Saturday, December 30, 2017

Winter Salad

For some reason, 2017 turned out to be the year of the salad.  As I was thinking about the things I had posted over the past year, it occurred to me that I had written a lot of salad posts.   So I checked.  And I discovered that I had indeed written more about salad than anything else.  This post will be the eighth, making it so that salad will have outnumbered each of my other favorite topics ( by at least two to one.  This amazes me.  I mean really...  More salad than pasta?  or cake?....

No one should take this recent preponderance of salad posts as an indication that I will be changing the focus of my blog or the kinds of things I share here.  I will not be giving up cake (or any of my other favorites...) anytime soon.  I love cake!  But the fact is, I love salad too.  And while I have loved cake ever since I had the dexterity to get a fistful of it into my mouth, I have not always loved salad. 

This of course is no surprise to anyone who has visited my blog regularly over the years.  I have written on several occasions about my change of heart towards vegetables, but salad in particular conjures up a vivid memory from my college years.  Like most young women, I put an undue amount of mental energy into worrying about my weight.  One time a friend and I were bemoaning the fact that we just didn’t like to eat in a way that would promote slimness (in the ignorance of youth, the more important consideration of good health was not yet in the forefront of our minds).  Suddenly my friend said, "I want to be a 'salad person'—you know, one of those people who chooses to eat salad because they really like it!"  

If someone had told me then that I would not only come to like salad, but eventually truly love it, I would not have believed them.  But then I hadn't been exposed to very many good salads.  To me the word "salad" meant some sort of permutation of iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots, horse fodder-like nubbins of celery, hot house tomatoes, and stale packaged croutons...all glopped with bottled dressing.  No wonder I didn't like it.  My mother made a shredded carrot salad...and a Waldorf salad...that I liked, but in general my idea of salad was pretty limited...and not very favorable.  It was something you ate because it was "good for you"....which as far as food descriptors go is the kiss of death in my opinion.

But of course salad in its best form is the pinnacle of seasonal eating...  of fresh and raw....   Salad is also about delicious variety.  I could go on at great length about the wide array of foods that can be included in a salad...  the essential textural and flavor contrasts...  how to make a tasty homemade vinaigrette...   And of course, I have done this very thing over the course of the past year.  Whether you already love salad, or are just trying to like it, you should check out some of these old posts (you can find them by looking through the post titles in the side bar for this year, or by going to the salad section of my recipe index).

The salad I'm sharing today is one I taught this month in a class devoted to the foods my family has traditionally had for our Christmas Eve dinner.  Our menu has included a creamy and rich Wild Rice Soup since I was in grade school.  This was served alongside a lovely wreath bread my mother started making when I was in college.  There was also always a frozen cranberry "salad."  It may or may not have included jell-o....  The only thing salad-like about this concoction was the ruffled lettuce leaf upon which the "salad" was placed.  I deleted this item from the menu when I eventually took over holiday food preparation. 

I had never bothered to replace this dish because there is always so much going on Christmas Eve.  But this year, I took the opportunity of the class to come up with something that was more to my liking.  The Belgian Endive, Apple & Celery Salad I came up with is exactly what I'm craving this time of year.  It is crunchy, tangy, juicy.... In a word:  refreshing.  It is the perfect antidote the all the heavy, rich and creamy things the holiday brings.  Furthermore, the ingredients...and the beautiful monochromatic palette of colors....fairly shout "winter," making it a salad that is seasonal eating at its best.

I love this salad.  My class loved the salad.  And my mother loved the salad.  I will definitely be making it part of our Christmas Eve table from now on.  But more than that, because it is so simple...and the ingredients are so easy to keep on hand...I will be making this salad regularly during the winter months.  It really is the perfect winter salad—one that even non-salad people will probably like. 

Winter Salad

For the vinaigrette:
2 T. Champagne vinegar
1 small shallot, peeled and finely minced (1 1/2 to 2 T.)
1/4 t. salt, or to taste
1 t. Dijon mustard
6 T. extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:
4 stalks of celery (about 7 oz. before trimming)
2 large Granny Smith apples (14 oz.)
4 heads Belgian endive (about 1 lb.)
1/2 c. (3 oz.) golden raisins
Lemon juice, optional/to taste

Make the vinaigrette:  Place the vinegar in a small bowl with the shallots and salt.  Set aside for five minutes or so to let the shallots soften a bit. Add the mustard and whisk until smooth. While whisking constantly, add the olive oil in a thin stream to form a slightly thickened, emulsified dressing.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt.  Set aside.

