THE BEST BROCCOLI SALAD OF MY LIFE

Broccoli Salad

In planning my wedding reception, I discovered a wonderfully enchanting venue called Limestone Bay Trading Co. in the historic Mooresville, Alabama. Tucked away in a quiet spot off of the highway, sat the tiny, unforgotten old trading company, chockfull of vintage charm. Shelves full of old-fashioned kitchen tools don the walls, classic cameras hang right above a stained-glass window, and homemade jams and jellies stand at attention behind a vintage register. As charming as the venue might be, there is one priority for the reception dinner. The food must be wonderful.

So, the owner, Dee, brought out a few sides for us to pick at while hashing out the details of the event: flowers, vases, and menu items… that’s about the time my fork dove into the broccoli salad. The broccoli salad. In mere moments, I became completely distracted from the most important day of my life and began dissecting what was in this simple and elegant salad. Sweet, crunchy, creamy… Dee, while excusing herself to get a cup of coffee, asked if anyone needed anything. I looked at her with the most pathetic eyes and stared at my empty dish. “I’ll get you some more broccoli salad,” she said. Life instantly got better.

The big day went off without a hitch. When sitting down at the wedding reception dinner, Dee offered to make my plate, and within moments, a whole plate filled with red wine infused beef brisket, dreamy creamed corn and crispy cornbread arrived in front of my beaming face, along with an entire plate full of my beloved broccoli salad. Thanks, Dee.

Broccoli Salad

Recipe: Inspired by The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Makes 4 cups

Deb Perelman highlights a sensational broccoli salad in her new book The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. In the original recipe, Deb uses raw onions, but I substituted the onions for shallots (I’m not a huge fan of eating raw onion.) Also, running the chopped shallots under cold water for a few seconds mellows out the oniony bite even more.

1/4 cup of buttermilk

1/4 cup of good mayonnaise

1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar or cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon of sugar

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1/2 shallot, finely chopped

1 head of broccoli

1/4 cup of toasted sliced almonds

1/8 cup of dried cranberries, coarsely chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, whisk the buttermilk, mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar and salt until smooth. Stir in the shallot. Allow the shallot to mellow out in the dressing for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim the broccoli, and chop it into large chunks. Then cut chunks into thin slices (you could do the slicing with a mandoline, just watch your fingers!) Toss the broccoli with almonds and cranberries.

Pour the dressing over the broccoli mixture, and add a generous amount of freshly cracked black pepper. Stir the salad until all of the components have been evenly coated. This salad can be served immediately or lasts 3 days in the fridge.

 

THE MELTING POT

Butter Beans

The best treat after playing outside all day was a pot full of slow cooking melt-in-your-mouth butter beans. I knew exactly which pot they were hiding in. My mom only cooked butter beans in the small, shiny silver pot that glimmered on our very “loved” stove.  The petite, unpretentious pot came from my great-grandmother. Mother adored butter beans so much as a child that the vessel was unquestionably bestowed upon her. The taste of the velvety beans against salty ham was a perfect combination that made even the worst mosquito bites magically stop hurting. They are just that powerful.

Recipe: Inspired by Frank Stitt’s Southern Table

Serves 4 as a side

Note: If you don’t have bacon, or want to make this dish completely vegetarian, use herbs such as thyme, oregano or sage to the cooking liquid and drizzle in 2 tablespoons of fruity olive oil at the end instead of using bacon fat.

3 strips of bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

3 cups of water

½ onion, quartered

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

¼ teaspoon of red pepper flakes

½ pound of baby butter beans, fresh or frozen

Salt and black pepper

In a skillet on medium-high heat, render the fat and brown the bacon. Make sure the renderings measure 2 tablespoons of bacon fat. Set the crisped bacon aside as a garnish.

Combine water, onion, garlic, red pepper flakes and salt together in a saucepan. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer for 15 minutes. Add the butter beans and continue simmering the beans for 15-20 minutes, or until tender.

Remove the pot from the heat and allow the beans to soak in its liquid for 10 minutes. Drain the beans from the cooking liquid, drizzle rendered bacon fat with the beans, season with cracked black pepper and garnish with reserved crispy bacon pieces.

WAKING TO SPRING

Light Asparagus Salad

As the snow slowly melts away and awakens us from our leaden slumber, there is a deep desire to traipse out of doors, to feel fresh blades of grass between our toes, to breathe in the crisp, cleansing air of spring and to find ourselves within the meadows. This is a time to throw off the heaviness of the former season and spring into a day free from regulatory manners.

Dull and dreary feelings left over from the sodden winter’s day are cast off by the array of color that spring most humbly offers. The saccharine aroma of honey and floral fragrances fill the air as butterflies dance beneath the branches. And we, too, take to each other’s arms and dance along to the same sweet, silent song. As the wind tousles our hair and caresses our flushed faces, fair petals fall around us. There, in that moment, we feel the magic of spring. There is a beauty in this season like none other. There is growth, inexperienced initiations and a call for inspiration and exploration that whispers to us, taunting us almost, with the promise of being renewed: body, mind and spirit.

So, here on this patch of grass with our offerings strewn about, we find peace for a moment. In raising our glasses, and with a tiny clang of the Mason jars, we toast the spring. This is a season for new beginnings, cherishing our past and holding fast to the hands of those we love.

Here is a lovely, little salad that celebrates the simplicity of the season.

Recipe: from Bon Appétit

Serves 4

Note: If you buy thinner asparagus, there is no need to peel the stalks because they are tender, but if you are using fatter, woody asparagus, you will need to peel the stalk.

