Tuesday is becoming our “Make Your Own Salad” night. We all look forward to it, and we all participate in the preparation. I look on it as a little kitchen class for the kids. They get to use sharp knives – great fun!
Anyway, here’s a look at last night’s culinary adventures…
We tend to do this salad night after the weekend, when we’ve got lots of yummy little bits and pieces left over from whatever cooking went on recently. Mondays are out because I work that night, so Tuesday has become salad night by default.
The plan was for Bill to pick up a couple different organic lettuces at Whole Foods on the way home. I got some blue cheese while I was out, just ‘cuz, and I’d also decided that I really wanted fresh, homemade mozzarella.
Not wanted, needed.
I’d been re-re-re-reading a book from a favorite series, and caprese salad was mentioned. Not just mentioned – lovingly described, so much so that I could taste the fresh tomatoes, the soft mozzarella, the bright flavor of basil, and the warmth of the olive oil.
I needed mozzarella. Tomatoes aren’t in season, so it wouldn’t be exactly the same, but close enough for March.
Crisis moment- I didn’t have enough citric acid on hand to make the mozzarella. I’d thought I did, but despite my frantic searching, there was none to be found. I had maybe an eighth of a teaspoon.
Maybe the grocery store would have it!
Maybe CVS? I called first, just to save myself a trip (not that it’s that far, but still…) and the woman who answered gave me an emphatic Yes! when I asked if they carried citric acid. Yay! I zipped to the store and headed to where all the vitamins and supplements are (because that’s where I figured it would be), and I looked. And looked. And looked. Finally, I moseyed over to ask one of the pharmacists. There were a few of them working there and they kind of looked at each other with silent “citric acid? have you seen citric acid here? should we have citric acid?” conversations. One of them said (out loud) something about vitamin C, and I said no, that’s ascorbic acid, I need citric. One woman came out from behind the counter and looked with me. I explained why I needed it, and we looked some more, but couldn’t find any. She offered to order it, and it would be in as soon as the next day, but I said no, thanks, I need it today. I headed up front to speak to the woman I’d talked to on the phone – maybe she knew where it was stashed – and it turns out she’d thought I meant some sort of stool softener. Um, no. I explained what it was/what I’d meant/why I needed it. And left without any citric acid.
Now, I know that in some ways an acid is an acid is an acid. So maybe I could use lemon juice or vinegar. I did a little poking around and found that someone somewhere had used 1/3 cup of lemon juice in place of 1 teaspoon of citric acid. Now, the acidity of citric acid is a constant, and fruit acidity can vary, but I was so desperate to make mozzarella that I figured I’d just go for it.
And it worked! I won’t do it on a regular basis, because it might not always work, but it’s good to have a plan B.
I made my mozzarella – a gallon of milk’s worth – and formed about half of it into little balls and set them aside. The others I – on a complete whim – formed into rather rough and ugly looking sticks.
I stuck them in the fridge, poked around online again for recipes and ratios, and then put some slices of bread in the oven to dry them out so I could make bread crumbs.
Once I had the bread crumbs, I got the mozzarella back out and cut each stick in half so they’d be nearly bite sized. (Bite-sized for Bill, two-bite sized for the rest of us.)
I mixed crumbs with flour, salt, and dried oregano and set that aside. Then I cracked a couple of eggs into another bowl. I dredged each mozzarella stick in the flour mixture, the egg, and then the flour mixture again. They all went onto a plate and into the freezer for a couple of hours.
I cooked these up while we were still chopping ingredients for salad night. A little snack to keep our energy up. Couldn’t have been simpler – I heated peanut oil in a shallow pan (to 350 F) and then fried the sticks in small batches for about 2-3 minutes each, or until the crust was dark golden brown.
Double success, actually – Alex likes these, and he doesn’t like the regular old fried mozzarella sticks we get in restaurants. I don’t know if that’s a credit to me or not…but I’ll take it! Bill thought they were way better, too, and I suppose this next picture is proof that these went over well:
Our appetites temporarily satisfied, we were all able to return to salad prep.
Julia chopped up all the different cheeses: swiss, monterey jack, blue, and mozzarella. She used a little paring knife, and she only sliced the cheese, not her fingers.
Alex started out by rinsing and picking through the sprouts we’ve had growing for the last few days. Red cabbage and mustard green sprouts. The red cabbage sprouts are dark purple.
Then he sliced up ham and pepperoni.
Bill sliced pea pods, carrots and broccoli.
A bit later, while the kids set the table, I sliced some orange and cinnamon rubbed gravlax John dropped off the other day, and – more Boris.
I know. It looks like an old bicycle seat, a bit, doesn’t it?
It’s actually a guanciale wannabe. Guanciale is cured pork cheek. We thought we were making that, but because so much of Boris was skinned and removed (i.e. that all-important layer of fat beneath the skin), we don’t really have guanciale. It’s more like…pork cheek prosciutto. The process is very similar to when we made the duck prosciutto. True guanciale should have a thick layer of fat on one side of the meat, and a thinner layer on the other side. The whole thing is used like you would use bacon or pancetta – chopped up and added to dishes for flavor. Ours isn’t fatty enough for that. So we are slicing it thin and enjoying it like prosciutto.
It’s kind of like pork jerky.
We’re going to break out the meat slicer and cut the rest of it paper thin.
But back to the program.
Here’s the spread:
Left to right. Back row: diced avocado, mixed organic greens, warm orzo tossed in olive oil, a vinaigrette Bill whipped up. Middle row: assorted cheeses and some chopped cara cara orange in the center, a plate of raw veggies and sprouts, and a plate of chopped meats and more orange chunks. Front – warm sliced hard-boiled egg.
We brought out the plates, and started building salads.
Now, the kids (and Bill) are so accustomed to me photographing food that they think nothing of my standing over my own plate of salad and snapping pictures of it.
Actually, they now fancy themselves little food stylists and ask me to take pictures of their creations as well.
Julia arranged her salad in a circle around the perimeter of her plate and had a little dish of dressing in the center, so she could dip everything.
Alex is more concerned with arranging everything artistically, and he is also partial to action shots, as he insisted I take the pictures while he poured the dressing.
Bill hadn’t planned to have his salad photographed, so he didn’t do anything fancy. Plus he was hungry and wanted to eat.
All in all, a very lovely evening.
OH! Before I forget. At some point, Julia made little place cards and taped them to the chairs. I took pictures. I find it funny that she referred to Bill by name but I’m still Mom.
She just learned capital cursive “J.” She’s so proud of being able to write in cursive!