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Monday, July 14, 2008

What Are "Salad Days" Anyway?

Some things are just stupid easy. You know, things you almost have to be stupid to be able to do.

I'm talking about recipes (again). I have a few that I either found or made up that make a dish that is totally delish, but that require so little thought or effort to prepare, it's like cheating.

I fell in love with grape tomatoes the minute I saw them. They're tasty and they're cuter than regular cherry tomatoes. At least I think so. Trouble is around here they go on sale where you have to buy two containers and I sometimes can't eat them fast enough. Sharing is one option. Long lasting salads is another.

I don't know where I got the idea for this salad or if I just made it up. But it's really good, with or without the vodka, and it lasts a long time. I think the dressing preserves the tomatoes. I mean, hey, they're soaking in BOOZE! Stupid!

Grape Tomato Salad

Slice one container of grape tomatoes in half on the diagonal (looks prettier).
Slice a medium sweet onion thinly. Cut it in half first so the slices will be bite sized.

Toss these together in a bowl with a good splash of balsamic or wine vinegar, hefty pinches of salt and pepper, basil and oregano and any other herbs of your choice, and a good glug of olive oil. Optional, add a splash of vodka just for fun. You can add a tiny bit of sugar for a little extra sweetness. Let this marinate overnight in the fridge and serve cold or at room temperature.

I take this with me in a plastic container with a tight fitting lid. It's tasty with a sandwich or just about anything and the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar complements the sweetness of the tomatoes. The vodka is just cuz' I like it.

Here's another salad that was inspired by seeing Alice Waters on a cooking show with Julia Child. They included sliced raw mushrooms in their salad but I left them out because I don't like them. I also altered the recipe radically because I did not write it down and by now I make it quite different from the way I first saw it. If you like fennel, you will like this. And it stays fresh and crunchy for a long time. Just as easy, but you need an extra piece of equipment for this one.

Fennel Onion Salad

Shred paper thin with a mandolin or food processor one bulb of fennel and one good sized sweet onion. Optional - add carrots also sliced paper thin, and sliced mushrooms.

Whisk in a bowl balsamic or wine vinegar, salt and pepper, a dab of spicy mustard and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice (or even orange or grapefruit). Add hefty pinches of herbs of your choice (herbes de Provence would be good) and some ground cumin. A little good quality olive oil and that's it. Add the sliced veg, toss well and serve.

I don't have a mandolin although I would like one. Instead I have this silly thing that came free with something I bought from a catalog. You must have seen one somewhere. It's a long, narrow plastic box, about 3 1/2 by 10 inches. It has a top that will accept an assortment of slicing blades. The one I use most often is the regular slicer (sometimes I use the grater for grating a lot of cheese). This slicing blade makes slices of carrot, fennel, onion and potato that you can almost read through.

When you're done, you just pile all the blades back into the box and pop on the top. It was free and it works. What's not to like?

Anyway, I like these two salads because I can practically make them in my sleep and except for the mandolin, I only have to wash a knife and a bowl. And if I make them in the plastic storage bowl, I don't even have to wash that until the salad is gone.

Easy. Stupid easy!

Quotable Quotes; in the category Wait . . . What?

“We became vegetarian. But that didn't last very long, because, um, I don't like vegetables. Or salad, nothing like that!”
Dakota Fanning

Thursday, July 3, 2008

I Scream, You Scream, You Know Where This Is Going, Right?

Like most fads, recipes make the rounds. Foods and recipes come in and go out of style, recipes are traded, and old, passe recipes come back in style years later, like the Martini, for instance.

Or take a look at one of those "church lady" type cookbooks, the kind where everybody contributes their favorite recipes for Layered Nacho Salad or Cream Cheese & Clam Dip, or Cookies Made From A Cake Mix. Depending on when the cookbook was put together, and the ages of the recipe contributors, you will find recipes for Veggies & Dill Dip, Sweet Pickles Made From Dill Pickles, Hummos & Pita Chips or Cream Cheese Brownies.

Have you ever seen a recipe for Amish Friendship Bread? Popular during the 1970s, a friend would give you a Cool Whip container full of bubbly, yeasty goo and the instructions to keep the starter going and a recipe to bake the bread. Amish Friendship Bread was a sort of coffee cake with cinnamon crumb topping (as I recall) and was quite good.

One of the catches was that you had to "double" the starter you received and give the extra to another friend. This generated a round of starter swapping, similar to what occurs when a friend invites you to a Tupperware party. Every guest ends up having their own party and you end up attending a dozen parties and buying enough Tupperware to become a Tupperware saleswoman yourself. It's fun, but soon the novelty wears off and the responsibility of keeping that "starter" going gets to be too much and eventually, it is allowed to die.

No problem, cookbooks and websites abound with the recipe. Unless you are superstitious, it's not problem to whip up your own starter. And while you are at it, give the extra to a friend and start a new round of Friendship Bread!

One recipe I remember, that became quite popular and then faded away, was for "ice cream". What made it unusual was that you did not need an ice cream maker nor did you need to cook and chill a concoction containing cream, eggs, vanilla and other expensive ingredients. Basically, jam was mixed with buttermilk and frozen to make a dish reminiscent of frozen yogurt, or Frogurt, as it was often called, and which was also gaining popularity at the time. The bonus was, if you used low fat buttermilk this was a low fat recipe!

The recipe ran in a popular women's magazine and in my recollection, I and my friends traded the recipe and announced our successes or failures using different kinds of jam. If I recall correctly, I probably only made this once or possibly twice. But it was good. And it couldn't be easier!

If you have an ice cream maker, the kind that requires a mixing bowl to be left in your freezer, or the kind that requires ice and rock salt, or the kind that costs hundreds of dollars and requires neither, go ahead and give this recipe a try.

And if you don't have any sort of ice cream maker, try it anyway. All you need is a little room in your freezer for the container of ice cream. It won't be there very long because if it's good, you'll eat it all up and if it's not, you'll toss it. Give it a try!

Strawberry Buttermilk Ice Cream
Serves: 8

2 cups nonfat buttermilk
1 1/2 cups strawberry jam

Stir buttermilk and strawberry jam together until well combined and pour into a freezer proof pan or bowl. Freeze firm, removing from the freezer to scrape with a spoon every 15 or 20 minutes. You may cut up pieces of frozen mixture and place in chilled mixer bowl, whip with electric mixer until fluffy, and return mixture to freezer pan until firm. Or, freeze in an ice cream freezer according to manufacturers directions. Try other jam flavors.

Quotable Quotes; In the category I'll Have Some Anyway.

"The Frogurt is also cursed . . . That's bad."

From The Simpson's Treehouse of Terror III; Clown Without Pity