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Friday, May 23, 2008

Memorial Day is a Perfect Time to Make Beet Salad & Potato Salad

The summer season of travel, picnics, and barbecues traditionally begins on Memorial Day. Given the high price of gas, there may be less travel and more eating close to home this year. With good weather comes spontaneity. The kids are home or friends stop by, nothing is easier than turning on the barbecue and grilling some hamburgers, sausages, chicken, or a nice steak. Pull together a couple of easy-to-make salads and the meal is complete.

I've already talked about egg salad with bacon and shrimp, carrot salad, spinach salad, and arugula salad. I want to add to those favorites two more: beet salad and potato salad.

Roasted Beet Salad
Serves 4
Time 1 hour

The beets my mom served when I was a kid were either boiled or canned. For some reason she never roasted beets. That's such a simple way to prepare them. They steam inside their skins. Because they take very little effort to prepare, they are a great addition to a meal when you feel pressed for time.

1 bunch of large beets
Olive oil

Cut off the leaves and stems, reserving them to use later (a quick side note: after you wash them, if you chop up the leaves and stems, sauté them with olive oil, garlic and shallots; they'll caramelize and you can serve them as a side dish or tossed with pasta; they're delicious). Thoroughly wash the beets to get rid of any grit. Do not remove the skin or cut off the root. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put a sheet of aluminum foil on a baking pan. Place the beets in the pan, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Turn the beets every 20 minutes so they cook evenly. Use a wooden skewer to test if they're done.

Let cool, then peel off the skins, cut off the root and the top part. Serve them up the way you like--julienne, rounds, or roughly cut--put them in a bowl and dress with olive oil, reduced balsamic vinegar, sea salt and black pepper.

Variations

Use a vinagrette dressing, add feta, sliced scallions, and chopped Italian parsley.

Top with roasted walnuts.

Add roasted carrots.

Add green grapes sliced in half.

Potato Salad
Serves 4-6
Time 45 minutes

As a side dish potato salad goes with any grilled meat or fish, perfect for a dinner party or a picnic.

2 pounds potatoes (Yukon Gold or King Edward), washed
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons grated carrots
1 tablespoon corn kernels
1 scallion, end trimmed, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, leaves only, finely chopped
1/2 to 3/4 cup mayonnaise (preferably Best Foods/Hellman's)
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Put the potatoes in a pot, fill with water to cover, add the Kosher salt, cover with a lid or piece of aluminum foil, and boil on high heat for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked but still firm. Remove the pot from the heat, pour off the hot water, refill the pot with cold water and let the potatoes cool.

Sauté the corn with a little olive oil for 5 minutes until lightly browned. Let cool. In a large bowl, mix together the corn, carrots, scallion, and parsley. Peel the skin off the potatoes--save the skin for a breakfast sauté with eggs--chop the potatoes into dime-sized pieces, and add to the bowl. Toss all the ingredients together and season with sea salt and pepper. Stir in the mayonnaise and mix well. Taste and adjust the flavors with more mayonnaise, salt, and pepper.

Variations

Use cilantro instead of Italian parsley.

Add celery or capers.

Add crispy bacon.

Add grilled shrimp.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Wilted Spinach Salad Takes Center Stage

Everyone has an all-purpose dish that can be modified in clever ways by changing a few key ingredients. For my mother, it was the casserole. For me it’s usually pasta but on those nights when my wife wants to “go green” I turn to an old stand-by: a wilted spinach salad.

Versatile spinach works cold in a salad or heated by sautéing or boiling. A hot dressing brings spinach to a middle ground: mostly raw with some leaves wilted from the heat of the dressing. Sautéing the dressing allows for a great variety of ingredients: Italian sausage, anchovies, mushrooms, shrimp, bacon, chicken, duck, chicken livers, or purely vegetarian. As far as I can tell just about any pizza topping would work on a wilted spinach salad, excepting maybe pineapple.

I invite everyone to send in suggestions. I know I’ve only scratched the surface of this infinitely variable dish.

