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Super Crunchy Fennel, Apple, and Celery Salad

6 Mar

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I am neck-deep in a rather large project right now (nothing exciting or surprising, unfortunately), but, as I sit at my desk and worry about work, my thoughts keep wandering back to this excellent salad I made last week. The salad had pretty much every element that I love a salad to have: great texture, lots of crunch, a subtle yet tasty dressing, and a nice dash of protein thrown in. Thinking about this salad keeps me from slowly losing my mind about my current work project, which is interesting. Who gets calmed down by a salad?

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Perhaps I should be talking instead about how this salad, while soothing to me, was also rather exciting. Not that calling a salad exciting is any less questionable than calling a salad soothing, but hear me out on this one. Every week or so, we’ve been experiencing a day of relative dryness, when the rain stops, the sun comes out, and everyone who has been trapped inside for months on end by the grayness and the rain comes outside and soaks up the brightness. Some of us, making the correlation between warmer weather and a change in available produce, rush out to find whatever is available to make a fresh, new meal. I love polenta and soup, but when the weather gets warmer, I want light, crisp, fresh meals, not warm, hearty meals that will warm me from the inside. The weather may not stay warmish for long, but I like to make the tiny bit of warmth as meaningful as possible.

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So, I had the idea for a great, crisp salad, loaded with fresh fennel and crisp apples. I had celery on hand, so I threw some in. The tops of the fennel were chopped up at the last minute and sprinkled about, and the result was nothing short of phenomenal. With a super light dressing of just lemon juice and olive oil, followed by a handful of raw pepitas, the salad came to life, earning a spot on my list of top five most favorite salads. Super crisp, wonderfully flavorful, and a reminder of warm days to come, it’s definitely going to make a few repeat appearances around here.

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Last Year: Quinoa, Arugula, and Roasted Beet Salad with Ginger Sesame Dressing and Beet Greens and Chèvre Quiche–look at me, using every part of the beet.

Super Crunchy Fennel, Apple, and Celery Salad

One of the great things about this salad is the fact that the vegetables and fruit are sliced incredibly thin—we’re talking whip-out-the-mandoline-slicer thin—allowing each bite to cram in as much of each salad element as possible. As mentioned, I used a mandolin to slice everything as thin as possible, but you could also just use a super sharp knife and slice away.

2 cups fresh fennel, sliced super thin (about 1 large bulb), core removed, leaves set aside

2 cups super thin apple slices (about 2 small apples)

1 cup super thin celery slices (sliced across, not lengthwise, obviously)

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons olive oil (using extra virgin olive oil will result in a much more punchy dressing, and using a lighter olive oil will give you a milder background of dressing)

big pinch of sea salt

big pinch of freshly ground black pepper

handful of fresh fennel leaves, roughly chopped

¼ cup raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

In a large bowl, combine fennel, apple, and celery.

In a smaller bowl, add lemon juice, then slowly whisk in olive oil until the mixture is thick and emulsified (this shouldn’t take more than about 30 seconds). Whisk in salt and pepper, taste for more seasoning, and adjust as you see fit.

Pour dressing over fennel, apple, and celery. Toss to combine. Add chopped fennel leaves and pepitas, toss just a couple of times, then serve.

Serves 4 as a side salad, 2 as a main dish salad.

Mediterranean Cocktail Meatballs

30 Dec

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When you have a child, you don’t attend as many parties as you used to, pre-child. At least, my husband and I don’t, but that may not be the best indicator of what most people do or do not do. I mean, we rent movies from the library (it’s free! You can keep them for three weeks!), and, up until about a month ago, I’d been using the same cell phone that I’d had since 2007 (what? It still worked—sort of). What I am saying is, we’re not your average people. If anything, we’re probably pretty below average. All right, now I am just starting to feel a little depressed.

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Moving on, sometimes when I think of the holiday seasons my husband and I used to celebrate, pre-child, I fondly remember the packed tables of tiny finger foods, petite glasses of sparkling beverages, and the dulcet tones of—all right, so none of that ever really happened. Mostly our pre-child holiday party experiences were a lot like our pre-child any-time-of-the-year party experiences: beer, chips, band in the basement.

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The thing is, I’ve never been a dedicated party person. The experience of too many humans packed into one space tends to leave me a bit cramped and annoyed, and, to be candid, whenever I tried to enjoy a loud basement band I inevitably spent the majority of my band-watching time being worried that people might spill stuff all over the floor or drunkenly slam into me, or perhaps spill stuff all over me while drunkenly slamming into the floor. I’m too much of a wienie for parties.

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But! I still like party food, even if that food is decidedly different from the type of foods I ate when I actually went to parties. How nice would it have been to walk into a (calm) party and see these delightful little turkey meatballs sitting on a platter, self-decorated Italian parsley-adorned toothpick dutifully saluting forth from each one? With little pearls of feta cheese hidden in each bite, the taste pairing so beautifully with the mellow spices and bright hit of lemon zest, these meatballs are the perfect addition to an offering of tasty party snacks. We ate them on a quiet evening, as a party of three, then retreated to the living room afterwards to partake in a bit of dancing. To Minor Threat. (What? We haven’t completely changed.)

