So far it’s been really nice to be back in America for the holidays. While I thoroughly enjoyed spending Christmas in Paris last year and taking in the holiday Parisian charm, nothing beats being with family.
New York was less of a Tour de Kale this time around and I actually kicked-off my American culinary experience with an old-fashioned classic: the Wedge salad. A random person recently tweeted that kale is just iceberg lettuce that talks about what it read in The New Yorker. The comment made me chuckle but my retort was that iceberg lettuce doesn’t even know what The New Yorker is! Still, I felt very Mad Men as I sliced down the middle of iceberg lettuce and blue cheese goodness at P.J. Clarke’s across from Lincoln Center. I know Peggy or Don would be enjoying the same thing back in the 60’s.
I guess another one of my surprises was the ornamental cabbage I spotted on west 57th street. As we all know, it’s a frequent sight in France and of course can be spotted here and there in America but the colors of this chou really stood out to me. Cabbage beauty in the middle of New York grime.
Once back in Pittsburgh and planning for my friend’s engagement party hosted at my parents’ house, my mother and I spent yesterday shopping for the best cheese and produce you can find in Pittsburgh.
As an old industrial town known for its 20th century immigrant populations that came to the city in droves to work in the steel mills (my great-great grandfather was a proud union leader standing up against Henry Clay Frick), there is a gem called the Strip District. It’s full of Polish, Italian and German food stores – our favorite being Pennsylvania Macaroni Co., a Pittsburgh institution. As many places in Pittsburgh are for me, Penn Mac is another nostalgic walk down memory lane, as my mother and I spent many Saturdays buying fresh olives and cheese from their endless cheese counter. The line yesterday was over an hour long – part of this of course is because you do not have fantastic fromagerie on each block like in Paris – but it’s the place to go in Pittsburgh if you need good cheese. I must say I felt slightly proud to have a small knowledge of cheeses from the class I took at La Cuisine and frequenting our local fromagerie. While they did not have our favorite Saint-Félicien, we were lucky to buy a rare for America, raw (!) comté and a gorgeous bleu d’auvergne.
Then it was off to Whole Foods to buy last minute ingredients for the Christmas Kale Salad I’d created for the holidays. I wanted something with the colors of Christmas and given that kale is already a vibrant green, it was easy to find ingredients to round out the other colors. The Parmesan cheese at the end is just like a dusting of snow that is wished for on Christmas morning.
Plus my mother and I had fun admiring my uncle’s beautifully grown kale and taking photos. It was a major kale-fest in Whole Foods and a few people were staring at us. Of course. But my mom is a trooper and got into the kale photo shoot.
One thing we always try to do when I’m visiting is to have a mother-daughter lunch. This time we chose a popular Spanish influenced restaurant, Casbah. Owned by a prominent restaurant group in Pittsburgh, Big Burrito Group, it never disappoints and especially did not disappoint when I saw a pea-shoot & dino kale salad on the menu. It felt very good to say to the waiter, “I would like the kale salad please.”
Christmas Kale Salad
1 bunch of kale (preferably the Cavalo Nero/Tuscan/Lacinato variety)
1 medium-sized red beet, raw peeled and shredded
¼ hazelnuts, crushed in a sealable plastic bag
¼ cup cranberries (or raisins if you want a less tart fruit)
¼ – ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 shallot, diced
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup sherry vinegar
¼ cup red wine vinegar
Splash of apple cider vinegar
Salt & pepper
1. Thoroughly wash and de-stem each leaf of kale. Here is a how-to on de-stemming.
2. Combine dressing ingredients together into a jar and shake. Let the dressing sit while you cut the kale so the shallots absorb the vinegar flavors.
3. Chiffonade the kale and place aside in a large bowl.
4. Add dressing to the kale and massage the kale for 1-2 minutes. Let kale sit at room temperature.
5. Peel and shred the beet.
6. Place nuts in a sealable plastic bag and crush until each nut is broken into different sized pieces.
7. When ready to serve, add the beets, cranberries, hazelnuts and Parmesan cheese.