20 October 2021: Making a Vacation Kitchen Home and an Autumnal Salad
This weekend we will have been gone from Savannah for a month. We're settling in at our house in Virginia and it's finally beginning to sink in that we're not on a vacation that will soon end: We're really and truly here to stay.
The most challenging and yet welcome transition for me has been the kitchen. Bright, sunny, and more inviting than any of my many kitchens have been, it's also been better equipped than those of most vacation houses. But while perfect for the on holiday cooking I've done in it, there's still been a lot of making-do.
Now that all the equipment has been reunited in one place, you'd think it would've been perfect. But for a time instead of improving things, unifying two kitchens into one actually made it more of a challenge. There was no more "oh—that's in the kitchen in Savannah," but "where the heck did I put that?" leading to a frustrating search and "Why on earth did I put it there?" Nothing was where it used to be in either kitchen, and all the drawers, cupboards, and pantry were crammed so full that finding the tool or pot I needed was a challenge.
Jabbing my finger on the tip of a grapefruit knife while digging through a catch-all drawer for something else was the last straw: The kitchen had to be put in some kind of order before worse things than a nick happened.
One by one, the drawers and shelves have been emptied and reorganized, things like hooks for pot-holders have been installed, and the coffee maker is back where it started. Though still a long way from finished, it's worlds better, and has finally stopped feeling like a make-shift holiday kitchen or a kitchen warehouse that has two of everything in no particular order.
Best of all, the cooking is settling into a rhythm that feels like home.
Autumn Salad with Apples, Bacon, Pecans, and Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
We're having crisp, cool nights and mornings that give way to warm afternoons. Just the weather for a big lunch salad that was filled with favorite fall flavors yet still cool and refreshing. It fed the two of us as a main dish, but would have fed four as a side salad or first course.
Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side or salad course
3 strips regular cut hardwood smoked bacon, preferably applewood smoked
1 heart of romaine or small head of other crisp lettuce
2 small scallions or other green onions
1 medium carrot
1 firm but ripe tart-sweet apple, such as Honeycrisp, Winesap, or Arkansas Black
½ cup shelled pecan halves, roughly broken (not chopped)
¼ cup sweetened dried cranberries
2-3 tablespoons Buttermilk Ranch Dressing (recipe follows)
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
About 1/4-to-1/3 cup coarsely grated aged cheddar or crumbled blue cheese
1. Cut the bacon crosswise into ½-inch wide strips. Put it in an 8-to-9-inch skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally and separating the strips, until their fat is rendered and they're golden brown and crisp. Turn off the heat and remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to absorbent paper.
2. Wash, dry, and break the lettuce into a large salad or mixing bowl in bite-sized pieces. Wash the scallions, carrot, and apple under cold running water and pat dry. Trim the roots and removed any wilted or discolored leaves from the scallions and thinly slice them on the diagonal. Add them to the bowl. Shred the carrot (I use a julienne peeler to do this) into the bowl.
3. Stand the apple stem up on the cutting board and with a sharp knife, cut straight down on either side of the stem a little less than half an inch from it. Lay the sides on the board flat side down and thinly slice it, and then stack and cut the slices into bite sized pieces. Lay the center piece of the apple flat and cut straight down either side of the core. Turn the crescent pieces up and slice and cut them in the same way as the sides. Add them to the bowl.
4. Add the bacon, pecans, and cranberries, and spoon 2 tablespoons of the dressing over it. Toss gently but thoroughly until all the ingredients are lightly coated, adding dressing by spoonfuls as needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper and toss until mixed. Divide the salad between individual salad plates or bowls, sprinkle the cheese over each serving, and serve, passing the remaining dressing separately.
Homemade Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
Most ranch dressing recipes call for all the ingredients to be dumped together in a jar, sealed, and shaken to blend, but I find it easier to whisk them together in a bowl and then transfer it to the jar for storage. But suit yourself.
Makes about 1-2/3 cups
½ cup sour cream or whole milk Greek yogurt
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup whole milk buttermilk, well shaken
¼ teaspoon dry mustard powder
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried dill
3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh chives or minced scallion greens
1 teaspoon minced fresh parsley
1-3 teaspoons cider vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
1. Whisk together the sour cream or yogurt and mayonnaise until smooth. Gradually whisk in the buttermilk.
2. Whisk in the mustard and garlic powders, herbs, and 1 teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice. Season well with salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Taste and adjust the vinegar, salt, and pepper. Cover and chill at least 1 hour to allow the flavors to blend; 6-8 hours will be better if you have the time. Can be made up to 4 days ahead.