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Mushrooms steal the show. September 18, 2013

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Silence Dogood here, and geez, it’s suddenly gotten cold—or at least, really cool—here where our friend Ben and I live in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. To me, cold weather calls for hot comfort food. Of course, baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, and mashed potatoes, not to mention roasted Yukon Gold potatoes, certainly qualify. But what if you want something a little more decadent?

Look no further. Mushrooms in Marsala Wine Sauce is so rich and decadent, nobody could believe how easy it is to make. Add a beautiful, colorful salad (more on this below) and you have a complete meal. You can even choose cartons of pre-sliced mushrooms to reduce prep time. But please note, this is an adults-only dish, not one you’d want to serve to the kids, because it’s a little boozy.

Mushrooms in Marsala Wine Sauce

Start with the mushrooms, and plenty of them. I typically mix it up with two cartons of shiitake mushrooms, a large carton of button mushrooms, a carton of baby bellas, and a carton of mixed gourmet mushrooms, including oyster and crimini mushrooms. You can use whatever mushrooms you like, in whatever combination and proportion you like; they’re all good here. Just make sure you don’t use nothing but button mushrooms; this dish requires deeper mushroom flavor or it will taste bland.

To prepare the dish, melt a half-stick to a stick of salted butter in a heavy pan (I love my LeCreuset Dutch oven for this). With most mushroom dishes, I’d use extra-virgin olive oil, but because this dish requires cream, I like to keep it all dairy. Dice a large sweet onion (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla) and saute in the melted butter, adding plenty of salt (we like RealSalt) or Trocamare and lots of fresh-cracked black pepper.

At the same time, heat a large container of water to a boil for the pasta. (You could also use rice, if you’d prefer. If so, prepare rice according to package directions or use a rice cooker. Because the flavors of this dish are delicate, you’ll want to use white rice, such as basmati, rather than brown.)

When the onion has clarified, add the mushrooms and cook until they’ve released their liquids. Now add a good sprinkling of ground fenugreek, garam masala, or ras el-hanout. If the pan starts to dry out, add some veggie broth or water to keep it moist rather than more butter.

Now’s the time to add cream. You can use heavy whipping cream, light cream, or even half-and-half, it’s your choice. Heavy cream will obviously thicken up fastest. In any case, dial down the heat. Add a pint and let it thicken, cook down, and coat the mushrooms and onion as you stir. Once your sauce is thick, it’s time to pour in a good splash (at least a half-cup) of Marsala wine (Madeira is also good, your choice) and let the sauce cook down.

Add spaghetti or fettucine to the boiling water in the pot if you’re going for pasta (our preference) and keep an eye on it; it should be al dente.

Last but by no means least, add a splash of bourbon to the sauce. Why? To cut the richness. Trust me, you’ll need it for the perfect, incredibly yummy dish.

And what about that salad? We’re talking about a super-rich, creamy comfort-food pasta dish here. That means that the salad should counterbalance the richness of the meal. Endive, radicchio, arugula, chicory, watercress, and similar greens will add aggressive bitter and spicy flavors to a salad to cut through the sweetness of the pasta dish. Don’t forget to add scallions (green onion), olives, capers, tomato, cucumber, and the like to up the salad ante!

—‘Til next time,

Silence

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Reinventing the wedge. July 28, 2013

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Iceberg lettuce gets a bad rap. Silence Dogood here. Everyone’s always beating up on iceberg, trumpeting its lack of nutritive value, urging us to eat limp, faintly moldy-tasting “spring greens” and spongy, tasteless spinach instead.

Now, I’m all for spinach, sauteed in olive oil with garlic or washed and steamed in its own moisture and served with a splash of good balsamic vinegar. I’m all for nutritious greens in salads: arugula, Romaine, kale, mustard greens, watercress, endive, escarole, and radicchio are all favorites. But I’m not for bashing iceberg, a lettuce that provides tons of crunch and fiber.

To me, salads should be crunchy. Veggies are important not just for their nutritive value but for their all-important fiber content. Consuming plenty of fiber is every bit as important for our health as consuming nutrients, and iceberg lettuce is loaded with fiber. Far from being vilified, iceberg deserves a place in the salad rotation.

One of the most iconic uses of iceberg lettuce is in the wedge salad, a wedge of iceberg with blue cheese dressing, chopped tomato, and diced bacon, basically a blast from the indulgent past. But what say you decided to upgrade the wedge?

Here are some ways to take the basic wedge from good to great, starting, of course, with organic iceberg:

* Forget the gloppy storebought dressing. Try a wedge of iceberg covered with chopped tomato, sweet onion, crumbled blue cheese, a splash of olive oil, and Real Salt or sea salt and fresh-cracked pepper.

* Skip the blue cheese. Sub green goddess dressing on your wedge. We love this, but you can put any dressing you like on a wedge, from peppercorn parmesan to ranch to French or thousand island.

