Sneaking in for lunch, to serve up a soupish risotto that we had on Saturday, when my parents and nephew came for a visit. I see now I could have, and probably should have, scooted another bowl into frame, or the pile of spoons to my right, as this recipe makes a big ol' potful, and feeds a gang with abundance. But I was distracted, because of a rousing game of Battleship, because of a convoluted plan to secure my older brother's birthday gift, and because I was hungry.  So a lonely, single serving it is, with a timid-seeming slouch of green and bronze and black. Still, it gives a good idea of everything you need to know.

BRAISED KALE WITH BLACK QUINOA + A BIT OF RISOTTO by Tara O'Brady

The soup is maybe more of a stew, but either way, it is resolutely savoury, with a base of onion and anchovy upon which a risotto is started. Atop that goes handful after handful of the thinnest slivers of kale you can manage. It cooks some more, to tender acquiescence, until the greens and grain are languid in a saline slip of broth. But then, oh then, we loosen the business with more stock, then stir in bouncy quinoa, and walnuts that have been toasted and so strike an aromatic note that verges on sharp. The effect is taken to full-throated cheer by an exuberant amount of lemon zest and oil-packed chilies. It's the last few minutes there, the last few ingredients that change the soup's character entirely.

Now it comes across loud and clear; it is a soup that exclaims. The effect is ebullient, energy-enhancing, and bracing, simultaneously substantial and soothing while clearing the head and nostrils, and setting shoulders straight. The soup requires taking breath around each spoonful, the extra air needed for balance. It is mostly vegetables, granting a sense of piety and wholesomeness, toothsome without excessive weight. After the roasts, braises, gravies, marshmallows and custards of our lately, it was the jostling we needed.

BRAISED KALE WITH BLACK QUINOA + A BIT OF RISOTTO by Tara O'Brady

Though I've not tried her recipe, this reminds of the cabbage and rice soup from Molly, via Luisa, that came from Marcella Hazan. I like how that version is all softness, harmonious with butter and a generous amount of cheese, and is closer to the recipe upon which this is based. I'll be making that one soon, when the momentum of this one wanes.

Hope your days have been happy and merry, and here's to the brightness ahead. Cheers, all.

 

BRAISED KALE WITH BLACK QUINOA + A BIT OF RISOTTO

A soupier, brasher, even more kale-packed adaptation of a recipe by Martha Rose Shulman via the New York Times.

Enough for 6.

INGREDIENTS

  • 7-8 cups good-quality vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 anchovy fillets or about 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • Salt, as needed
  • 2/3 cup Arborio rice
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 exceedingly large (approximately 16 ounces / 454 g) bunch of kale, well washed, stemmed and cut into slivers 
  • 3 cups cooked black quinoa
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 1/2 cup (57 g) grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  • Peperoncinio in oil or dried red pepper flakes

METHOD

In a saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. 

Heat the olive oil in a wide, heavy saucepan over medium heat (I used a 5-qt Dutch oven). Cook the onion with a generous pinch of salt until tender but without colour, around 3 to 5 minutes. When you think the onion is about a minute away from being ready, add the anchovies, stirring them into the onions and breaking them up with the back of the spoon. 

Tip the rice and garlic into the pot, and stir until the grains separate and start crackling, around 3 to 5 minutes. Add the wine while still stirring, and continue until it evaporates. Pour in about 1/2 cup of stock, and cook, stirring regularly, until the liquid is just about absorbed. Add another couple ladlefuls of stock, and continue in this fashion, stirring in the stock then adding more once the rice is almost dry. After 10 minutes, start adding the kale, in batches as necessary. Cook as before, with regular additions of stock, then stirring in between, until both the rice and kale are tender. 

Stir in the black quinoa, most of the walnuts, the Parmesan and lemon zest. Pour in enough stock to wet everything to your liking, giving it all a few good turns in the pan to give the broth a chance to thicken. It should be lush and creamy.  Check for seasoning, then serve straight away with more cheese, the reserved walnuts and the peperoncino. 

Posted
Authortara
18 CommentsPost a comment

It's a repeat declaration, but I'm crazy for baked beans. They needn't always be homemade; I am sufficiently happy with tinned. To me, their ketchup-y sweetness is camping trips and student days and breakfast at Debenhams's restaurant with Gigi when I was fourteen years old.

Lately, I've made room for another bean. Bubbling Bacon Butter Beans from Adam Perry Lang's Charred and Scruffed. Sean and I had them for yesterday's lunch, most likely one of the remaining few outside this year. 

bubbling bacon butter beans by tara o'brady

The bean business started the day before, only because it suited my schedule, not because of the recipe's need. In a big pot there was a fry of bacon, shallot and sage, and let's recognize that the smell of frying sage is the finest harbinger of later autumn. I use a lot of herbs year round, but lean most heavily on sage when on those pages towards the end of the calendar.

The large limas took a tumble into the mix with chicken stock, while chopped tomatoes were in a pan with oregano and bacon of their own; the latter cooked until their juice was mostly gone, until they crackled and concentrated. This intense slurry went in with the beans, then the whole went into the oven.

