I invented a salad.

The inspiration came from my stomach: after making a BLT for dinner (an awesome BLT, inspired by Nancy Silverton’s sandwich book, with avocado instead of tomato and tarragon in the mayonnaise) i was still hungry. I opened my fridge and saw fresh cut pineapple I’d bought earlier in the day. So I removed that, I removed the tarragon, I dug in and found a big leftover chunk of ricotta salata, half a Vidalia onion, and–most notably–the jar of June Taylor’s Meyer Lemon & Rosemary Marmalade which I purchased at the San Francisco Ferry Building:


I sliced the pineapple uniformly, I diced the onion into a small dice, and shredded the tarragon. Then I tossed them all on a plate with some olive oil, salt and pepper, crumbled over the ricotta salata and–in a move inspired by David Chang’s use of lychee gele in the glorious apple salad I had at Ssam bar–spooned the Meyer Lemon marmalade on top.

The result was surprising and exciting. The tartness of the lemon balanced the sweetness of the pineapple, offset by the creaminess of the cheese and the herbiness of the tarragon. I felt like a 3-star chef primed for my very own James Beard award. I applauded myself voraciously, devoured the salad, cleaned up the mess, watched “The View” on Tivo and went to bed. It was a magical night.

The Salad In Winter

After reading Regina Schrambling’s L.A. Times piece on winter salads last week, I was inspired to make this fennel, green apple and watercress salad from A Voce. There are many wonderful things about this salad, most of all the lemon zest: it makes it so zingy and bright you’ll forget it’s winter (as if the 80 degree weather hasn’t already done that.) I tweaked the salad and used arugula instead of watercress but that’s just because I’m lazy and pre-washed arugula is more user-friendly that dirty, sandy watercress that you have to wash yourself. Don’t skimp on the golden raisins, though, or the fresh Parmesan. I’m also proud of my restraint, here. I used the smallest amount of olive oil I could–usually I pour with a heavy hand–and it worked wonders. It’s a winter salad for the ages.

Salad #3

Red tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, goat cheese, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

Another Summer Salad

Heirloom tomatoes from the farmer’s market, green basil, purple basil, fresh feta cheese, olive oil, balsamic, sea salt and homemade garlic croutons… What can I say? I accept your standing ovation.

Improvised Pasta Salad

I’m growing quite brave in my kitchen. Whereas before I’d shriek if I so much as missed half an ingredient for a recipe, now I make up my own recipes. Today I came home to found bounty from yesterday’s trip to the farmer’s market (which was an exhausting endeavor—that sun was so blistering hot that when I saw Bill Buford walk past me with several bags, I couldn’t tell if he was a hallucination or the real deal; my air-conditioned, calmer self now tells me it was really him.) On my table upon coming home tonight with my new computer (can I tell you how much I love my new computer? To quote Molly Shannon: I love it, I love it, I love it) there were:

– two ears of corn

– a bunch of beets

– spring onions

– a moldy cucumber

I threw out the moldy cucumber and set on my way. I brought two pots of water to a boil. In the first pot, I added salt, shucked the corn, added the whole cobs, turned off the heat (as Amanda Hesser suggests in her book) and took them out after three minutes. I turned the heat back on and added the pasta. In the other pot, I added a splash of olive oil, salt, some leftover thyme and then the beets. Those I boiled for about 30 minutes, until tender with a knife.

How did this thing come together? Well I drained the pasta after it was done boiling. I added it to a bowl and quickly poured on some olive oil and balsamic vinegar (quickly, because I wanted the hot, hungry pasta to absorb these flavoring agents.) Then I added corn that I cut off the cob, a crumbling of goat cheese I had in my ‘fridge from Coach Farms. Then I took the beet greens and sauteed them in olive oil which was weird because I think I should’ve boiled them first. But in those went and then finally the beets themselves, which I peeled and cubed.

What is this pasta I made? Is this a mess? Do the food gods frown? I’m not sure, but I really enjoyed eating it after letting it cool. (The cooling process allowed me to play with my new computer.) ‘Twas a fun night of innovation and the sort of thing that makes kitchen bravery a worthwhile trait to possess.

Sophisticated Salading

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!

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.”

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:

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.

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