* Head South of the Border. Try a wedge slathered in homemade guacamole. It’s so easy! Get a ripe avocado, a sweet onion (like Vidalia or Walla Walla), a bunch of cilantro and a tub of fresh hot salsa from your grocery’s produce section. (You want fresh salsa, not cooked; look for visible chunks of tomato, onion, green pepper, hot pepper, etc., no sauce.) Dice half the onion in a bowl, add about a quarter cup of the salsa (or more to taste), at least a quarter-cup of chopped cilantro, and a good splash of hot sauce. (We like Tabasco Chipotle for this.) Now, halve your avocado and pop out the seed, then quarter the avocado. Starting at the stem end, peel each avocado quarter with your fingers—the skin comes right off—and set it on a plate. With a knife, dice the avocado quarters, sprinkle the diced avocado with lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and mash it with a fork, leaving about half the dice intact and the rest pulped smooth. Mix the mashed avocado into the onion-salsa-cilantro mixture and you’re good to go. Yum!

* Try a shrimpless shrimp cocktail. What makes a shrimp cocktail really isn’t the shrimp, it’s the sauce. Mix the hot chili sauce you’d normally pour on your shrimp cocktail with as much horseradish as you can take, add a splash of lemon juice and some finely minced sweet onion, and pour some on your iceberg wedge. Ooh la la!

* Take a Mediterranean cruise. Maybe a trip to Greece or Sicily is beyond your budget, but a Mediterraean-inspired wedge salad is well within reach. Use crumbled feta instead of blue cheese on your wedge, add some fresh thyme, chop green and kalamata olives very fine and add them, and top each wedge with extra-virgin olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

There are plenty of other options; these are just meant to get you started. And hey, if you love a wedge salad just as it was originally intended, keep that high-fiber benefit in mind and ignore the snooty critics who demand mushy spring greens. To each his own!

‘Til next time,

Silence

The centrality of salad. May 14, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. Being on the road this past weekend reminded me of exactly how important salads are to my overall well-being. For some, a salad might be consigned to the category of pointless “rabbit food.” But for me, they’re the staff of life. Even as a vegetarian, I’m happy to eat in a steak house if I can have a crunchy salad and a baked potato. Yum!

This road trip, our friend Ben and I had excellent food: an Indian feast at my brother’s house and wonderful Asian (Thai, Japanese, and Chinese) for supper on Mother’s Day. But something was missing, and that something, I realized, was salad. No big bowl of fresh, raw, crispy-crunchy lettuce, veggies, and toppings. By the time we got home, I was feeling seriously deprived.

So yesterday’s lunch was one of my typical “Silence’s Kitchen Sink” salads: A base of Romaine, arugula, watercress and kale, with yellow cherry tomatoes, chopped scallions (green onions) and red bell pepper, sliced cukes and radishes, green and black olives, pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds) for crunch (I also often use walnuts), organic celery (make sure it and the bell pepper are organic, otherwise they’re very heavily sprayed), diced avocado, sliced hard-boiled eggs, broccoli florets, sprouts, and, of course, cheese (feta, blue or gorgonzola, and extra-sharp white Cheddar are favorites).

OFB is not a fan, but on my own salad I often add pickled beets (yum) and horseradish (for extra bite). I’ll also add fresh herbs if I have them on hand, then top the whole thing off with extra-virgin olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar, fresh-cracked pepper, and salt (we like RealSalt, sea salt, or Himalayan pink salt). If we really want to splurge, we’ll splash on Chef Tim’s delicious balsamic vinaigrette, locally available at farmers’ markets here but available everywhere online at http://www.cheftim.com.

A favorite variation is the sweet-and-savory salad, with Boston or butter lettuce, diced apples (such as Braeburn and/or Granny Smith), diced sweet onion (such as Vidalia, WallaWalla or Candy), dried cranberries (craisins) and diced dried apricots or mandarin oranges or grapefruit sections, diced avocado, and sliced almonds, topped with shredded Swiss cheese and fresh mint leaves and dressed with extra-virgin olive oil and a citrus-infused balsamic vinegar. I know about the huge fad for “green juices” for breakfast, but I can’t face them. As far as I’m concerned, this salad, topped with an herbed yogurt “Green Goddess”-style dressing, would make a great breakfast, without having to confront a glass of green slime.

I have yet to try to recreate the sumptuous wedge salad available at the Texas Steakhouse chain (not to be confused with the Texas Roadhouse chain), a huge wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with blue cheese, onion and diced tomato. (Mind you, it’s also typically topped with crumbled bacon, but of course I make them leave that off.) It is SO good, but it seems so decadent that I save that for road trips.

Anyway, I had salad for lunch yesterday—you can see why it could easily make a meal—and we had side salads with supper. I had salad for lunch today, and we’ll have salad as a first course again tonight. Whew! I’m finally starting to feel normal again. For me, most comfort foods are hot: pasta, potatoes, pizza, grits, sweet potato fries, corn on the cob, warm Brie and a crusty baguette to dip into it or hot dinner rolls and butter or corn cakes. But salad is the great exception: It’s comfort and comforting, all by itself.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Don’t you like salad? July 28, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I were appalled to read a story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal called “Crunch Time for the Salad.” (Check it out at www.wsj.com.) It was basically about how the producers of pre-bagged, ready-to-use salad mixes were working on new combinations to entice buyers.

