19 May 2012

The Best Idea I’ve Ever Had. Get Ready to Be Grateful.

When your jar of salsa is running low, instead of shoving it in the back fridge until it becomes unpalatable, or worse, cramming a chip into the jar and getting your hand stuck and then spending the rest of your life with your hand all up in a salsa jar, just don’t do that.
Obviously, a common alternative is to pour the remaining salsa into a bowl.  A fine idea.  But there is always still some left in the jar, and I shudder to think of how much salsa has been wasted over the course of my salsa-consuming-adult-life.  At least three cups, to be sure. Tragedy.

The solution? Make a Mexican vinaigrette out of the remaining salsa by adding lime juice, shallot, salt, and olive oil to the jar and shaking it.  These quick additions change the salsa’s consistency into something appropriate for dressing greens, while the time-consuming labor required to attain certain Mexican flavors (toasting, soaking, puréeing and straining chiles + roasting tomatoes + mincing garlic), has already been done for you.

Yum yum yum and duh duh duh.  While I am mourning years of wasted salsa and could-have-been-vinaigrettes, I am ecstatic that I have discovered the technique at a relatively young age, so that I have plenty of years left to enjoy delicious Mexican salads.  I’ve served this salad as a refreshing accompaniment to heavier Mexican fare, but it tastes fantastic on its own or even with non-Mexican courses.  Last month I ate it with a curry chicken salad and there were absolutely no conflicts of interest in my mouth.

Warning: This technique might not be successful with every salsa. I imagine it might work better with the thinner, chile-based salsas than those that are chunkier and tomato-based.  I recommend the complex and slightly sweet guajillo salsa by Frontera , which is the only brand of store-bought salsa that crosses our threshold these days.

I suppose I should probably be taste-testing vinaigrettes made with different types of salsa before I go about posting this new-fangled discovery on the internet. But I am too satisfied with this particular concoction to try anything else for now. Please don’t be upset at me. Instead, channel your anger into gratitude at learning this life-changing technique.  And then, channel that angry gratitude into action: at lunch or dinner today, pilfer your fridge, find that mostly-empty jar of salsa, whatever brand it happens to be, make a vinaigrette out of it, and report back to me how it worked.

Salad, pre- and post-dressing.

Mexican Vinaigrette and Salad
~ a Fancy Toast original recipe

2 teaspoons shallots or white onion, minced
2 teaspoons lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
pinches of salt and pepper
1/3 cup salsa from the bottom of the jar (I recommend the guajillo style by Frontera)
Note: The first photo of the post has a second jar in it besides the salsa jar.  It is a jar of juice leftover from some spicy pickled carrots.  I didn't include it in the recipe because I don't often have that lying around, and the vinaigrette is just great without it. Just in case you were wondering....)

1 head crisp lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces (Boston Bibb is nice)
1 orange or grapefruit, peeled and segmented
2 beets, roasted and sliced
2 green onions, chopped
2 radishes, sliced thinly
1/2 cup queso (Mexican crumbling cheese)
small handful cilantro, chopped
Note: These are just suggestions for salad components.  Almost anything will taste delicious!

Add first four ingredients of vinaigrette into the jar of salsa. Shake vigorously until ingredients emulsify.
Assemble salad and pour vinaigrette over. Toss and serve!

07 May 2012

A Food Processor, a Moral Conundrum, and a Delicious Poor Man’s Pesto.

I need your advice. Please contemplate this scenario, and then get back to me.

Good Friend decides to move to Italy.
Good Friend gives away almost all of her earthly possessions to avoid hefty shipping costs, leaving you with her mint-condition Cuisinart food processor.
You give your old, crappy Hamilton Beach food processor to a friend.
That friend moves to California, taking Crappy Food Processor with her.
You fall madly and deeply in love with your new, Not-crappy Food Processor.  ‘Tis a bittersweet love, however, as your heart aches for your dear ex-pat friend each time you tenderly press the pulse button.
Several years later, Good Friend moves back from Italy, which she has deemed crappy.
Crappy, crap, crappy. Instead of those razor-edged blades puréeing your tomatoes, they purée your happiness. The elation brought on by your Good Friend’s return is destroyed by the all-consuming guilt you feel for still owning a kickass food processor while your friend has zero food processors.

What is the right thing to do?  Give her back her food processor? Perhaps, but then I would resent her for the rest of my life. Fly back to California to re-claim Crappy Food Processor? Dumb. Keep Not-crappy Food Processor, but feel guilty every time I use it? Silly. Buy Good Friend a crappy replacement? Mean.

After spending hours and hours mulling over this dilemma, I came to the conclusion that  the only reasonable solution was to break my beloved machine. Then neither of us would have it, and all would be right with the world. My plan was to keep cramming it with food until it jammed up, and then I could say, “Oh sorry, Good Friend,  by the way, your food processor broke, now we both have to buy a new one.” And it would suck, but at least it would be fair.

Full to the limit!

So I made a super duper triple batch of Poor Man’s Pesto. I filled my baby up all the way to the top, sniffling as I stuffed in handful after handful of pesto ingredients.  I stifled full-blown sobs as the olive oil glugged in.  I pressed the switch, whispering sorrowful adieus to my cherished appliance.   At first, the blades caught and stuck, and I thought my plan was successful. But after a few gentle coaxes from the pulse button, the blades whirred to life, the spinach was sucked into the flurry, and pesto!, the pesto was finished.

The good news:I have 4 or 5 cups of delicious pesto that did not cost a fortune to make.
The bad news: I still have a working, not-crappy food processor, and my friend still has zero food processors.
But more good news: it turns out that I don’t care about the moral solution to this problem. I have decided to keep the food processor. I cannot be parted with my love.
And...more bad news: it turns out I am a Crappy Friend.
But wait! More good news: To appease my guilt at being a Crappy Friend who owns a Not-crappy Food Processor, I have decided to make anyone anything with pesto in it anytime they want. Like this pizza, with  pesto, mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, and garlic sausage. It is not crappy.

Put it in my mouth!

Poor Man’s Pesto
Replacing some of the basil with spinach, and some of the pine nuts with pecans, brings down the price of this pesto.  Added bonus:  you don’t have to wait for basil season.
Also, the pecans give the pesto a slighty nuttier taste, which is unexpected, yet pleasing.
Feel free to vary the proportions according to your taste or what you have available in your kitchen.

Makes about 4 cups of pesto.

3/4 cup toasted pecans
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
3 large handfuls of spinach leaves
1 large handful of basil leaves
6 large cloves of garlic (or more!)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Whir ingredients together in your food processor. Hopefully your food processor is not crappy and does not break.
(Note: I actually did this in a few batches because I made an even larger batch and could not physically fit everything into the processor, even if I was trying to break it.)

Eat some right away, and then portion the rest out into various sizes for freezing.  I like to do a few 1-cup sizes for pasta salads, and a few 1/4 cup sizes for sandwiches, pizzas, soup garnishes, and whatever else comes up.