Posts Tagged With: salad dressing

not-so-quick lunch – 6.29.12 – a tasty salad (and why I shouldn’t tempt fate)

Some foods just don’t make sense.

Some are oxymorons, like jumbo shrimp.

Others are food products that don’t exist in nature, like fat-free cheese, meatless chicken nuggets, and non-dairy creamer.

And then there are foods that flat-out laugh in the face of the laws of science: baked Alaska, fried ice cream, fried mozzarella sticks, Paula Deen’s deep-fried butter balls.

How do you heat something that’s supposed to melt–a substance that should barely survive room temperature, much less a 400-degree oven or a vat of bubbling oil–and end up with a cooked item that retains its shape like a solid rather than oozing like the liquid it rightfully should be?

I’ve never trusted myself to cook any of these nature-defying treats because, frankly, I have a hard enough time avoiding kitchen disasters when I follow recipes that do make sense.

The more I cook, the better I succeed at averting catastrophe, but some rules just weren’t meant to be broken.

At least, not by a klutz like me.

I’ve dropped entire pans of cookies on the floor; turned out many a busted Bundt cake or pan of crumbled cornbread; shredded wooden spoons with the whirring blades of my blender; burned my hands, arms, and face–yes, my face–making mashed potatoes.

Kitchens are minefields, and it’s a wonder I haven’t yet blown off my legs.

Over the years, I’ve come to terms with my kitchen clumsiness, often taking extra precautions to compensate for being accident-prone.

I make Micah pick up heavy things like Dutch ovens and cast-iron skillets.

I stand on stepstools instead of tiptoes to reach glass items on high shelves.

And I tend not to cook things like baked Alaska or fried cheese because, really, why push my luck?

So when the folks at Putney Farm shared gorgeous photos of a salad topped with golden brown and crispy baked goat cheese,

  1. I should have stopped before even reading the recipe.
  2. I should have definitely not commented on their post about how intimidated I am by science-defying baked cheeses, which only invited an encouraging reply from the friendly folk at Putney Farm.
  3. I should have absolutely not let the thought cross my mind that we happened to have goat cheese in the refrigerator and panko bread crumbs in the pantry.
  4. And, once instilled with ingredient excitement and a false sense of security, I should have without a doubt NOT attempted to bake that goat cheese myself.

Especially while also juggling a salad spinner full of greens, a pile of tomatoes and pickled beets to slice, a vinaigrette to whisk, a cast-iron skillet of bacon to crisp and pecans to toast and peaches to roast.

But I did read the recipe, did comment on it, did receive warm encouragement, did scan the contents of my kitchen for the needed ingredients, did bake my own goat cheese in the midst of all my other salad prep.

I tempted fate.

And when you test the kitchen gods, you’d better be prepared to deal with the consequence.

The consequence should’ve been a golden brown and crispy disc of firm but gooey cheese, solid enough to pick up and place atop my crisp, cool salad, but baked just enough to ooze creamy goodness into every green bite. A delicious trophy rewarding my culinary bravery.

Instead, my consequence was a searing hot baking sheet flowing with a lava-like lake of breadcrumb-speckled, melted, messy goat cheese.

My cheese didn’t defy the laws of science.

It followed them precisely.

Not pretty.

But damn it, I wanted goat cheese on my salad, and I hadn’t endured that harrowing trial just to scrape my cheesy clustercuss into the trash.

Instead, I scraped that gooey, gloppy puddle together into two misshapen globs and slapped ’em onto our salads anyway.

It wasn’t pretty, but we ate it.

And it was good.

well, okay, the salad was pretty…but the goat cheese was not

What’s in it:

  • 4 ounces goat cheese (use something kind of firm, NOT Humboldt fog  this is where I went wrong)
  • a little bit of olive oil
  • a handful of your favorite herbs
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 3-4 cups salad greens
  • 2 slices bacon
  • 1/4 cup halved pecans
  • 2 small peaches, quartered
  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 1/4 cup pickled beets, sliced into slivers
  • a quick vinaigrette (2 teaspoons brown mustard, 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, 4 tablespoons olive oil, salt & pepper to taste)

Step-by-step:

