Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Oh, Pears!

Around this time of year I start to go completely bonkers for pears, and the madness doesn't leave me till fall. To be economical, I usually just buy them by the bagful, and come up with ways to use them during the week. Here are my two favorite lunchy-things, but I've also been known to eat pear-marscapone pasta for dinner, pear french toast for breakfast, and many other pear themed treats. Assuming no one else is quite as pear-crazy as me, I'll leave those for another time...

Pear, pecan, goat cheese salad
You Need:
-A pear (ha) -some nice goat cheese (or gorgonzola would work if you hate goat, parmesan if you are preggers)
-raw pecans - mixed greens or baby green salad mix - balsamic vinager, EVOO, pepper.

This particular salad is a combo of a couple different ones I've had at fancy restaurants. Nothing beats pears with balsamic.
FIRST, Make your dressing. People have written books on how to make a vinagrette, but this is the cheaters way. Get your bowl and pour a decent puddle of balsamic in there (like a jar lid size.) Grind some pepper in there, and salt (if you're one of those), and squeeze a tsp or so of honey. (You could also throw in a tiny dollop of spicy mustard if you wish.) Now, whisk that all together with a stream of EVOO. How much? That is a testing thing. Do a little, test it on a piece of lettuce, then add a little more. Once it tastes tart but but not bracing you are all set.
SECOND, That was the hard part. Now throw in some baby greens, and let it soak it up while you cut up a ripe pear into thin slices. Throw the pear in there, a handful of pecans, a tbs of goat cheese (or more if you are a fiend like me), some crutons, toss it all together, and go forage! I honestly prefer this simple combination to a bowl of ice cream.

*Spicy Pecans-To impress the in-laws, spicy pecans add an amazing kick to this combo. Preheat the oven to 375 and get out a cookie sheet. In a large bowl, toss as many pecans as you can with this combo (eyeball it, you want them to be barely coated): butter or margerine, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, and cayenne pepper. Spread the barely coated pecanson the cookie sheet and cook for about 15 minutes on each side, taking care not to burn them. Let them cool and use them in the above salad, an eat any leftovers as a delicious snack with beer.

Best Grilled Cheese EVER
So easy, and so delish. Get yourself some:
-yummy whole grain bread -pears (yup) -gorgonzola
-butter or margerine -honey

FIRST- Preheat a pan to medium. Slice up your pears big and thing. Butter one side of the bread, and slather some honey on one piece. Next, put some crumbled gorgonzola on there, and lay the pears on top. Cook on the first side for maybe 4 minutes, then flip and smoosh it down, cooking for 1-2 minutes. This sandwich goes quite well with General Hospital and gnger ale.

NOTE I do not recommend eating the salad and grilled cheese together- thats a little much.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Test Kitchen: Ominous Potato Salad

Today has been a day of omens and portents; some good, some bad, some inexplicable.

Last weekend, I finally got my ass up early enough to hit the Old Town farmer's market, something I've been meaning to do for months. I ended up with some lovely little new potatoes that, while walking home, I decided to use in a potato salad. This wouldn't be just any potato salad though. Nay. This would be a different breed of potato salad, a potato salad that would marry the aromatic spices of Indian cooking with the picnic-y, summertime goodness of cold, mayonnaise drenched potatoes. There would also be mangos involved. Oh yes, mangoes.

Events transpired that forced me to hold off on my salading until today. It was during my journey home from work that the first omen revealed itself; I almost got shat on by a bird. Yes my friends, I was about to walk under a lovely green tree, all leafed out and proud for spring, when all of a sudden SPLAT! I did feel lucky for not being under the bird that committed this dirty deed, but it still made me uneasy. You can imagine my dismay when, upon arriving home to my tiny abode, I was met at the door by a smell that can only be described as funky. I think I sort of passed it off as a combination of hedgehog smell + no air conditioning yet, but when I went for the cupboard where the potatoes had been placed not even one week ago, I realized this was no smell born of my innocent, spiny pet. This was the smell of potatoes...turned evil. I have seriously never seen anything like this, and I would have gotten a picture if the smell hadn't been so alarming. There was black juice running out of the spoiled ones, and...foam? Yes, these potatoes were actually foaming. I think they were either fermenting or had been possessed by an evil spirit. I sqeamishly picked out the ruined tubers and quarantined them in a plastic bag. After examining the others for signs of demonic interference, and giving them a good scrubbin', I moved them to the fridge. This seemed like an ill portent indeed for my imagined potato salad, but as I rushed off to a hair appointment, I reasoned that I could pick up some more potatoes on my way home. Things would be okay. We would get through this.

