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Salad Days

Seven-Layer Salad (A Classic Updated)

May 27, 2018

A thing is the sum of its parts. If the parts are crap…well then. But if the parts are stellar the whole can be a beautiful thing. Take Seven Layer Salad for example. A somewhat maligned American creation of the 1950s borne out of someone’s need for “quick, tasty and feeds-a-crowd,” the salad has popped up at picnics, on home buffets and at community dinners ever since. Classically, it’s built in a glass dish (like the trifle dish you got at your bridal shower but never used) and includes layers of chopped lettuce, tomato, hard-cooked egg, cucumber, sharp cheddar cheese, bacon, green onion,  a thick mayo-sourcream dressing and (my favorite part!) lots and lots of sweet peas. The recipe’s provenance is thought to be Southern, but it doesn’t appear in my regional cooking tomes (Clementine Paddleford, Helen Corbitt, etc.) just community cookbooks where it was initially referred to as “Seven Layer Pea Salad.”

Which brings us back to peas. I’ve always loved the “green” scent of them, their looks, their shape, their shoots, tendrils, flowers, how they “pop” when you bite ‘em.  But there are so few recipes that really let peas shine: not overcooked, not mushy, not blended into oblivion in a soup. In this salad, they get to be their best. When your farmers market comes in with fresh ones, use those lightly steamed and cooled. (Otherwise, frozen/thawed will work.) As far as the other layers are concerned? There are so many fine examples of good sharp cheddar cheese and uncured hardwood smoked bacon, choose those. And experiment a little! Milky white goat-milk cheddar is delicious, and super-aged 10 year cheddars are amazing. Continue Reading…

Baked Treats

Rhubarb Rosette Upside-Down Cake

April 12, 2018

Gorgeously colored from ruby to pinky-red with blushes of celery green that take on a satiny-sheen in the light, rhubarb is soooo pretty. It’s also delightfully odd. Super-tart rhubarb is actually a perennial vegetable, not a fruit, in spite of being called the “pie plant” in 19th century cookbooks. It comes in season in April peaks in June and if you’re lucky, hangs around in the home garden until September. It has a very distinct aroma—sharp, sort of vegetal funky—and if I had to put a color to the scent: red-brown. And although it very-much resembles celery (with its fleshy stalks and “strings,”) unlike celery, rhubarb cooks VERY quickly, and the strings entirely disappear, making it a lovely choice for topping this sweet-tart of an upside-down cake.   Continue Reading…

Sandwiches

Egg-Salad Sandwich (Perfection)

March 26, 2018

I am an egg-salad snob. Let me just say that up front. Because to me, the best egg salad is a refined egg salad. I mean, if we’re exploring in the realm of protein-“salad” fillings, chunky is fine if you’re eating chicken, turkey, lobster or even tuna. But with egg salad, chunky seems clunky to me.  A lightly-textured egg salad, on the other hand–one made with ultra-smooth whipped yolks, riced hard-cooked whites, home-made mayonnaise, very-finely minced herbs & pickle, and home-baked pain de mie bread—now that is a thing of beauty.

I imagine my preferences were borne of good memories of refreshments at countless Ladies Aid functions (I was a churchy kid,) plus innumerable engagement parties, birthdays and baby showers all including some form of egg-filled finger sandwiches, deviled eggs, or both. These snacks were served a lot because eggs are both economical, and stretchy—a little bit goes a long way.  Anyway, after some hundred bite-sized snacks or so,  the line between deviled egg and finger sandwich sort of blurred for me. With both, it was the smooth, tangy/spicy/piquant yolk filling that drew me, not the bland, bald-slipperiness of those flabby whites.

With that in mind, figuring out how to make the perfect egg salad sandwich meant coming up with the right ingredient combination for that yolk mash, and then putting it together with the best ratio of finely-chopped egg white,  best bread and best contrast-providing vegetables. Continue Reading…

Spring

Naturally-Dyed Eggs

March 26, 2018

Well, here’s a Jacob Grimm you may not have heard : ) As a philologist studying Germanic folk customs, Grimm speculated that the custom of Easter eggs may have stemmed from springtime frolics in honor of Eostre—the Proto-Indo-European goddess of dawn.  If so, it’s just one more in a longtime legacy of eggs and the ancients. 60,0000 year old decorated ostrich eggs have been found in Africa. Rituals connecting eggs and rebirth go back 5000 years or more in Egypt, Sumeria and Mesopotamia. And historians tell us Christians in the latter culture were the first to dye eggs ritualistically, coloring them red as a reminder of  blood. Continue Reading…