To make the salad, trim the ends away from the celery stalks.  Using a vegetable peeler, remove any obtrusive strings from the outside of the ribs.  Cut the stalks into 3 or 4 lengths.  Slice each thinly to make a rough julienne of celery.

Wash the apples. Halve each lengthwise and remove the cores.  Using a mandolin slicer, slice each half thinly, lengthwise. 

Remove any bruised outer leaves of the endive and discard.  Halve the endive and remove the cores (by cutting a "v" shape around the core on each half with the tip of a paring knife).  Place each half face down on a cutting board and slice 1/3-inch thick on a long diagonal. 

Place the celery, apples, endive and raisins in a large bowl.  Drizzle with some of the vinaigrette (start with about 1/3 will probably need almost all of the vinaigrette, but it is better to start with less) and season well with salt and pepper.  Carefully toss so that all of the ingredients are lightly coated with the vinaigrette.  Add more vinaigrette as needed.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  If the salad seems well-seasoned and well-dressed, but still tastes a bit flat, give it a squeeze of lemon and toss again.  It should taste lively and juicy.  Mound the salad on a platter or divide among individual salad plates.  Serves 6 to 8 as a first course or a side salad.

Note:  The celery may be cut ahead.  The apples and endive must be cut right before serving as they will both oxidize after being cut.  

Printable Recipe

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sunday Morning Breakfast...Cinnamon Rolls

I made cinnamon rolls this morning for breakfast.  And they were such a treat! For some reason I don't think to make them very often.  There is always coffeecake...or scones...or a muffin or my freezer, so I'm not deprived when it comes to sweet treats for breakfast.  Still, a sweet, yeasted baked good seems special somehow.  So making cinnamon rolls for Sunday breakfast...for no special reason at a nice way to pamper myself.  And a Sunday in the middle of the insanely busy month of December is a perfect time to do it.

The recipe for these rolls uses the same basic dough that I have shared twice before—the first time in my Holiday Wreath Coffeecake...and the second in my St. Augustine Braid.  Because of this I won't belabor the finer points of making and rolling out the dough again.  I will only add a couple of observations that are specific to the cinnamon rolls.

The first thing to note is the quantity of filling.  The amount might seem a bit austere to some.  I used to make them with a lot more filling, subscribing to the notion that cinnamon rolls were supposed to be super sweet and gooey.  Then one day several years ago I sampled my friend Bonnie's cardamom rolls...and it forever changed my point of view.  Her rolls were tender and moist...sweet and spicy...and refined.  They had finesse—which to me is about the highest praise one can offer when it comes to food.  My rolls felt garish and overdone by comparison—like a caricature of what a cinnamon roll should be. 

The next time I made my cinnamon rolls I reduced the filling considerably.  Not only were they not so tooth-shatteringly sweet in their new form, the delicious, slightly sweet dough wasn't overwhelmed by the gooey, oozing filling (which, if we're honest, usually ends up hardened and stuck to the pan anyway).  I love my cinnamon rolls this way.  They are sufficiently sweet and cinnamon-y...and light and delicious too.    

My second observation has to do with the way I roll the dough...and how I place the rolls into the pan for baking.  I roll the dough thinly (into a very large square) so that I will have a nice ratio of dough to filling (you can put more filling—in a nice, thin, delicate layer—over this larger surface area of dough).  It might be tempting to leave the dough thicker...but the rolls won't be quite so nice if you do. 

Then, after rolling the dough up you might be tempted to cut more than nine rolls (each roll will be almost 2-inches tall)...thinking that there is enough space in the pan for a larger number of shorter rolls.  But nine tall rolls work very well—baking up into beautiful, puffy coils.  The centers will sometimes escape, protruding alarmingly upwards, as the rolls bake.  But if this happens, don't worry—they will settle back down when the rolls come out of the oven.

