Thursday, March 1, 2012

Cooking Is The Gift That Keeps On Giving.

I arrived in New York the other night and per usual, I am ensconced in the home of one of my oldest (that always sounds wrong), closest, most wonderful and funniest friends... Being here is my home away from home and I'm always grateful that I have such a special place to reside in my most favorite city on earth.  And also because it allows me to cook for my lovely host and her family which is not only my sincere pleasure but they seem to sincerely enjoy the dishes I coax from the kitchen and place on the dining room table.

This trip occurred just days after the 10th anniversary of my friend's 40th birthday.  She had spent a week celebrating and dining in the best restaurants the city has to offer.   The night I arrived she returned from a $1,000.00 multi-course dinner at Colicchio.  I was very glad for her because I then informed her that our celebration dinner would nowhere near this indulgence and I hoped she was presently sated.  She said that  she was not only sated but nearly sick of all the fine dining and worried mostly if her pricey wardrobe was going still going to fit.  She then added, "all I want from you is that lentil beet salad thing you make and a quiet evening at home."  I promised to deliver the salad at home but quiet was out of the question: we are two of the loudest women I know and her children can attest to the fact that once we've had a few glasses of wine and start sharing our stories, ears have been covered.  Thank God it's New York City. 

So the salad... this was inspired by a meal  I had at my favorite Cafe Med in the Sunset Plaza area of Los Angeles.  I never got the recipe but I believe my version pays homage to this super healthy and hearty dish.

You'll need:

3 large beets roasted and cubed
6 oz. lentils cooked and rinsed
1/2 large onion diced
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
4 carrots chopped
4 stalks of celery chopped
3 tbl. olive oil for sauteeing
4 tbl. olive oil for dressing
2 tb. balsamic vinegar
4 oz. goat cheese
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper

Makes six appetizer servings or 3 large salad servings. 

Preheat oven to 375degrees.  Cut tops and ends from beets.   Rinse under cold water and clean thoroughly.  Place in thick foil, sprinkle with olive oil, salt generously and seal foil tight around beets.  Roast for ninety minutes or until a knife pierces them easily.   Remove from the oven.  Allow to cool and then under running water remove the peels with your hands. They will slip away easily when fully cooked.  I love the vibrant pink color of the water swirling down the drain.   Nature's theater. 

In the meantime, add olive to a saute pan, turn heat on medium and toss in onions.  Season with salt and worcestershire.   Allow to barely caramelize.  Toss in celery and carrots. 

This combination is referred to as a mire poix although I like my carrots a little larger and more rustic for this dish than is considered traditional.  Cook until the vegetables are tender around 15 minutes and then turn the heat up so the carrots actually start to caramelize. Releases a deep rich flavor.    While you're sauteeing you can also cook the lentils.  Rinse them thoroughly.  Place in a saucepan and cover with cold water (an extra 3 inches over the lentils as they will absorb all the water when cooked).   Place a lid on the pot but don't seal it.  Cook for twenty minutes and drain in a colander when done.  Lentils should be al dente.  If you overcook they turn to mush and will ruin your salad. 

Now you're ready to assemble... cube the beats and turn all ingredients into a large salad bowl.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  No need to emulsify prior.   Toss gently until flavored just as you like it.  Now crumble the goat cheese into the salad and give it a few additional gentle turns so as not to mash the cheese into the lovely salad.  You're ready to serve.

I added a plate of my ubiquitous crostini (toasted bread with olive oil and salt), a gorgeous round of St. Andre that was soooo perfectly ready to eat the interior was a buttery yellow  reminding us and often that we were eating PURE CREAM.  So much for the diet concerns.  A dish of freshly made fig compote (this was heaven) and we sat down to dinner with a bottle of Cupcake Chardonnay that I quite like. 

In keeping with my "open door policy" of cooking which underscores simplify and also because my schedule in the city isn't just about making delicious meals I bought dessert at a gourmet market that had me turning in circles ogling all the delicasies and sundries.  I chose bread pudding and double fudge brownies.  Poor friend.  The meal may not have cost $1,000 dollars but I guess the caloric intake was equally devastating.  

Happy Birthday darling friend... the meal was only topped by your storytelling which I'm still giggling about today. 

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