Salad on a Stick

by Lisa

With summer fair season coming up, and  barbecues and neighborly dinners, I thought this would be a good time to share our latest favorite thing: salad on a stick.  Another recipe straight out of last month’s Food and Wine, this one is endlessly adaptable, and it’s going to be a regular on our summer table. I served this first for dinner with the Pickled Shrimp, then brought another batch to book club. Both times it was a huge hit, probably because the only thing better than something on a stick is something on a stick with bacon. My kids would eat bacon everyday if they could.

The original recipe is a take on a classic wedge salad:  iceberg, bacon, blue cheese.  The technique is this: spear alternating bites of romaine lettuce and bacon onto a bamboo spear. Serve with homemade blue cheese dressing.  These disappear fast–neither kids nor adult can’t resist. The only note of caution: don’t overcook the bacon. It needs to be slightly tender so it doesn’t crumble on the spear.  I’ve learned to cook bacon in my oven:  put cold bacon on a foil lined try into a cold oven. Turn to 350 degrees and bake for 12-17 minutes, until ends start to curl and bacon reaches desired cripsness.

Not surprsingly, blue cheese is not a big hit with the kids. So they used ranch dressing instead of blue cheese.  But if you like blue cheese, try this recipe. It’s pretty great. Try it.

Also exciting: you can vary this recipe endlessly: use fresh Thousand Island dressing, cherry tomatoes, mini cucumber spears, green onions, mushrooms, peppers–anything you can put in a salad that you can spear is fair game for the skewer.  Plus: these spears keep and travel beautifully, and there’s no need for forks.

Imagine the possibilities:

  • romaine,+ provolone + pepperoni + pepperoccini+ red pepper + red wine vinaigrette=classic Italian-American antipasto on a stick
  • Cherry tomatoes + mini-mozzerella balls + fresh basil leaves + balsamic vinagrette=Caprese on a stick
  • Celery + carrot + romaine or iceberg leaves +  Thousand Island=crudite on a stick
  • Mozzarella +roasted red peppers + marinated artichokes
  • Tomato + Watermelon + feta + red wine vinagrette
  • shrimp + romaine + green goddess dressing

Blue Cheese Dressing Recipe is here.
We’d love to hear your ideas below! Happy grilling!

Transition Salad

by Caroline

Continuing this week’s foraging theme, lunch the other day required a bit of refrigerator rummaging, since there were no good leftovers with which to construct a garbage salad. I wound up with a meal that tasted a bit like winter, a bit like spring, just right for this transitional season.

I found some garlicky cannellini beans from a recent pasta dish, a bunch of kale, a sweet potato, and a big carrot from last week’s wintry CSA box, plus some green garlic from this week’s more springlike assortment. So I turned the oven on to 400 and got to work with the vegetables. Usually, I save roasted vegetables for dinner, when I can slow roast them and give them time to caramelize. But the sweet potato and carrot, diced into smaller-than-bite-sized pieces, drizzled with olive oil and blasted at high heat for 10 or 12 minutes, turned crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. I left the stalks of green garlic whole while they roasted; they were ready after about 5 minutes, and I diced them up, too. While the vegetables were cooking, I washed and shredded the kale leaves, and then put them in a big bowl with the roasted garlic, which started to wilt the kale nicely. Once the carrot and sweet potato were done, I tossed on top of the shredded kale with the beans, a splash of vinaigrette and some toasted almonds, for a perfect and relatively quick clear-out-the-refrigerator lunch.

Foraged Salad

by Caroline

For a while when I was a kid, my dad kept a couple burlap bags in the trunk of the car. He never knew when he might drive past a nice-looking patch of dandelions, or day lilies, or elderberries, and he wanted to be ready to gather them. It was the 70s, he had read Euell Gibbons, and although he cultivated an enormous garden in our front yard, he also liked to make food out of what he found growing locally. Initially, this foraging delighted me, but of course as I got older I would shrink down in the front seat when Dad pulled over, wishing I were invisible, praying that none of my friends would see me as they went by. Now, I’m back to admiring his foraging impulses, grateful that he still gathers hickory nuts for our cookies and pies every winter.

Apparently, the foraging instinct skips a generation. Last week, Ben spent his school’s Day of Service with his teachers and classmates in Golden Gate Park, the latest in a series of terrific 3rd grade field trips. They learned about the resident birds from local ornithologist Josiah Clark, they learned about the park’s plants from a couple Park & Rec employees, and then they did some weeding to help restore a bird habitat. At dinner that night, Ben told us all about the weeds they’d pulled and the plants they’d tried to protect — one of which, miner’s lettuce, I’ve seen (and purchased) from the farmer’s market for over $5 a pound. The following day at Eli’s baseball game, he spotted a patch of miner’s lettuce, and picked a few leaves to nibble. A couple days later, at Eli’s baseball practice, he found a great big patch of miner’s lettuce:

I didn’t have anything to collect our harvest in but my purse, but we filled it up:

And then made a delicious foraged salad to accompany our dinner that night:

Foraged Salad:
miner’s lettuce or other salad greens
a handful of dried cherries
a handful of toasted, slivered almonds
a sprinkling of ricotta salata
balsamic vinaigrette

Toss all the ingredients in a salad bowl and serve.

