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Happy Monday! I hope you all had a great weekend. I took advantage of the sunny weather yesterday by going to Revere Beach with my good friend Steph, who is also my “foodie mentor.” I think we talked about food and recipes for at least 2 hours yesterday! Steph has an amazing combination of frugality and innate culinary talent that allows her to make the most out of every single ingredient she comes in contact with – no wastefulness ever for her. I hope to learn from this, because I am guilty far too often of letting things go to waste, or throwing out unused ingredients that I don’t know what to do with. Because our beach trip was a little last minute, she told me she barely had anything in the house to pack for a lunch, yet lo and behold managed to scrounge up the makings for a gourmet picnic – open faced goat cheese and fig sandwiches (with fresh chives and rosemary from her garden chopped up in the cheese) on top of slices of bakery-fresh olive bread. Plus, homemade almond amaretto biscotti and lemonade. Amazing!

I got home from the beach feeling inspired, and rummaged through my pantry, looking for unused ingredients that I could throw together. I ended up making a beautiful Israeli Couscous pilaf with chopped apricots and pistachios that served as my lunch today, on top of a bed of baby spinach greens. Israeli Couscous are bigger, chewier cousins of the standard couscous, and I love the texture! I cooked the couscous according to the package directions and added:

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp cumin

½ cup of chopped apricots (which had been languishing in the back of my shelf)

½ cup of shelled pistachios

Juice from 1 lime

A few sprigs of chopped fresh mint

All of this was sautéed in about 2 tbsps of olive oil. It was super-simple and made for a delicious and exotic-tasting lunch. My frugal gourmet buddy would definitely be proud. I’m thinking this will also make a great side dish with some roasted vegetables and chicken later in the week.

 Do you have any tips for whipping up a gourmet dish, using what you have around the house? I’d love to hear!

– Jean

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A New England spring is more of a concept than a season. No matter, it does mark the end of winter – and the start of asparagus season, which when fresh has a wonderfully sweet and subtle flavor. But it’s not just delicious; it is also very good for you. According to the National Cancer Institute asparagus is the food highest in glutathione, an important anti-carcinogen. In addition, it is also rich in vitamins A and C as well as selenium, all of which are fierce cancer fighters. And if that is not enough, it is an excellent source of potassium, fiber, thiamine, vitamin B6 and rutin, (this strengthens capillary walls). When shopping for asparagus look for smooth skin, bright green color, compact heads, and freshly cut ends. The stalks are pencil thin early on and get thicker as the season advances. Tenderness is not linked to girth but to freshness. European white asparagus if also seasonally available. This is grown under the soil to keep it from turning green. I have no idea how growing without sunlight impacts its nutritional value. Though many love it, I think the green is more flavorful. Asparagus is not really a great raw vegetable but you can boil, saute, or roast it. My preference is the latter. Very easy – after washing and drying place it in a baking dish, baste with olive oil, add pepper, sea salt, and if you like some fresh lemon juice, put it in a 450 degree oven for 5-6 minutes (could be a little less time for thinner, a little more for thicker). When it’s done you can serve it as a meal, a side dish, or cut it up, add a little butter, Parmesan cheese and mix it with cooked pasta. It is simple but mouth memorable.

Debbie Jones-Steele