How to Make Da Gravy: Tomato Sauce 101
Sex Up Your Salad…with Nuts
Like an old relationship, salads can become boring and stale. You find yourself falling into old patterns and habits and before you know it you realize you have been eating the same spinach salad with balsamic vinaigrette for the past two years and it turns your stomach just to look at it. You need excitement and spice. Something to revive your love. You need fresh ingredients that are simple and tasty, turning that salad into something you start to crave again.
Here are a few tips to sex up your salad life:
Keep a few varieties of nuts in your pantry at all times. For salad time, toast them briefly, till they become fragrant and toss them into your salad, whole or chopped depending on your preference and the nut. Remember toasting is critical when dealing with nuts as it really brings out their flavor, adding a new level of depth and warmth to them. Be careful though, they can turn from toasted to burnt very quickly so pay attention! I am a huge fan of pistachios and pecans. Walnuts are another favorite. They are high in protein and good fats. Not low calorie, but a little goes a long way flavor-wise.
Carrots and cucumbers are swell, but get tiresome quickly. Apples, oranges, grapefruit, pears and even strawberries are much more sumptuous additions to your meal. Apples and pears offer a range from sweet to tart (I personally prefer a nice tart apple like a granny smith) and can be sliced or diced depending on your fancy. Citrus, such as oranges or grapefruit are best when “supremed” which refers to cutting out perfect peel and pith free segments for optimal eating pleasure. It’s very easy to do and rather soothing and just makes your salad look super classy (see my video from my previous post). I like to cut strawberries in half and pair them with goat cheese, spinach or mixed baby greens and good balsamic vinegar & olive oil for a salad. I call it a dessert salad. Yum.
No mystery here. Cheese makes everything better. I find I most often use either parmesan or goat cheese in my salads. For the parm, I shave it using a vegetable peeler. It does the trick quite nicely.
Same romaine getting you down? Try arugula (I prefer baby because it’s less bitter), spinach, baby kale, radicchio, endive, butter lettuces and more! There is such great variety out there. I also enjoy mixing up different varieties. Currently I’m on an arugula-raddichio-endive kick. It looks so pretty and has great flavor.
So many ways to go here. My only one piece of advice is DON’T BUY YOUR DRESSING!! Unless it’s some refrigerated small batch stuff, chances are it’s loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup among other undesirables. Making dressing is very simple. On its most basic level you need an acid, fat and salt. One of my favorite go-to’s is lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. That’s it. The general ratio of acid: fat is either 1:3 or 1:2 depending on how acidic your acid it. Red wine vinegar for example, is much more acidic than lemon juice. So in turn vinegar usually follows the 1:3 pattern and citrus closer to the 1:2 ratio.
While we may remember the importance of seasoning our meat, often we forget how much seasoning our salad effects the final result. Fun fact: The world salad derives from salt! So a salad without salt is doing its name an injustice! Season to taste and I promise it will make a huge difference.
Here are two similar varieties of my current favorite salads. As always, you can throw some chicken, a egg or fish on top to make it a heartier meal. These are rough ingredients. You can always taste and adjust seasoning and quantities to your liking.
Arugula Salad with Clementines, Pistachios & Shaved Parmesan
- Baby arugula, washed and dried
- 2 clementines, segmented (squeeze and save juice from the remaining skin/pith parts)
- Handful of pistachios, toasted and roughly chopped
- Shaved Parm
- 1 lemon, juiced
- Good extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp honey
- Splash of white balsamic vinegar
- Salt & Pepper
- Whisk lemon juice, saved clementine juice, honey, vinegar, and salt and pepper together. Slowly whisky in olive oil. Till it roughly equals the amount of lemon juice.
- Place at the bottom of your salad bowl or a mixing bowl (depending on how many dishes you want to do), reserving some of the dressing on the side- we don’t want to overdress the salad and can always add more dressing!
- Toss in arugula and coat with dressing, adding salt to taste. I like to use my hands- ideally you can buy some plastic gloves or just wash’em well. Remember it is very important to SEASON your salad- that means salt. It really helps to bring out the flavor of the lettuce and the dressing
- Toss in remaining ingredients, reserving a little bit of each for decorative purposes at the end.
- Serve and enjoy!
Arugula, Endive & Radicchio Salad with Apples, Pecans & Shaved Parmesan
- Baby arugula, washed and dried
- 1 head of red radicchio (use treviso if you want to be indulgent)), washed, dried and chopped
- 1 head red or yellow endive- I like yellow for collar, washed, dried and chopped
- 1-2 granny smith apples, sliced or diced (diced in the picture) you can leave on the skin or peel it based on your preference
- Handful of pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
- Shaved Parm
- 1 lemon, juiced
- Good extra virgin olive oil
- Salt & Pepper
Follow the same technique as the salad above for the dressing and seasoning.
