thai grilled-beef salad

thai steak salad 4

My habit is that on weekdays, I eat vegetarian and am healthy, and on weekends, I eat meat and am not healthy. I save alcohol and lately even dessert for weekends. It all evens out in the end so that I’m relatively fit and trim, but I’m starting to wonder – would it be so bad to eat meat and be healthy, all at the same time?

thai steak salad 1

Steak doesn’t have to mean huge T-bones and potatoes. It can mean slivers of beef mixed with herbs and served with cucumbers. This flank steak is seasoned with salt and (white) pepper, grilled and sliced, then dressed with a mixture of lime juice and fish sauce. Toasted white rice powder deepens the flavors while fresh herbs lighten them.

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I wonder how many other great meat-topped salads are out there that I’ve been overlooking. Although even if there aren’t any others worth trying, I’d be perfectly happy making this one over and over again. Eating healthy on weekends doesn’t feel like a sacrifice when it tastes so good – and besides, I still get to have a glass of wine on the side.

thai steak salad 5

One year ago: Garlic Mustard Glazed Skewers
Two years ago: Seafood Lasagna
Three years ago: Vanilla Ice Cream

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Thai Grilled-Beef Salad (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4 to 6

1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon white rice
3 tablespoons lime juice (from 2 limes)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon sugar
1½ pound flank steak, trimmed
Salt and white pepper, coarsely ground
4 shallots, sliced thin
1½ cups fresh mint leaves, torn
1½ cups fresh cilantro leaves
1 Thai chile, stemmed and sliced thin into rounds
1 seedless English cucumber, sliced ¼ inch thick on bias

1. Heat the paprika and cayenne in an 8-inch skillet over medium heat; cook, shaking the pan, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl. Return the now-empty skillet to medium-high heat, add the rice, and toast, stirring frequently, until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a second small bowl and cool for 5 minutes. Grind the rice with a spice grinder, mini food processor, or mortar and pestle until it resembles fine meal, 10 to 30 seconds (you should have about 1 tablespoon rice powder).

2. Whisk the lime juice, fish sauce, water, sugar, and ¼ teaspoon toasted paprika mixture in a large bowl and set aside.

3. For a Charcoal Grill: Open the bottom vent completely. Light a large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When the top coals are partially covered with ash, pour the coals evenly over half of the grill. Set the cooking grate in place, cover, and open the lid vent completely. Heat the grill until hot, about 5 minutes.

For a Gas Grill: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat the grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave the primary burner on high and turn off the other burner(s).

4. Clean and oil the cooking grate. Season the steak with salt and white pepper. Place the steak over the hot part of the grill and cook until it’s beginning to char and beads of moisture appear on the outer edges of the meat, 5 to 6 minutes. Flip the steak and continue to cook on the second side until charred and the center registers 125 degrees, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes (or allow to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour).

5. Slice the meat, against the grain and on the bias, into ¼-inch-thick slices. Transfer the sliced steak to the bowl with the fish sauce mixture. Add the shallots, mint, cilantro, chile, and half of the rice powder; toss to combine. Transfer to a platter lined with cucumber slices. Serve, passing the remaining rice powder and toasted paprika mixture separately.

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carrot avocado salad

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The problem with just about every recipe that contains avocado is that there isn’t enough avocado. The only exception I can think of is guacamole, because it’s almost entirely avocado. My favorite way to eat avocado is on toast with a sprinkling of kosher salt.

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My usual way of eating it, however, is as an accent in which there’s just enough avocado so that most bites have a tiny portion. And all the bites without avocado are just sad.  And all the bites that do have avocado need more of it.

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And that is what I love about this salad – avocado is the main event, or at least it shares equal billing with the sweet caramelized carrots. It might sound like an unusual combination, but it works. The radishes add a nice touch as well, crisp and spicy. I’m pretty sure the only way I could like this salad more would be if I left out the carrots, pepper, cumin, olive oil, and radishes. And maybe added in some toast.

carrot avocado salad 4

One year ago: Spinach Artichoke Pizza
Two years ago: Tofu Mu Shu
Three years ago: Crockpot Pulled Pork

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Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

4 servings

I prefer to use a regular olive oil to roast the carrots and extra virgin olive oil in the dressing.