Perry Lang explains he prefers "butter beans" as a name over lima beans, since buttery best evokes the mashed-potato-fluff of the limas. Dried, they are discrete, flattish oblongs, which is to say they're the prototype for skipping stones. Cooked, limas swell impressively, to a shape like two plump offset rounds joined at the middle. They are firm, yet soothingly tender, and absorb flavours like nobody's business. Here they sop up the surrounding goodness, with a subtle nuttiness of their own.

I finished our beans with a stirring-through of chopped kale then drips of parsley, chive, chili and lemon made into a quick dressing. The fried egg was gilding the lily for certain, but an embellishment I'd also repeat.

What we ended up with was a deeply-satisfying bowlful, spoons at times mild and others with capricious sting. The herbs, dried and fresh, long-cooked and just-added, skimmed across each bite, plinking first then sinking into something deeper. I liked how the egg yolk further enriched the broth, the fat and acid made for each other, and the resonant savouriness of the combination.

bubbling bacon butter beans by tara o'brady

Charred and Scruffed  is a one to read, not only for grilling, not only for cooking meat, but for anyone interested in cooking, full stop. Perry Lang is keen on details, taking advantage of every opportunity to build flavour and texture. He encourages observation and the active participation in process. His techniques are innovative and, what's more, profoundly useful. I turn to it as often for reference as I do for recipes.

The garage roof is getting new shingles, and one of the roofers smokes those skinny cigarillos. On the back deck a day ago the wind was picking up for a storm, and carried the music from their radio and the scent of the tobacco.

Beans, bacon, eggs, singalong and smoke. I'd repeat that, too

 

BUBBLING BACON BUTTER BEANS (with kale and an egg)

Excerpted from Charred & Scruffed:  Bold new techniques for explosive flavor on and off the grill by Adam Perry Lang (Artisan Books, 2012).

Serves 6 to 8

Butter beans are just another name for lima beans, especially in the South. But I tend to think more sensually, and I have always felt that when they are cooked just right, these beans achieve a state of melty smoothness that is best described by the word "buttery." In the process of cooking, they throw off starch—just like Arborio rice does in risotto. The result is velvety creaminess. My recommendation for these beans is "Serve with anything," because they go with everything. But I could also say, "Serve with nothing else," because they are satisfying all by themselves and quite irresistible when you take them from the fire -- steaming, bubbling, and fragrant. — APL

INGREDIENTS

  •  3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
  •  6 slices thick-sliced bacon, cut into ¼-inch-wide strips
  •  ½ cup finely chopped shallots
  •  4 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled, plus 1 tablespoon grated garlic (use a Microplane) or garlic mashed to paste
  •  1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  •  2 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
  •  4 cups cooked butter beans or two 15-ounce jars or cans butter beans, drained, rinsed if canned
  •  1 cup Pomi diced tomatoes (or other Tetra Pak tomatoes), drained
  •  1 teaspoon dried oregano
  •  1/4 cup finely diced prosciutto fat (or additional bacon)
  •  Sea or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  •  2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  •  White wine vinegar

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until it sizzles when a piece of bacon is added. Add the rest of the bacon, the shallots, crushed garlic, and sage and cook, stirring, until the shallots are just translucent, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the beans, bring to a simmer, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small skillet over high heat until very hot. Add the tomatoes and sauté for 2 minutes, then add the grated garlic and oregano and cook until most of the moisture has evaporated and the tomatoes are crackling.

Stir the tomatoes into the bean mixture, along with the prosciutto fat. Season with salt and pepper and pour into a 2-quart casserole or baking dish.

Transfer to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until the beans are velvety and creamy. If the beans start to look dry, add a splash of water.

Stir the parsley into the beans, adjust the acidity with white wine vinegar as necessary, and drizzle generously with olive oil. Serve, or keep warm in a low oven until ready to serve.

Notes from me (Tara):

  • I cook the bacon alone for a few minutes before adding the shallot, so it takes on some colour. That's my preference when it comes to bacon, but might not be be yours.
  • I daresay they could be made vegetarian with vegetable broth instead of stock, and using fire-roasted tomatoes for the needed smokiness.  
  • To make the dish as pictured, coarsely chop a few handfuls stemmed Tuscan kale or baby kale and stir into the hot beans right before serving. Plunk a fried egg on top. As mentioned above, I use Perry Lang's herb dressing to season at the end.
  • Toast! How could I forget toast? Eat these on toast. 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted
Authortara
27 CommentsPost a comment

I'm here to talk about salad. If that's not your thing, I still hope you'll stick around. This is a salad to get to know, with an exceedingly useful dressing that I'm keeping on speed dial. 

To those of you for whom, like me, salad is entirely your thing — hey, good to see you. 

kalemisotahinisalad7S

This is a pretty basic salad. Its bulk is kale, either curly shreds of the big stuff or the petal-like leaves of the baby kind. Up to you. The rest gets made up of spindly, twisty sprouts, which interrupt the density of the kale, and enough apple keep things juicily crisp, because, let's be honest, while kale salads offer a jaw-tiring chew, the leaves lack a proper, snappy crunch. A scatter of nuts, and, all that's left is the dressing.