This in itself was hardly surprising: Everybody in the packaged food industry is constantly trying to come up with new products to entice buyers into choosing their stuff over the 45,000 other items available at a typical supermarket.

And OFB and I would have said that, on the whole, prebagged salads are a thriving category, based on the fact that we and everyone we know use them all the time. As organic gardeners, we and most of our friends try to grow our own greens, at least in spring, and buy as much as we can from farmers’ markets locally or get salad greens from our local CSA (subscription-supported organic growers). But local greens stop being available as soon as the weather heats up. And if you’re like us and simply must have a big, satisfying salad at least once a day, you need some outside assistance.

You might think it would be cheaper in that case to simply buy an assortment of whole head lettuces and other ingredients rather than paying a premium price for pre-washed, pre-blended, pre-packaged greens, but you’d be wrong. At least in our area. One of our local groceries regularly offers “buy one, get one free” discounts on bagged greens, making their cost comparable to bulk greens. And another regularly offers reduced bags of salad greens for 99 cents to keep their produce moving, and that’s a third of what you’d pay for a head of iceberg lettuce, much less Romaine or a “gourmet” type.

Just think, less than a dollar for a whole bag of premium mixed salad greens! It’s true that I’ll usually add some punch or oomph to our salads, in the form of shredded carrots, cherry tomatoes, shredded cheese, chopped scallions or red onion, diced bell pepper, olives, pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds), and maybe some broccoli slaw and/or arugula or kale or, if I can find them, mustard greens. But for less than a dollar, I could buy OFB his dream salad, a Caesar with Romaine, croutons, Parmesan, and dressing all in the same easy-open package, with plenty for me to have my own greens and toppings. Never has there been such a great, delicious deal.

Mind you, I actually love to graze on naked salad fixings, as friends have pointed out many times. And they’re so right: Given a choice, I’d eat undressed lettuce and all the other ingredients and never put any dressing on them. But I’ve read many times that both oil and vinegar help you extract and digest the nutrients from salad, so I try to be dutiful and top my salads with extra-virgin olive oil and yummy aged balsamic vinegar. And yes, I do enjoy oil and vinegar dressing very much. But I’d still rather eat the salad plain, maybe with a bit of salt and some fresh basil and mint and thyme leaves tossed in!

Anyway, however you make it, as long as the major ingredient is crunchy lettuce or a combination of lettuces, our friend Ben and I love our salads and feel like we’ve been deprived if we don’t eat at least one salad a day. If we could, we’d eat three salads a day, at least in hot weather. Which is why the article in the Wall Street Journal came as such a shock: It claimed that “the average American eats a salad at mealtime only about 36 times a year.”

Say what? What?!! What on earth, what the bleep?! That’s, what, three times a month?!! How could that possibly be? How could people willingly sacrifice the opportunity to enjoy that delicious crunch, the blending of flavors and textures and colors? I’ve long ago had to admit to myself that my favorite part about going out to eat is the salad bar, and if I never had a single entree, it wouldn’t bother me at all. A bowl of salad and a baked potato is my idea of nirvana. OFB certainly wouldn’t agree, but I wouldn’t want to have to deal with him if his nightly salad were withheld for some reason.  

What are people eating instead on the 316 days when they don’t eat salad? I can’t imagine. But it makes me so sad, thinking what they’re missing. Don’t you like salad? 

                ‘Til next time,

                                Silence

Too many leaves. September 4, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I had to laugh the other day when my friend Huma and her son Rashu dropped by to pay me a visit before departing for a year’s teaching assignment in Qatar. We went over to nearby Topton, PA and had an early dinner at the White Palm Tavern (www.whitepalmtavern.com). Huma ordered Thai shrimp on rice noodles and a house salad with mango citrus dressing, while I indulged in their exquisite sweet potato fries and a Mediterannean salad and Rashu, who’s 18 and 6’4″ and still growing, ordered the Big Kahuna burger with everything on it and sweet potato fries, then proceeded to eat most of his mother’s meal and mine along with his own, followed by that classic question, “Where’s dessert?!”

Since Huma had ordered a salad as a side, they brought it to her first, and it looked beautiful to me. But she stared at it, then looked at me and pronounced, “Too many leaves!”

I, of course, was completely taken aback. The whole reason I love salad is because of the “leaves.” I adore crunchy Romaine, peppery-spicy arugula, hot mustard leaves, and thick, satisfying kale leaves. I love mixing in spring mix, carrot strips or slices, radishes, green onions (scallions), watercress, fresh mint, basil, and/or thyme, pickled beets, cheeses, shredded horseradish, diced yellow summer squash, red, yellow, and orange bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, olives, salad turnips, nuts, hard-boiled egg slices, sunflower seeds or pepitas, shredded broccoli and cabbage, Mandarin orange or apple slices, you name it. But without the “leaves”—and plenty of them!—I certainly wouldn’t consider a salad worth eating. Whereas I could eat a big salad of crunchy, flavorful greens with a little dressing and nothing else anytime, anywhere. So what was Huma getting at?! 

