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I recently attended the annual conference for the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), held in New York this year. Breakfast was included on a few of the days. Throughout the large eighth-floor gathering room of the Broadway Millennium hotel, long tables were arranged with a display of help-yourself fresh fruit, small cartons of yogurt and plates of fancy rich pastries, puffy New York bagels and muffins. I passed up the pastries and made a beeline for a table in one corner of the room every morning.
I watched with intrigue as a young woman at the next table picked up her teaspoon and expertly slid the edge of it between the emerald green flesh and thin brown skin of half a fuzzy kiwi she held in her other hand. I had noticed kiwi amid a rainbow of cut fresh fruit that was part of a lavish Sunday buffet brunch at Madden's Resort on Gull Lake in Brainerd, Minn., last summer. Guest chefs from The St. Paul Grill, Pazzaluna, RJ's American Grill, Tria, The Saint Paul Hotel and Enjoy! Restaurant along with Madden's chefs had prepared the feast that ended Madden's Food and Wine weekend.
Four adults lined both sides of the island in my kitchen on a recent Sunday afternoon. Picking and choosing from an array of brightly colored fresh vegetables to include in roll-ups, we looked like young children involved in a pre-school food project, tasting, laughing and chatting as we worked. Or played. Once we realized we weren't stuffing flour tortillas to create behemoth burritos, we began forming perfect spring rolls. I remember the first time I ate a spring roll. I was dining in a Vietnamese restaurant in St. Paul.
First there was fire. Then there was flatbread. The first hard mixture of hand-ground flour and water was baked in hot ashes or on a stone over flames more than 6,000 years ago. Since then, flatbread has gone global. Now, cookbook author and cooking instructor Shelley Holman has written a soon-to-be released cookbook celebrating the versatile bread that takes little time to prepare. The Arizona woman taught a Flatbread Fantasy class I recently attended at Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School in Scottsdale.
The month of March is one that always keeps me guessing - is it spring or is it still winter? One day the thermometer may read 2 degrees below zero, the next day 42 above. I pay more attention to food-related signals that guarantee spring is right around the corner. Just as sweet, juicy clementines begin to disappear from their winter spot in the produce department at the grocery store, my favorite mangoes appear, ready to take their place. That is when I know spring is near. On the first weekend of March, I celebrated this month of transition by making Pumpkin-Mango Upside-Down Baby Cakes.
Whether Irish or not, as March 17 approaches, many home cooks start thinking green. Food coloring and sprinkles turn cookies and cupcakes into special treats for St. Patrick's Day. The more health-conscious create fruit salads with green grapes and kiwi or big bowls of bright tossed salads made of mixed fresh greens. This year I'm making soup - green soup. An unlikely combination, watercress, peas and pears simmer together in a pot and magically produce a sublime, creamy green soup.
I've always enjoyed eating broccoli. One of my favorite ways to prepare the green cruciferous vegetable is to steam it until it's still a little crisp, yet tender enough for a fork to pierce into the stem.
"I'll have the endive salad," I said to the self-assured, curly-haired server. I felt confident in my pronunciation (ON-deev) of the pale-colored leaves that are a member of the chicory family. As I watched him make note of my order, he responded, "The ON-dive salad is delicious this evening." He might have noticed my slightly crooked grin. It wasn't brought on by his mistaken way of saying endive.
This time of year, you'll usually find pears in the fruit drawer of my refrigerator. A crisp and juicy pear is a welcome midday snack eaten out of hand. Besides their buttery sweet flavor, it's the versatility and adaptability in the kitchen that I most appreciate about pears. They can go sweet or savory - baked into cakes, tarts and quick breads or tossed into salads and baked alongside meat. A good source of dietary fiber, pears contain nutrients that have been found to contribute to a healthy heart.
On a recent dinner outing with friends, I was pleasantly surprised to see Brussels sprouts on the restaurant menu. I gave the chef points for offering a vegetable that, for the last several years, has been No. 1 on the list of vegetables consumers all over the world dislike the most. I believe those consumers just think they don't care for the little cabbage look-alikes. I'm sure sometime in their past, those people have eaten overcooked, mushy, dull, smelly and bitter-tasting Brussels sprouts.