Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Flavors Of Fall. My Favorite Thanksgiving Salad

   In the last several years it's fallen upon me to cook the family Thanksgiving dinner. The minute we moved up to Sonoma full time, our house became Holiday Central. As I've mentioned before my mom hates to cook and my sisters' house is too small. I love to cook and my house is just right so this is where everybody lands at celebration time.
   I also come from a family of extremely picky eaters. The list of forbidden foods that are "icky", "smelly", "disgusting" and "what is that??" is endless. One won't eat raisins, one won't eat olives, another can't stand nuts of any sort... except pine nuts. I have a nephew who dosen't recognize any cheese that doesn't come without a nozzle. What's a food lover to do?
   I have to admit over the last few years it's occurred to me to lie. Since none of these food dislikes stem from any sort of allergies, what would be the harm?  What's wrong with taking my homemade dressing made with my very own aged vinegar and pouring it into a rinsed-out empty salad dressing bottle with a funnel??  If I lied and told them Goat Cheese came in an aerosol can they'd probably believe me, but I just can't. Twelve years of convent school have left their mark. I have to be honest with them. After all, I'd hate to have them do something similar to me at their houses. I shudder to think what it would involve.
   So I take the higher road. I try to find things that they'll all eat, and when one's running the gamut from seniors to five year olds,  it's tricky.
   First of all, forget about any Indian food. In fact forget about anything even halfway exotic, and I'm counting feta cheese in that category. We're of Tuscan ancestry but hey, when a kid won't eat olives and slithers off his seat at the sight of any non-square cheese, genetics means nothing. These are kids who consider canned fruit cocktail the prefect amuse bouche.
   I was determined to serve them a fresh salad that even they wouldn't reject. After a lot of searching and sampling, I think I found it. It's my adaptation of a recipe from Chef Frank Stitt.  It includes, tender baby arugula, fresh pears, shaved Parmesan cheese and a simple dressing of cider vinegar and some of Tropical Traditions Organic Raw Honey.
   I know some of you may think arugula, isn't that kind of... bitter? I prefer the word peppery. That's an out, isn't it? When it's combined with the other ingredients it's a great blend of flavors. Here's how to whip up this crowd pleaser for picky eaters fast.

  The Dressing:
    Mix together :
2 Tbs of cider vinegar
1 Tbs of honey (I used Tropical Traditions Organic Raw Honey... amazing!)
 1/2 tsp of kosher salt
 3/4 tsp of ground pepper
 2 tbs of finely chopped shallot
  When all of this is whisked together let it rest for about 10 minutes.
   After it's had it's little nap, drizzle in about 6 Tbs of oil whisking as you go until it's all combined.
   Meanwhile in a small skillet heat:
1 tbs of oil
When it's hot stir in:
the chopped shallot
another 1/2 tsp of kosher salt
3/4  tsp of pepper
  Saute it  for a minute or two then take it off the heat and blend it into the rest of your dressing
It's time to prep the salad.

 The Salad:
 In a large bowl toss
 1/2 lb of baby arugula with just enough of the dressing to coat it lightly.
 Divide the arugula among 8 plates.
 Peel, core and thinly slice 1 firm Bartlett pear.
 Lay a couple of slices on top of each plate of arugula.
 Using your vegetable peeler shave about three curls off the Parmesan cheese onto the top of each plate of salad.
 Drizzle the rest of the dressing over the salad and serve.

 Believe it or not, they loved it. There was just enough sweet to offset the peppery bite of the arugula and once the Parmesan was explained as what it looks like before Dominos gets a hold of it,  everything was cool. As for the pears, who doesn't like pears? My mother as it turns out! Who knew?


  1. Geeeez. Forget about them. Come here and cook with me. None of my family will come back East and I won't go West. I would eat anything you served. Especially cheese AND olives. Oh yeah, and I ordered a 30lb fresh local turkey for 4 of us.

  2. You have an answer for even the pickiest eaters!

  3. @Janis,
    I am dreading asking how many of them are coming here this year. It's always a big drama about who's eating what. I'm doing the POM dinner this weekend so I'm in deep thought prep for it and now Thanksgiving limited. I want a heritage bird but they're insanely expensive here. Some of our winemaker friends have said maybe they'll shoot a wild one that gets in the vineyard and I can have it.

  4. my family also so conservative about to try new tastes.. i can understand u and the questions u faced:)

  5. Hhhmmmm I've never really had to deal with really picky eaters, I'd agree with Janis and say ditch them and cook for us!! We'll eat ANYTHING delicious!! :)

  6. You have quite a task there with so many picky eaters. This salad sounds wonderful...love the dressing!

  7. I don't envy you the task of cooking for a group of picky eaters. You must be back to full health, I hope there is no lingering soreness from your surgery. Good luck with the POM dinner!

  8. I know exactly what you mean. I can't do much of anything to my turkey or anything else but mostly because of dietary restrictions for some of our family members. Though somehow the meals turns out great.

    Every now and then I throw in something new even if others can't try it just to introduce a new dish. Thanksgiving at our home is a repeat of the year before. Everyone wants the same thing and doesn't want me to deviate even the slightest.

    It's all about getting together with family though and as many of our members are in their 80s and 90s I'm just thankful that they are still here to join us.



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