Monday, August 30, 2010

An A+.

My mother taught me a very practical rule of thumb for sizing up the truth.  The saying goes, "If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is."  For some reason, it took me a long time to get this rule cemented into my brain.  Life lessons came and went - some painful, some embarrassing, some regretful, all combined with a disproportional measure of dashed hopes and furtive optimism.  It seemed I was determined to test and disprove this rule of thumb. Or perhaps to prove my mother wrong even though the other law of the universe is that mothers are always right.  And though she was right about 99% of the guys, goals, jobs and scams, one day, unintentionally, I happened to prove her wrong.  To my great surprise, this Thing that is Too Good To Be True is what I least expected it would be.  It is not a person, car, stiletto, treehouse, gown, cottage, boot, novel, film or country.  It is not a romantic date, a dark chocolate dessert or even France.  It is, quite simply, quite fantastically... a salad.

[recipe via House Beautiful]

You might not even believe me, based on the photo.  This picture looks like what you could find and order in any restaurant, whether an ordinary chop house joint or a five star gourmet establishment.  However, the hidden, magical element of this salad that brings me to declare (skeptic though I've learned to be) that this salad is too good to be true is what the eye cannot see, and that is the dressing. (Remarking on the taste explosion of blue cheese + bacon is just beside the point.)

  Anyway, the dressing.  The dressing!  Normally I avoid Ina Garten, (who has the most annoying nickname ever) because she doesn't mind dumping a pound of mayonnaise and a gallon of heavy cream into the same recipe.  If there was ever a woman who could make a carrot clog your arteries, it is The Barefoot Contessa.  But this salad, oh, this salad.  It is an A+.   This salad proves my mother's saying to be .01% inaccurate, an impossible feat, yet here it is.  I know it sounds too good to be true, but it isn't. 

Ina Garten's Cape Cod Chopped Salad
Serves 4 to 5
8 slices (8 ounces) thick-cut bacon, such as Niman Ranch
8 ounces baby arugula
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced
1/2 cup toasted walnut halves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
6 ounces blue cheese, such as Roquefort, crumbled
For the Dressing:
3 tablespoons good apple-cider vinegar
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup good olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Place a baking rack on a sheet pan and lay the bacon slices on the rack. Roast the bacon for about 20 minutes, until nicely browned. Allow to cool.
3. In a large bowl, toss together the arugula, apple, walnuts, cranberries, and blue cheese. For the dressing, whisk together the vinegar, orange zest, orange juice, mustard, maple syrup, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and the pepper in a bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil.
4. Chop the bacon into large pieces and add it to the salad. Toss the salad with just enough dressing to moisten. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and toss well. Serve immediately.  

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dare To Dream, With Figs & Mascarpone Cream.

"We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep." - Prospero

Thank you, Prospero! Such stuff, indeed.  Today, in my head and heart, I am going to make Fresh Fig Mini Pies with Honey Mascarpone Cream:

for you, from this quirky and adorable kitchen (note the sweet flowers):

and we'll enjoy as many as we like, (pleasant conversation included) in this lovely room:

and round off the afternoon with a little sleep (couch nap):

That's my dream for today, and thanks to the recipe, it may become a reality.  What's yours?

Fresh Fig Mini Pies with Honey Mascarpone Cream

Recipe developed and styled by Marian Cooper Cairns. Prop styling by Jan Guatro.
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
11/2 tbsp. honey
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
Pinch salt
1/3 cup heavy cream, whipped
2 refrigerated piecrust
Assorted figs, cut into wedges

Stir together mascarpone, honey, lemon, and salt until well blended. Fold in whipped cream. Cover and chill at least 2 hours.
Unroll piecrust and cut dough into rounds using a 21/2 inch round cutter. Press dough rounds into lightly greased muffin pans. Prick bottoms of dough with a fork. Bake at 400° for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden. Remove to a wire rack and cool completely*.
Spoon 2 teaspoons of cream into shells and top with a few cut figs. Makes about 28 pies.
*Pie shells can be baked, stored in an airtight container and frozen up to one month.
[The recipe and photos are from the dreamy Design*Sponge ]

Monday, August 16, 2010

Running Through The Mill.

When I announced the giveaway winner two weeks ago, I was in the middle of finals for summer school.  And now today, as I write this, I am having my first day of school again.  Everyone around me seems so energetic, eager and vivacious, but I must admit I'm feeling a little bit tired even though I am running on a cup of coffee, a glass of water, a freshly charged ipod, an egg, a slice of toast, half a banana and three orange wedges.  (Yes, a big breakfast.  I could always eat.)  Yet the halls are stuffed with students: they chat, text, skateboard, and generally buzz around like overwired insects before they hit the bug zapper.  Used to be that was me, yet now I'm considering whether to try to switch my first teacher of the first class because she requested we fill out a handout asking our name and our sign. 

 [photo via fffound]

Anyway, when my Spanish teacher from the summer course asked us the same question, I considered trying to make a switch, couldn't, and I already miss her.  In fact, on the last day of class, I bumbled around before turning in my final exam because I wanted to give her a hug.  (Don't worry, I didn't).  So, you know... first impressions...

 [photo via fffound]

That's the thing about running through the mill a second time.  You learn to give people a chance.  You hesitate, and then try.  John's been good at teaching me that.  Also, so are food recipes in magazines.  Those food recipes... you have to watch out, but you also have to try.  Even though the dish may be humble looking or the ingredient list is fishy.  Sometimes it turns out better than alright.

 [photo via fffound]

In terms of the teacher and the recipe in question, we shall see.  Good luck to you on this back-to-work-Monday. 
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