Emulsified Salad Dressing

My experience with making my own salad dressing has been dicey. Even with a written recipe for a delicious salad dressing our Midwest cooking club friends once made, I botched it. Somehow not emulsifying the oil quickly or slowly enough with the vinegar. A few years ago, I made it for a test run and served it to two couples over for dinner one evening. My two girl friends looked at one another questioningly. "Interesting," one said as she poured the separated salad dressing -- oil only -- on her salad. After that memorable incident, I moved to putting a couple store bought dressings on the table, plus the option of a nice extra virgin olive oil and good quality white balsamic. And the pepper grinder. With this, my guests had complete control over how much pure oil went on their salads. However, with a few years of practice under my belt, I've worked out the secret to an emulsified salad dressing.

In our house, we have two sons two years apart: an older brother and a younger brother. They get along pretty well but often times need their own space. To keep rooted in each other's world, we need a bit of glue to hold them together. The word "brother" is that glue. Plus, they need something they both enjoy, a common interest -- Minecraft perhaps. And they need a dash of input from Mom and Dad. And occasionally, they need things shaken up a bit so as not to drop into routines and become complacent or take one another for granted. That's it:

One house One big brother One little brother A little glue A common interest A dash from Dad A dash from Mom An occasional shake up

And that is the recipe for my salad dressing. Clear as emulsified oil & vinegar?

More to the point...

One pint Ball jar with a lid 3/4 c. extra virgin olive oil 1/4 c. your favorite vinegar (I like white balsamic) 1 tsp. whole grain mustard (or Dijon if you want a little kick) 1 garlic clove, minced to tiny bits A dash of salt A dash of pepper

In the jar, put all the ingredients, screw on the lid, and shake like heck until the oil and vinegar becomes emulsified salad dressing.

If I don't have the mustard, I don't even try making salad dressing from scratch.  It's the glue for my oil and vinegar.


Simple Squid Dinner

For dinner Monday night, I had leftover ingredients from the weekend to work with: a bowl of very ripe tomatoes, an onion, some garlic, two lemons, a handful of linguine, a bottle of Chardonnay, and one-and-a-half pounds of squid.  The squid was leftover from the paella Bill made Saturday night. I rustled through my on-line recipe box looking for an easy tomato-white wine sauce that I had made a few weeks ago. With a quick search for "squid," a stuffed squid popped up. Upon opening the bag of porcelain sleek & glossy white squid tubes, I decided stuffing them would be a ridiculous endeavor. I would just quickly chop them up. A deconstructed squid dish. (Think Indiana Jones, in battle with a whip when a quick shot just seemed to make more sense.)

Thankfully, all the skin, ink, and cartilage was gone before said squid entered our house. I was left with long white tubes and long purple tentacles. I chopped the squid tubes into calamari rings and threw them into a strainer to rinse. I picked up the tentacles, some 4 - 6 inches long, and put them into the strainer as well. It was right about then that I thought, "I'm a heck of a long way from Iowa."

I didn't have time to soak the pieces in milk to tenderize them. I didn't get the meat tenderizing hammer out because I didn't want squid juice squirting all over my clean counter and floor. Rather, I decided they would just need to tenderize as they simmered away in tomatoes, onions, garlic and wine for a half hour.

As the ingredients came to a happy simmer in the pan, I took one last peek before putting the cover on. Puzzled by the bizarreness of these little creatures, prepared by my Iowa-born hands, smothered in a Creole-infused sauce. Would my granddad have eaten these? He loved fish, but this was a far-cry from beer-battered bullheads. Would my dad knowingly eat these? (Dad had unknowingly eaten them as we ordered fried calamari once while he was visiting. We didn't tell him the source of the nice rubbery, crunchy appetizer.)

The end result was delicious served over rice.  So, do you eat chewy purple legs covered with little suction cups? Please do tell.

(This "recipe" is a little more complicated: Corn's On!)

Swiss Chard with Cod -- a long fish story

Some people eat to live. Some people live to eat. Today, without guilt or remorse, I say I’m part of the latter bunch. Last summer I orchestrated a symphony in my Dutch oven. Swiss Chard with Cod. I first tasted it as a gift from a friend while going through chemo two years ago. Kate had the base done; all I had to do was toss in the cod and Swiss chard then boil it for ten minutes. I was doubtful looking at the big pile of Swiss chard, but it is one of the most memorable meals I had while on chemo.