Meaty Mainstays

Kirk Douglas’ Favorite Meatloaf

March 17, 2018

Before there was Michael Douglas (Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct and more movies,) there was Kirk Douglas, a 1940s matinee idol with the deep cleft in his chin some of my boys have, but dislike. (They call it a “butt chin”…) If it weren’t for Ant Man, in which Michael had a nice role, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which Noah considers “epic” for its crude special effects (first sci-fi shot in Cinemascope), my kids would be unfamiliar with either of these actors. But back in the ’70s, Kirk was still, very much, a familiar film legend. Which is where this meatloaf comes in… Continue Reading…

Cake Walk

Red Velvet Cake (Monica’s All-Natural)

February 15, 2018

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Beeville, TX. Not far from Normanna, Orangedale and Skidmore, it’s the Bee County seat, built around a typical Texas town square with an enormous Renaissance Revival courthouse at the center. It’s not like there’s a plaque or anything, but ask around, and you may find old timers who know the town’s connection to America’s long-lingering flavor obsession: Red Velvet. Yep. When chemist John A. Adams pulled up stakes in Michigan to move his family in 1905, this was where he landed, launching the eponymous food-coloring and additives firm in Austin that truly put the “Red” in Red Velvet. Continue Reading…

Salad Days

Quinoa Roast Potato & Caramelized Onion Bowl with Arugula & Tahini Lemon Dressing

January 25, 2018

January being a time of new beginnings, it’s not surprising I’ve heard from readers and friends searching for the healthy recipes they once saved but now lost : ) I told them what I’m telling you: Keep it simple and feel free to experiment! Some of my favorite daily put-togethers are salads that combine the varied textures and tastes of hot & cold ingredients, and, that don’t weigh you down with too much meat or fat. Which brings me to this bowl. A mix of peppery baby arugula, with the mellow smoothness of oven roast potato, onion and garlic, and crisp-oven “fried” brussels sprout petals on top, this dish also stars red quinoa which is gluten-free, and the only plant-based protein to have all nine essential amino acids. Pulling it all together? A drizzle of paprika-spiked tahini-lemon dressing. This bowl works very well at lunch. To make that easy-doable, prepare the quinoa & roasted veg the night before and then microwave quick-heat those ingredients when you toss the salad together next day. Continue Reading…

Sauces & Gravies

Roasted-bone Poultry Gravy

January 7, 2018

I have only just recycled the poultry bones from our holiday feasting. I may have missed that curve in your household, but anytime you serve a few roast chickens or a turkey, save the bones and give this a go! Actually? Frigid cold weather is a good time to do this, because you’ll welcome having that oven heating for a few hours: You roast the bones once with onions and garlic for an hour, and then slow roast them for another three hours, covered in water.  Deglazing the pan with white wine and adding mushrooms and thyme adds extra flavor. Chicago chef Mike Sheerin shared his technique with me a few years back and I use it frequently.  The resulting rich gravy is liquid gold. Bonus: View our marvelous mashed potatoes recipe using best-of methods from Mike and another famed Chicago chef, Matthias Merges. Continue Reading…

On The Side

Marvelous Mashed Potatoes

January 7, 2018

Chicago chef Mike Sheerin has been making the mashed potatoes at family gatherings since he was six years old.  On one childhood holiday, “I had the unfortunate timing of catching my mother on the phone with one of her sisters in California,” Sheerin laughs, recounting that first mashed moment. “She was trying to mash the potatoes and talk on the phone at the same time—and this was before cordless phones.” Giving up on the effort, Mike’s mom handed him a towel, poured milk and butter in the hot potatoes, “And I went to town mashing them,” says Sheerin. “I kept pushing down the masher and lifting just enough to catch a little air to lighten them. I wasn’t even thinking about what I was doing at the time, but somehow, they were pretty amazing.”

In the decades since, Sheerin has perfected his methods. We asked him, and another famed chef, Matthias Merges, to please share, because who hasn’t messed up the mashed on at least one occasion? Too wet, too dry, gluey or pasty, mashed potato fails, well,  FAIL. Both chefs obliged with top tips, and a great recipe. Continue Reading…

Beans

Blackeyed Peas with Rice, Greens & Sidemeat (Hoppin’ John)

January 1, 2018

The lucky-food lore casserole is a deep dish, indeed.  World over, New Year’s eating, whether that’s a Theravidin Buddhist New Year celebration in April, a Jewish Rosh Hashanah in the Fall, or Western-culture parties January first, festivities are rife with symbolism. Traditions vary, but, definition-wise, “good luck” long ago entwined itself with “prosperity.” So if it looks like money–silvery fish, greenback greens, coin-shaped legumes, sweets or breads, you can be sure some culture’s eating it at the start of the new year.  Potfuls thought to be propitious at this juncture include foods that you have to eat a lot of to make into a meal, or, that swell as you cook them, such as rice, lentils and pasta. Of these in America, black-eyed peas are the Southern favorite. Continue Reading…