Archive for the ‘Breakfast’ Category

Crab sticks (surimi), orange, apple and mayo salad

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

More comfort food for depressing winter weekdays. This salad is as retro as it gets and I can easily see it being served at cocktail parties in the 80s – spooned into hollowed-out orange halves next to the cheese and olives on toothpicks stuck into an apple.

The diet craze of the last two decades has sent mayonnaise into hiding. It is slowly crawling back into the light, and is even being featured in big-time culinary magazines, so now we can use it without being branded as nutritional outlaws. The best mayo is homemade, but I’m still working on getting it to emulsify in my blender. The last attempt was a week ago and three free-range Amish farm egg yolks and two cups of oil went down the drain accompanied by Dijon mustard, organic apple cider vinegar and some other condiments. I haven’t given up just yet, but I’ve bought a jar from Trader Joe’s just in case I got a craving for the stuff before I master my technique. My consolation – there is a note on the jar that assures me it’s made with real eggs and without any artificial badness. It also says that I spent $4 on fat. Oh, well, it’s crazy cold outside.

This salad is very versatile – great for a quick lunch, school lunch-box sandwiches or a cocktail party, if anybody still does those.

Margo\'s crab and orange salad

Crab stick, orange, apple and mayo salad

serves 2 for a light lunch, makes 4 sandwiches

Ingredients:

  • 1 pack 8 oz (227g) crab sticks (surimi), cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 orange
  • 1 hard and sour green apple like a Granny Smith – cored and cut into bite-size pieces. You can leave the apple out, but I like the extra crunch in my salads.
  • 2 green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp dill, chopped
  • salt, black pepper
  • 3-4 tbsp mayonnaise if you dare; if not, use half mayo half thick plain yogurt

Over a medium bowl peel the orange with a small sharp knife, cutting off the white rind under the peel too. Carefully cut between the membranes, separating the flesh from them. What you get is juicy peel-free orange slices. This method is called filleting and sounds more complicated than it is. Dice the orange pieces, squeeze the remaining juice from the orange carcass before discarding it. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Check for seasoning and adjust. I usually like an extra sour punch and add some lemon juice. Few turns of the pepper mill and it’s ready – a very comforting old-fashioned salad, loved by my whole family. If you want to go for a fancy version – serve it spooned into endive leaves or crispy Romaine lettuce.

Monday Breakfast

Monday, January 26th, 2009

I’m not a morning person. Before I have my first cup of coffee you better stay away. Mondays are the hardest – the weekend fast gone, school back again, and with it the rush, the kids’ cereal, the lunch boxes, the heavy backpacks and the inevitable “Why do we have to go to school?” – and freezing Chicago weather on top of that. I do hate Mondays.

Yet I love breakfast, but not before 10 am and not in a hurry. I was never one for a quick fix of a typical workday morning. I loathe cereal, any resemblance of porridge, granola, muesli, fruit yogurt or a boring slice of bread with ham or cheese. I would rather go hungry than eat that. For me, breakfast is something to be enjoyed and not forget right away. I’m way more of an English breakfast than a weak continental affair person, even though I wouldn’t be able to do this every day. I tried heavy morning fare during a six-day trip to Scotland last spring, but got overwhelmed. Besides, the sausages were horrible.

Brunches were invented for me, but since I can’t have them every day, I try to keep the feeling throughout the week by taking care with what I make myself after dumping the kids at school – and the husband, for that matter. And here a well stock pantry comes in handy. You can do miracles if you have few essentials, well essentials for me anyway, like cans of hummus and baba ghanoush – the smoky eggplant dip popular in the Middle East – jars of mixed pickles and marinated peperoncini – medium spicy peppers often used in Southern Italy and Greece – black olives and some cheese. I always buy the olives with pits and preferably cured in brine or olive oil. Never buy them pitted – huge mistake. They are dry, tasteless and usually too salty. My new favorites are tiny Lebanese black olives, very similar in shape and taste to the overpriced Provençal ones, but much cheaper. You can find all of the above in Middle Eastern grocery stores. As for cheese – nothing fancy – Bulgarian sheep feta, simple fresh goat cheese or strong, creamy cheddar. I’ll stop here, as I can go on and on about cheese – but more about that some other time. Finally the bread, which is quite a pain in this country. Even my local Polish deli has mediocre bread, which came as a surprise, as in Poland it is generally very decent. The Sicilian bakery next door specializes in sweets and has no crusty Italian ciabatta. I still wonder how something so basic as bread could be done so wrong here. Thank God again for the Middle Eastern bakeries and Trader Joe’s. The first cater great flat breads, usually baked at the premises, the second is the source of my family’s much-loved bagels and English muffins, as well extraordinary sourdough breads.

This Monday it was a dense chewy bagel for me, toasted and spread with baba ghanoush, topped with smoky cured ham, a slice of feta and peperoncini for extra bite. I made a small side salad with mixed baby greens, cherry tomatoes and scallions, sprinkled with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. A big latte and the BBC News web site rounded the perfect breakfast for me. I was ready to face yet another day of financial crises, big presidential plans and small domestic accidents.

For those who are not as lucky as me to have a great Middle Eastern grocery only two bus rides away, here is a recipe for baba ghanoush. This delicious smoky dip will get you hooked.

Ingredients:

  • two medium plum eggplants; look for deep purple ones without brown spots
  • 2 garlic cloves – peeled, smashed to paste with ½ tsp salt in a mortar (you can use less, but eggplants love garlic)
  • 1 ½ tbsp tahini paste
  • juice of half lemon
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt
  • handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped (optional)

Preparation:

Back home I had an old thin metal pan that I used only for grilling peppers and eggplant. I would put it on the gas hob over high heat and grill the vegetables, turning them until the skin was charred all over. You can use a grill or very hot oven – 425°F/220°C. Pierce the skins of the eggplants to prevent them from bursting and place in the oven for at least 45 minutes. The skin should be black and crisp and the meat soft. Put them in a plastic bag or bowl with a tight cover for 15 minutes. This will help with the peeling – the skin will slide off easily. Mash the flesh in a bowl, add the garlic, lemon, tahini and oil – mix well and try for seasoning. Add more salt, lemon juice or olive oil if desired. The dip will hold well in the fridge for a week. I like to add chopped parsley. You can spread it on sandwiches, or use it as a dip for raw vegetables, as part of a meze platter for a light supper or a starter for a dinner party.


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