My niece at last appeared on my doorstep ready to claim her Christmas present, a cooking session with Aunt Janet.
Then we went to work. Kierstin, unlike her brother (although maybe it’s an age thing), is very focused on her cooking tasks. After chopping the onion and using a garlic press on the garlic (attention, Baby Sister: she liked my garlic press), measuring the seasonings and helping grind the cumin seed in a mortar and pestle (another new tool for her), she cooked them per the directions and added the beef. Thoughtful girl, she also let me have turns stirring.
After the beef was done, we set about grating the cheese (I can’t believe how fast she accomplished that!) and cutting up tomatoes from her family’s garden.
Then, we made the salad dressing in the Cuisinart (attention, Baby Sister: the way we did it differs from the recipe I sent home), also using tomato and a hot pepper (we should have gone with the jalapeno) from her home garden. That done, we assembled one salad completely, for her and me to share for lunch, and one salad partially, for her to share later with her family. She took home the extra salad dressing, has lots of tomatoes on hand there and assured me that they have tortilla chips in stock.
For the family, minus tomatoes and chips
We adjourned to the dining room to eat it, and it was yum. Kierstin seemed particularly pleased by what a nice taste the salad dressing added. (It looked cool, too, but I forgot to shoot it. Sorry.)
Stomachs filled, we cleaned up the kitchen a bit before preparing dessert: Mint sugar fruit salad. Wow, is this recipe easy and wonderful! Our fruit combination was peaches, grapes and cantaloupe, all local. (Local folks: I got the peaches and grapes at Pendletons’ who were selling them for neighbors, and they were great.)
When I asked if she’d prefer her cantaloupe in chunks or balls, Kierstin jumped at making melon balls, recalling having them at a reunion on her dad’s family. Sadly, the melon baller is another gadget the poor deprived child lacks at home.
It was hard to wait the five minutes for the sugared fruit to give off a bit of juice. To make it easier, we repaired to the outdoors to take more pictures, and neighbor Linda thoughtfully shot a picture of us both.
Kierstin and her mom liked the salad so much that they’re talking about making more and freezing it. If they do, I’ll let you know whether that effort was a success.
Kierstin has a great cooking career ahead of her. She likes it, she’s good at it, and she gets practice at her paternal grandmother’s house. She even recognized the scent of our freshly ground cumin as a taco scent. Now, if only her parents would get her more gadgets.
The recipes, both inspired by the versions in the Gourmet Cookbook, follow:
Taco salad with salsa dressing
For the beef
- 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
- 3/4 cup chopped onion
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 pound pastured ground beef
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the salad
- 2 heads romaine
- 3 tomatoes
- 6 ounces sharp Cheddar
- Tortilla chips
For salsa dressing
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (we wound up using lime juice, and we squeezed it with yet another new-to-Ms. K gadget)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 cup chopped tomatoes
- 1 large jalapeno or Serrano chile, seeded if desired and chopped (we seeded the Anaheim)
- 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves.
For the beef:
- Heat canola oil in 12-inch skillet over moderate heat. Add onion, garlic, cumin and chili powder. Cook, stirring, until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Don’t worry about it if the spices start to stick to the bottom; they’ll come up later.
- Add beef. Use spatula to break up beef into bits, and cook until no longer pink.
- Add tomato paste, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until meat is thoroughly cooked, about 4 minutes.
- Transfer mixture to colander to cool and to let fat drip off.
For the salad:
- While the beef is cooling, thinly slice romaine crosswise (for about 8 cups), then distribute romaine over large platter or shallow bowl.
- Cube tomatoes, and grate cheese.
- Top romaine with beef, then tortilla chips, cheese and tomatoes, and serve dressing (next step) on the side.
For the dressing:
- Place all dressing ingredients in the bowl of a food processor with metal blade. Turn on and run until smooth. Serve on the side with the salad.
Makes 6 servings.
Mint sugar summer fruit salad
- 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 6 cups mixed fresh fruit in big bite-size pieces (see note)
- Pulse mint and sugar in food processor until mint is finely ground. Sprinkle mint sugar over fruit in large bowl, and turn gently to combine. Let stand 5 minutes, and serve. Makes 6 servings.
Note: Choose two or three types of ripe, juicy fruit, preferably with a combination of colors and textures. Doesn’t work well to make in advance. However, you can cut up non-browning fruit (such as melons, grapes, strawberries) an hour or two in advance and refrigerate (without the mint sugar), but don’t cut fruit that browns (apples, stone fruits) until just before combining with mint sugar.