Ants on a Log, All Grown Up

The origin of my new favorite potluck salad is very simple: I was at Star Market the morning of the neighborhood vegetarian potluck, and celery was on sale for 99 cents a bunch. All I could think was, “Wow, that would be so Cheap Beets if I could make a vegetable side dish for a dollar.”

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I knew I had seen a celery side dish somewhere, so I started flipping through the mental Rolodex as I picked up the things that were on my actual shopping list. When I got home I checked my Mario and Lidia cookbooks and then the rest of the Mediterranean shelf in my cookbook collection. Coming up short, I did what I always do when in doubt and I need a solid recipe: I looked to Melissa Clark. And there it was, a celery salad recipe. I actually checked online, and Clark has a similar recipe to which she adds dates. Obviously, there was no question about their inclusion.

So I made the salad for the potluck, and again this week for a potluck in my office I had organized. It’s pretty basic stuff: Celery, nuts, and dried fruit. It’s ants on a log, basically, but for grown-ups.

I’ve adapted Clark’s recipe ever so slightly, but it is indeed her recipe. Just as I’ve adapted hers, feel free to adapt as you need to. Clark notes that if you don’t have Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, “any aged cheese, such as Cheddar, Gouda, or manchego, can stand in very nicely.” If you are leaving out the cheese altogether, skip the dates, and “throw a handful of drained capers or chop an anchovy into the vinaigrette to give the salad a saline kick.”

lilli emma

I like the crisp crunch of celery against the sweet chew of the date. This would be a great side dish for Thanksgiving. It’s a good chaser in between bites of roasted roots and heavy stuffing.

Celery Salad with Walnuts, Parmesan and Dates

Ingredients

1 cup walnuts

1 ½ Tablespoons red wine vinegar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

8 large celery stalks with leaves, thinly sliced

2 ounces good Parmesan cheese, shaved or grated – whatever is easier for you

12 dates, chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F. Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast, tossing halfway through, until the nuts are golden, 7 to 10 minutes. Cool and coarsely chop.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, salt, and pepper; whisk in the oil. Combine the walnuts, celery and leaves, cheese and dates in a large salad bowl. Add the vinaigrette and toss gently to combine.

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For Your Sleeve

I bought a mango to share with Lilli, but decided to use the second head of iceberg lettuce and make these summer rolls instead. Please don’t tell.

This week was better than last week, but not by much. I can report that AAA does make special efforts to get to you and your car if they know there’s a small child involved (she wasn’t locked in the car). That being said, the best thing about the week was the three-hour nap Lilli took on Veteran’s Day. That let me prep every night’s dinner in advance, so we ate well all week.

Lilli and Rooster

I’m going to hold off on sharing my new favorite potluck salad until next week because there’s a chance I can actually get a photo of it, and because I’ve been meaning to tell you about the Ultimate Nachos cookbook, from which I have enjoyed some fabulous horchata (I meant to get that up in time for Day of the Dead, but there was an election to lose that week), the vegan white bean queso I brought to this year’s Annual Guac Off, and the sage brown butter artichoke nachos Rich and I devoured earlier this autumn. (I actually photographed those, but then I felt embarrassed that I had poured brown butter on top of tortilla chips and called it dinner — as if last week’s salad wasn’t embarrassing enough.) I’ve had my eye on the autumnal nachos with butternut squash and all sorts of cozy spices, but with gruyere at $12/lb., they have yet to be made. Gruyere cheese is a Trader Joe’s-only purchase in this house.

At some point I’ll get an actual nachos recipe up from the cookbook, but for now, I found myself emailing Sylvie this recipe for pickled onions on Thursday, so I thought you might want these up your sleeve as well. These particular onions are part of a larger recipe – Chilaquiles Verdes with Pepitas and Pickled Red Onion and Japapeṅos – which happens to be my all-time favorite breakfast food, although I haven’t yet found the time to make the dish in its entirety.

I’ve found myself tossing these onto salads for a little something extra; they’d also be great in sandwiches, tacos and eggs.

Pickled Onions from Ultimate Nachos by Lee Frank and Rachel Anderson. This recipe, however, was contributed by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Chief Creative Officer at Serious Eats.

½ cup sugar

2 teaspoons salt

½ cup water

½ cup distilled white vinegar

1 small medium red onion, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)

Directions

Combine the sugar, salt, water and vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, whisking frequently until the sugar and salt are dissolved.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the onion, pressing them down into the liquid. Cover tightly and let stand for 2 minutes, then stir to redistribute. Let stand 10 minutes more.

Slummin’ It

Last week was a pretty lousy week at Chez Parr. Lilli was very sick – she’s doing much better now, but no parent wants to end up at Children’s Hospital at midnight on a Sunday. Rich spilled coffee on his Mac which meant he had to use my Dell all week – a miserable experience for both of us. And the cherry on top was the candidate for mayor I was supporting – canvassing, making phone calls, baking cookies and lasagnas – lost.

