Tue 4 Jan 2011
What comes to mind when you think of comfort food? Gooey chocolate cake, crispy French fries, buttery mashed potatoes, fragrant chicken soup? Yeah, me too. I’ve been thinking about comfort food a lot lately.
If ever there’s a time for comfort food, it’s when you’re hurt. After being rear-ended in early October, I was in serious pain. For two weeks, I could barely function, and eating was not about comfort, but sheer sustenance. But as time went on, I began to get cravings. I wanted comfort food to help stop the pain and frustration of my injuries.
I wanted chocolate cake warmed just slightly so that the frosting melted into the cake, becoming its own fudge sauce. I craved bowls of creamy lattes accompanied by crispy baguettes with fresh butter and apricot jam. Pasta with drifts of parmesan and black pepper appealed to me.
When I woke up in the morning, I wanted tall stacks of sweet blueberry pancakes with smoky-salty bacon. Crispy grilled cheese sandwiches beckoned at noon. Double chocolate cookies called out my name and I wanted to fry fish in lakes of butter.
Then I had a stern talk with myself. Recovery was predicted to take months, not weeks. While I wanted to curl up in my favorite chair, wrapped in a blanket and soothe my soul with my favorite foods, I knew that the last thing I needed was to hinder my recovery by enhancing the size of my ass. Did you ever watch the Mary Tyler Moore show? There’s a great scene in one episode where her pal Rhoda takes a cookie and says “I might as well put this here (setting it on her thigh) because that’s where it’s going to end up.”
I know the feeling. So I’ve been eating salad. Lots and lots of salad. No, it’s not cake or pasta or pancakes. It’s not soft and warm and cuddly. It’s cold and hard and crunchy. It doesn’t resolve the cravings, but with some tricks, these salads are pretty darn good. And sometimes, there’s a piece of dark chocolate for dessert.
When making these salads, I add fun things for flavor – nuts, raisins, grated carrots and cheeses. I’ve mixed up different greens, added jewel-like tiny tomatoes that pop in my mouth with a burst of sweetness and refreshing English cucumber slices. I buy different salad dressings at the store, and I mix up new inventions with vinegars, lemon juice, orange juice, herbs and different oils.
One of my favorites is what I consider to be a throwback to 1980’s vegetarian restaurants – Romaine lettuce with grated carrots, sunflower seeds and Annie’s Goddess dressing, which features tahini and lemon juice. It’s a salad I ate a lot when I was a pastry chef at a vegetarian restaurant (stop laughing!), and it’s crunchy and lemony, really good.
Another one I like is shaved fennel with Orange Muscat vinegar and olive oil. I get the vinegar at Trader Joe’s and use my Japanese slicer to shave the fennel paper thin.
But my favorite salad is the Spinach, Pear, and Frisée salad with Smoked Bacon and Curried Cashews served at Etta’s restaurant here in Seattle. It’s owned by Tom Douglas, our local mogul chef, and I found his cookbook “Tom Douglas’ Seattle Kitchen” at the library a few weeks ago. According to the notes in the book, it’s the most popular salad that they serve at the restaurant. It’s a wonderful combination of spicy (Curried Cashews), salty (bacon), sweet (Honey Sesame Vinaigrette, pears and grapes) and crispy (Spinach and Frisée). With some sliced chicken and a toasty roll, it’s a delicious meal.
The recipe has a lot of ingredients, but like any salad, you can use what you have if it’s a good substitute. I had spinach and Bibb lettuce, so I skipped the Frisée. I didn’t have pears and grapes, so I used an apple. I didn’t have white wine vinegar so I used rice wine vinegar which is milder, and halved the honey in the vinaigrette. I didn’t use any bacon, but put in some sliced chicken for protein. But I made my favorite part, the Curried Cashews as written because they’re so very good.
Here’s the recipe as written in the book. Thank you, Mr. Douglas for this delicious salad. It helped me keep on track and stay healthy when I really needed it. And the extra Curried Cashews are a spicy snack on their own.
Spinach, Pear, and Frisée salad with Smoked Bacon and Curried Cashews
Honey Sesame Vinaigrette:
3 Tbs white wine vinegar
3 Tbs Dijon mustard
2 Tbs honey
3 Tbs toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp minced garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
½ C vegetable or peanut oil
Whisk vinegar, mustard, honey, sesame seeds, garlic, salt and pepper together in a bowl. Slowly whisk in oil. Set aside.
¾ C raw cashews (about 3 oz)
1 Tbs unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp dark brown sugar
½ tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, or more to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 F. On a baking sheet, toast the cashews until golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the melted butter, rosemary, curry powder, brown sugar, salt and cayenne in a bowl. Add the toasted cashews while they are still hot and toss with a rubber spatula so they are thoroughly coated with the spices and butter. Set aside to cool. Leave the oven on to cook the bacon.
½ pound bacon, sliced (about twelve ¼” thick slices)
12 C baby spinach leaves
6 C loosely packed Frisée
2/3 C thinly sliced red onion
3 small pears, halved, cored, thinly sliced
6 small bunches grapes
Put the bacon on a baking sheet, place it in the 400 F oven and cook until crisp 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the bacon from the pan and cut the slices into one inch pieces. Keep the bacon warm.
In a large bowl, combine the spinach, Frisée, red onions and sliced pears. Toss with enough vinaigrette to coat everything well.
Divide the salad among 6 plates. Garnish each salad with pieces of warm bacon and spiced cashews. Set a grape cluster on the side of each salad.
The bacon can be cooked ahead, stored in the refrigerator, and reheated. The cashews can be cooked early in the day and stored at room temperature. The vinaigrette can be stored, refrigerated, tightly covered, for several days.