I like when food tastes familiar. It’s routine, and it’s comforting. Like the way clean sheets always smell out of the dryer, or the first perfume you remember your mother wearing (Shalimar), or the feel of a soft rug under your toes when you get home from work. It’s the same everyday, but that doesn’t make it any less precious or perfect or satisfying. It only becomes more so with every repetition.
I do tend to make a lot of comfort food–and maybe that’s reflective of where I am in life. Maybe, with all the imminent changes ahead, I gravitate towards familiar food because I need that warm, dryer-baked blanket or whiff of Shalimar to anchor me, to remind me that I’m not floating away like an untethered balloon out into the vast unknown. I come from somewhere, and I’m going somewhere, even when it feels like the wind may whip me in any direction on a whim.
Swordfish Paillard with Citrus Salad
Growing up in Florida, winter always meant one thing to me: citrus. We had a Lilliputian orchard on our small plot of land that produced Key limes, Persian limes, oranges, lemons the size of softballs, and ruby red grapefruits. We couldn’t get to the fruit fast enough. We gave away sacks upon sacks of tart yellow, orange, and green gems, running around under the trees like squirrels anxious to get ahold of their nuts before anything sinister might befall them. And that is why to this day I recoil at the idea of paying 69 cents for a stingy lemon in a New York grocery store. Ridiculous.
I’m in Florida this week, and the choices of citrus overwhelmed me—I’m like a greedy little kid in a Sour-Patch candy store. This dish was inspired by the bistro classic chicken paillard: thinly pounded fillet of meat, quickly seared on a hot grill, and served with salad. It’s one of those French dishes that is so simple, but made special by just the smallest amount of attention paid to preparation. When I’m in Florida, I eat nothing but fish, so I made this with thawed frozen swordfish fillets. You could substitute any meaty steak fish. Pound the fish thin, and grill it in seconds on a panini press. Top it with a salad of rough-and-tumble spinach and arugula, with pink Florida grapefruits and blood oranges, sweet fennel, and salty onyx oil-cured olives. Light and lovely, it’s the perfect lunch in the sunshine—or for dreaming about it. Continue reading
The history of vanilla is a rich one. It is the pod of an orchid, and long grew only in Mexico; when explorers tried to bring vanilla back to Europe, the plant could not survive without the little Mexican bee that pollinated it. It wasn’t until 1841, when a young slave on the Ile Bourbon discovered that vanilla could be hand-pollinated, which led not only to an international vanilla market, but also to vanilla’s high price. It is the second highest priced spice, after saffron.
Vanilla, for being so common and ubiquitous, has a very exotic history. This dish is a bit exotic itself, even though I had a version of it at the now defunct Hoot, Toot, and Whistle in Delray Beach, Florida. I crust tilapia with almonds and panko, and fry it until golden and crisp, and serve it with a mild and creamy vanilla beurre blanc. The original version, I think, was with catfish and pecans. So you can play around. But it’s an unusual and savory way to play with vanilla in your own kitchen. Continue reading
French Onion Dip
Names are tricky. They are supposed to be the roadmap to a person. You hear their name, and you assume you can know a little bit about them. Not so. Names are misleading. Misnomers even. For instance, my name. Kerry is a masculine, in the best of times gender-neutral, Irish name. And yet, there is probably no one less Irish or more girly, than me. So, I don’t put too much stock in names.
French Onion Dip is another name that is a complete misnomer. Never, ever, have I seen French Onion Dip in France. I can only assume the “French” part comes from caramelized onions, which might bear some resemblance to those in French onion soup. But there’s really nothing French about it. It is the ultimate American food, with maybe just a hint of what we wish were behind it: sweet bistro onions, and the Paris skyline. Maybe my parents named me Kerry because they wished I were an Irish boy. Who can say, really?