1 pound carrots, scrubbed or peeled and cut into two-inch segments
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons lemon juice
4 radishes, chopped small
1 avocado, pitted and sliced

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. On a large baking sheet, toss the carrots with ¼ teaspoon salt, ⅛ teaspoon pepper, cumin, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Roast for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the carrots are tender and browned.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and the remaining tablespoon olive oil. In a medium serving bowl, combine the carrots, avocado and radishes. Drizzle the vegetables with the dressing, adding more salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

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basic coleslaw

Once upon a time, I thought I didn’t like coleslaw. A Cooks Illustrated recipe turned me around, but over time, I found aspects of it that I didn’t love. One is that is really does take about 4 hours of salting the cabbage for it to draw out enough water to avoid a watery dressing. Then you have to rinse the salt off so your slaw isn’t too salty, and then you have to dry the cabbage, because wasn’t the whole point of salting to remove water?

The dressing of that recipe is based on buttermilk, which is a great lowfat option, but is too thin to coat the cabbage strands well. Many slaw dressings are nothing more than flavored mayonnaise, and while I do love mayonnaise, I don’t like to spend so much of my calorie budget on salad. The dressing for my old favorite recipe also requires sour cream, which I never have.

The answer, like I’m finding it is to so many things, is Greek yogurt. It’s everything you want in a slaw dressing – thick, creamy and tangy. Oh, and full of protein instead of just fat. I like to use the same flavorings used in the Cooks Illustrated recipe – cider vinegar, parsley, minced onion, a wee bit of sugar. I also like to mix a spoonful of mayonnaise into the yogurt. It’s amazing how even a small proportion of mayonnaise can make the whole mixture taste like it’s full of the fattening stuff.

With a thicker dressing, it isn’t as necessary to draw water out of the cabbage. If I have time, I still often sprinkle the shredded cabbage with salt and set it aside, but I use only as much salt as I need to include in the salad anyway – so no tedious rinsing and drying is required. Without needing to plan four hours in advance, I can mix up a quick coleslaw while Dave heats the grill for brats. I’m not going to say that I like the coleslaw more than the sausage – but it’s close, and it’s a heck of a lot healthier too.

One year ago: Grilled Artichokes
Two years ago: Basic Lentil Soup
Three years ago: Snickery Squares

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Basic Coleslaw (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

You can see that I now take a very laid back approach to preparing slaw. This is what happens when I start making things for lunch on Saturday; I can’t be bothered with details when it’s 85 degrees and sunny out. Sometimes I combine the first few ingredients earlier in the morning and set them aside until later to lightly pickle to cabbage and onion, but sometimes I make the slaw start to finish right before serving. Either way works great.

Feel free to use any fat level of Greek yogurt.

½ cabbage, sliced thin
¼ cup minced red onion
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 carrot, shredded
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1 (7-ounce container) plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise

In a large bowl, stir together the cabbage, onion, salt, vinegar, and sugar. Set aside while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine.

caesar salad

I didn’t always get Caesar salad. It seemed like it was just salad that was all lettuce and no goodies. Where’s the tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, carrots, or cured meats?

I understand now that that’s the point of it – that even without a range of colors, a salad can have a range of textures and flavors. Crisp lettuce, crunchy croutons, creamy dressing; salty parmesan, lightly bitter romaine, and most importantly, stinky garlic and wonderful savory anchovies.

Not everyone thinks anchovies are wonderful, I know. Some people – people who are otherwise not picky at all despite their reticence toward brownies – think they’re actually quite disgusting. Those people were not implicitly told about the anchovies in this recipe, and even when the amount was accidentally doubled one time, those people (or the one of those people I regularly cook for) still raved about the salad. Do not fear the anchovy.

But if you want to fear the raw egg (which I do not, as we all know from my cookie dough habit), you may, because I tested this out with mayonnaise instead of the yolks, and it was nearly as good as the original. With the addition of some leftover shredded chicken, this salad becomes a simple (if surprisingly unhealthy) meal.

One year ago: Cherry Tomato Salad
Two years ago: Lemon Poppy Seed Waffles
Three years ago: Sushi Rolls

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Caesar Salad (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4

I confess that I did not care for this method of toasting the croutons. I was not able to achieve evenly browned croutons on the stovetop, probably because I wasn’t willing to use the full amount of oil. I’ll reproduce the original recipe below, but in the future, I’ll toast the lightly oiled croutons the oven and then toss them with the oil/garlic mixture.

