Best Simple Green Salad

Green Salad

Green Salad Best simple green salad

One of my favorite elements of a multi-course meal is the salad. At our house we eat it after the main course—a fun bit of gastronomic protocol that the French taught us. Or was it the Italians?

It doesn’t seem like such a challenge, but really, how do you make a simple bowl of fresh greens something reliably mouth-pleasingly yummy and savory? It’s a two-part answer: choose crisp greens, and make a memorable dressing.

This evening’s salad consists of Boston Bibb (one of my favorites; love the subtle sweetness) and endives (with a nice contrasting bitterness). But really, any greens work. I look for the freshest leaves the veggie isle can offer up.

And now the dressing, which is the primary focus of today’s labor of love. We are creating a classic vinaigrette, but with some twists. The building blocks of a vinaigrette are acid and oil. On this one we’re using a basic red vinegar and olive oil. Garlic, shallots, and mustard contribute additional flavor.

Garlic Paste - before Garlic Paste - after

Here’s our first little trick: how to avoid having our dinner guests bite into sharp little chunks of garlic in our salad. Particularly if he/she is our date for the night. The secret is pulp. So, mince a clove of garlic, add a teaspoon of salt and then smash both—to a pulp!—with the edge of a heavy kitchen knife. At the end of your effort you want to have a paste-like texture, as shown in the photo above.

Now put the garlic and salt mixture in a small bowl. Add some ground pepper, two or three tablespoons of vinegar, and one tablespoon of mustard (and not just any mustard, but a sharp Dijon, please).

And one last water-soluble component—something sweet. A little sweetness enhances all the other components of this dressing. We’ll provide the magic this time with a tablespoon of maple syrup. But you could also use honey, sugar, or agave juice—you get the idea.

It is important that that all water-soluble ingredients get mixed first. The mustard part of the water-soluble portion will act as an ambassador in the next step, creating an easy emulsion with the oil, resulting in a thick and creamy dressing. So now drizzle in that oil, about 6 tablespoons. As always, taste as you go! The dressing should taste distinctly sharp and spicy. In the end I add a finely-minced shallot.

Dress the salad just seconds before you serve it. For a low-frills weeknight dinner we serve the salad on our dinner plates. This allows us to mix and mingle the last of the main course’s chicken juice (or was that the sauce from the strip steak?). A simple-pleasures treat. You might want to try it with my best roasted chicken.

Yack yack yack. Who would have thought a guy needs to write a dissertation on such a simple thing as a green salad? (I always say, once you’ve written one…) Please excuse my academic extremism here; you’ll see the effort is worth it.

Parmesan Crisps with Goat Cheese Mousse

Parmesan Crisps - Apetizer If you are planning a cocktail party and are in need of a sure-fire appetizer hit, these delicious Parmesan Crips with Goat Cheese Mousse should do the trick. Everybody will love the crunchy parmesan wafers crackling in their mouths while trying to get to the cool, savory mousse of goat cheese, herbs, and tiny morsels of shallot. It’s a big mouthful mess, but rewarding to eat. Here’s what you need:

For the Parmesan Crisps

1 chunk of Parmesan (say, one pound)

Parmesan Cheese That’s it! It couldn’t be easier to make these crisps—they are almost embarrassingly easy to make, like boiling water. Yes, that easy. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grind the Parmesan chunk with your grinder or KitchenAid. On a non-stick silicone pad arrange neat circles of ground parmesan. I use a round cookie cutter to make the circles pretty precise. While you could just distribute the Parmesan into little uneven hills on your half-sheet pan, such imprecision is just not allowed in this German’s kitchen. So it’s cookie cutter uniformity for me. Bake the cheese until it is bubbly and the familiar yellow starts to turn a little darker. You don’t want to burn the cheese, but if you take them out too early they will not be quite crisp enough.

(On a second thought, this was a little more complicated then boiling water.)

Let them cool and protect them from kitchen scavengers…

Ground Parmesan Circles Happy Parmesan Crisps

Stack of Parmesan Crisp Goodness

 

For the Goat Cheese Mousse

Enough about the crisps, let’s move our focus to the goat cheese mousse. You need:

1 log of fresh goat cheese
8 oz of sour cream
1 finely chopped shallot
1/2 cup of neatly cut chives
1/2 cup of neatly copped parsley
Salt and pepper
Maybe a little lemon juice or white vinegar, to taste

Mixing these ingredients is easier when they are all at room temperature. I use a fork, and work the thing until I have a fairly smooth result. Tasting and adjusting the seasoning is critical here. Salt and pepper of course;  maybe a little more salt (sorry Dr. Lefkowitz). And the acidity needs to be right. Don’t add so much that your batter tastes like a salad dressing. So, maybe just a teaspoon of lemon. Keep mixing, tasting… The acid, by the way, helps break the richness of the fat in the mousse. (You see, acidity is your friend!)

Put the mousse into a freezer bag and into the refrigerator. We want to cool the mousse there for a few hours, in order to give it just the right amount of ‘piping viscosity’.

Herbs and Shallots The making of a perfect Goat-Cheese Mousse The Assembly

About 30 minutes before your guests arrive you should arrange your assembly line. Cut a corner of your freezer bag and pipe a little circle of mousse onto your crisp. Neatly, please. A few carefully placed chive pieces completes your masterpiece. Now onto the next 49 pieces…

I have made these crisps a million times. The opportunities for variation are endless. So, sometimes the mousse is more of a cream cheese-and-milk something, simply because that’s what was in the fridge. Sometimes I feel like adding tiny flecks of red bell pepper and some paprika for seasoning. My left brain (or is it the right?) appreciates the creative challenge.

Credit for this wonderful appetizer goes to Thomas Keller. He published a much more sophisticated approach in the French Laundry Cookbook.

Guten Appetit!

Perfect Parmesan Crisps with Gout-Cheese Mousse

 

Simple Pleasure: Sourdough Bread

Bread and Butter A slice of crusty sourdough bread with some good butter is one of the simple and great food pleasures a foodie (or even a non-foodie!)  can have. It’s hard to find this kind of bread, even in New York City. Growing up in Germany, we had multiple bakeries just around the corner from our home. Some of them had been baking their breads for more than a hundred years—truly! They were not the soft and sweet breads that you so often find here in the US. Their crust was crisp, even hard to cut. Slicing the loaf would create a myriad of breadcrumbs (every one of them readily edible), and that wonderful crackling noise that fresh bread should have. And the smell—ahhh.

I am so happy to have found a little artisanal bakery in Miami Beach, on a recent trip: True Loaf Bakery. Steeped in old European bread baking technique, their rustic sourdough bread reminded me of my good ol’ days (wait—how old do you need to be to say that?). I simply loved it.

Check out more detail about the True Loaf Bakery here. If you’re visiting Miami Beach, don’t miss a visit—it’s located at 1894 Bay Road.

 

 

Shaved Fennel and Orange Salad

Orange and Fennel Salad Fennel and orange salad

This salad is a healthy winner during the last days of winter. And so simple to create!

Shave the fennel bulbs with the help of a mandoline slicer, as thinly as you can. Cut your oranges into supremes. This requires a little technique, but the result looks very professional. Check out my video that demonstrates this useful technique.

Our vinaigrette is a simple mixture of orange juice, a little champagne vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, and a dap of Dijon mustard. Some thinly sliced red onion and a few parsley leaves round out this salad nicely.

See pictures above for a nice presentation suggestion.

Enjoy this healthy treat right between winter and spring… maybe it’ll help bring spring to us quicker.

Fillets of orange