Saturday, December 27, 2014

Go-To Winter Salad with a California Twist (Romaine Salad with Citrus, Avocado, Pomegranate Seeds and Walnuts & Tarragon Citrus Vinaigrette )


Heads up.  If you invite us over for dinner this winter and ask me to bring a salad, chances are this is what you’ll get.  So far, no one has complained.  But you’ve been warned.

This was by far the most spontaneous Christmas break
Somehow we never are able to get a photo
of the salad after it has been assembled, but here
are the ingredients.  So very colorful.  So very SoCal.
we have ever had, and it was defiantly one to remember.  From Will surprising me on my birthday by coming home five days early, to our decision over coffee to jump in the car and drive up to DC for the weekend, to Chicago style pizza and a bon fire with friends on Christmas evening, it seems like flexibility was the order of each day.  

Plans made weeks ago were dashed, quick decisions were made.  The tree never was purchased let alone decorated and the box with the stockings is still high on its shelf in the garage.  Santa still came and we spent incredible time with family and friends.  My lesson of the season: Perfection is over rated; and always have grapefruit, oranges and avocados on hand.

What?

Well, that last bit refers to the stars of the show from my Winter rift on my Summer Farmers Market Salad that made an appearance at the Bon Fire on Christmas night as well as the Boxing Day Dinner we enjoyed with another set of friends last night. Both dinners featured rich main courses – Chicago Style Pizza (shipped direct from Lou Malnatis in the Wind City) and Oyster Stew, respectively –  and the wonderful clean flavors of this citrus based salad proved to be the perfect complement.  It is also the perfect ode to our SoCal homeland, with Winter in California favorites:  grapefruit, orange, avocado walnuts and pomegranate seeds. 

Here’s how you can do it yourself:

Ingredients
Serves 6

Salad
  • Two hearts of romaine - cut into bite sized pieces.  I tend to leave the tips off if they are not crisp. 
  • 2 small or one large grapefruit.  Red preferred. Any kind sill do
  • 2 navel oranges
  • 1 large or 2 small Hass avocados (Hass are the yummy, bumpy skinned ones. They originate from my hometown, Whittier, California. They are the BEST.)
  • The seeds from 1/2 of a pomegranate (or about a half a cup of seeds, if you purchase them already prepared.  You may see plastic packages of these at your grocery store)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts - halves or pieces
Dressing
  • 2 or 3 TBS grated Shallot
  • 1 TBS fresh tarragon, minced (or 1/2 tsp dried)
  • 1 TBS Maille grainy mustard
  • 1 TBS honey (local if you can find it)
  • 1/4 cup walnut oil (keep this in the fridge between uses to keep fresh)
  • The juice that accumulates in the bowl of grapefruit and orange segments, plus enough apple cider vinegar to make 1/2 cup.  If you have enough of the citrus juice to make the full amount, add a splash of vinegar for a bit of zip.

Method

Prep the fruit:
  • Working over a small bowl to catch the juices, segment the grapefruits and oranges.  To do this, put the fruit on a cutting board, slice off the bottom and the top to stabilize, then use a sharp butcher knife to cut off the rind.  Then pick up the fruit and use a sharp paring knife to cut the individual segments.  This is called "supremeing" an it sounds a heck of a lot more difficult than it is.  The results are worth honing this skill.
  • Slice the avocado. My favorite way: Slice the avocado down the middle, twist to divide, then remove the pit.  Now use a knife to slice thin slices lengthwise and make a single slice horizontally to cut those segments in half. Take a large spoon and run it along the inside of the avocado, between the flesh and the skin. The slices will come out nice as can be.
  • Release the pomegranate seeds – another task that seems daunting, but is not.  Fill a large bowl with cold water.  Submerge the pomegranate and slice it into four pieces. (doing this under water keeps the juice from squirting all over). Working under water, twist and turn the quarter of the pomegranate to release the seeds.  Pick and pull as you go.  The white membrane will float to the top.  The seeds will sink to the bottom. Your kitchen and your clothes will not be splattered with red stains.  Simply strain the seeds and you’re good to go. (Or buy them already removed from the fruit, but where is the fun in that?)
  • Toast the walnuts:  put the walnuts into a pan over a low heat and warm then, shaking the pan now and then, until they are toasty and fragrant.  Do not leave the unattended… they will burn and it will not be good. When you are happy with the results, tip them out to a cutting board to cool.  Then copy them into medium sized pieces…. Not walnut dust, but nice crunchy bites that will add great texture to the salad.


