Friday, January 25, 2013

Kale Salad with Lemon Tahini Dressing

When I revisit a restaurant, I typically do a good job of not ordering something I’ve already had or, at the very least, not what I had the last time I was there.  But I think I may be physically incapable of sitting down at Northern Spy Food Co. in the East Village for brunch and not ordering the kale salad with baked eggs. 

Yeah, I know, big fucking deal, it’s just a kale salad, and kale salads are pretty fucking ubiquitous at this point, but Northern Spy’s is an exemplary expression of the form.  It’s a modest number, with just a few simple ingredients that work incredibly well together.  The kale is well tenderized but nowhere near limp, the hunks of squash are soft and yielding. The roasted almonds provide some crunch while the cheddar, with a great sharpness, keeps things interesting. Pecorino finely grated atop the whole mess adds some salinity, and once pricked, the yolks of those eggs coat everything in their radness.

The day after my last visit to the restaurant, I found myself craving that damned salad.  So instead of going back there like a loser, I made one for myself. And then I made it again the next day.  And I have eaten some variation of it nearly every day since.  What precisely I throw in there depends on what I have in my fridge, what I might have found at the farmer’s market that day and generally how lazy I am feeling.

Though I started out just making the salads as I ate them, it didn’t take me long to realize that I’d be doing myself a favor by just making one big-ass salad in the beginning of the week and portioning it out to eat as I pleased without having to bother with all the chopping each time.  That’s the lovely thing about kale, which I’ve expounded upon before: unlike other salad greens, kale won’t turn into a disgusting, soggy mess if it sits dressed in the fridge for a couple of days.  Its hardiness means that it actually benefits from that time, and keeping it raw preserves all those good dark leafy green things that made people assume that kale was gross for so long.

My most recent composition was quite similar to Northern Spy’s. I managed to actually turn on the oven on a weeknight and roasted up some parsnips and a sweet potato, and used the same Cabot clothbound cheddar that they use over on East 12th street. The similarities ended after the cheese and roasted root vegetables, though.  For one, I am not sure what they use to dress their salad over at Northern Spy; I am typically too busy enjoying the shit out of it to try and figure that out (maybe next time), and I didn’t have any non-Tamari almonds, so I toasted up some walnuts. And instead of baking the eggs, I opted to baste mine to ensure that as much of the yolk as possible was left free to run all over my salad.  Suffice it to say, I ate this salad four fucking times this week.

Winter Kale Salad with Lemon Tahini Dressing
Makes 4 Servings

I don't know why I'm calling this a winter salad.  I guess because there's root vegetables and walnuts and shit in there.  Anyway, I like lacinato (also known as dinosaur or black) kale for this salad. It’s tenderer than green kale, and I love the characteristic bumps in the leaves.  

When basting eggs, you can add either more fat (oil, lard, butter) to the pan, but I opt for water to keep it healthier. I prefer basting to sunny-side up, as I like the top of my eggs to be a little bit cooked, but want my yolks to be perfectly runny.  That said, cook your eggs however you please, but know that the runny yolk adds a great deal to the finished product.

1 head lacinato kale, washed, spun and thinly chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 sweet potato, cut into ½” dice
1 large or two medium parsnips, cut into ½” dice
¼ cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
4 ounces good-quality cheddar (I used Cabot clothbound), crumbled / chopped into small pieces
4 eggs
Pecorino Romano cheese, to taste

2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1 garlic clove, minced and smashed into a paste
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Toss the diced sweet potato and parsnip with a tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper, spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven for about 25 minutes, checking every little while to make sure they’re not burning and tossing them around as necessary.  Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

While the vegetables are in the oven, prep the kale.  Remove the leaves from the ribs (this can be easily done by pinching the base of the rib and moving your fingers up the rib, removing the leaves as you go).  Wash and dry the leaves (I do this in my salad spinner and then prep the salad in the bowl of the spinner so as not to dirty another dish). Stack the leaves, roll into tight cigars and slice into ½” ribbons.  Place the ribbons of kale in large bowl and add the tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt, massaging the oil into the greens with your hands to help tenderize them.  Set kale aside.

Make the dressing.  Combine the tahini, lemon juice and garlic.  While whisking the mixture, slowly add in the olive oil.  Thin the dressing out with water, adding it one tablespoon at a time to ensure you don’t thin it out too much.  Add salt and pepper and adjust seasoning and oil levels to taste.

Once the sweet potato and parsnip have cooled, add them to the kale, along with the cheddar and chopped walnuts.  Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to combine (using your hands may be easiest, so don’t be afraid to get them a little dirty).  Divide the salad among four plates.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat.  Coat the bottom of the skillet with non-stick spray, oil or butter.  Crack the eggs into the pan and allow the whites to set a bit.  Add a good glug of water and put a lid on the pan to help cook the tops of the eggs.  Once the yolks are cooked to your desired doneness, remove the eggs, blot the bottom with paper towels and place one egg atop each of the four salads. 

