It’s not often that you’ll see me extolling a dish for its hearth healthy qualities. It’s not that I don’t care about good health, it’s more that I prefer to focus on eating a diet that is balanced, with the philosophy that “all things in moderation” will render it unnecessary to have to specifically seek out recipes that are low cholesterol or low fat or whatever. But at the beginning of this year, Marvin let it be known that he’d like us to eat less meat and more vegetables and grains. He specifically requested whole grain salads, which I already make from time to time and which are great for quick lunches when you have the hectic schedule of a freelance photographer.
I happily obliged by adapting a recipe from Once Upon a Tart (a great cookbook for soups and side salads) with wheatberries, beets and pomegranate. The recipe instructs you to fold in the beets and pomegranate at the end so they don’t stain the salad, but I wanted the dramatic, deep reddish-magenta hue to soak into the wheatberries… so much prettier and seasonally appropriate. The salad is quite good as it is, but even better with a little crumbled feta or fresh goat cheese on top. (This I would add at the last minute though, since I draw the line at pink cheese.) Although there’s no reason not to make this any time of the year, it would make a dramatic Valentine side dish- I plan to serve it alongside a venison tenderloin tomorrow. And you can serve it feeling comforted in the knowledge that you’re not potentially bringing about your loved one’s early demise with rich foods. If you do have a decadent main dish or dessert planned, no worries- it’s all about balance. Continue reading
I may be accused of chutzpah for labeling this post “Charcutepalooza”, but so be it. Last month’s posting deadline (April 15) breezed past without fanfare like I wish this cold, rainy spring weather would, and although I had the hot-smoking challenge in the back of my mind all month, I had no specific plan as to how or when to execute it. So when my friend Todd invited a few of us over and said he was firing up his smoker, right after Molly and I had just bought a whole fresh lake trout (scored at Eastern Market for $1.99 a pound!), it seemed like kismet.
Because the trout was going to be in the fridge for a few days before the get-together, I salted and sugared it (no measuring, I just threw on what I thought was an appropriate amount). I had already used my share of the steaks, which I braised in a Thai red curry coconut milk concoction, so I had my half of the fillet left to smoke. Molly went the opposite route, saving her steaks for the smoker. Despite my lackadaisical approach, I did attempt to create a pellicle by placing the uncovered fish on a rack in the fridge the morning of the party. (I mention this as a pathetic bit of evidence that I actually sort of “did” the challenge…) Continue reading
It seems as though charcuterie has officially reached an apotheosis- the food world has been incessantly abuzz of late about all things cured, smoked, salted and brined (to the chagrin of some and the delight of others). Although several adventurous food bloggers like Matt Wright and Hank Shaw have been dabbling in meat curing for some time now, things recently reached a fever pitch in the blogging world and on Twitter with the advent of Charcutepalooza, a challenge in which a different type of curing technique is explored each month.
I missed the first challenge, duck prosciutto, but was told that I could “make it up” at a later date (as I write this, the duck is hanging in my basement pantry). The second challenge was something that my friend Kim has been making for a while now, home-cured bacon. I decided to go for it, so I hit up the Bucu family’s stand at Eastern Market and had this gentleman hack me off a 5-lb piece of pork belly.
The cure was simple- just salt, pepper, aromatics and pink (curing) salt, rubbed on the belly and left to work its magic for a week. The belly was then rinsed, patted dry and put in a 200° oven until it reached an internal temp of 150°. This stage was the only “problem” I had with the recipe- it stated to cook for 90 minutes or a temp of 150°, and it took me over 2 hours to reach that temperature, unless my thermometer is really off. But I figured it was better to err on the side of overcooking than undercooking.
As Charcuterie guru Michael Ruhlman suggested in his blog post on bacon, I went ahead and fried up a small piece as soon as it was done (well, after I removed the skin… I’m a pretty die-hard meat lover, but seeing nipples on my bacon was a little freaky). It was saltier than commercial bacon, but I figured that might have been due to it being an end piece.
In the past couple weeks, we have eaten the bacon on its own and incorporated it into several dishes such as Cuban-style black beans and this venison & porcini ragú. Since it’s not smoked, it’s a great stand-in for pancetta. I also made the French bistro classic frisée aux lardons, a salad composed of bitter frisée (a green in the endive family) tossed with vinaigrette, fried cubes of unsmoked bacon (lardons), and topped with a poached egg. There are versions that don’t use the egg, but to my mind it’s the best part, and really makes it a meal. The store Marvin went to didn’t have frisée so we had to use curly endive (possibly the same plant but more mature?), but it was a suitable stand-in. The salad with a glass of Beaujolais and a nibble of Roquefort was a pretty perfect Sunday afternoon lunch.
