss to coat. Make sure each asparagus piece has room on the baking tray.

Place in an over at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes.

Serve the asparagus with a splash of balsamic vinegar. This will give the stalks a slightly sweeter taste.

Fiddlelicious

Fiddleheads, the unfurled baby fronds of the ostrich fern, are named as such because they look like the curled head of a violin. They have a very short season in the spring so if you see them, grab them while you can. They taste a little like asparagus, but look so unique that they make a nice change on the plate. They’re also low in calories and are chock full of vitamins.

fiddleheads

fiddleheads

I first tried fiddleheads on a trip to Saint John, New Brunswick around this time 10 years ago. I had never heard or seen of them before and was quite surprised to have them served at dinner. They were delicious and different and I was intrigued. They were boiled, then tossed with vinegar.

Now that I’ve cooked them on my own, I tend to prefer them with a bit of lemon juice instead.

*Warning: fiddleheads must be cooked thoroughly before eating as raw or undercooked fiddleheads will taste bitter and may cause stomach problems.*

Preparing fiddleheads
Choose green fiddleheads that are tightly curled. Keep them refrigerated until you are ready to cook them.

Carefully brush or cut off the papery brown scales on the outside and trim the tail end to remove any brown ends (which are caused by oxidation).

Wash the fiddleheads in a bowl of clean water several times to remove any dirt or lingering scales until the water is clear.

Cooking fiddleheads
Boil the fiddleheads in a pot of salted water for 10-15 minutes, or steam them for 20 minutes. Drain, and serve with melted butter/margarine and lemon juice and zest, or vinegar.

You can also sauté fiddleheads by blanching them in boiling salted water for one or two minutes prior to sautéing.

To freeze fiddleheads for future use, blanch them in boiling salted water for two minutes, then drain and shock them in an ice water bath and freeze. To cook them again, thaw them and boil for 10 minutes.

You can basically replace fiddleheads for most recipes that use asparagus. Cook them simply, or experiment with this unique green.

Cactus Club Cafe, Edmonton

Some friends and I planned a dinner out on Saturday, April 25th, so I suggested we try out the newly opened (as in opened two days before on the 23rd) Cactus Club Cafe location over at West Edmonton Mall. Edmonton used to have a local location of this Western Canadian chain a long time ago, but it didn’t fare very well and closed relatively quickly.

Despite its brief stint in Edmonton, the Cactus Club Cafe has been around for many years. More recently in the past few years, much like how Earls and Moxie’s is also doing, the Cactus Club Cafe is working to make their menu, decor and atmosphere more sophisticated. When (Canadian celebrity chef and  Iron Chef America winner against Masaharu Morimoto) Chef Rob Feenie’s assocation ended with Vancouver’s Lumiere and Feenie restaurants, he later popped back into the public eye as the new “Food Concept Architect” for the Cactus Club Cafe. They’ve used his name to great advantage; his face is all over the website, he often talks to the media about the food at the Cactus Club Cafe, and all of his specific dishes are marked on the menus with a special RF logo.

As the restaurant had just opened, I half-expected service to be a bit slow but all of the staff were unfailingly attentive and helpful, and the food arrived quickly. (Other blogs and Chowhound discussions say that staff were flown in from Vancouver to ensure smooth service.)

The restaurant is located in a free-standing location in the northwest corner of the mall where a car repair shop used to be (Sears, I think). There is no entrance via the mall at all; an interesting decision that I hope doesn’t hurt them later when the tourists and locals stay inside the mall and don’t want to walk outside in bad weather.

The decor is modern but comfortable, with a mix of different textures and materials. Red leather seats, wood panelled walls and tables, glass, and even a concrete block wall gives the place an interesting look. The lights are dimmed somewhat so the red of the seats are muted. The booths are spacious, and art is featured on many of the walls (including some from Andy Warhol). A large patio was already set with lounge-style outdoor furniture, although at the time it was still too chilly for people to sit outside.

To start, a couple of people ordered bellinis and promptly declared them delicious. (Sorry, no photo. They stirred and slurped the drinks before I could take the camera out.)

We all shared a couple of appetizers. The first dish was an order of calamari, red pepper and jalapeño, dusted with fresh dill and served with chipotle aioli and tzatziki dips. The calamari was tender and the jalapeños gave the dish a lot of heat. (Lots and lots of heat.)

calamari

calamari

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