My single girl dinners tend to resemble an antipasti platter: hunks of cheese, roasted red peppers with bits of blackened skin still clinging, hard boiled eggs, olives, fat red grapes, and slices of salami or prosciutto eaten one-by-one, usually pulled straight from the plastic package. Basically anything tasty that I happen to find in the fridge. An ardent lover of mayonnaise, I'll often drop a dab on my little mini party platters for dipping or just licking off my fingers--something that I could never do in front of other people without fear of completely grossing them out.
I've realized that my single girl dinner habits came straight from my mom. On the nights when my dad was appearing at an event and my brother was out with friends, my mom would skip the preparation of a full meal and we'd instead sit down to a makeshift dinner of crackers, rolled up salami, hunks of cheese, and generous dollops of mayonnaise. We'd work our way through an entire package of cold cuts or crackers, making tiny sandwiches and talking about our days or anything else that was on our minds. I loved these dinners, and sometimes even preferred them to the full meals my mom made when my dad and brother were around. The men in my family have never really understood how my mother and I can be satisfied with a dinner of just a few crackers and cheese. "But that's not real food," my dad would say when he would come back to find empty salami packages and no leftovers. But to my mom and me, it's always been the most real.
While thinking up ideas for recipes to share, I keep finding myself coming back to these basic foods that I love. I'm learning that there is value in the things we eat when we're alone and perhaps in need of a bit of comfort. When cooking for yourself or for your loved ones, think back to thing things you instantly grab for when we're not trying to impress or worrying about the scale. It is from these ingredients that your most memorable meals will come.
Smoky Deviled Egg Salad on Golden Rye CrispsI love eggs and mayonnaise. If I were ever asked to pick a few desert island foods, these two would definitely be on the lists. This recipe starts out as one of the most basic of all comfort foods: the egg sandwich, and then elevates it to the next level. I’ve replaced the usual soft deli rye with a nutty Danish crisp bread to add a nice bit of crunch. I also use homemade mayonnaise (recipe at the end). The real key ingredient, however, is the smoked Spanish paprika (Pimenton de la Vera), which can usually be purchased at gourmet supermarkets or specialty stores. If you can’t find this spice near you, you can certainly replace it with the more commonly found Hungarian paprika, but note that you will lose out on the smoky heat of the Spanish version. I’ve included a link at the end for an online supplier for those of you who can’t find it elsewhere.
Ingredients3 medium eggs
2 slices of golden rye Danish crisp bread (suggested brands: Wasa, Kavli)
2 tablespoons of homemade mayonnaise (recipe below)
1 heaping teaspoon of smoked Spanish paprika (also known as Pimenton de la Vera)
Fresh cracked pepper
Course sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly chopped dill
1. Place the eggs in a saucepan filled with water and bring to a boil. Boil for 7 to 8 minutes then remove from heat. Peel the eggs under cold running water to keep your fingers from burning and then coarsely chop and place in a bowl.
2. Add the mayonnaise and paprika to the chopped eggs and mix well. The paprika should turn the mix a lovely orange color. Season to taste with course sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.
3. Arrange two slices of crispbread on a plate with nutty side up. Top each one with half of the egg salad mixture. Garnish with a sprinkle of dill before serving.
Homemade MayonnaiseThis recipe might read a bit complicated, but it’s really just about patience. An electric mixer or food processor makes it a snap!! Once you get the hang of it, you can experiment with the use of different oils or the addition of herbs and spices—I’ve included a couple variations at the end. Perfect in the Smoky Deviled Egg Salad or as a dipping sauce for French Fries.
Ingredients2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon powdered mustard seed
Pinch of sugar
4 to 5 teaspoons of lemon juice (or white vinegar)
1 ½ cups olive, soy, or canola oil
1. Combine the egg yolks, mustard powder, sugar, and 1 teaspoon of vinegar/lemon juice in the base of an electric mixer and beat until the yolks double into a creamy, pale yellow.
2. Lower the mixer to medium speed and slowly drizzle in the first ¼ cup of oil.
3. Add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
4. Drizzle in another ¼ of olive oil, a few drops at a time, making sure that it is all combined before adding the next drops.
5. Follow with another teaspoon of lemon juice.
6. Add ½ cup of oil in a steady stream and then the remaining lemon juice.
7. Drizzle in the remaining oil. If it’s too thick for your taste, finish by thinning out with a tablespoon or two of hot water.
Cover and refrigerate. Will keep in an air-tight container for up to 5 days.
Aioli: For every ½ cup of prepared mayonnaise, whisk in: 1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped coriander and salt and pepper to taste.
Meyer Lemon Mayo: Use juice from fragrant Meyer lemons in original recipe. Finish with a teaspoon of Meyer lemon zest, and some fresh cracked pepper.
Chipotle Mayo: Prepare mayonnaise then blend in a processor with 2 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, 1 clove garlic, 1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika, and a squeeze of fresh lime.
Remoulade: Blend 1 cup prepared mayo with 1 tablespoon each of: minced cornichons, capers, garlic clove, chopped parsley, chopped tarragon, and spicy Dijon mustard. Finish with a few drops of red pepper sauce.
Where to Buy
The Spice House, based out of Chicago, offers all kinds of hard-to-find herbs, spices, and spice mixtures. Click here for Smoked Spanish Paprika.