Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ninety-Degree Days and Wilted Parsley

It’s much too hot outside.

On my fifteen-minute ride back from the grocery store, a third of my parsley wilted. I even pointed the air conditioning right at it, coaxing it to stay green and perky, and you have to be pretty special to get that kind of treatment in my car. But no, the heat persisted, and now it sits in my fridge, half looking all sad and defeated.

You see, in the wonderfully temperate state of Connecticut, Mother Nature sometimes forgets the little seasonal interludes that are spring and fall. Instead, here, the deep freezes of winter and the heat waves of summer tumble right on top of one another. We’ve taken the unofficial leap into summer already, in April, with ninety-degree days and wilted parsley.

But I digress. The reason I had parsley in the first place was to make lentil salad for dinner – something I was first introduced to by the restaurant where I work, the Still River café. They used to serve this as an amuse, back when they had first opened and back when I had no idea what an amuse actually was. I remember dipping asian spoons into big vats of the stuff and bringing it to tables on polished silver trays. The trays would wobble, the lentils would spill out, and I would recite, as I spilled the little legumes all over the table, “This is an amuse bouche of lentil salad, courtesy of the chef. Enjoy.” And if someone asked me what was in the lentil salad, I would stutter awkwardly, and run off to the kitchen in search of the answer. Needless to say, things have drastically improved, in both my waiting skills and my cooking ones.

Apparently, it is very important to use the correct type of lentils when you cook. There is a difference between the ordinary green ones and lentilles de Puy. The former are a paler, more drab-looking and tasting cousin of the latter. Lentilles de Puy have even been described as the caviar of lentils -- there is little explanation needed. Here is a slightly blurry picture of the ones you want to buy:

The salad itself is actually quite simple: there is some sauté action, some simmer action, and some cooling action, and then they’re ready to gobble up. It’s not very photogenic, but it’s entirely delicious; don’t be fooled by the picture. Even though there is quite a bit of olive oil and bacon in the salad, it is deceivingly light and refreshing – earthy, with just enough vinegar and wonderfully French stone ground mustard to make it feel like maybe you’re not sweltering in April, ninety degree heat.

Green Lentil and Bacon Salad
(Adapted from

Disclaimer: This yields a heaping ton of lentil salad, so if you’re like me, and you cook for one, I would highly recommend you halve the recipe so you don’t have to eat lentil salad for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert (although it might not be that bad…).

6 slices thick-cut bacon, coarsely chopped
1 small onion, diced
6 cups water
1 3/4-pound smoked ham hock
1 pound French green lentils, rinsed, drained
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1/2 cup walnut oil or olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped celery

Cook bacon in heavy large saucepan over medium heat until brown and crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Add onion to drippings in saucepan; sauté until very tender, about 15 minutes. Add 6 cups water, ham hock, lentils, 1/4 cup parsley, and 2 teaspoons thyme. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Using tongs, transfer ham hock to work surface. Drain lentils. Cool ham hock and lentils. Cut ham from bone; dice. Transfer ham to large bowl.

Whisk walnut oil, red wine vinegar, and Dijon mustard in small bowl to blend. Transfer lentils to large bowl with ham. Add dressing, red onion, celery, bacon, remaining 1/4 cup parsley, and remaining 2 teaspoons thyme. Toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve at room temperature. (I even like it cold, but that’s up to you.)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

What's in a name?

I figured we should talk about the name of this blog. So, what is in a name? In this case, actually, not much. For those of you who aren’t trying to start up a food blog, you should know that a billion of them already exist. And so, in naming them, one runs into a whole bunch of plagiarism-related roadblocks: all of the good ones, it seems, are already taken. By good, of course, I mean ones that succinctly and creatively sum up what your blog’s niche is. Rue le Sel, I realize, does neither. At the end of the day, I needed to just plop a heading on my blog, and hope that people would stay long enough to let me explain.

I think Rue le Sel sounds nice. That’s just about the long and short of it. In a large nutshell, I wanted to communicate that I lean more towards the savory side of the culinary world; I can appreciate the sugary goodness of desserts (but then again, who can’t?), but what fascinates me more is how to cook savory food, eventually without recipes. Baking, to me, means too much measuring, not enough spontaneity, and too much putting-in-the-oven-and-leaving.

I refuse to write off dessert-making entirely, and you might see some of that on here; I do, after all, have a really great crème brulee in my repertoire. And as far as putting in the oven and leaving, there will certainly be braising. But still, my biggest attraction is the savory.

For some reason or another, all of this made me think of the word salt. Salt equals savory. Mostly. Unless you’re making the delicious little caramel truffles we serve at the Still River Café. I could’ve just called my blog Salt, but I bet that one is already taken. A Pinch of Salt was. I thought – Salt Box sounded too much like my blog would concern the architectural structures of colonial houses. Salt….Avenue? Yes, I decided, I’d like to go that direction. Then I put it in French. Why? Because romance languages make everything sound better, we can all agree. You would think that since I don’t speak a lick of French, that I would perhaps stay in my native language. But nope, I did it anyway. And I don’t even think the translation is all that correct – roughly, it comes out more like “street the salt.” But there you go, that’s all I’ve got. It sounds nice, and no one else has used it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

What I'm doing here, and why

What a segue.

But I have so many things to talk about. So many, in fact, it feels like my brain may burst clean out of my head. Alas, I will save those for later and try to channel my mission statement, in some sort of organized way, through my fingertips and to you.

I want to cook. I want to eat. And drink. I want to take pictures of it all. And I can't wait for summer produce. But most of all, I want to write. I want to write about all of those things, mostly for myself - but perhaps for the select few who want to follow along.

There is this one picture of me, in purple pajamas, sitting at my family's modest kitchen table with a lunch box. I was about eight. I was eating what I ate every day, and what I often asked for instead of dinner: a peanutbutter and jelly on white. Yes, I was one of those kids; I was as picky as they come. (In my defense, though, at least I ate the crusts. The crusts were actually my favorite part.) While I'm ashamed to say that I used to be the little girl that would sit for hours at the dinner table in protest of grilled squash or roasted carrots, I'm actually glad that I got that phase out of the way. I have successfully evolved into an eater, a non-picky one, and I still have so many different foods to taste. Let this serve as a place to document it all.

Peanutbutter and jelly still has a special place in my heart, but I hope to bring you tales of food much more exciting than the white-bread novelty that used to be my one and only food love.

Onward, then, on this food mission of mine. May all readers become a little less picky.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I feel at a loss for words

Well, hello. Rue le Sel is real. It exists.

I've been thinking about this whole blog thing for much too long, and now that it is finally here, I feel at a loss for words. This also feels strange, this nonchalant self-publishing that is the blog-world. (blog-world?) Can anyone hear me? I suspect not - and I think that perhaps my reader pool revolves around myself and my boyfriend, but I shall try, nonetheless, to write about food, and hope that my readership eventually grows to three. Or even four; that would be nice.

Now I must crawl back out of sight and think of something beautiful to write. Something that will amaze you, and dazzle you.

Or perhaps I should just try and tell you what I'm doing here, and why.

Stay tuned.