Chocolate and Asparagus

I ran into a coworker in the elevator the other morning, her hand gripped around a small cup of coffee and a – drum roll –  Hershey’s milk chocolate bar.  I think the rest of us riding to our respective floors were jealous because we laughed and made jokes. “Oh, are you going to mix the chocolate into your coffee and make your own version of a mocha.” “No,” she said, laughing, “I just break off a square and sip some coffee after I eat it.” Her tone gave the impression that she didn’t quite find it that unreasonable to have chocolate for breakfast, as I am sure many of us are guilty of splurging on a piece of pie on the morning after Thanksgiving. Then, the guy standing next to me goes, “I added a couple of scoops of ice-cream to my coffee, and let me tell you, it was good.”   No, I am not making this up. I just happened to step into the dessert-for-breakfast-elevator on this particular morning. It’s too bad I’ll likely never take that ride.

Everyday it’s oatmeal and coffee for me with a side of banana and peanut butter. I wish I had the kahonas to make my breakfast a chocolate bar and coffee. Even a pancake or waffle breakfast feels like a treat for me – one that weighs on my conscious sometimes. Still, thinking about Jodi’s breakfast made me smile in approval of her meal.  Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” anthem comes to mind. Sometimes you can’t take life too seriously, so you might as well have a chocolate bar for breakfast when you feel like it.

While it might not be wise to routinely make that your first meal of the day, you can certainly indulge on a side of asparagus seasoned with lime and thyme (couldn’t avoid that rhyme) any time you want. And, now might just be the occasion as asparagus is in season for only a short while longer – until about May. You know, those green shoots about the length of a pencil? They kind of look like a dainty monster’s finger — delicate structure but scaly exterior.  Or, thorny paint brushes. However, you choose to describe them, they are a versatile ingredient that should not be passed up at the market.

Case in point is this recipe (“It starts with the tip” – March 18, 2010) from the Sacramento News and Review, a free weekly news publication available in the greater Sacramento area. They’ve begun to feature seasonal produce from local purveyors along with a recipe that showcases its winning attributes. I couldn’t be more thrilled to see this as a regular staple. Residents of an agricultural epicenter should take advantage of the fresh and local bounty harvested for their consumption. Truly, it’s a luxury that I think many of us Sacramentans take for granted.

What makes asparagus special is that its flavor is that delicate that it’s adaptable. On its own, it plays a terrific host to garlic or butter. Marinated in an acid like lime, it perks up and takes in the tanginess of the citrus fruit as well as toning its loudness.   The thyme gives it some spiciness. I particularly like the method for cooking asparagus in this recipe because the shoots stay crisp but still have tenderness to them.

Apparently, the article’s author writes, asparagus does not pair well with wine because it will make the wine taste overly sweet. But, it says nothing about its effect on chocolate. If people are eating chocolate bars for breakfast, you might as well reward yourself for eating your veggies with chocolate or, dare I say, a bowl of ice-cream. I mean, if you really want to stretch the rules, I would assert that they cancel each other out.  Perhaps, just one day out of the week though. You don’t want to get too carried away redefining those three square meals now.

Pan Roasted Asparagus with Lime

Adapted from Sacramento News and Review article “It starts with the tip,” published March 18, 2010

What I also like about this recipe is that you can let the asparagus stew in the lime mixture for up to a day. This gives you time to plan a complete meal around this dish, or it just gives you a break from cooking if you’re not in the mood for some pan roasting. I ate my asparagus as a snack, but I would make it again with a poached egg or two.

1 bunch asparagus, about 24 spears

1 lime

2-3 tsp. olive oil

½ tsp. dried thyme

Parmesan, if desired, but I say it’s a must

Wash and drain asparagus. Snap off the ends at their natural breaking point and discard. Put 3-4 cups water on stove to boil. Meanwhile, cut each spear in half, separating the tops from the bottoms. Drop the stem ends into the boiling water and cook for one minute. Then, add the tip ends and cook for another minute. Take asparagus off the stove and drain.

In a shallow bowl fit for 24 asparagus spears, mix the juice of the lime with 1 tsp. oil and dried thyme. Add the asparagus and coat with marinade. Set asparagus aside for 15 minutes up to 24 hours.

Heat 1-2 tsp. oil in a large skillet (non-stick is ok in my opinion) over medium heat. Add asparagus and any lingering marinade and cook, stirring frequently, until asparagus is tender and browned, about 5-8 minutes.

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