Obviously, cultural differences (Huma was born in Pakistan) might have something to do with it. But watching Rashu enthusiastically tuck into her salad, and then what was left of mine, provided another clue. Both he and I applied liberal amounts of salt to our salads. Health-conscious Huma wouldn’t dream of salting anything.

Contemplating this, and thinking back to the many salads I’ve made, I thought “You know, if I salt a salad, I don’t even really need dressing. The salt brings out the flavor of all the ingredients and makes every salad delicious.” Not that I’d pass up a good dressing if it was on offer. But there’ve been plenty of times when I’ve made a yummy salad, dinner was still some time away, and I was starving, and I’ve just grabbed some of those infamous “leaves” and toppings, sprinkled on a bit of salt, and eaten them to keep hunger at bay. It was always so delicious, even undressed as it was.

Too many leaves?! Blasphemy! Too little salt? Hmmm.

Should you side with my friend Huma on the leaf issue, here’s a delicious salad-cum-appetizer from chef Fiona Kennedy that I recently discovered in Vegetarian Times magazine:

   Endive Spears with Goat Cheese, Grapes, and Toasted Walnuts

1/4 cup walnut pieces

1 medium or 2 small heads Belgian endive

2 oz. aged goat cheese (such as Bucheron), sliced or crumbled into almond-sized pieces

18 red or green seedless grapes, halved

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon toasted walnut oil

1 teaspoon honey

2 tablespoons finely chopped chives

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Toast walnuts 10 to 12 minutes, or until fragrant. Cool. Separate large leaves from endive heads, saving small leaves for another use. Place 12 endive leaves on a large platter. Fill each endive leaf with 2 teaspoons goat cheese; top with 3 grape halves and 3 walnut pieces. Whisk together vinegar, oil, and honey in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Drizzle scant 1/4 teaspoon vinaigrette over each filled leaf, and sprinkle with chives.

Gads, I don’t think a “scant 1/4 teaspoon vinaigrette” would be enough for me, so I’d probably make more vinaigrette. I’d like to at least taste it! But of course you don’t want to drown your stuffed endive leaves in dressing, either. At a guess, 3/4 to 1 teaspoon per stuffed leaf would be plenty. Enjoy! 

               ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

Greek Salad a la Silence March 14, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. I promised to post a weekly Greek recipe here at Poor Richard’s Almanac in anticipation of Mr. Hays’s trip to the Greek Islands next month, and what’s the best-known Greek dish in America? Before you say baklava, gyros, or spanakopita, how about Greek salad?

Of course, good as they are, American-style Greek salads are ultimately pretty bland. That’s because they tend to use just one salad green as the base, then smother the salad in cucumbers. If you were in Greece, you’d be picking wild greens and herbs from the hillsides, giving a salad a richly complex flavor. So for this salad, I’ve attempted to get that wild flavor through an assortment of fresh greens and Mediterranean herbs. Please use fresh herbs if you can find them! If you do, and you mix the greens and herbs up well, every single bite will give you a different (but harmonious) flavor. Yum, I know what I’m making for dinner!

         Greek Salad a la Silence

1 package feta cheese, crumbled or cubed

fresh or dried mint leaves 

extra-virgin olive oil

1 large or 2 medium heads or bags Romaine lettuce

1 bag or container of arugula

1 bunch watercress or pepper cress

1 head frisee

1/4 to 1/2 fennel bulb, finely chopped

fresh or dried thyme

fresh or dried oregano

fresh or dried marjoram

fresh or dried rosemary 

fresh chives, chopped

1-3 bunches scallions (green onions), chopped

1 lemon

kalamata olives

capers

fresh paste tomatoes, chopped

cherry tomatoes, preferably orange ‘Sungold’ or yellow plum or pear

1-2 large bell peppers (your choice of colors), chopped

1 jar or can artichoke hearts, halved

balsamic vinegar

salt (we like Real Salt)

fresh-ground black pepper or lemon pepper

A couple of days before you put the salad together, transfer the cubed or crumbled feta cheese to a plastic or glass container with a tight-fitting plastic lid. Add 1 heaping teaspoonful of shredded fresh mint leaves or 1/3 teaspoon dried mint. If the feta is dry, drizzle a little olive oil over it to allow the mint to release its flavor. Put on the lid and shake the container to distribute the mint throughout the cheese, then place it in the fridge until it’s time to put the salad together.

In a large bowl, combine the Romaine, arugula, watercress or pepper cress, frisee, herbs, fennel, and scallions, tossing to mix well. (In season, you can add the chive flowers and the buds, leaves, and flowers of nasturtiums for an even more colorful, spicy salad.) Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the greens (get those seeds out, please) and toss again to distribute the lemon juice. Top with the entire contents of the feta cheese container, stirring it into the salad. Then add the kalamata olives (seeded olives are a kindness to your guests if you can find them), capers, halved artichoke hearts, tomatoes, and peppers.  

