Caesar Salad and Chilling Out

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We’ve been trying to eat outside on our patio table more often as the weather warms up and the days get longer.  I want to enjoy myself in this zen-like way where I don’t care about a little extra mess, where Olive eats everything we serve and she isn’t wildly distracted by the dogs and the wind and the trees and the air and where I lean back in my chair, leisurely taking bites of my food and just enjoy the moment and the concept of taking a little longer than usual to eat dinner.  But instead, what has happened the few times we’ve done this, is I get all worked up and stressed trying to feed Olive and trying not to make a complete mess without her in the playful looking restraints of a high chair, and I end up trying to scarf down my food so that I can tend to whatever mess is going on, or try to block Olive from feeding all her food to Cash.

I do this to myself.  (For the record, this stress is only with food and dining – I am okay with a muddy kid or a messy house or whatever – but please, don’t put food in your hair and whatever you do, do NOT drop food from your tray!) I don’t enjoy the experience of something different and out of control, I let that ruin the experience for me.  Now, my sweet husband might just say, “Let’s not eat outside anymore if it bothers you so much!” (always trying to keep me from feeling anything but joy) but I think what I need, instead, is MORE dining experiences where not everything is micro-managed by my desires for things to look and go perfectly.

It happened again this Sunday – we had a picnic in the park with some people from our church group and we brought a tish bit of an ambitious lunch.  Matt had made all the components for this really great Vietnamese pork and noodle salad and everything was so delicious, but I instantly got down about: 1. the wind blowing lettuce and dirt in my face 2. my baby walking around the blanket and the park NOT eating and spitting things out that we tried to make her eat (God bless one of our friends who had the brains to bring a banana 3. just the overall lack of control I had over the components of my meal – it was messy and I needed a bowl and lots of napkins and NO wind, but I didn’t have those things and I became really negative and I am 100% sure I ruined the experience for Matt, who was trying his best to stay positive while eating beside a big rain cloud (me).

Whenever I struggle with sinful things in my life like jealousy or greed or pride or even the need for control (a sin, I believe), I try to do a bit of immersion therapy on myself and directly expose myself to the thing I can’t seem to handle as often as possible until I am over it.  It has worked in the past and I think I will try to apply it here.  I resolve to eat outside MORE often.  To let messiness happen MORE in situations where I’d like to appear perfect, and I resolve to look at my situations like Olive would – like an opportunity she’s never had before and quite possibly might never have again!

An opportunity you might never have, again, is enjoying a properly made Caesar dressing, because absolutely no restaurants make this dressing right, or from scratch.  This recipe is so flavorful and has just the right balance of tanginess from the lemon and anchovies and creaminess from the oil that it’s nearly like a beautiful, homemade mayonnaise  with a kick!  I see this salad happening a LOT during this hot summer ahead!

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Just a little behind the scenes shot of how I usually take my food photos 🙂

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Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons*
makes about a cup of dressing

4 tbs lemon juice, plus more to taste
1 clove of garlic, minced
salt to taste
black pepper to taste
1 large egg yolk
4 anchovies, plus more for garnish, if you like
1/2 cup canola oil
3 tbs bacon grease from 4 strips of cooked bacon, or melted butter that has been cooled
Torn up romaine lettuce
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Combine all the ingredients except the canola oil in a tall, wide cup and blend with an immersion blender and then slowly drizzle in the oil.  Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper and extra lemon juice.

Toss leftover cubed up bread on a baking sheet, brush with olive oil, and toast until golden brown.

Toss a couple tablespoons with the lettuce until nicely coated.  Top with croutons, cut up pieces of the bacon and extra Parmesan cheese.  And lots of cracked pepper!

*recipe adapted a lot from Ruhlman’s amazing sounding Chicken Fried Pork Belly Caesar.

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Homemade Goat Cheese

pure goat cheese

Good Monday Morning to you all!  I’ve been meaning to blog about homemade goat cheese for several weeks, now.  I stumbled upon this process because I’d bought a quart of goat’s milk when Olive was starting to wean and I read or heard or saw somewhere that goat’s milk digests easier than cow’s milk, so I figured I’d give it a shot.  I naturally tasted it before I gave it to her.  It tasted like liquid goat cheese.  I wouldn’t personally want to drink that, but I let her try it in the name of not pushing my personal tastes onto my child.  She wouldn’t take more than one sip.  Actually cried (this was around 9 months) so I bought a quart of whole cow’s milk instead and we haven’t looked back.  So I turned the goat’s milk into a nice, creamy 4 ounce log of goat cheese with garlic and herbs.  It was delicious.

