Healthier Eats

Fifty Shades of Salad: #30 Buttermilk-Goat Cheese Dressing

Everyone around me seems to be giving up meat and alcohol until Easter. This leaves me with a seemingly endless amount of time to experiment with cooking meat, provided I can keep thinking of ways to prepare it. As such, I’ve been having an affair with steak salad. I’m also in a fair amount of trouble, because I have no idea what type of dressing goes with steak salad.

The majority of my salad-eating friends don’t take their dressing on the side. They’re a one-stop-shop for creamy dressings, meat, and the occasional poached egg on top. You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s the high-quality call girl version of a salad, and her name isn’t “Ginger,” “Belle,” or “Bambi.” This dressing is worth every penny paid for the ingredients, just like that hooker. (Not that I condone anything illegal. I would never.)

I should tell you up-front there’s horseradish in this dressing. I wanted to incorporate a classic steak garnish into a new version of creamy salad dressing. The balance and proportions are up to you when it comes to the horseradish. Taste your food, people. I’m not going to leave you alone until you taste your food.

Making this salad dressing was a journey. It’s just a couple of ingredients, nothing major, but there’s just enough of a twist in flavor and texture to bring up questions you’ll want answers to. “What is that tang?”; “Where is that heat coming from?” (FYI: The goat cheese is the tang. The horseradish is the heat.)

Don’t get flustered if the proportions don’t taste clear the first time you try making this. For me, this started as two sentences in a pamphlet from an old Food Network Magazine, and turned into something I’d want to eat weekly. Besides, standard vinaigrettes feel like ordering your coffee black for a walk through the park after you’ve made this dressing. I can vouch for it, because I threw up my hands in frustration while trying to figure out the ratios of this and broodingly whisked together red wine vinegar, dijon, and olive oil to prove I wasn’t completely useless.

Buttermilk Goat-Cheese Dressing

Puree 2/3 cup Buttermilk (you can buy it in the dairy section; and no, low-fat or skim milk won’t cut it); 5 ounces Goat Cheese (look on the package for reference); 3 tablespoons White Wine Vinegar; 1 tablespoon horseradish (NOT a heaping tablespoon); and 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a blender/food processor/Vitamix/Magic Bullet/etc. until smooth. Stir in chopped fresh dill and chives to taste.

Steak Salad

No Muss, Some Fuss: Cumin and Citrus Roasted Carrots

One of the reasons self-diagnosed lachanophobics still risk the possible horror of eating vegetables is the possible magic of beautiful and delicate flavor. Sometimes it’s best to steer into the curve and forgo meat in favor of vegetable authenticity. Plus it couldn’t hurt to throw the vegan, gluten-free members of my core a bone. Or carrot top, since nothing they eat involves bones. Hey! No judgment. This recipe is warm and luscious with a spicy edge, just like that George Clooney scene in “Out of Sight.” See below for reference.

As an alternative, I also present a synonym to this level of steaminess: Jessica Alba and Paul Walker in “Into the Blue.”

This recipe is from a Jean-Georges cookbook, which makes it elegant and flavorful, with a hint of food-snob. Get “kinda interested,” in this one. I know you’re probably not in the market for a celebrity chef commitment, but this recipe takes less than an hour to throw together. That’s not even enough time for two episodes of “Friends” on Netflix.

The light-hearted references aside, this is one of those perfect recipes that will make you look like a more talented cook than you actually are. Your day will change. And don’t worry, it’s not always perfect in Curating My Cooking Land. Later this week, I’ll update you on what happened when I tried to mess with creamy salad dressing. For now, just make these carrots.

Roasted Carrots with Whole Cumin and Citrus

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound medium carrots – peeled
  • 3 garlic cloves – finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds aka “Whole Cumin” if you shop at Vons or Whole Foods
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • Red Chili Flakes
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Equal parts (about 1 to 2 tablespoons each) Red Wine Vinegar and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 orange
  • 1 lemon

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and bring a pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and boil the carrots for 20 minutes.

While the carrots are boiling, combine the garlic, cumin seeds, thyme, red chili flakes, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Whisk in the red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

Remove the carrots from the boiling water with tongs, so they keep their pretty shape. Place in a small baking dish, and pour the cumin seed dressing/marinade thing over the top. Slice the orange and lemon in half – squeeze the juice on top of the carrots, and leave the halves resting on top during the roasting process to infuse the flavor.

Roast for 25 minutes.

Shazam. Flavor.

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Wake Me Up When September Ends: Denial of Summer Growing Season Ending Charred Corn Salad

“Don’t you love New York [i.e. Los Angeles] in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I’d send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.”