If you don't mind me saying, I think the dressing is terrific. Fist-bump, high-five, secret handshake terrific. It is made with miso and tahini, and the two meld in this gorgeous way; the softness of the miso lightening the tahini's clay-like texture until it relaxes. The orange juice lends a perked sweetness, floral and fragrant, and the garlic grounds everything to its background buzz. The rest of the suggested ingredients — rice wine vinegar, honey, a few drops of oil — are there to finesse the dressing into its final harmony, into a concoction with surprising depth and interest. You know what it's like when you wear a perfectly-tailored coat with an old pair of jeans? The dressing in here works something like that. It's not flashy, but it'll turn heads. 

I double dog dare you not to lick the bowl.

tahinimisodressing7S

Last night I realized I smelled like dirt. And sunscreen. And grass, right here at my elbow, where there was a stain from leaning into the lawn. After dinner outside, a dinner that included this salad, William and I had been trying to keep track of a bird that was hopping from branch to branch in the trees above us. We kept losing it in the sun. Benjamin wanted to see what we were looking at. I stretched back onto one arm so he could rest his cheek close to my shoulder and follow the other, which I extended to point.

It was a good day.

 

SEEDY, NUTTY KALE AND APPLE SALAD + MISO TAHINI DRESSING

The recipe for the dressing makes more than needed for one batch of kale salad. I store the remainder in the fridge, and use it up fairly quickly; as employed here, or alongside roasted root vegetables, or spooned over a halved avocado. 

Kale is a sturdy green, so can stand up to both an assertive dressing and a thorough leaf massage. Don't hold back on either. 

FOR THE DRESSING, makes around 1 cup

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/3 cup white (shiro) miso
  • 1/3 cup tahini, stirred
  • Juice from a largeish orange
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • Runny honey, fresh lemon juice or rice wine vinegar, and water, as required
  • Toasted sesame oil or olive oil, optional

FOR THE SALAD, enough for 2 to 4

  • Approximately 6 cups baby kale, as above, or the same of Tuscan kale, as below
  • 3 tablespoons mixed raw nuts and seeds, I used black and white sesame, shelled sunflower seeds and flaked almonds
  • decent-sized crisp, sweet apple 
  • 3/4 cup assorted sprouts 

 

METHOD

Sort the dressing first. In a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic into a paste. Stir in the miso and tahini, then most of the juice from the orange. Season with salt and pepper, then taste. Here's where you'll have to decide how best to proceed; fiddle with the dressing until there is a balance of fat and acid. You'll want to smack your lips when it's right. You should be able to taste the orange — give it a boost if necessary with more orange juice, and maybe a scant spoon of honey. If the dressing tastes flat, add lemon juice or rice wine vinegar. The dressing should be the consistency of pouring cream; stir in some water, or a few drops of either of the oils, until it runs easily off the spoon. 

To assemble the salad, grab a large bowl. Tear the kale into bite sized pieces, and add to the bowl along with a few tablespoons of the dressing. Using your hands, squish and bruise the kale, working the dressing into the leaves. Once completely coated, toss the kale lightly to fluff it up. Set aside. 

If desired, toast the seeds and nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat. Cool. 

Cut the apple into eights. Remove the core from the wedges, then slice thinly. Add to the bowl of kale, along with the sprouts, half the seeds, and another drizzle of dressing. Again with your hands or a pair of tongs, toss the salad with the dressing. Check for seasoning and serve, topped with the reserved seeds and nuts, and extra dressing at the table.

 

Other options for the dressing and salad :

  • Grated ginger
  • Lime juice, citrus zests
  • Walnut or avocado oil
  • Fresh avocado
  • Walnuts or pecans
  • Dried cranberries or cherries
  • Hemp hearts
  • Fried shallot or thinly sliced sweet onion
  • Cooked lentils, chickpeas, chickpeas, squash, grilled corn
  • Nutritional yeast or some nice, big shavings of a hard cheese like Parmesan, or perhaps small chunks of Stilton

     

    P.S. Emma of My Darling Lemon Thyme recently asked me to participate in an interview, and I'd like to thank her for that. 

    Posted
    Authortara
    24 CommentsPost a comment

    There is often a solitude to writing. It's the delicate scratch of pen on paper, or the glowing hum of a computer screen, against all the noise and words rattling around my brain.  

    Before I get to that stage of quiet chaos however, I talk out my ideas. Sometimes to others but also to myself, in the car, driving around alone on errands and whatnot. When I used to commute to work daily, the 45-minutes-each-direction trip was often when I did my best thinking. The length of the journey gave me enough time to work around the stumbling blocks in the way of what I was trying to say. Hearing the words somehow made them come across differently  — they were clearer, the thoughts fully realized. The only trouble with those drives is that 45 minutes worth of chatter was a lot to remember until I could get home record it all. What's more, is that I don't have those drives anymore. 

