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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Art of Salad and an Easy French Vinaigrette

GLUTEN-FREE

In the cold months, I tend toward winter greens like cabbage, kale, mustard greens and other leafy vegetables.

But as spring approaches, I get hungry for salads. Simple salads make refreshing side dishes (I like to serve them after the main course, to refresh the palate). Complex and composed salads can make stunning stand-alone main courses when they incorporate protein like chick peas, nuts and seeds, goat cheese, hard-boiled egg, tofu, tempeh, sliced grass-fed steak or wild salmon.

The best thing about salads is that they can be thrown together in minutes using whatever you have on hand. You'll need some sort of green leafy vegetable, extra virgin olive oil and vinegar, and anything else you wish to add.

I never tire of salads because the possibilities are endless. Sometimes I add pistachios, tangerines and olives. Other times feta cheese, roasted red peppers and chickpeas. Or avocado, tomatoes and black beans. Or cucumbers, walnuts and cubes of baked tofu.

And I usually have several kinds of vinegar on hand - red wine, white wine, apple cider, brown rice, balsamic - so simply substituting one for the other can dramatically transform the flavor of my vinaigrette. 

This salad isn't fancy, it's just an example of what can be thrown together quickly. I added Dijon mustard and grated garlic to the vinaigrette, tossed in some carrot, red onion and walnuts I happened to have on hand, and topped it with goat cheese. It only took five minutes.

To make a great salad, there are some essential steps. If you follow these five guidelines, you will always have a crispy, perfectly seasoned salad:

1.  Clean the greens in advance. When you bring them home, discard any damaged leaves and submerge the rest in a generous amount of cold water. Swish the leaves around to loosen any debris and soak for 2 or 3 minutes (longer if leaves are wilted). You can use a clean sink, the bowl of a salad spinner, or another large vessel.

2.  Rinse the greens thoroughly. I usually rinse each leaf individually to make sure I remove as much of the dirt as possible. (Nothing spoils a salad like biting into something sandy.)

3.  Remove most of the water from the leaves. This will keep them fresher longer and prevent your salad dressing from becoming watered-down. But they shouldn't be completely dry, or they will wilt. I use a salad spinner to remove excess water and to store the leaves in the fridge. If you don't have a salad spinner, use two large, clean kitchen towels instead. Place the lettuce leaves inside one towel, gather the corners and edges, and spin it around. Then arrange the leaves in a single layer on top of the second, dry towel, roll it up and place it in the fridge.

4.  Chill the greens. After you've cleaned and dried them, allow them to chill inside the fridge for several hours to make sure they are crispy and cold.

5.  When you serve a lettuce salad, toss it together at the last moment to prevent it from getting soggy.

Here's my fool-proof recipe for a basic French vinaigrette.  It's so easy to whip up whenever I need it that I seldom make a large batch in advance. I also like making it to order because I can select the ingredients that best complement the other salad components and/or other courses.

An Easy Vinaigrette

I usually don't add sea salt to my vinaigrette because I never think it needs it. Others insist it's essential, so do as you prefer.

1 tbsp red wine vinegar, or substitute apple cider vinegar
1 tsp prepared Dijon mustard or ground mustard seed
1 clove garlic, grated or crushed

Ground peppercorn to taste
3 tbsp cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, or more to taste

Add all of the ingredients, except the olive oil, to the bottom of a large bowl. I use the largest bowl I have because I make big salads but also because I like to have plenty of room to toss everything together thoroughly, ensuring that every leaf is evenly seasoned.











Whisk until thoroughly combined. If you have the time, allow it to sit for a couple of minutes at this stage so the salt can dissolve, if you've added some, and the vinegar can soften the sharp garlic flavor. Drizzle in the olive oil and continue whisking until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.











Except lettuce, spinach and any other delicate additions, add your other ingredients to the bowl. This layer will form a barrier between the dressing and the lettuce, keeping the leaves from becoming soggy.

I added thinly sliced red onion, carrot shavings and raw walnuts. If there are ingredients that you want seasoned but not tossed together (like grilled chicken that you want to arrange on top), reserve a little vinaigrette to drizzle over later.










Tear the lettuce leaves into bite-sized pieces and place them in the bowl on top of the other ingredients.










Set it aside until you're ready to eat it and toss it together at the last moment.

Monday, March 21, 2011

An Easy Vinaigrette


I usually don't add sea salt to my vinaigrette because I never think it needs it. Others insist it's essential, so do as you prefer.

