Articles On The Town

Pushing A Menu Forward

Our long wait for a break in the weather seems to be fraught with an unbridled spirit of renewal and hope of what lies ahead. Long nights and grey days turn into easy, sunny afternoons and wistful musings on how to enjoy the fresh fruits and vegetables that are just around the bend. Too cloying ? Perhaps, but one can’t help but to get excited with the thought of fresh asparagus and sweet hoophouse greens that are so plentiful this time of year. The abundant rhubarb that are sure to fill pies and tarts for weeks to come and tender English peas that are starting to appear in every imaginable variation from smooth soups to lightly sauteed with fresh mint.

Too cloying ? Perhaps, but one can’t help but to get excited with the thought of fresh asparagus and sweet hoophouse greens that are so plentiful this time of year. The abundant rhubarb that are sure to fill pies and tarts for weeks to come and tender English peas that are starting to appear in every imaginable variation from smooth soups to lightly sauteed with fresh mint.

It’s hard not to get caught up in the emotion of a new season, especially if you are a foodie. You have spent the last few months sustaining yourself with root vegetables, heavy braised meat dishes and quite possibly a hearty helping of pasta. Who wouldn’t though? It’s a joy to sit back and consume enough calories to nourish a typical family of four (all in one meal).

This is the perfect time of year to begin pushing your menu forward. You have the opportunity to begin cleaning out the pantry and start replacing the standard winter fare with lighter and more flavorful ingredients. Start thinking ahead to the weeks when strawberries will be abundant and the season’s first green bean begin to arrive. Prepare your kitchen to make the most of the season’s offerings.

  • Replace butter with lighter and more healthy seed and nut oils. Grapeseed oil is a great staple to keep aside the saute pan. It is completely neutral in flavor, cholesterol free and has a really high smoke point. You can cook with high heat for very fast preparation of fresh vegetables and even seafood.
  • Perform a gut-rehab of your spice cabinet. This is the perfect time of year to sort out any old dried herbs and ancient spices that may be rummaging around in the back of the pantry. These ingredients begin to lose their flavor and impact from the moment they are ground up and exposed to the open air. At best, most herbs and spices are only useful for a year after opening. Start thinking about turning to fresh herbs when you can and grinding spices as needed from whole.
  • Lighten up your cooking. You can begin to focus on less heavy techniques such as braised roasts or cheese laden casseroles and turn to marinated and grilled meats. This presents the perfect opportunity to begin experimenting with a variety of vinegars and assorted fruit juices to add a huge boost of flavor to otherwise bland meats (Chicken…AGAIN!???!!!)
  • Shop local and cook global. You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced a spicy curry. These exotic mixtures of spices and savory herbs are the perfect fodder for the young tender potatoes that begin showing up at market in the late spring. Ingredients like pomegranate molasses, fresh ginger, Thai red curry are all available locally and can give your meal a very exotic feel.

The spring season sets the stage for the vast variety of local fruits and vegetables that are available throughout the summer and fall in Michigan. It’s very much a warm-up to get you ready for a full summer season of cooking. Take advantage of the chance to move your menu forward and explore new flavors and ingredients to accompany the season’s fresh produce.

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2017 issue of On The Town Magazine

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