I have given directions for making the dough, and then forming and baking the rolls, on the same day.  And you can of course do it this way if you like.  But I have also included instructions on how to make the dough the night before and then finish them the next morning...and it is my preference to do it this way.  If I had to get out of bed and make the dough, I would probably never have cinnamon rolls on a Sunday morning.  But even on Saturday nights when I am very tired, I don’t find it that difficult to make the dough.  I then have the time it takes for the first rise to wind down a little from the day (and the week) with some other activity.  It is then an easy thing to get up at my leisure, roll and form the rolls, and then move slowly into my Sunday while they rise and then bake.  In no time at all the house is filled with the aroma of cinnamon, sugar and freshly baked rolls....and my day (and week) is  off to a pretty fine start.

Cinnamon Rolls

2 1/4 t. active dry yeast (1 envelope)
2 T. warm water
1/2 c. milk
3 T. unsalted butter
1/4 c. sugar
3/4 t. salt
Zest of one orange
1 egg
1/4 t. cinnamon
2 1/2 to 3 c. all-purpose flour

3 T. melted butter
1/4 c. sugar
1 T. cinnamon

Place the water in a large bowl and add the yeast.  While the yeast is proofing, scald the milk.  Remove the milk from the heat and add the butter.  When the butter is melted, add the sugar, salt and orange zest.  If the milk sugar mixture is hotter than lukewarm, let it cool briefly before proceeding.  Add the warm milk/sugar mixture to the proofed yeast and whisk to combine.  Whisk in the egg.  Add 1 c. of the flour along with the cinnamon and beat until smooth.  Gradually stir in enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough. 

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (5 to 10 minutes).  Place the dough in a buttered bowl.  Turn the dough to coat with butter and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk (about 1 ½ to 2 hours).

When the dough is fully risen, knock it back and place it on a lightly floured surface.  (Or, after deflating the dough, cover again and place in the refrigerator overnight.  In the morning, deflate again before proceeding.)  

Roll the dough out to a large thin square (about 15- by 15-inches).  Brush the dough with the melted butter.  In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon.  Evenly scatter the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the buttered dough.  

Starting with the edge nearest you, roll the dough up jellyroll-style (don't stretch the dough as you roll...or roll too tightly).  Pinch the seam to seal.  

Using a sharp knife, slice the log into 9 rolls.  

Place the rolls in a buttered 9-inch square baking pan.  

Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk (about 45 minutes to an hour).  

Bake the rolls at 375° until puffed and golden brown—about 20 minutes (an instant read thermometer will read about 180° to 190°).  Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.  Remove the rolls from the pan and drizzle with powdered sugar icing (recipe below) and serve immediately.

Makes 9 rolls (recipe is easily doubled to make 18—use 2 pans)

Powdered Sugar Icing:  Mix 2/3 c. powdered sugar with enough milk (about 3 to 4 t.) to form a thick glaze—it should drizzle slowly from a spoon.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Fusilli with Tuscan Kale, Mushrooms & Toasted Breadcrumbs

I am always on the lookout for seasonal pasta dishes that are made with ingredients that are part of my regular pantry.  If it isn't obvious, pasta is my "go to" dinner for days when I'm too busy to think about cooking for myself.  For a pasta to appear regularly on our table, it really needs to be made with stuff I tend to have on hand.

The presence of seasonal vegetables and pantry staples is what made me stop and take a second look at a pasta from the New York Times when I ran across it on my Instagram feed recently.  The pasta included Italian Sausage (something I always have in my freezer) and mushrooms and kale.  

Mushrooms and kale might not be pantry staples for everyone, but they happen to be two things I routinely purchase when I'm at the grocery store during the winter months.  Even if I have no particular use in mind, I know I will easily find a use for them.  I'm not quite sure why it never occurred to me to combine them in a pasta.

In the end, I only used the Times's recipe as a starting point.  I decided there was enough flavor in the mushrooms and kale so I didn't really need the sausage. (Sometimes more is not's just more...).  If I were to add an animal protein to the dish I would actually be more inclined to mash an anchovy or two into the red onion base along with the garlic and pepper flakes.  Both times that I have made this pasta, I almost did just that.  But on each occasion I decided I preferred the clean flavors of the vegetables by themselves.  Likewise, I felt the addition of cheese was unnecessary.  Instead, I went for some added texture in the form of a final shower of toasted bread crumbs.  It was the perfect touch. 

