Fennel, Apple, Mushrooms, Raisins, Arugula (aka the “Pretty Near Perfect Fall Salad” post)

Three rules I live by: 1.) Frequent trips to the greenmarket. 2.) Keep your kitchen basics stocked. 3.) Let whatever you have on hand inspire your cooking.

Rule no. 1 sets you up for success: If you always have some variation of locally grown, seasonal produce on hand, you’ve got a great basis for inspiration.

Rule no. 2 helps with time management: You won’t have to drop everything to run to the store for one or two items, wasting 30 minutes or more.

Rule no. 3 is easy — when you follow no. 1 and no. 2. Hence this gorgeous salad, which I pulled together based on what I had on hand.

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The Pretty Near Perfect Fall Salad
Serves 2

1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced, some fronds reserved
1 apple, sliced
4 cloves garlic, whole
1/2 c. golden raisins

8 oz. button mushrooms (or baby bellas), thinly sliced
2 sprigs rosemary
Sherry vinegar

Approx. 8 oz. arugula or greens of your choice
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), white balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Add-ons: Protein of your choice — we have wild caught single serve portions of Mahi Mahi from Costco in our freezer. Slivered almonds or cheese would also be delicious additions in the absence of fish. Also, I threw in some leftover pickled onion that I had in the fridge.

Directions: Toss the fennel, apple and garlic cloves in EVOO, salt and pepper, and roast at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, turning once or twice, until lightly browned. Add the raisins for the last 5 minutes. Separate the fennel and raisins; set aside. Chop the roasted apple slices and slice the garlic thinly; reserve.

Separately, heat 1T EVOO and 1T butter (optional — but recommended) in a large saute pan. Add mushrooms and rosemary and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. Add the reserved apple and garlic. Once the mushrooms are cooked and the liquid has evaporated, add 1T sherry vinegar around the edge of the pan (red wine vinegar or even apple cider vinegar would also work) and stir to incorporate. Continue cooking another five minutes or so, until all of the liquid has evaporated.

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Toss greens in drizzle of EVOO and white balsamic vinegar (regular balsamic vinegar would work as well — white balsamic has a lighter, lightly sweet taste). Salt and pepper lightly.

To plate: Divide salad onto two plates and top with some of the reserved fennel fronds — just a few pieces here and there. Spoon mushroom mixture over salad and gently mix. Add a few more fennel fronds if desired. Top with roasted fennel and raisins.

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Bon Appetit!

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Dinner: Around the World and Ya Ya Ya Salad, Redux

Luscious salmon from the Lobster Place in Chelsea Market, glistening in your own fish oils (and maybe a little bit of olive oil) after a quick pan-fry, plated on top of a bed of lettuce, sprouts, pears and… . Hmm, wait a minute. What are those krinkly things? (And didn’t we sort of have this last night?)

photoWell, sort of. Both last night’s salad and tonight’s salad represent but two of an infinite number of salad compositions, if we keep going in this vein, with goods from various parts of the world (and ya ya ya). Last night it was Australia, England, Greece. Tonight it’s:

— Asia: Those crinkly, crenulated bits are oyster mushrooms, one of a half-dozen worthy mushroom varieties spotted at the Chelsea Market recently. (I’m guessing that they’re also not half-bad for you, in that oil-rich, Omega 3 sort of way.)

— Pears.

— Salmon. Pac Northwest, I’d guess. Or maybe somewhere more local Northern Atlantic. Let’s chalk it up as U.S.-adjacent. (speculation)

— Nicoise olives. Oh so very French.

I love this game.

Sunday: Meet the Rolls-Royce of Lamb Chops (aka the “FreshDirect Discovery” Post)

Flown in from the sheep-rich plains of Australia, these flavorful, juicy chops have just a hint of earthiness and a velvety texture. These are the Rolls-Royce of lamb chops. Leaving the bone in lends a flavor boost that stands up to seasonings and marinades. But lamb loin chops are great with just a little salt and pepper. …
photo-4I couldn’t put it better myself. In my humble opinion, these little charmers — essentially, they’re little lamb t-bone cuts — don’t need a single thing, other than some olive oil and a few minutes under the broiler.
I didn’t do the cooking tonight, but I will be signing up for FreshDirect so I can order them myself. The petitness of the cut, the huge flavor, so reasonably priced — this is meat I can manage. (The exact inverse reaction I had walking into Whole Foods a few weeks ago, all geared up to buy a porterhouse steak (on sale), until I got to the butcher counter, saw its size and lost my nerve.)
photo-3Anyhow, the lamb loin chops (sliced into strips) were the last and crowning bit to a lovely salad that, as I describe it, couldn’t decide from whence it came: spinach, a sweet balsamic glaze, Feta cheese from Greece, sprouts and sprouted beans, Australian lamb, proper English mint sauce.
It was pointed out to me that the Greek are a big fan of lamb, but I wasn’t buying this salad as a wholly Greek-inspired salad. It had a little bit of everywhere, and I mean that in the most complimentary sense possible.