  • Cut or mold your goat cheese into discs. Sprinkle the discs with herbs, drizzle with olive oil, and let marinate while you preheat your oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Dredge the discs of cheese in the breadcrumbs to lightly coat them on all sides, arrange them on the pan, and bake for about 6 minutes. Pray your cheese doesn’t spread like frosting all over your pan. 🙂
  • Meanwhile, heat the bacon in an oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Cook it until it’s nice and crispy, then remove the bacon to cool–but leave all that tasty bacon fat in the pan.
  • Add the pecans to the skillet and cook ’em in the bacon grease until they start to smell warm and toasty–just a few minutes–then scoop out the pecans and add the peach quarters, cut sides down.
  • By this time, your cheese should be out of the oven. That’s good, because now it’s time to put your skillet o’ peaches into that 400°F oven and roast the fruit for about 10 minutes while you assemble your salad.
  • Divide your greens between two really big plates. Artfully decorate the greens with tomatoes and beets. Crumble one slice of bacon over each salad, then sprinkle on some toasted pecans.
  • Whisk together your vinaigrette if you haven’t already, then drizzle it over the salads.
  • Top your salads with warm peaches and your (hopefully lovely) baked goat cheese crouton.

What this salad wasn’t: easy to make, stress-free, boring.

What it was: a tasty mix of hot and cold, crispy and gooey, sweet and salty, light and hearty. Delicious, and pretty perfect for a summertime lunch.

Even if it was a disaster.

you know how people turn their Christmas trees to “the good side”?
yeah, same with a sloppy mess of a baked goat cheese salad.

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supper tonight – 5.29.12 – beet & carrot salad, couscous with lentils (plus a quick lunch with the leftovers)

Root vegetables.

They’re kind of amazing, if you think about it.

All you see above ground are stems and greens. Sometimes tasty, sometimes bitter. Sometimes edible, sometimes poisonous.

Who in our hunter-gatherer ancestry first mined the hidden gems that flourish underground? Who was first curious enough to discover that some plants have wiry tendrils for roots, while others stand on concealed, crisp, bulging nuggets of stored nourishment? Who was first brave or hungry or reckless or stupid enough to unearth and eat one of these mysterious fruits from the earth, willing to risk sickness or death for the sake of a strange thing that might–or might not–be food?

It’s easy to scout your garden for the perkiest basil leaves, the fluffiest fennel fronds, the plumpest strawberries, the tenderest figs.

But until you part the earth to release its buried root treasures, you won’t know whether your carrots are pretty and slender like a maiden’s fingers or knobby and hooked like a witch’s claws. You won’t know what shape your potatoes or yams have taken until they’re out of the soil and in your palm.

(You can estimate size, of course–pretty accurately, even–based on when you planted those veggies and what above-ground signals they’ve transmitted. But really, you will never know for sure until you hold those secrets in your hand.)

Here’s the other thing about root vegetables: you’ve got to work for them.

Fresh herbs? Snip a few sprigs as you need them. Fruit and berries? Pluck ’em from the bush and enjoy. Quick, easy.

But with roots, the magic happens under the soil, and you can’t see it or hold it or taste it until you dig it up, unearth it, get a little grit and grime under your fingernails. Brave the worms and grubs and bugs, brave the mess, brave the unknown.

Carrots and beets? Prepare to get dirty. Prepare to scrub. Prepare for food that doesn’t really look like food at first, not until you’ve shined it up and shown the beauty underneath.

And once you’ve unearthed these treasures, please, do let them shine.

the (mostly) unadorned beauty of roots

Our salad, enjoyed warm, was simple: roasted beets and carrots tossed with crumbled feta and fresh parsley, drizzled with a cumin vinaigrette. The recipe comes from our favorite cookbook, Hugh Acheson’s A New Turn in the South, which I know I’ve written about plenty already. But it’s our favorite, so it’s hard not to cook from it as often as we do. 🙂

What’s in it (the cumin vinaigrette):

  • 1 teaspoon grainy mustard
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (another wine vinegar would probably work well)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin (Hugh toasts and grinds whole seeds, which we didn’t have–I’m sure this would add even more flavor)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • Whisk together the mustard, lemon juice, vinegar, and cumin.
  • Gradually whisk in the olive oil, then the mint.
  • Season with salt and pepper to your liking.

This makes about 3/4 cup of dressing, so you will have extra leftover after you make the salad. You won’t mind, though, because it makes a great dressing for other salads or a crisp cabbage slaw (which I’ll tell you more about in another post).

What’s in it (the salad):

  • 1/2 pound carrots, left whole or halved if they’re very small, or cut up if they’re larger
  • 1/2 pound beets, halved or quartered if they’re very small, or cut up if they’re larger
  • a little olive oil, salt, and pepper
  • 2-3 ounces crumbled feta
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons cumin vinaigrette

Step-by-step:

  • Get a pot of salted water boiling on the stove.
  • Add the carrots, boil for 1 minute, then remove to a bowl to cool.
  • Add the beets and boil until they’re just tender, about 20-25 minutes. Drain the beets and allow them to cool for a few minutes.
  • Preheat your oven to 450°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Toss the carrots in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, then spread them out on one side of the baking sheet.
  • Do the same to the beets, then spread them out on the other side of the baking sheet.
  • Roast for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and slightly browned.
  • Let the vegetables cool for a few minutes.
  • In one bowl, toss the carrots with the feta, half of the parsley, and about a tablespoon of the vinaigrette.
  • In another bowl, toss the beets with the rest of the parsley and another tablespoon of the vinaigrette.
  • Add carrots to your plates first, then top with the beets and a little more of the vinaigrette.

