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Hurricane Salad

10 Oct

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Right now, leaves are rustling due to a nice, cool, dry breeze, the windows are open in my always-ever-locked house, and I am enjoying what feels like the very first taste of autumn.  When I walk outside, I’m not immediately suffocated by heat and humidity, and there are very few biting bugs flying around (always a good day when this happens in Florida).

It also happens to be a Monday, a day when I’m usually working at school.  But today was a “virtual planning day” per our lovely contract, which allowed me to finish my report cards, or do anything else teacher-y (like cut out paper pumpkins), in my sweatpants.

All in thanks to Matthew.

No, I’m not talking about my husband’s many family members of that name (on my side it’s Bob, and I think the Bobs still win that rodeo).  I’m talking about the crazy, high-intensity, slow-as-a-freaking-snail hurricane that crawled its way through north Florida a few days ago.

Thinking back to those rare times when public school actually got cancelled for things, I’ve seen the gamut.  I’ve had a fire day (thank you SoCal wildfires), a wind day, snow days, a tsunami day (that was a crazy phone call to wake up to), and now Florida has gifted my very first hurricane days.

Growing up mostly in the Southwest, I had never been in a proper hurricane before.  But let me tell you, it’s an event.  The prep alone was beyond stressful – moving all the patio furniture to the garage, securing the house, digging through all the camping equipment to find white gas stoves and lanterns.  With my parents’ help, we got it all done which made me feel prepared – and proud.  I was stocked with water and ice (I bought the last 4 bags at the grocery store, thank you very much), lots of fresh fruits and veggies, and dried/canned/preserved goods to last a long, potential power outage.  And of course I also bought the absolute essentials for any long, drawn out, stressful event: chardonnay and pumpkin donuts.

I was ready.

The storm was what it was.  A storm.  Big, loud, mean, wet, wild, windy, and everything a person might imagine a hurricane to be.  I was scared, nervous, and at times peaceful as my family and I sat in pajamas watching continued news reports.  There was nothing else to do.

But eat.

What a fabulous excuse a hurricane is for eating junk food!  I thought it was just us with our chardonnay and donuts – oh, and beanie weenie casserole – but the grocery store trip afterwards showed us what people really thought was important.

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Bread, chips, bananas all topped the list of hurricane necessities – the empty shelves couldn’t hide it.

But spin around to those green, fresh, healthy things?

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Why golly, those shelves were chalked full.

So funny, because despite our little junk food splurge, we also made a conscious effort to make sure some nutrition did make its way into our bodies, basically to give us the right kind of energy and lack of mental lethargy to face whatever it was that we needed to face with this storm (again, our first major hurricane, folks).

My mom whipped up what she ended up calling the Hurricane Salad.  It was really just a veggie salad full of ingredients that are health-wise important: mixed greens, yellow bell pepper, soy beans, cucumber, celery, corn, and a simple ranch dressing.  That was it.  But boy did it hit the spot.  We ate it for two days.

With only some chopping, it literally took a few minutes to assemble and a fantastic dinner salad was ready.

Now, you definitely don’t need a hurricane to make this salad.  In fact, let’s hope you don’t have a hurricane to enjoy this salad.  But, it would be great as a take-along dish (dressing separate), easy lunch, fast dinner, or anything else in between.

People – oh those proverbial “people” – always say that something good comes out of something negative.  However, I wouldn’t call this salad good.  I’d call it delicious!  (Too cheesy?  Oh, some cheese would be good on the salad too!)

Try it – sans storms – and let me know what you think!

Enjoy!

(Feel free to use your favorite ranch dressing here – and ranch really is the best for this salad, I think.  But here’s my recipe for a good homemade version that will last you and your favorite salads all week.)

Hurricane Salad

This salad is completely flexible.  Add or subtract as much or as little as you want.  So it can easily be a single serving, or enough to feed a crowd.  Just toss together the following ingredients: mixed greens, yellow bell pepper, soy beans (cooked, I boil mine), cucumber, celery, and corn (cooked or raw).  Sprinkle a bit of s&p, and serve with the dressing on the side (to appease any finicky pourers).

