Asparagus is 93% water. That’s what Stockton, CA felt like on the first Friday of the 2014 Asparagus Festival, as it rained enough to shut down the first of a three-day foodie event. Thankfully the rain stopped long enough on Saturday for droves of people to come out and celebrate asparagus together under an overcast sky. Most of the droves drove and the numerous parking lots within blocks were filled quickly, but at least street parking in Stockton isn’t metered on the weekends.
We attended last year and sampled every bite (and sip) of asparagus. Of course this year we wanted to enjoy some more, but to avoid redundancy we also wanted to try other creative cooking. If only there was time to do it all in just one visit!
The festival takes up a large area, so there is plenty to experience while shuffling from food stand to food stand. While we walked around, we listened to Berlin as they played on one of several entertainment stages billed to host a variety of bands and singers. There were also chef demonstrations, shopping vendors, children’s activities, a farmers market, eating competitions, dog agility competitions, a hole-in-one golf competition, paddleboats for rent, and a sea lion exhibit.
Food, beverages, and alcoholic drinks are generally purchased with tickets, which are found in the white tents that are conveniently marked on the map in the free brochure – make sure to pick one up when you enter. The cost is $1 per ticket and most items were three to six tickets, but lots of food vendors were accepting cash, as well. We did not have any alcoholic drinks, but we know from trying them last year that they are good. These folks were happy to let us snap a shot of their yummy asparagus margaritas.
Asparagus Alley is the legendary collection of gigantic tents where groups of volunteers produce an asparagus spread en masse. Last year we tried the asparagus beef burritos, asparagus steak hoagies, and asparagus pasta, but the most popular item that people flock to is the deep fried asparagus. The batter itself was light and crunchy, sprinkled with a good amount of sharp Parmesan cheese. The asparagus itself was cooked perfectly – not mushy, and not stringy. It was hot and fresh, too, so the crew of volunteers was really working well together this year.
Did you think we wouldn’t have another round of asparagus ice cream? Truly it is tasty. Tasty enough that we each got our own instead of just “sampling.” The asparagus flavor is light over a rich and creamy vanilla base; anyone saying they didn’t like it was in denial and couldn’t get over the fact that there was asparagus in the ice cream. Little chunks are visible but it does little if nothing to the texture, so this is a delicious dessert despite a doubtful disposition.
We’ve met Castro’s BBQ Shack and Filipino Food before at last year’s Gilroy Garlic Festival, and we appreciated that they embraced the theme of that festival. They did the same here, with asparagus lumpia added to their menu for the weekend. While we waited for our order, we were gifted a sample of their famous traditional lumpia with a spicy, tangy dipping sauce. We noticed the traditional lumpia was more popular than the asparagus lumpia, but that’s not to say that the asparagus lumpia wasn’t selling fast.
No offense to the volunteers making the deep fried asparagus over at the Alley because it was great, but Castro’s asparagus lumpia had them beat. A delicately thin and crispy wrapper was fried just right so there was little excess oil, and there was zero difficulty in biting through the fresh asparagus. Of the three dips for choosing we went with the ranch; maintaining a balance of herbs and tanginess, it was a good choice to highlight the celebrated vegetable.
We admit, we walked by many food stands because they either 1) didn’t provide something new and/or different, or 2) we had tried them before and they had nothing new and/or different to offer. But of all the festival, the one non-asparagus item that made us melt was Castro’s deep fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If we had to sum it up on one word, it would be “ohmmfggd.” Pretty sure we actually said that as we chewed the first bite. It was similar to a Monte Cristo sandwich in terms of texture and presentation. The creamy and savory peanut butter mellowed the bright sweetness of the strawberry jelly, and together they oozed between slices of standard white bread. Despite being deep fried, since you’d think that the bread would soak up excessive oil, it was not greasy. In fact, all we needed to wipe our fingers when done was the wax paper on which it was served.
Barring event-cancelling weather, we encourage you to attend the Asparagus Festival at least once in your life, although it’s likely something you’ll want to return to. This was its 29th year, so it is reliably a festival that can be made a tradition for families to enjoy through generations. All those in your company will have a good time, whether or not they like asparagus.