If you don’t want to work with raw egg, substitute 1-2 tablespoons of mayonnaise for the yolks.  This will result in a slightly thicker dressing, but not a bad one.

Croutons:
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium garlic clove, pressed through a garlic press (or pureed on the tines of a fork)
5 cups (¾-inch) ciabatta bread cubes
¼ cup water
¼ teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan

Salad:
1 large garlic clove, pressed through a garlic press (or pureed on the tines of a fork)
2-3 tablespoons juice from 1 to 2 lemons
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
6 anchovy fillets, mashed to a paste with a fork (1 tablespoon)
2 large egg yolks
5 tablespoons canola oil
5 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1½ ounces (¾ cup) finely grated Parmesan
Ground black pepper
2-3 romaine hearts, cut crosswise into ¾-inch-thick slices, rinsed, and dried very well (8-9 lightly pressed cups)

1. For the croutons: Combine 1 tablespoon oil and garlic paste in small bowl; set aside. Place bread cubes in large bowl. Sprinkle with water and salt. Toss, squeezing gently so bread absorbs water. Place remaining 4 tablespoons oil and soaked bread cubes in 12-inch nonstick skillet. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until browned and crisp, 7 to 10 minutes.

2. Remove skillet from heat, push croutons to sides of skillet to clear center; add garlic/oil mixture to clearing and cook with residual heat of pan, 10 seconds. Sprinkle with Parmesan; toss until garlic and Parmesan are evenly distributed. Transfer croutons to bowl; set aside.

3. For the salad: Whisk garlic paste and 2 tablespoons lemon juice together in large bowl. Let stand 10 minutes.

4. Whisk Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, and egg yolks into garlic/lemon juice mixture. While whisking constantly, drizzle canola oil and extra virgin olive oil into bowl in slow, steady stream until fully emulsified. Add ½ cup Parmesan and pepper to taste; whisk until incorporated.

5. Add romaine to dressing and toss to coat. Add croutons and mix gently until evenly distributed. Taste and season with up to additional 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Serve immediately, passing remaining ¼ cup Parmesan separately.

taco pasta salad

My inclination to overthink was very clearly exhibited with this recipe. I’ve heard approximately eight thousand raving reviews of this pasta salad. And still, I doubted. Salsa mixed with pasta? Cheddar cheese in pasta salad? I wasn’t convinced.

I asked Cara for advice. Really? Salsa? She said she never thinks twice about it, because this dish is always a hit. Shredded yellow cheese? Yes, she said. Stop asking questions and just go make it, she probably wanted to say.

I started slowly, adding only a third of the salsa called for, thinking I’d just mix in extra fresh tomatoes and some red onions and a jalapeno separately if I didn’t like the salsa. And then I realized – yes, salsa mixed with pasta. And I stirred in the rest of the salsa.

Right after those two ingredients were mixed is when I started nibbling. And then I added black beans… cilantro… avocado… tomatoes… cheese… corn… dressing… and I just kept nibbling and nibbling as I went. And the salad just kept getting better and better.  Forget instincts. I should just trust the recipe.

One year ago: Risotto with Swiss Chard
Two years ago: Gazpacho

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Taco Pasta Salad (adapted slightly from Cara’s Cravings)

Serves 8-12

Apparently there’s no wagon wheel pasta in my little town. Bowties worked just fine.

I toasted the spices before mixing them into the dressing. Just heat a small not-nonstick pan over medium heat for a few minutes, then add the spices and stir them around just until they start to smoke, no longer than a minute.

1 pound wagon wheel pasta
salt
1 (10-ounce) package frozen corn
1½ cups salsa
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 medium tomatoes, diced
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
8 ounces (2 cups) shredded cheddar cheese
3-4 tablespoons lime juice
1 large (or 2 small) avocado, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup olive oil

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta. Cook according to the package directions. Drain; stir the frozen corn into the pasta to cool the pasta and defrost the corn. Stir the salsa into the pasta and corn, then add the beans, tomatoes, cilantro, and cheese.

