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Roast Your Own

Recipe: Roasted peppers

Courtesy anolobb @ Flickr

If you don’t like the way they make ’em in the city
Cause they taste all wrong and the dang pepper ain’t pretty
Roast your own, roast your own.

˜ With apologies to Hoyt Axton

Freshly roasted peppers are a staple in my kitchen. You can throw ’em in a salad, eat ’em with pasta or grind ’em up for soup. They’re also delicious on sandwiches or with fresh mozzarella for lunch. Sure you can buy them in jars at the market, but they always seem to have vinegar in them and they never taste good. And anyway why would you buy something nasty that’s so easy to make and tastes infinitely better when you do?

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“Another drink, another binge, another bender, another spree.”

A little quinoa salad to help straighten you out on New Year’s Day.

Depending on the level of debauchery you achieve in the wee hours of the New Year, your first thought upon waking might well be, “I am never going to drink again,” not that I’d know much about that. But let’s be honest, if surviving a bender was a reliable cure for a tendency to overindulge, we’d all be sober as judges come January 2, and we’d stay that way for a good long time, or at least until St. Paddy’s Day.

Regrettably, such is generally not the case. Still, in the agonizing hours or days that follow a walk on the wild side, sustenance must be had. And though it’s entirely likely that the thought of eating lacks a certain appeal when you first wake up, once the vomiting subsides and the hallucinations fade, you will need to put something in your stomach. I find that the crashing hangover responds best to a combination of sugar and stodge, and for me French toast fits the bill. But as the day wears on, healthier foods are called for, and I’ve got just the thing: quinoa salad. I often make up a batch on the 31st, just to have it at the ready, and because experience has shown that it’s generally not advisable to wield sharp knives until at least January second.

I adapted this from Jamie Oliver’s recipe for couscous salad in “The Naked Chef.” The quinoa has a little more flavor, fiber and nutritional value than regular couscous, though you can substitute couscous if you prefer.

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Prepare for the pears

They're almost here!

One of the things I like best about fall, besides the fact that cascading cashmere is far more effective than skimpy sundresses as fat camouflage, is that the cold weather brings fabulous, fresh pears. Unlike many people, I greet the annual Harry and David shipment from Aunt Bunny with genuine enthusiasm that borders on rapture, rather than the usual “How the hell are we going to eat all these friggin’ pears?” And I want you to join me.

Here’s the skinny on pears:

For eating: Comice is by far the best. Bartlett will do (canned pears are Bartletts).

For cooking: Seckel or Bosc. They’re grainy.

Anjou can be used for either, though they’re not the absolute juiciest.

Pears are picked when they’re still quite hard and inedible, because if they’re allowed to ripen on the tree they get all mushy and nasty. Once a pear is picked, it generally takes from five to ten days to get ripe, depending on what kind it is. Refrigeration will retard ripening, but I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to put pears in the fridge – you’re playing with fire, or ice as it were – and they’ve probably already been refrigerated in transit at least once.

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Salad: A bottom-up approach

Again, I must tip my hat to the one and only Madame Hodgkins for this invaluable tip:

When making salad, always mix up the dressing in the bottom of the same salad bowl you’re going to serve it from, then throw in the tomatoes and any other chopped vegetables. I like a little avocado and red onion, but if you feel the need to bung some carrots or cukes in there, have at it. The last thing to go in is the lettuce. (And really, does anyone use anything but the pre-washed, bagged stuff anymore? I know you’re supposed to wash it and I always intend to, but…Anyways, you really should wash it before you eat it. Let’s leave it at that. But I digress.) The only things you really should hold off adding until the moment of service are crumbled cheese and nuts.

So once you’ve got the dressing made (unless of course you’re drawing from the big stash in your fridge) and everything in on top, you can cover it with a damp paper towel and let it sit on the counter for a really long time — I’ve let it go two hours — with no ill effects, as long as you don’t toss it.  Leave that until the moment you’re ready to serve it.  Takes so much stress out of company meals and allows you to spend the time you’d normally be assembling salad having a life giving drink and a happy chat with your guests. Perfect!

Of course I make my own dressing

Once a week, and that’s it. I hate bottled vinaigrette even more than I hate fiddling with dressing, so here’s what I do: I make a big old batch, then store it in a jar in the fridge. Yes, yes, the oil and vinegar separate, but all you have to do is retrieve the jar, let it sit on the counter for ten minutes and give it a good shake. If you alternate hands, this counts as an upper body workout, at least in my mind it does.

Since I’m on the subject, here’s my recipe (all measurements approximate — you’ll have to taste as you go — but this should dress enough side salad for two or three people). It was the magnificent Nicoise Christiane Hodgkins who first showed me how to make this way back when. Sadly, she’s no longer with us and let me tell you the world is a far drearier place without her, but her cuisine lives on. Tres bien!

Balsamic Vinaigrette (a la niciose)

Whisk all ingredients until emulsified (combined and starting to thicken a bit).

  • 1 T balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 to 1 T mayonnaise (my addition — it gives the dressing a little oomph and helps bind the O and V)
  • 2 to 3 T extra virgin olive oil (depending on the strength of the vinegar)
  • good grind of fresh pepper
  • pinch of salt (optional)
  • a drop or two of honey (only if the balsamic is not sweet enough)

Now, you can add minced garlic to this, and I often do, especially if the flavors of the other foods aren’t all that strong. Personally, I love garlic in everything, but I realize not everyone does.

Remember, the flavor, sweetness and intensity of olive oils and vinegars vary enormously. Whenever making vinaigrette, taste as you go and tweak as necessary.

If you want to squirrel this away in a jar, you’ll need to triple or even quadruple quantities and skip the garlic. It gets manky after a while.

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