Salade Niçoise

Maybe because of Bastille Day or maybe because the days are so hot during the summer, but salade niçoise sounded like a perfect dinner tonight. Before heading to the grocery store, I thought I would jump online and find a standard recipe. What I found instead was little agreement on what constitutes Nicoise salad. I found vegan versions, vegetarian versions, version with salmon instead of tuna, etc. There are even purists who say that there should never be any cooked vegetables — only tomatoes, anchovies, and olive oil. I took these disagreements as license to make my own version. So, here it is:

Salad

  • 1 small head of butter lettuce, washed, chopped, and patted dry with a towel
  • 6 small Yukon gold potatoes
  • 8 oz. trimmed green beans, preferably haricot verts
  • 3 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 small radishes, thinly sliced
  • 3 small beets, cooked and quartered (I used Love Beets cooked beets with white wine and balsamic)
  • 1/2 cup olives (Nicoise, Kalamata, or whatever type you like best)
  • 2-3 eggs
  • 1 can tuna in olive oil, excess oil drained off

Fill a large pot with water and add salt to make it very salty. Add potatoes to the pot and bring the water to a boil. Boil until you can easily stick a fork into the potatoes, about 15 minutes. Remove the potatoes and set them aside to cool. To the pot of boiling water, add the green beans and blanch for 3 minutes and move them to a bowl of ice water to quickly cool them down. While the potatoes and green beans cool, carefully place the eggs into the pot of boiling water. Turn the heat to medium and put a lid on the pot. Cook the eggs at a simmer for 11 minutes. I love that I can use the same pot of water for all of the cooked components. Remove the eggs and place them in a bowl of ice water to cool them down. Quarter the potatoes, drain the green beans and place them on a towel to dry, and peel the hard boiled eggs and cut them in half.

Place the lettuce in a large serving bowl. Compose the salad by grouping together the salad ingredients on top of the lettuce. Season the salad with salt and pepper to taste.

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Dressing

  • 1 small shallot, finely minced (about 1.5 oz.)
  • 2 tsp whole grain Dijon mustard
  • 2.5 oz. red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp anchovy paste
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 oz. olive oil

In a jar, combine all of the ingredients except the olive oil. Mix well. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to create an emulsion. If needed, place a lid on the jar and shake prior to serving.  I especially like the fresh thyme in this dressing; the flavor really comes out and enhances all of the salad components.

The salad can be served immediately with the cooked components still warm, or it can be made ahead and served cold. Top the salad with the dressing and enjoy.

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Coffee from Seattle

Grinding coffee beans

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine from college asked for some thoughts on urbanism. He went to Florida State with me, but now resides in Seattle (you can read about his experiences with walkable living and in Seattle here). So, I sent him two books that I think capture the essence of what’s gone wrong with America’s cities and what we should do to improve our quality of life: Suburban Nation and Walkable City. A few days later, this arrived in my mailbox:

Bag of coffee beans
Coffee Beans

I briefly debated what method to use for brewing the coffee, but quickly decided to use the classic French press. I like this method of brewing because of its simplicity and because of the richness of the coffee it brews.

One of the keys to making great coffee in a French press is coarsely grinding the coffee beans. Use a small, manual ceramic burr grinder to get a medium-coarse grind from the beans. A grind that is too fine will result in coffee sludge.

Grinding coffee beans
Freshly ground coffee

Water temperature is also important. Use an electric kettle to bring water just to a boil. Wait about five seconds and pour some of the hot water (about 1/8 cup) into a 32 oz French press and swirl it around to heat up the glass. Empty the water from the press, add six heaping tablespoons of the coffee, and fill the press with hot water to about an inch from the top. Using a small spatula, gently stir the coffee. Place the plunger assembly on the press pot and wait four minutes. Slowly press the plunger down. This should take about 20-25 seconds. Pour the coffee from the French press (coffee that remains in the press will continue to brew and will become too strong) and enjoy.

Carefully brewed cup of coffee
Carefully brewed cup of coffee

I typically use a standard drip coffeemaker to brew my coffee every morning, but when I get a special gift or splurge on a bag of higher quality beans, I try to take a little extra care in brewing it. I enjoyed my cup of coffee and thought about how I should plan a visit to Seattle one day.

Pimento Cheese Love

I should probably start by saying that this post is not sponsored by Sweet Grass Dairy and I did not receive any products from them for this endorsement. I just really like their cheese and thought I would share some of my favorite ways to serve it.

Pimento cheese. Not normally something I would say I like. Growing up, those sandwiches with the bright yellow/orange filling and the little red bits weirded me out. I also don’t really like mayonnaise. It wasn’t until I (reluctantly) tried the pimento cheese at Sweet Grass Dairy that I fell in love.

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The first time I tried this pimento cheese was at a wine and cheese tasting. It was tucked into a deviled egg. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like it, but I didn’t want to say so until I gave it a try. And I was pleasantly surprised.

The pimento cheese at Sweet Grass Dairy has great texture and flavor. It is creamy, tangy, and slightly spicy with just enough mayo to hold together the delicious Thomasville Tomme cheese and Piquillo peppers. Oh my. This pimento cheese is perfect on crackers, on crusty bread, in a deviled egg, or by itself on a spoon (don’t judge!). More than once, I’ve gone to a potluck with a tub of this cheese and a sleeve of crackers and there is never any leftover at the end of the night.

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Our favorite way to eat Sweet Grass Dairy pimento cheese is on bread, open-faced and topped with a pickled green tomato slice. We serve these yummy open-faced sammies alongside a simple salad dressed with olive oil and vinegar.

