June 15, 2008

simply simple

I feel I’ve entered my indulgence era. So I indulge.

In the last few weeks I’ve succumbed to whims I’ve never had before – my eyebrows have been waxed…I bought new makeup…and last week I skipped out of work during lunch for a quick mani/pedi…this just isn’t me, or wasn’t.

And I enjoyed every indulgent second as others worked on me like a beautification project – cleaning up the ragged edges that winter and disease had done to me. And like spring rain and its partner warm sunshine, I was cleaned from the inside out.
On a beautiful, soft night we had dear friends over, who were happy to be fed. And I set myself the challenge for how simply I could feed them and yet still feel the full force of full flavour.

I came up with burgers and 3 salads. Okay not so simple in the aggregate, but as individuals? Stellar examples of their kind. The classic: Potato Salad, the comfort: Roasted Beet Salad, the tart: Arugula and Baby Spinach with lemon dressing.
Steve picked up grass-fed ground beef from our favourite food store that supports the Mennonite and Amish farmers to the southwest of us. We say, “thank you cow” after the first bite, because it is not your basic ground meat. It has turned me back into a burger biter after many years of hiatus.

So how to complement that? Bbq’d burgers need, demand, lust for, partnership with potato salad.

And having scoured my books, I suddenly remembered that Cook’s Illustrated had an article on the perfect potato salad. The All-American Potato Salad is part of their Summer Grilling & Entertaining special edition – but also from their 2004 collection. Rebecca Hays performed a heroic duty and dug through all the ugly versions of potato salad.
And there I was last week, on the subway, riveted by her inner musings and debates: russet versus Yukon gold, including garlic or not, pickles, dry mustard or prepared - now in high school, if science had been about potato salad, I might have taken a different path…

I’m a food geek. Almost missed my stop because someone in a test kitchen somewhere was writing about one of my favourite foods and dissecting and rebuilding it into a classic – yeah…food geek.

So I used her journey as my guide. This served four and we have leftovers for dinner tonight.
Cross Border Classic Potato Salad
3 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 tbsp white vinegar
½ cup celery, finely chopped
2 tbsp red onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp sweet pickle relish (this is a new one on me…the recipe calls for 3 tbsp, but I found it too much - I would normally use dill pickles and a little pickle juice)
½ cup mayonnaise (use the real thing, not salad dressing)
¾ tsp dry mustard
¾ tsp celery seed (she swears this makes all the difference, but I couldn’t find any in three stores…and I thought Toronto was cosmopolitan even in its approach to suburban fare like potato salad!)
2 tbsp minced parsley
¼ tsp black pepper
(I didn’t go for the optional two hard-boiled eggs)
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill (not part of the recipe, but I had it on the counter)

Put the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with cold water by an inch (2cm). Bring them to a gentle boil and then simmer until tender. Strain them, carefully put them in a bowl, and drizzle the vinegar over them. Let them cool.
Meanwhile, combine the other ingredients for the dressing.
Once the potatoes are cool, spoon the dressing onto the potatoes and carefully mix together (don’t be rough, the potatoes might not like it). Spoon it one at a time until you’ve reached the right balance of dressing to potato for you. I didn’t use all the dressing I made.

Roasted beet and mint salad
3-4 beets
2 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
½ red onion, diced
dressing, recipe to follow

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Scrub the beets clean.
Cut off the greens from the beets – leaving about 1 inch (2cm) of stems off the top. If you have the leaves, you can cook them in the same way you would use swiss chard, if you don't leave them on the counter for a week, like I did.
Wrap each beet in foil. Place on a cookie sheet and roast in the oven for one hour.
Pull them out (if you’re not sure if they’re done, stick a sharp knife into one to see if it’s tender.)
Once cool, peel them and cut them into whatever size, shape you’d like.
Toss with the mint, parsley and onion.
We debated what kind of dressing to put on this…and I wanted the taste to be simple. So I mixed some apple cider vinegar, a little dry mustard, and whisked in some olive oil. Dip a piece of beet into the dressing to see if you like the combo. Pour over the salad and allow to sit for a while.

Arugula and Baby Spinach
Carefully clean the arugula and spinach leaves.
Combine with spring onion, small tomatoes (like Campari), red pepper, and cucumber.
Dressing – Juice 1/2 a lemon into a bowl, watch for seeds. Zest a little of the lemon into the bowl. Add about ½ tsp of sugar. Stir to combine. Slowly drizzle in olive oil as you whisk with the other hand. Grab a piece of arugula and dip it in the dressing – it should bite a bit but feel very fresh, without being too tart.
And how did we close the circle? End the feast? The first of the local strawberry harvest are hitting our markets now…so I washed the strawberries, put them in one bowl. Then I whipped some cream, and put that in a matching bowl. Take your fingers, grad a berry, dip…Simply simple.

4 comments:

Annie said...

Very glad you are back, Nicola! I found your blog by accident when looking for the Moroccan Lamb Tagine recipe from Canadian Living and have been a regular Lurker. Your recipes, and your blog, are a gift - thank you. And if you ever need celery seed, I'm about 2 minutes from your favourite food store.

Best regards,

Annie

Nicola said...

hey thanks for lurking annie and thanks even more for commenting. and for being so kind...let me know if you try the celery seed in potato salad...rebecca wrote that she'll never make it again without it...

Julie said...

Indulge away! It's food for the soul in my opinion.

I've never had celery seed in potato salad but I always put it in coleslaw. Coleslaw was one of my earliest "cooking" projects and the idea for flavoring it with celery seed came from a no-longer-in-existence fast food chain (Roy Rogers -- did you have those in Canada? The customer was always addressed as "pardner" as in, "Would you like fries with your burger, pardner?"). But if you and CI say to put it in potato salad I'm going to give it a try.

Nicola said...

ooo in cole slaw...cool idea. celery seed is something that just hasn't been in my consciousness or recipes, 'til now...always worth looking back into the cupboard - of course not without sniffing first! let me know if you try it in the pot/sal...
no, can't say roy rogers pardnered up here...on our road trip to florida at xmas we lived in the bill evans (think it has anything to do with dale?)...they were in every single town along the turnpike...road food...no celery seed in sight.