Friday, November 12, 2010

Salad Days

First off, I have to apologize for not publishing this for well over a week. Between squash (tournament), meetings, dinner parties, O and a bevy of other things going on in my life it was almost impossible for me to sit down for longer than 10 minutes. With that out of the way, let's get going shall we?

The weather will start getting ugly soon, right away actually. For most people, this means eating hearty, comfort food. Not me. I do occasionally, but as I have said before, I stay away from comfort food as a rule most days. Not every day, I just don't make a habit of eating it all of the time. This blog is mostly about trying to eat healthy as much as possible, and I don't believe eating comfort food all of the time can be considered healthy. Unless you consider salads to be in this category.

I like to eat salads a lot, but I only do it once in a while which isn't enough. I feel nicely full after I eat one and I make them so they are completely full of flavour. Could this not be considered comfort food? I know, I know. It's supposed to be something which is served hot and is good to eat on a cold day. I like my salads to be full of flavour and I am nicely full after eating them. This means I'm comfortable, so this makes it a comfort food, doesn't it??

When I make a salad, I normally don't add meat to them. I do make one with prosciutto in it, but only when people are over for dinner. I am not into chicken with salads and only eat a steak salad in a restaurant about once a year. The reason for this is I like to differentiate my meat dishes from my salad dishes. Salad with a chicken or beef dish, yes but on the side. But, I will add fish to a salad without thinking twice about it though. I would rather have fish over top of mixed greens than meat any day.

Most salads are considered healthy, but the one way I make my salads healthier is by making my own dressing. I haven't bought salad dressing from a grocery store for about 20 years now. I don't believe in taking a healthy dish such as a salad and making it one of the worst dishes you can eat by putting a store-bought bottle full of junk which can make you fatter when you think you are getting skinnier.

The next time you go to a fast-food joint, check their nutritional breakdowns of all the food they serve. There is a reason why the salads have just as much or more fat and a bunch of other crap in them which is not good for you at than the burgers and fries. No kidding. Check it out online if you don't ever go to these places. The reason: their dressing.

Dressings are easy to make. Normally, the rule is 1/3 acid to the amount of oil you use. Just try to get close to this and you won't overpower the rest with lemon juice or vinegar. If you want the two to come together as one (congeal), add a little mustard. For whatever reason, mustard has some kind of properties to it which makes oil and acid congeal. I use either Dijon or grainy mustard normally, but you can use whatever you have in your fridge. Throw a little minced garlic in with a little fresh ground pepper and sea salt and tadaaa! You have just made yourself a salad dressing.


In my cupboard, I have 4 or 5 different oils (EVOO, good EVOO, grape seed, white truffle and basil-flavoured EVOO from O&Co (http://www.oliviersandco.com/)) along with 7 or 8 vinegars (balsamic, sherry, fig balsamic from O&Co, apple cider, red wine, porto and a couple of aged balsamics). With these alone, I can make approximately 2,000 different dressings. I always have a lemon or a lime lying around somewhere as well, so that almost triples that number. Use your imagination and you will never be disappointed. Just remember what else you are eating and what you are adding to the salad so you can at least make the dressing go along with everything else.

I look at salads as being a platter for other flavours. By platter, I mean the greens. The flavours come from tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, goat cheese, blue cheese, dried cranberries, etc. The dressing is brought in at the end right before serving to bring it all together.

If you are not too sure about making your own dressing, think again and convince yourself to do it. The health benefits of making your own dressing is huge. This is mainly because you know exactly what is going into it. Lets look at the one I told you about earlier. EVOO, very good for you (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=132). This mainly is the only oil I use. I will use grape seed oil as well which also has many health benefits (http://www.josephsestatewines.com/grape_seed.html). Garlic, also important to a healthy lifestyle (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=60). I try to eat garlic everyday. I also brush my teeth 2 or 3 times a day. Mustard, believe it or not is a "must" in your diet (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=106). I never knew how good for you it actually was until a couple of years ago. I try to have it as much as I can now. When I have a problem breathing (I have bad allergies), I either eat something which I can put mustard on or I just take a tablespoon full of Dijon. My lungs mostly clear up right away. It's just like taking a mouthful of Vicks Vaporub (which I would never do by the way) except  better. Dijon is a little less offensive in your mouth, I would think. If you use a lemon or lime for your acid, they are both good for you as well. Sea salt and fresh ground pepper tops this healthy cocktail off.

Here are two recipes for salads I like to eat:

Prosciutto And Roasted Vegetables Under Mixed Greens With A Maple Syrup Vinaigrette

2 oz's mixed greens or a good handful
8 spears asparagus
4 pieces thinly sliced zucchini, approximately 1/4"
4 pieces thinly sliced prosciutto
1 small shallot, finely diced
1 1/2 tbs maple syrup
3/4 tbs red wine vinegar
EVOO
sea salt
fresh ground pepper
Parmesan cheese

Directions

1. Take asparagus and break the lower ends off where the woody part ends. Put them in a bowl with the zucchini and toss them with EVOO and a little salt and pepper. Roast them in the oven or on the bbq until slightly tender, about 10-12 minutes in the oven or about 5 minutes on medium-high on the bbq.
2. Put syrup, shallot and vinegar and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl and whisk slightly. Add EVOO and whisk until desired consistency and taste. You could also put it all in a small plastic container and shake it up, as shown below. I usually whisk it all together but I was short on time today, so this was quicker.