    Now I reply on the former option as my preference, working through ideas in collaboration. Speaking thoughts out loud when there's actually someone to hear them makes you seem less eccentric, true, but also makes the process that much more enjoyable, and more fruitful. There's the opportunity to learn from another's perspective, and that usually leads to something better. That better happens most often when I shut up and listen. In some cases, it can lead to soup.

    My friend Aran, currently nominated for both a James Beard Award and Saveur Best Food Blog Award, is a stylist, photographer and writer, and the creator of the site Canelle et Vanille . You've surely heard of her work, and probably her book as well, since Small Plates and Sweets was released late last year with much-deserved accolades. 

    Aran is as giving as she is talented. And it is her generosity regarding not only her skill, but also her viewpoint, that sets her apart. Raised in the Basque Country, she grew up in her grandfather's pastry shop, and trained in culinary school. Later she moved to the United States, working in professional kitchens, and marrying. She now has two children, a boy and a girl. It was only relatively recently that Aran and her family began a gluten-free lifestyle, which inspired a new definition for her home cooking that she shared with her readers.

    What that dietary change has brought is not a cold, prescriptive view on eating, and while the book is gluten free, it is not presented as a defining characteristic per se; rather her cooking style is rooted in a passionate desire to feed herself and others  soulful, satisfying food, food that happens to be without wheat. Many of her dishes are naturally or classically gluten free, like macarons or her beef stew, and those that aren't use the same, fairly common, alternative flours repeatedly, so that it isn't difficult to source the ingredients or slowly build up a gluten-free pantry. It all amounts to a gentle introduction to Aran's way of living, one absolutely in the realm of doable for day-to-day meals.

    What's more, her recipes are drop-dead gorgeous, full of colour and texture. They are refined and feminine, just like her, yet with a welcoming charm. Her heritage informs many of her tastes; there is a marmitako (a Basque fish stew) flavoured heavily with paprika, a couple of Spanish tortillas, her grandmother's robust garlic soup, and a classic arroz con leche perked up with lemon zest. As you'd imagine with her upbringing and schooling, she excels at desserts, but her savoury dishes have are often scene stealers. 

    The pea shoot pesto from her book is a particular example of that. It is straightforward, simple and lip-smackingly-good. Blended with almonds, and thick with Parmesan and olive oil, the pesto is intensely fresh; we've had it on soup, in an adapted take on her bocadillos, which my four-year-old declared "awesome" (page 111), and I had some on my eggs this morning alongside dollops of fresh ricotta. I honestly believe it could make cardboard taste good.

    The soup into which we swirled that pesto was actually from the Winter chapter, even though the pesto was from Spring. (The book is divided into seasons, with sweet treats following the savoury small plates in each.) The soup was written with a different pesto, one spiky and sharp with dandelion greens. Our spring is dallying; there are blossoms, but still a need for cardigans and I'm drinking more hot tea than usual. It was because of these cold days that I found myself flipping between the two sections, vacillating between the wintry soup, a roasted leek and cauliflower one, and a creamy fennel and spinach from spring. I chose the former for my husband, and chose the pea pesto to acknowledge that it is, in fact, April. 

    I am hoping that Aran won't mind me taking that liberty, as it was her that made me think of it in the first place. Throughout Small Plates and Sweet Treats  she mentions substitutions, and links recipes to others, in a chatty way that shows how her recipes are not meant to stand alone. As you spend time any time with the book, Aran's overarching skill with flavour combinations is obvious, and what's more is that it is harmonious. The chapters and dishes flow together seamlessly, making it easy to pick and choose based on whim, or interest, or fickle weather.

     Small Plates and Sweet Treats  is a gem. It inspires me to look at recipes in a new way, to cook outside my usual, and it is her brilliant use of a variety of grains and cereals that I've found myself incorporating into our routine, time and again. Aran imbues all her cooking with vibrancy, suggests pairings that had never occurred to me, and has particular opinions on something as simple as red beans, which makes me wonder if I have one too.

    Hers is an inspiring voice, and one that I'm happy to have for company. 

    Thanks for all the conversations, friend.  xo

     

    ROASTED CAULIFLOWER + LEEK SOUP WITH PEA SHOOT + ALMOND PESTO

    From the book Small Plates and Sweet Treats: My family's journey to gluten-free cooking (Little Brown and Company, 2012) by Aran Goyaga

    This soup is aromatic, supple, and mild in a way that is soothing — not at all bland. It  has presence without demanding attention. Pea tendrils are the basis of the pesto, which is more than a garnish, rather an integral component as well. The raw, grassy shoots offset the mellow roasted vegetables, and the aroma of the fresh garlic in the sauce is brought out by the warmth of the soup. It makes for a bang up combination. As noted, this soup was originally served with a dandelion green and hazelnut pesto, and the pea shoot pesto was to dress ricotta gnocchi; for reference, the recipes appear on pages 99 and 156, respectively. 

    The recipe here is as written in the book, with my notes following after. 

