This Celery Salad with Dates, Almonds and Bleu Cheese elevates a humble vegetable to new heights.
Sometimes, I can’t help but equate my never-ending search for the perfect Bed and Breakfast purchase to online dating. I start out searching for geographic desirability (location is key), then I’ll notice a photo that sparks my interest, maybe smile a bit when reading the “bio” – ocean views, fireplaces, large owner’s quarters, commercial kitchen – only to be disappointed when faced with the reality. I found another Inn for sale this week in an ideal location along the Mendocino coast, only to be told by my broker that, according to the financials, it’s most likely a “lifestyle B&B” (read: not making significant income). This is the equivalent in the online dating world to “still lives with his mother.” Sigh.
Enough daydreaming for today, Julie. Back to the monotonous suburban daily grind that is slowing sucking away my soul – and the safe harbor of happiness called my kitchen. This is another recipe from Joshua McFadden’s cookbook, Six Seasons. I love that he takes humble, quotidian vegetables, like carrots and, in this case, celery, and gives them a starring role like in this crunchy celery-centric salad.
A crisp, refreshing salad that pairs well with cold poached salmon or cold roast chicken.
8-10 celery stalks (depending on size), leaves reserved, tough fibers peeled off, sliced on an angle, ¼ inch thick
4 Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
½ cup roughly chopped toasted almonds
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 oz. mild blue cheese, crumbled
4 Tablespoons Good quality olive oil
Soak sliced celery pieces in a bowl of ice water for about 20 minutes to heighten crispness. Strain, pat dry, and place in a dry bowl (I dried out the same bowl).
Add the celery leaves, dates, almonds, lemon juice and red pepper flakes and toss together. Season well with salt and black pepper. Adjust seasoning, if needed. At the blue cheese and olive oil. Toss gently and adjust seasoning again, adding more olive oil, lemon juice, salt or pepper as needed.
Let chill for 30 minutes to allow flavors to combine.
On a side note, I was pleased to find my Cranberry Bakewell Mini Tarts featured on the Shari’s Berries site this week. Thanks for the shout out!
I’m never going to eat like an Ascetic. I will never “eat to live.” I like the flavors too much, the textures, the history and culture imbued within a recipe, the miraculous synergy in combining disparate ingredients. I’m in love with food magic.
I’ve started up with a personal trainer again. A VEGAN personal trainer. She blanched when I confessed to my culinary vices, my food blog, my ability to eat an entire pie on a long, lazy Sunday.
She has her work cut out. I’ve decided to help a bit – just a bit – by adding a few veggie-rich meals to my unmistakably carb-heavy diet. I need help – creative vegetable combining is not my forte (yet). Give me flour, sugar and butter and I’ll whip you up something crave-worthy. Give me a head of cabbage and I’ll probably make coleslaw.
That’s where my most recent purchase comes in – Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden. If this first recipe is any indication, I’m. In. Love.
Carrots, Olives and Dates? Who would have guessed – absolute food magic.
I wish I could claim this as my own creation, but alas, it's not. This is a slightly adapted version of Joshua McFadden's recipe and so much more than the sum of its parts.
1 lb. rainbow carrots, trimmed and peeled
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or Urfa Chili
⅓ cup roughly chopped pitted Nicoise or other nice black olives
⅓ cup roughly chopped pitted Castelvetrano or other nice green olives
4 Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
4 Tablespoons white Modena Vinegar (available at Trader Joe’s)
½ cup lightly packed roughly chopped Italian parsley
1 cup crème fraiche
If the carrots are large, split them lengthwise. Cut them on a sharp angle so you have angled ¼-inch thick carrot pieces. In a medium skillet, over medium-high heat, combine a bit of olive oil, ½ cup water, Aleppo pepper, salt and fresh ground black pepper. Add the carrots. Cook, uncovered, until the carrots are just crisp-tender, about 5-7 minutes. Drain carrots and cool slightly.
In a medium bowl, combine olives, dates and carrots. Toss with vinegar. Taste and adjust with salt, black pepper, Aleppo pepper and vinegar until the flavor is super vibrant (you know you’ve hit it when you says “oh wow!”). Add parsley and a splash of good quality olive oil and toss again.
On a large platter, smear crème fraiche in a round, flat, circle. Pile salad on top, leaving a bit of crème visible. Garnish with shaved parmesan and a grind or two of black pepper.
When I created this summer salad, I was envisioning the corn on the cob sold by our neighborhood Mexican elote street vendors. “Elote” simply means “corn on the cob” in Spanish. The vendors traditionally serve the cobs coal-roasted with a squeeze of lime juice, slathered with (imitation) butter and mayonnaise, rolled in Cotija cheese and sprinkled with Ancho chile powder or cilantro. Sounds like overkill, but when done properly, they’re utterly addictive.
