I've been doing a lot of recipe-following lately now that I'm back at my parents' house and not relying on my own devices for dinner.
Of course most recipes can stand for a little spontaneity or adjustment, but when you're baking a birthday cake for your very talented-in-the-kitchen mom (who has made the cake several times before and swears it's divine) and expecting to feed it to four other members of your family, you sort of want a guarantee that you're making something good. I do, at least. And so, I've been following a lot of recipes. All, curiously, are orange-colored. Yesterday it was Ina Garten's carrot cupcakes, but in cake form, and the cream cheese icing from Breakfast, Lunch, Tea: the Many Little Meals of Rose Bakery. Before that, it was Ina's soup. And in between David Lebovitz's pumpkin ice cream. It feels a little cheap to share these experiences with you; they're not fully mine.
Still, successfully replicating a recipe invites a certain satisfaction. Altering it to make it your own, a completely different one. But it's a whole new triumph to concoct something all on your own.
My most recent concoction was lunch, and it was mostly mine. I borrowed nothing but inspiration from Mark Bittman, who wrote about a citrus salad a few weeks ago in the New York Times. On a sunny afternoon last week, spurred by a fruit drawer filled pretty much to the brim with citrus (thanks, Mom!), I decided to peel and slice myself a little lunchtime treat. This was more effort than I tend to invest in lunch-making. When I was in school I most often ate a pint of yogurt or a bag of baby carrots and hummus that I sneaked into the library. But, again, it's gratifying to create - the idea, the mess, the meal, the success. And then, satiated and pleased, you can clean it all up, which, when you're home with little to do, is a whole other welcome activity.
And a lunchtime treat it was! Far more colorful than yogurt and far more exciting than my usual salads, which tend to be a bit more traditional, based on greens and inspired by whatever nuts and cheese I have around. This one was juicy, tart, and it looked like summer. Will you hate me if I call it Sunset Citrus Salad? I'll refrain, but not without mentioning that it also tastes like summer. Citrus, unlike most salad-making staples, is in season now - not in the lovely state of New Jersey, but at least in the States - so it's particularly tasty now.
3-4 mixed citrus fruits, depending on size (I used grapefruit and orange the first time, and added a blood orange the second)
1 tbsp kosher salt
2-3 tbsp red onion or scallion, chopped
1/3 c cottage cheese
for the dressing:
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tbsp raspberry or red wine vinegar
1 tsp honey
salt and pepper, to taste
Begin by slicing off the two ends of the citrus. Rest the fruit on one end, now flat, and remove the peel and pith by slicing vertically with a small, sharp knife. You want to remove as much peel and pith as possible, so there is no white left on the fruit. When the peel and pit are removed, turn the fruit on its side and cut into round slices. Arrange the fruit in a shall dish or on a plate. Sprinkle with kosher salt, coating each piece well.
Chop the onion. Whisk the olive oil, vinegar, and honey. If you like, you can season with pepper. Sprinkle the onion over the fruit, and then dress. Finish off with a dollop of cottage cheese.
* You could also substitute the cottage cheese for crumbled feta cheese.