Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

An Everyday Citrus Salad

IMG_4416During this frigid season, I find it’s easy to fall prey to “winter eating”, what I classify as the satisfying habit of loading myself up with lovely carbohydrates like homemade pizzas, pasta tossed with meaty ragu sauce and a flurry of grated parmesean, chickens roasted on top of little potatoes that can luxuriate in the drippings, and ribs slowly braised in wine until the meat falls off the bone…you get the idea. Basically the opposite of “spa cooking”, and more like what a bear eats before he enters his den for to hibernate. These stick-to-the ribs dishes really do warm the body and soul when your environment has turned icy and raw: When you have lost yet another glove, scraped yet another car of it’s glacial crust, and piled on yet another wooly sweater. In the midst of winter survival, hibernation cooking seems like the least you can do for yourself.

But like everything in life, there needs to be a balance, yes? No one wants to wake up one day in April and resemble a mama grizzly. So in the midst of this hearty binging I find myself craving citrus. Bright flavors and colors that burst on the tongue and wake-up the senses. For a quick fix I can always squeeze one of my beloved pink grapefruits for a shot of sunshine. If I have a bit more time though, I will make a citrus salad. This is something new to me because assembling a salad of citrus wedges (which normally requires that you “supreme” the fruit, removing the juicy flesh as a whole from the skins that surround it) seemed very chef-y and busy and something a spa-cookbook would have you do like you have the time to go supreming things. Finally though, my craving overwhelmed my prejudices, and since there’s no where around me serving up a delightful citrus salad, I decided it was time to make it myself.

My first step was to gather a selection of different citrus (and side note: the citrus has been really top-notch this year, at least in my neck of the woods, how about you?). I like to have on hand the following: pink grapefruit, navel oranges, and tangerines.

You can remove the flesh the traditional way by cutting off the rind and white pith around the fruit, then slicing the juicy segments away from the aforementioned skin. If you’d like a visual how-to HERE is a good video to watch. Make sure your knife is sharp (it will be safer than using a dull knife) and to go carefully. In the video, the dude holds the orange in his hand to carve out the segments, but unless you’re very confident with your knife skills, I suggest placing it on the table and holding it in place with your hand while carving out the segments. When you’re done, make sure you reserve the juice squeezed from the leftover pith/skins to make your vinaigrette.

RECIPE for WINTER CITRUS SALAD

IMG_4423To dress my salad: I take the leftover juice, place it in a bowl or clean jam jar and add the same amount of apple cider or white wine vinegar. I then add grapeseed oil (I like grapeseed versus olive oil because it doesn’t change the flavor of the fruit; use the same amount as you already have in the bowl of the juice and vinegar, so 2-2 ratio), a bit of agave or honey, salt and pepper. Stir or shake vigorously. Taste for seasonings.

To assemble the salad I place the wedges prettily on a plate and then use a benriner to shave some fennel on top (it’s a nice touch flavor and texture-wise, but optional if you THINK you’re not a fan…hint…hint). I then chop some of the fennel fronds and sprinkle them on top. I’ve seen people add shaved cheese like ricotta salata or manchego to their citrus salads. I’m sure this is a delicious addition, but it also feels like gilding the lily a bit when the point of the salad is to enjoy the clean, bright, tart flavors. But do as you like!

Lastly I add the dressing on top–no stirring or tossing because you don’t want your citrus wedges to fall apart! Just drizzle the dressing right on top. I happened to have a jar of KEEPERS chimichurri (you can find a recipe HERE) in the fridge so I added this to the plate as well. Again, not necessary at all, but the herbal flavors were a surprisingly lovely compliment. If you have a loaf of good bread handy then you’ll want a slice or two for soaking up any leftover dressing on the plate, which is too good to waste.

Enjoy and stay warm!!

 

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Thursday, January 29th, 2015

Piece of Cake Story

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This past weekend was the big 4-0 birthday for two of my friends, and beforehand, I was enlisted by one of the party hosts to coordinate the dessert. Now, as many of you know, dessert (in particular making cakes), is not my strong point. As a reminder, here is what Conor’s 7th birthday cake looked like…

P1300029I mean, it did the job, but I wouldn’t call it a visual masterpiece. So I decided to delegate the making of the desserts (which also included two friends who baked over 100 cookies for chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches, and these miniature s’mores that went so fast I didn’t even get one), specifically the making of the birthday cake. Which leads to the favor…

Lately I’ve found myself embracing the barter economy more and more (this will be the topic of another post in the near future) and that includes trading favors and food for services from multi-talented friends. So for the cake, I reached out to my very gifted CSA farmer, Bennett Haynes of Ralston Farm, who is spending the winter season as a pastry chef apprentice at a swanky new restaurant called Jockey Hollow Bar and Kitchen. Luckily for Bennett, the pastry program at Jockey Hollow is being run by Andrea Lekberg, who owns and runs one of the loveliest little bakeries around, The Artist Baker. After sending out my dessert S.O.S, Andrea gamely agreed that the birthday cake could be Bennett’s pastry “homework” for the week. After sharing a few details (a garden theme for the decorating, since the birthday friends share a vegetable patch; no chocolate), Bennett got to work, and I eagerly awaited the cake.