    Serves 4 to 6

    For the pea shoot and almond pesto

    • 1 clove garlic, minced
    • 1/3 cup (40 g) slivered almonds
    • 2 cups (60 g) pea shoots, tough stalks removed and chopped
    • 1 ounce (30 g) Parmesan cheese, finely grated
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/2 cup (125 ml) olive oil

    For the roasted cauliflower and leek soup

    • 1 medium cauliflower (1 pound or 450 g), cut into small florets
    • 1/2 medium leek, cut into large rings
    • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
    • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 medium russet potato, peeled and diced
    • 3 cups (750 ml)  chicken stock
    • 1/2 cup (125 ml) unsweetened coconut milk
    • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

     

    METHOD

    Make the pesto. Place the garlic and almonds in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the almonds are finely chopped. Add the pea shoots and process into a paste. Add the Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Pulse one more time. Add the olive oil in a slight stream while the processor is on and process until a smooth paste forms. Scrape down the sides and mix well. 

    TIP: If pea shoots are not available, watercress or spinach would be a great substitute. The pesto can be made in advance. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 1 month.

    Make the soup.  

    1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Toss together the cauliflower, leek, onion, garlic, olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes or until golden.
    2. Transfer the roasted vegetables to a large pot. Add the diced potato, chicken stock, coconut milk, thyme leaves, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender. 
    3. Purée the soup in a blender. Adjust the seasoning and serve with the pesto. 

     Notes:

    A few small things that I'm divulging out of honesty, not out of any conceit that you must follow suit —

    • I used goat's milk instead of the coconut milk because we had some in the fridge. Its sharpness was lovely. 
    • The bunch of thyme I thought I had went missing, and so was left out. The pea shoot pesto packs such flavour, that the soup was still a knockout.
    • I garnished the soup with chili oil. 

     

     

     

     

    Posted
    Authortara
    20 CommentsPost a comment

    I meant to include an announcement in the title, and then promptly forgot the intention — sorry! You see, there's a giveaway going on. Details are at the bottom of the post, after the recipe.

    Untitled

    This is totally happening.

    Here we have that unapologetic specimen of salad, the iceberg wedge. Actually, it's burly enough to warrant emphasis — The Iceberg Wedge. Yes, that's better.

    I was out with a friend I don't see as often as I'd like, the sort of friend who orders you a French 75 in a bar that's all dark wood and leather and brass, and whose taste you'd trust implicitly. Over the wandering path of our catching up, one of us mentioned iceberg lettuce; imagine my delighted suprise when he boldly declared his love for the stuff, a declaration I immediately cosigned. Besides maybe a backyard burger, I think we agreed that a wedge salad, dressed with bacon and blue cheese and more than a dash of hot sauce, is iceberg's highest praise.

    I've got real hopes some of you agree.

    Iceberg salads are often maligned, the badum-bum-cha punch line to jokes about terrible cooking. And there's surely fair reason for that, as sure as there's redeeming qualities to The Iceberg Wedge. It isn't refined, it isn't one of those springy salads that gets us ready for summer days. It is watery refreshing, it's old school gung-ho — it is crunch, and fat, and cool, and nose-clearing heat, all set right up to high on the sensory scale. It isn't wimpy, wan or delicate. It's a corker, a real wise guy. It's memorable. 

    As you might recall, I held off on bringing up this recipe earlier. I wanted to get the dressing measurements locked in before sending you on your way. There's a trouble in that though; as silly as it sounds, blue cheese dressing is an art more than a science. There are variables to consider and balance, ones that can't be be pinned down to hard and fast rules: the pungency and the moisture of the cheese, the astringency of the particular lemon that's juiced, the consistency of the sour cream. I've abandoned hope of giving exacting quantities, offering instead guidelines to steer you in the right direction. 

    If you don't mind, I have a note on the hot sauce to choose. I have a weakness for cayenne-based sauces with blue cheese, specifically Franks Red Hot Sauce, the hot sauce for Buffalo chicken wings — a dish that should always be served with celery and carrot sticks and blue cheese dressing. And no, I don't dip my wings in the dressing. That's just me. But the vinegary sting, that lip prickling heat from the hot sauce after a bite of chicken is so, so great with celery dipped in dressing for a chaser. Here, the iceberg lettuce stands in for the celery and the bacon for the deep fried wings, but the same logic applies. 

    And while we're on the topic of hot sauce, — my apologies but I have some heart-held feelings when it comes to the iceberg, scratch that, The Iceberg Wedge — I don't mix the hot sauce into the dressing. I'm not entirely fond of the pinkish shade it dyes everything, but there's also a taste preference; keeping it instead in drips and drabs across the salad perforates the dressing's richness. Again, that's just me. 

    Despite my peculiarities of opinion, there's nothing difficult about an iceberg salad. Not much happens in the kitchen, but everything happens on the plate. 

    Another point scored for The Iceberg Wedge.

    Untitled

    THE ICEBERG WEDGE

    You can use the dressing right away but I think it's even nicer after a day in the fridge, which gives the flavours the chance to fully develop. If you choose to wait, you may need to stir in a few drops of water to thin the dressing before use; it thickens quite a lot as it sits. 