-Meg Ryan (sort of) in, “You’ve Got Mail”

Things that excite me about September:

  • Not being socially shunned for drinking hot coffee
  • Festive legwarmers and boots
  • Soup, Stew, Chili, and every other warm, hearty comfort food

Things that are the opposite of exciting in September:

  • Pumpkin mania – Thanks, Starbucks for killing my soul by offering Pumpkin Spice Lattes in 95-Degree August Los Angeles weather
  • The implication of everything becoming serious again, i.e. school beginning for those still doing that sort of thing and work vacation time elapsed with no end in sight until Thanksgiving and Christmas
  • The end of the summer growing season

I love so many things about autumn, but I’m definitely attempting to ignore summer being over like a parent dealing with a bratty child….which is not unlike how decent human beings treat ratchet girls at the club…..I digress.

This recipe is ridiculously simple. Twenty minutes gate-to-gate simple. Use-up-the-last-summer-corn-before-it’s-too-late-you-fool simple. Seriously, go make it. Slice some avocado on top of it, while you’re at it.

Charred Corn Salad

  • 4 Ears of Corn, Shucked
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Kosher Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • 1/2 Small Red Onion, Thinly Sliced
  • Juice of 1 Lime
  • 1 teaspoon Pure Maple Syrup
  • 1 Jalapeno, Diced
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro

Brush the corn with olive oil and season with salt and pepper before grilling over Medium-High heat for 12-ish minutes, i.e. until charred all over.

Meanwhile, let the onion sit in the lime juice for 10 minutes to mellow out the flavor. After 10 minutes have passed, add the maple syrup, jalapeno, and 2 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Once the corn is charred to your liking, remove from the cob and toss with the dressing you’ve just made. Tear the mint, parsley, and cilantro leaves – because chopping is too much damn work when you’re hungry – and add the torn leaves to the corn mixture to your liking.

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Don’t Think: Balsamic-Glazed Salmon

I have decided to take twenty-four hours to revitalize myself as soon as I get home from work today. I am going to cook myself a simple, but elegant meal, and serve it with a glass of “the good wine.” I will take a hot buttered rum bubble bath, and take a second glass of wine with me. While taking a bath, I will listen to some sort of classic jazz song, because I find sultry and strong female voices comforting. After toweling off, I will put on a film I enjoy, but don’t watch very often, as it’s a bit longer than ordinarily convenient. While this film is playing, I will probably write in my journal and scribble down some ideas about food, art, museums, and life, because I can’t turn off my passions. Maybe this means I’m a crazy human. Who cares? Tonight, I’ll embrace it. I will read a book in bed and fall asleep without setting an alarm for tomorrow morning.

The entire time, I will have my cell phone on vibrate in another room. To say I can’t wait is a spectacular understatement.

Let’s go back to the simple, but elegant meal. How does one create this without stress and unexpected hiccups? You can’t predict or guarantee the future. You can utilize simple culinary facts to guarantee an easier time in the kitchen than you would ordinarily have if you weren’t prepared.

This salmon recipe cooks very quickly. The longer you cook salmon, the fishier it gets in smell and taste. Who needs that? Salmon should be served rare to medium-rare for fork-tender unctuous deliciousness. And if you’re wondering if it’s worth buying a salmon fillet for just you – it is. Buy more than one and eat the leftovers for lunch tomorrow.I honestly believe you deserve it.

Balsamic-Glazed Salmon
Based on Giada de Laurentiis’ Recipe in “Giada at Home”

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup balsamic
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon Whole-Grain Dijon
  • 1 garlic clove – minced
  • Vegetable Cooking Spray
  • 4 salmon fillets – about 6 ounces each
  • 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Kosher Salt/Pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

While the oven is preheating, make the glaze. Bring the vinegar, syrup, mustard, and garlic to a boil in a small pot over medium heat. Once everything is boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the liquid becomes thick and viscous (12-ish minutes.)

Remove the glaze from the heat and let cool. Don’t stress about the texture looking like molasses – if you can stir it to any degree, you did it right.

Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Drizzle the salmon with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and season with kosher salt and pepper to taste on both sides.

Roast the salmon for 8 to 10 minutes – until the fish is cooked all the way through.

Spoon the glaze on top to serve. Feel as though you’ve pampered yourself, because you have.

Note: I served this salmon with my “Kale Magic” recipe, and the combination of flavors was extremely balanced and lovely.

Please don’t protest and say you don’t deserve this. At some point in your life, you have done something to earn a moment of easily-achievable bliss.

A Two-Ingredient Side Dish for Dieters who Miss Mashed Potatoes

This weekend, I was all set to consume a few cocktails. I wanted to lie poolside and bake myself as golden-brown as a cookie. (Wear sunscreen though, kids. Safety first.) And it RAINED?? All weekend?? Rude.