Make the vinaigrette
  • Put the shallot, tarragon, mustard, honey, walnut oil and juice/vinegar mixture in a jar
  • Shake shake shake
  • Taste and adjust.  Maybe a little more honey, maybe a tad more salt.... make it your own. 

Assemble the salad
Layer in a large salad bowl in the following order
  • Layer In a large salad bowl in the following order:
  • The lettuce, tossed with enough dressing to coat but not drench
  • The oranges and grapefruit
  • The avocados
  • The pomegranet seeds
  • The walnuts
  • Stand back, admire at how pretty the whole thing is
  • Toss well to distribute the ingredients evenly
  • Serve
  • Say “Thank you, I’m so glad you enjoy it,” as people shower you with compliments.




Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Rainy Day Binge Watching (Tarragon Chicken Pot Pie)


Yesterday was cold and rainy.   A bad day to go out and do anything.  A great day for making a cozy dinner and, spending time as a family, 
Will and Steve take in the National Mall; I can't get
over how they stand exactly the same.
binge watching a great TV drama.  I'm happy to say we accomplished all three.


Piping hot from the oven

Will is home for Christmas and since the weather was pretty nasty, we took an impromptu weekend trip to DC.  Sure it was cold and nasty there, too, but we were able to check out a few monuments, hit the Spy Museum and had some amazing meals at some incredible neighborhood restaurants around DuPont Circle and Georgetown. Not to mention the fact that were able to spend time with our son as we drove to and from Our Nation's Capitol.  



During that drive, the topic turned to the fact that Steve and I somehow missed out on the Netflicks's series, House of Cards.  Last night we fixed that little problem.  Well, at least 8 of the 13 episodes from Season One.  Whew!



The money shot.  Dang, that was good.
An afternoon/evening/night like that calls for a cozy dinner, that can be eaten in front of the TV.  And since we had a half of a rotisserie chicken in the fridge, and a frozen pie crust in the freezer - you got it, we had chicken pot pie.



The following maps out the steps I took to make this yummy dinner.  You can substitute a wide range of veggies and herbs to make it your own.  And if you don't have a pie crust and are not inclined to make one from scratch, serve it in a bowl and call it stew.



Enjoy.



Ingredients:
  • ½ Rotisserie Chicken, skin and bones removed and meat cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 TBS butter
  • 1 TBS olive oil
  • ½ onion, small dice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 6 asparagus stalks, cut into inch long pieces
  • 3 TBS flour
  • 2TBS chopped fresh tarragon, divided or 1 ½ tsp dried tarragon divided
  • 2 cups stock (I used turkey stock that I had in the freezer, but chicken stock works equally well), heated
  • Splash of cream or half-and half, if you have it
  • 1 TBS Kitchen Bouquet (for color – optional)
  • 1 cup frozen peas or frozen pea/carrot/corn mix
  • 1 frozen pie crust, thawed
  • 1 egg beaten into an egg wash
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper


Method
 Pre-heat the oven to 425 and position a rack in the center of the oven
  • In a large skillet, melt the butter with the oil
  • Sauté the onions and celery until they begin to soften, then add the garlic and asparagus.  Sauté a tad more, until the asparagus begins to look slightly soft, but not overly cooked.
  • Sprinkle the flour over the veggie mixture and cook for about 3 minutes, sprinkle in half of the tarragon.
  • Add the warm stock; whisk to combine. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to thicken.
  • If you have cream or half and half on hand, add a splash to richen the sauce.  A bit of Kitchen Bouquet will darken the color a tad; but don't fret if you don't have any.
  • Now add the chicken and the frozen veggies.  Stir to combine, add the second half of the tarragon.  Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.
  • Now set set aside to cool a bit. 
  • When the mixture is warm / cool, pour into a skillet or baking dish
  • Top with the crust, crimp the outer edge inward, cut slits in the top for the steam to escape, and brush the top with the egg mixture. Sprinkle a bit of kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper on top for a little added interest.
  •  Bake in the 425 oven for 30 to minutes,  then lower the heat to 350 and continue to bake until the top is completely browned and the contents are bubbly.  About 10 to 15 minutes will do.
  •  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.

Serve and enjoy.