Bed head Lilli

Everyone has a comfort food. I’ll admit to being pretty happy Saturday morning after discovering the pound of mini-chocolate peanut butter cups I’d stuck in the freezer’s side door who knows how long ago. I stopped myself before it got too ugly; chances are another bad week is bound to happen again. But sometimes you need something you can eat with a fork and sit at a table like a lady.

This salad comes from a former roommate of Sylvie’s. I hesitate to use its real name here for fear of offending someone, but it’s really a pretty perfect description. The last time I made it was probably close to six years ago, but this is what we had for lunch today, along with half a bag of mini-Tater Tots that were magically on sale at Star Market. I found the iceberg lettuce on the super sale rack at Russo’s (two heads of lettuce for 98 cents? I couldn’t walk away from that one). I knew I had a can of diced tomatoes in the pantry, so after Russo’s I zipped over to Target for kidney beans, Catalina dressing (on clearance, another sign of destiny), orange shredded cheese (yes, it has to be orange) and a bag of Fritos. I would have preferred to have bought a one-serving size bag of the corn chips, but sometimes you have play the hand you’re dealt. I think a can of sliced black olives would work well with this, if you’re feeling all fancy.

white trash salad

So, as my celery, walnut, date and pecorino salad rested on the counter, and my tofu marinated in miso and red curry paste, and the delicata squash roasted in the oven, I crunched a cup and a half of Frito’s on top of this salad. It was just what I needed.

White Trash Salad

Ingredients

One head of iceberg lettuce, shredded

One can of diced tomatoes, drained in a colander

One can of kidney beans drained and rinsed and dried

Two scallions, chopped

1 cup of orange shredded cheese

¼ cup Catalina dressing

1 ½ cups broken Fritos

Directions

On a large platter, layer all ingredients as ordered. Serve with a side of Tater Tots.

(Cake) Batter Up

I know it’s only November, but I think it’s safe to say the potato salad I made for Rich’s birthday/first Father’s Day combo barbeque was the worst dish I made this year. I tried to make my mom’s famous potato salad, but I destroyed the tubers in a million different ways, from waterlogging the spuds, to peeling them before the boil. All around, a huge disaster.

Lilli Cyrus

And even though it was Rich’s super special day, I was actually more apologetic to our host, my sister-in-law, Cara. She was well into her second trimester at the time, and she is a known potato salad fiend. Is there anything worse than bringing a pregnant lady a favorite food and it to be the failure on the table?

Luckily, I had a redemption dish. When I was sent Copykat.com’s Dining Out Home Cookbook 2 by Stephanie Manley, it became obvious pretty quickly that these weren’t dishes I was ever going to order. Nearly all were meat-based, but there were two recipes that hit the Molly jackpot. The first was a recipe for Taco Bell’s bean burrito – quite possibly my favorite food when I was 17 – and the second was cake batter ice cream from Stone Cold Creamery. And, unlike many homemade ice creams out there, this one is egg free, making it safe for the pregnant ladies. Although Cara is a devotee of J.P. Licks cake batter ice cream, I took my chances and made this recipe when she and my nephew Jack visited later this summer. (You’ll recall we had the mango and eggplant noodles that you need to make right now, and this great tomato tart.)

To make sure there would be no recipe failures this time, I made two versions of the ice cream: the first with the cake batter mix the cookbook recommended, and a second using a Trader Joe’s cake batter mix. Now that I have done the dirty work for you, I can say whole-heartedly that the Duncan Hines Butter Golden Cake Mix is, in fact, the closest approximation to the cake batter ice cream you’d get at the ice cream shop. And even though I had made both ice creams for my sister-in-law to taste test and enjoy, the real victor of the day was Rich, as he came home to two almost-full containers of homemade ice cream that needed eating. I guess I kind of made up for his birthday mishap.

This past weekend we were back at my sister-in-law’s, this time to celebrate her and her husband’s birthdays. (They’re a day apart, and at this point I honestly don’t know which day is whose, just when I need to get the cards in the mail). She’s 35 weeks along now, and very much appreciated the cake batter ice cream I brought for the party.

The recipe suggests you make the mixture and refrigerate it for at least four hours, but better if it’s overnight. That works out perfectly for you, because when you put the mixture in the fridge, you can put the ice cream making unit that needs an overnight in the freezer in at the same time.

Cake Batter Ice Cream from CopyKat.com’s Dining Out at Home Cookbook 2 by Stephanie Manley

Ingredients

3 cups heavy cream, divided

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup sugar

½ cup dry Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Cake Mix

1 cup milk

Directions

In a heavy stockpot, mix 1 cup of the cream with the salt and sugar. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the sugar is completely dissolved, turn off the burner and whisk in the dry cake mix. Add the remaining 2 cups cream and milk and mix well. Transfer the mixture to a container, cover, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

When you are ready to make the ice cream, remove the mixture from the refrigerator and whisk the chilled ice cream mixture well – it will be a little lumpy. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. I tend to transfer my ice cream to a container to freeze it for a few hours before serving.