Cauliflower gets featured in a lot of magazines as a dieter “go-to.” Some claim the texture of baked cauliflower resembles the taste of oven chicken wings. It doesn’t. Shift topic to mashed potatoes. It’s not just a Thanksgiving or Christmas side dish. Restaurants serve it year-round, and….why shouldn’t they? Eating mashed potatoes is like eating a buttery cloud of unicorn magic.

I’ve been asked about healthy alternatives to mashed potatoes, and I promise this one will give you the idea you’re craving. The texture and creaminess is on point. All you need is cauliflower and nonfat plain Greek yogurt, plus whatever herbs/seasonings are already in your kitchen.

What to do:

Turn your oven to 450 and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray the foil with non-stick spray. Chop up the cauliflower (the smaller the pieces are, the easier it will be to mash) and distribute evenly on the baking sheet. Season to your liking – I only used kosher salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes on this one and it was fantastic.

Make a foil package of sorts by putting another layer of foil over the top of the baking dish to seal in the heat.

Roast for 20 minutes. Then remove the top layer of foil, and roast for another 15 minutes. Mix with 1/2 to 2/3 cup of the nonfat plain Greek yogurt, then puree in a blender or Vitamix, pausing to stir up and mash with a fork every now and then.

I consumed this with spirit and fervor – not unlike battling my cousins for side dishes during family holiday dinners. Maybe I could use this as a training mechanism for maximum holiday meal efficiency. Hmm….

Fifty Shades of Salad #5: Mediterranean Vinaigrette (and a Moderately Serious Post About My Mother)

My mother loves fresh vegetables, especially tomatoes grown at my grandmother’s farm in Sacramento. She still finds it amusing that the bumpy, multi-colored tomatoes too ugly to sell for profit and only used for family meals are now the expensive “heirloom” varieties in stores and farmers markets.

I didn’t develop an appreciation for tomatoes and salad until my senior year of high school. Strange, but true.

My mom is awesome. I talk to my parents as often as possible, and can honestly say there are no secrets between us. Nothing is off-limits with them. From a very young age, they drilled into me their desire to always know – the sex, drugs, and Kim/Kanye elements of everything I do.

Don’t worry. She’s not this mom.

My parents let me experience things for myself before asking them for help. This is especially emotional for me to process now, since some of the stuff I pulled couldn’t have been easy to watch. It was recently the three-year anniversary of a very intense brain surgery my mother had in 2010. Needless to say, I’m feeling very nostalgic and had some tears to spare earlier.

Mediterranean Vinaigrette for Any of Mom’s Salads:

Whisk together 2 tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar + 2 teaspoons Dijon Mustard + 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt + pepper to taste + 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Mash in 1/2 cup of crumbled feta cheese.

Whisk in an additional 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley + 1 teaspoon dry oregano + 1 diced plum tomato.

This vinaigrette goes wonderfully with any Mediterranean-type chicken recipe.

Tell whatever motherly figure – family, friend, etc. – that you love them.

Love you, Mom. Real talk.

Fifty Shades of Salad #3: Roasted Garlic Salad Dressing

October 2013: The Month of Garlic. At least that’s what it seems to be turning into. I realize the month is just beginning, but I’ve been craving strong, garlicky flavor with everything…..on fries….on macaroni and cheese recipe….and in salad dressing. I’m not fighting any vampires, and at least the person most likely to smell my garlic breath is consuming all these things with me?

I’m ordinarily strongly opposed to salad dressings that take longer than one minute to make. I made an exception for this one because I wanted an excuse to roast garlic. If you’ve never tried roasted garlic, there’s no time like the present. Our Awesome Former Roommate and I have both admitted to eating an entire head of roasted garlic by ourselves. Because we’re awesome.

(And vampire slayers.)

Oh, right. You’re here for the salad. Go make the vinaigrette, already.

Instructions:

Slice the top off 1 head of garlic and drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Wrap in foil and roast at 400 degrees until tender (about 35 minutes). Place a baking sheet underneath the foil ball of garlic love in case any of the oil drips out. Once tender, let cool and squeeze out the cloves – they should be golden brown and delicious looking.

Combine 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, pepper to taste, and 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a blender, food processor, or magic bullet until smooth.

Add the peeled roasted garlic cloves and 3 tablespoons grated parmesan and blend again.

No vampire or wooden stake necessary for serving.

No Edward Cullen in sight.

Fifty Shades of Salad #2: Scallion White Wine Vinaigrette

Maybe I’m not the biggest White Wine Vinegar fan? Maybe I’m craving whole grain mustard instead of a singular texture? I’ll try again with my work salad today. Regardless of my “meh” feeling, this one got the seal of approval from various gentlemen visiting our apartment – all claiming willingness to have this dressing again.

