September 27, 2013

Roasted Cauliflower with Lime Vinaigrette

Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Lime Vinaigrette

Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Lime Vinaigrette

It's a little strange to pair cauliflower, a cold loving, cranium-resembling melon of a vegetable with the beachy, adorable lime, whose flavor you usually find in Thai and Mexican cuisine. But it works because this bright and spicy dressing really perks up the earthy flavor cauliflower takes on when roasted. Peppery lentils add richness and a little spoonful of plain yogurt over the top (not pictured - late addition) adds a tart and mellow touch. You could also add quinoa or couscous to make this more substantial. Great side dish with fish or on its own as a light meal. 

Devoted sous-chef.

September 23, 2013

JGV Kale Salad (Caesar Kale)

Jean George Vongerichten Kale Salad (Caesar Kale)

Like most people, I love a good caesar salad. I even like an average caesar salad, which many seem to be. There's something about that tangy dressing that's so compelling. Umami from the anchovies and parmesan? Probably. Seems like every restaurant has one on the menu - chicken caesar, walleye caesar (shout out to Ye Olde Wharf up on the Whitefish chain in Crosslake, MN for that one), caesar wraps and sandwiches. 

The very best ones have bright acidity, a little richness and lots of anchovies and Parmesan Reggiano cheese. Fresh croutons that are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside make a difference as does the quality and cut of the lettuce (and please do cut the lettuce - it's just lazy to serve me giant leaves of romaine...there's no good reason for it). So when I saw a Jean Georges Vongerichten recipe for a kale salad with a caesar-style dressing, I couldn't wait to make it. 

Jean George Vongerichten Kale Salad (Caesar Kale)

His salad is comprised of raw, ribboned kale with a little mint (or basil, in my case) mixed in, topped with thin slices of not-too-spicy serrano peppers. The dressing follows tradition except for a fat pinch of red pepper flakes and a spoonful of lemon zest. You dress the salad and let it sit for a bit to take some of the squeakiness out of the kale. I flaked some baked salmon on top to make this a meal. Killer. If you have someone who makes at stinky face at the mention of kale, serve them this. They will be singing its praises before the meal is out and you can feel warm and fuzzy for having opened a mind and filled a tummy.

Note: the recipe says it serves 4 but that assumes everyone will be happy with a cup and a half. They won't be, so plan accordingly.

September 18, 2013

Big Swinging Dips

A wreath of raw vegetables with a bowl of dip in the center is a buffet party staple. Carrot nubbins? Check. Hunks of broccoli that will fleck your smile and have people twitching with empathy as they try and act like it's not there? Check. Cherry tomatoes that someone put in the refrigerator and, while providing a needed pop of color, are kind of inedible? Check. Gluey ranch dressing? Check. It's usually the only thing on the board that's somewhat healthy and the plate with the most leftovers. But it doesn't have to be this way. A more interesting dip is a few ingredients and a good food processor away.

Now about the vegetables - no one, and I mean no one, wants to gnaw on a huge floret of cruciferous vegetable wonder at a party where it would be uncouth to double-dip. The point of dip is to add a fatty unctuous touch to a crunchy raw bite. You want a dollop in each nibble (at least I do). So cut your vegetables small and narrow - one bite or two. That way you can dip one end, bite, then flip the little guy and dunk the other end that's not been tainted by your germs and those of your family, dog, etc. Smaller for kids, bigger for adults. Make sense?

One last note - most good dips really love a bit of starch, i.e., a good slice of baguette, pita cracker or pretzel. It kind of detracts from the health element can leave that up to the diner and their conscience. You've laid the groundwork, now it's up to them.

September 11, 2013

Cucumber Egg Salad

Cucumber Egg Salad

It's astonishing how many cucumbers one little bedding plant stuck in the soil next to a narrow and heavily used driveway can spawn. We've probably plucked 15 from the bendy vines to date and it's still going strong. l'm using the cukes in salads, flavored water, yogurt dips and eating them straight with plenty of salt.

I know. I have the sweetest farmer in the city.