Also, to trim the asparagus, apply pressure to the stalk of 1 of asparagus until it snaps and breaks. Notice where the natural break is and line this piece of asparagus with the rest of the bunch. Cut the rest of asparagus at the same place. Basically, you are using this 1 stalk of asparagus as a “template” to trim the rest of the bunch at the appropriate place.

1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed and peeled (if needed)

¼ cup of grated Parmesan, plus more for shaving

1 ½ tablespoons of fresh lemon juice

¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Working with 1 asparagus spear at a time, using a Y-peeler, shave asparagus into long, thin ribbons. Transfer to a medium-size bowl and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine grated Parmesan, lemon juice, and olive oil. Whisk together until the mixture is combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Drizzle vinaigrette over shaved asparagus and toss with your fingertips to dress the salad. Shave desired amount of Parmesan cheese over the top of the salad. Enjoy!

For the Love of Okra

 

If you were to Google “smothered okra,” you would not get many appetizing results. There is a reason for this. Smothered foods are not beautiful foods, but they sure are tasty. I have to admit, when it comes to smothered okra, you either love it or you hate it. Smothering this vegetable is a commitment, like in any relationship. You begin with happy orbs of fresh green loveliness, and then the fire is turned on. The fresh orbs begin to smell like a garden in the dead of heat. And with a patient heart, you stir and stir and stir, as the fresh green color fades and the texture begins to get a little, well there is no way around it, slimy.

Have faith in the dish and continue to stir and stir and nurture and stir some more. Before you know it, the vegetable will completely give up in the battle against itself and the heat and will convert the more “smarmy mash” into a dish with silky texture and olive green in color. Fully commit to the dish and it will never disappoint in the end, a requirement for relationships. Many life lessons can be taught at the stove, with a large skillet, a spatula and a mound of okra, waiting to be molded, transformed and completely devoted to the task at hand.

Recipe: Serves 4

4 tablespoons of vegetable oil

2 pounds of okra, cleaned and cut into 1 inch rounds

½ onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

Salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste

In a large skillet, heat oil on medium heat. Add the okra, onion and garlic cloves. Stir all of the ingredients together in the pan until well distributed. Allow the okra to completely cook down. Honestly, this takes a while. This part usually takes me around 30-45 minutes. Make sure you keep an eye on the okra and stir the bottom religiously. If you notice that the bottom is starting to brown or the okra is sticking, scoop the okra to the side and pour a little water on the bottom, allow the water to bubble and scrape off the brown bits. Once the okra has completely broken down, it should be smooth and without lumps. Season the okra to taste with the salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Enjoy!

Roasted Tomatoes

There is a special relationship between a Southerner and a tomato. I remember being in my grandma’s garden when I was a little girl. My chubby, little hand grasped for the ripe, ruby red fruit in front of my eyes. Eating a tomato right off the vine is an experience in itself. There is life in something so fresh, and I believe eating it brings life to you as well. I long for the experiences of eating a rich, juicy tomato in the winter. So I go for the next best thing, San Marzano tomatoes. I roast them at a very low temperature for hours and hours, only enriching their tomato goodness. My sister and me eat these tomatoes on the porch with bread while swinging in the Alabama sunset. We pretend to be Italian and speak in appalling accents, flailing our arms and everything. Buon Appetito!

 

Recipe: Serves 4-6: Adapted from Bon Appetit September 2008 Issue

 1 28 oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes, cut in half lengthways

1 cup of olive oil

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. pepper

¼ tsp. red pepper flakes

1 pinch of sugar

¼ tsp. dried oregano

1 garlic clove, pressed

2 Tbs. parsley, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 250o

In a shallow baking dish, add tomatoes cut face up to the dish. Add the olive oil and seasonings to the tomatoes. Put into the oven for 1 hour, flip the tomato halves over. After another hour, flip the tomatoes again. Bake the tomatoes for one more hour, 3 hours total. After the tomatoes have been baking for 3 hours, add the garlic and parsley. Mix to combine. Top the dish with foil until ready to serve.

 

Collard Greens

 

Collard, turnip and mustard greens are the traditional “greens” of the South.  Most Southerners have learned to love the powerful scent of collards simmering in a pot on a cold (or warm) winter day. As a child, I remember the hum of greens heavy in the air as I reached the screen door of my house.  I happily obliged to take my homework outside, as I swore the odor of the color green would distract me from my studies.  My mother’s little trick was to keep a mug of vinegar next to the stove as she cooked down the greens. The vinegar was supposed to absorb the horrifying aroma.  I am convinced that greens have aromatic superpowers that cut through walls. As I grew older, I learned that greens are bitter sweet (no pun intended). You must champion through the smell to lavish on the silky texture of greens. These little leaves of leisure have been in a bubbling hot tub with onions, garlic and pork. With the lid closed for privacy, the Dance of the Greens forced everyone to get acquainted.  The end results made me momentarily forget the smell of the color green.

Recipe: Inspired by Highlands Bar & Grill: Makes 4 servings

1 bunch of greens, triple washed and dried

1 Tbs. olive oil

3 slices of bacon, chopped

2 small onions, sliced

1 garlic clove, minced

¼ tsp. red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare a pot of boiling, salted water. Also prepare an ice bath and salt as well. Roll greens up and julienne into ½ inch strips. Boil greens for about 2 minutes; you want them to retain their vibrant green color. Toss the greens into an ice bath and squeeze all of the excess water out.

In a sauté pan, heat oil on medium heat and add bacon until all of the fat is rendered out. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add garlic and red pepper flakes to the pan. After 2 or 3 minutes add the greens to the pan. Sauté for 5 minutes longer. Take off heat and serve.