2. Squeeze the lime juice into a small bowl and add the avocado; stir to coat the avocado. Remove the avocado from the lime juice and stir it into the pasta mixture. Add the spices, garlic, and ½ teaspoon salt to the lime juice, then slowly whisk in the oil. Stir the dressing into the salad. Serve immediately or chill for up to 1 day (longer if you don’t add the avocado).

grilled corn salad

It’s green chile season! My sister recently told me that, for her, fall in New Mexico means green chiles roasting, the state fair, and the Balloon Fiesta. Fall isn’t so bad out here, even without rolling hills of trees that turn brown, red, pink, maroon, orange, yellow. I will miss the crisp air, pumpkins, apples, and chill days of fall on the East coast, but when I was out there, I missed green chile. So I win either way.

The only problem is that I tend to get into a hoarding pattern with my annual green chile supply. I buy them every fall when they come into season, roast them, and freeze them to last until the following September. And then, aside from the occasional huevos rancheros, I mostly ignore them, because what if I run out? This is a mindset I’m determined to get out of. Not only is that not the kind of life I want to lead, but, as Jen warns, they seem to get hotter as they’re frozen for longer periods.

This corn salad doesn’t even call for green chile, but I had some leftover from the previous day’s burgers, so I went ahead and added them. They’ve been in the freezer for about a year, and maybe that’s why the dish ended up so, um, kind of painful to eat, actually. The heat was somewhat dulled by the dairy in the recipe, and once I smooshed the corn into a tortilla with some flank steak, it was downright edible. Not that the corn even needed extra flavor, what with having been grilled and mixed with chili powder, cilantro, lime juice and salty cotija. But I need to use up some of these chiles in my freezer to make room for the new crop!

One year ago: Pickled Coleslaw
Two years ago: Sausage and Red Pepper Hash

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Grilled Corn Salad (from Bobby Flay via Savory Spicy Sweet)

I used a not-nonstick skillet on the stove instead of a cast iron pan on the grill, and I substituted greek yogurt for the crème fraiche. And I added an ounce or two of very spicy diced Hatch green chiles, plus some diced red pepper and red onion.

8 ears fresh corn, silks removed, husk on, soaked in cold water 30 minutes
canola oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup creme fraiche
2 limes, juiced and 1 zested
1 tablespoons ancho chili powder
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
¼ cup grated cotija cheese

1. Heat grill to high. Grill corn until charred on all sides, 10 or so minutes. Take off the grill and remove the kernels with a sharp knife. While you are cutting the corn, put a cast iron skillet on the grill to heat.

2. Add the corn and the remaining ingredients to the hot pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until creamy and heated through. Serve.

green goddess salad

I am not a fan of those recipes that try to hide vegetables in foods where they clearly don’t belong. For one thing, “deceptive” is not a word I want applied to any of my relationships. For another, I strongly believe that if you cook vegetables correctly, they’re so tasty that there’s no reason to avoid them. I also strongly believe that if you’re an adult who is still picky about vegetables, then you need to stop being such a big baby, grow up, and eat your damn vegetables. I am bossy.

Anchovies, on the other hand, I am comfortable sneaking into dishes without telling Dave. Dave unfairly maligns anchovies based on years of delivering pizza, disregarding my claims that anchovies aren’t meant to be dumped whole onto pizza anymore than garlic cloves are. There are people who enjoy their pizzas being overwhelmed by one strong flavor, but for most of us, both garlic and anchovies are better as accents.

Anchovies should in general be treated like garlic – minced, used judiciously, and added to the recipe early so that the flavor permeates the dish in a soft, subtle way. Or, in this case, blended into a dressing. Anchovies add not just salt to a dish, but a nice meatiness. If it makes your food tastes like fish, you’re using the wrong brand of anchovies.

I snuck one anchovy into this dressing the first time, two the second time. Dave didn’t notice. I didn’t tell him. Next time, it’ll be three anchovies, and maybe then the flavor will be strong enough to add more complexity to this already fresh-tart-rich-healthy-delicious mix of ingredients. My goal isn’t to deceive Dave; it’s to convince him that, when used correctly, anchovies are wonderful – just like vegetables.

One year ago: Clafoutis
Two years ago: Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream

Green Goddess Salad (adapted from Eating Well)

Serves 2 as a main dish; 4 as a side dish

I skipped the celery, because otherwise I’ll buy a bunch, use one stalk and forget about the rest in the fridge until it’s suitable only for compost.

If at all possible, do not use chickpeas that are cooked without salt. You’ll end up with little flavor voids.