Last summer, I picked up Swiss chard at the CSA. Having misplaced the paper copy, I searched on-line for Kate’s recipe: one with onion, fennel, tomatoes, chicken broth and – the two stars – cod & Swiss chard.

The power and confidence I felt while concocting this delicious dish independently, it was a belly punch. A friend made this for the bald me. Now – decked out with a full set of curls and cancer-free – I’m making it for myself.

My Swiss chard from Tuesday’s CSA was a bit wilted when I get out my Dutch oven on Friday. Heck, what does that matter? It’s going to wilt in the pot anyway.

My big wooden chopping board surfaces and in short my kitchen starts feeling the warmth of the prep smells. An onion finely sliced. A fennel bulb finely sliced. A few Yukon gold potatoes thickly sliced. I think it needs garlic to complete the chopping board warm-up. The rawness of aroma wasn’t complete until the garlic was finely chopped.

Into the pot goes a glug of olive oil, enough to wet the onions and fennel, speckled with salt and pepper. Those vegetables, nearly identical in looks but unrelated in taste draw strings of memory. Until I met Bill I didn’t cook with onions. Until I sat around the table in an Italian woman’s kitchen for a 4-hour cooking class with Gail, I didn’t know what fennel was, nor had I ever eaten so much olive oil in one sitting. The garlic, another Bill-introduced ingredient, was hopping on the board, waiting to join the 10-minute sweat. It must wait: that over anxious chopped bulb would burn and ruin the whole pot. It gets 30 seconds after the onions and fennel finish their sweat – and just before the tomatoes enter in the second movement.

Two pints of drained whole tomatoes that Mom had canned. If you aren’t one of Mom’s sons or daughters, sorry. Make do with what you can. As for me… My fingernails are just long enough to curl under the seal and pop off the lids marked ’09. Instantly, my left arm rises like a spring pulling the Ball jar to my nose. I close my eyes and I inhale Mom’s summer kitchen in Iowa. The second inhale is her winter kitchen. The smell of her chili prep. There is no sloshing these tomatoes from jar to pan. I smell until the memory is complete. Until the strength of the aroma dissipates. Damn, two more jars closer to the end of my stash. Someday I MUST drive home to replenish my stock, or I could learn how to can my own. An ominous thought.

The tomatoes dance with the onions and fennel , uncovered, for ten minutes. A great harmony rises in the steam. Popping bubbles make me think of a web of people. Kate, Gail, Bill, the Italian cooking teacher, Mom.

Then the next layer: the potatoes over the base, a twist of pepper and pinch of salt, enough chicken brother to cover, then lid on for a 10-minute simmer. My stock is made from a bouillon granule base, another trick of Bill’s from 20 years ago.

And here, at the very top, those ingredients newest to my repertoire: fresh cod from the Atlantic & Swiss chard from my CSA. Local ocean meet local farm. The cod waits patiently covered with a squeeze of lemon juice. Finally, the buzz of a 10-minute timer. Cod nestles on top of potatoes and an enormous bunch of chopped chard fills the pot to the top. Lid on for ten more minutes.

“This dish has lots of protein with cod and Swiss chard.” Kate, there was so much more than a healthy dose of protein to give my chemo shocked body a boost.

Ten minutes later the layers come out in reverse order. A plop of chard on each plate; a flaky, moist piece of cod next to the chard; potatoes fished out of the sauce complete a trio on the plate.

The pan goes back to the burner with a lump of butter to add a little velvet. Boil it like hell for two minutes to take some of the liquid out and force the flavors into the ravished onions, fennel, and tomatoes. Burner off. Scooping a handful of chopped basil into the sauce then ladling it over the trio creates a crescendo to this dish too simply named “Swiss Chard and Cod.”

This is entertaining every sense, lulling, teasing. Seeing the ingredients. Feeling the burn of the onion in the eye. Feeling the veg give way from whole to slices under deft movement of a big knife. Smelling the oils released with each slice and Mom’s kitchen with each pop of a Ball lid. Hearing the sizzle in the pot with olive oil. Hearing the bubbles pop.

Taste. Yes, taste, but it’s… it’s the last and nearly the least fulfilling. The other senses. Wow.

Heaped in a pasta bowl & served with multi-grain bread and butter, this is “Swiss Chard with Cod.” I have many guests joining me for this dinner: Bill, Kate, Gail, Mom, the Italian cooking teacher, a Gloucester fisherman, a local farmer. Some I know more intensely than others, but all have a hand in creating this meal.

This is living to eat.