When I make a complex salad like this, I like to use a simple dressing. In this case, I’d mix up olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and fresh-ground or lemon pepper to taste and pour it on. (If I used jarred artichoke hearts, I’d add the oil from the jar to the dressing.)

This is a richly flavored salad, not for the faint of heart. Put it together with some warm-from-the-oven Greek pita wedges (Greek pitas are larger and softer than Middle Eastern pitas, which tend to be flat and dry; look for them in the frozen food section of your grocery), and you have lunch. Even if you serve it for supper, you won’t want to add a whole lot of heavy food. Broiled or grilled fish or lamb kebabs over rice, maybe a bowl of Avgolemono (see my earlier post, “A simple Greek soup,” for the recipe), and you’re set. (Fellow vegetarians, I’d suggest rice and veggie kebabs or rice and roasted veggies with this.)

Want more Silence salads? See my earlier posts “Shining purple salad dressing,” “Some celebratory salads,” “In praise of arugula,” and “What to do with all those ripe tomatoes, part one” (for Silence’s Caprese Salad) by searching in the search feature at the top right of this page. Let me know which are your favorites, and please, won’t you share your own favorite salads with me?

            ‘Til next time,

                          Silence

Shining purple salad dressing. September 5, 2008

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Silence Dogood here. Every now and then, people search for something really intriguing on our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac. (We know this because WordPress, our blog’s cyber-home, is so wonderful about showing us all sorts of stats.) One that caught my eye recently was “shining purple dressing.” Purple dressing alone would have done it, but “shining purple” put it over the top. I couldn’t stop thinking about this.

After Googling “purple dressing” and coming up with nothing remotely purple, I decided to take up the challenge. Here’s my best shot (for now, anyway) at purple salad dressing. See what you think!

                Silence’s Shining Purple Salad Dressing

Shred or pulverize a packed cup of ‘Dark Opal’, ‘Purple Ruffles’, or another purple basil variety; infuse in extra-virgin olive oil to cover until the olive oil takes on a purple color, mashing and stirring occasionally to hasten the process. Strain the purple-tinged olive oil through a wire sieve, reserving the oil; you can use the shredded basil leaves to add flavor to a stir-fry or pizza sauce if you wish. Add a deep purple wine, like Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Merlot to the olive oil. Depending on your preference, you can add a ratio of 1/3 to 1/2 wine to oil, until the dressing takes on a shining purple color. Add a tablespoon of lemon juice, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt (we like Real Salt, but you could add the sea salt of your choice or Himalayan salt, instead), and fresh or dried lemon thyme, oregano, and rosemary to taste. Mince a shallot and stir it into the dressing. Allow the dressing to sit out for at least an hour, shaking occasionally to blend the flavors, before serving. 

I think this would make a great dressing for a salad of frisee, spring mix, arugula, and/or baby spinach, with Mandarin orange or pear slices, slivered almonds, and red onion. For an ultra-purple experience, you could try it over shredded red cabbage with sliced red beet eggs, purple carrots, and red Spanish onions (which of course are actually purple). But it would be yummy over Romaine lettuce with ‘Yellow Pear’ tomatoes, diced sweet red bell peppers, scallions (green onions), and freshly shredded Swiss or Parmesan cheese as well. 

Let me know what you think. And if you have purple salad dressing recipes of your own, please share them! I’m already wondering if adding plain yogurt would enhance the dressing or turn it pink. 

        ‘Til next time,

                     Silence

Our salads, our selves. May 31, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As a committed saladholic, I actually like salads. I don’t eat them in an attempt to fill up on empty, tasteless low-calorie fodder so I won’t have room for fries and dessert. I don’t eat them because it’s simply what one does, or because the waiter just slapped the salad plate down so you might as well eat it. Nor do I eat them because the place has an all-you-can-eat salad bar and that means it’s, like, practically free food! I eat salads because I like them. No, I love them. And so does our friend Ben.

But over our years of enthusiastic salad consumption, we’ve observed that what people choose to eat as salad, or put on their salads, tells a lot about them. People who go for the wedge of iceberg drowning in blue cheese dressing obviously love blue cheese dressing with a little crunch to it. Folks who belly up to the salad bar and come away with plates weighing as much as they do, overflowing with pasta salad, potato salad, macaroni salad, and any other cold, mayonnaise-laden glop they can shove a scoop into, with not a shred of lettuce or a fresh veggie in sight, clearly would not eat a salad if it rushed them and shoved itself into their mouths. Bring on those mayo-coated carbs!!! Worst of all are those lost souls who mix salad, pasta salad, Jell-o salad, and fruit salad on the same plate. Eeeeewwww, can’t they just make up their minds, or at least put their smorgasbord of salads on separate plates?! To the guilty parties: What are you thinking?! You know you wouldn’t act like this at home.