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Homemade Ranch
(makes 1 pt)

Finely mix together 1/2 tsp dried oregano, pinch of ground thyme, 1/8 tsp celery seed, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, and s&p to taste. Use a mortar and pestle to mix (this makes more spice mix than you need- great for chicken, shrimp, or a olive oil dip). Then pour 1 tsp of the spice mixture into a bowl with 1 c mayo, 1 c Greek yogurt, and juice of 1 lemon. Mix and taste for seasoning. 

Enjoy! 

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Happy Harvest Season

8 Oct

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Is there anything better than the start of autumn? The cooler weather, fresh and breezy air, and all the yummy food that arise at this time all bring about a welcomed reset button. At the first feel of a slight wind, I’ve got 5-year olds yelling, “It’s autumn! Can you feeeeeel it?!”

Years ago, when I lived in Orange County, California, I worked at a year-round school where we started the year in July and received a 3-week fall break come the end of September. Oh holy goodness that break was so exciting! For the last week in September, and half of October, I gallivanted around SoCal visiting farmers markets, specialty food shops, and cooked most of the days away. The very best part, however, was taking a yearly trip up to Napa to visit my friend, Heather, who just happened to work for a very prominent winery.

Traveling to Northern California specifically during the grape harvest is simply special. There is a magic in the air matched only to that first nose, first swirl, first sip of fabulous wine.   The wine in Napa is big and exciting – tastes of fruit, mineral, and spices inevitably convert the faint of heart. Those in Sonoma are intricate, earthy, hitting the front of the tongue with brightness and pungency and almost leaving a feeling of urgency for more. Even the everyday oyster crackers served to cleanse the palate tasted better in wine country. As written endlessly in boundless foodie mags, the restaurants are fabulous, the food is fresh, and the locavore movement is thriving. Just thinking about the smell of hot, vine-laden grapes (sweet, earthy, and pungent) and the sight of the Russian River Valley (breathtaking does not do justice), literally makes me want to pop open a bottle right here and now.

Please excuse the drool.

Moving from California to Oregon created some initial sadness, but as Rob and I quickly warmed to the cold and wet climate, and we found a whole new world of wines. Not only was the now-infamous Willamette Valley a mere day-trip away, but the Umpqua Valley wineries proved to be some of our favorites. They were smaller, quainter, and not at all stuffy as the winemakers themselves would be happy to pour a perfectly Oregon-air-chilled glass of Baco Noir and chat the day away. Our Oregon wine excursions created a brand new set of memories of the Harvest Season. We would pack a lunch, sit on a picnic table in the vines or one overlooking the cascading evergreen hills with pockets of clouds blurring their branches, sip wine, and just be. It was quiet; not much talking, and there were never any hooting wine tour buses tainting the experience, nor the pressure to “hit up” as many wineries as possible. The whole experience was so relaxing, so picturesque, so perfect it felt unreal.

Recently, my mom and I went antiquing and I found a gem of a book: West Coast Cookbook by Helen Brown. The copyright is in Roman Numerals (which I’m convinced were invented only to make people’s shoulders drop and eyes roll), and after too-much-for-an-educated person-deliberation, I figured the copyright was 1952.

This book has more character and personality then expected in a dusty, antique find, and filled with so much culinary information. Aspics, cheese, bread, game meat, coffee, chocolate, all have sections devoted to their significant history rooted in the West, and Ms. Brown discussed it with mouthwatering eloquence. Phrases like, “You can’t turn off a cow,” and “tortillas are the staff of life,” keep the pages turning and the stomach grumbling. That is, until my eyes stumbled upon this:

“This is a vinous book. Good food is nothing without good wine, and our generous use of it as a beverage and as a necessary part of our cookery has much to do with the pleasure of our table…. When I speak of our wines, I mean Californian. The amount produced in Oregon and Washington is negligible.”