3. Place 2 pieces of prosciutto on a plate. Just don't lie them flat, plump them up a little. This makes them easier to eat. Place 4 pieces of asparagus and two pieces of zucchini over prosciutto. Add 1/2 the greens over top.
4. Pour half of the dressing over top of each plate. Always taste the dressing before you pour it over the salad. This way you can add something if it isn't to your liking.
5. Take a potato peeler and put 2 or 3 peels of Parmesan over top of the salad ands serve.
Yield: Serves 2


The asparagus and zucchini are there, honest.

This is a great salad to serve at a dinner party. The smokiness of the syrup goes nicely with the prosciutto and the roasted veggies. The Parmesan adds a little extra bite and adds another background flavour. The different levels of flavours will amaze you and your guests. It's always a hit whenever I serve it. If you make too much dressing, put what's left in the fridge. It will keep for 3 or 4 days.

Libby's Salad

4 oz's mixed greens or two good handfuls
3 Roma tomatoes, quartered and diced into 1" chunks
75 gr (2.6 oz's) goats cheese or Chevre
1/2 of an avocado, sliced
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/8 cup pumpkin seeds

Dressing

EVOO
1 1/2 oz fig balsamic vinegar or puree a fresh fig in a blender with the regular balsamic vinegar.
1 clove garlic
1 tsp Dijon mustard
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Directions

1. Arrange greens on a plate or in a bowl to toss before serving
2. Spread tomatoes and avocado slices over top of greens
3. Crumble goat cheese and spread over greens along with pumpkin seeds and cranberries
4. Combine all ingredients from dressing in a small canning jar or plastic container with lid. Shake and taste before serving. Adjust seasoning if needed and pour over salad.
Yield: Serves 2

I named this dish Libby's Salad after a family friend who loves this salad. She helps her mom babysit for us sometimes. I make and leave it for them to assemble for dinner when they come over to our house to take care of O.

This salad has many different flavours and textures: crunchiness from the pumpkin seeds, tartness from the dressing along with the figs as a background flavour, chewiness from the cranberries and a kind of silkiness from the avocado. The goat cheese also adds a nice, light background flavour and creamy texture. This is a nice salad to use as a starter or as a meal. Downsize it about half is using as a starter. It can be quite filling. Again, if you don't use all of the dressing, keep it in the fridge for 3 or 4 days.

Little O's Menu

Our little ravioli is still eating well. We are still feeding her some of what we eat while we are eating it. She likes mashed potatoes, which we ate at Erin and Jeff's place on Saturday night (very good dinner Erin). She also had the chance to eat red and green peppers along with mushrooms which came off of my little primavera pizza at Lina's Italian Market yesterday. We are happy about this as she is enjoying dinner with us and is easier to handle if we eat with her. Sunday night she had some of our pasta (escaped clams) with us and ate quite a bit of it, both the pasta and the tomatoes. We have also been giving her steamed asparagus, chopped up with green beans and carrots. So far, so good with this step in her little dining life.

Breakfast for her has still been fruit or apple sauce with yogurt and rice cereal. I sometimes add pieces of red seedless grapes to this. Toast with spreadable Laughing Cow cheese (http://www.thelaughingcow.com/) is starting to be a hit too. We have also started to add whole milk to her formula so she can get used to the taste of it. This is going well and I believe with all that we are doing now, it is helping her gain that weight she needs. I will weigh her this week to find out if we are successful or not.

On another note, I haven't been talking about my breakfasts or meal habits at all lately. This has been going well and people have said I look as if I have been losing weight lately, especially on my face. This is good as I want to limit the number of chins under my mouth to just one, like it used to be.

I have been going with a banana or two pieces of toast with a small amount of natural peanut butter, sometimes with a little Nutella, or oatmeal with yogurt and berries as of late. Snacks in the early afternoon have been consisting of grapes or marinated anchovies fillets and small octopus'. Don't knock it until you try it. Omega 3's and all the good stuff from the sea for a snack. Get over your fears and try them. Just remember they are good for you if you don't feel comfortable eating them at first. I buy them at any of the local Italian markets. Most of them have this kind of thing at their deli counters. All of these things are better to snack on than chips and dip or anything like that, guaranteed.

Lunch has been consisting of eating something light like pears and Gorgonzola with walnuts and honey. Seriously, try this. They're all a natural fit for each other. So good....


I like having help in the kitchen. I have a plan in place, it's called the "I will work for formula" program. O is always trying to help out in the kitchen, or something reasonably similar to that. She likes to pull down what the wife has set up for dishcloths and handtowels and roam around the house with them. I think it's an easy way to get the floors cleaned.


I just did a Q&A for 12 Tomatoes out of Washington, DC. Check it out - http://12tomatoes.com/2010/11/12t-member-feature-ricotta-stuffed-chicken-breast-wrapped-in-prosciutto-and-qa-with-mark.html

Today's quote:

"Food is the most primitive form of comfort"
- Sheilah Graham (1904-1988)


Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark

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