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i am a sheep

By on Jul 2, 2015 in experimenting, quickie, salad, vegetarian | 0 comments

I should never, ever, be allowed unsupervised in a farmer’s market. My eyes light upon row after row of crisp, vibrant vegetables, and a switch will flip in my brain. I am honestly not sure exactly what that switch does. I only know the end result, where suddenly single me has enough produce to feed a family of four. For a week. But the thing is, I’ll eat it. You see, this is my favorite time of year for the deceptive salad. I say ‘deceptive’, since most of us just view it as some drudgery, that thing we have to eat before the main course so we ‘get our vegetables.’ We drizzle some sad concoction out of a bottle onto some anemic greens, maybe some dried out carrots, and done. Not me. I love salads. Not salads as some forced thing to eat before the meal, but as the main event. Salad in a giant bowl, a terrifying mound of chlorophyll that would make you think I am about to feed a small herd of sheep. But I am those sheep. I will rifle through the greens I have purchased, ranging from sweet to bitter, pungent to mild, admiring the fascinating patterns that roil through the supposed chaos of nature, and throw them willy nilly into a bowl. Admittedly, the ratio tips more in favor of the sweet and mild. I will shower the pile of greens with long, tender sweet curls of carrots. I’ll thinly slice legions of radishes, some milder pink ones, maybe. And then I will simply mix together fresh lemon juice, really good extra virgin olive oil, and maybe some fresh herbs from my little window box, and dress the whole thing. Maybe a crank of fresh ground black pepper, a generous sprinkle of kosher salt. And then… I will graze. Slowly, languidly, feeling the warm summer breezes float through my apartment. I will enjoy the hell out of that salad, every last bite as it wanders through the spectrum of taste. Maybe next time I’ll make croutons, or dig up some goat cheese. Maybe not. Maybe new greens will be in store for next week. Maybe I’ll just try one green. This last week I picked up some pungent wild watercress, which might need to hang out with a bit of Treviso raddichio. I have garlic scapes, maybe they can make an appearance. Who knows? As long as this bounty is around, I will revel in it. Dive head first into it. Make salads a celebrated main course. And graze until fall comes. Baaaaaaaa. No recipe here, because there isn’t one. I mean, it’s salad. I’m sure there is an art to balance, but I sort of roll with what is in front of me. Mix things up, find contrasting tastes, make a simple dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper, maybe some fresh herbs if you’ve got ’em, and...

breathe in the fennel

By on Oct 12, 2013 in dinner, for one, love, quickie, salad, unprocessed october, vegetarian | 0 comments

