Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Butter Bean Salad


I love butter beans. Growing up, we had what we called lima beans as a side dish at least twice a week. My mother would drain the lima beans (always from a can – never fresh in those days), heat them up and serve them with butter. I used to mash up the beans on my plate, incorporating their silky butter coating into a butter bean mash. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was creating one of my favorite ways to serve butter beans (and most beans for that matter) - whizzed with a little butter and served as a side dish in place of mashed potatoes.

The other way I serve butter beans is in a cold, deli-style salad. I make healthy, hopefully delicious, deli-style salads almost every Sunday. I whip up a large batch and bring it with me to work for a week’s worth of lunches.

This butter bean salad is very simple to make and holds up well (actually improving in flavor) after a few days in the refrigerator. Beans, tuna, a little lemon for brightness and green onions are the stars. Add salt, pepper and olive oil and you have a great salad that will keep you fed throughout the week.

I like this salad just on its own, but I added some toasted, garlic-rubbed slices of baguette for a little more heartiness for the boyfriend. It would also be great served over a bed of lettuce or added to pasta for a cold pasta salad.

Butter Bean Salad
Serves 3 – 4

1 can butter beans
2 cans solid white tuna (I use water packed)
Zest of one lemon
Juice from one lemon
2 – 3 T of extra virgin olive oil
4 green onions, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
½ t salt
¼ t of freshly ground pepper

Drain and rinse the butter beans. Drain the tuna. In a medium bowl combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, 2 T of olive oil, the onions and salt and pepper. Taste the dressing and if it is too tangy from the lemon, add an additional tablespoon of olive oil. Add the tuna and beans to the dressing and stir until combined.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ham and Eternity


“Eternity is two people and a ham," wrote Irma S. Rombauer in the original Joy of Cooking. Perhaps you can relate to this statement. I certainly know I can. It's the week after Easter and in my house that means we are diligently trying to use up the leftover Honey Baked Ham.

Every year I order more than we need. Perhaps I forget how hard it was to use up all the ham the year before or perhaps, because I only order Honey Baked Ham once a year, I get excited and order much more than could ever be consumed by two people in a reasonable amount of time. Whatever the reason, here I am, left with my piles of ham.


The ham bone was frozen for use in split pea or navy bean soup somewhere down the road, a half pound of ham was neatly diced and stowed in the freezer to have at the ready as a flavor base or to add to soups, and a ham and cheese quiche is on the menu for this weekend; still, I was in need of some new inspiration.

It came in the form of slices of ham and cheese sandwiched between two pieces of sourdough and smothered in a cheesy béchamel. In other words it came in the form of a croque monsieur. This happens to be my boyfriend's favorite sandwich and I am baffled at how it managed to escape me as a way to use up leftover ham.

The thick-cut Honey Baked Ham works perfectly in this sandwich. Gruyere is a traditional accompaniment, but I found that a blend of gruyere and swiss was particularly delicious. There is something about ham and swiss that just works.

This isn't the lightest or healthiest way to follow up Easter dinner, but let's be honest. Who hasn't already had a few too many pieces of Easter candy this week? Can one croque monsieur really do that much damage?


Croque Monsieur
Adapted from Ina Garten

2 T unsalted butter
3 T flour
2 cups hot milk
1 t kosher salt
½ t pepper
Pinch nutmeg
6 oz grated gruyere or gruyere / swiss blend
½ cup grated parmesan
8 slices sourdough bread
Dijon mustard
4 – 6 slices of Honey Baked Ham, or any thick-cut, cooked ham

Preheat oven to 400*
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over the butter and use a rubber spatula to combine. Cook the butter and flour for about two minutes, stirring constantly with the spatula. Add the milk, a half cup at a time, making sure the milk is fully incorporated before adding more. Let the béchamel simmer until thickened, stirring constantly for about five minutes. Turn off the heat and add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, ½ cup of gruyere and the parmesan cheese. Set aside.

Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for five minutes. Turn the slices over and toast for an additional two minutes. Brush half the bread slices with mustard on one side and place one to one and a half slices of ham on top. Sprinkle the ham slices with half the remaining gruyere. Spread about a ¼ cup of béchamel over each of the remaining other slices and use them to top the sandwiches (béchamel side down). Spread the remaining béchamel evenly over the top of the four sandwiches and sprinkle with the remaining gruyere. Bake for five minutes. Turn the broiler on and place the sandwiches under the broiler until bubbly and browned, about five minutes.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Herbed Salad Dressing


From time to time, I get asked to teach people how to cook. The request usually comes from close friends and typically right after I’ve spent 10 minutes expounding on how anyone who hates anchovies hasn’t tried Spanish anchovies packed in salt or some other obscure topic, in other words, making it abundantly clear that I spend way too much time thinking about food. I am hugely flattered when people ask because I love to share what I know and help people discover how easy it can be to cook at home.

When my friend Meghan asked me to help her learn how to cook to “keep her from starving” (her words, not mine), I immediately suggested we make some of the basics I think every cook should know: how to properly cook a chicken breast, a good bolognese sauce and a salad dressing made from scratch.

Meghan quickly made it clear that she didn’t understand why she needed to know how to make a salad dressing when she can just buy one at the store. I suppose she’s right and I think most of us will get along just fine never knowing how to make our own salad dressings, but I am of the belief that the five minutes or less that it actually takes to make a salad dressing is time very well spent.

When making a salad dressing, a very basic formula to follow is three parts oil to one part vinegar with a little salt and pepper and any additional flavorings you want to throw in. It’s easy to remember, easy to make and will elevate any simple salad you throw together to something just a bit more special.

I try to keep vases of fresh herbs on my kitchen counter. They’re beautiful to look at and having them out encourages me to use them more in my cooking – most often they end up as the ‘additional flavorings’ in my herbed salad dressing that I make almost weekly, or as soon as my last batch is gone (I make three or four times what I need for one salad and keep the extra on hand for use throughout the week).

I intentionally didn’t specify which herbs to use in the recipe below. You should use whatever you have on hand, or if you’re going shopping, whichever herbs sound best to you. My favorite combinations include chive and basil (one bunch of chives and the leaves from four or five basil stems) and scallion, parsley and mint (two thinly sliced scallions combined with a handful of chopped parsley and a few mint leaves). Tarragon also works brilliantly in salad dressings. The key here is to try your own flavor combinations and determine what you like best.

This recipe calls for the best extra virgin olive oil you can afford. Sometimes that means the $6 jumbo bottle from the grocery store. Please know that that is perfectly acceptable here. Since the recipe calls for a good amount of olive oil, I tend not to use my $30 bottle of olive oil because that’s a lot of money going into one salad dressing. That being said, if I could afford to buy a countless supply of $30 olive oil, I would definitely use it in salad dressings because the flavor is so prominent and the quality really does come through. So, use the best you can afford, whatever that may be.


Herbed Salad Dressing
Makes about 1 ¼ cups

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil (the best you can afford)
¼ cup champagne vinegar
2 T dijon mustard
½ cup chopped herbs
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of sugar

Combine the vinegar, mustard and herbs in a mason jar, screw the lid on and shake to combine. Pour the olive oil in and shake vigorously to emulsify. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If the dressing still has too much of a vinegar bite, add a pinch of sugar to help balance it out. This dressing will keep for about a week in the fridge.