Salad? ~ With a Side of Memory

 

 

Ahh, summertime. Ripe tomatoes.  I am always inspired by seasonal produce despite the fact that these days we often don’t really know what is in season what with cold storage and whatnot.  When in Europe it became clear to me that when you live where food doesn’t have to be transported thousands of miles, you get fresh and ripe produce.  In this country you have to work at it.  But here in Florida you can get ripe summer tomatoes.

My father loved gazpacho and so do I.  He gave me his recipe, on the back of a random piece of paper that I still have.  We talked more about food and recipes than about anything else.  If I could not remember whether you add the oil or the vinegar first in a vinaigrette, I could call him day or night.  So many things he made are in my recipe book whether I make them or not.  And my knives have never been sharpened so well since he passed.  But as usual, I digress.

I like my gazpacho “greener” than he did.  And traditional gazpacho has bread in it and I don’t add bread to mine, I find that with more green, it is bound enough and doesn’t need the bread.  And he added a very non-traditional secret ingredient that I definitely still add, later for the reveal.

So here goes.  For a medium batch I use a very large peeled ripe tomato, about half of a large english cucumber, peeled, half to whole green bell pepper, half a sweet onion, clove or more of garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, a little vinegar (you just have to taste and can experiment with what one you like) salt to make the chemistry happen (again, taste, taste, taste) and……. aha:  V-8 juice.  Not a lot just enough to bring it together.  Add a small bunch of fresh parsley.  I make the whole think in my food processor and just keep going until I like the taste and texture.  Rather than adding bread, I serve it with good crunchy croutons.  And voila, Pop’s gazpacho, my style.

This wonderful salad/soup has been many a summer’s dinner for me.  My family found it an acquired taste.  But I love it and it always brings to mind a memory of my father who loved to cook and loved to share cooking ideas and recipes.  Someday I hope to be as imaginative in his honor.

It’s As American As……..

I have said it before and I will say it again now, I am often troubled by the vituperative nature of the dialogue in America these days.  It feels as if people are fighting each other verbally for some idea they have of what is “American”.  It feels often as if people are saying “I am more American” than you and I am right.  And if you think I am not right, then you are not really American.  I say that what is American is the dialogue itself, and we have lost sight of that I think.  What is important about America is that we have always had the dialogue and respect for the dialogue and for those engaged in it.

It seems, currently, that it is futile to engage in talk, if I express a political opinion I am either wrong or silly or I am simply dismissed or ignored.  So I decided to take a different tack and talk about what is really and indisputably American; food.

Almost as much as sports, food is a matter of regional and ethnic pride in this country.  I was lunching on barbecue the other day and the restaurant offered a stunning array of sauces.  I knew, for example, that the golden mustard based barbecue sauce is a staple of the Carolinas, and the sweet generally associated with St. Louis.  And I am not a barbecue expert by any stretch.

I have lived in many regions of the country and have had the privilege of learning in each one.  Fresco in southern Cali, green chili in Nuevo Mexico, crab cakes in Maryland, maple syrup in New England and cornbread and fried green tomatoes in Florida.  And so much more.  As a result of living in New England I still make applesauce and can it every year.  As a result of living in New Mexico I still wrap lots of things in a warm flour tortilla.  Since I grew up in New York, I still love good rye bread, especially with pastrami.  And Florida strawberries make the best jam. And so much more.

Starting with politics and ending with food.  Maybe if we all just sat down to a meal and tempered our dialogue with shared food we would understand each other better.  Maybe if we broke cornbread together the dialogue would be tempered with respect.  A ridiculous idea I know, but this baker of apple pies can dream, because our food is as much a reflection of our diversity and the rich tapestry of our culture as our political points of view.

Friendship and Food ~ Why do it?

Having a dinner party, or in a more modern vernacular a dinner, even when the food isn’t perfect.

First, set a beautiful table – because it matters.  Looking at a table ready for guests is almost as good as a table full of happy guests.   Next, create a menu.  All my friends know that I like to try new recipes on them and despite not knowing the results they willingly accept the risks.  So far, I haven’t poisoned anyone that I am aware of and have only had to take my guests out to eat at a restaurant once; a particularly bad grilling experience. Be bold, be creative, try new things, maybe even a theme.

Next, remember why you have dinners and invite people you love, or people who are interesting, or people you want to get to know.  Think about the chemistry; do you want interesting smart conversation, or intimacy, or just a bellyful of laughs.  And by the way, I always tell my guests it is never about reciprocity.  I don’t care if I ever see the inside of their homes, I do this because I like to.  It is for me really, they are just the incidental beneficiaries of my joy.