IMG_4237Here’s Bennett delivering his homework, which ended up being a phenomenal 3-tiered buttermilk cake (using Ralston Farm eggs) with a citrus-cardamon jam filling and a rich frosting which everyone agreed was the best frosting they’d ever tasted. It tasted as good as it looks and combined the best of professional pastry making with the thoughtfulness of something homemade (and everyone was spared my janky, sparkly blue, single-tiered brownie thing). So thank you Bennett and Andrea! And may I suggest exchanging your skills in the kitchen (or elsewhere…get your mind out of the gutter!) for something wonderful sometime soon?

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Monday, January 26th, 2015

Another kind of chicken salad…

IMG_4106 So clearly I’ve got chicken on the brain lately, because I’m cooking and eating it for pretty much every meal. It’s a full on craving, and cravings are interesting, aren’t they? Why are there certain ingredients we just need in our bodies all of the sudden? I’ve had spates where all I wanted was turkey sandwiches; then another time it was an addition to smoked salmon for breakfast, lunch and dinner; and more recently citrus (fresh pink grapefruit in the morning, tangerines for snacks, cara cara and fennel salads…). I’m sure there’s some science behind these cravings—mineral or vitamin deficiencies perhaps (yes, I play a doctor on tv), but right now it’s all about poultry so why not share that craving with you?

My last post was about assembling a classic chicken salad sandwich using the wonderful organic birds my supermarket is now offering. Today I’m featuring a different kind of chicken salad: Using your leftovers to make a hearty lunch salad. Any roast chicken will do for this, but I’m in love with a recipe from My Paris Kitchen, a newish cookbook from the Paris-based food writer David Lebovitz. The recipe is for Poulet a la Moutarde, or Mustard Chicken, and it’s a classic French dish for braising chicken thighs or parts with wine and flavoring it with a combination of dijon mustard, bacon, thyme, creme fraiche…resulting in a tender and intoxicating bird.

For dinner we eat the warm chicken over buttered noodles and then any leftovers go over a salad, like the one pictured above: Baby spinach, feta, sliced radish (another ongoing craving), a vinaigrette of red wine vinegar-shallots-maple syrup, a nice hunk of bread, and of course the chicken. It’s so simple, so satisfying. I might make it again today.

 

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Friday, January 16th, 2015

Homemade Chicken Salad is What I Want Right Now

IMG_3790Lately I’ve been craving chicken salad at lunchtime—who knows why. Normally that would mean chopping up the odd and ends of a roast chicken from last night’s dinner, or if I was feeling more motivated, poaching some chicken breasts and then shredding them up. This was all fine and good but unfortunately cravings and ingredient availability don’t always go hand in hand. Until now… because lucky for me, my local mega-supermarket has begun selling organic rotisserie chickens (besides the zaftig Perdue beasts that used to be the only option). Is there a better cheat than a hot rotisserie chicken just waiting to be turned into innumerable dishes? I think not. If your market isn’t yet offering the organic kind, I recommend asking the manager–what do you have to lose?

I particularly love chopping up some of the warm chicken and tossing it with a combination of creme fraiche (or mayo), a big spoonful or whole grain mustard, perhaps some prepared horseradish, finely chopped tarragon and shallots, salt, and lots of freshly ground pepper to make my lunch salad.

IMG_3812I happened to be traveling past the main bakery for Balthazar Bakery, based in Englewood, NJ, last weekend, and picked up one of their hearty whole grain-rye loaves for just such a sandwich. If I’m using a thicker bread, perhaps toasted, then I prefer my chicken salad sandwiches open-faced, for the sandwich pictured above I did the following:

-Toasted the bread and then buttered one side of each slice.

-With a fork, smashed a half of ripe avocado on top of each buttered slice (normally half an avocado would do for 1 sandwich, particularly if you’re sharing, but these were small avocados). Sprinkled salt, pepper, and lime juice on top of the smashed avocado.

-Topped avocado with a heaping spoonful of the chicken salad. Add thinly sliced radish on top (because you need something crunchy to match the chicken and avocado) and season them with just a little salt and pepper.

-A side of cornichons is not mandatory but recommended.

ENJOY!

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Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Thinking of You Paris

paris.yogurtI’m not sure what is an appropriate post to pay tribute today to the journalists who lost their lives or were injured in yesterday’s attack at Charlie Hebdo, but at the very least I wanted to express my thoughts of love and solidarity to France and all of the people who risk their lives sharing their knowledge, insight, and humor to make the world a better place. It is a terrible tragedy but one that will hopefully help us all come closer together to fight intolerance.

Above is a photo I took on a family trip to Paris a few years ago—it includes some of my favorite things from that magical city of truth and beauty and ideas.

JeSuisCharlie.

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