The hair cut seemed to indicate things were looking up. I'd gone in with a good idea of what I wanted, which was a pretty drastic change from the current look, and my amazing stylist of 20 odd years totally made it happen, as usual. Encouraged by this positive outcome, I picked up a few extra taters and headed home. On the way, I passed by an extremely old pick up truck with a large plastic horse posed in front of an American flag in the truck bed; I have absolutely no idea how to interpret that. Finally I got home, and commenced with the salad. Ready?


- This many potatoes

- 1 onion

- 1 cup plain, fat free yogurt

- 3 dried, red chili peppers

- 2 tsp. curry powder

- 1 tsp. turmeric

- 1 cardamon pod

- dash of chili powder (about 1/4 tsp.)

- 1 tsp. cumin

- some olive oil


Examine the potatoes closely for signs of demon seed. Cut off any part of the potato that makes you uncomfortable. Make sure to cut off the potato eyes--it's kinder for the potato not to see what is about to happen.

Put enough water in a large pot to cover the potatoes, but do not place the potatoes inside it just yet. Salt the water and bring to a boil. Pop the taters in there and cover. Lower the heat if it boils too vigorously. Boil potatoes until you can easily stick a fork into them. This might take a while, so as they boil...

Chop up the onion and heat up some olive oil in a skillet over low heat. When the oil is warm, pop those onions in the skillet and let 'em sweat for a few minutes. Crack open the dried chilis and remove the seeds. Do NOT touch your eyes. Put the chilis in the skillet and cook with the onions over low heat. They shouldn't be popping and cracking--if they are, lower the heat. You just kind of want them to gently sizzle in the oil for a while.

Measure out all the spices into a small bowl. Add a little bit of water and mix into a paste. You could probably skip this step if you wanted to, but I derive a certain pleasure out of seeing the transformation. It's up to you.

Mix the spices into the onion mix and let cook for about five minutes. Turn off the heat, but let the skillet cool on the stove.

By my calculations, the potatoes should be just about done, so take them out of the hot water, transfer them into some ice water, and stick them in the fridge. Measure out a cup of plain, fat-free yogurt into a bowl, and add the contents of the onion-skillet. Mix it up, kid, and place it in the fridge to cool.

Now you have some time to kill while your potates and yogurt are chillin' in the fridge. You could:

- Microwave some vegetarian corndogs

- Knit a sock

- Stare out the window and wonder where it all went so wrong

- Do the dishes

I know, I know. Doing the dishes never seems like the best use of anyone's time. However, it has been my experience that the amount of time that it takes to do the dishes is often the exact amount of time it takes for whatever you're waiting for to happen. Try it out some time and let us know what your results are. Anyway, now that the dishes are done, you can mess them up again. Take the potatoes out of their cold bath and cut them up into sizes and shapes pleasing to you. This time around, I decided to cut exact, scaled replicas of the Stonehenge monoliths, pillars, and lintels. Check it out!

Add the yogurt to the potatoes, salt and pepper to taste, and voila! Indian-inspired potato salad!

So, now that I've detailed the entire process here, you've probably gathered that the salad turned out okay. No, it did not turn out okay. It was fucking awesome. It turned out exactly as I wanted it to, and damn was it tasty! Serve it with veggie corndogs and mango chutney*. Enjoy!

*I wasn't sure how the mango chutney would taste mixed into the potato salad, so I kept it on the side in order to taste them together. You could TOTALLY mix it in, and that's probably what I'll do next time. I recommend the mango-ginger chutney from Trader Joes. Yum!