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
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.
When I lived in France, I learned how to make salad dressing (aka la vinaigrette) from scratch, and it was a revelation. Almost any vegetable, raw or cooked, can be dressed with vinaigrette and be so much the better for it (at least in my book). A popular salad on French lunch tables is carottes rapées (that’s grated carrots, not raped carrots, although I once had a French tutor who confused these faux amis during a lesson at her house, asking her husband if he could please rape the cheese for their dinner quiche…) I’ve never been a huge fan of carrot sticks, or of carrot coins in a salad, but grated carrots may as well be a different vegetable entirely. I can eat great big mounds of them, and they are one of the few vegetables I prefer raw.
Here’s an informative blog post by French food maven David Lebovitz on the cultural/ culinary significance of carottes rapées. He also links to his method of preparing them, which is simplicity itself: lemon, parsley, maybe a little olive oil. My crème fraîche version is admittedly a little less “pure”, but I did serve it to a Frenchman once who exclaimed excitedly ”Ah j’adore les carottes rapées!” and promptly ate most of the bowl, so I feel somewhat confident in saying that, although different, my method is still acceptable.
While you can certainly serve this salad on its own, I love to make a first course out of it by mounding it into the center of an avocado. It’s a little more luxurious, and somehow it has a sort of retro appeal. You can either peel the avocados (if they’re the correct ripeness, the skin should easily peel right off) or leave them in their shells and let people scoop out the flesh with a spoon.
salade de carottes rapées en nid d’avocat/ grated carrot salad in an avocado nest
Serves 8 as a first course; adjust measurements for smaller or larger crowds
4 ripe avocados
2 tbs crème fraîche (or substitute 1 tbs sour cream + 1 tbs plain yogurt)
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tbs olive oil
2 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 large clove garlic, optional
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
some finely chopped parsley to garnish (I didn’t have any the day the photos were taken, and your salad certainly won’t be ruined without it, although it is a nice touch. If you really like parsley, use more and mix it right in with the carrots.)
Notes: As with almost all salads and salad dressings, I implore you to taste as you go and adjust as necessary- the measurements are intended as guidelines only. If you don’t do dairy, this dressing can easily be made without it; just increase the olive oil and lemon proportionately. Most vinagrettes use a much higher oil to acid ratio, but I find that because carrots are so sweet, they can stand up to a dressing that is quite tart. When everything comes together, it should be well-balanced. Also, if serving with avocados, their fatty blandness balances the extra tartness from the lemons. Don’t fear the sour!
Directions: Make the dressing: in a medium bowl, combine the crème fraîche, mustard, and olive oil; whisk together until well combined. Whisk in the lemon juice until fully incorporated, and season to taste with salt and pepper. If using the garlic, smash the clove and put it in the dressing to infuse.
Peel 4 carrots and grate on a box grater or in the food processor. When ready to serve, fish out the garlic and discard, and toss the carrots in the dressing until fully coated. If serving with the avocados, it’s ok if the salad is a little “over-dressed”, because you need a little extra so the avocado isn’t bland. If you’re just serving the carrots on their own, however, you may want to add a couple more carrots or reduce the quantity of dressing. If you over-dress the salad, or let it sit too long before serving, the carrots will get soggy. (Heaven forbid this should happen, but if it does, take comfort in knowing that pieces of baguette are the perfect vehicle for sopping up the extra juice.)
Halve the avocados, remove the pits, and if they don’t sit still, remove a small sliver on the bottoms so they don’t roll around. Mound the carrots in the hollow, sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Man, I feel like Rachel Ray about to post this… ACK! I promise not to use the words “yummo” or “sammie” though (and please feel free to shoot me if I ever do).
Last night I didn’t get home until 9PM- I had worked late and then gone to get groceries afterwards. I needed something fast for dinner and somewhat on the lighter side, since I was eating so late. I had bought some Niman Ranch bacon (pretty much the only bacon I’ll buy anymore after reading this article in Rolling Stone) and a couple bags of greens, and had some little grape tomatoes on hand, so I thought “BLT”- only I didn’t want to eat all that bread. So I took two pieces of bacon, cut them into small pieces and fried them up while I made a mayo-based vinaigrette dressing. I then tossed the dressing with some baby spinach and wild arugula, drained the bacon bits on a paper towel and sprinkled those over the top with the tomatoes. I ate it with a small piece of toast, and it was a perfect meal. I’m sure this idea of BLT salad has been done before, but I so enjoyed my take on it that I thought I’d share anyway. The fact that the main ingredient is leafy greens makes it miles healthier than a BLT sandwich, but yet all the classic flavors are still there. I would actually venture to say that at least to my taste buds, this was much tastier than a BLT sandwich, but then I’m a big salad and greens fan. You could even cut back on the bacon and use only 1 slice, or three slices between two salads.