Dinner: Playing with Fava Beans

photo-4I love playing with food. One great playdate: Produce (or greenmarket) curiosities. And these oversized, lumpy, browning fava bean pods that I found the other day are just about a perfect match.

For starters, I know what fava beans are; I’ve had them dozens of times, mixed in pastas, or sauteed with garlic and shallots (a side dish). They’re that bean that almost looks like a lima bean, but isn’t, and tastes so much better.

But who knew these things are locked away in such a high-security ward: To get to the bean, you have to first shuck these pods from the shells, then you have to extract the beans from a second, interior pod (see below). This recipe ended up being the loose basis for my fava bean experiment:

First, shuck: Just break the pods, and open. (It gets easier as you go).

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Second, blanch: Dumped the beans in their inner casing into boiling water and let bubble away for 2ish minutes. Drain, and dump the beans into a new vessel, let the cold water run (maybe throw a few ice cubes in). That’s blanching.

Third, pop out the beans: Just don’t squish them. The Internet tells me, there are various methods of doing this. My own method was moderately successful.

photo-1Fourth, blend/puree: Just do it. Put the blanched beans, plus minced garlic, plus olive oil (liberally, as needed), plus lemon juice (also as needed), plus salt, pepper, and  whatever else you’d like. The blades shouldn’t get stuck too much; if they do, tap down with a spatula and add a little more olive oil.

I didn’t do this, but one solution might be: Add a dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt.

When it gets about the texture of humus, it’s done. Scoop, smile and enjoy saying the word “crostini.”

Dinner: Impromptu ur Caesar Chicken Salad

A Caesar salad gets away with being so sparse in content because that dressing bullies anything in its path: Romaine, croutons, shavings of Parmesan, grilled chicken, all defer to that mighty dressing, and they like it that way. So it’s no surprise that the chopped Romaine in my fridge was just begging to be a Caesar salad, but I had other ideas.

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I bought a bottle of Kerry Wood’s Healthy Salad Dressing recently after sampling it at Whole Foods a few weeks ago, and I’m totally in love with this dressing, big, bold flavors, New Orleans-style.

photoI marinated the chicken cutlets (purchased from one of the most amazing supermarkets I’ve ever seen, under the Queensboro Bridge, literally) in about 2 Tbls. of the dressing, more olive oil, Cayenne pepper, lemon juice, salt, pepper for about 40 minutes before cooking them in a shallow bath of sizzling-hot olive oil (a few minutes each side, or until no longer pink inside).

After the cutlets cooled, I gave them a rough chop, and tossed them in with the romaine — and more Kerry Woods’ dressing. So simple, so good.

Dinner: The Fate of the Pita Chips … and More

photo(2)To resolve the second-lunch cliffhanger of: “Whatever happened to the pita chips,” they became a part of my triumvirate-scroungy dinner:

Part One: Said pita chips from Pita Pan Cafe. No way those freshly deep-fried bits of old pita would last even until morning. Paired with a newly-bought Sabra hummus and a fine Catalonian E.V.O.O.

photo(7)Part Two: Personal-sized repeat salad from simple steak salad night just last week. Minus the Parmesan, plus the radish slices. Not exactly even trade, but not crap, either. (I like radishes.)

Part Three: Vaguely more complicated. I start getting anxiety when I look in my fridge and there is no block of cheese — not even an end of block of cheese — in sight.

Separately, I also got mildly excited about The Food Emporium’s “Taste of Nature: Austria” circular that I discovered recently (clearly an Austria tourism-sponsored tourism plug; specials are on through July 2). So when I realized tonight that Austrian cheese happened to be on special, when I happened to stop in the Food Emporium nearest to my apartment tonight … well …

Let’s leave this with another to be continued. Surely, the cheeses will surface again soon.