Dinner At The Palm

I know I’m about four years late to the party, but I’ve just discovered Mad Men. I mean, I knew about the show, but hadn’t had the chance to watch it and enjoy not only the storylines (although Season 4 is rather dark) but also the clothing and the sets. And, since I took that Food and the Visual Arts class last fall, I’ve learned to pay close attention to the foods cooked, ordered or, in the case of Don Draper and his co-workers, drunk. My reflux prevents me from posting about my favorite cocktail, so instead I’m going to write about one of my favorite salad ingredients: hearts of palm.

Don seems to be a fan of the curious vegetable, ordering it at Sardi’s in Season 2, and Trudy Campbell serves a salad of them to Pete in Season 3. Literally cut from the hearts of palm trees, the vegetable came into vogue as post-war Americans became more affluent and more adventurous in their eating (think Polynesian/Chinese food).

Hearts of palm and I have a bit of a history. About 10 years ago, Sylvie and I went on a bit of a hearts of palm binge. (Side note: How is it possible I only started talking about Syl a month ago? Clearly we spend a great deal of our time together talking about food.) We had gone through all the hearts of palm my mom had purchased for Passover, but we wanted more. We scoured the shelves at the Big Y in the center of town, and even tracked down the manager. He had never heard of the vegetable, but assured us he would order a case. A few weeks later we got the call: our hearts of palm had arrived, an entire case of them. It turned out the manager ordered a case for the store, and an entire case just for us.  We stood there for a second, and then nodded together, in that way that siblings are able to have entire discussions with each other without saying a word, said thank you, and went home with our bounty.

Our go-to application was usually a salad with chopped avocado, halved grape tomatoes and a vibrant vinaigrette. Since it’s February and tomatoes are a no-no in my kitchen, I’ve pulled up a recipe for a hearts of palm salad from the upcoming Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook, which is coming out in March. (Turns out I’m not the only one out there with a food and drink fixation of the show. The cookbook is based on a blog.)

Now, this “Sardi’s Hearts of Palm Salad” is a pantry recipe for me. Granted, it’s kind of ridiculous I have pimentos on hand, and if you don’t, I would suggest opening a jar of roasted red peppers and adding them to the vinegar-onion mixture as you chop the rest of the dressing ingredients. In the course of making this salad I also discovered I have three separate jars of capers in the fridge, but as I’ve mentioned in the past, I have a predilection for pickled things.

I minced the onions and added them to the vinegar before I chopped anything else so they’d have less of a bite by the time the salad was ready to be served. I’ve ignored the recipe’s instructions regarding the lettuce leaves and sprigs of watercress because I am far less likely to have those items reliably in the fridge. For those nervous about using canned hearts of palm, they can also be found in glass jars.

Quick tip for hard-boiling the eggs: I take a note from Alton Brown for this one, and cook my eggs in my plug-in kettle I keep on the counter (or kum-kum for those reading this in Israel). After the kettle boils and pops, let them rest in the pot for 10 minutes, and you’ll have perfectly boiled eggs.

Sardi’s Hearts of Palm Salad (from The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook)

Ingredients

1 can hearts of palm

6 thin slices pimento

4 Tablespoons vinaigrette dressing (see recipe below)

Vinaigrette Dressing

1 Tablespoon finely chopped onion

¼ cup white wine vinegar

½ dill pickle

1 teaspoon capers, finely chopped

1 Tablespoon finely chopped parsley

1 Tablespoon finely chopped pimento

1 teaspoon finely chopped hard-boiled egg white

1 teaspoon salt

¼ olive oil

Directions

Place the finely chopped onion in a small bowl and add the vinegar.

Chop the rest of the ingredients and add them to the small bowl. Sprinkle with salt and add the olive oil, Stir thoroughly. Keep in refrigerator. Always stir before using.

Slice the hearts of palm into ¼ inch round slices. Place in a serving bowl. Stir in two tablespoons of the vinaigrette. Taste and add more dressing if necessary.

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Long Trip, Quick Pickle

I had so many plans for the Fourth of July: pickling things, making jams, eating hot dogs. Lots of hot dogs. But my case of Bell jars and package of pectin were left unopened on the dining room table when we zipped out that morning to visit Brian.

When I finally did return home that Friday, the jars were waiting for me, and most of the veggies I had purchased for my pickling party were still salvageable. And I had company. Through the magic of Facebook I connected with my second cousin, once removed. I think I saw David last at his bar mitzvah, when I was in college. I don’t remember too much about that day, except that his chanting was flawless, there was cholent at the kiddush, and even though I wasn’t quite 21, I was allowed to drink a Sam Adams.

