assembly required

Salmonstack You’re either handy or you’re not.  You’re the kind of person who hires someone to install a lock on your bedroom door, or you’re the kind who bribes someone to come over for you (with shitty offers of pizza and cheap wine).  And someone always shows up to help. 

When I was single, living in a one bedroom apartment in New York, I only ever hired someone once.  I paid the building handyman $50 to assemble a heavy, and complicated, bookshelf.  I never could have tackled this myself, and even if I could, personally, I’d derive zero pleasure or sense of satisfaction.  It’s not the way I tick.

As for all the other things I needed done, I bribed with food.  Please, I’d whimper, please install my new air conditioner.  And then more promises of food with a simple, "can’t you just come hook up the TiVo, the dvd player, the speaker system, the television, and the CD carousel?  Oh, and run the speaker wire under the rug?"  But really, it wasn’t cooking.  It was assembly.

Salad2_2 The only thing I really assemble are salads.  "Thanks for cooking.  You’re such a good cook."  Well, technically, I hadn’t cooked.  Not even a poached pear.  I assembled.  But I suppose it has to count, assembling, deciding really what to include.  I won’t say "building blocks" or "flavor profiles" because these seemingly innocuous phrases make me kinda twitch.  It takes all the love out of the game.  It’s sounds too complicated.  Assembly required.  Way more daunting then continuing to throw shit in a pot until it tastes good.

They say a good chef can make excellent scrambled eggs.  A good composer can orchestrate an incredible salad.  Simple ingredients used in a unique way, or an unusual pairing of these ingredients, always impress.  What are your favorite salad ingredients?  I love thinking of new salad "profiles."  Because it’s easy to do, usually requires very little cleaning and time, and they can be all the more impressive when they’re shoved into a circular mold beforehand.  This is the reason I happen to adore the book titled, STACKS.  So damn good.  You know, if you’re into the art of assembly.  Think Gotham Bar & Grill, the art of vertical food.



  1. I like the idea of stacks but its hard to eat them… I make a ton of salads but don't have any original recipes to offer although I will say I take salads very seriously when I order out and last night I was at the Palm which is about as fancy as you get in LA and had the most disappointing "famous" salad. It had no cohesiveness, so never order the east coast Gigi salad. Green beans, bacon, shrimp, romaine, tomato with the weakest balsamic. It was a bummer.
    I will say though, the stacks do look gorgeous.

  2. just-barely wilt arugula in olive oil that just finished crisping a little bit of pancetta; add to goat cheese + beets + walnuts mix; top with balsamic vinegar.

  3. My fav is edamame, goat cheese, dried cranberries, caramelized pecans and pear in mixed leaves

  4. I happen to be a bit of a purist. I love the good old staples of mixed salad leaves, lots of rocket, lots of cucumber, juicy tomatoes, peppers. Sugarsnap peas add crunch and texture, feta cheese and olives a must. Capers at times. For me its all about the final touch-the dressing (simple yet perfect). There is nothing more satisfying to look at than this medley of colour and taste in a family-sized salad bowl…

  5. Thinly sliced fennel, thinly sliced corella pears, segments of blood orange or red grapefruit, english spinach. We served this crunchy salad with bbq'd atlantic salmon. Great autumn fare.

  6. Favorite salad ingredients:
    Field greens
    Sliced pear or apple
    sugared walnuts
    halved grape tomatoes
    some kind of crumbled cheese
    balsamic or oil/balsamic

    Sometimes I add fresh mozzerella balls instead of the crumbled cheese- because I don't always like crumbled cheese.

  7. you and me both! there is a major lacking in any want to assemble anything in the 'handy' dept! thank goodness the bf is the ultimate handyman! i like to tell myself we compliment eachother well ;) ha!

    i wish i could cook :( or at least assemble salad :(

    domestically disabled

  8. My favorite salad is one my grandma makes. She always insists on putting fruit and nuts in salads, which normally I hate, but this is a good one! Haven't met anyone yet that hasn't asked for teh recipe.

    Romaine lettuce
    crushed walnuts
    sliced pear
    feta cheese

    topped off with a celery seed rice wine vinegar dressing.

    It's wonderful!

  9. Toss a handful of pine nuts and dried cranberries into most any salad, and it is yummier.

  10. I make great scrambled eggs but can't cook. I've assembled a shoe rack/closet thingie and a couple of night tables.

    My latest thing is to essentially make a chicken cesear salad but replace the chicken with cold (cooked, obvs.) mini-shrimps.