CSA Season

by Caroline

Our CSA* resumes today after its winter break, and I am unreasonably excited. It’s not like we don’t have access to excellent produce in the winter. We visit a Sunday farmer’s market just two blocks from home, so we can track the winter’s progress from pear to pomegranate. I chat with the egg farmer about how her “ladies” hunker down in their coop when it rains. I buy honey sticks from neighbors whose bees live in the community garden, four blocks away.

But, still; the CSA means spring to me. Despite twenty years living in a state where something can always be harvested, despite witnessing that winter harvest every Sunday at the market, I still, deep down, expect a winter shutdown. Winter is for seed catalogs and spring, now, is for the first sprouting seeds.

I love the CSA because of all the ways it differs from choosing food at the market. I don’t get to choose green d’anjou pears over red, I don’t get to pick out the easy-peel satsumas instead of minneolas: I take what they give me and figure out what to do with it (a task really made easier by the fact that our CSA share always comes with recipes; I think many others do, too). We’ve learned that we all really love agretti and that cardoons are an interesting change of pace. I love the schedule (a midweek collection fits perfectly with my weekend market habit) and the pick-up location (my sons’ school) can’t be beat. As a lucky bonus, our CSA farmer happens to be a terrific writer, so the vegetables come each week with a newsletter with his musings about dirt, windbreaks, strawberries or whatever else strikes him that week. I look forward to the newsletter each week almost as much as I do the vegetables.

Are you signed up for a CSA? I’m curious to hear when it begins, and how it affects how your family eats. I’ll start posting some of our favorite CSA-inspired recipes in the coming weeks. And if you’re not signed up for a CSA, you can look for one in your area by checking out Local Harvest.

* Community Supported Agriculture produce pick-up

Pan-Seared Tofu and Kale Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

by Caroline

I have to admit that a food article about cooking post-kids is speaking to me when I read, “Well, I used to actually cook…Now I just make food.”

I might like to think I resist this cliché, but really, the days of poring over cookbooks to find new recipes, making spontaneous market trips (or multiple market trips) to assemble ingredients, and knowing that whatever I put on the table will be greeted warmly by my dining companions — those days are pretty much on hold right now. Oh, they aren’t over entirely; we do find new things to cook, especially when we take the kids with us to the market, but the priority these days is not on the new, but on what’s quick, reliable, and healthy.

When I do want to innovate, I follow a friend’s advice to make sure there’s at least something on the table I’m confident the kids will like. Like Lisa using cornbread to ease the way to chili earlier in the week, I usually make sure there’s either bread or rice on the table (our standard rice/quinoa mix) when I offer something new. In this recipe, I was fairly confident they’d eat the tofu (though the lemon juice made it a question), and pretty sure I’d get at least one thumbs up on the kale (from my 3rd grader; the kindergartner’s on a bit of a vegetable strike at the moment). The chopped peanuts were a plus, too; my kids, like most, adore any extras they can sprinkle on the top of a dish and in our house we’ve retained Ben’s early malapropism and delight the boys by calling these extras not condiments, but contaminants.

So, Eli, the kindergartner took one bite of the tofu, pronounced it delicious, and only ate one more bite. He tried one dainty scrap of kale and pushed the rest aside in favor of carrot sticks, a big helping of rice, and a handful of peanuts. His older brother ate the entire meal, as served. That’s a success in my book, and I’ll be making this one again.

I’m copying in the recipe just as it appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, in an article by Amanda Gold.

10 ounces extra-firm tofu
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste (I left these out)

1 or 2 bunches Lacinato or Tuscan kale (about 8 cups, chopped)

1/3 cup roasted, salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions

Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes, and place on paper towels to
drain while you make the marinade.

Whisk together the soy sauce, lemon juice, honey, sesame oil, 2
tablespoons olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste in a medium-sized bowl. Add the tofu, and gently toss to coat; let marinate for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the tough stems and ribs from the kale, and cut the leaves into 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices. Rinse and dry very well. Take care to remove grit and water, either in a salad spinner or by hand. Place into a serving bowl and set aside.

Set a large, nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and heat until shimmering. Use a slotted spoon to lift the tofu out of the marinade and add to the pan in one layer; cook, undisturbed, until bottoms are golden brown, about 2 minutes. Stir the tofu and continue to cook for another 3 minutes, gently stirring every
minute or so, until golden brown on most sides.

Add the marinade and let boil down for about 1 minute. Pour the contents of the pan over the kale, toss gently to fully coat the leaves with the dressing, and garnish with peanuts and green onions. Let stand for a few minutes to slightly wilt the kale, toss once more, and serve warm.