Sophisticated Salading

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Endive is one of those words where how you pronounce it says as much about you as the word itself. There are two camps: ON-deev and end-IVE. I’m sure one of them is correct and one of them isn’t (my guess is ON-deev is correct since that sounds more authentically French) and I am guilty of using both pronunciations interchangeably.

Which is all to say that I assembled the salad you see above last week after watching (who else?) the Barefoot Contessa do it on TV. It’s super easy. There are four primary ingredients: endive, toasted walnuts, sliced pear and crumbled Roqeufort.

The dressing (off the top of my head) is dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, an egg yolk (or mayonnaise), salt, pepper and olive oil (which you drizzle in). Toss the sliced pear in the dressing and place on top of the endive which you’ve cut the ends off of and pulled apart. Pour the remaining dressing on top, add the toasted walnuts and crumbled Roquefort and you’ve got yourself a salad. With a small mini-baguette, you even have yourself a dinner. Think how sophisticated you will be!

Zany Zuni Bread Salad

There are certain recipes you catalogue permanently in your brain under the heading: “I AM GOING TO MAKE THIS SOMEDAY!” On my list you might find: black and white cookies, leg of lamb, cheese puffs (the fancy ones that Martha Stewart makes). Very high on my list was an ultra-specific dish that caught my fancy years earlier when I first purchased the Zuni Cafe cookbook: Roast Chicken & Bread Salad.

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As you can see by the picture, a few nights ago I succeeded in finally crossing this dish of my list. (Cue Hall and Oats: “This dish, this dish is off my list.”) Was it worth it? Did it disappoint? Are you tired of these questions that force you to click “Continue”?

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Birmingham Beet Salad from “Frank Stitt’s Southern Table”

Jason Sholar is an exemplary human being. He ran the “Secret Cookbook Santa” for me this year and completely on his own accord sent me one of my most desired cookbooks from my Amazon wish list: “Frank Stitt’s Southern Table.”

This gigantic beautifully photographed book has an introduction by Pat Conroy who wrote “The Prince of Toydes” (as my mom would say) in which Pat calls Highlands Bar & Grill–Frank Sitt’s restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama–the best restaurant in America. I actually love this introduction: it paints a portrait of the chef quite beautifully. Let me quote from the final two paragraphs:

“Over a year ago, my wife, the novelist Cassandra King, and I joined Frank and Pardis [Frank’s Wife] for a spectacular meal at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant in New York. It was a meal for the ages, and it was one of the great joys of my life to watch Frank smell each dish as it arrived steaming from the kitchen and his eyes light up with pleasure as he tasted each bite with discernment and lapidary pleasure. The restaurant was as formal and plush and forbidding as HIghlands is welcoming and all-inclusive. The meal was Proustian and fabulous and indescribable, as all great meals are.

When Cassandra and I bid farewell to Frank and Pardis that night and walked toward our hotel with all the clamor and splendor and mystery of the great city swarming around us, we both agreed that Alain Ducasse was a splendid chef, but that he was no Frank Stitt.”

For my first foray into Frank’s Southern Table I decided on his “Autumn Beet Salad with Spiced Pecans, Pears and Fourme D’Ambert.”

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I think my attempt at this salad came out quite pretty though I made a few substitutions. I was out of pecans, so I candied almonds instead. This isn’t the greatest choice–almonds are difficult to stab on to a fork–but they added a needed nuttiness to an otherwise nutless salad. I could type out the entire detailed recipe, but I’ll just sketch it for you. You can actually look at the picture and figure it out. What makes it special is the combination of candied pecans, crisped slab bacon bits, sliced pear, fresh-cooked beets and bleu cheese. Take lettuce leaves (the fancy, bitter ones) and toss with oil and vinegar (or make a sherry vinaigrette, like Frank suggests). Then roast beets (Frank’s method worked well: put beets on foil sheet, drizzle with olive oil, red wine vinegar, some salt and pepper, fold up and roast in the oven at 350 for 45 to 60 minutes (until fork tender)). Slice a pear thinly and crisp the bacon bits. Mound the lettuce on a plate and “scatter the beets, pears, lardons, and pecans around and arrange a wedge of cheese on each plate.”