  11. To tell you the truth – I hate even changing lightbulbs – HATE fixing stuff – HATE shoveling snow – HATE mowing the lawn. That's one reason why I work – so I can justify paying for all of that. I once put together a bookshelf – had lots of extra thingie whammers when I was done, and for years, looked at the leaning tower of books as an artistic statement rather than a failure on my part.

    Now – as to salads – I really loathe most vegetables – so the way I get around it is to throw in a million things:

    * Dark lettuce (iceberg is a waste)
    * spinach
    * dried cranberries
    * capers
    * tomatoes
    * cucumbers
    * avacadoes (a MUST!)
    * chives or green onions
    * pine nuts (another MUST)
    * feta
    * fresh peas

    and whatever else looks vitamin filled – and top it off with balsamic vinegar.

    Now – I've got to get some coffee and quit all this hatin.

  12. I don't do salad; I learned to make bread. But really amazing, simple bread. So that's my one basic to impress people. I really should be able to cook though, my bio. mom was a chef. Maybe it'll kick in eventually.

  13. i am personally extremely handy, but i am not sure where it came from. my mom was catholic before she converted to marry my jewish father. growing-up in the bible belt, i wasn't aware of many self-acknowledged jewish deprecations…like not being handy. i guess i must have gotten my handiness from my mom's side.

  14. I like any nut or seed toasted, sprinkled on a salad. 1 or a combo of many, toasted plain or toasted with maple syrup. Really perks up a boring salad. Yum. Once I put together 4 end tables that had 3 drawers each that had to be assembled. Very frustrating but I felt great after they were done.

  15. I loooove making chopped salads…but you're right, there's very little "cooking" involved. I just chop and chop and chop and throw it all together…

    Last night's:

    Tex Mex Flank Steak Salad

    Thin strips flank steak and some precooked tail-off shrimp(I cooked mine with cumin, salt, pepper, and chipotle chili powder)
    Cubed sharp cheddar cheese
    Red peppers
    Green peppers
    Hearts of palm
    Whole kernels corn
    Diced tomato
    Diced jalapeno
    Red onion
    Green beans (yeah yeah, you're supposed to have black beans in a Mexican salad, but I don't do black beans)

    And the SECRET…mix some sour cream with taco seasoning that you buy at the store. Yum. Don't even need the lime vinaigrette I made…

  16. Just last night I was recounting to a friend how much I loved putting together IKEA furniture. Just lock me in a room with all those boxes and an allen wrench and I'm content. It's like therapy for me, it's so mindless and methodical.

    My absolute favorite salad is an old classic, arugula beets & goat cheese. (although this is the ONLY way I can eat beets, otherwise I think they taste like dirt) I also love a good cobb salad, but it has to be a GOOD one. Crisp bacon, and FRESH blue cheese dressing, like crumbled blue cheese in a vinegarette, not the creamy stuff that should be strictly for wing dipping. As for something I'd make at home:

    romaine mixed with some baby greens
    cherry tomato
    red onion
    halved red grapes
    sugared pecans
    crumbled cheddar
    spicy mustard vinegarette

  17. This is one I like in spring/summer-
    baby spinach, raspberries, sunflower seeds and raspberry vinaigrette. Yum!!

    Stacy-what is rocket?

  18. I need a little meat with my vegetables.

    Try this at home:

    *4-5 slices of paper thin Braseola (air dried beef from the Alps)sitting atop:

    *arugula, washed and separated

    *diced red onions

    *slivers of fresh parmesan

    *salt and pepper

    *lemon wedge

    *balsamic vinegrette.

  19. The best salad ever… this is my staple for summer BBQs…

    2-3 bunches broccoli, florets only, chopped
    1 cup red grapes, sliced in half
    1 cup green grapes, sliced in half
    1 cup scallions, chopped
    Bacos, to taste
    sliced almonds (toasting optional), to taste

    Dressing ~ mix together one cup low fat mayo, 1/3 cup splenda, and 1 tbps white vinegar

  20. It's more of a composed salad than a stack, but I like red and golden beets roasted in olive oil and sea salt, then peeled, sliced and chilled, with blanched asparagus, supreme of orange or tangerine, chopped toasted hazelnuts and goat cheese. Drizzle with a traditional, dijon based vinaigrette. It sounds fancy but it's easy and satisfying and pretty.

