Thursday, August 4, 2011

Food Tastes Better When You Cook With Friends - Summer Fennel Salad

The sheer joy of preparing food with people you love can never be overstated. While many of us get great satisfaction out of preparing food for our family and friends, the meal means all the more to me when I share the kitchen with special people. If you are a total control freak, then cooking with others might not be a great idea, because people approach tasks differently. So when someone isn't tearing the lettuce they way you think they should, trouble starts brewing! A kitchen is not a good place to argue and fight (too many sharp objects!). But if you're okay with letting people do things their own way, than the kitchen is an ideal place to celebrate, nurture and love.

Thinking back on some of the best times spent with loved ones, many of them took place in the kitchen. My memories of my mom are particularly kitchen-related. How many times I watched her beautiful hands (she had the softest skin) chop an onion - she must have done it thousands of times in her life, yet she took great care every time she held the knife. While my hands are larger, and certainly not as soft, mom is with me every time I have an onion on the cutting board. I am so grateful for those memories, as I am for the countless times friends have come to visit and we cooked and ate and celebrated the time we had together.

Our dear friend Skip came by for a visit on a sunny Saturday. An earlier stop at a couple of local farm stands and the butcher left us with a variety of fresh produce and thin, bone-in pork chops. The pork chops were going to be prepared in our usual "Polish" style and we would roast up a big bunch of beets, too. Best of all was a big bulb of fennel, which we thought to turn into a salad.

Fennel is one of those vegetables that many people don't grow up with or even recognize. Raw, it has a wonderful crunch and texture with a slight flavor of anise. The seed from fennel is often used to season Italian sausage and has a stronger licorice flavor. So, with Skip's able assistance, we put together a lively, light, crunchy salad with our fennel, celery and an apple. It's a no-fuss salad, even easier to make when you have a friend helping out, that stays true to the spirit of summer!

Summer Fennel Salad
3 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 1/2 TBSP Apple Cider Vinegar
2 tsp lemon juice
1 1/2 TBSP fresh tarragon, chopped
1/4 tsp sugar
3 stalks celery, sliced thin diagonally - chop and include any celery leaves if you have them
1 large fennel bulb (or two small) sliced thin crosswise (you can chop slices in halves/quarters if they are too large) - chop and include fennel fronds
1 apple (Pink Lady, Gala, Granny Smith) julienned
salt & pepper to taste

Whisk first five ingredients in a large bowl. Add celery, fennel and apple and toss so that everything gets a coating of dressing. Season with salt and pepper. You can serve immediately or keep chilled in refrigerator for a couple of hours. Enjoy!

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