A quick disclaimer here, lest you think that our friend Ben and I, in our quest for the true salad and nothing but the salad, are holier than most. Yes, we love salad. But we also love carbs, and we feel that never the twain should meet. (Hold those croutons and bring on the hot buttered rolls, please.) We like our salads with food, not as food. We love big, colorful, eye- and tastebud-pleasing salads, but we would not elect to simply eat a big old salad as an entire meal. The salad with the pasta or potato or hot bread and cheese plate; the coleslaw with the club sandwich and fries. Observant readers will note a second theme emerging here, too: We feel that salads should be cold but the main course should be hot. The two should complement, not echo, one another.

This brings us to a very sticky point, gastronomically speaking: At what point during the meal should a salad be served? In America, it’s served before the meal. In Europe, it’s served after the meal. Our friend Ben and I can see the sense of serving a salad before a meal, especially if you’re trying not to overeat. After the meal? Sheesh. By then the caloric damage has been done and who has any appetite left, anyway? We’re sure that there must be some logic to this European tradition, but we’re at a loss to determine what it could possibly be. We don’t eat dessert with our meals; we tend to have dessert as a celebration, and to eat it alone, as a sort of one-dish party food. But the thought of eating salad, then proceeding directly to dessert, is enough to stand one’s hair on end. (Salad to fruit and cheese plate? Sure. But if you’re having a salad and a fruit and cheese plate, why not just add a good baguette and make a meal of that?!!)

Oops, I just had, in the immortal words of a friend’s mother, a rush of brains to the head. Thinking back over the history of salad, I recalled that, until comparatively recently salad greens (even lettuces) tended to be quite bitter, and were considered “bitter herbs” with curative properties. You can still get a sense of that from endive, radicchio, and frisee. People ate salad after the meal for health reasons, as a digestive aid after the rich food of the previous courses. Who knows, perhaps it prevents clogged arteries!

But let’s get back to the best time to serve a salad. Our friend Ben and I are convinced that the very best time is with the meal itself. I guess it’s because we’re sensualists, but we love the cold crunch and crisp flavors of salad contrasted to the hot softness of whatever else we’re eating. We enjoy being able to alternate. Admittedly, we draw the line at even eating salad—unless it’s a tropical fruit salad or a slice of melon with lime juice—with curries, but we’d far rather incorporate the salad into our Mexican Night extravaganzas as part of the toppings for our refried beans, or eat it concurrently, than have a taco salad followed by Mexican food. We’d prefer to enjoy a Greek salad with our baba ghannouj, hot, plump pitas, and falafel patties than eat the salad first. And the same holds true for any cuisine—give us mac’n’cheese and salad, black bean soup and hot cornbread and salad, you name it and salad, not salad, then whatever. Maybe we’re just salad outlaws, but we say, try it before you diss it. It’s a very satisfying way to eat.

One more pet peeve while I’m on a rant: Maybe you were lucky enough to escape this, but when I was growing up in an oh-so-proper household, I was taught that it was bad manners to use a knife to cut your salad into manageable bites. Thus, you were supposed to try to lift and cram huge onion and pepper rings, giant lettuce leaves dripping with dressing, and so on into your mouth with your fork without looking like a hog at the trough or dribbling gunk down the front of your shirt. Yeah, right. This reminds me of the days of Louis XIV and the like, when even the highest nobles had lice, but it was considered shockingly rude to acknowledge same in public by, say, getting them off you. So here were dukes and princesses with lice crawling out from under their wigs and down their faces at some ball or banquet, while they and everyone else pretended to ignore them. 

I say, forget that. This rule of etiquette evolved because the earliest salads were all neatly shredded like coleslaw, so no one needed anything besides a fork to eat them. But today, when inconsiderate folks put giant, mouth-stretching pieces of stuff into salads rather than cutting or tearing them into bite-sized portions while composing their salads (shredding is optional, but really, dicing a pepper isn’t going to kill you), let’s get over ourselves and cut our salads with a knife. Eating bite-sized forkfuls of salad will be far more polite than cramming giant leaves into your mouth to honor tradition, trust me. Or, if you don’t trust me, just ask your dining companions.

Now it’s time for the quiz. What do your salad preferences reveal about you? Take our Salad Personality Test and find out:

                   Silence’s Salad Personality Test

Choose your favorite salads and see what they say about you!

All iceberg, all the time. You like to know what you’re getting into. No surprises—consistency is your watchword. But this doesn’t mean you’re dull. You count on those little “extras” to spice up your life, just as the right dressing can turn a wedge of iceberg from boring to sublime.

Caesar salad, with anchovies. You like to see things done right; you’re a traditionalist at heart. But your view of life has a definite salty tang. You use that traditional base to develop your own eclectic views.

Caesar salad, no anchovies. You’re all about surface impressions but lack the depth that gives weight to your views. Unless you’re skipping the anchovies because you’re a vegetarian, in which case you’re not afraid to indulge yourself, ignoring what anybody thinks, while remaining true to your principles.