I guess I’ll take this time to tell you that I don’t believe in eating something just because it has health benefits.  Eating grass straight from the yard is probably beneficial in some way, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to do it.  I believe things should have flavor, seasoning, and should taste wonderful in addition to however many antioxidants they might have.  So this, I suppose, ties in to the way I have always cooked for Olive.  I haven’t ever given her something without seasoning.  From 6 months, whatever she’s eaten has been seasoned with something (yes, less salt than I’d prefer, don’t worry.) And now that she’s eating from the table, it’s game ON.  Welcome to the wonderful world of food, Ollie.  We have chocolate!

Making goat cheese is easier than making bread, but the two go together quite nicely.  I don’t personally think that it’s easier or cheaper than buying goat cheese at the store.  I think a quart of goat’s milk is comparable to a cheap log of goat cheese.  However, it’s fun to do stuff from scratch, it’s creamier, tastier and gives you a sense of self satisfaction that you did something the old way.  Isn’t that reason enough to at least give it a try?

 

DIY Goat Cheese – adapted from Serious Eats
makes one, 4 oz log of goat cheese

1 quart of full fat goat’s milk (I bought this brand)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from one large lemon, maybe two)
1/2 clove freshly grated garlic
a few pinches of salt
Herbs – whatever sounds good to you (rosemary, chives, herbs de Provence, non herbs like honey, chopped dried fruits, etc.  Possibilities are endless.  If you use something sweet, omit the garlic)

Fill a medium saucepan with goat’s milk.  Heat gradually until it reaches 180F.  Watch closely.  It shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.  A candy thermometer works nice in this situation, but I used a probe meat thermometer the second time because it was more accurate (pictured here was my first attempt.)
cooking goat milk

Once it hits the magical temperature, remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Let stand until milk starts to curdle, about 20 seconds. Don’t expect curdles, like cottage cheese curdles. Slight clumping will occur, but nothing too drastic. You can add a few extra droplets if nothing is actually happening.

Line a colander with a thin, flour sack kitchen towel.  Or lots and lots of layers of cheese cloth that you probably don’t have on hand.  Most of you have a thin kitchen towel that you can almost see through. As long as there aren’t holes, use it.  It’s efficient, it works great and just remember to wash it quickly and don’t throw it in the used-towel bin for a week all wadded up in a sweaty goat cheese smelling ball.  Like I did.

Set your lined colander over a deep bowl and ladle in the milk.  It will seem like it’s all seeping through, but don’t fret. Tie up the ends of the towel and suspend over the bowl and let it drain for about 2 hours.
straining goats milk

Transfer the cheese to a bowl and mix in seasonings to taste.  The first time I did it, I added the grated garlic, salt and about a teaspoon of herbs de Provence.  The second time, I roasted my garlic and added in olive oil.  SO GOOD. This time, I left out the garlic and stirred in some raw honey and a little salt and used it in a salad recipe from the Bonne Femme cookbook.  Amazing results.  Have fun with it!

After you mix in your flavors, if you want to be able to cut it or have some sort of shape, wrap it up in plastic wrap and leave in the fridge for a couple hours to let it firm up.  (see below) then you can cut it for bread or whatever you like.

goat cheese with baguette and raw honey

 

With just bread and extra honey it’s basically a dessert!

goat cheese honey salad

 

On top of baguette slices, broiled and then drizzled with extra honey.  Set on top of a mixed greens salad with toasted pine nuts and a sherry vinaigrette.  An excellent lunch!

Green on Green Salad

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It’s the first day of Spring!  I used to be a complete fall/winter gal, and as far as loving cardigans to a fault, I still am.  But the new mother side of my life has made me  crave warmer weather, the ability to leave the screen door open so we can hear the birds, and not worrying if my kid is constantly too cold.  This time last year, I had a two week old baby in the house.  We were scared and bewildered, yet happy to have her as a part of our pack.  It’s been such a learning process.  Is there a “right” way to do things?  Well, if there is, I was sure on the hunt this year.  I asked every person I knew who might have an ounce of understanding or empathy, what they thought the “right” way was to feed/sleep/play/instruct my baby.  I’m sure they, like me, are breathing a sigh of slight relief that along with her first birthday passing, so has a large amount of my questions.  I think part of me craves that close knit village type atmosphere of raising a baby.  Mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins; all within arms reach of advice.  While that isn’t our reality, I am very thankful for technology that has made virtual villages out of our spread-apart lives.