½ avocado, peeled and pitted
½ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as tarragon, sorrel, and/or chives
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2-3 anchovy fillets
8 cups bite-size pieces green leaf lettuce
12 ounces peeled and deveined cooked shrimp (21-25 per pound)
½ cucumber, sliced
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed
1 cup canned artichoke hearts, rinsed, dried, and quartered
½ cup chopped celery

1. Puree the avocado, buttermilk, herbs, vinegar, and anchovies in a blender until smooth.

2. Divide the lettuce among 4 plates. Top with the shrimp, cucumber, tomatoes, chickpeas, artichoke hearts, and celery. Drizzle the dressing over the salads.

slaw tartare

“Here, taste this”, I requested, bringing Dave a cornichon.

He obliged, then made a face. “Euck, it’s a pickle.”

I sighed. Brined food is Dave’s single food hangup, but the cornichons had seemed relatively mild to me. I was hoping he wouldn’t mind them.

I went back into the kitchen to finish the salad, snacking on at least one cornichon for every one I chopped.

Before too long, I tried again, this time with capers. “Too briny”, he insisted.

I was starting to get worried about whether Dave would tolerate this slaw at all. Instead of coleslaw, he might be topping his shrimp burger with arugula and, uh…ketchup? We were out of mayonnaise; it had all gone into the dressing.

I forged on, but halved the capers and reduced the vinegar by even more. After mixing the dressing into the salad, I started tasting for seasoning. Results were inconclusive, so I tasted again. Seems okay, but I should take one more taste. When I realized that all my tasting was simply to keep eating, I decided the seasoning was just fine.

But it was time for the real test. I took a small bowl of the coleslaw to Dave. “Ooh, this is good slaw!” he exclaimed, finishing the bowl off in no time. I let out the breath I’d been holding. He was right. It is good slaw.

(The shrimp burgers were delicious.  They will be my next entry.)

One year ago: Pasta with Cauliflower, Walnuts, and Ricotta Salata
Two years ago: Creamy Buttermilk Coleslaw (okay, that’s kind of wierd)

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Slaw Tartare (adapted from Smitten Kitchen who adapted it from Rebecca Charles’ and Deborah Di Clementi’s Lobster Rolls and Blueberry Pies)

Not a fan of watery coleslaw, these days I salt all of my cabbage destined for slaw.

Also, the recipe on Deb’s site, which reportedly already has less mayonnaise than the original, still seems to have a crazy amount of it. I’ve reduced it to about a third of what she recommends and thought the slaw was perfectly creamy. I’ve reduced some of the other dressing components accordingly.

½ cabbage (about 1 pound), shredded fine (5-6 cups)
kosher salt
¼ cup chopped red onion
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ cup capers
¼ cup chopped cornichons, plus 1 tablespoon of the juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Toss the shredded cabbage and 1 teaspoon salt in a colander or large mesh strainer set over a medium bowl. Let it stand until cabbage wilts, at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours. Rinse the cabbage under cold running water. Spin the cabbage in a salad spinner until it’s dry or press, but do not squeeze, to drain it; pat dry with paper towels. Place the wilted cabbage in a large bowl.

2. Mix the onions, sherry vinegar, and sugar together in a small bowl. Let it set for about 15 minutes, then mix in the capers, cornichons, cornichon juice, mustard, mayonnaise, and pepper. Fold the dressing into the cabbage and serve, or refrigerate for several hours for serving.

cherry tomato salad

Here are two common pairings that seem impractical to me – bread served with pasta and fries served with burgers. Of course they’re tasty combinations – who doesn’t love more carbs? – but do they make nutritional sense?

Granted, a leafy green salad would be too refined, and roasted or steamed vegetables don’t go with the casual feel of a burger. That’s why I love a non-lettuce based salad to go along with burgers, instead starring something like mushrooms or peppers or tomatoes.

Even though my little desert town has perfect grilling weather nearly year-round, it does not have perfect tomatoes. That’s a nice thing about this salad – you can make it with grape tomatoes, the only decent tomato option at the grocery store for most of the year.

What’s more, the tomato flavor is enhanced by draining the watery juice from the tomatoes and reducing it to use with the dressing. The dressing ends up somewhat sweet, which is nicely balanced by tart red wine vinegar, fresh cucumber (I can’t believe I used to not like cucumber), and salty feta. I’d take this salad over fries any day.