“Eat your salad.” It is a refrain most of us have been hearing since childhood, and as adults we do (mostly) understand we should probably be eating more vegetables, but in reality, most of us view the act of eating salad as drudgery. Some sad little bowl of pale lettuce with a viscous bottled dressing poured over it, all hoovered down with one eyeball on the main plate, which is all you really care about. That is what most people encounter when they think of salad. This just makes me sad. When I eat a salad, I make it an event, piling mixed greens with exotic sounding names into a bowl the size of my torso, throwing whatever veggies I can get my hands on. Invariably, the cool delicate crunch of a cucumber gets involved. A sliver or twelve of red onion, perhaps briefly pickled in some red wine vinegar. Some sweet little tomatoes. If goat cheese happens to be in my fridge, it will be on my salad. Or blue cheese. Croutons. I insist upon croutons. If I’m really ambitious, I make them myself, chopping up a baguette from the store, letting it dry out overnight then tossing with some melted butter mixed with paprika, salt, maybe some garlic powder, and baking until crispy. Fruity olive oil, a splash of vinegar, a grind or two of pepper, a sprinkle of a nice kosher salt, and I am good to go. No need for the eerily red “French” dressing of my youth (which was my favorite, but now I can not stop thinking about what on earth goes into it…) But sometimes, I ponder a giant bowl of lettuce, sigh deeply, and think, “Really? This again?” There is an answer to this vegetable quandary. Get rid of the lettuce. Judith Jones, the remarkable editor for “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, wrote a lovely little book called “The Pleasures of Cooking for One”. Yes yes, the joke can be easily made about the depression level of a single person cooking alone, but really, it can be enjoyable. And no one sees you when you manage to drop noodles on your cleavage and scoop them up with your fingers and slurp them down. Not that I have ever experienced that situation before… But I digress. Ms. Jones wrote this book with the idea that you should be able to cook for just one, and cook well. And despite her long relationship with Julia Child, this does not instantly translate into a cookbook filled with 24 step recipes. As fall slowly descends upon Chicago (well, it seems to be waiting somewhere, bathing us in bizarre mid-70s days in October, which of course means it will snow at some point in the next two days,) apples crop up everywhere. And so I decided to try a quick recipe for an apple fennel salad for one, of course tweaking the recipe just a hair for my own good. This involves not a single leaf of lettuce. It is simplicity writ fancy. Bright crisp apple mingles with the cleansing yogic breath of raw fennel, wreathed through with a classic vinaigrette of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and mustard. And of course in my case, it was whole grain mustard I had made myself (it is October Unprocessed, after all!.) It is a salad without a familiar leafy refrain, yet still crisp and cool, feeling a bit more substantial than a wedge of iceberg lettuce. Give it a whirl. I guarantee it will not be drudgery. Apple Fennel Salad Serves 1-2, depending on your appetite   1 small tart apple 1 small fennel bulb, fronds removed and reserved 8 walnut halves, roughly broken 1 Tbsp. olive oil 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar ½ tsp. mustard (whole grain or Dijon) pinch of salt a grind of black pepper   Core the apple and slice thinly. If you have a mandoline, use it on a very thin setting. Trim the fennel bulb, getting rid of the tough bit at the bottom, and slice thinly (again, using the mandoline if you want). If it is just you and you only want half of this salad now, place half the apple and fennel slices in a container with cold water and refrigerate. Trust me, it’ll hold for a few days.   In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Arrange the apple and fennel slices in a bowl, and yes, you should make it fancy just for you, because you deserve it. Drizzle the dressing over it. Mince a few of the fennel fronds and scatter over the whole. Toss the walnuts on. Sit down, breathe deeply, and...

bring me the salt lick

By on Oct 6, 2013 in quickie, snacks, unprocessed october, vegetarian | 2 comments

There are days you sit and crave a crunchy salty snack. At first, you ignore it. But the craving will not die. Oh sure, you might find something crunchy. An apple, a carrot, but really? It is a carrot. And you really want a chip. In the interest of this unprocessed October, I could always heat up a vat of oil, thinly slice some potatoes, and fry up some homemade potato chips. And they would be delicious. But the craving demands a salty crunch NOW, not after slicing potatoes and heating a vat of oil and all that other frippery. A quick fix would be to sprinkle some salt on the end of the carrot, but… um… no. Enter the pita. OK, I am not about to bust out and make homemade pitas (yet.) But I am lucky enough to have a local store that sells locally made pitas, all made by hand, and the ingredient list really is just flour, yeast, water, and salt. And they pretty much taste like cardboard (there really isn’t that much salt.) You see, I love those pita chips they sell like potato chips now, but have you actually read the ingredients list? Well actually they still aren’t that bad. But this is October Unprocessed month! And they are still processed. They are baked so long that they can develop edges sharp enough to be considered lethal weapons. Really not what I am looking for in a snack. And so here is it, my crazy complicated recipe for your own pita chips. Quarter 3 pitas (my local ones are pretty awesome and homemade, so I am letting them slide into this unprocessed thing.) Split the quarters apart and lay them out, smooth outside of pita down, on a baking sheet (or two, if you decided to split up more pitas.) Brush the chips with a nice fruity extra virgin olive oil. Yes, it will take a few minutes, but bear with me. Sprinkle with kosher salt and grind some black pepper over it (do these from high above, you get more even coverage.) Pop it under your broiler set on low. After a couple of minutes, flip the baking sheet around. Obviously, if you’ve got two sheets, you’ll have to do it one at a time. Keep an eye on them, because they can go from golden brown to torched in a few seconds. You just want them golden brown, which should take about 4 minutes total. And there you have it. Warm pita chips, crispy without being wheat-based weaponry, the delicate floral aroma of the olive oil wafting up. Every bite differs a bit, some with a bit more salt, some with a bit more pepper, each one revealing their inner character. Sure, it’s just a salty crunchy snack. But it is not uniformly salt. It is whatever you make...

tarty tart (joy)

