2014 Asparagus Festival, Stockton CA

stages of growth of an asparagus plant

stages of growth of an asparagus plant

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.

ice cream!!

ice cream!!

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.

asparagus lumpia

asparagus lumpia

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.

deep fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich

deep fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich

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.

Turkey Chili

No one questions that chili is a hearty dish, but does it have to be fattening?  By switching from beef to turkey, a significant amount of fat is eliminated, with zero sacrifice of flavor.  Cook time is disproportionate to prep time, so this is something that is easily started, forgotten, and then it’s practically ready!  Plus, leftovers the next day taste even better because there is more time for the flavors to marry and soak into the beans and meat!

turkey chili

turkey chili

Makes 8-10

1 1/4 lbs. of ground turkey

4 cups of beef broth

24 oz. of beer or ale

16 oz. of tomato sauce

12 oz. of dry pinto beans

1 can of kidney beans

1 large white onion

1/4 cup of chili powder

1/4 cup of corn flour

6 garlic cloves, minced

3 tbs. of tomato paste

2-3 tbs. of kosher salt (to taste, see below)

1 tbs. of cumin

Soak the dry pinto beans in water, preferably overnight.  Drain and thoroughly rinse the kidney beans.  Set aside for now.

Dice the onion, and cook in a dutch oven over medium-low heat on the stove until only lightly caramelized.  Turn the heat to high, then add the salt and meat to the onion, cooking long enough just to brown the meaat.  Add the chili powder, tomato paste, and cumin; stirring frequently, cook for 2 minutes.  Add the broth, beer, tomato sauce, pinto beans, and garlic, and cover to cook for 3-4 hours, or however long it takes for the pinto beans to be tender.  Add 1 tbs. of salt at each hour of cook time – but make sure to taste it first, because you don’t want to add more when it is already salted to your liking.  Add the kidney beans when 1 hour remains before being considered “done,” and add the corn flour when 30 minutes remain.

Garnish with shredded mild cheddar and sour cream, an serve with warmed corn tortillas or cornbread.

Mikkeller Dim Sum

(Always drink responsibly.  Seek help when alcohol affects your life and the lives of those around you.  For readers of a legal drinking age.)

dim sum

dim sum

When a brewery has produced more than 6,000 different types of beer within seven years, it has to be commended for its tenacity.  Creativity clearly is flowing freely.  Mikkeller has impressed me before, but I’ve also been put off by the taste of one.  The Pilsner-style Dim Sum happily makes its home right around average – I hardly dislike it, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t knock my socks off, especially for the price.  With a golden head, 5% ABV, and unknown IBU, it’s light and refreshing.  Having been brewed with coriander and lemongrass makes it more refreshing, but honestly the lemongrass was very faint and the coriander was even more so.  This would be a nice accompaniment for an afternoon, outdoors, picnic concert.  Too bad now is not really the season for that!

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