Spring or mesclun mix. If you really love mesclun, you’re a sensualist who loves mixing different taste sensations for an ultimate high. If you choose this salad because you think it’s trendy, you’re a follower with no clear idea of who you are, only a vague idea of who you should be. And if you enjoy spring mix or mesclun because it’s soft, with no crunch, you’re a softie at heart (or you need to get your dentures checked).

Waldorf salad. If this is your fave, you’re not afraid to declare yourself to the world—a little fruity, a little nutty, a lot sentimental. You’re the sort of person who couldn’t give less of a damn about what’s trendy—your beloved Grandma and Grandpa loved a Waldorf salad, and if it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for you. It tastes good, it reminds you of them, end of story!

Pasta salad. Soft and slippery, you like to slide through life unnoticed. You’ve observed that calling attention to one’s self often brings risk—attracting attention can attract negative attention as well as positive. Better to keep quiet and hope that nobody notices you; then you can get on with your life without having to worry about what might happen next.

Pickled veggies. Pickled beets, peppers, cukes, and other veggies, as well as pickled red-beet eggs, can add a sweet-sour tang to a salad, and to life. You know that you often have to take the sour with the sweet in this world, and unlike many, have learned to relish both as part of a balanced life. You are the person voted “most likely to succeed”!

Radicchio and endive. Like the pickled veggie fans above, you know that life is not all about sweetness and light. You have to take the bitter with the sweet. But watch yourself—if you tend to go for all bitter greens and forget the sweetness, you’re likely to become cynical and bitter yourself. And nobody likes a cynic!

Spinach salad. You’re a person of substance who likes to see that you’re getting a return on your investments. What other people think of you matters. You keep up with trends, and update your look and home decor to retain your place among the fashionable elite. You’d never consider yourself cutting edge—that’s too risky, what if the trend doesn’t take?—but if “everyone” is drinking Chardonnay, even if you secretly prefer white Zin, by God, you’ll drink Chardonnay or die.

Arugula. You like to go for the meat of life. “Where’s the beef?!” is your mantra. If you could, you’d go for an all-arugula salad with maybe some almonds, onions, and orange slices for added spice. You enjoy life with gusto, but often have to tame down your natural instincts for the sake of others. You often find yourself adding arugula to spice up an ordinary salad, hoping to please everyone, rather than making the all-arugula salad you crave. But never fear—your efforts at accomodation will be rewarded. Everyone will love you, while acknowledging that there’s something special about you, even if they can’t put their finger on it.      

Mustard greens and horseradish. You like to add some heat to your life and your salad. You may not choose to live on the edge, but that little, unexpected bite of spice makes life worth living. And never knowing when you’re going to come upon it adds the real spice to your life. You are satisfied with who you are and are not out to prove it to anyone; instead, you find that people tend to flock to you as a natural leader. Get used to it!     

Tossed salad. You like variety in life and in salad, but don’t enjoy risk. The conventional has huge appeal, but you reject the boring. Mixing it up within conventionally accepted limitations gives you a chance to enjoy diversity without ever having to worry about what the neighbors think.

Topping fanatic. You don’t care what the underlying salad’s made of, what matters to you are the bacon bits, shredded cheese, hardboiled egg crumbles, sunflower seeds, croutons, and other toppings that make salad-eating worthwhile. You’re likely to be a well-adjusted person who deals with the ups and downs of life by recognizing that it’s the little things that make all the difference between happiness and misery.

I could go on, but I think that’s enough for one day. Tomorrow, I’ll post a wonderful spring salad and dressing that should convert every reader into a salad lover!

              ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

      

A little taste of spring February 27, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. We’ve had a mild and beautiful winter here in our corner of Pennsylvania–snow geese in the fields, little Hawk Run burbling happily away beside the deck, and all the shades of gold and rust and brown and grey and deep, dark green that punctuate a blessedly undeveloped, hilly area, backlit with one gorgeous skyscape after another. When an area is beautiful in winter, you know it’s beautiful, period.

Still, being gardeners, we’re hungry for spring. We keep looking for the cheerful snowdrops and sunny yellow winter aconites that herald its arrival, but so far, our only blooms are the green-flowered (I refuse to call them by their true name, which is “stinking”–it must be true, since the botanical name is Helleborus foetidus, but I’m not sticking my nose in a bloom to find out) hellebores, which remain in bloom here all winter, even when frozen. 

We’re also hungry for spring in a more literal sense. We’ve enjoyed the heavy, warming comfort foods of winter, such as the Curried Pumpkin Soup I gave you the recipe for in an earlier post and our friend Delilah’s incomparable Crock-Pot Mac’n’Cheese. (If enough of you ask, I’ll post that recipe, too–it’s the best mac’n’cheese we die-hard macaroni lovers have ever tasted.) But now our thoughts are turning to warmer weather and the inevitability of shedding clothes and exposing our ever-expanding selves to the world in shorts and tee-shirts or, God forbid, a swimsuit.

To prepare for that evil day, it would be wise to start lightening up on our dishes’ calorie counts. So, while we wait for spring and the first tender greens, green onions, asparagus, and radishes to make an appearance in our gardens, here are a couple of recipes I just invented to kick-start the season. Try them, you’ll like them!