Frisée aux Lardons
serves two; recipe can be multiplied to serve more
2 small heads of frisée, washed, cored and torn into pieces
3 Tbs sherry vinegar or good quality red wine vinegar
about 3 oz. unsmoked slab bacon, cut into ½-inch batons
1 shallot, peeled and minced
1-2 Tbs olive oil as needed
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
optional if you have on hand: 1 Tbs minced fresh herbs such as parsley, chervil or chives
Notes: This salad is great with homemade croutons if you’re so inclined. Add them when you toss the salad so they absorb a bit of the dressing. Also, oil & vinegar amounts are a starting point and will vary according to your volume of salad and how lightly or heavily dressed you like things. Please adjust as needed! Last but not least, although I encourage you all to cure your own bacon now that I know how easy it is, you can substitute cut-up strips of regular bacon and have a less traditional but still delicious salad.
Wash and spin-dry the frisée and place in a bowl large enough to toss. Bring a small pot of water to the boil and briefly blanch the lardons; drain. Heat a small skillet and fry the lardons over medium heat until they begin to brown and render some of their fat. Add the shallot and cook until softened. Stir in the vinegar and deglaze any brown bits from the skillet. Remove from heat. Whisk in olive oil to taste until the dressing tastes balanced (this will depend how much fat was rendered from the lardons). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Fill a medium-sized pan halfway with water and bring to a bare simmer. While waiting for the water, toss the salad with the dressing. Taste and tweak as needed with additional oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Distribute onto two plates or shallow bowls. (A note here for people like myself with ADD tendencies: poached eggs wait for no one, so make sure to have the table, drinks etc. ready when you put the eggs in.) Poach the eggs for four minutes, until the whites are set but the yolks remain runny. Retrieve the eggs with a slotted spoon, gently shaking off as much water as possible. Place an egg on each salad and garnish with the herbs, if using. Serve immediately.
A few weeks ago, a Facebook acquaintance posted something about how she “doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving”. I replied asking why on earth one would abstain from Thanksgiving- it has all the fun aspects of Christmas (family, food, leisure, more food…) with none of the frantic, harried running around. I don’t think I’ve ever had to set foot in a mall to buy anything for Thanksgiving. And it’s always a four-day weekend… not even Christmas can guarantee that!
It’s not that I don’t enjoy the gift-giving tradition of the Christmas holiday, but sometimes it seems to eclipse everything else. As long as I can nave a nice meal and a lot of lazing around afterward, I’m pretty content. This Thanksgiving was exactly that- outstanding culinary contributions from the whole family (I really think it gets better every year), great company, and a little Dance Dance Revolution after our food had settled and everyone had had enough wine not to care if they looked silly.
My mom surprised me with an early birthday cake and gift since she won’t be here on my birthday. She made a scrapbook with tons of old childhood photos, all with clever captions that must have taken her many, many hours to put together. Looking through it, and looking around me, I couldn’t help but be a bit melancholy that this would probably be one of the last holidays we’d all celebrate with the entire family. With siblings getting married and being pulled in different directions, we’ll have to start taking turns with what in-laws to visit and inevitably not everyone will be able to come to each gathering. I know it’s just a fact of growing older but for a close knit family like ours, it will be a difficult transition.
That said, I am ready to embrace life’s changes rather than dwell on what has passed. Marvin and I will be moving into our new home in the next month if all goes according to plan, and we hope to host next year’s Thanksgiving celebration (or maybe even Easter, who knows!). Although change can be stressful at times, I look forward to all the new joys and challenges that will come with combining our households.
One thing I definitely look forward to with having our new house is not having to travel for every get-together if we get to host! This year, I had to work Wednesday and get up early Thanksgiving day to drive, so in lieu of cooking something I made a big fancy salad. I combined wintry flavors of radicchio and pear, with pistachios to give extra color and crunch. Like any composed salad, I think it looks prettiest and is easiest to serve on a platter so that you can distribute the ingredients more equitably and don’t end up with, say, all the nuts at the bottom of the bowl.
I stuffed myself silly on homemade bacon-wrapped “poppers” (see below) for an appetizer, mac and cheese, the best collard greens I’ve ever tasted, and the usual suspects like stuffing, potatoes, turkey and gravy. I know I’m forgetting some items but it’s been two weeks already (when you read my next couple posts you’ll understand why it’s taken me that long to finish this)! To top it all off, my brother made a pecan pie, a pear and almond galette, and pumpkin empanadas. My mom also made a pineapple upside down cake, which was a childhood favorite of mine, for my birthday.
If you feel full just reading that, this salad makes a nice light supper to help balance out any holiday indulgences.
