Spring a great time to breathe fresh air into your kitchen
In late October, when the first frost hits and chill is in the air, we can't wait to sit down to our first bowl of belly warming soup. But by early April in the Midwest, the furry east coast rodent has either seen his shadow or not, daylight has saved us an hour, and it rains more than it snows. Bits of green grass blades have begun to blend in with the brown, worms are slithering up from the ground; the robins are back. Now done with soup of winter, and we need a spring break.
Spring is a breath of fresh air; a change of seasons, wardrobe, cooking styles and resulting flavors. Warmer weather inspires us to open the windows, regroup, reorganize, and recharge. We tackle our closets, the garage, the basement, but what about the kitchen?
If your pantry resembles the burial grounds for half-used ingredients, never used spices, or tubes of one-use exotic pastes, it's time for a makeover. Spring-cleaning isn't just about cleaning the crumbs out of the bread drawer, scrubbing the stove, or tossing those suspicious containers lurking long past their expiration date. It's about matching fresh spring ingredients to the appropriate cooking equipment, tools, and essential layers of flavor.
As we shrug off the heavy coat of winter and ease on the light jacket of spring, our cooking techniques, and inspired ingredients need to do the same. It's time to push the Dutch oven of long-cooked stews and braises to the back burner and let the saute pan, perfect for fresh vegetables tossed with a bit of olive oil, or for cooking up a light cheese and herb frittata take center stage.
And at last, so are some of our old favorites at the market. Mother Nature's April spring palette is splattered with vibrant green tall stalk asparagus, sunrise orange and yellow, tender baby carrots, crunchy sweet radish, tart rhubarb and long thin spring onions. Bring these and other just-sprouted vegetables to life with cooking techniques that coax the most flavor and dishes that makes them pop.
Bright colored ramekins, ready to bake the first-of-the-season rhubarb crisp, can make a favorite springtime dessert shine. Tumbled bunches of pea shoots tucked into your favorite big white serving bowl scattered with tender, sweet peas, and bright red radish orbs resemble an Easter day basket filled with eggs and just screams Spring!
Take stock of your kitchen, are how many of your tools are old, outdated, or broken? Sure, you've been making do with that burned wooden spoon, but wouldn't it be nice to own tools that work well, feel great in your hand, and might even look good? Did the grill tongs and spatulas survive the harsh winter? How about a new edge on those once much sharper knifes? Did the porcelain white serving platter, necessary for showcasing spring's first asparagus, survive the last dinner party chip-free? Are there enough champagne glasses for April's first Sunday brunch; wineglasses to accompany the first al fresco dinner with friends?
Don't overlook the pantry and the sensory ingredients; the basics designed to add the salty, acidic, sweet and spicy flavors to a dish. Straight from the sea salt, peppercorns waiting to be cracked, bright kinds of vinegar, pungent mustard, a sprinkle of heat from cayenne or chili powder, and finishing olive oil. These flavors provide the dynamic boost that highlight the seasons best offspring with color and texture and a burst of spring flavor.
• Kelly Sears is the executive chef and instructor at Marcel's Culinary Experience in Glen Ellyn. She caught the cooking bug early, first learning to bake with an Easy Bake Oven. She kept on learning and graduated from the College of DuPage culinary program. She hasn't stopped learning or teaching since. Contact her by sending email addressed to email@example.com.