What?! Oregon, Washington – insignificant wine? Sorry Helen, you’re wrong on this one. While California has its fancy viticulture charm, the Pacific Northwest has its own delicious backbone of wine history that California would be envious of (but surely never admit).

Alas, it’s a pain in the neck to hold a grudge, so I won’t. Helen is still a cool gal. So as I’m remembering Harvest Days memories, and enjoying my antique find, a fantastic meal dedicated to the West during the Harvest Season is in order. Turning to the Fish & Shellfish section of the cookbook, Ms. Brown states “fish is not a food to be eaten only when nothing else is available, but is, when properly prepared, food as good as it comes.”

Ain’t that the truth?

So here it comes: good food! To be paired perfectly with good wine, no less!

There are a few parts to this Smoked Salmon Layered Salad. First off, layering salads should be the new thang if you ask me. They are so pretty and so much fun to eat. Oh, and a whole meal served on one giant plate, family style. Easy? Yes. No fuss?   No problem. And the gourmet-ish mushroom croutons? Get out of town! Such a show stopper.

Pair this meal with a great glass of Pinot Noir, or Chardonnay, and you’ve got yourself a West Coast, harvest-inspired meal. Enjoy!

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Smoked Salmon Layered Salad
(serves 4)

  • 2 tins of quality, hot smoked salmon (for the canned version, King or Coho would be best; Chuck’s Seafood in Charleston, OR, and Josephson’s in Astoria, OR both ship throughout the country).
  • 1 lb. fresh, end of the summer green beans, cleaned and stem-end removed
  • 1 pint crimini mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 large sweet potato, diced into ½ -in pieces
  • 1 head tender lettuce – either romaine, red lettuce, or the baby lettuce mix from a bag. If using romaine or red lettuce, roughly chop.
  • 4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed and roughly chopped
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 ½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • s&p

** This meal pairs perfectly with Oregon Pinot Noir (I love Giradet from the Umpqua Valley), California Rose (Louis Martini makes a good one found in the heart of Napa), and Washington Chardonnay (Three Rivers is a great Columbia Valley un-oaked version).

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the sweet potato dices on a baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil, s&p. Roast the sweet potatoes until the edges are browned and the insides are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the green beans by seething them in a large sauté pan. Seething is a combination of steaming and sautéing in one pan. Put the green beans in the pan with 2 tbsp of olive oil, ¼ c water, and a good pinch of s&p. Heat over medium heat, turning the green beans often, until the liquid has cooked away, and the green beans are bright and cooked through (the beans should still retain a bit of a crunch – they should not have the texture of a stewed bean). When the beans are done, set aside.

To make the mushroom “croutons,” simply put the mushrooms in a sauté pan with the 2 tbsp of butter on med-high heat. Stir, then let be to brown, stir, then let be to brown, until all the mushroom pieces are so browned and lovely, and almost crunchy. Transfer mushrooms to a paper towel-lined plate, season with a bit of salt, and let cool. They will continue to crunch-up while cooling. (Seriously, these things are addicting. They may not even make it to the salad.)

To make the dressing, mix the Dijon mustard, lemon juice, honey, and a pinch of s&p together. While pouring in the extra virgin olive oil, whisk until combined and smooth. Set aside.

For the smoked salmon, open the container, drain if necessary, and flake the salmon using a fork. Set aside.

Now for the assembly! On a large serving plate, first put down the lettuce, and then sprinkle over the sweet potatoes, and the chopped thyme. Then evenly spread out the green beans, and the smoked salmon. Top with the mushroom croutons, and serve with the dressing in a carafe on the side for individual drizzling (I’ve found that this salad has enough flavor as is, that some enjoy without the dressing).

Dig in, image you are sitting among the vines, and enjoy!