Silence Dogood’s Casbah Salad

There’s a wonderful Middle Eastern stand at the local farmers’ market that offers all kinds of delectable treats, from the best fresh-made feta cheese and baba ghannouj to homemade pita and fava bean hummus. When I saw that they were selling ready-to-eat falafel patties, this salad was born. Quantities are inexact, since the only thing that matters is pleasing your palate–the salad is very forgiving.

The base for this salad is a large bag or container of super-fresh spring mix. Put the greens in a big salad bowl and top them with liberal amounts of sliced green onions (aka scallions; we love the green Vidalia onions that are available in some stores in this area and are pretty spicy; slice the whites into the salad as well as the greens), chopped yellow tomato (you can of course use red if you can’t find yellow), red bell pepper (use yellow or orange if you’re using a red tomato for color contrast), kalamata olives (warn guests if they’re not pitted, please), and crumbled feta. Crumble falafel patties (the “croutons” of this salad) over  the salad. You could also add chopped snap peas for an additional spring touch.

Dress the salad with a simple vinaigrette of olive oil (extra-virgin organic if you can get it–it’s such a gorgeous green), white balsamic vinegar, and dried oregano, basil, and thyme. We love Real Salt and add it enthusiastically, but we also love Herbamare and Trocamare, and you could use either of those instead of salt if you’d prefer, or simply skip the salt. As for the white balsamic vinegar, we love full-bodied “regular” balsamic, but a friend who finds most vinegars too acidic recommended the white to us. He claims that Alessi is the mildest, sweetest brand, and we can’t dispute that, since it’s the only one we’ve tried; let me know if you’ve found other brands that you enjoy.     

Silence Dogood’s Ginger Snap Soup

Despite the slow-cooker revival, I confess that my own ancient Crock-Pot sat, hidden away, for eons, and might still be hiding in obscurity to this day if it weren’t for my friend Delilah and her famous mac’n’cheese. But after enjoying success with the macaroni, I was determined to branch out to other forms of slow-cooker cuisine. Chili and soups came to mind.

I’m an intuitive cook–I like to read a slew of recipes on a dish I’m planning to make, then take the best elements and create my own–and usually end up with something delectable. But I admit, the slow-cooker defeated my early attempts. “Soups” came out as gelatinous masses that ended up in the chicken yard. (Unlike us, the “girls” loved them.) Clearly, I couldn’t add as much rice, lentils, or what-have-you to a slow cooker as I could to a Dutch oven on the stove. Finally, after numerous attempts, I came up with a warming and flavorful but lighter and brighter soup that is great in a slow-cooker. And I’m convinced that its spiciness boosts the metabolism so your hard-earned exercise time will really pay off. (At least, I’m hoping…) See for yourself!

1 large sweet onion (WallaWalla or Vidalia type), diced

1 or 2 leeks, halved and sliced (white and light green parts only)

2 green onions (scallions), sliced

large carton veggie stock (I’ve tried at least four brands and they’re all good–organic, too–though some are paler than others; if you end up with a pale one, a dash of turmeric will bring out that rich, inviting golden color without adding an off-taste)

carton super-firm diced tofu

sliced mushrooms (button, crimini, baby bella, shiitake, or a mix), about a cup sliced or to taste

1/2 cup (or to taste) wild rice mix (I use one mixed locally that has wild rice, long-grain brown rice, sweet brown rice, wehani rice, and black Japonica rice–whew!–but you could just use brown rice in a pinch)

fresh ginger, peeled and minced, 1 tablespoon or more to taste

ginger paste (available in groceries here in tubes in the lettuce aisle)

ginger chutney

red miso

Thai seasoning (you can substitute Thai curry, Indian curry, garam masala, or Chinese 5-spice blend if Thai seasoning isn’t locally available)         

hot sauce (I like Pickapeppa)

Real Salt, Herbamare, or Trocamare

extra-virgin olive oil for sauteeing

Sautee the onion, leeks, and mushrooms in olive oil until onions have clarified. Add salt, Thai seasoning, miso, hot sauce, ginger paste, and ginger chutney (I tend to favor a heavy hand, so use a heaping tablespoon of spices, miso, ginger, and chutney, with a generous dash of hot sauce and salt), stirring to mix; add veggie stock as needed to prevent burning. Add tofu cubes and stir to coat thoroughly.

Transfer cooked ingredients to the slow cooker; add veggie stock to fill, stirring well to blend. Rinse the rice in a sieve and add it to the soup, stirring it in. Add the minced fresh ginger, cover the slow cooker, and cook on low for 6-8 hours. (Basically, make it in the morning and serve it for dinner.) Taste and adjust seasonings if needed when soup has been cooking for 3-4 hours. It’s wise to have a second carton of veggie stock on hand to refill the slow cooker if the soup cooks down, but water will do in a pinch. Stir well before serving. Add sliced green onions to the top of the pot just before serving or use them as a garnish on individual bowls. This soup keeps well and makes a great light lunch, too.