Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I'll have the house salad, please.

It’s funny. When you love to cook people naturally ask you why you haven’t become a ‘chef’. I almost went to full-on cooking school right out of high school. Even though it never ended up happening for me – I went to UVIC for two semesters instead – my grandmother still asks when I’m going to become a cook. After working in the front of restaurants for years, I have an idea of what it’s like in the kitchen. And it’s not for me. Imagine making massive quantities of the same stuff everyday, and then spending the night grilling a hundred steaks. Or making a hundred salads. I think most restaurant cooks just love the repetition. And maybe the weird hours and parties?

So cooking behind a line isn’t for me. But I do daydream about opening my own restaurant. It would be ridiculously casual with good coffee... I like to entertain ideas of having a place that’s a cross between the Whistle Stop Cafe from Fried Green Tomatoes and The Foundation in Vancouver (Main and 7th – if you’ve never been, go). Just on a smaller scale.

I read in a book written by one of those famous chefs that we all love that he judges the quality of a restaurant by its house salad. He loved some nice greens with a good vinaigrette, while I like something a bit more substantial – not just a green salad but more of a meal. An old boyfriend’s sister-in-law would make incredible salads. Every vegetable from her fridge would go in and then just lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper on it for a dressing. She knew what was up.

The trick with salads is you just have to put stuff you love into it. And have lots of variation – when I was a kid our green salad was lettuce, celery, carrots, toms and cucumbers. And ranch dressing. I have nothing against this, its vegetables and that’s all you need. But why not go a bit above and beyond...

My House Salad
*the usual suspects:
-Grated Beets and Grated Carrots (shout out to the Naam, in my mind they did it first!)
-Sultanas/dried cranberries
-HERBS! My fave: dill. But I use whatever’s in the garden – mint, thyme, chives, flat leaf parsley, cilantro.

And thats just me. You could try:
-green beans
-roasted yams
-roasted tofu
~absolutely anything else that you feel like!

-try making your own following the basic principle of 2/3 oil (I’m sure you’ve got some good olive oil), 1/3 acid (lemon juice or any sort of vinegar), and a few tablespoons of mustard. Mustard is magic, it creates an emulsion (the oil and vinegar sticks together). Try dijon or grainy mustard just because it tastes better than that bright yellow shit - I don’t really believe that stuff is actually mustard. You can also add some herbs, salt and pepper, maybe some honey or chilli. It goes on and on.

-My current favourite dressing goes against the norm a little bit by skipping the mustard and using tahini. Give it a go. It’s a good dressing for anything really, try a shot of it on top of something steamed like kale.
I got this from Vegan with a Venegance. Great book.

Tahini Dressing
Into a blender goes:
-A good amount of olive oil
-3 cloves of garlic
-2 or 3 good spoon fulls of tahini
-A glug of balsamic
-Pinch of salt
-Juice of 1 lemon
-A squeeze of something spicy like Sriracha or even paprika
Blend all of that up until it’s smooth after which add:
-whatever herbs you can find in your garden/grocery store that are beautiful and fresh.
Again, blend but let a few green bits hang around. Put in the fridge for a half hour or so after which you may have to add some cold water to thin it out (the tahini sometimes like to get pretty thick).

There you are, that would the basics for the house salad in my very first restaurant, soon to be opened one day.
In the far away future.
*I tried taking a picture of a salad but it didn’t look pretty. I need more practice.


In my last post I talked about my strawberries. They just might be the best producers on the patio right now, while the zucchini is growing lots of blossoms but not fruit (I have been trying to hand pollinate (a hilarious term!) them with no success) and the beans are just going a bit slower.
A few days ago I made strawberry shortcake on some scones from the bakery around the corner.
Sooo sweet!
Sooo yummy and summery!


On another note... Are you going to a party and need something new to take with you? I recently took these three dips to both a camping trip and a house warming party – great reception at both!
*You need a serious respect for your blending appliances for this to go smoothly. They will work hard for you.

These are my favourite dips to make:
Chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, tahini, salt and pepper, olive oil, maybe some chillies.
My secret: if it’s too thick and chunky, try adding some hot water to smooth it out. Tahini will also help things be smoooth.

Roasted Yams
Simple: peel and chop some yams, put them in a roasting dish with some olive oil and salt and pepper and roast them. When they are soft, blend them up with cumin and some spice. Done.

Beet Dip
A few more steps in this one:
-Roast your beets by wrapping them individually in tin foil and putting them in a super high oven for quite a while – sometimes over an hour. They need to be soft even in the middle, and it’s virtually impossible to burn them so leave them for a bit.
-Pull them out after a while and let them cool so you don’t burn your finger prints right off (which will probably happen no matter what). Then peel them with a paring knife by slicing the stem end off then you should be able to scrape the skin of like buttah’.
-Cut them into rough chunks then into a bowl they go with a handful of feta cheese and maybe half a cup of plain yoghurt, the good stuff (this is already going to be healthy, no need for fat-free!). Blend it up, add some salt and pepper to taste, and then you have a dip to take anywhere that is pretty much fuschia in color – beautiful!
*If you haven’t roasted your beets until they are fully soft they won’t blend very nicely and it may make your kitchen look like the scene of a bloody crime.

There’s the humous and yam dip on the right making a great showing at dinner with the ladies on Pitt Lake.

Also, breakfast. Girls eat so well when they are camping without the boys!

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