By on Jul 30, 2013 in baking, fruit, quickie | 2 comments

There they sit. Small, nubbly red denizens of juicy tartness. In gazing upon them, I can not help but have a moment… were this a human, the nubbly surface would be declared somehow unattractive, but here on this salacious little red-fruited Rubus idaeus, I am reduced to salivating. The high season of summer produce is upon us here in the Midwest, and my joy knows now bounds. In frittering about the internet looking at raspberry recipes, there were all manners of ingredients and solutions, various ways to bathe your berry in this liqueur, reduce it with this herb, breathe on it with air captured from the Western Slope of Mt. Everest… OK, that might be exaggerating. But everything was twiddling about with additions to the raspberry, which might be fine in winter when the berries come from little plastic clamshells, shipped in from miles away, but these are summer berries. Delicious, exuberantly plump summer berries, still half-glowing with the sun (or maybe triumph after the picker was scratched to pieces on the spiky little vines they grow on, being members of the rose family.) They need no fancy adornment. Maybe just a nice pedestal. After plowing through many a fresh raspberry, I decided the time had come to make a little baked good out of them. I could macerate them, then reduce the juice into an even more intense round of flavor and drizzle it back over, and perhaps I shall on the next time, but I wanted simplicity here. The magnificent nubbly berries demanded the least amount of mucking about, and I was going to give it to them. I slapped together a quick pastry dough, sneaking in a touch of cornmeal and almond extract to build a better pedestal for these ruby beauties. I rolled it out into a plain circle, dropped the fresh raspberries in the center, and then baptized them in a small touch of sugar, just enough to coax out their juices whilst they baked. A quick fold of the edges, and a galette was made. Quick, simple, and deceptively fancy. As it baked in the oven, I had to grip the edge of the chair I sat in so I would not be tempted to dive headfirst into the oven so I could just marinate in the divine scent coming forth. And there it was. Glistening crimson with a bubbling mass of tart magma in the center, faint scents of almond gently breezing through. I wanted it. Now. And yet, had I sliced in, the merry filling would have oozed forth, ruining the simple perfection. I had to wait. And then I could wait no more. Simple Raspberry Tart serves 4 if you are being stingy, 2 if you love the one you are with, 1 if you feel you deserve it, and I think you do   The pastry   1/3 c. flour 2 Tbsp. fine cornmeal 2 tsp. sugar 1/2 tsp. salt 3 Tbsp. cold, unsalted butter (reduce your salt to 1/4 tsp. if you only have salted) 1/8 tsp. almond extract 1-3 Tbsp. cold water, or enough to bind   Combine the dry ingredients, then using a pastry blender or knives, cut in the cold butter until you have big coarse crumbs. If you have a food processor, you can do this in there with only a few pulses (so damned easy). Add in the almond extract, and just enough water to form a dough. This can differ wildly based on the humidity that day, the mood of the flour, anything. So do it slowly. If you are doing this in a food processor, pulse gently a couple of times, and with it off, reach in and test your dough, because it will still look like crumbs, albeit slightly bigger crumbs. If you can grasp a generous pinch of it and it holds together, you are good to go. Gently gather together the dough until you have one cohesive ball. I like to do a bit of fraissage here, which is to say… put the ball of dough on a lightly floured surface, then using the heel of your hand, mash down and spread it outwards, sort of like you are smearing it. Gather it back in, turn it, do it again. Do it a few times, then gently form it into a disc, wrap it in plastic wrap, and let it rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.   The filling   1/2 pint fresh raspberries scant tablespoon of sugar Wash the berries, gently tossing to shake off water. Let them sit until your dough has rested. If you are making this for other people who are present in your home, remain in the kitchen and make vigorous noises, as if this is a trial. Splash some flour on yourself to amp up the illusion, and wearily poke your head out and say it will be done soon. Retreat to the kitchen and eat some raspberries. You really didn’t just buy one half-pint, did you?   The assembly   Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Take dough out of fridge. If it feels too stiff, let it rest for 10 minutes. It will warm up and be easier to roll. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough until you have a roughly 10″ diameter circle. Arrange the raspberries in...

a quick popover

By on Feb 16, 2013 in breakfast, quickie | 0 comments

  Fraternal twin popovers with a shared chocolate chip gene. Just add fresh coffee and you have a glorious Saturday...