Tag Archives: spring

ACC Parties: A Spring Menu for Easter

Easter in my family is a big deal and definitely my 2nd favorite holiday (sorry nothing beats Christmas!).  There is something about the little chickies, the pastel candy and all those spring ingredients that make me so happy.  Even if you don’t celebrate Easter the beginning of spring is a great time to gather your family and sit down to a nice meal that celebrates the best parts of the season.  Here is a suggested menu that has a lot of moving parts but actually very little needs to be done the day of, leaving you free to hunt Easter eggs and binge on candy with the fam.  I wanted the table setting to be whimsical, especially with kids in attendance.  I found these super cute carrot utensil holders at the dollar section of Target and paired it with our Vera Wang wedding china, set on chargers that sort of mimic an Easter basket.  Glitter eggs scattered over my homemade seersucker tablecloth and bam, spring is alive.

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I don’t like to have giant flowers getting in the way of conversation so instead I opted for some thyme from my garden staggered down the center of the table in white pots.  How cute is that cabbage serving dish?  I found it for $4 at Home Goods the week before Easter so I knew it had to make it to the table.  I set up our kitchen island as a appetizer and drinks station with a floral Cynthia Rowley tablecloth (also Home Goods!) and some baby’s breath mixed with bells of Ireland for flowers.

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Cheese and Chartucherie Board

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No party is complete without one!  Since both of the aps I was actually making were veggie based I knew I had to get some cheese in here somehow.  Just pick a nice selection and throw some dried apricots or grapes on the plate to jazz it up.

Chilled Sweet Pea Soup with Mint and Cream

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Nothing is more springy that sweet peas (no one needs you know you get em out of a bag!).  This soup is simple and can be made up to two days in advance.  I served it in cute little glasses for sipping but discovered that the texture really wasn’t ideal for that so I would suggest providing spoons for people to eat the soup with instead.  It’s a super light appetizer that adds a nice green punch to the mix.

Za’atar Spiced Beet Dip with Goat Cheese and Hazelnuts

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I had been dying to make this dip since the first time I spotted it in Food and Wine Magazine all the way back in 2012 – goes to show how many recipes I have socked away!.  It’s totally beautiful but I knew it would also be delicious, being the brain child of Yotam Ottolenghi, of Jersuleam (and this post) fame.  Everyone loved the earthy complex flavor and of course the color!

Lamb Kebobs with Minted Yogurt Sauce

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Lamb is the quintessential Easter dish but with grilled lamb kebobs you can make life much easier.  Marinate the lamb up to two days before and then just throw on the grill as you are having appetizers.  I love that it doesn’t hog the oven like a big lamb roast and it also encourages your guests to go outside and enjoy the spring, keeping the grill master company.  This version by Ina is so good though I skipped her sauce and went for my standard mint and yogurt sauce found here.

Make Ahead Polenta

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As described in this post, make ahead polenta can be really done with any kind of polenta recipe you have by just increasing the liquid content.  This was a great side for the lamb and didn’t require me standing over a hot pot frantically stirring the polenta – it was even a hit with the kiddos!

Roasted Asparagus

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Just toss spears with olive oil, salt and pepper and put them on a baking sheet.  During the last 15 minutes of the polenta put the baking sheet in the oven, toss once and voila!  A nice crunchy veggie side with almost zero effort.

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

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Ok so here is where most of the effort for the meal came in.  I realized when I was planning the menu that I had so many make ahead items that I didn’t really have much to do “day of.”  That can sometimes spell disaster because then I set and reset the table, putter around driving my husband crazy (and myself) before our guests arrive.  So I made an easy layer cake and decided to try my hand at the basket weave frosting on top.  I followed this tutorial from Wilton – it was actually pretty easy once I got the hang of it.  It does take a while and my hand was sort of cramped into a claw for a bit but you can do this first thing in the AM and just keep the cake at room temp (or in the fridge if it’s really warm in your house).  I also got  beautiful edible dried flowers from Terrian and scattered them on top.  I have to say I was really proud of this one but if you don’t have the time or energy a store-bought dessert or even this cake without the fancy pants frosting would be delicious.  Happy Spring to everyone!

Some Spring Cocktails and Entertaining Goodies

Apparently it is finally supposed to turn warm in DC this weekend (and by finally I mean again, since it was 80 degrees in February).  Nothing like seeing patios opening and flowers blooming to make me want to set down the heavier drinks of fall and winter and start sipping spring flavors.  I thought for the weekend I would pull together some of my favorite spring cocktails to inspire some deck parties.