That’s it: a French classic given the Southern treatment. Like Madame Bovary as read by Dolly Pardon. With less cleavage.

Salad Inspirations

There’s something thrilling about food shopping without a recipe. Last night I hungered for a salad, and I made my way to Whole Foods (I’ve been making my way to Whole Foods way too often lately) and stood in the produce section waiting for inspiration to alight.

“Excuse me,” said a woman, “You’re blocking the aisle.”

“One moment,” I snapped, “I’m waiting for inspiration to alight.”

She threw a tomato at my head.

That’s when I had a vision:

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I will make a salad with pre-packaged lettuces—but exotic ones, with frisee because that’s sophisticated! And I will roast some beets and add tangerine and bleu cheese! And so I found a tangerine—actually it was a tangelo, kind of a tangerine/orange combo—and bought “nutty, slightly sweet” bleu cheese from the cheese section. This was a big step for me because I come from a Cheesophobic family [my family, by the way, is still without electricity two days after Hurricane Wilma plowed through South Florida—trees toppled, roof tiles fell, and they’re cooking frozen peas on a Coleman stove to survive! Hopefully things will get better for them soon!] and bleu cheese is the final obstacle in my slowly advancing appreciation of cheese. I really like how bleu cheese works in this salad: I stole the idea from Deborah, where I ate a few weeks ago, pairing it with the tangelo and the beets to contrast the intense pungency.

As for the beets, I roasted them at 400 degrees in foil pouches—this time drizzled with olive oil, a touch of balsamic, and salt and pepper. At one hour, I stabbed them and removed them. They were more flavorful than the last time I roasted them just alone in the pouch. So I now have a beet-roasting technique I can be proud of.

I May Not Watch Rome, But I Make A Mean Caesar

There was a time I carried a Palm Pilot—back when I went to law school and I wanted my life mapped out for me. I had my schedule, I had my phone numbers: it was all very formal. I hated it. I have friends and people in my life who must schedule everything, who map their lives out to the tiniest detail and find that very rewarding. Not me. I like chaos. [For reference: see messy apartment, messy desk, messy brain.] [Actually: messy website! (but that’s being remedied)]

But if there’s one thing I wish I had a Palm Pilot for it’s recipes. I’d love to carry a million recipes in my pocket so that when I go to the grocery store, like I did tonight, I could see what looks good and find a recipe to match it. Alas: I have no Palm Pilot, I have no million recipes, and so I have to rely on that most ancient form of Palm Pilot: my brain.

Standing in Citarella tonight I had a revelation: “I want a Caesar salad,” said a voice in my head. Suddenly The Barefoot Contessa’s recipe, which I’ve never made, came into my head. I knew what i needed. The most basic things to buy when making Caesar are simple: garlic, anchovies, and Romaine lettuce. Everything else you probably have at home. And then there’s the extra Contessa stuff: sliced pancetta [4 thick slices] and cherry tomatoes. Check and check.

At home, preheat your oven to 400. Put the cherry tomatoes (about 1 carton) on a baking sheet and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes until soft.

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Then deal with the pancetta. Cut it up into 1/2 inch cubes and cook in a skillet on medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Now for the salad. This is the fun part. It involves a raw egg. I separated the egg first and put the yolk in a bowl and left it out for a while to come to room temperature.

When it’s at room temperature, put it into a food processor with 2 tsps Dijon mustard, 2 cloves of garlic chopped (I used 3, I like it garlicky), 8 to 10 anchovy fillets, 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (3 lemons) [I only had 1 lemon and it was fine], 2 tsps kosher salt and 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper.

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You blend that until smooth then down the feed tube slowly pour 1 1/2 cups good mild olive oil. It’ll make a dressing. Then add 1/2 cup freshly grated Paremsan and pulse 3 times.

Ok, so in a bowl add sliced Romaine lettuce [she likes them cut crosswise into 1 1/2-inch slices] and enough dressing to “moisten well.” Whoah. She says to add 1 cup of grated Paremsan and toss. I forgot to do that. I wish I would’ve seen that, I had a lot of leftover Parmesan. Anyway. Divide lettuce between plates and sprinkle with the Pancetta and roasted tomatoes. Or put it in the bowl like this. I also added croutons.

