Thursday, July 30, 2009

Adventures in Salad #5- Morrocan Carrot Salad

Grated carrot salad with cumin seed, olive oil and lemon juice (#14)

Today I tried the Moroccan carrot salad which was made of grated carrots, toasted cumin seed, olive oil, lemon juice and cilantro. Four or 5 times a week I get a chicken pita for lunch from this little Mediterranean place by my job and I thought this would make a nice accompaniment. According to Mr. Bittman there is "no better use of raw carrots" I might have to agree with him on this one. Although it sounds like there's not really a lot going on ingredient wise, this salad achieved what yesterday's salad did not; a cohesive salad experience where no single was overpowering or odd and the salad as a whole provided an entirely different taste experience any any of the parts.

I really liked this salad. The carrots were nice and tender after stewing in the lemon juice for a few hours. The cilantro and lemon provided brightness which was nicely tempered by the cumin-ness of the cumin seeds. :-p I don't really know how to describe the effect of the cumin in this dish... slightly sweet... earthy... and a perfect compliment for the cilantro and brought everything together.

If I were to make this salad again, I'd probably add a more cumin seed. I also might add just a tiny bit of honey... maybe.. it was near perfect as is.

So my final thoughts....

-Would I eat this salad again? Absolutely. I think this will have to become one of my lunch time staples when I eat my pita. I need to find a way to add some green without ruining the flavor.
-Would I serve this to company- Absolutely.
- Did I learn anything from this salad experience?- toasted cumin seeds are yummy...
- Salad rating: Solid A- Great little addition to my salad repertoire!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Weekend fun in DC

This quarter's weekend getaway (goal #44) was a trip to DC to visit my girlfriend Cynthia. Cynthia is a huge deal. She has her own fabulous blog, Hungry Sista, is a writer for Essence Magazine and is currently a press correspondent for the White House (yeah... Prez Obama, Michelle and them... fabulous). I traveled to DC with my girlfriend Alex (who is also a huge deal!) on one of those commuter bus lines that travels between DC and New York. I was NOT pleased with taking the bus (we were originally going to drive Alex's car), but it turned out not being as I anticipated. for $50 (round trip) we rode in a fairly comfortable, air conditioned bus with free wi-fi and watched a movie (Paul Blart, Mall Cop.... which was surprisingly funny and touching... I shed a little tear at the end... and I'm not ashamed...) Alex introduced me to TastyKake donuts at our rest-stop break... She says they are a Philly treat.... can't say they were too shabby. Def better than Entemann's powdered donuts.

After 5 long hours on the train, we finally arrived in Dupont Circle, got our luggage and decided to get a cocktail while we waiting for Cynthia. Alex and I both had John Daily's at a cute little place called Bread and Brew. John Daily's are one of my new favorite summer cocktails. I was introduced to them the week before at Delysha's wedding. It is a mix of sweet tea vodka and lemonade. You can't even taste the alcohol.... not that this seasoned gin and tonic gal minds the taste of alcohol, but it got the stamp of approval from lightweight Alex.

Cynthia showed up and we trekked over to her spot. We had plans that evening to meet up with Alex's friend for dinner so Alex decided to jump in the shower to make sure she was all fresh and clean (apparently Cynthia and I weren't too concerend :-p)... after a slight towel... "situation" and some back and forth about outfit selection, we were off to dinner at this awesome placed called Oya for dinner. It was fantastic. I had these BBQ sticky ribs that were AMAZING (but messy) and this great cocktail called a Fuji Island... which was a mixture of Soju, cucumber and black pepper. Sounds odd.... tasted fabulous.

Being the old broads that we were, we went home after dinner and, after a slight sheet... "situation" we promptly fell asleep. Saturday we spent the day wandering around in Georgetown, shopping it up and eating pizza and Ben and Jerrys. I "motivated" (read: forced) the girls to walk home instead of taking the bus... about a 45 min walk, mostly uphill (Hey we gotta work off that Ben and Jerrys) so by the time we got home we were beat, and I promptly fell asleep. It was 7:00. After making fun of me for falling asleep, Cynthia and Alex both decided to nap too... We woke up around 10:00 to pouring rain and decided we were too lazy to go out and just sat around chatting and watching TV.

Sunday we woke up bright and early, had a lovely brunch and then took an extremely anti-climactic tour of the National Cathedral. Church service was going on at the time, so maybe that is why we only got to see like 1.5 rooms?... but I"m not so sure. Beautiful cathedral though... from the outside :-p

We bid adieu to Cynthia, boarded the bus and were on our way back to NYC. I had a great time in DC and really can't wait to visit again :-)

Adventures in Salad #4- tomato, peach and cilantro summer salad

Salad #4: Spicy tomato, peach and cilantro salad with a lime vinaigrette. (#2)

So... today's salad was a pretty simple mixture of beefsteak tomatoes, ripe peaches, and fresh cilantro with a few sprinkles of red pepper flakes and a healthy squeeze of lime juice. According to Mark Bittman the combination is "Astonishing". Hmm... can't agree with you there, Mark.

I was excited to try the salad because, again, it's not something I would have tried. I don't love peaches by themselves and I generally dislike fruits in my salads...( except for the occasional cranberry in a mesculin salad) but I thought maybe the combination of all of the ingredients would be greater than the sum of their parts and really create a truly "astonishing"and totally different taste. It didn't.

