What, No Cookies? (or, the worst photos I’ve ever posted…)

holiday endive and fennel salad…and more!

It’s hard to love something but only be able to take part in it once a week, It’s distracting, longing for something that’s not within reach. It’s unfortunate that a particular passion can’t be pursued everyday.

When people ask what my weekend plans are, I typically have little to say. Working, sleeping, and running errands don’t qualify as “special plans.” They’re constants. Every Saturday, I try to squeeze in a couple of hours for myself. I’ll usually bake something in the morning and cook up a nice meal at night. And really, as someone who loves to cook, experiment, and just breathe in the kitchen, I’m only going through the motions one day a week. The kitchen will always be the center of my life, but on every other day, there’s little fun, little creativity in the kitchen—every act in the kitchen is necessary. It’s preparing. It’s putting together office lunches. It’s roasting vegetables for train dinners. It’s stuffing things in bags for snacks. Sunday is the batch-cooking day. I cook what works, what keeps, what will sustain me on long work days.

This isn’t a problem unique to me. You won’t hear me complaining. The world has changed, our lives spin fast, we don’t rest, we don’t stop.

So that leaves me with that one day. That one day to be in my own little world. It’s the reason why I rarely eat out anymore or why I still haven’t found a proper pair of winter boots. If I do those things one day, I’ll miss out. There will be no kitchen that week. I’ll have to wait an entire week. An eternity.

What has this meant for my diet as of late? I eat a lot of salads, a lot of sandwiches, a lot of soups, and a lot of, well, hodgepodge bowls of food. But as the holiday baking is ramping up, the candy making is beginning, and the big meal planning is spinning through my head, I’m taking pleasure in my salads. My beautiful winter salads. While summer screams salad season, with it’s farmers’ markets full of lettuces, and green vegetables, and herbs, salads are, to me, even more welcome in the winter when roasts, stews, and braises take over the kitchen. During the summer, salads are smart; during the winter, they’re craveable. And, I’d argue they’re even more interesting because they rest on creativity. Here are some of my favorite salads from my kitchen and from around the web. They sustain me through the week and keep me going until I can do some “real” cooking on Saturdays. But even on a Saturday — especially (and maybe it’s counterintuitive) on an exceptionally cold, even snowing Saturday — I find myself turning to one of these simple salads. So here’s your break from candy-striped confections:

Endive and Fennel
Holiday Fennel and Endive Salad
This was something I put together for Thanksgiving and have already made again. This isn’t packable. It’s not workday-ready. But it’s a great accompaniment to a special winter meal. I spiked a very bright shallot vinaigrette with a little bit of honey. I reserved just a lick of the dressing to toss with mixed greens and some halved grapes then quickly marinated thinly sliced fennel in the rest. Taking advantage of one of the lighter winter greens, I topped the salad with endive spears which caught marinated fennel, walnuts, Gorgonzola cheese, more grapes, and a sprinkling of fragrant fennel fronds in their grasp. The bit o’ honey in the dressing goes beautifully with the cheese and grapes. (See the recipe at the bottom of the post.)

And here’s some love from around the web:
Made popular by Molly of Orangette, this Warm Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini from the Casa Moro cookbook has been in my fall/winter repertoire since 2007. It’s basically a mix of my favorite ingredients on one plate: butternut squash, tahini, garlic, and chickpeas. The zesty lemon-garlic-tahini dressing naturally goes well the creamy chickpeas, but it really shines when it meets the sweet, allspice-roasted squash. It’s surprising and delicious. And filling!

All you have is a crummy iPhone photo?

My apologies for this disgusting iPhone photo. This Spiced Pumpkin, Lentil, and Goat Cheese Salad was published in the October 2009 edition of Bon Appetit, and I’ve been making it ever since, using pumpkin once, butternut squash most often, and sometimes sweet potatoes. It blew up when it was featured on Smitten Kitchen. I love earthy lentils and the squash is intensely savory, spiced with cumin and smoked paprika. The freshness of the goat cheese and mint cut through the spices. For a fun twist, I like to make the lentil portion and then pile it on top of rounds of warm, roasted sweet potato, adding dried fruit to the mix for a different interpretation of the salad that would be a great appetizer.

Finally, I first saw this Roasted Butternut Squash Salad on one of Ina Garten’s many “French bistro–inspired” Barefoot Contessa shows years ago. Dried cranberries aren’t very French, but the salad is great for my American winter. I’ve served it at Christmas before, but it takes a little coordination because the delicious cider dressing is best served warm. But it’s easy to modify it for something slightly less satisfying yet still weekday friendly. Sometimes, I’ll also just skip the greens and roast butternut squash (can you tell I have a thing for squash?), parsnips, and carrots and toss them with the other ingredients.

And here’s a suggestion to dress up your workaday lunch salad. This is what I’ve been bringing lately: greens, black beans, roasted sweet potatoes, goat cheese…and then I spike my balsamic vinaigrette with an unmeasured dash of cinnamon. Try it y’all. Season’s Eatings!

Holiday Endive and Fennel Salad

1 tablespoon minced shallot
3 tablespoons champagne or white wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small bulb of fennel, sliced thin
3 ounces (3 cups) light mixed greens of your choice
1 head endive
1/4 pound red grapes, halved lengthwise
2 ounces Gorgonzola cheese
½ cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
Chopped fennel fronds for finishing

Combine shallot, vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly pour in olive oil, whisking to combine; set aside. (Dressing can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day before using.) Transfer 1½ tablespoons of dressing to large bowl and set aside. Add fennel to small bowl with remaining dressing. Let sit for 15 minutes to 20 minutes.

When ready to serve, toss greens and half of grapes with dressing in large bowl to lightly coat and transfer to serving platter. Top greens with endive spears. Remove fennel from dressing and shake to remove excess dressing. Lay fennel on top of endive. Sprinkle Gorgonzola, remaining grapes, and walnuts across top. Sprinkle with fennel fronds. Serve immediately, passing extra dressing for drizzling.

4 responses

  1. I absolutely love wintry salads. Lentils and chickpeas are probably my favourite bases but I do love a bit of butternut squash too! These look like just the kind of thing we should all be eating at this time of year in preparation for the blowout that is Christmas.

  2. i love that butternut-chickpea salad from orangette :) and i love the addition of grapes to a salad, i’m going to have to remember that to keep them interesting this time of year!

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