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Thyme Vodka Lemonade

Mule with a Kick

Blackberry Mojito

The Cherry Blossom

This time of the year also makes me want to run out and buy everything in fun springy colors so I am sharing some of the spring entertaining items I have been drooling over lately (hint hint Mr. Easter Bunny!).

How cute are these Mark and Graham gingham plates?  Perfect for a picnic.

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They would look super cute on this Kate Spade lemon tablecloth that I already have (I found it at Home Goods for $12!!).

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How about these adorable cheese boards from Anthropologie?  It’s hard to pick just one.

I love these peacock blue glasses from CB2 – great for water glasses or any of my spring cocktails.

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And last but not least how cool is this ice mold from Crate and Barrel?  You can put flowers, fruit, leaves etc in the mold and it perfectly fits a bottle of wine.  It chills your wine and makes a functional and beautiful centerpiece!

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I hope wherever you are it’s warming up there to and you have a weekend full of friends, flowers and festivities!

 

Hot and Cold Asparagus Salad

Hard to avoid asparagus in stores and on menus right now and why would you want to??  It is one of my favorite spring vegetables and truly one of those things you should really only eat seasonally.  When I see asparagus on a menu in November I just know that place isn’t going to be good.  When they are in season I make asparagus a lot but usually get into the rut of roasting or grilling them which can get boring.  I have seen a lot of raw asparagus ribbon salads (a lot like my carrot one) and I thought bringing the hot and cold preparations together might be a nice twist.  Making the asparagus ribbons is really easy with a vegetable peeler – I like these Kuhn Rikon ones as they are cheap but yet stay sharp for a long time.

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Make sure to snap off the woody ends of the asparagus spears before you peel or roast them.  If you have never done this before take one end of each spear in each hand and slowly bend the spear until it naturally breaks.  That point indicates where the tender part of the asparagus meets the tougher, less edible part at the bottom.  Just snap them off and toss or use to make asparagus soup.   This would make a great first course or a side to some roasted pork or lemon chicken.

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Hot and Cold Asparagus Salad (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  spring veggies
Special Equipment:  vegetable peeler

  • 2 bunches of asparagus
  • 8 teaspoons of olive oil, divided
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard

Preheat your broiler.  Prep the asparagus by snapping off the woody ends as described above.  Set a 1/4 of the spears aside (usually each bunch has 24 spears so set aside around 12).  Spread the rest of the spears on a baking sheet and drizzle over 4 teaspoons of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and toss to combine.  Broil the spears for 5 minutes, then shake or toss them around and broil for 5 more minutes.  While the asparagus is in the broiler, turn the rest of the spears into ribbons by holding one end and using a vegetable peeler lengthwise.  In a medium size bowl, add the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil, the juice of 1 lemon and the dijon mustard – stir to combine.

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Add the asparagus ribbons and toss until all of them are coated with the vinaigrette.  Pile the hot asparagus on a plate and top with the asparagus ribbons and vinaigrette.  Serve right away.

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Hot and Cold Asparagus Salad

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 12 minutes
  • Print

Special Equipment:  vegetable peeler

  • 2 bunches of asparagus
  • 8 teaspoons of olive oil, divided
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard

Preheat your broiler.  Prep the asparagus by snapping off the woody ends as described above.  Set a 1/4 of the spears aside (usually each bunch has 24 spears so set aside around 12).  Spread the rest of the spears on a baking sheet and drizzle over 4 teaspoons of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and toss to combine.  Broil the spears for 5 minutes, then shake or toss them around and broil for 5 more minutes.  While the asparagus is in the broiler, turn the rest of the spears into ribbons by holding one end and using a vegetable peeler lengthwise.  In a medium size bowl, add the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil, the juice of 1 lemon and the dijon mustard – stir to combine.  Add the asparagus ribbons and toss until all of them are coated with the vinaigrette.  Pile the hot asparagus on a plate and top with the asparagus ribbons and vinaigrette.  Serve right away.

 

ACC’s Kitchen – Spring Cleaning Your Kitchen

So hopefully you have already cleaned your fridge after my horrifying post from last week – if not that really should be the priority for your spring cleaning.  I was so impressed by how many pics I got of people of their nice clean fridges!  Remember you can always tag me on insta as well @capitolcontessa.  Once I had finished my fridge overhaul I wanted to immediately tackle everything else.  When I start cleaning and organizing it becomes a bit of an intense campaign – poor Patrick came home from the gym to discover all of our kitchen island drawers emptied out on the floor.  However, once its all done I feel immensely better and I know you will to.  So here is a check list for the rest of your kitchen.  Make sure to treat yourself with a cocktail like this or this afterwards – you deserve it!

