Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Butternut Squash and Mushroom Salad

Salad for me means a bowl of sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, scallions and parsley or dill, dressed with either olive oil and vinegar, or a homemade a mayo/sour cream-based dressing. That’s the kind of salad I grew up eating, and that’s the kind of salad I make most often. Every once in a while, though, I’ll get a craving for an American-style lettuce-based salad. No iceberg, please, just a hoity-toity mix of romaine, aragula, endive, radicchio and so on. I’ll top the lettuce with my usual tomatoes, cukes and whatever protein I have on hand, but occasionally I’ll get creative.

For a while I used to have lunch at Panera, and their Fuji apple chicken salad almost makes me take back everything bad I once said about this place. I honestly liked Panera’s take on the fancy bistro-style salad, topped with chunks chicken, blue cheese, red onions, pecans, and sliced apples. That’s the kind of salad I was craving lately, and a butternut squash and mushroom salad is what I concocted out of leftovers I had in the fridge. The ingredients are different, but the spirit is the same: a leafy, nutty, filling, fall-themed fancy salad, slightly sweet, woodsy and crunchy all at the same time.

You will need leftover roasted butternut squash, chilled. (To roast: peel the butternut squash with a vegetable peeler, cut into chunks, toss in a pan with kosher salt, black pepper, a splash of olive oil and a tablespoon or two or brown sugar. Roast at 425 for 30 minutes, or until soft). Thinly slice some yellow onions and white button mushrooms, and mince a couple of cloves of garlic. Heat up some olive oil in a skillet, and sauté the onions for 5 to 7 minutes. Add the mushrooms, and keep sautéing until the mushrooms are soft and golden. Add the garlic and some kosher salt to taste, sauté for a few more minutes. Take off the heat and let cool (put the mixture in a chilled salad bowl). When the mushrooms and onions have cooled, add a variety of fancy lettuce (bagged is fine) and a couple of handfuls of walnuts or pecans—both work well here. Dress with a vinaigrette, or just olive oil like I did. (I bet walnut oil would work great here). Top each serving plate with shaved Parmesan.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Roasted Cauliflower Salad

When in doubt about how to cook a vegetable, roast it. Chop it up, put it in a pan with some salt and olive oil, and pop it in the oven at 425 or so for, oh, 30 minutes. Cauliflower, for example, is excellent roasted. Raw cauliflower is inedible, steamed cauliflower is dull diet food, but roasted cauliflower is creamy soft and comfort food-esque. I try to roast it at least once a week. My favorite way to eat it (this idea is swiped from Orangette) is topped with a poached egg and some Parmesan. But cauliflower is the blank canvas of vegetables-it absorbs flavors and goes well with all sorts of odds and ends.

I often use leftover roasted cauliflower for salads. Nearly everything I cook is based on what I have in the fridge or the pantry at the moment, and recently I had roasted red peppers, tomatoes, scallions, dill and feta, all of which went into the salad bowl. You could sub a different type of cheese, of course, or use red onions and parsley, or forgo tomatoes, etc., but this combo was so good that I almost recommend that you buy ingredients specifically for this salad.

You will need cold roasted cauliflower, cut into small-ish chunks, and either roasted or raw red peppers, thinly sliced. In a bowl, combine the cauliflower, red pepper strips, a couple of large handfuls of cherry tomatoes (the tomatoes can also be roasted), chopped scallions, chopped dill and crumbled feta. Drizzle with olive oil and red wine vinegar--or make a proper vinaigrette if you're fancy--and add salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste.


I’m back in the kitchen, cooking…well, not Russian and more. Life circumstances have changed, people. A, I’m single, so no more huge wats of borsch that I can depend on the Significant Other to inhale. B, I live alone these days and the budget is tighter, so I won’t be wasting ingredients on rye bread beer-brewing projects. C, My quest to lose some weight has been successful and has killed my desire to make and consume mountains of sweet yeast dough. And D, I think I've exhausted my repertoire of Russian dishes. No, really, I lived at home for a stretch this year and my mom and I did not once cook anything that I have not already blogged about.

Oh, I still like my beets and mushrooms, but I want to try to do something different with them. Namely: Cook vegetables more inventively and create healthy meals on a tight budget. And we’re off…
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