The tastes didn't seem to compliment each other... if anything I feel like the tomato and peach somehow dampened each other and my little buddy, cilantro--who usually guarntees a festive time-- was just there to look pretty. To me, this tasted very much like a poor man's version of mango salsa... which is essentially the same ingredients, but subbing the mango for peach. I love mango salsa, but the mildness of the peach flavor didn't do this justice. If I were to try this again I would probably sub nectarine for the peach (they have a brighter flavor), add more red onion, and instead of cutting everything in wedges, I'd dice the tomato and nectarine..... but unfortunately I have no interest in trying this again. If someone else does, please let me know your thoughts. I'm dissapointed in you, salad 4.

-Would I eat this salad again? Nope... but it does have me feening for a Qdoba mango chicken salad....
-Would I serve this to company- Nope... I didn't even finish my serving... and I finish everything
- Did I learn anything from this salad experience?- Yep... peaches are only good in cobbler... and they're only marginally good there ;-p
- Salad rating: D

A summer's worth (and fall) of simple salads

Summer is not a great time of year for someone who loves to cook... it's too hot to turn on the stove. It's definitely too hot to turn on the oven. It's even too hot on most days for me to lug my overpriced produce from Whole Foods... it's just too hot to think about food. Most of the things that really salt my cooking tomato (heh heh) are delicious soups and crispy roasted chickens and marinated baked tilapia.... Salad (and don't get me wrong i LOVE a salad) just isn't as exciting.

While I like to think of myself as a generally adventurous eater... I am EXTRA boring with summer salads. I can (and often do) eat the same salad for weeks on end; romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber marinated in vinegar and salt, some snap or snow peas (maybe) and grilled chicken, and I always dress my salads with lemon juice, olive oil and salt. DELICIOUS and refreshing but boring. Last week I stumbled upon a really great article by Mark Bittman, a New York Times food columnist, called 101 Simple Salads. I figured this was as good a time as any to try and expand my salad repertoire.

So... I am going to attempt to try at least 50 of the salads on Mark Bittman's list. The salads are separated into 6 "types"; vegan, vegetarian, meat, seafood, noodle and grain salads. There are hot and cold salads so I should be able to do this well into fall.

I started this little project last Wednesday and so far I've tried 3 new salads..

Salad 1: Tuna with black olives, capers, tomatoes, parsley and olive oil (#59)
I don't have a picture of this salad, unfortunately, but it was DELICIOUS. It was a good salad to start with because it's something I wouldn't have thought I'd have liked to so much. I'm generally not a huge fan of capers (unless they're on a bagel with cream cheese and tomato) and parsley is my LEAST favorite herb.... it's one of those ingredients that if I see it in a recipe, more likely than not, I won't make it. But I have to say the salad was GREAT. The salty/tanginess of the black olives and capers really complimented the earthy-ness of the parsely and tuna was the perfect choice of protein. MMMM my mouth is watering just thinking about it. When I went to DC this weekend I was actually craving parsley... and almost ordered a pizza with parsley on it.. somethign I would have NEVER done before eating this salad. Good job Mark Bittman. Totally opening up my mind... and my palate :-p
-Would I eat this salad again? Most Def!
-Would I serve this to company- Yep!
- Did I learn anything from this salad experience?- Yes I learned that parsley isn't the unwanted stepchild of the herb world...
- Salad rating: Solid A

Salad 2: Seared steak with dinosaur kale, black olives, olive oil and sherry vinegar. (#79)
This was the first of the "hot salads" that I tried. I was ok... nothing to write home about. I first seared the steak in a hot skilled and cooked it for about 2 min on each side. While the pan was still hot, I tossed in thin strips of the dino kale let that sizzle down for a minute or 2, and then added the olives, oil and sherry vinegar. Eh.. it was ok. The steak was delicious... but then again what's not to like about beef seasoned simply with salt, pepper, garlic powder and tumeric... but the Kale was nothing to write home about. Kale is my favorite green, so I liked it, but it tasted pretty much like any other kale dish I make. For some reason I thought the mixture of the olives, steak, kale and sherry vinegar would be a new taste experience.... it wasn't. If anything I thought the black olives competed with the vinegary kale. So...
-Would I eat this salad again? As a combo, probably not.
-Would I serve this to company- I'd serve the steak with a side of kale, but not as a "salad" and not with the olives.
- Did I learn anything from this salad experience?- Yes. Olives don't go with kale and Tumeric is a great addition to a steak rub.
- Salad rating: C-

Salad 3: Arugula salad with whole wheat penne, parmesan, lemon zest and olive oil. (#85)
Another hit for Mr. Bittman! So this salad is made by combining, a big bowl of arugula, with a little bit of slightly cold penne, lots of lemon zest (I zested a full lemon), olive oil and parmesan cheese. I added some grilled chicken... just because I like meat :-p I figured I'd like this but I wasn't sure how impressed I would be with it (I mean... what's not to like about arugula, pasta, cheese and olive oil?) but it was really great! The mixture of the spicy arugula and the tangy lemon zest/olive oil was perfect. The parm added a nice bit of saltiness and the penne made the salad seem way more substantial and hearty than an arugula and lemon zest salad should be. I don't use lemon zest very often... I always think of it as kind of bitter and I just have bad childhood memories of my mom always ruining a perfectly good, nutmeggy pound-cake with dried lemon zest... but I've started to come around on the lemon zest. Between this dish and this chicken, lemon, mint dish that I made recently, I've slowly becoming a fan of the zest.
-Would I eat this salad again? Yep. I would eat it again tonight if I wasn't doing this salad challenge :-)
-Would I serve this to company- Absolutely.
- Did I learn anything from this salad experience?- Yep... Lemon zest, while a foe of nutmeg, can be a friend of arugula :-)
- Salad rating: A