Go With The Flow

There are many advantages to growing up an Army brat, like Petey, or a Coastie kid, like me.

It fostered an appreciation of the commitment and sacrifices that men and women are willing to give to this nation.  It’s humbling. 

It allowed us to see many different cultures around the country and world.  Seeing the various ways in which people live as a child means there is almost no judgement.  Kids are still learning how the world works, so don’t come from a position of cultural superiority.  It’s not better or worse, just endlessly fascinating.

We always knew that there was a huge population that had a vested interest in us and had our backs.  At times, it could be a little uncomfortable, when the entire United States Armed Forces and the Coast Guard are acting as in loco parentis.  But when the chips are down, and you need them, they’re right there. 

But, probably the best gift Petey and I received from our upbringings was the gift of resilience. 

Every few years, usually at the end of the summer, we’d pack up and move our entire lives to a whole new world.  But, by the time Halloween was on the horizon, we’d be home.  What was once strange and new became both familiar and comfortable.

And this week’s recipe is a culinary example of resilience.  The vegetables are the only constant.  The seasoning and the dressing itself are incredibly malleable. 

Za’atar  

Za’atar is a middle Eastern spice which contains thyme, toasted sesame seeds, and sumac.  It can be found in Asian and Middle Eastern markets.  Sumac is a dried ground flower.  It has a bright, lemony flavor.  

Although not one of the most common spices in the kitchen, you can buy sumac in most grocery stores.

But.

If you would like the flavor of za’atar for the dressing, you can make something very close by mixing one 1 teaspoon lemon zest, and ½ teaspoon each, toasted sesame seeds and dried thyme.

Roasted Cauliflower Summer Salad

6 slices thick cut bacon

On a parchment-covered, rimmed baking sheet, cook the bacon at 350 degrees until completely browned and crispy (18-24 minutes), turning once.  Remove bacon to paper towel covered plate, reserving rendered bacon fat.

1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 cup white corn kernels, either from frozen, or roasted fresh

2 scallions, sliced very thinly on the bias

1 small head of Boston bib or butter lettuce

Turn oven up to 450.  Once the bacon is removed from the pan, replace with the cauliflower on one single layer and drizzle on two tablespoons of bacon grease and season with salt and pepper.  Roast the veg for 20 minutes, stirring once.  When cooked, remove from sheet pan and set aside.

Dressing #1:

¾ cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon za’atar or 2 teaspoons of homemade za’atar

2 tablespoons bacon grease

Salt and pepper

Whisk together all ingredients and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Dressing #2:

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons bacon grease

1 teaspoon za’atar or 2 teaspoons of homemade za’atar

Salt and pepper

Whisk together ingredients and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Assembly:

Place cauliflower, corn, and green onions in bowl.  Fold in dressing of your choice, a bit of a time until lightly coated—don’t overdress.  Serve on a bed of torn, bite-sized pieces of lettuce, and top with shards of crispy bacon.

This salad works as a side dish at Sunday dinner, a cookout, or for a unique addition to a bagged lunch.  Like the recipe itself, it’s infinitely adaptable.

Thanks for your time.

Think Penguins and Igloos

I don’t like this hot, gross, humid, maddening weather—at all.  Not even a little.  I don’t like the bugs.  I don’t like the way the scent of a ripe trashcan or a spill from a garbage truck reeks in a malevolent, aggressive way that lingers for days.  I hate the weather turning my sleek bob into a frizzly fright wig.  I hate when it’s hot and muggy and there’s not a fresh breath of air to be had outside; even in the middle of the night. The only good thing about this time of year here in NC is the produce and the fireflies.

It sometimes feels like it’s too hot to eat, but you gotta.  But it almost always feels like it’s too hot to cook.

All the cool kids are doing it…

So, go cool, and when you just can’t avoid using some heat, do it wisely.

A rotisserie chicken is a sweaty guy’s best friend.  Look around and get the best bargain you can find.  Costco sells a hippo-sized clucker for $4.99.  You can usually get at least four cups of meat.  And don’t throw that carcass away.  Throw all of them into zip top bags and freeze.  Once it cools off you can make enough chicken stock to last until Groundhog Day.Use the birds in place of any protein that’s too hot to cook.  Honestly, it’s so versatile it’s the little black dress of food.  Tacos? Yup.  Pasta? Yes ma’am.  Pizza? Why not?  Quiche?  Oui, oui.  Chili? Well, it’s kinda hot for chili, but you do you.      Stock your fridge with fresh greens, fruits, and veggies that can be eaten raw.  Stone fruits are in season, so enjoy cherries, peaches, apricots, plums, and pluots, a plum/apricot hybrid.

Eat salads that are nourishing, but won’t make you feel like you just ate Thanksgiving dinner.  Lots of greens, some type of protein, things that pack a real nutritional bite for your buck, plenty of textures, and a non-creamy dressing with plenty of acid, and no artificial colors and flavors.I offer my own personal salad recipes as catalyst for your taste and imagination: mixed baby greens, shaved red onion, goat cheese, a handful of dried cherries and cranberries, and butter toasted, salted pecans (I do a huge batch of pecans either late at night or during cool-ish rainy days, and keep refrigerated).  The dried fruit and nuts are a terrific take-along snack, too.

