Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Simple Salad

Whoever thought salad dressing could make such a difference? I learned a new technique from my long-time friend in San Francisco that results in French vinaigrette to die for!

My first foray into cooking was the summer after my freshman year of college when I lived with my friend and teacher Marilyn. It seemed like she knew just the right way to make everything. She had little tricks, like putting the hot potatoes into a mixture of mustard and mayonnaise when making potato salad.

It’s not that I grew up in a household without good food. My mother was a fantastic cook, not an adventurous cook, but she always made things that looked and tasted good. The problem was that she considered cooking her job and never taught me how to do it.

So that summer with Marilyn I mastered not only potato salad, but spaghetti sauce and California roast and a host of other good things to eat.

That summer all came flooding back as I stood in her elegant kitchen on the 17th floor of a luxury condo overlooking all of San Francisco. She told me what to wash and chop, while she mixed the salad dressing in the bottom of the bowl, a technique she learned from a French woman at Sur la Table. She put in Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, dill, salt, and pepper. Then she added lemon-flavored olive oil until it looked right. Marilyn is from the school of “look and taste”, don’t measure. At that point she started adding the sliced baby tomatoes, red peppers, mushrooms, and mixed greens. At the last minute she tossed the salad from the bottom up. It was the best salad I had ever eaten. (Of course that might have been tempered by the fact that we had walked miles that day in the rain before arriving for dinner.)

Since coming home, I have experimented with this technique, buying flavored olive oil and adding lemon juice. I also use fresh dill, just because I happen to have it on hand. The salad is so good you want to lick the dressing off the bowl.

If you are a measurer, as I know one of you reading this is, you simply have to suck it up and trust your instincts. Some days you may just feel like a little more mustard or a little less dill. You will not go wrong, trust me!

So bon appetit!


Blogger steve said...

Barb-always add your Oil to your Vinegar/Wine/Citrus to get a nice emulsion....the ratio is generally 3:1...Champagne makes a nice fact, I knew a girl named Sophie that if you gave her a little Champagne she would do whatever you wanted her to!!!


2:43 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Steve -- Are you suggesting Champagne instead of vinegar??? You are SOOO bad! And, by the way, I refuse to measure.

Have a nice Thanksgiving! Is it one big happy family this year with the famous asparagus dish?

3:16 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I never measure when cooking (only when baking). Consequently, my dishes rarely turn out the same twice.

When following a recipe I may measure (most times I just loosely follow it). Although last Sunday I regretted not trusting my gut feeling. I was making a Japanese recipe called Cabbage Noodle Pancakes (or okonomiyaki), but I thought the recipe looked wrong. The batter called for 3-1/2 cups flour and 1 cup water. The result was a dough, not a batter, but I dutifully kneaded in the shredded cabbage and chopped onions. It was less than a success (more like a dismal failure). Later research on the Internet confirmed my suspicion that there was too-oo-oo-oo much flour.

I am not salad crazy, but I prefer salads to be lightly dressed. Often times I find salads drowned in dressing. I like dill too, but Sofia doesn’t so I cook very little with it (I do sneak it into the potato salad).

Growing up, we were all allowed to cook. I learned quite a lot from my mother. Although, there are some recipes I did not learn because I expected she would be around longer.

10:37 AM  

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