    But oh, that thickened dressing is especially great on top of one of those backyard burgers. Leave it as is, straight from the fridge, and go to town.

    For the blue cheese dressing (makes about 2 cups)

    • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
    • 1/4 cup sour cream
    • 1/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
    • 4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
    • 1 tablespoon minced chives
    • Juice from half a lemon
    • Freshly ground black pepper

    For the salad

    • 1 medium sized head of iceberg lettuce
    • 1 recipe blue cheese dressing
    • 5 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped then fried until crisp
    • Minced chives, freshly-cracked black pepper, and hot sauce to serve

    Make the dressing. In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise, sour cream and 3 tablespoons of the buttermilk. Gently fold in the blue cheese and chives along with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Season with freshly-ground black pepper. Take a taste. If more freshness is needed, stir in a bit more lemon juice. If it needs thinning, add some buttermilk. Keep tasting and tweaking until the dressing suits your taste. Set aside, or if making ahead, cover and refrigerate until use. 

    To make the salad, discard any saddish-looking outside leaves from the lettuce. Cutting through the core, halve the head lengthways. Then cut each half into half the same way, so you end up with quarters, each with bit of core attached. Place the wedges on individual plates or on a platter, family style. Pour some of the dressing over the wedges, then top with the bacon. Garnish with minced chives, a cracking of black pepper, and as much hot sauce as you dare, passing the remaining dressing alongside. 

    Best eaten immediately, serving 4.

    Notes:

    • If you can time things such that the bacon is still warm, with some of its fat still sizzling when it's scattered on the salad, that's the way to go.
    • Green garlic can be used instead of, or in addition to, the chives.

    *******

    I truly appreciate the response to my work in UPPERCASE and all the recent kindness regarding my nominations over at Saveur. And so in thanks, I got together with Janine to offer two copies of UPPERCASE magazine's latest issue for a giveaway! The contest is open to anyone; simply leave a comment here if you'd like to be considered. (Please provide a way to contact you - through your own website or email address. If concerned about privacy on the latter, the information is only visible to me when entered in the contact email field of the comment form. It will not be made public.)

    Entries will be accepted until at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, April 20, 2012.

    Hooray and best of luck!

    Posted
    Authortara
    Categorieslunch, salad
    81 CommentsPost a comment

    This isn't the story of cookies. Although, there was a cookie the approximate size of my hand involved.

    Nor is this the account of astounding breads baked in wood-fired ovens, though we had some of those too. Nor is it about Schmuffins, teeny cakes that want to be doughnuts, which are not only exceedingly tasty, but are also the most adorably-named breakfast ever.

    It's not even about Texas-style beef brisket tacos, with meat that's been smoked long and low for hours. Or the crispy jalapeño rings that set fire to that smolder, and matched dangerously well with tall, skinny glasses of Lynchburg Lemonade. It could be about the waiter we met, with his shock of blond hair and high cheekbones. He talked really fast and he knew his stuff. But it's not.

    It's really a story of an unexpected friendship that became one of the most important in my life. And how, last fall, that friendship took us to Louisville, Kentucky.

    More years ago than I'll mention, I was sitting in a university Canadian Lit lecture. It was the first day of class. I was next to a friend, and he and I were chattering away, waiting for things to get started when, right before the professor began to speak, this lanky guy wearing a baseball cap plunked himself down in the chair on my other side. He had a grin that took up nearly three-quarters of his face.

    In one of those painful exercises of "getting to know everyone", the professor decreed we were to introduce the person we were sitting beside to the rest of the class. I looked to my buddy and laughed at the prospect of how I could embarrass him in front of the girls assembled. But then, she added "you're talking to the person on your left." 

    That would be the random boy in the hat. And that's how I met Brett. Thanks, Professor Rose.

    Years later, years of postcards and basketball games and cups of coffee, Sean and I had the honour watching Brett marry Kathryn, a woman with a smile that somehow manages to overshadow even his, and who is far more vivacious, talented, sharp and funny than he probably deserves (and I say that with honest affection). She's a gem.

    I only wish they lived closer. They settled in Kentucky, and had two of the cutest children you'll ever see. Those two imps call us Miss Tara and Mister Sean, and it is knock-you-over sweet.

    I've not told Brett this, but Louisville suits him. His Canadian accent has changed, so that certain words now sound deeper when he speaks them. There's a hint of drawl, a warm rumble in tone that sounds the way Bourbon tastes.

    I wrote about the trip we took to see him and his family in UPPERCASE magazine, issue 12. There, I share the details of our adventures. Adventures, and a recipe for buttermilk biscuits.

    +++++++

    I don’t have any direct biscuit heritage; I am without pedigree when it comes to those storied biscuits of the American south. My only claim, the only reason I hold the making, eating and sharing of biscuits so high in nostalgic regard is the simple fact that I like biscuits a whole darn lot.

    It’s a bit of an obsession. The trouble is, biscuits are one of those things that you can spend a lifetime perfecting. Close cousins to a scone, the type of biscuits I’m talking about are a simple quickbread; the purest forms are flour, a levener, a fat and a liquid. My recipe isn't bang-on traditional; it instead borrows from a few sources, and has a few tricks, in the aim of assuring those of us who didn't grow up making biscuits the guarantee of success. 