For the dressing, I didn’t measure, but I’ll try to approximate for you. You won’t usually find me putting mayo in my salad dressings- I usually prefer a “clean”-tasting vinaigrette- but I wanted to approximate that classic BLT flavor, and mayo is pretty integral to that. I made a large-ish individual salad, so adjust amounts if you’re cooking for two, or if you want smaller side salads. In the bowl in which you’re going to toss your greens, put a blob of mayo (about 1 tbs) and a much smaller blob of dijon mustard (maybe 1/2 tsp) and whisk together. Add a small amount of olive oil, about 1/2 to 1 tsp, and stir that in too. Whisk in some red wine vinegar, about 2 tsp. Season with a little salt (not too much- don’t forget your bacon will add salt) and freshly ground pepper. Taste for acidity- I like mine on the acidic side because it cuts through the richness of the bacon, but add a smidge more olive oil (or mayo) if it seems too tart. Toss in your greens (feel free to substitute other types of greens- the spinach-arugula mixture was pretty darn good though) and top with the bacon and tomato. This will make enough to dress a good-sized dinner salad for one. I plated mine for photo purposes; otherwise I would have saved a dish and just eaten it straight out of the bowl!
Ever since a certain someone got some not-so-great numbers back on his cholesterol count, we’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to “eat healthier”. I have to confess, this is not something that I was super excited about- cooking is often a treat for me, and I want to make whatever the mood strikes me to make rather than have to put a bunch of restrictions on it. But the truth is that I don’t cook a ton of meat as it is, let alone red meat, so my objection is more theoretical than factual. We may have to cut back on our bread-and-cheese-with-dinner habit, but I think that can be solved by looking to more non-European recipes for inspiration. That’s what we did the other night when I whipped up a salad that I first made a couple years ago, around the time we first started dating. It includes classic Thai ingredients such as ginger, soy and lime to create a punchy dressing that gets drizzled over lettuce, carrots, cucumber, scallions and more. It all gets topped off with triangles of seasoned and baked or grilled tofu. It’s almost carb-free, if you care about that sort of thing, and the tofu fills you up so you don’t feel like you “just ate salad” for dinner. If you want to get fancy, you can make it with grilled shrimp instead of tofu, or a combination of both. Either way, it’s a great way to get a Thai food fix without getting greasy calorie-laden carryout (not that I don’t love that too!).
Thai Salad with Baked Tofu & Peanut Dressing
I know the ingredient list looks long, but a lot of the ingredients for the tofu marinade and dressing are the same, and some of the salad ingredients are optional.
For the salad:
1 head romaine lettuce (2 if small), or a bagged salad mix
1 large carrot, peeled & grated
3-4 inches cucumber, seeds scooped out, sliced into thin half-moons
about 1/4 cup chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
2 lime wedges
large handful cilantro leaves
optional ingredients: strips of sweet bell pepper; some very thinly sliced jalapeño (remove seeds & pith for less heat); some thinly sliced red onion; 1/2 an avocado, cubed or sliced
For the tofu:
1 1-lb block extra-firm tofu
all-natural peanut butter (I prefer smooth, but crunchy is fine if that’s all you have)
1 tbs freshly grated ginger
1 large clove garlic, finely minced or put through a garlic press
rice wine (mirin)
Thai or Vietnamese chili sauce (I like the kind with seeds, but you could use Sriracha)
fish sauce (Nam Pla)- (optional for vegans/vegetarians, but it does give that definitive Thai flavor)
For the dressing:
all-natural peanut butter
fish sauce (optional)
neutral oil such as canola
juice of 1/2 a lime
about 1 tsp grated ginger
pinch of brown sugar
chili sauce (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350. Slice the tofu into slices that are about 1 cm thick. Lay them out on a cutting board or other work surface and blot them firmly with paper towel, getting them as dry as possible. In a bowl, combine about 1 1/2 tbs peanut butter, 2 tbs soy sauce, 1 tsp fish sauce, the grated ginger, the garlic, 2 tbs rice wine, 1 tsp chili sauce and 1 tbs vegetable oil. Mix until the peanut butter has dissolved into the other ingredients. Taste and adjust if you feel it needs more heat, salt, sweetness or whatever. (I never actually measure anything out when I make this, so I’m giving approximations. Please adjust to your taste. It’s hard to mess it up unless you make it WAY too salty or spicy, so just add in small increments.) If the marinade seems too thin, you can add a little more peanut butter- this will help it cling to the tofu. Paint this mixture on one side of the tofu and place it in a glass baking dish sauce side down; then paint the other side with the remaining marinade. (the more in advance you do this, the more the tofu will absorb the flavors.) Bake for 30 minutes, turn the pieces, and bake for another 20-30 minutes or until tofu starts to get a more “chewy” consistency. (If it’s summer and you have the grill going, please feel free to grill the tofu instead of baking it!) Let the tofu cool slightly and cut the pieces into triangles before putting it on the salad. You’ll have more tofu than you need for 2 dinner salads, but you can make another batch of salad the following night like we did, or just munch on the tofu pieces as a snack the next day.
While the tofu is baking, chop and wash the lettuce, discarding any tough outer leaves. Grate the carrot, slice the cucumber, thinly slice the scallions on the diagonal, and prep any of the other veggies you might be using. In a bowl large enough to hold the lettuce, make the dressing. Again, I never measure anything, so I’ll give approximations but PLEASE use your taste buds and taste as you go, adding things a little at a time. I start with a large-ish dollop of peanut butter and mix in 1-2 tbs oil. When that’s incorporated, add a tbs or so of soy sauce, a few dashes of fish sauce, the lime juice, about 1 tbs rice vinegar, a pinch of brown sugar, and a little chili sauce if using. Mix well and taste. It should be a good balance of tart, sweet, spicy and salty. When you’re done making the dressing, just put your lettuce in the bowl and toss to coat. Plate the dressed lettuce and then arrange the other ingredients on top to serve.