I highly doubt I would like any pimento cheese other than this one. We try to get up to Thomasville every few weeks and you can be sure whenever we are there, I come home with a tub of this cheese and plans for a simple, delicious dinner.

If you are interested in trying this yummy cheese and don’t like anywhere near Thomasville, you can order it online here: http://sweetgrassdairy.com/products.

Tour de France

Every year for the past few years, we’ve invited over a few of our friends who like cycling to watch the final stage of the Tour de France. This year, folks showed up around 5:00 for snacks and drinks.

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The spread included some of our favorite Sweet Grass Dairy cheeses and delicious accompaniments.

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Artie hard at work in the kitchen, doing what he does best.

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Olives with salami, baby dill pickles, and prosciutto.

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Pimento cheese (favorite!!!) with pickled green tomatoes and spicy pickled okra.

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Brie cheese with honey and fig jam. 

IMG_1869A salt block with watermelon, feta, and mint.

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Perfect bite of brie with fig jam.

There was also wine and beer (duh). Around 6:30, we had Decent Pizza delivered. We paired the pizza with a big salad that Artie had prepped in advance (romaine lettuce, baby peppers, cherry tomatoes. homemade croutons, and homemade dressing). The plan was to spend our time/energy on appetizers and keep dinner simple. We probably had some desserts, too, but I guess I didn’t get a picture. If I had to guess, I’d say they were cupcakes 🙂 It was a perfectly simple and delicious menu – great for spending time with friends and watching more of Le Tour. I’m looking forward to next year and another Tour de France gathering with good food and good friends!

Deconstructed Shortcake

Alternate title for this post: Red, White, and Blueberry Shortcake

A few weeks ago, we celebrated a life milestone for one of the people in my office. I signed up to bring a dessert. I was looking for something low-maintenance that I could easily transport to work and would capitalize on the delicious fresh berries that are currently in season.

Behold the deconstructed shortcake!

photo(5)This dessert could not have been easier to prepare. The secret – one store bought ingredient for convenience, one fresh/high-quality ingredient, and fresh/seasonal produce. And a pretty platter for serving.

The store bought ingredient was the Sara Lee pound cake. It was on sale at Publix – buy one, get one free. I defrosted the pound cake for about 10 minutes and then cut it into cubes.

The fresh/high-quality ingredient was the whipped cream. Using the whisk attachment on my mixer, I whisked a medium-sized carton of heavy whipping cream until soft peaks formed (careful not to let it go too long or you’ve have butter). I added a few teaspoons of sugar and a splash of vanilla at the very end to give the whipped cream a little bit of sweetness. Cool Whip and the artificial stuff in the cans have nothing on freshly whipped cream.

The fresh/seasonal produce was a carton of strawberries (rinsed, dried, and cut in quarters) and a pint of blueberries (rinsed and dried). Easy peasy. Blackberries would work well, too.

photo(4)Another option for this dessert would be to get small plastic cups and layer the ingredients to create individual parfaits – start with a layer of cake cubes, then berries, and then a few spoons of whipped cream. One more layer of each and top with a berry or two.

A berry delicious seasonal dessert that is easy to make, easy to transport, affordable, and a huge hit.

SRSLY Chocolate

With the redevelopment of the Gaines Street corridor, All Saints District, and Railroad Square in Tallahassee underway, many funky little local shops and cottage industries have begun to take hold in that area of town. One of these industries is SRSLY, a local chocolate confectionery. SRSLY describes themselves as “bean-to-bar chocolate entrepreneurs” who begin with organic and fair trade cacao beans and end up with bar of chocolate that “preserve the beans’ distinctive flavors.”

Intrigued by this concept and wanting to support Tallahassee’s cottage industries, I decided to splurge and pick up a few bars of chocolate.

My first taste of SRSLY chocolate was their Strawberry Balsamic Truffles, a creation that immediately peaked my flavor imagination.

Box of SRSLY Strawberry Balsamic Truffles
Box of SRSLY Strawberry Balsamic Truffles

Slowly taking my first bite of a Strawberry Balsamic Truffle, the slight give to the chocolate coat gave way to an initial flavor of dark chocolate, followed by a velvety (and ever so slightly gritty) strawberry infused chocolate center, and a subtle balsamic finish. While it would be easy for the strawberry or the balsamic flavors to dominate the taste of this type of confection, the dark chocolate (70% cacao) remained the leading flavor in this very enjoyable chocolate morsel.

SRSLY Truffle
SRSLY Strawberry Balsamic Truffle Filling

My second exposure to SRSLY chocolates was a Sea Salt and Almond chocolate bar.

SRSLY Chocolate Bar
SRSLY Sea Salt+Almond Chocolate Bar

The first thing I noticed tasting the Sea Salt and Almond chocolate bar was the delightfully smokey flavor profile, pervasive throughout the entire bite of chocolate.

SRSLY Sea Salt+Almond Bar
Chocolate with Sea Salt and Almonds

In addition to the smokey flavor, the chocolate bar was made more interesting by its texture. The almonds and flakes of of sea salt both provide the chocolate bar with a nice crunch. Unlike other bars I’ve had before, the almonds in the SRSLY chocolate did not get soft and chewy. The SRSLY chocolate bar also let the sea salt do what salt does best – enhance the other flavors in the bar – without the salt becoming a flavor itself.

SRSLY chocolate is currently available at several local venues in Tallahassee, including New Leaf Market where I bought mine. The SRSLY website also appears to be in the process of setting in an online store where people can order their chocolates. However you procure your tastings of SRSLY chocolate, you should indulge soon. SRSLY.