  21. arugula, baby spinach, chopped dried apricots, parmesan.
    bibb lettuce, avocado, grapefruit (can add a little macerated fennel for crunch).
    assembly is fun but im really a roast and sautee kind of girl ; )

  22. love this topic. love salads. lately, i've been into a great ceasar with steak and crip parmasean that I bake in the oven to make little crips. also, love pomegranate seeds in salads this time of year. oh, and cripy fried shallots on top of pretty much any salad are delish!

  23. I vaguely remember a salad my mom used to make when I was very little. Iceberg lettuce, bananas, and a dressing that was mayonaisse a little milk and sugar.

    I used to love that salad….

  24. steak (medium-rare, of course).
    dried cranberries.
    balsamic vinaigrette.
    red onions.

  25. My kids love the salad I make every year for Sukkot.
    Sukkah salad: baby romaine and red leaf lettuce,
    pomegranate seeds,satsuma sections, and peeled and seeded cucumbers slices dressed with salt, white pepper, extra virgin olive oil and meyer lemon juice. Yummy and colorful!

  26. Beth, I also love my IKEA zone-outs! Don't you feel so good when you finish something? Even if, like me, you hammered the door to your nightstand in the wrong way and had to redo it and now it looks distressed. Fashionably distressed?

    My favorite salad — besides the spinach one with candied pine nuts and warm pancetta vinaigrette that I don't know off the top of my head —

    -Hearts of romaine
    -Hearts of palm wrapped in proscuitto and cut on the diagonal
    -Quartered artichoke hearts
    -Shaved, aged pecorino romano
    -Italian flat-leaf parsley to garnish
    -Simple dressing of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil

  27. Whenever I cook, I like to think of flavors like colors, and the dish like a canvas. It's a kind of art form, playing with flavors, finding ones that complement and others to pop out. Love the idea of vertical presentation. Very dramatic and eye-catching. Almost sculptured.

  28. Gamma, rocket refers to arugula. It's wonderful!

    I also really like this summery recipe from Tyler Florence:

    4 slices bacon
    3 avocados, halved and pitted
    1/2 bunch watercress, stems trimmed
    1 lemon, juiced
    1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

    Lay the bacon in a saute pan and bake for 15 minutes, until crispy. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and let it drain for a couple of minutes.

    Scoop out each half of the avocado using an oversized spoon and arrange on a platter. Scatter the watercress over the avocado and crumble the bacon over the top. Drizzle with the lemon juice and olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

    Actually, I served this during a Southwestern-themed Super Bowl party, and it was very well-received.

  29. I have a few favorite unusual salads:

    The Asia De Cuba Calamari Salad. I make it at home with chayote, hearts of palm, banana, cashews and sometimes a little radicchio in, but mostly a lot of frisee, and typically it's with a sesame orange dressing. But I use whatever I can find… and I don't fry the calamari but buy calamari steaks and grill them outside, then cut them into strips for the salad. Such a good salad… the banana makes it.

    A beet stack. Red beets, uniform in size, sliced and stacked, and between each layer: fig jelly! Then some crumbled goat's cheese and chopped pistachios. Simple and beautiful.

    The other night I ordered a beet salad with warmed brie, wrapped in pastry, and on the side was a fan of apples. Not any old apples. They'd been cooked and had the texture of peaches, soft but firm, almost like the filling of apple pie. So good.

  30. my favorite salad "profile" – romaine lettuce, sliced fresh strawberries, crumbled feta cheese, and pignoli nuts – drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette of my own making (equal parts oil/balsamic vinegar with oregano to taste, mixed before I pour over the salad).

    yum. very refreshing. a great salad for hot weather.

  31. I like candied nuts, French cheeses and pears in my salads. Yum!

    I also like making my own dressing sometimes with a fruit juice base. Warm orange juice dressing over spinach with toasted pinenuts is especially good.

  32. beets, hearts of palm, chick peas, lettuce, tomato, cuc, chopped
    i also love adding roasted peppers and sundried tomato

  33. Have you been to Mother's, on Duval St? They have the most AMAZING cashew-tamari salad dressing. I bought a bottle and I put it on everything, but it tastes best on their salad- I can't remember what exactly is in it, just that it's not too fancy, but oh so delicious.

    I love sunflower sprouts on my salad. I think normal sprouts taste kind of like dirt, but sunflower sprouts are wonderful, and have the perfect texture.