Wilted Spinach Salad with Shrimp, Avocado, and Olives
Yield 4 servings
Time 20 minutes

Ingredients

1 large bunch spinach, the root ends trimmed and discarded, thoroughly washed to remove the grit
2 garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced
2 slices bacon, finely chopped (optional)
6 mushrooms (brown or shiitake), washed, thinly sliced
1 carrot, peeled, cut into rounds 1/4" thick
2 shallots, peeled, cut into thin rounds
12 shrimp, medium sized, washed, deveined, sliced in half (optional)
12 olives (oil cured black, green split, or Castelvetrano green), pitted, quartered
1 small avocado, peeled, roughly chopped
1/4 cup croutons, preferably homemade
2 tablespoons feta, crumbled (optional)
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

Remove the stems from the spinach. Put the leaves into a large salad bowl. Finely chop the stems. To make the hot dressing put 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into a sauté pan on a medium flame and lightly brown the spinach stems, garlic, bacon, mushrooms, carrot rounds, and shallots. Remove from heat and set aside. In a small sauce pan reduce the balsamic vinegar to 1 tablespoon. In a separate sauté pan drizzled with olive oil, cook the shrimps until pink about 2 minutes, then set aside.

When you’re just about to serve the salad, reheat the dressing on a medium flame. Add the rest of the olive oil, olives, and avocado.

Using a rubber spatula pour the hot dressing over the spinach leaves. Drizzle with the reduced balsamic vinegar. Top with the shrimp, croutons and if you want the feta. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and black pepper.

Variations

The hot dressing can be kept vegetarian by using olive oil, shallots, and garlic. Most vegetables can be added to the sauté: zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, English peas, sugar snap peas, broccoli, or tomatoes. Try tofu or vegetarian patties as well.

A riff on a chef salad, in the dressing sauté baked ham and turkey breast with shallots; add cheese (cheddar or Swiss) and chopped tomatoes when you toss the salad.

Borrowing from the classic frisee salad, use bacon or lardoons crisped in the sauté, topping the salad with a fried egg. A variation on a variation: instead of a fried egg, use a hard boiled egg, sliced or chopped.

Sauté 1/4" rounds of Italian sausage with slices of red pepper, onion, and garlic to make a wilted salad version of a sausage hero.

Grilled or sautéed chicken livers with mushrooms, onions, and lots of garlic.

Add several anchovies and a dusting of pepper flakes to the onion-garlic sauté.

For the meat use slices of roast duck or chicken (dark meat preferably since it has more flavor); put shiitake mushrooms in the sauté.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Carrot Salad Makes a Great Sidekick

What comes with an entrée may be more flavorful than the entrée itself. Grilled chicken breast is a case in point: it's ok, healthy but flavor-wise, nothing special. Put a side of homemade carrot salad on the plate and everything changes. The addition of the creamy, spicy carrot salad compliments the neutral flavor of the breast. I'm in heaven.

The key to that sentiment is "homemade". Carrot salad bought from upscale Gelson's or even Nate n'Al's just won't do. I've taken the classic deli recipe and given it a couple of flavor enhancers: a pinch of cayenne and golden raisins soaked in lemon juice. With those added flavors, the salad can hold its own with an infinite variety of dishes: grilled chicken, steak, hamburger, pork chops, lamb chops, duck, even an avocado for a vegetarian meal.

Carrot Salad with Lemon-Soaked Raisins

8 large carrots (preferably farmers' market fresh), washed, peeled, ends trimmed off
1 scallion (optional), finely chopped
1 small bunch Italian parsley, washed, dried, stems trimmed, finely chopped
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Pinch of cayenne
Sea salt and pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise

Soak the raisins in lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight Grate the carrots in a large mixing bowl. Roughly chop the raisins, reserving the lemon juice not absorbed into the raisins. Mix together the carrots, raisins, parsley, and scallions. Season with the cumin, cayenne, sea salt, and black pepper and toss. Add the lemon juice and mayonnaise. Mix well.

Variations

Use cilantro instead of Italian parsley
Add capers

Top with roasted chopped almonds

Serves 6-8 (makes 1 quart). Preparation Time: 20 minutes.makes 1 quart). Preparation Time: 20 minutes.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

There's A New Kid in Town: Eat Drink or Die

A new food web site launched this week: Eat Drink or Die. A sibling of Will Ferrell's Funny or Die, Eat Drink or Die is a full-service food site, with videos by famous chefs, experts in their field, and readers who have a favorite recipe they want to share.

In addition there are a score of bloggers who pursue their own special point of view. I am happy to say that Men Who Like to Cook is included with others who are passionate about eating and cooking.

Please take a look. I think you'll enjoy the site.