    IMG_7349SS

    Although the biscuits are saved for UPPERCASE, I do have a recipe to share. Let me introduce you to the Hot Brown, what's usually an open-faced sandwich of roasted turkey and bacon, under a blanket of Mornay sauce (a cheesed-up version of Béchamel) that's then broiled until bronzed and bubbling. It was invented in the 1920s at the Brown Hotel in Louisville by one Frank K. Schmidt, as a late-night offering to their guests who'd tired of the dance floor. It is a divine mess of salt and richness and gooey cheese that doesn't suit every day, but is gluttonously welcomed once in a long while. Thank you, Mr. Schmidt.

    While a Hot Brown is usually served with sourdough toast, you can see that's not the direction we're taking today. And, much like a journey down south to catch up with old friends, it's a good trip to take.

    Kentucky Hot Brown on a Biscuit

    My variation on a classic, inspired by a slew of recipes, including that from the Brown Hotel. Use your favourite sturdy biscuits here, as they're the base to an impressively weighty filling. 

    I apologize for the egg on top. It's not conventional, and I seem to be fallen into an unintentional theme:"if it's tastyput an egg on itIt'll be even better." For once, the blame is not entirely my own. On our last morning, with Brett and Kat and their charming children as company, we went out for breakfast. Sean ordered a Hot Brown, and the waiter suggested two eggs on top (Louisville's got some great service). He is a brilliant man. Seriously. Crack an egg and don't look back. It's the business.

    For the Mornay sauce

    2 tablespoons butter

    2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

    1 1/2 cups 10% cream

    1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano, divided

    A grating of fresh nutmeg, less than 1/8 teaspoon, optional

    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

    To assemble

    2 eggs

    2 buttermilk biscuits, split

    1 medium tomato, a good meaty variety, sliced

    2 thick slices roasted turkey breast, maybe 4 to 6 ounces total

    2-3 slices thick-cut bacon, cooked crisp and kept warm

    1 recipe Mornay sauce, kept warm

    Flat leaf parsley, to serve

    In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Slowly whisk in the flour, incorporating fully so there are no lumps. Continue to cook the mixture, stirring constantly, for a minute or so more. In a slow, steady stream, pour in the cream and whisk to combine. Cook, stirring often to make sure the sauce isn't catching, until the sauce comes to a boil, around 3 minutes. Turn the heat to low, and stir in 1/4 cup of the cheese. Season to taste with kosher salt and ground black pepper, and nutmeg if using. Keep the sauce on the lowest heat to keep it warm, stirring occasionally.

    Preheat a broiler. Cook the eggs to your liking; my preference is either fried sunny side up, or poached. At most, over easy. But, it's your breakfast so do what you'd like. My only note is that they can be slightly undercooked as they'll be blitzed under the broiler and nobody likes rubbery eggs. Get them ready and then set them aside for a moment. Place the two bottom halves of the biscuits on a small baking sheet or an oven proof plate. Top each bottom with a few slices of tomato. Place a slice of turkey on top, then divide the bacon between the two (breaking the slices in half to keep things neat, if needed). Place your eggs on top. Pour over some of the Mornay sauce and sprinkle the reserved cheese on top. Keep the rest of the sauce hot for serving. Put the biscuit tops beside the filled bottoms, cut side up. 

    Toast the sandwiches under the broiler until the sauce starts to bubble and the cheese begins to brown. This should take maybe a minute. Remove from the oven, garnish with whole parsley leaves (which bring a much-needed, fresh crunch), and top with the second half of the biscuit. Serve immediately, with the remaining Mornay sauce passed alongside.

    Makes 2, which should serve 2, but I won't bat an eyelash if you don't want to share.

    Notes:

    • Of course fresh, vine-ripened, fragrant-as-all-get-out tomatoes are the ones you want for a sandwich, especially one of such lineage. That said, there comes a time in darkest winter when said sandwich is on your mind and there's no such beauties to be had. I realize I've not helped matters by talking about Hot Browns in January. In these desperate times, I wish I could be so steadfast as to say to wait until September, but I can't. I'll tell you to get yourself some local offerings and roast them in a low oven to concentrate their sweetness to at least a suggestion of summer's best. I roasted my slices, seasoned with salt, pepper and a miserly pour of olive oil, at 300°F (150°C) for about 2 1/2 hours. You can go lower and slower, about 200°F for as much as 4 hours, if you're that patient. 
    • A few drops of hot sauce, dripped over before the biscuit lid is squished on, is how I like to do things.

    Places and people

    The Original Makers Club

    21 C Museum Hotel

    Proof on Main

    Garage Bar

    Blue Dog Bakery and Café

    Doc Crows Southern Smokehouse

    Hillbilly Tea

    Cake Flour

    Jack Fry's

    Posted
    Authortara
    32 CommentsPost a comment

    If I had shown you the collected plates of our last week or so, it would have made for the most boring slideshow in the history of the world. It's been pretty much one word, four syllables, at almost every meal. 