We followed these instructions exactly, but if you don’t mind your beets bleeding a little on the rest of your salad, you could certainly mix them with the carrots on the roasting pan or when you toss the veggies with the vinaigrette at the end. This is probably what we’ll do next time.

The amount of salad this made could easily have been a light lunch for two or sides/starters for four. We were pretty hungry, so we added lentils and couscous to the meal to make it a little heartier, plus a bottle of white wine, because…well, why not?

the whole meal, with Micah waiting patiently in the background

The flavors in our mugs of lentils and couscous paired perfectly with the salad, so I’ll share how I made them, too.

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry lentils
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon dehydrated minced onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup dry couscous
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  • Add the lentils and stir around for a few minutes to coat them with the oil.
  • Add the tomato paste, diced tomato, orange zest, minced onion, and spices. Stir to incorporate.
  • Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer.
  • Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until the lentils are just tender.
  • Add the couscous. Bring to a boil again, then reduce the heat to very low and cover the pot. Let stand for about 15 minutes.
  • Uncover the pot, stir in the vinegar and white wine, then season with salt and pepper to taste. If you have more liquid then you’d like, you can simmer and reduce for a few minutes.

The orange zest, balsamic vinegar, and white wine brightened up the smoky, earthy flavors of the lentils and paprika, and the Mediterranean-inspired seasonings meshed beautifully with that colorful beet and carrot salad.

Really, the only problem with our lentil and couscous dish was that we made too much. If we’d eaten no salads, or much smaller salads, we would have had plenty of beans and starch for a main course–about 3-1/2 cups. But with our substantial vegetable dish, this was just too much to finish in one meal, so about a third of it went into the refrigerator as leftovers.

I love eating leftovers just as they are, especially if they were good the first time around (as this definitely was). But I also love experimenting with ways to transform old leftovers into something new and different, so of course that’s what I decided to do on Sunday for lunch. 🙂

similar flavors, completely different texture and form

What’s in it:

  • about 1-1/2 cups leftover couscous and lentils
  • 1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs (I used panko because that’s what I had in the pantry)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup mixed Greek olives, finely chopped (or you could try subbing capers or a ready-made tapenade)

Step-by-step:

  • Use your hands to smoosh together the leftover couscous-lentil mixture, breadcrumbs, and egg (kind of like making a burger).
  • Divide the mixture into fourths and form into patties.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the patties to your pan and cook for about 4 minutes per side or until they’re nicely browned and firm.
  • Top with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of olives.

Wow. These came out better than I could’ve hoped or expected.

Of course I knew they ought to taste pretty good since we had enjoyed the original dish so much, but I worried about the texture. Needlessly, because the outsides of these couscous lentil cakes were nice and crisp, while the insides were moist and flavorful. Combined with the creamy, tangy yogurt and the salty, briny olives, this lunch was even better than the leftovers that inspired it.

So good, in fact, that I know we’ll have to cook up these little cakes again the next time we make a batch of that splendid root vegetable salad.

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

supper tonight – 3.19.12 – Caesar salad from scratch

Four days after the Ides of March probably isn’t the best time to eat Caesar salad.

Well, okay, Julius Caesar didn’t survive the Ides of March, but he also didn’t invent the Caesar salad–they say it was actually a dude named Caesar Cardini. But I like to think our Roman friend caught the soothsaying bug when he said “Let me have men about me that are fat,” because a salad like this definitely won’t give you “a lean and hungry look” like the backstabbing Cassius had.

Unless you look hungry ’cause you want more salty, gooey, delicious salad, of course.

Anyway, ever since we opened a tin of anchovies for salmoriglio during that fiasco of a date night, we’ve been thinking about how real, made-from-scratch Caesar dressing pretty much always includes these deliciously salty little fishies…and how we also had some leftover sourdough baguette from the party sandwiches that would make perfect croutons…and how some of Micah’s home-cured guanciale (hog jowl bacon) would be so good if we crisped it up and crumbled it on top….

(Damn. Now I’m kind of craving some more salad.)