This dish is just the kind of pasta that I crave during the winter months—hearty, flavorful, and savory.  I will definitely be making it again, and again...

Fusilli with Tuscan Kale, Mushrooms & Toasted Breadcrumbs

2/3 c. coarse, fresh breadcrumbs (see note)
1 bunch Tuscan/Lacinato Kale (about 1/3 lb.)
3 to 4 T. olive oil, divided
1/2 of a medium red onion, finely diced (about a cup)
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 t. hot pepper flakes...more or less, to taste
8 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced 1/4- to 1/3- inch thick
1/2 lb. fusilli (or other sturdy, short pasta)
1 T. unsalted butter

Prepare the breadcrumbs:  Spread the breadcrumbs in an even layer on a small baking sheet or in a metal pie pan.  Place in a 350­­° oven.  Bake, stirring occasionally until crumbs are uniformly golden brown—about 10 minutes, maybe a bit longer, depending on the size of the pan, the thickness of the  layer of breadcrumbs, etc.  Remove from the oven, drizzle a small amount (1 to 1 1/2 t.) of olive oil over, toss to combine, and set aside. 

Meanwhile, prepare the kale:  Pull the leaves away from the stems, tearing the leaves into large (2- to 3-inch pieces) as you do.  Discard the stems.  Wash the leaves in several changes of water.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season lightly.  Add the kale and cook until tender—about 7 minutes.  Lift the kale out of the pot, transferring it to a strainer or colander (set on a plate or over a bowl or in the sink) to allow most of the water to drain away.   Reserve the pot of water for cooking the pasta.

While the kale cooks, prepare the onion base and the mushrooms.  In a wide sauté pan (large enough to hold the cooked pasta comfortably), warm a tablespoon or so of olive oil over moderate heat.  Add the onions, along with a pinch of salt.  Cook (regulating the heat to maintain a low sizzle) until the onions are tender and just beginning to turn golden at the edges.  If the onions seem dry as they are cooking, drizzle in a bit more oil.

While the onions cook, sauté the mushrooms:  Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to sauté in batches—don't overcrowd the pan.  Heat a sauté pan (non-stick, if you have one) over high heat.  Add oil to coat the pan (a tablespoon or so), then add the mushrooms. Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mushrooms are browned, tender and any liquid that they have given off has evaporated.  If they seem dry at any time as they cook, drizzle in a bit more oil.  Transfer the mushrooms to a plate and season with salt & pepper.  Set aside.

When the onions are tender and have begun to turn golden, add the garlic and pepper flakes and continue to cook until fragrant.  Add the mushrooms and cooked kale along with a small ladleful (about a quarter cup) of the kale cooking liquid.  Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Let the vegetables simmer very gently, allowing the flavors to blend, while you cook the pasta.

Return the pan the kale was cooked in to high heat. Add more water if necessary.  Add more salt.  (The water needs to be more heavily salted for the pasta than for the greens, in my opinion.  For the pasta, a teaspoon to a teaspoon and a half per quart is about right.  For the kale, you will need about half of that...maybe a bit more.)  Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving a half cup of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the sauté pan with the mushrooms and kale along with the butter.  Toss and stir to coat, adding some of the pasta water if it seems dry.  Finish with a final drizzle of oil (for flavor and sheen), if you like. Taste and correct the seasoning.  Divide among two or three plates and top with toasted breadcrumbs.  Serves 2 to 3. 

  • To make coarse, fresh breadcrumbs, remove the crust from a slightly stale ("day old") baguette or country-style boule. Cut into chunks and process until the crumbs are a mixture of fine and coarse (no large than pea-sized). These "fresh" breadcrumbs may be frozen for several weeks. They can also be dried even further and then processed into "fine, dry breadcrumbs."
  • This recipe is easily doubled. Increase the size of the sauté pans you use accordingly. If you don't have a sauté pan large enough to hold a one pound batch of pasta, finish the pasta by returning the noodles to the pot they were cooked in (draining the water first) and use this pan to finish saucing and tossing the pasta.