Note: First two photographs by Marvin Shaouni
Winter Salad with Pears & Pistachios
1 head red leaf lettuce
1 large shallot
½ a head of radicchio
2 Seckel pears or 1 ripe Bosc or Anjou pear
⅓ cup unsalted pistachios
1 tsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs Champagne vinegar or quality white wine vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Notes: I prefer Seckel pears because they slice into perfect bite sized pieces, but feel free to substitute another pear variety. Because many people expect a cheese in their composed salads, I did serve some crumbled blue cheese on the sde, but the salad has a nice character without it.
Slice the shallots, not too thin. Soak them in a bowl of ice water while you prep other ingredients- this will make them nice and crunchy while also removing a bit of their sting. Wash and dry the lettuce. Toast the pistachios over medium-low heat in a dry skillet, shaking occasionally, until fragrant; set aside to cool. Remove the core from the radicchio and slice into thin shreds. Core and slice the pears. If doing this in advance of serving, toss the pears with a little of the vinegar you are using so they don’t turn brown.
In a bowl large enough to hold the lettuce, make the dressing: Add the olive oil, then the mustard, and whisk until incorporated; then add the vinegar (you may want more or less to taste) and whisk again until emulsified. If the quantity of dressing looks too small for the amount of lettuce you have, tweak it by adding proportional amounts of oil and vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste- don’t be shy with the salt, as you are effectively salting the whole salad, not just the dressing. Toss the lettuce in the dressing to coat.
Transfer the dressed lettuce to a platter and scatter over the radicchio, pears, shallots (drained), and pistachios. Serve immediately.
Confession time: I’m not much for TV food personalities (I don’t even have cable!), but when I was first really getting into cookbooks, I was pretty into Nigella Lawson. There was just something in her breezy “if I can do it, anyone can” manner that was very appealing, and I enjoyed reading her cookbooks as much as I did cooking from them. Nowadays, I’m at a point where most of her recipes (with the exception of baked goods) are things I could whip up on my own without having to consult a cookbook. But there are a few dishes that have stuck with me and become part of my regular repertoire.
This soba noodle salad is one such dish. I’ve made it for countless potlucks and barbecues, and almost always get asked for the recipe. The two great things about it are that it’s ultrafast to make, and that it’s pretty healthy as far as “pasta salad” goes. The original just calls for noodles, scallions and sesame seeds (in addition to the dressing), but I’ve taken to add-ins such as the peapods pictured, or carrot matchsticks, or any raw veg you see fit, really, to make it a bit more salad-y and substantial.
Soba noodles are made with buckwheat flour, which can also make this salad a good gluten free option if you substitute tamari or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos for the soy sauce (I’ve been told tamari usually does not contain wheat gluten, but check labels!). It’s also vegan. I’m not gonna lie, it’s not really substantial enough to have as a main dish, but it makes a great component to an Asian-style meal. We had it the other night as part of a Japan-esque motley dinner of salmon sashimi with yuzu juice, an heirloom tomato, tofu and shiso salad from the Momofuku cookbook, and a mess of stir-fried purple-tinged leafy mystery greens we bought from one of the Asian produce vendors at Eastern Market.
8 oz dried soba (buckwheat) noodles
¼ cup sesame seeds
3-5 scallions, sliced thinly on the bias
6 tsp soy sauce (or sub Bragg’s Aminos for gluten free)
2 tsp honey (non-honey-eating vegans, just sub brown or regular sugar)
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp toasted (dark) sesame oil
optional: 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
optional: additional vegetables, such as peapods or julienned carrot pieces
Notes: The soba noodles I buy come in little 3.5-oz bundles (see photos), so I just use two bundles- close enough. The ginger is optional but a nice touch if you have some on hand. If you’re using additional vegetables, depending on quantity you may want to lightly salt them or toss them in a bit more soy sauce prior to adding them to the salad. This recipe doesn’t make a huge quantity of salad, but it can easily be doubled if serving more than a few people.
Directions: Put a large pot of water on to boil. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry nonstick skillet over low heat, taking care not to burn them. Remove from heat when toasty and fragrant, and allow to cool. Combine all the dressing ingredients (including the ginger, if using) in a large bowl and mix well.
When the water reaches a rolling boil, add the noodles and stir them so they don’t clump. The noodles will cook VERY quickly- test for doneness after 3 minutes. The package instructions (and Nigella, in her version) say 6 minutes but in my experience this yields gummy, overcooked noodles. As soon as the noodles are cooked through, drain in a colander and immediately rinse with cold water until thoroughly cooled. Shake to remove excess water. Toss the noodles in the bowl with the dressing. Add the sesame seeds, scallions, and any other vegetables and toss again to distribute. If you have time, allow the salad to sit for 30 minutes or so before serving for the flavors to develop.