While I’m thinking of it: what are your opinions on bottling homemade salad dressings for Christmas gifts? I’m not trying to start a holiday panic; I’m trying to think ahead. I always see the most interesting glass bottles and other eclectic craftsy things on sale during the summer. Is it because people are too busy flocking to beaches and vacation destinations to craft things? People who are talented at this sort of thing (crafting), please fill me in….

The original version of this recipe in my notes called for one raw shallot, but multiple years of avoiding green onions in my stereotypically-Japanese-American favorite childhood snack of miso soup has made me use them in en masse.

P.S. If you chop an onion while it’s submerged in water, your eyes won’t tear up. Stay happy! Cooking is fun!

Scallion White Wine Vinaigrette

Whisk together 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar + 2 teaspoons Dijon + 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt + pepper to taste + 3 green onions, tips cut off, thinly sliced + 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

“That Depends….Are You in?”: Gazpacho as Fresh as Will Smith On That One Show

Lately, the weather in LA has been sporadic at best. This past week has consisted of me lounging on the roof in a bikini like a 1960s music video in 91-degree weather, shivering in the fetal position in the morning, and yesterday….it rained. Whine, whine, whine.

Cut to: 91 degrees in LA.

As a result of the heat, I don’t feel like moving, but have promised to make dinner. My ever-helpful boyfriend perkily asks what I’m thinking of making while watching me stare blankly at the contents of the fridge. I realize I’m going to have to go to the market. Damn it. I was hoping to not have to dress in socially-appropriate clothing once I changed out of my fierce work attire. Wait! Maybe I can make something with what’s here….Let’s see: cilantro and chicken sausage over here….eggs on the top shelf…..are there tortillas? Maybe if I add some cumin and….

“Babe? Did you hear me? What do you think you’re going to make?”

My guy. Always punctual. 

I made up an excuse. “I’m just waiting to see if someone else (i.e. Awesome Roommate) is in. I have to know if I’m cooking something vegan or not.” Awesome Roommate looks up – not having processed the selfish nature of my dilemma – and says, “What are you making?” Which is obviously the most helpful thing he could have said.

“I’m not sure. That depends….are you in?”

“I’m in!”

Perfect. I’m cooking a vegan meal with a fridge primarily consisting of chicken sausage and eggs.

The heat wasn’t helping things. I decided to combine as many fresh ingredients as possible for something light, refreshing, and fantastically cold: gazpacho. Cooler than Wendy Peffercorn.

Lotioning and oiling….oiling and lotioning.

Tomato and Watermelon Gazpacho

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium tomatoes – chopped
  • 4 cups diced seedless watermelon
  • 1 cucumber – peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper – chopped
  • 3 green onions – sliced
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil and mint
  • 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

We almost ate this as a salad because it looked so beautiful.

Combine all ingredients except the olive oil and vinegar in a large bowl. Season with kosher salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the olive oil and vinegar. Puree in batches, then strain (trust me, straining this mixture is important – chunky gazpacho is gross) into a large serving bowl. Chill for 1 hour before serving.

So fresh, so clean….like the OutKast song.

Fifty Shades of Salad #1: A Classic Vinaigrette for an Anything-But-Classic Day

Bad days suck.

It started with spilling foundation on one of my favorite dresses (thank you for alleviating my fears, Tide To-Go) and ending with a sleepy Mr. Right closing the window of my car onto three of my fingers. (OW.)

What’s your favorite comfort food? I don’t necessarily mean the classic image of comfort food – mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, any form of dessert or potato chip….those things are all delicious, but they don’t magically make everything better. At least not for me.

When everything still gloomy and poignantly over-dramatic, I need chocolate milk (and I mean adding Ghirardelli syrup to regular milk, not that nasty pre-mixed nonsense , a large salad, or Thai food. (Not all at the same time, though. That’s just gross.)

Whilst brooding and annoying Mr. Right, who was being saintly and doing numerous things to make me feel better, i.e. dunking me in a hot bath with ice on the side for my injured finger and a glass of wine, I flipped through my notebooks, magazines, and books in search of something interesting to drag me out of my funk. I discovered I had over fifty different versions of…..salad dressing.

What the hell? How did that happen? Real talk, that’s just sad….

Hence the following:

fiftyshades

Not saying it’s as awesome as Neil Patrick Harris. But at least it’ll get me through bikini season with a healthier body?

Classic Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar + 2 teaspoons Dijon (any texture will do) + 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt + pepper to taste – Then whisk in 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Also remember that the best salads are simple. It’s about adding the right pop of flavor to the fresh produce at hand. For best results, spoon the dressing over your salad one tablespoon at a time.