Tell me this doesn’t make you swoon:

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It’s an awesome Caesar. I recommend it. And if you watch “Rome” (which I don’t, though I hear I should) it’s probably a great thing to make for a “Rome” party. You can wear a toga. And then kill a lot of people. Enjoy!

The Bowl That Comes With A Recipe (Summer Nectarine and Arugula Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette)

On a pre-lunch walk the other day, I passed Fishs Eddy. According to their website, Fishs Eddy “specializes in American flatware.” That’s a very formal way of saying they sell funky and fun dishes and plates and spoons and bowls. Some are cheap, some are expensive, but it’s always a treat to go browse around. I already have three bowls from there and one large charger type plate that I usually use to showcase the food I make for this site. Anyway, in the window of Fishs Eddy was this bowl:

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Isn’t this a fun bowl? As you can see I bought it. But I didn’t just buy it because it’s funky and blue and ceramic. I bought it because above the bowl in the window was a recipe. A recipe for a summer salad of (you already know but I’ll repeat it): arugula, nectarines, raspberries and walnuts with a raspberry vinaigrette.

I had an index card in my pocket (don’t ask) and I copied down the recipe from the window. Then I purchased the bowl. It was $15 but I plan to get a lot of use out of it.

Then I made my way to the Union Square Farmer’s Market and bought all the ingredients that I didn’t already have. That amounted to: 1 2/3 cups arugula (or torn assorted greens), 1 nectarine (I bought two) and raspberries.

At home, I followed the recipe’s advice and made dressing in a jar. Only I didn’t have raspberry vinegar so I subbed balsamic vinegar. It worked fine. I also doubled the recipe because I like lots of dressing.

So here’s what goes in the jar (this is the not doubled version):

4 tsps olive oil

1 Tbs raspberry vinegar

1/4 tsp mustard

1/8 tsp sugar, salt & pepper

Here it is pre-shaking:

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And here it is post-shaking: (sorry, it’s blurry)

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I really like this method: the dressing gets emulsified and there’s no mess. Get yourself a dressing jar today.

As for the salad assembly, it’s real easy. Wash and tear up the arugula. Add sliced nectarine. Toss with some dressing. Toast some walnuts, sprinkle on top. (2 Tbs of walnuts.) And then sprinkle on raspberries. Here’s the finished product:

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Isn’t it cute in my new bowl? Oh new bowl, you are my new favorite bowl. Imagine all the salads we’ll have together. We’re going to be best friends.

Cooking My Trip Part One: Greek Salad

As promised, here is my attempt at an authentic Greek salad based on the two I ate while in Greece. I had some help because I bought a cookbook while there: “The Best Traditional Recipes of Greek Cooking.” There are two recipes for Greek salad in there but they’re both essentially the same. The only real executive decision I needed to make was how to cut the vegetables. I’m actually very happy with my choices: (you can click the pic to enlarge)

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Impressed, aren’t you? Come on: I’m a know-nothing gourmet and I made that salad. Huzzah!

So let’s talk about what makes it great:

– no lettuce! If you want an authentic Greek salad (as corroborated by one of the commenters in my Greece post) there’s no lettuce. So throw your lettuce out, man. It’s not worth it.

– What you do need is quite simple (and cheap!): tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and green peppers. These you can cut however you want but look how I did it: the green pepper in large chunks (which gives them a greater presence), the tomatoes in wedges, cucumbers in slices (that are peeled) and onions in big chunks too. I put all those vegetables into a bowl and tossed with olive oil and a splash of vinegar. Then I sprinkled oregano over it with some salt and pepper. Layered on a plate and topped with two big chunks of feta and a smattering of olives.

Let’s compare to the sources:

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Not to brag but I think mine looks just as good if not better! Well except for the herb-flecked feta in the second one. And I see now that I cut the peppers differently than the Greeks but I stand by my choice. Hope you all try this out some day!

