on salad (and other things)

Yesterday for dinner, we made a salad.

I like salad.

strawberries

I like salad especially this time of year, when the weather’s crazy hot in Nashville, the kind of hot where your shirt sticks to your back and sweat beads on your upper lip and walking down a street holding your fianc√©’s hand means having to wipe your palm on your pant leg afterwards. This particular year, the heat has brought with it cicadas, ugly little flying creatures with bright red eyes and loud chirping noises, camped out in the trees, on my house, and, for a tragic few minutes Monday morning, right in my freshly washed hair. It’s been something.

But thankfully, these 90-degree days have also brought with them the more agreeable experiences of popsicles, tank tops, week-long visits from my brother (which included the purchase of one very expensive white dress), homemade ice cream, flip flops, Memorial Day grilling, and, back to the original topic, giant summer salads.

(I mean, the salads don’t exactly make up for having to be swatted at on your way into a weekday lunch, but they certainly help.)

pouring oil on the salad

The idea for Tuesday’s salad came pretty simply: Tim got a block of Parmesan as a birthday gift, and we all know Parmesan works wonderfully atop a salad. We bought some berries and arugula and combined them with Trader Joe’s balsamic, olive oil, salt, pepper, honey, and big shavings of Parmesan.

adding some Parm

And while we both thought the salad needed the extra crunch of nuts—pine nuts? walnuts? toasted almonds? and Tim really liked the sound of adding a sheep’s milk feta throughout, even as it was, it made a refreshing meal. Oh and on the side, there was garlic bread: toasted rosemary sourdough topped with butter and sliced roasted garlic. Pure perfection.

garlic bread

Given that this recipe is still a sort of work in progress, two things:

1) I’d love to hear your versions or ideas for improvements.
2) I feel like I should offer you something else today.

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Grass-Fed Pot Roast

Early last month—it might have been the cooler weather or the fact that I hadn’t eaten red meat in a couple weeks, or it might have been since I already had a couple grass-fed chuck roasts in my freezer, purchased from a local farm—I got a fierce craving for pot roast.

Now if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably made pot roasts before. My versions were usually in a crock pot and surrounded by carrots and potatoes. Pot roast is one of those classic American dishes—like mashed potatoes and apple pie—that we have all had and made and probably prefer a certain way.

crazy good pot roast

As for me, I like my pot roasts very tender, flavorful and fragrant enough to turn the kitchen into a different place while cooking. It’s kind of like my morning routine: where you might wake at a set time, have breakfast, read the paper and get in the car, I like to read and pray in bed before pulling out my laptop, still without having taken a shower, and get a few work things done.

So early last month, when I tested a new pot roast recipe, the combination of several ideas I’d seen online, and it turned out the be the most moist, tender, dark and wonderfully smelling piece of meat I’d ever had, you’ll understand when I say it became my morning routine of pot roasts.

Since then, I’ve made it four more times. Really.

grass-fed pot roast

So you know how it is the first time you try something: you’re a little unsure how it will go, so you’re checking the meat every hour, changing temperatures when you think it might help, adding ingredients partway through. Well in this case, all those changes worked so well, that I decided I would always do things that way every time after. This includes flipping the meat and adding mushrooms after an hour, raising the temperature an hour after that, then lowering it again. If you’re less paranoid, you could probably do some other combination of 225 and 325 degrees for a total of 3-4 hours—just keep your eye on it every now and then—but I’m sticking with my routine.

fork-tender pot roast

The only other note I’d add is on the grass-fed meat: I know some of you will wince at the higher price tag and just use regular chuck roast, and that’s fine. But I will say that my mom tried that with her own version after tasting mine, and it wasn’t the same. Grass-fed meat is noticeably more tender, not to mention higher in Omega 3 fatty acids, and, while we’re on the subject, have you seen Food, Inc., yet? It will change your perspective on meat forever.

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Cheddar-Garlic Biscuits

Last night, two hours into a kitchen disaster that left dishes in the sink, flour on the counters and about a dozen buckwheat ravioli in the freezer (i.e., pasta with the texture of burlap), I gave thanks for the thing we call cooking.