Finish the salad with a healthy shower of grated pecorino, a drizzle of good olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  Now go enjoy the shit out of it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Portland, ME: The Portland Lobster Company

lobster roll with fries and cole slaw

I was in Portland earlier this month for a wedding, and knew that if I left without getting my paws on some lobster, I'd have failed.  Though lobster rolls are not my number one all-time favorite way to ingest the sweet, delicious flesh of the spiny crustacean, it’s certainly among the tidiest and most accessible, and I’ve found my lobster roll consumption steadily increasing each of the past few years.  Since Maine essentially equals lobster, I expected any lobster roll I ate there to automatically rise to the top of my personal best-ever list, which is of course entirely mental and not really organized at all. 

After taking recommendations from a local, we made our way to the Portland Lobster Company, which sits prominently on Commerce Street, Portland’s main tourist drag.  I’m sure there are more rustic, true lobster shack-type places to get a lobster roll fix, but you really couldn’t beat the setting here.  We sat perched at a counter-height table, looking out over the water, and the weather couldn’t have been better.  So of course I snapped that shit for Instagram (@shelbsandcheese - follow me!) so people knew how fucking rad my Saturday was.    

At Portland Lobster Company, you place your order with a very friendly cashier, who then hands you a plastic lobster that will buzz and light up when your food is ready, just as they do at Bostwick’s when your table is ready.  If you order your drink with the cashier, you need to show your receipt to the bartender who will pour you your drink, though you are of course free to simply order from the bar as well.  We all went with the lobster roll, and I had a glass of white to ease myself out of my Friday night.  Robbie also ordered onion rings, which were coated in a very thick and very tasty batter before being dunked in the deep fryer, from which it emerged with a shatteringly crisp shell.  Though nothing even close to an onion ring connoisseur (in fact, I usually hate the things), these were pretty good representatives of the form.  You could even take a bite without pulling out the whole damned onion.

onion rings
It took a while for that lobster roll to make its way to our table, but once it did, I was all over it.  I've found there are two basic tenets when it comes to lobster rolls: the mayo-laden cold lobster roll, and the butter-slicked warm lobster roll.  I tend to prefer the latter.  Nothing against mayo, but I just paid sixteen fucking dollars for a lobster sandwich, and I’d like to taste the damned lobster.  And I also like the meat to be a bit warm, since I think the texture is better that way. Of course, regardless of the style, a split-top, heavily buttered and griddled bun is a necessity, since it makes even the shittiest of lobster rolls worth eating.  But this, this my friends, was not the shittiest of lobster rolls.  The bun was super buttery and griddled to a golden brown, and the obviously fresh and incredibly sweet lobster claw and tail meat spilled over the top.  The two teeny bits of butter I found in my roll spoke to the preparation – the lobster meat must have been tossed with chunks of the stuff after being plucked from its shell, allowing the butter to (mostly) melt around it evenly.   Whatever they did, it worked.  The simplicity allowed the quality of the product to shine, just as it should when you’re sitting on a dock in Maine.  

180 Commercial Street  
Portland, ME 04101
(207) 775-2112

Monday, September 24, 2012

Rad Stuff I Love & Think You Will Too: Shake Shack's Coffee and Donuts Custard

Just about a year ago, I left my spacious Union Square apartment for my current and (much) less spacious East Village digs.  I while love my 'hood, my block, my current milieu, this has meant my admittedly all-too-frequent stops at the Shake Shack on my walk home from work came to a screeching halt.  Though just a couple of blocks out of the way now, my new locale adds about 10 minutes of time to the shack-to-freezer equation.  Meaning that, were I to purchase a pint in the middle of summer, I'd be left with a whole lot of custard soup by the time I made it home.  But sometimes things just work out.  I could have been depressed by the sudden chill in the air this morning, by the fact that summer got the fuck out of dodge as soon as it was released from its official duties, but there was a silver lining.  Today is, of course, the last Monday of September, meaning the last time in the near future I would be able to get my grubby paws on a pint of Coffee and Donuts custard, my favorite flavor to cycle through the Shake Shack custard calendar.  No other Mondays have afforded me the opportunity this month to grab a pint on the way home, being all 'summery' as they were.  But today, today was perfect.  My phone told me it was a cool 63 degrees as I left my office this evening, perfect weather for me to hustle back to my apartment in my column skirt with no slit that while very cute if I do say so myself made taking steps larger than 8 inches very difficult.  Though the little bit that melted around the edges of the container will be a bit icy after they freeze back up, the pint was pretty much none the worse for wear.  

And it turns out that you can also get your Coffee and Donuts tomorrow (or today, as it likely is) should you so desire (and you should).  As I stood in the B-Line at Madison Square Park today I noticed a sign with the day's specials, and it looks like the Shack is offering pints of "yesterday's custard." Today's custard will be yesterday's custard tomorrow (yup), and if you like coffee ice cream, and you like donuts, and you like all that is good and true in this world, you should get your ass over to Shake Shack and grab yourself a pint. While the Coffee and Donuts flavor is appears on the Custard Calendar a few times a year, there's no telling when that next time is going to be, and I can say with confidence from experience that it's better to have Coffee and Donuts custard than to not.  

(Shack Shack is apparently now large enough that it must post calorie counts of all its food.  Just do me a favor, buy the custard before you check the figures.)

Shake Shack
Multiple Locations (I visited Madison Square Park)
Custard Calendar