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Broccoli Slaw

27 Mar

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Lately, in our CSA farm basket, we have been receiving the most fantastic broccoli I’ve ever tasted. The hearty green grows well here in north Florida; that is if you don’t get any crazy spurts of unseasonably super warm weather making it bolt and go to seed (speaking from experience here). It is so healthy, so filling and satisfying; broccoli is quickly becoming one of my favorite veggies to eat.

It’s funny how tastes change. Growing up, whenever broccoli was served with dinner, I would only eat it doused in nacho cheese sauce. Maybe even a couple of times, I did the whole hide-the-broccoli-in-the-napkin trick. I’m sure my mom and dad never figured that one out (right, guys?). At some point, I matured in my broccoli taste and the boring crudité of raw florets dipped far enough in the endless bowl of ranch to actually be considered “dunking” became my sole broccoli experience.

Times have surely changed again. Years ago, after watching Ina Garten make her Parmesan Roasted Broccoli, I stretched my broccoli comfort a bit farther, and whatcha know? I loved it! Broccoli became a staple in our house from that point on. Roasted, steamed, chopped into risottos, soups, and certainly not loaded down with heavy creams and mayo-based dressings, broccoli has finally received the badge of culinary honor it’s always deserved.

The weather is starting to warm up (sorry cold-weather readers – while we, too, had our wintery bout of frigid weather, it is currently 82 degrees in Jacksonville. Love you guys!). So the innate cravings for springtime foods are in full force. Especially moving around every 3-4 years, Rob and I really try to make the best out of the areas we experience. Food, of course, falls into this category. We have definitely given the true, Southern Food experiences a valiant effort and I, personally have fallen in love with slaws. We’re not talking the globby, sticky, sweet, mayo-dripping, brown-sugar laced kinds of slaw, but the tangy, fresh, crunchy, shredded veg mixtures that have endless possibilities.

During the warm months, when salads just get too monotonous, and the grill needs a break, a slaw is the perfect meal. Yes, meal. Not side dish, but full-on, full-flavor, smack-your-taste buds around, meal. While the classic red/green cabbage with carrots is always an easy go-to, the slaw is the perfect avenue for veggie creativity. Here are a few of my faves (all greens and veggies shredded, to keep the slaw texture genuine):

Kale, savoy cabbage, pumpkin seeds, and dried cranberries
Arugula, green cabbage, carrots, celeriac, celery seeds, almonds, and apple
Red cabbage, zucchini, carrots, curry powder, cumin seeds, and pine nuts

And probably the best (and easiest) of all:
Spinach and Broccoli

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The Spinach and Broccoli Slaw came about with my continually expanding broccoli-love, as well as the fact that our CSA has delivered stalk after stalk of the stuff. Using a food processor fitted with the shredding blade, simply shred 1 whole head of fresh, raw broccoli, a few florets at a time. Then, using 8 oz. of baby spinach, stack them, then roll them into a cigar shape, and slice them thinly into a julienne cut (the leaves then look like little ribbons). Mix the shredded spinach and broccoli together in a large bowl, and lightly season with a pinch of salt.

My Slaw Dressing generally stays the same: 2:1 nonfat Greek yogurt to mayo, lemon juice, red wine vinegar a heavy touch of very good honey, and s&p, really all just to taste. Sometimes, if a particular sassy feeling arises, I’ll throw in some finely chopped rosemary, thyme, or even tarragon for an herby note. Usually, I prefer a thinner, more vibrant dressing (resulting in less to use), so I go heavier on the lemon juice and less on the yogurt and mayo, but it’s really all a preference with room to experiment (also, a great tip is to lightly season the shredded veg with salt before dressing it, so it all the veg juices start to release, adding even MORE natural flavor to the slaw).

Slaws are wonderful – they marry flavors over time, they are sturdy (so they hold up well), and completely portable. They are a foundation to add protein, much beyond the stereotypical backyard BBQ pulled pork. Try hot-smoked salmon, grilled chicken, nuts galore, or braised lamb. Really, the possibilities are endless.

Enjoy!

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