17 June, 2010

Keeping it simple à la campagne.

For anyone keeping track, it's summer 2010 and so far we share home and garden with:
- a 35 kg dog (avid hobbyist lizard hunter);
- two rabbits (who don't get along);
- two guinea pigs (who do);
- two kitchen goldfish (blub blub); and
- six horses (our environmentally friendlier, self-propelled mowers, on loan from our neighbor, so technically not ours).

Sound complicated? We may also be acquiring a few sheep, said to be more efficient, all-purpose mowers (I managed to turn down the offer of a pair of donkeys). And then there are the chickens, who are the only ones who actually produce anything beyond, well, manure.
Right now, there are three hens (Domino, Blackie and Fluffy), a rooster (with a name so silly I can't bring myself to type it), and three (yet unnamed) no-longer-chicks. I don't yet know whether they are boys or girls. Girls will be able to stay, boys not so much. No chickens we've named will be going in our pot though; I'm not a farmer--I'm not even a country girl by upbringing (plus I'm not hungry enough). In the meantime, boy, do the girls ever make some fine eggs, with orangish-gold yolks.
Blackie, a Marans chicken, lays torpedo-shaped eggs so narrow that the yolk takes up all the middle space.Fluffy is our absurdly soft, gentle Faverolle, who can be seen stretching her neck for a better view below. There are always shifting politics in the henhouse, and at the bottom of the totem pole, she has taken to laying her eggs in the grass, so egg-gathering has become a proper egg hunt, to the immense satisfaction of the kids. But along with all this convoluted animal busy-ness, I am periodically faced with an overabundance of eggs. (A dire problem, non?) One very simple, very French solution--just right for a warm weather lunch--is salad. I'm not referring to a lavish salade composée covered with toppings in every color of the rainbow, nor do I have the minimalist side salad in mind. I'm talking a robust yet uncomplicated salad liberally scattered with organic lardons (small chunks of bacon), sliced or poached eggs, with a nicely mustardy dressing.

It may seem superfluous to offer directions for something as basic as dressing, but that's just it: everyone should have a from-scratch favorite. The kind of taste-enhancing sauce you can nearly make with your eyes closed. I almost always go by the 3 to 1 oil to acid ratio, and this is my everyday, go-to dressing. You can use my version to refine or develop your own standard version. Let's see, a modest glass of the house white, a baguette and a small cheese plate on stand-by...and mmm, you're in like Flynn.La Sauce Maison (The House Dressing)

Makes more than enough dressing for 4 meal-size salads.

generous pinch of salt
a bit of fresh-ground pepper
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 scant teaspoon (liquid) honey
2 tablespoons good balsamic or sherry vinegar, or fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil, or walnut oil (or--more hedonistic--bacon fat from the just-cooked lardons, but then add a touch more mustard)
4 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

a squeeze of mayonnaise
a few tablespoons of freshly chopped herbs, such as tarragon and chives/chive blossoms; mint, basil, cilantro....

Stir together the salt, pepper, mustard and honey in a jar (one with a tight-fitting lid). An old jam jar is good. Add the vinegar to the mustard and honey paste, and stir to dissolve the salt (the salt won't dissolve if you add it after the oil--not the end of the world but it does add incrementally to the final effect). Pour in the oils, any fresh chopped herbs, and seal and shake as if your entire well-being depended upon a decent emulsion. Taste and adjust with a bit more mustard and pepper as necessary. Wait until the last possible moment to add the sauce to the lettuce. Do make sure the washed greens are bone-dry before dressing (after the salad spinner, I roll the lettuce up in a clean kitchen towel to absorb the last microdroplets).


  1. Mmmmm. That salad is gorgeous! I do love homemade dressing. Mine's pretty similar, except I don't use honey. I've been using a delicious fig balsamic vinegar lately. It is so fantastically sweet on its own. Any reason why you don't use all olive oil? What vegetable oil do you favor?

    Sadly, I cannot have chickens where I live, but I have found a good source of amazing free-range eggs, laid by chickens that actually peck around on the ground and eat grass and bugs and whatnot. I love the fact that they are not uniform in size, and that the yolks are practically orange. I always thought I was an egg-hater until I tasted a "real" egg. Quelle difference!

  2. You are lucky! Even when I buy the organic eggs from New-Zealand at Whole Foods, the yolks are not as orange as the ones my sister gets from her hens. Have you ever tried to put some shallot in the dressing?
    My mother used to make a great young dandelion salad with "lardons" and eggs.

  3. Hello Rose,
    That sounds like a mighty fine vinegar, and I wouldn't use a sweetener then, either. I don't use honey if I use my really old, fine balsamic vinegar.

    I adore olive oil, but the grassy green, peppery types I favor (Sicilian et al.) can be rather domineering flavor-wise, so I cut them with a milder oil. Olive oils are also more difficult to truly emulsify.

    It's difficult to go back to conventional eggs after you've had truly organic eggs. A friend of mine reports baking with her backyard eggs and no longer using a rising agent, because the eggs rise so well on their own!

    Oh Nadege,
    I forgot! Minced shallots in dressing are so French and so, so good! Thanks for reminding me...Boy, I could serve enough dandelion salad for an army, given the quantity that grows around here. Lucky girl, it sounds like your mother really knew her way around the garden and the kitchen.


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