Because last night, cooking was part something to do, part a way to release energy and part an opportunity to be creative with concrete objects I could see, even if I turned those objects into tough dough set in thick sheets that didn’t cut well. I am thankful cooking adapts to our days, adjusts to our needs.

cheddar-garlic biscuits

It has been, at times, a way to relax. At others, a chance to feel productive. The night before Thanksgiving, while I made a pie around midnight, it was the only thing that could keep my mind occupied. On the Saturday after, while I made another pie and then these cheddar-garlic biscuits, it was a welcome distraction and comfort, better than remembering the holiday ended and everyone had to go back home.

adam eating a biscuit

Sometimes I don’t even care what I’m cooking; I just need the rhythms of mixing ingredients, cleaning the counters, loading the dishwasher yet again. As far as these biscuits—beyond the fact that I had a little over a cup of buttermilk in the fridge begging to be used, I made them because Jacqui inspired me, because I’ve always liked the ones at Red Lobster that they seem to be an homage to and because, quite frankly, baking biscuits is a much better way to spend a Saturday night than staring at the walls feeling sad. They are cheesy and soft, flecked with pepper and covered with natural ridges like rustic biscuits should be. I like them toasted in the oven and served alongside a nice, big salad—preferably a salad I have to take a few minutes to put together, feeling thankful for the chance to.

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Curried Coconut Chicken & Peanut Butter Noodles

Listen, it’s not like I never do adventurous things. I mean, you know: I ride roller coasters. I cut 11 inches off my hair. I launch out into self-employment. And hello, there was that mountain in Maine I won’t let anyone forget about. Remember?!

But when it comes to my kitchen and new types of cuisine, even I will admit that I stick pretty close to the basics: American, Italian, sometimes Greek, but pretty rarely anything outside that. And if it weren’t for my friend Stacey, who came over Tuesday night to, at her suggestion, try making Thai food, that would all be exactly the same.

peanut butter noodles

Our plan of attack was simple: pick two recipes, adapt the ingredients to be fully natural, follow the instructions and cook.

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here’s the way to like them

pickles

You know those people who are notoriously slow to latch onto certain foods? They say it’s the texture or the flavor? They never liked it, never will? We all know those people. We all are those people. So let me start off this post by addressing them—addressing us—and saying this: the following story is one you can read and take heart. I like pickles.

Yes, I wrote that right. I LIKE PICKLES. Expect all manner of impossibilities from here on out: Up can be down. Left can be right. You can take something you always thought you wouldn’t like and make it in your own kitchen and boom: it’s a world where anything is possible.

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Mama’s Meat Sauce

Mama's Meat Sauce

I come from a long line of women who can cook: My great grandma, I’m told, made legendary pasta. My grandma rolled her own cannoli shells. My mom, a woman who loves to say, Oh, it’s so simple (particularly when her only daughter asks for clarification on some new recipe trick), has a vast cooking repertoire that ranges from bakery-worthy apple strudel to hot chicken curry just the way my dad likes it.

And as with a lot of things in life, I feel there are different ways to approach this kind of heritage: Embrace it. Or resent it.

homemade meat sauce

I’ll let you guess which way I tended towards for most of my childhood and only say this: it’s amazing how we can turn blessings into curses, how we can choose to be intimidated by that which can help us grow. You may call it perfectionism; I call it ugly.

It’s like, say, when you have the opportunity to start working from home: This is such an obvious good (especially as it is the thing—the very thing—you have wanted and worked towards for years!), yet you can let yourself see it as a bad (citing all the potential problems/risks, from insurance to pay to the way it feels to step into the Unknown).

That same vice that makes you see the negatives in one situation will make you see the problems in others. But I’ve been thinking. Maybe the parallel works both ways? Maybe by learning to embrace a heritage of good home cooks, for example, you step towards learning to embrace everything else. What do you think?

I’m starting with this meat sauce.

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if you don’t mind my asking (rosemary garlic burger)

rosemary-garlic burgers

I am one of those obnoxious people who likes asking random questions so I can overanalyze your answers: Would you rather be smart and ugly or beautiful and dumb? If you could go anywhere, where would you go? What’s your favorite book? When did you start liking vegetables? Picture yourself in the desert.

And before any of you kind ones out there leap to reassure me that asking such questions is not obnoxious, not at all, let me just explain that this is only half the problem. The flip side is I don’t really like to answer these questions. I mean, not unless I’ve had plenty of time to really think out my answer and make it exactly what I want it to be or after I’ve really gotten to know you and feel like I can trust that you’ll understand what I mean more than what I say but, even after that point, you should know it’s pretty likely I’ll still change my mind later and, when I do, I will want you to listen to all the reasons why because we have to overanalyze it together!, but meanwhile, go ahead and give me your answer right now so I can unfairly peg and judge you if you don’t mind, thankyouverymuch.

It’s weird. And if you’re thinking I bring this up for a reason today, you already know me better than you should because the truth is, I do want to ask you something, one of those random questions that we could talk about for a half hour if you let me.

So here it is: If you had to choose between beautiful weather + ho-hum food OR ho-hum weather + fantastic food, which would you pick?

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