This hankering actually set in sometime last week, but we had to wait for Thursday’s Athens Locally Grown pick-up to get our romaine lettuce, and then I kept forgetting that I needed to make some more mustard (which needs to sit in the fridge for a day before it’s ready to use). So, even though we’d been gazing longingly at the recipe with our sad puppy-dog eyes for almost a week, it was last night before we actually had everything we needed to craft the perfect Caesar salad:

(Can you tell I finally found my real camera? Canon Powershot A520, only 4 megapixels, but WAY better than my broken iPhone 3GS.)

We had a few mishaps along the way, like almost burning the croutons (you can see in the photo that they’re a tad on the brown side)…not to mention a few issues getting the mayonnaise base for the dressing to come together correctly (apparently, a common problem).

Side note: You might be thinking to yourself…but I thought Tanya hated mayonnaise? And I do. Passionately. With the heat of a thousand suns. But for whatever reason, I love Caesar salad. And you have to admit, once you get all the other flavors into that dressing, it really doesn’t taste like mayo at all.

Anyway, in the end, this salad tasted even more delicious than it looks, and we will definitely make it again.

What’s in it (the dressing):

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 anchovies, minced (the recipe called for 2, but we were feeling adventurous)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (I used my own homemade–recipe below)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (but I bet apple cider vinegar would work well, too)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Step-by-step:

  • Mix together the garlic, anchovies, mustard, lemon juice, and vinegar in a small bowl.
  • In a larger bowl, put your egg yolk and a tiny bit of olive oil. Whisk quickly (or use an electric handheld or stand mixer). As the egg and oil mixture starts to thicken, continue to slowly drizzle in the olive oil while you keep whisking. Add too much at once, and this stuff will never fluff up. We learned this the hard way.
  • Once the olive oil is completely incorporated, blend in the garlic and anchovy mixture, then the Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, salt, and pepper.
  • The recipe says this makes 2 cups, but for us it only ended up being a little more than one. Not sure why, but that just means we’ll need to make more soon!

Now that you’ve got some of this amazing dressing, here’s how we made the rest of the salad.

What’s in it (the whole shebang):

  • 1 head of romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
  • 1/4 cup of that delicious Caesar dressing we just made
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 3 big slices of bacon, cooked crispy, then crumbled
  • croutons (super easy! – cube some bread / toss with melted butter, salt, pepper, and minced garlic / bake on a sheet pan at 400°F until golden brown and crunchy)

Step-by-step:

  • Toss your lettuce and dressing together in a big bowl.
  • Split the dressed salad between two big plates for a meal (topped with protein of your choice, if you like!) or four small ones (as a side or starter).
  • Divide the cheese and crumbled bacon between your salads. Evenly, unless you’re looking for a fight. 🙂
  • Add croutons.
  • Enjoy!

And yes, you read correctly that the mustard I used in our Caesar dressing was homemade. I had no idea mustard was so easy to make until Micah and I won a copy of Vanessa Barrington’s awesome book from a drawing over at Punk Domestics:

image from indiebound.com

The cool thing about this book is that it includes recipes for all sorts of stuff I’d never thought to make from scratch: ketchup, tortillas, sauerkraut, kimchi, and the aforementioned mustard–and then it gives you different recipes for using all your delicious homemade fixins.

We haven’t attempted the ketchup yet. Micah did make the kimchi, subbing collard greens for the cabbage (pretty good). But the corn tortillas are yummy, the carrot and cabbage sauerkraut will rock your socks off, and the mustard…well, this is my fourth or fifth batch, if that tells you anything.

What’s in it:

  • 1/2 cup whole mustard seeds (mix of brown and yellow)
  • 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) port wine
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Step-by-step:

  • Mix everything together in a glass or plastic bowl.
  • Cover and store overnight in the refrigerator. (This lets your mustard seeds soften.)
  • The next day, put your mustard in a blender or food processor and start blending. Your liquid-y, grainy mixture will magically thicken and smooth out to a lovely, spreadable consistency.
  • Taste it. It’ll be pretty spicy! If it’s too spicy, you can blend in a little bit of water and/or a little more honey.
This is how I made my most recent batch, but basically, you just need 1/2 cup of mustard seeds, about 3/4 cup of liquid, and whatever other flavorings you want to add. I’ve used different boozes (port, sherry, madeira, cognac, bourbon), different vinegars (cider, balsalmic, rice wine, sherry), different sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, molasses)–and it has always turned out amazing.

DIY Delicious is one of my very favorite cookbooks, hands-down. And not just because it taught me how to make mustard like this:

Nice and brown and grainy and spicy, perfect with a beer-braised bratwurst--or in that delicious Caesar dressing.

Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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