Cook's Corner: Broccoli at its best, green veggie at its peak season

Published 4:57 am Wednesday, February 20, 2008

By Staff
Broccoli. Just the mention of this vegetable sends chills through many, many people. Now, if you decide to melt a little cheese and pour of the top, for some reason the fears seem to be calmed.
We are at the peak of the broccoli season, at least until sometime in March. Although grocery stores usually have fresh broccoli in their produce department year round, there is certainly a specific growing season. The season begins in October and will continue through March, depending on the weather. The cold-weather vegetable is certainly at its best during the cooler months.
Growing broccoli in your garden can be a little iffy, at best. With the kinds of weather we have around here, winter months can bring warm enough weather to stunt the growth of broccoli. I've tried it with some degree of success. But for some reason, my broccoli heads never seemed to get as big and tightly formed as what you find in the grocery store. With the prices of broccoli still reasonable, I think I'll let the professional growers do the work of growing and harvesting.
While I was shopping on Saturday of this past weekend, I happened upon some perfectly beautiful broccoli. I immediately began searching out other ingredients in the store that would allow me to put together a wonderful meal using fresh, not frozen, broccoli.
Since my family enjoys stir-fry (and I seldom prepare it) I decided to give it a whirl for them on Sunday. As I've said many times in this column, recipes are only a guide for really good cooks. I don't have a specific recipe for the stir-fry dish I prepare, but I'll give you the ingredients and my “guide” on how to prepare the dish. In the recipe you'll see that I refer to the broccoli and onions as bunches. These bunches are the kind that grocery stores put together for you in the produce department. I use an electric wok to prepare this dish, but if you don't have one available, an extra large skillet would work.
Lisa's Stir-Fry
2 large bunches fresh broccoli
2 bunches green onions
2-3 boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
1 can sliced water chestnuts
1 small can sliced mushrooms
1 medium carrot, shredded
2 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Cut broccoli into bite size florets. You can also peel the stems and slice thinly to include in the recipe if you choose. Clean onions by removing root ends and any wilted tops. Cut onions into 1-2 inch pieces. Use a vegetable peeler to peel and then shred the carrot into thin strips. Preheat wok or skillet to high heat. Add vegetable oil and heat. Place chicken pieces in hot oil and toss until done. This will take four or five minutes depending on the heat and thickness of chicken pieces. Remove chicken from pan. Place all vegetables in wok or skillet and cover. Let vegetables steam for 3 to 4 minutes or just until they begin to wilt. Remove cover and toss vegetables for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Pour chicken broth into pan with vegetables and return chicken to wok. Toss all to combine. Cover and let cook for 3 minutes. Move vegetables and chicken to outer rim of wok leaving a well in the center. Mix cornstarch with one-fourth cup cold water and mix well. Pour into well of vegetables and stir until thickened. Remove from heat (or turn the wok off) and toss all ingredients to coat with liquid. Serve over rice or chow mien noodles adding a little soy sauce to taste.
My son actually helped me with the stir-fry dish on Saturday. Even though he doesn't like broccoli very much, he really enjoyed the dish he helped to prepare. Getting children in on the cooking certainly helps when it comes time to serve the meal.
I can guarantee you that I like broccoli very much. I will pretty much eat it any way except raw. For some reason, I just can't make myself eat raw broccoli. I don't care how much ranch dressing you dip it into, I just can't do it. But if you fix a big bowl of broccoli salad, a pan of broccoli casserole or in some kind of dish like stir-fry, I'll be your best friend. I'll even eat broccoli soup if you call me to the table.
If you feel the same way I do about broccoli, you may have a little trouble coming up with something different to try with the vegetable. This next recipe is one that is a little different but not so much so that it wouldn't be a good one to try. It's a really easy cooking method. Adding the nuts and lemon zest will give it a little zing that would be great with any meal.
Steamed Broccoli
1 head fresh broccoli, cut into florets
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds
Steam or boil broccoli until tender, approximately 4 to 8 minutes. Drain. In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium low heat. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice. lemon zest, and almonds. Pour over hot broccoli, and serve.
The last recipe I'll share this week is one that sounded so interesting that I plan on trying it this week. Especially with the broccoli being so pretty right now, I can't help but think this would be a great time to try this one.
Broccoli-Noodle Bake
1 (16 ounce) package egg noodles
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
2 cups cottage cheese
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain. Steam broccoli until bright green and tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Combine broccoli, pasta and cottage cheese in 2 quart baking dish; mix well. Sprinkle pasta mixture with Cheddar cheese and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until cheese is bubbly.
I hope that you'll take an opportunity to enjoy some fresh broccoli during the peak season. Vegetables, although available mostly year round in stores, are always better during their best growing season.
Belly up to the produce counter and enjoy a great meal this week.
If you ever have an idea or recipe you'd like to share, I'd love to hear from you. You can e-mail your information to me at lisa.tindell@
Spring is just around the corner and with the warmer days, come thoughts of beautiful salads and outdoor cooking.
Next week, I plan to give you some ideas for the upcoming salad season. You'll want to get your ingredients ready and whip up some great low-fat, high-taste dressings for your fresh, green salad.
il next week, Happy Cooking!

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