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Posted by Kerry |
Categories: 15 Minutes, Appetizers & Hors D’Oeuvres, Bread & Butter, Dips, Spreads, Preserves, Easy, Eat, For a Crowd, Franglais, Recipes, Series, Vegetarian
Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Goat Cheese
Who says watching TV is bad for you? Just last weekend while I was watching the Food Network I saw an idea that I loved: a recipe that combined strawberries and goat cheese. I use goat cheese in sweet dishes all the time, but I have never done the reverse of putting strawberries in savory. I tried it by combining two restaurant classics: crispy warm goat cheese salad and raspberry vinaigrette.
I started with the warm goat cheese salad we all know and love from every bistro in America. The fresh chèvre is coated with panko, and fried until crisp and oozing. If you want to save a couple of steps and calories though, the salad would be just as good with some goat cheese crumbled over the top.
Then, instead of raspberry vinaigrette, I concocted a strawberry vinaigrette thickened with fresh strawberries and honey. Toss it with baby spinach leaves and crunchy pine nuts, along with more sliced strawberries and you have a salad that is sweet, tangy, and full of character. (I know strawberries aren’t in season, but the flavor of the vinaigrette makes up for it.)
I had the salad for lunch. It turned out that watching TV was very good for me—this time, at least.
Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Goat Cheese
- 6 ounces fresh goat cheese log, cut into 4 1-inch medallions with a string of dental floss
- 1 egg, beaten
- 3/4 cup panko
- 12 strawberries, divided
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon honey
- Kosher salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 4 ounces baby spinach salad
- 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
- Vegetable oil for frying
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- Bread the goat cheese medallions. Coat each round in egg, and then in panko. Place on a parchment-lined small rimmed baking sheet, and refrigerate 30 minutes.
- Make the dressing. In a blender, combine 4 strawberries, diced, vinegar, olive oil, honey, salt, and pepper. Purée until smooth and thickened.
- Assemble the salad. Thinly slice the remaining 8 strawberries, and toss with spinach, pine nuts, and a bit of vinaigrette (you may have some vinaigrette left over).
- Fry the cheese. Heat about 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, or enough to thickly coat the bottom of a small skillet, in a small skillet over medium heat until the oil shimmers. Fry the cold goat cheese medallions until golden and crsip, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on each side, using a slotted fish spatula to turn the cheese in the pan. Place on top of the tossed salad, and serve immediately with baguette alongside.
Sweet Vanilla Iced Tea
Whenever I go for ice cream, I always have a hard time ordering. I know what I want, but I never get it. I go for pistachio, or cookies and cream, or some flavor of the week—because I’m paying for it and it’s fattening and I shouldn’t get something so vanilla.
But that’s all I want: vanilla.
American Onion Soup
Food to me is medicinal. And in our modern world, we take medicine for both mind and body. A book of soup recipes is like the pharmacy aisle in a supermarket. You have everything you need right there to cure what ails you.
Do you remember Chicken Soup for the Soul? I never understand that title. Chicken soup is something you take when your nose is stuffy, like soup Sudafed. It’s proven to work, but it’s certainly not a hot water bottle for the aching soul. No, when your soul aches, when someone else gets the promotion, when you place the losing bid on that beautiful apartment, is what you crave vegetables and white meat chicken? I don’t think so.
French onion soup is my favorite prescription for mild depression and aching souls. Winter is not just flu season, it’s also I’m-so-depressed-when-will-I-see-the-sun-again season. Onion soup is a crock of beef stock, earthy, ancient, homey. And yet, it is sweet and light and delicious. In my family, we always eat soup with bread and cheese on the side. This cuts the middleman: the bread and cheese are on the soup. The bread floats like a little raft, preserving the bubbling cheese from the molten sea of soup below. And the cheese oozes and droops, and as you pull it back with your spoon, you reveal a hot tub of healing, a pot of sippable Prozac, and life becomes generally satisfying and uplifting. French onion soup is the hearth. It is the home. It cannot help but make you happy.