  34. Ahhh . . .

    The proclaimed "foodie" finally admits that she's really just an "assembler"!!

    Always suspected this.

  35. Smoked salmon (belly, preferably), not-quite-ripe mango and red onions.
    Also my husband makes a mean arugula, goat cheese, walnut and apricot salad with I think a lemon vinaigrette.

    sweet and salty, baby. Rocks my world.

  36. I can't wait to try the calamari salad – sounds incredible! I love this summer salad of watermelon, tomato and kalamata olive:

    1 pound watermelon, large dice, seeds removed (about 3 cups)
    1 medium tomato, seeded and medium dice
    1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and medium dice
    2 teaspoons kosher salt
    1/4 cup pitted and halved kalamata olives
    1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
    2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
    1 packed tablespoon thinly sliced mint leaves
    1/2 ounce ricotta salata, cut into thin strips

    Combine watermelon, tomato, and cucumber in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt, and gently toss to combine. Transfer mixture to a colander and let drain for at least 10 minutes.
    Transfer vegetable mixture to a salad bowl and combine with olives, vinegar, olive oil, mint, and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle cheese over the top and serve.

    Okay back to Grey's!

  37. Gorgonzola, pine nuts, dried cranberries, your choice of lettuce, with a raspberry vinegarette dressing…

  38. Oh boy! As a New Yorker with a miniscule fridge, I can never buy all the ingredients I want in a salad (or they go bad before I can use them all). Cue my obsession with tossed salad bars, and I can't WAIT to try all of these combinations at my favorite corner deli. As for favorites- avocado goes with everything. Seriously.

  39. One that I make very often:

    sliced fennel (the white part)
    red peppers
    shredded carrot
    pommegranate (or grapes)
    cashew nuts
    olive oil/balsamic/honey dressing

    It's a feast for the eyes (especially when I use pommegranate), and the palate as well.

  40. Really? bananas in salad? Huh. Never woulda thunk it…Love the calamari, though. I LOVE walnuts, cranberries, sun dried tomatoes, goat cheese in my salads – with honey mustard dressing. I was eating so much salad that I started getting stomach aches. Someone told me to add a teaspoon of olive oil to help w/ digestion, and it really works! Also love a grilled vegetable salad. This post has made me hungry. I need a great salad for lunch today. Mmm.

  41. Ingredients for a particular salad:
    red onions (in Italy we call them "red onions from Tropea")
    black olives
    white vinegar (little bit and if you like it)

    another one (not so Italian):
    shrimps (cooked and shelled)

    Salads remind me the sun, holidays….

  42. My favorite salad dressing-

    !/2 cup olive oil
    2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
    2 Tablespoons honey
    4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    pinch of sea salt

    Whisk together

    It's so simple yet so yummy!!

  43. My goodness!! I'm waiting for Emeril to sign in with his favorite salad!! I can see alot of people are watching the Fine Living channel.

  44. my favorite salad varies by season. We have wonderful fresh local and seasonal produce at the farmer's markets here in Portland. Right now, my fav is arugula tossed lightly with sherry vinegar & olive oil, and topped with sliced persimmon, toasted walnuts & goat cheese. The amazing part though is the arugula & walnuts were harvested the night before the farmer's market, and the goat cheese is from a local farm.

  45. Kkkkkkkkkatie,

    Did an MD advise you to move to a sunnier climate? You seem to have a depressive-prone personity. Do you suffer from SAD?

    Only because you appear so needy, starved for attention (by your own admission?) and need approval from people who live a less privileged lifestyle (dare u seek approval from your peers????).

    I am wondering how much calmer and less complicated your upbringing would have been had you been raised Christian. The whole Long Island Jewish (and overweight) girl thing is a heavy cross to bear. How did your father win out over your mom on the religion front? Oh, did Daddy have money and was looking for the pretty goy wife?

    How would you have related to the world, to your mother's relatives and to the whole "must marry a Jew thing (or it wouldnt have come up) had you been raised Christian????

    You even chose to live in a place that really knows LITTLE about your ilk….on purpose?? An attempt to grasp the WASPY lifestyle? To be less ethnic?

    You are full of angst…even in your bliss…..heaven help if the balance is disrupted…

    Hubbell may have been a better choice after all….

    Oh, I'm sure this wont get published…too critical and off topic….all this shiite was just running thru my head as I looked that silly photo…..

    jez saying

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