Due to my concern about my not-so-fresh veggies, I asked David if it would be OK if I took a little time to do some cooking during our visit. “Molly,” Rich began, “it’s not very polite to drag your cousin all the way to Boston and make him hang out while you’re in the kitchen.” But much to my surprise and delight, David not only didn’t mind, but asked if he could help me cook.

And it was then that we made the most wonderful discovery: David was the best assistant I have ever had in the kitchen. It made sense: He grew up standing next to his mom in her kitchen, helping clean and chop things, just as I did the same with my mom. And his mom grew up helping her mom in her kitchen… you get the picture. Although we had not grown up with each other, we grew up doing the same things within our own families.

It was so late by the time we got back to Boston that the thought of sterilizing all the jars seemed too daunting a task that night. So we quick-pickled the sugar snap peas and cucumbers for the BBQ the next night we’d planned in cousin David’s honor. Good news: The pickles were fabulous; bad news, since I hadn’t been around that week to remind people, we had more food than people. It was OK, though. The people who could make it were terrific, and the food was pretty darn tasty. But really, these pickled sugar snap peas stole the show.

Pickled Sugar Snap Peas

I adapted this recipe from the amazing Deb, who adapted hers from The Joy of Pickling via Epicurious.

Ingredients

1 ¼ cups white distilled vinegar

1 ¼ cups cold water

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1 pound sugar snap peas, stems trimmed and strings removed

4 garlic cloves, sliced

4 small dried chile peppers

4 sprigs fresh dill

Directions

In a nonreactive saucepan, heat the vinegar with the salt and sugar until they are dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the cold water. (This gives you a leg up on getting the liquid to cooling the liquid.)

When the vinegar mixture is cool, pack the sugar snaps, garlic, chile peppers and dill into a 1-quart jar or bowl, and pour the brine over it. Cover with a non-reactive cap or plastic wrap.

The original recipe suggests to wait two weeks before enjoying, but they were pickled ever so slightly by the next evening. I’m not sure how long they’ll be good; these were devoured in less than a week.

Wednesday Morning

At 7:53 Wednesday morning, I took the photo over here on the left. I’ve read that many bloggers prefer taking their pictures in the morning light, but I must admit that I wasn’t thinking about the sunlight. All I could think about was my lunch. It had been the third day in a row of the exact same thing and I could have eaten it all week. The day before, my lunch only lasted in the work fridge until 10:30, then I had to go and get it. So I’ve decided it’s time for a new category on Cheap Beets: My Lunchbox.

Lately, I’ve fallen into bean salads. I soak a cup of beans overnight in a bowl on the counter, cook them in the pressure cooker, and once they’ve cooled down, store them in the fridge until I need them. Of course, you could just open a can of white beans and be done with it.

That cup of beans was enough for three separate lunches for me, so whenever you are ready to make this — it can be packed the night before — I’d suggest using about six ounces of beans.

To those beans, depending on the season, toss in what veggies you have lying around, about a quarter of a cup. Maybe some halved cherry tomatoes, chopped cucumbers, or some steamed broccoli. On top of that I added about a quarter of a red onion which I toasted in the toaster oven at 400F for 8 or so minutes, as I’d learned from Abby’s amazing Tarragon bean salad.

But on top of all that — and what had me digging out the camera at that hour — I draped these zucchini pickles. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with these when I saw the recipe, but I knew they had to be made. Sweet, sour and salty, these chartreuse pickles would work well on a burger, meat or veggie. I had seen these tossed by their creator, Jason Neroni of L.A.’s Osteria La Buca, with radicchio (which he soaked to take out some of the bite), mint, parsley, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and olives.

The dressing for the whole bean, veggie and roasted onion salad was a very simple vinaigrette, two parts olive oil to one part red wine vinegar, a chopped clove of garlic, pinch of salt, teaspoon of agave nectar, shaken with a dash of mustard to emulsify.

Bread and Butter Zucchini Pickles

From The Tasting Table, which adapted this recipe from Jason Neroni of L.A.’s Osteria La Buca


1 zucchini, sliced into 1/8 inch-thick discs (a mandolin works best for this)

1 cup white wine vinegar

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon turmeric

1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds

1/4 cup salt

Place the zucchini in a heat-proof, lidded container (I use a cleaned out pickle jar, as a matter of fact)

In a medium saucepan, combine the white wine vinegar, sugar, 1/4 cup salt, turmeric and mustard seeds and bring to a boil. Pour the hot mixture over the zucchini slices. Cover the container and refrigerate the pickles overnight.