1 tbsp red wine vinegar, or substitute apple cider vinegar
1 tsp prepared Dijon mustard or ground mustard seed
1 clove garlic, grated or crushed
Ground peppercorn to taste
3 tbsp cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, or more to taste

Add all of the ingredients, except the olive oil, to the bottom of a large bowl. I find it easiest to collect the mustard with a clean whisk, estimating the amount I'll need. And I use the biggest bowl I have because I make large salads but also because I like to have plenty of room to toss everything together thoroughly, ensuring that every leaf is evenly seasoned.










If you have the time, allow it to sit for a couple of minutes at this stage so the vinegar can soften the sharp garlic flavor and the salt can dissolve, if you've added some.

Whisk until thoroughly combined. Drizzle in the olive oil and continue whisking until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.










Except lettuce, spinach and any other delicate additions, add your other ingredients to the bowl. This layer will form a barrier between the dressing and the lettuce, keeping the leaves from becoming soggy.

I added thinly sliced red onion, carrot shavings and raw walnuts. If there are ingredients that you want seasoned but not tossed together (like grilled chicken or a veggie burger that you want to arrange on top), reserve a little vinaigrette to drizzle over later.










Tear the lettuce leaves into bite-sized pieces and place them in the bowl on top of the other ingredients.










Set it aside until you're ready to eat it and toss it together at the last moment.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My Favorite Asparagus

GLUTEN-FREE















This is the most simple and delicious way to prepare asparagus.

(Seriously, I can easily eat an entire bunch in one sitting. Maybe more.)

Cooking asparagus quickly under the broiler helps it retain a tender texture inside without getting overcooked, while the outside becomes slightly browned and crispy.

In my book, a little bit of sea salt is all the seasoning it needs. But feel free to drizzle it with your favorite vinaigrette or serve it with a home-made aioli for dipping.

1 bunch asparagus (or more)
Extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing
Sea salt 

Snap off the ends of the asparagus where they naturally break (save them for soup stock) and toss the stalks with enough olive oil to lightly coat. Arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet and sprinkle with sea salt.

Transfer the asparagus to the broiler and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until they are lightly browned. Serve immediately. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of the stalks.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dark Chocolate Ice Cream

GLUTEN-FREE

This ice cream is a healthy alternative to store-bought versions.

Instead of sugar, it is sweetened with honey. It's also full of antioxidants from real dark chocolate and cocoa powder, and a good source of calcium. Use cream and milk from grass-fed or pasture-raised cows for a healthy dose of omega-3 fats.

You will need a large airtight container to chill the ice cream mixture in the fridge and to store the ice cream in the freezer.
A lidded 7-cup Pyrex container works perfectly.

3.5 oz dark chocolate, 70% or darker
¼ cup honey
2 cups cream
½ cup pure unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup whole milk
Pinch sea salt
4 egg yolks

Special equipment: ice cream maker

Warm two inches of water in a medium saucepan. Add the dark chocolate and honey to a large glass or stainless steel bowl and set it on top of the saucepan. Cover and warm until just melted. Turn off the heat, remove the bowl from the saucepan and set it aside.

Empty the water from the saucepan, carefully wipe it dry (it’s hot) and return it to the stove. Add the cream and cocoa powder and warm over medium-low heat. Whisk to combine the cocoa powder and cream until thoroughly incorporated and hot but not boiling. Turn off the stove and pour the cream and cocoa into the bowl with the honey and chocolate, using a rubber scraper to wipe the pan clean. Place a fine mesh strainer over the bowl and return the saucepan to the stove.

Break the egg yolks into a heat-proof bowl and whisk them briefly. Add the milk to the saucepan with the sea salt and warm over low heat. Once small bubbles start to appear at the edges of the pan, whisk the eggs continuously while you add about half the milk, pouring in a thin stream. Slowly pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan, whisking continuously, and cook until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not overcook or the milk will separate.

Pour the milk and egg mixture through the fine mesh strainer into the bowl and whisk to combine. Transfer the mixture to a blender and puree until smooth, taking care to vent the lid and prevent a heat explosion. Transfer to an airtight container, cover and refrigerate over night.

Freeze the chilled mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Five Herb Seasoning

GLUTEN-FREE  |  DAIRY-FREE  |  DETOX-FRIENDLY


My Five Herb Seasoning is a blend of herbs traditionally found in poultry seasoning. There's no salt or pepper because I like to add them later, as needed, depending on what I'm cooking.

This versatile seasoning can be used to flavor marinades and sauces, ratatouille and risotto, soups and stews. Use it as a dry rub for poultry, meat and fish. And as a seasoning for vegetables, beans, tempeh and tofu.

Ingredients:

Directions:
  1. Grind all ingredients in an electric grinder or with a mortar and pestle.
  2. Transfer to an air-tight container and label with the contents and date.