Zach just got an ice cream making attachment for his KitchenAid, and he wanted to be inventive with the first batch. Inspired by peanut butter and chocolate, which is a perfect combination, we went further to think of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of milk. The ice cream base acts as the milk; there are chunks of pound cake for the bread; peanut butter swirls, peanut butter marshmallow fluff, and honey roasted peanuts are the peanut butter; and a blackberry syrup is the jelly.
• For the ice cream:
2 1/4 cups of whole milk
1 1/2 cups of frozen pound cake, cubed
1 cup of heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup of white sugar
1/2 cup of creamy peanut butter
5 large egg yolks
1 vanilla bean
In a medium to large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until it thickens and turns pale yellow.
Combine the whole milk and heavy cream in a small saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with the back of a knife. Put seeds and vanilla bean pod in the milk-cream mixture.
On medium heat, bring the milk-cream mixture to a light simmer, but not boiling. Remove from heat. Take a cup of the milk-cream mixture and whisk it into the egg yolks to temper it. Pour this egg-milk-cream mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk-cream.
On medium-low heat, cook again while stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, fully scraping down the sides and bottom to mix everything well. This will take about 3-5 minutes, until you reach nappe (a French term for when the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon). It will seem thick like a very light custard. Put the mixture in a separate bowl, and cool in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours or longer so that the vanilla has time to permeate.
Cut the frozen pound cake into cubes, and keep it in the freezer until ready to fold into the ice cream. After the ice cream base mixture is sufficiently cooled, pour through a fine mesh strainer to catch any chunks of solid vanilla bean or coagulated egg. Rinse the vanilla bean pod very, very thoroughly, dry it, and put it in your household sugar container; this enhances your sugar to make it taste like vanilla for future recipes.
Follow the instructions to make the ice cream base with your KitchenAid or other ice cream maker. We used the KitchenAid and spun the ice cream for 22 minutes.
Transfer the frozen ice cream base to a pre-chilled glass or metal bowl. Fold the cubed pound cake into the ice cream; no more than 4 folds are necessary, or else you risk breaking up the pound cake. Microwave the peanut butter for 20-30 seconds until slightly melted and pourable. Pour the peanut butter over the top of the ice cream in a swirl, then use a knife to cut the peanut butter deep into the ice cream to form ribbons. Put the bowl in the freezer, covered with plastic wrap, for 4-5 hours.
• For the syrup:
2 pints of fresh blackberries
1/4 cup of white sugar
1 tbs. of lemon juice
In a small non-stick saute pan, cook down all ingredients for about 10 minutes, starting at medium heat for the first 3-4 minutes. At this point start smashing the berries with a wooden spoon or heat-proof plastic utensil (not metal or else you’ll damage your pan), then reduce the heat to medium-low for the remaining time. Stir frequently throughout the cooking process.
Strain mixture through a fine strainer to remove seeds, and smash any berry bits to try to maximize your juice coming through the strainer. Cool before use. We put it in a squeeze bottle for easier handling.
• For the peanuts:
1/4 lb. of raw blanched peanuts
2 tbs. of honey
1 tsp. of kosher salt
1 tsp. of white sugar
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lay parchment paper or a Silpat on a cookie sheet. Toss the raw peanuts with honey, coating them evenly. Spread the peanuts over the parchment paper or Silpat. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring once through the baking process to help them bake evenly. Their color should be a dark golden brown. After baking, sprinkle salt and sugar and stir the peanuts once more. Set aside in a bowl and allow to cool. Chop before serving.
• For the peanut butter marshmallow fluff:
1 jar of Kraft Jet-Puffed marshmallow cream, 7 oz.
1/2 cup of Skippy creamy peanut butter
In a small mixing bowl, combine marshmallow cream and peanut butter with a rubber spatula. Make sure it’s combined evenly – it will become a light tan color. Keep at room temperature until ready to serve.