One of my favorite parts of this “virtual village” is the way in the short time this blog has been up and running, I’ve been able to answer questions of fellow moms across several states on the basics of cooking, what to cook for baby, where on earth do you get Chinese 5 Spice?! and so on.  I love cooking so much and I hope that along the way, I can make at least one other person excited to cook a meal for their family or try something new.  I love when someone tells me, “I salt my pasta water because of you” (which is funny because at least three people have told me this, and I learned it from Mario Batali. Salty like the ocean!) I feel useful, even though I might be stuck in this house (or feel stuck from time to time), I feel knit together with so many by a common ambition for the quest for good food and a simple sense of accomplishment.

This salad is once again, from THE best cookbook of my year, so far, The Bonne Femme cookbook.  I served this salad with the broccoli and cauliflower recipe from Monday and seared chicken breasts with a simple pan sauce  (butter, chicken stock, pan drippings, reduce, reduce, reduce) and sliced, toasted almonds.  Very filling meal, very heart healthy – no one felt deprived!  (baby side note: Olive didn’t try this.  She was still sickly when I made it.  Will try again with her soon)

Green on Green Salad

serves 4

1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper (about 1/4 tsp each)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
a few drops of Tabasco, Cholula, Tapatio, or whatever peppe sauce you like best
4 cups baby arugula or just a bag of mixed greens
1/2 cup, halved, thinly sliced cucumber
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1 avocado, peeled and sliced

In a small bowl, use the back of a spoon (or I use a drink muddler) to mash the garlic clove with the salt and pepper.  Add the lime juice and whisk until the salt is dissolved.  Add the olive oil, whisking until incorporated.  Whisk in the honey and red pepper sauce.

In a large bowl, toss the greens with enough dressing to make the leaves coated, but not too heavy.  Arrange the arugula on a large platter.  Toss the cucumber and scallions with a bit of the dressing and arrange them on top of the greens.  Arrange the avocado slices across the top of the salad.  Drizzle just a little more dressing on top of the avocado and serve.

green on green 3

 

Time for Spring

We have less than ideal weather conditions in this region.  Lubbock has some of the worst dirt storms imaginable, the worst wind and the hottest summers.  We’ve been suffering through a drought the past 3 years and two years ago it was the worst we’d seen in nearly a century.  No rain that year from January till April of the next year (and even when the rain did come, it was one or two light showers).  Trees died and were uprooted, everyone’s yards were yellow like straw.  Farmers had to look for employment elsewhere, wildfires burned up homes, livestock, and thousands of acres of land.  Everywhere there were severe water restrictions and the people who cheated could be seen a mile away with their green, foot-thick sod yards that they clearly watered around the clock.  Needless to say, things haven’t been growing very well for aspiring back-yard farmers lately.  But with a few inches of rain last year and a few inches of snow this winter, we are more hopeful for the spring.  There’s still watering restrictions – we can only water on Tuesdays and Fridays, using either drip irrigation or standing there, holding a hose, but we are optimistic that maybe this year, something can grow.

Seeing growth is healing.  When you sow a seed and water it and leave, trusting that it will grow, you have faith in the purest form.  And when that faith is rewarded by a tiny, green shoot popping out of the dirt (and it’s not a weed) it gives such a rush that you want to do it again and again.  I’ve never been a successful gardener (rain helps) but this year, I’m going to try my best.  Choosing vegetables that say “full sun” is a start, and I’m focusing on herbs, which are used most frequently and are the most pricey per-ounce at the store.  And since nearly every single recipe in my most recent cookbook obsession calls for parsley, chives, tarragon, or chervil, and chervil is no where to be found in this town, I’m going to just grow my own.  (Lord willing.)

