It’s summer! I know we haven’t hit the summer solstice yet, but Memorial Day is the informal start date to summer in my mental calendar. Summer means lots of fresh vegetables and salads, salads, salads. I love salads. When I look at my recipe box, the Salad section is nearly as thick as Sweets. Certainly, it’s the most heavily used.
Panzanella, or simply “Bread Salad” as it’s known at my house, is always a favorite. Croutons of rustic bread tossed with lots of savory ingredients and a tangy dressing make regular appearances. I also make Fattoush, which uses crumbled toasted pita for the bread and has a Middle Eastern flavor profile.
Even when I already have a favorite recipe for something, I’m always open to a new twist. This week’s recipe for Cook the Book Fridays offers just that. David Lebovitz’s version is similar to yet different from mine.
Similar are the chopped vegetables (cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and scallions) and the herbs (parsley and mint). Different: he uses sliced radishes instead of the chopped red pepper in mine. I like the radishes better. Different: he adds a healthy dose of hearty lettuce, making his fattoush more like a green salad. I tried it, but definitely prefer this salad without the lettuce. We both use a lemony dressing and a tangy sprinkle of sumac. David’s dressing with the additions of garlic and mustard has more zing than my simple lemon vinaigrette and is the clear winner.
Fattoush is in the First Courses chapter of David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. The first night I made it, I was home alone. I made the dressing in a jar instead of the salad bowl so I could use it for several smaller batches of this salad. Dressed salads especially those made with crisp bread are not good keepers. I cut up vegetables to make a quarter of the recipe, even though it serves 6. With a little bit of cheese and crackers on the side, I found that the salad was substantial enough to count as dinner. I made half the recipe another night which Howard and I shared along with a beet salad for our meal.
This recipe was worth trying. It was good, but it won’t displace my own favorite recipe. However, I definitely plan to incorporate parts of his recipe (radishes, dressing) into mine as we move ahead into summer.
The highlight of my Memorial Day weekend was a short hike in nearby Concord Massachusetts to check out a blue heron rookery. I occasionally catch one wading in the pond Bella and I walk around every morning. And I love the prehistoric look of herons flying overhead. They remind me of pterodactyls. When my neighbor (hi, Cass!) told me where to find the rookery, I channeled my inner Mary (Hirsch), had Howard find the binoculars, and we went for a ride.
Observing their high nests on top of dead or dying trees in a marsh, I was surprised to see both parents tending one or two babies in each nest. There were 6-8 nests in all. The babies seemed to be getting ready to fly. We saw a couple of them perched on the edge of the nest where it looked like they were working up the courage to step off and test their wings. This week, I expect they have already flown off. I wish them safe travels.
Cook the Book Fridays was formed by bloggers who met through French Fridays with Dorie, have remained friends, and enjoy cooking together (virtually anyway). Others have joined us in this new adventure cooking through another French cookbook, David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. You can too!
Full Disclosure: Beef Stew challenges me. On the surface, it’s perfect comfort food with much in its favor, but I usually only like it, never love it. One thing I’ve figured out is that I don’t like stewed vegetables, especially potatoes, so I tend to favor recipes with just meat and gravy. This week’s selection for Cook the Book Fridays from David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen, Belgian beef stew with beer and spice bread (aka Carbonade Flamande), met these criteria, so I was excited to try something new.
To start, chunks of beef chuck are browned. Next, diced onions and bacon lardons are sautéed. The pot is deglazed with some water before adding a bottle of beer. I tried to find a European-style amber, but the only amber at the store was Dos Equis so that’s what I used. Finally, all the ingredients along with thyme, bay leaves, and cloves spent some time simmering.
Now it’s time for the secret ingredient: pain d’épices. What’s pain d’épices, you ask? It’s a honeyed spice loaf, not too sweet and fragrant with a variety of warm spices: anise, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. The scent reminded me of my favorite holiday cookies, Basler Läckerli.
It seems unconventional, but this stew is thickened with slices of pain d’épices lightly spread with Dijon mustard. The slices are laid on top while it stews for a few more hours. Periodic stirring encourages the bread to dissolve into the pot, transforming the thin beery broth into a thick flavorful gravy.
I served the stew over a bed of mashed potatoes. The stew had the simple style I prefer with an unusual and enticing aroma and taste. While I enjoyed this more than many other versions of beef stew, I still just liked-not-loved it.
I enjoyed the leftover spice bread more. I brought it to my sister’s. It was a bit dry, but improved when we toasted it for breakfast.
Meanwhile, I’ve become obsessed with last time’s dukkah. I made the dukkah-roasted cauliflower 3 times in the past two weeks. I also gave broccoli the same treatment. Equally delicious. And I used dukkah to coat fish fillets when I made Dorie Greenspan’s almond flounder meunière (or should I call it dukkah flounder meunière?) I’m going to have to make another batch.
We just returned from a long weekend in Florida for a family celebration. Here’s my favorite nature shot from the trip. We saw this 15-to-20 foot alligator floating in the water beside the fishing pavilion when we took a walk at Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.
And closer to home, despite a snowstorm predicted for the weekend, spring is in the air. This morning I caught half a dozen turtles sunning themselves on a log during my late-morning walk with Bella. They made me smile.
And this evening, we spied a beautiful full rainbow in the backyard!
If you want to know how my friends enjoyed their stew, check out their links here. Due to copyright considerations, I don’t publish the recipes here. You can find the stew on page 198 and the pain d’épices on page 293 of David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. Or feel free to drop me a line and I’ll share with you.