Ok, so plan ahead how you will cook.  Is there anything you can do in advance?  Of course I am assuming you have already shopped.  And what is your timing?  Are there any pre meal rituals, add in the time.  Make coffee before dinner; in my age group more decaf than not.  And don’t get too ambitious, it is a recipe for failure.

So my last dinner definitely not go as planned.  Hoisin glazed baby back ribs took almost an hour longer than expected.  The rice was done but stayed warm.  The stir fried green beans, thankfully didn’t get started until it seemed reasonable, but they were nevertheless in danger of overlooking.  The pickled cucumber salad was cold and didn’t suffer.  But really, nobody cared.  A glass of wine, good friends, good conversation, a bowl of steamed edamame, it was all good.

Once again nobody poisoned, the food was okay and we laughed until we cried and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company.

[tweetshare tweet=”So don’t worry too much if your house isn’t in perfect order, allow yourself the time and space to just sit and enjoy.  Don’t worry if the food isn’t perfect, your friends won’t care.” username=”TrienahM”]

This is why I do it – a table full of food, laughter and love.

Salad~really?

So, seeing that it is still summer, and staying with the ethnic food theme this is about one of the many things I learned in New Mexico. I loved living in New Mexico and the food there is quite unique and different from other places in the Southwest.  At this time of year the green chili is harvested and the air is everywhere filled with the aroma of roasting green chilies .  In every grocery store parking lot there is a big metal mesh drum full of chilies  being turned and roasted.  If you have never been to New Mexico you may not know how ubiquitous green chili really is.  You can buy a green chili bagel, a green chili muffin, and on and on to some very unlikely combinations.  In every New Mexican cuisine restaurant you will be asked “red or green?” Which means do you want your enchilada smothered in red chili or green chili and understand that it will be almost a purée.  It is a condiment, not a chili Texas or Arizona style.

Which brings me to guacamole, one of my favorite salads, and yes, I mean salad.  In New Mexico if you ask for guacamole you are likely to get a purée, a condiment, much like the chili.  If you want that wonderful stuff you scoop up with a corn chip you have to approach it with a different mind set.   And make no mistake, you cannot use the beautiful large smooth green Florida avocados which taste like butter but are completely inappropriate for guacamole. I take about 3 ripe but not mushy avocados and just put large pieces in a bowl.  Dice up at least a half of a sweet onion  very tiny and chop a nice ripe tomato, that can be mushy.  In a perfect world, scald and skin the tomato. Fresh lime, cilantro, cumin, salt, finely chopped jalapeño (or not) or a dash of Tabasco, garlic.  I just cut through it with a small knife until mixed and chunky.  To get it totally mixed you can use a spoon but try to keep the texture chunky.  [tweetshare tweet=”Once you make a New Mexican guacamole salad you will never go back.  You may tweak it and make it your own but you will never be satisfied with the store bought stuff again.  Mucho gusto.” username=”@tmeyers”]

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Fried Green What?

 

I have to say this right up front, I grew up in New York City.  And not just in any old part of the city (New Yorkers will know what I mean) I am a rare bird, born and raised in Manhattan.  I have lived all over the country, learning, adopting and incorporating various items of regional cuisine into my culinary repertoire.

But now….. I live in the South and oh boy is there a lot to learn.  The unfortunate truth is that a great deal of Southern cuisine is yummy but really fattening, not to mention artery clogging. Folks in the South win the frying contest hands down.  This is close to an art form in the South, just ask any two families who makes the best fried chicken.  Not only will an argument ensue but the discussion will also diverge into the mandatory accoutrements.  There are as many mac and cheese recipes as there are people, and yes I can tell you where to find fried mac and cheese (dang that’s good).  Mustard or not in potato salad? Boiled dressing or mayonnaise in coleslaw? Red velvet or pecan pie.  But I digress.

[tweetshare tweet=”I thought fried green tomatoes was the name of a movie, what did I know.  It is an iconic Southern food.  Most produce markets here sell green tomatoes, especially  when tomatoes are local.  At first I was confused, why sell us unripe tomatoes where ripe ones are available?” username=”@trienahm”] Nevertheless, I bought some, and tried my hand, seeking out what seemed the most appropriate recipe. I don’t know that they were necessarily all that authentic, but they looked good, sort of, and they all got eaten.  And I have had requests for more.