#1 – Clean out your pantry.  Just like the fridge the pantry (or cabinets that act as a pantry) can become a graveyard of unused or expired items.  My pantry is my pride and joy (as you learned in this post) but it get get overstuffed. Pull everything out, wipe down any surfaces that need to be cleaned and then take a good look at everything.  Check for expiration dates and chuck anything that’s past its prime.  This can also be a good opportunity to consolidate if you have a couple of bottles of the same item (why so many soy sauces???).  I like to keep a pad handy to start a grocery list to either replace things you trashed or for anything you are getting low on.  If you are a baker its a good time to make the investment in new baking powder and soda since after about a year they start to lose their leavening power.  I also use this as an opportunity to meal plan.  If you want to make space or use up something put it back right in front so you can clearly see it and make a plan to use it in short order.  Once you have culled through everything put them back but with at least a semblance of order.  Oils and vinegars together, dried grains and pastas on one shelf, baking ingredients on another etc.

 

#2 – Tackle your cutlery/utensil drawers.  I am lucky enough to have two dedicated drawers to utensils and everyday flatware but if I don’t keep it in check somehow both drawers get totally out of control until I can barely close them.  Take everything out of your drawer/s including any kind of flatware organizer (I love these bamboo ones from Ikea).  Wipe down everything – only clean stuff goes in those drawers but yet somehow an army of crumbs had settled there!  Then go through everything and decide if you need it/use it.  I discovered that we had 2 pizza cutters but yet when we make pizza I always just use a big knife!

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anyone need a pizza cutter??

 

One goes to goodwill and hopefully the other one I will actually remember we have the next time we grill pizza.  Then put things back thoughtfully, wine stoppers went with corkscrews etc.

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Nice and organized

#3 – Sort through your larger drawers/cabinets.  Here is where every kitchen is going to be a bit different.  We have lots of upper open and glass fronted cabinets so I keep those very organized year round since they are so exposed.  It’s the deep drawers in our kitchen island and the ones that hold my pots and pans that were just a mess.

These cabinets are relatively easy to organize since most of the items are bigger but they also require more thought.  Does that cabinet or drawer really make sense for the item that you have in it or would it be better elsewhere?  When we first moved into our house I just sort of threw everything into the cabinets and called it a day but once I had everything out I realized that the way I was storing my pots and pans took up WAY more space than I needed and keeping my placemats and napkins separately didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  So once everything was out I mentally thought through what should go with what and what would fit where.  It has been a revelation.

I had all my placemats stacked in a deep drawer and couldn’t get access to them at all.  Turns out I have over 15 sets (!!!) but I only ever used the ones on the top.  When you put stuff back really make sure to think about the way it looks.  Call me crazy but having a nicely styled, color coded table linens drawer makes me so happy every time I open it.  Setting the table is an everyday, tedious task that’s made so much nicer by having a Crate and Barrel worthy display.  At the end of the process I ended up with an entirely empty drawer in our kitchen island.  Such a luxury!!!  I am sure it won’t last long, by this time next year it will probably be stuffed with 3 new pizza cutters.  But set aside an hour or two this weekend to do your own kitchen spring cleaning and you too may end up the winner of extra kitchen space you never knew you had!  Happy cleaning!

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ACC’s Kitchen – Cleaning Your Fridge

Spring has sprung and that means it’s time to clean house.  There is something I find really satisfying about giving everything a good once over but I am always a little shocked by how dirty my house and particularly my kitchen are.  This year I decided to tackle my kitchen spring cleaning in two parts – first the fridge, then the pantry and kitchen drawers.  I will post next week on doing a through scrub of the rest of your kitchen but it’s wise to do the fridge separately as it’s somewhat labor intensive.  I will warn you – this isn’t the prettiest post!  I think of myself a clean and tidy person but man was there some gross stuff in the fridge.  So this is me being open and vulnerable as a public service announcement that you just never know what you will find once you start cleaning.

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Um, totally disgusting!  Discovered once the fruit drawer came out

I usually wipe down the shelves every couple of weeks and of course clean up spills etc as they happen but at least once a year (I try for twice) I do a wholesale cleaning.  Make sure to set aside at least 45 minutes for this task.  You will need a small bucket or container (I used a large tupperware), a sponge preferably one with a scrubby side, baking soda, and paper towels.  You will also need a large cooler with ice packs to store the more temperature sensitive items like meat and milk.  