You don’t need to be Mexican or getting married to make these…
Mexican wedding cookies are treats I’ve had and each time thought, “Wow, these are ridiculously good!” Buttery, nutty goodness that just melts in your mouth (that might sound a touch wrong, but you get the idea.) They often are sold at Mexican restaurants and various pastry shops, but aren’t too commonly found.
Mexican wedding cookies’ origins and ceremonial function are as their name implies: they are served at Mexican weddings! They are also pretty much identical to Russian tea cakes.
I always like to bring in baked goods to work after my weekend (it’s a great way to get your coworkers to like you more), so in honor of my 2015 GastroResolution to master a new dish, I picked these little butter nuggets. And guess what? They are incredibly easy. I consulted the illustrious internet for recipes and found the results very consistent across the board. I went with an old Paula Deen recipe- please don’t judge me! Hey the recipe involved copious amounts of butter, so I assumed it was her territory…
Needless to say they were easy to make and turned out great. Now I have another go-to cookie to add to the repertoire.
Mexican Wedding Cookies
Adapted from Paula Deen & The Food Network
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for coating baked cookies
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting hands
1 cup pecans, toasted, cooled then chopped into very small pieces
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar at low speed until it is smooth. Beat in the vanilla. At low speed gradually add the flour. Mix in the pecans with a spatula. With floured hands, take out about 1 tablespoon of dough and shape into a crescent or just roll into balls. Continue to dust hands with flour as you make more cookies. Place onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 40 minutes. When cool enough to handle but still warm, roll in additional confectioners’ sugar. Cool on wire racks.
The Vineyard Project
From a young age I came to understand that three of the key components to my happiness involve great food, great wine and great music. That holy trinity was born within my family’s kitchen, on many an evening spent with my father cooking dinner, sipping on whatever wine he chose and listening to the music he taught me to love. I came to fall in love with the world of food and wine on many separate occasions thereafter, but the seed was planted there.
Our connection to wine was rooted more deeply than just an admiration. My Great Uncle Ben had had a vineyard in the Hudson Valley of New York since 1976. We grew up regularly visiting the vineyard, frolicking in the vines, learning about each year’s new creations and helping with the occasional harvest. Here in the tasting room of Clinton Vineyards (named after its location in Clinton Corners, NY) I learned about how wine was made, about the méthode champenoise that my uncle used on our Sparkling Seyval and consequently why it couldn’t be called Champagne and about the wonderful experiment that turned into our famous award winning Cassis. My father still likes to brag that our Cassis “beat the pants off of France” and naturally we mock him for telling everyone that. Joking aside, it is truly delicious.
Updating Coffee Cake
When I was living on the farm in Italy, I was tasked with preparing breakfast for the guests each morning. Breakfast was a hybrid Italian-American affair. The small buffet table next to the kitchen was filled with cereal, yogurt, fruit, our homemade granola, hard boiled fresh eggs and a breakfast cake or scone of the day. We followed a standard recipe for the granola, the eggs were always to be hard boiled, so my only outlet for creativity lay in the breakfast cake. The key to the cake or pastry, was to create something that if necessary could last a day or two in case there weren’t many guests and that the Italians would approve of (not an easy task) and that the Americans would accept as breakfast. So I experimented. I played around with olive oil cakes, hearty scones, pound cakes and honey bran cakes among others. I tried to create more healthful options than the average white cake, enriching doughs with oats, whole wheat flours, wheat germ and ground almonds. I’d add coconut flakes and brown sugar instead of white sugar and replaced yogurt for sour cream. Sure I still creamed butters and added some white flour into the mix. These were not might to be a substitute for a kale smoothie after all and I still wanted them to be tasty!
Among the experiments, the coffee cake became my favorite. I originally took a Barefoot Contessa recipe for Sour Cream Coffee Cake (I love Ina) and slowly started to tweak it, given what I had at hand in our kitchen’s pantry. I loved the texture the whole wheat flour and bran gave it. We had almond flour on hand so I used it: fyi it’s not so cheap, but accessible and you don’t need much. If you have a food processor and some almonds, you can make it yourself. It really adds a wonderful lightness and level of moisture to the cake! Italians don’t really have our version packed brown sugar, but have a form of granulated brown sugar that I used instead. Anyways, many variations evolved as a result. No two cakes ever were quite the same.
Coffee cake is wonderful because you can eat it as a decadent breakfast or a light(er) dessert. Above all, it is easily frozen and so you can make and enjoy it for a while.
So here is one I recently made. More to come!