For my salad version, I originally envisioned closely following the traditional list of ingredients, but since I was making this side dish for a sweltering June afternoon barbecue, I decided sunbaked mayonnaise may not be the best choice for a food-poisoning free day. My consternation then turned to cilantro. While I love the bright-green herb (especially on sandwiches and in salads), I realize there are many cilantro-haters out there, claiming it tastes like soap (others even asserting “cilantro allergies,” but color me doubtful.) Accordingly, I opted for the less-divisive dried Mexico oregano. The final recipe resembles nothing of Mexican street elote, but, nevertheless, it’s quite tasty and perfect for a summer backyard barbecue.
“You breathe in experience, and you breathe out what you make.” – Doug Aitken
This quote has been swirling around my brain today. Does this mean creating shouldn’t be a struggle – that making art is as natural as aspiration? That sounds so effortless. I wish. Or does it suggest that limited experiences, like inadequate oxygen molecules in toxic air, results in an insipid and shallow creative exhale?
In yoga, there’s a Sanskrit word, pranayama, which translates as “breath control” or “control of life force.” Pranayama is a set of breathing techniques where the breath is intentionally altered to produce specific results. In practice, when we focus on our breath, it becomes fuller, richer, more rounded. A deep, expansive inhale yields an equally full exhale.
Applied to the quote above, it would imply, indeed, that the best art requires a cache of rich experiences. Or does our internal creative process provide an avenue to transform any experience, even the drone of suburban monotony, into something wonderful?
Speaking of turning something mundane into something wonderful…this creamy, flavorful lemon, dill and caper sauce paired with fennel salad elevates humble poached salmon into something both healthy and crave worthy – fancy enough for company.
Poached salmon with fennel salad and creamy caper sauce
Starting the poaching process in cold water ensures the fish remains incredibly moist.
2 fennel bulbs, cored and thinly sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 cups water
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 shallot, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
2 sprigs dill
1 bay leaf
1 large pinch salt
4 8-oz. skinless salmon fillets
½ cup Greek yogurt
2 Tablespoons capers, drained and roughly chopped
1 Tablespoon dill, chopped
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In a small bowl, combine fennel salad ingredients and set aside to marinate.
In a large saucepan, combine water, lemon juice, shallots, celery, dill, bay, peppercorns and salt. Add salmon to poaching liquid and additional water, until poaching liquid just covers salmon (about 2 more cups).
Cover, turn heat to medium and cook salmon until internal temperature reaches 115°F, about 18 minutes. Carefully transfer salmon to a plate and chill until cold.
To make yogurt sauce, combine all ingredients and chill. If too thick, add a bit of water or milk.
Serve salmon over fennel Salad liberally drizzled with yogurt sauce.
Lentils, with a shape somewhat resembling coins, are symbols of riches and prosperity in Italy. After eight long years, we have finally sold my childhood home this week. What better way to celebrate this little boon than with these symbols of financial good fortune?
Rather than the golden-egg-laying goose the house was expected to be, it morphed into an albatross that created unanticipated familial stress over the last eight years. My oldest sibling wanted to sell immediately, during the real estate collapse, while another mentioned keeping it for 45 years. I managed, surprisingly, to remain neutral over most of the years (caught up in my own personal turmoil, I suppose) until last year – then my exasperation bubbled up, boiled over. Get me out of here – I want to take my share and run! Trouble with the tenants, damage to the property, lawsuits and disagreements between us brought me to the verge of walking away. This house and all its complications was my last fetter to my siblings. Now, no longer financially shackled, I can, should I chose to, slip away never to be found again. Not that I want to, but there’s something liberating in realizing that I could.
Tonight, before I celebrate with my lentil salad, I say thank you to my mom and dad for making this financial provision. I am grateful for this good fortune and I hope to use my portion in a manner that will make them proud.
1 large or two small carrots, shredded (about 1 cup)
⅓ cup onion, chopped
¼ head cabbage, shredded (about 3 cups)
½ cup Feta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, thyme, garlic, sugar and Dijon. Add olive oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Set dressing aside.
Cook lentils according to package directions.
While lentils are cooking, in a medium size skillet over high heat, sauté corn, red pepper, carrot and onion until softened and onions are translucent. Do not brown.
Place cabbage in a large bowl. Drain lentils. Cover cabbage with warm lentils and sautéed vegetables to help soften cabbage. While salad is still warm, fold in dressing and feta cheese. Cover salad and let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature to allow flavors to meld. Before serving, season with salt and pepper.