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#1 – Fill up that cooler with everything you can’t leave out for an hour.  Some will tell you to unplug your fridge but mine is wedged into a weird corner of our pantry – I am not even sure I could unplug it if I wanted to.  I think as long as you work fast keeping it running is just fine.  Also fill up the tub with cool water and about a tablespoon of baking powder.  It’s not an exact science – you don’t want to use too much water as you will likely have to change it out a couple of times.  Also use cool/cold water as opposed to hot.  If you have glass shelves in your fridge like I do hot water plus cold fridge can equal a cracked surface.      

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#2 – Clean out the drawers in your fridge.  I have 2 produce drawers and one I use for cheese (a cheese only drawer = heaven).  Pull everything out and check for freshness.  With produce if something is starting to go can you use it in short order?  Or is it something that can be frozen?  If so leave it to the side and deal with it later, if not chuck it.  Cheese is a pretty simple binary choice of keep or toss – just make sure to really assess everything that comes out and whether or not it should go back in.  Pull out the drawers (if you can, at least one of mine can’t come out) and bring them over to the sink.  Rinse thoroughly, using your baking soda and water mixture to get out anything stubborn.  Leave to dry.  Any drawers that can’t come out use the sponge to clean and then dry with a paper towel.

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Round one of the water/baking soda solution…ewww

#3 – Clean out the shelves.  Pull everything out of your shelves and give them a once over just like your produce.  Is the orange juice still good?  Do you need four half full bottles of water?  Toss anything you don’t need.  Again use your sponge and water/baking soda mixture to tackle the shelves.  If anything is particularly stuck on (hello maple syrup spill) shake on a little baking soda directly on the spot and use the scrubby side of the sponge.  Don’t use any kind of kitchen cleaning spray as the smell can get in your food and many are not safe to touch edible items.  At this point my water mixture was looking really gross so I changed it out with fresh water and baking soda.  Dry the shelves with paper towels.

#4 – The last frontier – the door.  The door is where most food goes to perish, at least in my fridge.  Mostly condiments and mostly underused, the door items really need a close inspection as you take them out.  Check all expiration dates.  I have no idea how but there was a bottle of ketchup in my fridge with an expiration date in 2014 but yet I clean it twice a year!  Also lots of the door inhabitants are sticky like jam or BBQ sauce.  When you pull the bottles and jars out give them a once over and see if you need to wipe off the bottom with a damp paper towel.  No sense in cleaning the door if you are just going to put back in dirty items.  Once everything is out give them the same treatment as the shelves, making sure to get the corners of any shallow shelves.

#5 – Restock and organize.  This is one of the benefits of cleaning the whole fridge at once – you can really take stock of what you have and put it back in a more systematic way.  Once the whole fridge was empty I was able to group like things together.  Beers in one section, yogurt, sour cream and buttermilk in another.  This is especially helpful in the door section where items can sort of get lost.  I created an Asian shelf with my garlic chili sauce, pickled ginger and curry paste all together.  Of course in our fridge we need a mega shelf to handle hot sauce so I used a smaller one to house our jams and jellies.  I am sure in no time my fridge won’t look as styled but at least it will still be clean.  Check back next week when I go through the pantry and the oh so scary utensil drawer.

 

The Cherry Blossom

Ah the cherry blossoms – beautiful, delicate flowering trees that bring apocalyptic traffic and hordes of tourists to DC every year.  I have to admit, they are really gorgeous, especially if you head to the Tidal Basin near the National Mall and catch them all pink and lovely reflected in the water.  However, doing so means contending with thousands of other petal lovers all using ipads or selfie sticks trying to capture the perfect picture while one of their kids rips handfuls of the precious blossoms from the trees.  No thanks.  Honestly if I could telework throughout the entire cherry blossom season I would but since that is frowned upon I just mentally double my commute time and try to enjoy the trees as I gaze out of my nonmoving car window.  Once I arrive home I am blessed to have a terrific cherry blossom tree right by our porch which I can gaze at, no tourists allowed.