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More Party-Appropriate Foods: Smoked Salmon Canapés on Potato Crisps, Tiny Party Sandwiches, Quick All-Parmesan Crackers (gluten-free!), Savory Walnut and Olive Oil Sables, Crispy Roasted Masala Chickpeas and, wow, I am only now realizing how many tiny, fork-free foods I have on this site.

Mediterranean Cocktail Meatballs

1 pound of ground turkey, not lean

¼ cup chopped onion

1 large clove of garlic, finely minced

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

1 teaspoon ground coriander

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

4 ounces crumbed feta cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Alternately, if you want to pan fry the meatballs instead of bake them, you can forgo the baking sheet and oven and just grab a large skillet.

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients, except for the feta cheese. Using your hands or a sturdy spatula, mix together all of the ingredients until they are well combined. Gently fold in the feta until uniformly incorporated.

Form about 1 level tablespoon of the meat mixture at a time into a small meatball. You can either place the meatballs on the parchment-lined baking sheet and then bake them for around 12 to 15 minutes until they are cooked through, or you can pan fry them in a little olive oil in a hot skillet, turning every couple of minutes until the meatballs have browned on the outside and cooked completely through.

Makes roughly 40 meatballs, give or take a few, depending on how generous your tablespoon scoops are.

Roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nuts and Lemon Brown Butter Breadcrumbs

19 Nov

You read that right. Lemon brown butter breadcrumbs. Can you think of any other possible word combinations that manage to sound even half as heavenly? I have been sitting here for the better part of ten minutes, trying to think of something clever to offer up as a possible contender, and my mind is totally blank. Lemon brown butter breadcrumbs have become my new best friend.

As it turns out, lemon brown butter breadcrumbs are incredibly friendly little fellows, because they just so happen to be the perfect companion for roasted cauliflower, one of my all-time favorite vegetable side dishes. The simplicity of roasted cauliflower is nearly perfect on its own, but when paired with a sprinkling of deeply flavorful, crunchy, and nutty breadcrumbs, cauliflower rises to a whole new level of distinction. It’s a good lesson for me, really. Just when I think that I know exactly how I like a certain food to be, something new appears that completely changes the way I look at a food. Roasted cauliflower by itself is wonderful, but baked in a gratin or dotted with crispy breadcrumbs, it’s even better.

It’s no mistake that I am publishing this recipe this week, when people all over the country are getting ready to fire up their stoves and partake in a day-long marathon of cooking, baking, basting, and then, thankfully, eating. I have long thought that the very best part of Thanksgiving dinner is not the plates of meat that sit proudly at the head of a table, but rather the small plates and bowls that surround said meat. Eating a holiday meal made almost entirely out of side dishes is the most special of meals, in my mind, almost like an American version of tapas. What? Too much of a stretch? Mashed potatoes and bread-based dressing a little too far away from Spain to make that connection? All right, I agree. To a point. But, still, sit down to a serving of this heavenly cauliflower, a scoop or two of something savory and oh-so-autumnal, and a glass of wine, and it’s tough to muster up any reason why a meal shouldn’t be centered around a dish as fine as this one.

Last Year: Pear and Chocolate Bread Pudding

Roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nuts and Lemon Brown Butter Breadcrumbs Recipe

The breadcrumbs that adorn this dish are almost the same as a sauce polonaise, save for the fact that this version swaps out crumbled hard boiled eggs for briefly toasted pine nuts. If you are looking to make this dish more of a one-meal affair, adding a chopped hard boiled egg or two would certainly up its protein quotient, making it stretch a bit further towards being a complete meal on its own.

1 large head of cauliflower, leaves and core removed, florets cut into roughly 2-inch long pieces.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon minced shallots

¼ cup panko breadcrumbs (or other dry, unseasoned breadcrumbs)

¼ cup pine nuts

salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss cauliflower florets with 2 tablespoons of olive oil (I do this directly on the same heavy duty baking sheet I use to roast the cauliflower), then sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Arrange cauliflower on a heavy duty baking sheet, placing as many of the cut sides down as possible, then roast in the center of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cauliflower is deeply caramelized on the bottom and lightly golden on top.

While the cauliflower is roasting, melt the butter in a small skillet or pan over medium-low heat. When browning butter, it is always best to do so in a light-colored pan so you can closely gauge the changing of the butter’s color. Slowly cook the butter, swirling the pan around every few seconds so the butter cooks evenly. The butter will begin to foam, then spatter a bit, and then you’ll see the little dots of milk solids begin to turn brown at the bottom of the pan. This can take anywhere from 4 to 8 minutes, so be sure to watch the butter very carefully to keep it from burning.

When the dots of butter solids have turned a nice medium brown and the butter begins to emit a lovely nutty aroma, stir in the lemon juice. The mixture will spatter a bit, but that is to be expected. Immediately stir in the minced shallots, then cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots have softened (this should take 3 to 5 minutes). When the shallots have softened, stir in the breadcrumbs. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the breadcrumbs turn golden brown. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Remove breadcrumb mixture from pan. With the pan still set over medium-low heat, toast the pine nuts in the pan, stirring frequently, until they are golden brown all over, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Arrange cauliflower on a serving platter. Spoon breadcrumb mixture over the cauliflower. Sprinkle over toasted pine nuts. Add chopped parsley. Serve as soon as possible.

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