One year ago: Lemon Poppy Seed Waffles
Two years ago: Whole Wheat Pasta with Greens, Beans, Tomatoes, and Garlic Chips

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Greek Cherry Tomato Salad (from Cooks Illustrated)

If in-season cherry tomatoes are unavailable, substitute vine-ripened cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes from the supermarket. Cut grape tomatoes in half along the equator rather than quartering them.

If you don’t have a salad spinner, after the salted tomatoes have stood for 30 minutes, wrap the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and gently shake to remove seeds and excess liquid. Strain the liquid and proceed with the recipe as directed.

The amount of liquid given off by the tomatoes will depend on their ripeness. If you have less than ½ cup of juice after spinning, proceed with the recipe using the entire amount of juice and reduce it to 3 tablespoons as directed.

2 pints ripe cherry tomatoes, quartered (about 4 cups) (see note)
table salt
½ teaspoon sugar
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 medium shallot, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
ground black pepper
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, cut into ½-inch dice
½ cup chopped pitted kalamata olives
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. Toss tomatoes, ¼ teaspoon salt, and sugar in a medium bowl; let stand for 30 minutes. Transfer the tomatoes to a salad spinner and spin until the seeds and excess liquid have been removed, 45 to 60 seconds, stirring to redistribute the tomatoes several times during spinning. Return the tomatoes to the bowl and set aside. Strain the tomato liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a liquid measuring cup, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.

2. Bring ½ cup tomato liquid (discard any extra), the garlic, oregano, shallot, and vinegar to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until the mixture is reduced to 3 tablespoons, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and cool to room temperature, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the oil and pepper to taste until combined. Taste and season with up to ⅛ teaspoon table salt.

3. Add the cucumber, olives, feta, dressing, and parsley to the bowl with the tomatoes; toss gently and serve.

roasted butternut squash salad with cider vinaigrette

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It’s hard to believe that most years, I’m anti-anything fall until October 1st. Not this year. September included pumpkin breakfasts, apple desserts, and plenty of pumpkin beer. Granted, the weather was pretty warm in September and the trees were still green so it didn’t feel much like fall, but it didn’t feel like summer either.

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That all changed on October 1st, when I had to turn the heat on for the first time, and our dinner complimented the cool, crisp weather – salad with roasted butternut squash, cranberries, walnuts, and dressing made from reduced apple cider, served with sweet potato biscuits.

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Every ingredient in the salad is maximized. The squash, seasoned and drizzled with maple syrup, is roasted until it’s caramelized. The walnuts are toasted, and so are the cranberries, which was a trick I hadn’t seen before. The cider, reduced to less than a third of its initial volume, is mixed with acidic cider vinegar and emulsifying mustard to form the base of the dressing.

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It was delicious; so good, in fact, that I made again the next day for lunch. It was sweet, but also tangy from the dressing, a bit bitter from the walnuts, and spicy from the arugula. I also like that the hot squash and dressing slightly wilt the arugula – it shrinks it a bit, so it doesn’t take so darn long to eat a nice bowl full of greens. Which is a good thing, because then I can eat more of it.

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One year ago: Spinach, Artichoke, and Red Pepper Strata

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Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Warm Cider Vinaigrette
(adapted just slightly from Barefoot Contessa)

I used less oil. I didn’t measure the amount, but I’m guessing it was ¼ cup; I only ever use enough oil to just balance the acidity. Also, I liked to let the dressing and squash cool just a few minutes before mixing them with the greens. I forgot the cheese the first time I made the salad, when I photographed it.

1 (1½-pound) butternut squash, peeled and ¾-inch) diced
good olive oil
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons dried cranberries
½ cup walnuts halves
¾ cup apple cider or apple juice
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
4 ounces baby arugula, washed and spun dry
¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan

1. Preheat the oven to 400F.

2. Place the butternut squash on a sheet pan. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, the maple syrup, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper and toss. Roast the squash for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once, until tender. Add the cranberries and walnuts to the pan for the last 5 minutes.

3. While the squash is roasting, combine the apple cider, vinegar, and shallots in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the cider is reduced to about ¼ cup. Off the heat, whisk in the mustard, ½ cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon of pepper.

4. Place the arugula in a large salad bowl and add the roasted squash mixture, the walnuts, and the grated Parmesan. Spoon just enough vinaigrette over the salad to moisten and toss well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

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