A varsity salad, cheese plate 101, gift strategy for Father's Day (and beyond)
Greetings! We’re in full summer reading mode here in the DALS house — I just binge-read Sorrow and Bliss, Abby is devouring Hidden Valley Road, and Phoebe, home from college and brain-fried, has been in a Calvin & Hobbes rabbit hole. (Feels like 2011 all over again!) In weekend news, a gluten-free, dairy-free guest came for dinner on Saturday and I somehow managed to bake a ridiculously good GF/DF version of last month’s strawberry-rhubarb crisp. (See instructions in the recipe headnotes.) Rhubarb season is almost over, so whichever version you’re making, do it soon. Omg is it good. Here are this week’s Three Things.
1. Varsity Level Salad
Now that we’re all slowly getting back into the whole having-people-over thing, I wanted to discuss salads, i.e. not your standard issue throw-it-together greens-tomatoes-dressing weeknight JV-team salad. But a Good Enough For Company, Bring-your-A-game Varsity level salad. This one, made with fresh gem lettuce and radishes is exactly that — it has so much going on contrast-wise between the spicy radishes, sweet-and-salty almond clusters, stinky cheese, and creamy avocado dressing. I first had a version of it at a favorite local spot and immediately reached out to the chef Chris Vergara to get details especially about those almond clusters. On the menu, his drinkable dressing was described as “rampy green goddess” but I was unable to get my hands on ramps by the time I got around to testing it for you, so used scallions…and avocado. In other words, it’s not in any way a green goddess…but it’s still drinkable. Here’s what I did.
Gem Lettuce with Almonds, Gorgonzola, and Herby Avocado Dressing
Inspired by Harper’s chef, Chris Vergara
Makes 4 side servings
Make Honey-Sea-Salt Almonds:
1 cup raw slivered almonds
sea salt (about 1/2 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon honey, plus maybe a little more
2 tablespoons olive oil (or enough to coat, not drench)
Add everything to a wax-paper-lined baking sheet, mixing together with your hands. It’s ok if some are close together — those will become yummy clusters. Bake at 350°F for 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool.
Make Herby Avocado Dressing
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used whole milk, 2% would be fine, as would cashew cream, just use a little less, like 1/3 cup if you go with cashews)
1/2 cup parsley, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons chives, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 medium avocado
1/4 cup olive oil
squeeze (like 1/4 teaspoon) honey — I used simple syrup because I had it
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Add all ingredients and 2 tablespoons of water to a blender and process until smooth. Add up to 2 more tablespoons of water and process until it reaches a dressing-like consistency, i.e. creamy but not too thick, i.e. pourable, drizzle-able.
2 bunches gem lettuce
4 radishes (any kind), sliced thin
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup gorgonzola, preferably crumbled (Vergara used roquefort)
1/3 cup honey-sea salt almonds
1/2 cup herby avocado dressing, plus more as needed
In a large bowl, gently toss lettuce, radishes, and sunflower seeds with salt and pepper. Add gorgonzola and almonds, then gently toss with dressing right before serving.
2. Cheese Platter 101
I’ve been meaning to make one of Marissa Mullen’s cheese-by-number platters ever since first cracking open her 2020 book That Cheese Plate Will Change Your Life and reading about that signature “Salami River.” I still have some work to do on my river (here’s what it’s supposed to look like) but the point is: it didn’t matter. Look how pretty the plate turned out even just roughly following the guide. Each composition has a theme, and this one, “That Cheap But Classy Plate,” is made entirely from ingredients I picked up at my local Stop & Shop — Genoa salami, cheddar, berries, mixed nuts — No specialty store required and yet, so special looking! Check out Mullen’s instagram for more inspiration.
3. Edible Gifts for Father’s Day (and Beyond)
In my last book, How to Celebrate Everything, I wrote about my favorite kind of gift to give, especially for the hard-to-buy-for type, i.e. meaningful food gifts. Lucky for me, my father is easy to buy for because he is a world class dessert lover, so it’s as simple as picking up a babka or a box of his favorite chocolates or baking him a homemade version of his favorite treat on the Entenmann’s shelf. That last one in particular, the Sour Cream Chocolate Chip Nut Loaf, was fun to give him a few years back because we had always shared a mutual obsession with its walnutty crumb top. And since the crumb cake has been tragically discontinued, replicating it in my own kitchen made it instantly meaningful. All this to say, if you’re stumped for a good Father’s Day gift (or any kind of gift, really), ask yourself: What recipes carry meaning in your family? Which ones qualify as special? Which ones might remind the recipient of something happy? A recipe doesn’t necessarily have to be handed down through generations to qualify, either. It can be just as effective to choose a dish or treat that was consumed on a particularly memorable family vacation or birthday or anniversary celebration.
Another gift that qualifies in my house: Great Grandma Catrino’s Biscotti.
Have a great week everybody! Subscribers: I’ll see you later in the week for your bonus dispatch.
(Bottom two photos by Chelsea Cavanaugh for How to Celebrate Everything.)
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