    Asparagus. Daily. There's been no complaints.

    There it's been, with oozy-yolked dipper eggs to start the day, shaved into emerald-edged ribbons as a lunch salad, stir-fried with ginger, sesame and soy for dinner. When baking a cake left me with egg yolks left over, I took it as a sign and lickety-split made a herb-specked, lemon-heavy Hollandaise to drag our stalks through.

    I was tempted to tell you the way I've liked it best, but it's not much of a recipe. Just a knob of butter melted in a heavy skillet and allowed to begin to brown, then stopped from going overboard by a scant pour of olive oil. In goes trimmed asparagus and another scant pour - water this time - quickly simmering/steaming the stalks to tender-crisp and setting their colour at its brightest. Once the water's bubbled away, the asparagus goes off the heat and onto a plate. There's salt and pepper to finish, along with a squeeze of lemon, an extra drop of oil and broad, lacy shavings of Parmesan. No trick to that. 

    And so instead, I thought I'd tell you about a dish that has a bit more going on but shares the same quick time from counter to table. It may not be my full-stop favourite, but it's up there and gaining a following. 

    It starts with a winner of a sauce - David Lebovitz's sauce gribiche. Like he says, it's one of those keep-it-in-your-back-pocket recipes that makes something kind of spectacular out of a few everyday ingredients. It's French in lineage, a loose sauce-meets-vinaigrette, with an emulsification of (cooked!) egg yolk and mustard to start, a good measure of olive oil, chopped egg, capers, cornichons and herbs. 

    That was where I was heading. Then, thumbing through Canal House Cooking Volume No. 3 - the winter and spring edition from last year - I was reminded of their take on the iceberg wedge; sharp, crunchy radicchio garnished with hard-boiled eggs, scallion and crisp pancetta. It's gorgeous. Their vinaigrette and garnish shares a lot of qualities with sauce gribiche, and that's when I decided to change course and take the best from both.

    This vinaigrette ends up eggier than his sauce gribiche, and the cornichons are swapped out for the fresh pungency of scallion - that's the Canal House influence at work. My only original contribution was to fleck the dressing with dried red pepper flakes, which spark here and there.

    We ate it at lunch yesterday with nothing else necessary than a slice of toasted granary bread as raft for the spears. The crumb opened up to the spiky, supple dressing, and the crust afforded the dish substantial chew. Use the last of your bread for sopping up all the extra bits and dregs of dressing - be greedy with the bread, I say.

    One note on the asparagus itself; you can prepare it however you prefer, but can we talk about matters of size? Go straight for the thicker stalks, the kind that almost require a fork and knife when eating with anyone aside from the closest of company. Dainty, they are not, those sturdy ones.

    The fat, juicy stalks really have the most flavour, and it's their fleshy sweetness that stands up to the piquancy of this dressing best. If those spindly stems we often see are thought of as pencil-thin, the sort you'll want here are more the magic-marker variety. 

    As with a traditional sauce gribiche, this vinaigrette would be happy to pal around with some boiled new potatoes or a nice bit of fish. Or, to tweak the Canal House example, I'd like it this over grilled wedges of radicchio at the next barbeque. I've got ideas of blanched green beans when they're around.

    That said, I've not tried any of those suggestions. We've only gone so far as asparagus and stopped quite stubbornly there. For right now, in this asparagus season that is so quickly passing, that's far enough for me.

    IMG_27252

    ASPARAGUS WITH HARD-BOILED EGG VINAIGRETTE

    Adapted from from Canal House Cooking and David Lebovitz, with thanks.

    INGREDIENTS

    • Kosher salt
    • 2 scallions, white and light green parts separated and finely sliced
    • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
    • 2 hard boiled eggs, peeled
    • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    • 1/3-1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    • 10 capers, rinsed and dried
    • Approximately 1/8 teaspoon dried chili flakes
    • 1 handful of fresh, flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
    • 1 pound thick asparagus, peeled if needed, trimmed and cooked to your liking

    METHOD

    In a small bowl, pinch together 1/8 teaspoon salt with the white part of the sliced scallions. Once the scallion begins to release some juice, stir in the red wine vinegar and set aside.

    Separate the egg yolks from the hard boiled eggs. Place one egg yolk in a medium bowl. Chop the other egg yolk and egg whites separately, and keep both aside for later.

    Mix the Dijon mustard into whole egg yolk until smooth. Using the back of a spoon or fork, beat in 1/3 cup of the olive oil in a thin, steady stream. Once emulsified, stir in the vinegar and white scallions. 

    Add the reserved egg whites to the sauce, along with the capers, the chili flakes and most of the parsley. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. It'll be quite kicky. If the sauce seems too thick, loosen with the extra olive oil. 

    To serve, arrange the cooked asparagus on a plate. Spoon over the sauce, then garnish with the chopped egg yolk, reserved parsley and scallion greens. 

    Serves 2.

    Posted
    Authortara
    40 CommentsPost a comment