Cucumbers cool crunch is a great foil for the tang and creaminess of egg salad. Diced into pretty little cubes along with piles of minced basil and chives from the pots still humming along on my patio, they're a nice alternative to celery or pickles usually found in this diner classic. Mayonnaise is a no-brainer. But the eggs...

There is much to be said on the topic of boiled eggs. Joy of Cooking (and my husband) swear by the 14 minute method, but I find the yolks a little dry for egg salad, and the drier they are, the more mayonnaise I need to use (and I already want to use plenty). So I cut the time in half and, at seven minutes, the yolks were bright and creamy and the whites nice and springy. Encouraged,  I cut the time again and tried a five minute version. Too much of a good thing - the yolks were runny, they were difficult to peel and the flavor was too...eggy. Seven it is.

14, 7 and 5 minute boiled eggs

I drained the cucumber with a bit of salt to keep the salad from getting watery. This step falls in the category of nice to have, not need to have, as it will still be tasty with a little cucumber juice, just a little wetter. 

Cucumber Egg Salad

Makes enough for 4 sandwiches

6 eggs
1/2 medium-size cucumber
1/4 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup fresh chives
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1. Peel cucumber and halve lengthwise. Remove seeds by running a spoon down the center then slice into 1/4 inch (tiny) cubes. Place in a colander set over a bowl and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Toss and set aside to drain for at least 15 minutes.

2. Place eggs in a pot with enough cold water to just cover them. Put the lid on and bring to a boil, then turn off heat and let sit covered for seven minutes. Take the eggs out of the hot water with a large spoon and place them in a bowl of ice water for a few minutes to cool, then peel. Place peeled eggs in a large bowl and mash with a fork until no large pieces remain.

3. Mince basil and chives and add to bowl with mashed eggs.

4. Add drained cucumber (note: if you didn't drain, then also add the salt in this step), mayonnaise and pepper and stir to blend thoroughly. Serve on toast, soft white rolls or straight up on a bed of lettuce.

Cucumber Egg Salad

September 4, 2013

Garam Masala Nectarines

Husband/1st child/2nd child: "What's for dinner?"

Me: "No idea. But we have garam masala nectarines for dessert."

Variations on this exchange are common in our house where I am the primary, though by no means reliable, meal-maker. I can spend hours tinkering with a recipe and produce nothing but a side dish, dessert or even sauce (chimichurri, I'm talking to you). So we're often scrambling (literally or figuratively) for dinner. I guess it's my way of making cooking a more interesting proposition, less drudgerous. I don't really care if everyone in my family is happy with the outcome.  That may sound harsh or selfish but honestly, when you're expected to put something on the table five nights a week for four mouths with different taste buds, prejudices and food associations (i.e., stomach flu plus lamb burgers means no more lamb burgers in our house), you're doomed. If you make a killer roast chicken, your occasional vegetarian objects. If you make pasta with vegetables, your carnivore roars.  So please yourself, I say, and always have bread and peanut butter on hand.

Adding a spicy note to nectarines sounded appealing, so I turned to garam masala, an Indian spice mix that often includes cardamom, cloves, cumin, black pepper, coriander, and ginger. I made a paste with coconut oil  (adds a nice tropical flavor but you could use butter instead ), brown sugar, garam masala, nutmeg and oatmeal (for crunch), rubbed it over the cut fruit and roasted them in the oven. I also made it two ways: with and without almonds. I thought one of my daughters might prefer it nut-free, and she did. See? I'm not that selfish.

Garam Masala Nectarines

Serves 4

2 ripe, but still firm nectarines (or peaches)
1 1/2 tablespoons solid virgin coconut oil or slightly softened unsalted butter
2 tablespoons (packed and mounded) light brown sugar
2 tablespoons oatmeal (not quick-cooking)
2 tablespoon roasted salted almonds, chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of kosher salt
Vanilla yogurt, ice cream or whipped cream (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375ยบ

2. Split nectarines and remove pits. Place in oven proof dish.

3. Combine coconut oil or butter, oatmeal, almonds (if using) and spices by stirring vigorously. Then divide equally (approx. one teaspoon each) on top of peaches. Spread around a bit.

4. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until a sharp knife slides in easily and edges are a little brown.

5. Serve alone or with yogurt, ice cream or whipped cream.

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