After working in the yard today and feeling the warmth creeping in the air, I decided to keep dinner light tonight.  I chose a green lentil, leek and endive salad and roasted some free sausages Matt got as a thanks from the butcher for buying a good cut of beef on Saturday.  Odd, but hey, we’ll take it.  And you’re welcome, Mr. Butcher.  Thank YOU for carrying dry-aged USDA prime.  Oh, and Olive wasn’t a fan of the texture of this salad.  She immediately scraped her tongue with her fingers to get every last lentil off.  Ah well, at least she tried it! green lentil salad 2 green lentil salad1

Green Lentil, Leek and Endive Salad

serves 4 to 6

1 cup green lentils
3 cups water
3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 leek (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, rinsed, and thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large head Belgian endive (or two small), root trimmed off and leaves sliced
1 tbs snipped fresh chives
2 tbs heavy cream
1 tbs white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse, drain and pick through the lentils to discard any debris.
Place the lentils in a large saucepan with the water and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are tender but still firm, about 15 minutes.  Drain, rinse with cool water, and drain again.  Transfer the lentils to a serving bowl.
Heat 1 tbs of the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Add the leeks and cook, stirring, until they are slightly wilted but still have some crunch, about 2 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds more.  Add the leeks and garlic to the bowl with the lentils, along with the sliced endive and chives.
In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the heavy cream, vinegar, and salt and pepper.  Add this dressing to the lentils.  Toss to combine.

 

Serve the salad immediately at room temp.  Sear off some sausages for a full meal.

Poached Egg Salad with Bacon and Sherry Dijon Vinaigrette

Poached Egg Salad with Bacon and Sherry Dijon Vinaigrette

Everything about this salad is good.  The vinaigrette is simple to make and extremely satisfying to me, a reformed cream-based dressings only kind of person.  I’m from Portales, NM – we like ranch dressing more than we should.  Any time Matt would order a vinaigrette at a restaurant, I would scoff as if he were simply trying to make a point that I should choose a healthier option because how could he really prefer a vinaigrette?  Well, I think you could easily prefer this one.  This salad has enough richness from the bacon (just one strip per person) and the poached egg that when it’s all combined, everything balances out perfectly.  This recipe is again, from the genius and simple, Bonne Femme Cookbook.  I think I’m unintentionally cooking my way through this book.  I made a diversion last week and cooked out of the Everyday Food magazine and while all the recipes were good, once I started this week cooking out of Bonne Femme again, I think Matt and I were both secretly relieved.  I can’t quite put my finger on why all the recipes work so well – I haven’t screwed up one, yet, and I’ve made nearly a dozen different recipes!  Maybe the mystery is that the French like everything to have a sauce?  It certainly creates a warmth for every meal that would be lacking otherwise.  And even with all these sauces, I’m still losing weight (down two more last week)  Woohoo!

So here’s to a salad with a sauce all its own when the yolk combines with the vinaigrette.  I made it a bit heartier by roasting some asparagus to have along side.  Asparagus and runny egg yolks are best friends, by the way.

Scared to poach an egg?  Well, you can buy one of those insert things that you put into a pot on your stove, or what I did was bring a medium saucepan to an active simmer (not boiling – I left my burner on medium heat), crack your egg into a small bowl first and then get your water swirling in a tornado fashion and then dump your egg into the middle of the swirling water.  It will look like a walleyed mess at first, but after 3-4 minutes, you can check the egg with a slotted spoon and if your whites are done and your yolk still feels jiggly to the touch, then it’s good to go.  The recipe suggests putting two tablespoons of white wine vinegar into your water to keep the whites from scattering so much. I forgot to do this, but am anxious to try again, soon.

Poached Egg Salad with Bacon and Sherry-Dijon Vinaigrette
serves 4

4 slices thick cut bacon, but into 1-inch pieces
3 cups torn mixed greens
1/2 cup sliced red onion
4 large eggs
1 recipe Sherry Mustard Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until crisp; remove from the skillet and drain on paper towels.
Toss the greens and red onion in a medium sized salad bowl.
Poach your eggs to desired done-ness, adding 2 tbs of vinegar to the water before adding the eggs.  Here’s another tutorial on how to poach an egg.
When the eggs are almost done, toss the bacon in the bowl with the greens and add enough vinaigrette to coat the leaves well – you may not need the whole recipe and less is more – an over dressed salad gets soggy  and gross really quick.
Arrange the salad among four serving plates and top each with a poached egg.  Season the egg with salt and pepper and serve immediately.  If you want to serve it with the asparagus, I’ve got the recipe for you below.

Sherry-Mustard Vinaigrette

In a small bowl, combine 1 clove of minced garlic with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Mash them together with the back of a spoon to make a rough paste.  Add 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar; whisk with a fork until the salt is dissolved.  Whisk in 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard.  Slowly add 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, whisking until incorporated.

Simple Roasted Asparagus

Wash and trim your asparagus.  Coat all the stalks in 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper.  Roast in a preheated 400F oven for 15 minutes.  Squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over and serve!