Cars, Cats, and Cooking Without a Net: “Jerusalem” Salad with Goat Cheese and Dill

Let me tell you about my day. It started with a phonecall from a man in a truck. The man in the truck was supposed to pick up my car on Tuesday to deliver to my grandparents in Florida who are assuming ownership now that I’ll be riding subways and horse-and-buggies around Manhattan. I’ve had my car since my sixteenth birthday which means I’ve been driving it for NINE years—almost a decade of shifting gears and blasting mix CDs featuring eclectic pairings of show tunes, pop songs and 60s relics. Passengers frequently requested radio.

I named my car Bruno after my friends and I in high school started naming our cars. The only one I can remember is my friend Amy’s car Matilda because I wrote a song about it called “Matilda, Queen of the Road” featured on the hit CD “The Bus with My Initials.” (Yes, my shameful secret is that when I was 16 my father “produced” a CD of nine songs that I wrote, composed and sang. May your ears forever be spared its prepubescent shrieking.)

The funny thing about my car is that my parents bought it for me because they wanted me to be safe on the road. That’s funny because they bought me a Ford Explorer. I can list a thousand reasons why that’s funny, among them the fact it was recalled 90 times for faulty tires, faulty suspension, faulty trunk. Nevermind that because I had the biggest car I drove the most people thereby incurring the most liability–but I have no complaints. My car and I have been through a lot. I was looking forward to a tender departure.

And then the phonecall. The man in the truck said he was a few days early because his wife was in the hospital and could he come pick up the car now? Well, no, he couldn’t really—I mean I have a ton of stuff I still need to move and throw out and places to go and people to see and… well what are my options? “I can come now or there won’t be another trucker through til the end of August.”

I met him in the Kroger parking lot, passed over my key, and bid Bruno farewell.

Meanwhile, earlier today I had a moment of parental crisis when Lolita had what seemed like a drug induced seizure. Let me explain. Yesterday, I took Lolita to the vet to get a bill of health so I can fly with her on Friday up to Manhattan. On the way there, Lolita threw quite a fit. And by that I mean she meowed at a decibel range that would shatter the eardrums of Mariah Carey. This was bad. This cannot happen on the plane.

So when we got to the vet, Lolita sat unhappily on the examination table. The doctor came in and I told he how worried I was about the high-pitched screaming. The doc prescribed cat tranquilizers and she suggested that today (Saturday) I give her one to see how she reacts. Very well, I thought.

So today I gave her one and she seemed fine and then I was sitting at my desk, typing a thesis on world hunger, when I hear a kerplunk in the other room. I run out there and Lollita is on her back, her eyes glazed over and her paws in the air. I ran to the phone and called the vet who told me that it’s normal, to set her on her feet and to see if she walks. She did. All was ok. But poor Lolita slumped around the apartment today like Liza Minelli at Studio 54.

There, plus the packing and organizing and going through things, was my stressful day. For dinner I wanted something special, something celebratory, something visceral. For dinner I wanted the Jerusalem salad I had in Albany (see: Albany post).

So popping a cat tranquilizer, I slumped over to Whole Foods where I decided to shop and cook on instinct…cooking without a net, as the title of this post implies. I bought baby arugala. I bought dill. I boughut a lemon. I bought goat cheese. I bought mutton. Ok, just kidding about the mutton.

I got home and washed some baby arugala and put it into a bowl. I chopped up a tomato, a cucumber and a red onion and threw it in:

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Then I chopped some dill:

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Remember Dill from “To Kill a Mockingbird”? Did you know he’s based on Truman Capote?

I attempted a dressing I saw on TV once, which is basically just lemon and olive oil, salt and pepper.

Here’s the lemon:

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Here’s the olive oil:

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Salt, pepper and taste—and it tastes ok. Retrospectively, I think it needed vinegar but I was living in the moment. Cooking without a net. Did I already say that?

Finally, presentation. I decided to use Boticelli’s Primavera as my model:

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Floral yet winsome; dark with edges of light. In other words, this:

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See how I mounded the salad in the middle and created a border of dill with the goat cheese layered on top? Yeah, that was all me. You know you’re jealous. Admit it. Some of us are just inspired. Others of us drink wine while we cook.

Wine, cat tranquilizers and goat cheese and I’m set. Now drop the disco ball and pass the silver spoon. Hey is that Ricky Schroeder?