Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Raspberry Salad

Sometimes recipes live up to their advance publicity, and sometimes they don't. It's a lesson learned the hard way. My friend Penny told me I just had to try her deviled eggs, then she shared that the peculiar brown bits mixed with the yolks were ground-up peanuts. I'm usually game for something new, but I just couldn't abide that. I waited 'til Peggy's attention was diverted and then hid that poor egg in my napkin.

Although my friend Lynn is quite a cook, I was a bit dubious when she raved about THE Raspberry Salad. She's made it for birthday parties, potlucks and office events. I had to have a baby to rate THE Raspberry Salad and I will admit that the salad certainly lived up to its advance publicity. I managed to get the recipe from her, and essentially it's a green salad with cheese and nuts and a first-rate raspberry vinaigrette. The key to this salad is really the dressing - it makes a lot, so just put the remainder in a screwtop jar in the fridge - it keeps for several weeks. I like this salad best in the fall, but it's quite nice in the winter, as well.

THE Raspberry Salad
2 bunches Bibb lettuce
1 bunch red leaf lettuce
8 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1 cup walnuts, chopped and toasted
1 bunch purple grapes, sliced in half

2 tbsp raspberry jam or preserves (try to find w/o seeds)
1/2 cup raspberry vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 small onion, chopped
1/2 tsp dry mustard

In a food processor, mince onion with sugar. Add preserves, vinegar, salt and mustard and process. Slowly add oil and process until emulsified.

This is the recipe as it was given to me. I like to use romaine lettuce for the greens. I found raspberry balsamic vinegar & it was fine. Instead of a regular onion, I've successfully used green onions and leeks.

This is just an observation, but this salad is very popular with men, must be the sweet/tart thing. I know that it is my DH's favorite salad and is frequently requested. To make it kid-friendly, I just spread out the accessories - cheese, nuts, and grapes and let the girls dip them in the dressing.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Peas on Earth, Goodwill to Men

Dried black eyed peas. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

On Jan. 1, New Year's tradition holds to eat greens or cabbage for wealth and black-eyed peas for good luck. I don't mind the greens, but, honestly, black-eyed peas boiled with pork taste just like dirt boiled with pork. A few years ago, I discovered Black-Eyed Peas Vinaigrette in Craig Claiborne's Southern Cooking (I love the cover of Craig in his high-waisted trousers by a bountiful outdoors buffet). It is more refined than the usual boiled peas and a fine change-up for the New Year's Day menu.

Black-Eyed Peas Vinaigrette

1 lb. dried black-eyed peas

8 cups water

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

1 onion stuck with two cloves

1 garlic clove, peeled

1 bay leaf

1/4 tsp dried thyme

4 sprigs parsley

1/3 cup finely chopped onion

2 tbsp finely chopped shallots

1 tsp finely minced garlic

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

3 tbsp. red wine vinegar

2/3 cup olive oil

1. Rinse and pick over the peas and place in a kettle. Add the water, salt, pepper, and onion stuck with cloves. Tie the garlic clove, bay leaf, thyme, and parsley sprigs in a cheesecloth bag, and add it. Bring to the boil and simmer until the peas are tender, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Set aside for 15 minutes.

2. Remove the onion and cheesecloth bag. Drain the peas.

3. Put the peas in a mixing bowl. Add the chopped onion, shallots, minced garlic, chopped parsley, vinegar, and oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss to blend well. Serve lukewarm or at room temperature (my preference).

Text and images copyright 2008. Lucy Mercer

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Bean Soup on a Snowy Day

Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
 A rare snowy day here in Georgia, the first for my 2 year old who ran through the snow with her arms outstretched chanting, "snow, snow, snow!" She and her big sister built a snowman, and after placing the head lump on the body lump, danced around shouting "Fwosty uh foh-man!" You can tell she's very influenced by holiday cartoons.

While watching the flakes fall, I made bean soup with ham and Crescent Dragonwagon's skillet-sizzled cornbread (from Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread Book). The soup can be made with bacon or ham or kielbasa. Here's the recipe:

Bean Soup with Bacon
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3 slices bacon or 1/2 cup ham or 1/2 cup chopped sausage
1 can chicken broth
3 cans navy beans, undrained, or 1/2 lb. dry white beans, soaked
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste

1. Saute vegetables in olive oil until softened, and add ham or bacon or sausage. After meat is cooked, you may need to drain off some of the fat. Add chicken broth and beans and bay leaf and simmer for 15 minutes.

Grown up version: add a dried chile, seeds removed, to simmering soup. Discard bay leaf and chile before serving.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Lemon Macaroon Tarts

Back in the day, I was the bridal shower queen. Never a bridesmaid, but always a shower hostess. I discovered these tarts in a now-defunct publication from Dixie Crystals sugar. Homemade Good News was published monthly and always had lovely, accessible homemade recipes. Try these for a baby or bridal shower, or a special tea for little girls.

Lemon Macaroon Tarts

Yield: 36 miniature tarts

for the shells
4 cups flaked sweetened coconut
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla
3 egg whites

Toss the coconut with the sugar and flour until well coated. Add the vanilla and the egg whites. Beat on medium high speed setting until well mixed. Press mixtures evenly on bottoms and up the sides of 36 well-greased, miniature muffin cups (sprayed first with nonstick spray). The mixture will be sticky, but manageable. You may dampen your fingertips to make the job easier.

Bake on the lower rack of a preheated 400 oven about 15 minutes or until edges are nicely browned. Shells will not appear done in their centers. Cool shells in their tins 2 to 3 minutes, then immediately loosen with a sharp knife and remove to a rack to cool before filling.

Shells can be prepared and baked in advance and held in the fridge several days or frozen up to 1 month. Thaw or allow shells to come to room temp before filling.

lemon filling

2 1/4 cup sugar
5 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp lemon zest
1 cup cold water
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp unsalted butter
whipped cream, for serving
lemon zest strips, for serving

Whisk the sugar with the cornstarch and lemon zest in a saucepan, until well mixed, then gradually whisk in the cold water and the lemon juice. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened. Remove from heat.

Lightly beat the eggs in a separate bowl until smooth, then gradually whisk about 1/4 of the hot lemon mixture into the eggs. Whisk constantly to keep the mixture smooth. Add the warmed egg mixture slowly back to the saucepan with the remaining hot lemon mixture, still whisking constantly.

Cook mixture, whisking constantly, still over medium heat, until thick and glossy. Remove from heat and whisk in the unsalted butter. Cool, then cover and chill thoroughly. Mixture can be held in the fridge for up to a week.

To serve, fill macaroon tart shells and garnish with whipped cream and lemon zest.