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In an attempt to be less cranky about the cherry blossom festival I decided to come up with a cocktail to smooth things over.  Cherries needed to be involved obviously but I didn’t want anything too sweet.  Gin is perfect for pairing with any fruit element as the herbs can really cut through – I used Green Hat gin made right here in DC to make it extra authentic as well as a rose vermouth called Capitoline (also made in DC).  The rose vermouth lent that nice pinky color but if you only have regular vermouth I would toss in some of the liquid from the cherries to get a good blush.  Warning – this drink goes down VERY easily!  One down and all was right with the world again.

Thanks to my neighbor I get my own private cherry blossom viewing

The Cherry Blossom (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  all these dang trees
Special Equipment:  cocktail shaker

In a cocktail shaker, shake the gin, vermouth and St. Germain together with ice (if you don’t have rose vermouth add a little syrup from the cherries for color).  Pour into a martini glass and add cherries.

The Cherry Blossom

  • Servings: 1
  • Time: 1 minute
  • Print

Special Equipment:  cocktail shaker

In a cocktail shaker, shake the gin, vermouth and St. Germain together with ice (if you don’t have rose vermouth add a little syrup from the cherries for color).  Pour into a martini glass and add cherries.

Spring Veggies

Spring has finally sprung in D.C.  For me that means I get down to the farmer’s market as quickly as possible to see what’s growing.  After suffering the laughable produce in grocery stores all winter I was ready to see fresh spring produce.  Unfortunately, the H Street Farmer’s Market was still pretty bare last weekend but I am sure over the next couple of weeks there will be more selection. However, a beautiful bunch of asparagus and some lovely spring onions caught my eye.  DSC04516I didn’t have a plan for them, in fact I had a week’s worth of menus already planned that didn’t include either but that’s the joy of the farmer’s market.  Grab whatever looks best and make it work.  I decided I wanted to cook them together, both being so green and springy.  Usually with asparagus I just roast them with olive oil, salt and pepper at a high heat but that would kill the flavor of the spring onions.  Instead I opted for a method my mom and I experienced at a restaurant in Chicago – asparagus coins.  I believe Thomas Keller does this as well so if its good enough for him, good enough for me. Basically you cut the asparagus in small bites and saute – I experimented with adding the spring onions and braising them in a little white wine.  It got the husband thumbs up and was deemed blog worthy.

Vegetables are a great place to start experimenting if you are nervous about not using a recipe.  No one ever died from an undercooked broccoli stalk (to my knowledge) and overcooked veggies aren’t great but edible.  Think about the vegetable you are using and what flavors would work well with it.  Start easy with the most established produce relationships – tomato and basil, green beans and ginger, spinach and garlic, squash and pie spices.  Then keep adjusting until you have something just how you like it and voila – an easy side you can make any time that doesn’t send you running to a cookbook.  If I make these coins again I would probably add a little garlic, or maybe some grated parmesan on top when its done.

Asparagus Coins with Spring Onion (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration: Spring!

Special Equipment: none

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 bunch spring onions
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • salt and pepper

Take the asparagus and snap off the woody part at the bottom.  If this isn’t something you have done before you basically grab the spear at either end and bend it until it breaks.  That is where the tender part meets the woody part.  It’s a shame to get rid of those ends – if you want to get some use out of them then asparagus soup would be a good place for them to go. DSC04518Cut the asparagus into “coins” – basically cutting the spears in quarter inch intervals.  Don’t worry too much about perfection here, just cut them into little bite size pieces.  Do the same with the spring onions – white part only.

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Put a skillet over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Add spring onion coins and season with salt and pepper.  Saute for 5 minutes until softened.

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Add asparagus and cook for 3 more minutes.  Add the white wine and turn up the heat to medium high.  The wine will cook off and finish cooking the asparagus, about 3 minutes.  When there is only a little bit of liquid left add 1 tablespoon of butter and stir in.

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Serve with lemon wedges and enjoy!

Asparagus Coins with Spring Onion

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Print

Special Equipment: none

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 bunch spring onions
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • salt and pepper

Take the asparagus and snap off the woody part at the bottom. If this isn’t something you have done before grab the spear at either end and bend it until it breaks. Then cut the asparagus into “coins” basically cutting the spears in quarter inch intervals. Don’t worry too much about perfection here, just cut them into little bite size pieces. Do the same with the white part of the spring onions.  Put a skillet over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add spring onion coins and season with salt and pepper. Saute for 5 minutes until softened. Add asparagus and cook for 3 more minutes. Add the white wine and turn up the heat to medium high. The wine will cook off and finish cooking the asparagus, about 3 minutes. When there is only a little bit of liquid left add 1 tablespoon of butter and stir in.  Serve with lemon wedges and enjoy!

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