My favorite dressing is Trader Joe’s vinaigrette.  But a drizzle of balsamic and a smaller drizzle of olive oil is almost as good.My other salad, which I call my detox is also simple, delicious, and requires not one degree of heat.  It’s just baby spinach, shaved red onion, halved grape tomatoes, and chopped avocado.  I dress it with the juice from half a lemon.  The fat in the avocado eliminates the need for another fat for the dressing.  Just don’t forget the salt—avocados demand a heavy hand with the Morton’s.

This little pint will literally keep my friends and family from mayhem this summer.

When all else fails, ice cream.  Talenti has a chocolate sorbet that is a gift to your taste buds and only 150 calories per serving.  Old-fashioned sugar-free fudgesicles have 40 calories per.  The Kid is a giant fan of Halo Top, a frozen treat with imaginative flavors and very few calories.

One, please.

When you must use heat, do it at night or very early in the morning.  Use a slow cooker, microwave or take it outside and grill it.

And when all else fails, pick up that phone, and let somebody else cook it and bring it to you.

Then after dinner, go run through the sprinkler.

In your nightgown.Thanks for your time.

The Struggle Is Real…

So, who knew it was so muggy on the surface of the sun?Not only do I loathe these 1000 degree days with humidity of 94%, I’m not too crazy about the people who claim to love them.  Plus, I’m not totally convinced they’re telling the truth.

I mean, c’mon!  Do they also love paper cuts and black licorice?

Yeah, sure they do.

I know I’m really good at hiding it, but I’ll let you in on a little secret; the NC summer makes me kinda cranky.  And hot food and hot kitchens just make me crankier.Here’s a perfect summer day for me: fall.

This time of year, I am on a one-woman mission to make farmers rich buying ingredients for an ever-expanding collection of salad recipes.

I always have dried fruits and nuts in the fridge.  It can be any combination.  Mine rotates often; currently, it’s butter-toasted pecans with cherries.  They’re for salads and a million other uses.

Honey poached pears with blue cheesepoached pears3 Bosc pears, peeled, halved, and cored

½ cup honey

1 ½ cups water

¾ cup white wine

½ teaspoon each, kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

Place water, wine, salt & pepper into large saucepan.  Pour in honey and dissolve.  Add pears, cut side down and cover pot.  Cook on medium-low until a knife easily pierces the fruit (about 20 minutes).  Refrigerate until service.

Dressingblue cheese dr2/3 cup mayonnaise

½ cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Salt & pepper

1/3 cup blue cheese, crumbled

½ cup sliced, toasted almonds

Whisk first 4 ingredients together, fold in cheese, season.  Refrigerate for 2 hours.  For service: place one pear on each plate, spoon over dressing, and sprinkle almonds on top.  Serves 6.

Mushroom Ranch Saladshroom salad

4 cups cleaned and sliced mushrooms

½ cup dried fruits and nuts

2 handfuls baby spinach

Salt & pepper

Ranch dressing

Toss first three ingredients.  Add dressing a bit at a time until the salad is barely coated.  Season to taste.  Serves 2.

Warm duck saladwarm duck salad3 duck breasts

3 cups fingerling potatoes, cut into coins and cooked in boiling salted water until fork-tender

½ cup dried fruits and nuts

6 cups mixed salad greens

Shaved white onion

1/3 cup goat cheese

Salt & pepper

Balsamic dressing

Preheat oven to 400 degrees..  Season duck breasts and score skin with very sharp knife into diamond shapes.  Place duck, skin side down into cold cast iron skillet and cook on medium until skin is crispy and golden (8-10 minutes).  Pour off duck fat and save, flip duck skin side up, and move to oven.  Cook until internal temp is around 135 degrees and the meat is medium-rare.Remove from pan and let rest.

While the meat is resting, put potatoes into skillet, and cook, tossing occasionally, until they are browned and crusted, seasoning as needed.

To plate: Put salad greens into a large bowl and add onions, fruits and nuts.  Season.  Drizzle on dressing and toss until lightly coated.  Divide greens onto three plates, sprinkle top with goat cheese, and scatter potatoes onto the edge of the greens.  Slice duck and lay against the spuds.  Serves 3.

Slightly Calmer Spouse Salad

Serves 1spouse salad5 cups salad greens

1/3 cup fruit and nuts

1/3 cup crumbled goat or blue cheese

Shaved white onion

Salt & pepper

Balsamic dressingbread wineFresh whole wheat roll and real butter

Very large glass of chilled wine

Toss salad, season, and lightly dress.  Enjoy meal alone, while in pajamas and watching reality TV, or reading a beach book.  And relax—it’ll be cool in October.Thanks for your time.