even a broken clock is right twice a day

Among my friends, it is an article of faith that there are two restaurants in my general neighborhood where you can expect (at best) indifferent service.  One is much worse than the other, with servers who seem openly hostile to the idea of exchanging money for goods (food) and services (someone else making the food and bringing it to me)- sort of a “how dare you walk in here an expect me to answer your questions about the menu AND take your order AND bring you a beer.  THE NERVE!” vibe.  I once contemplated walking out of a tab there (it was 2 drinks) after waiting for 20 minutes (I timed) at an empty bar with the bartender ignoring my attempts to first secure another drink, and then simply to cash out.

The other teeters on tolerable.  It’s in a good location, has a commitment to cleanly produced food, and is part of a locally owned mini-chain.  But.  As a former server myself, I am willing to let a lot of things slide, but agressive indifference towards customers is not one of them.  As such, I pretty much never patronize this particular restaurant.

I found myself with a group there for brunch last winter though, because I like to think myself too considerate to force my restaurant jihads on other people, or at least on other people I don’t know well.  A more attentive server could have increased the check considerably, but ours seemed uninterested in serving us more than a perfunctory round of bloody marys.

I digress.  The point of all this is that at this infernal restaurant, I happened upon one of my most favorite dishes in all of DC.  It’s right up there with the crabcake pasta from Afterwords and the black cod at Rasika. It is neither glamourous nor particularly complicated, but it is goddamn tasty, and until that moment, completely new to me.

A burger.

On a salad.

I know, I know, I’m sure that’s not earth shattering to most of you out there, but cut me some slack.  I’ve been far too concerned with finding the perfect burger bun to realize it could ever be anything other than a sandwich.   I have a long and storied history with chopped salads- with bacon, with chicken, with beans.  With beef even, in the form of leftover steak.  But never, ever a burger.

This salad changed all that.  It has all the best parts of a burger, with all the textural complexity and bright colors (my favorite part!) of a good chopped salad.  It’s (perhaps), healthier than a burger, but it’s also far more filling, with much less meat.  The most important part is to dice or chop everything to roughly the same size.  And feel free to alter- I hate tomatoes, but they’d be a great addition.  So would corn, pickled onions, cucumber, or whatever else you have languishing in the produce drawer.  I’ve been known to cook enough meat for several of these salads at once, but it’s also a good way to use up all those leftovers from summer barbecues.  You know, if it ever gets warm again.

Burger Salad

4 oz burger (I like beef, but whatever floats your boat, cooked to your desired doneness/leftovers), room temp

1 head romaine lettuce, end discarded, chopped (or a bag of mesclun)

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1/2 can chickpeas, rinsed

1 carrot, diced

2 oz cheese (feta, pepper jack, cheddar- whatever), diced in 1/2 in cubes

ranch dressing (please, make it from scratch, it’s not hard)

Worcestershire sauce

1. Assemble all ingredients in a large bowl and toss

2. Crumble cooked burger on top

3. Pour over dressing (go with half what you think you’ll need- trust me) and toss

4. Season to taste with worcester sauce and pepper.  Eat immediately,

sherbet punch and hostessing tips

In my family, almost all of us are born in March, June and December.

Seems like everyone else I know is born in October.

Which brings me to my nemesis, sherbet punch.

My friend SJ had a (in her words) “non-important” birthday this past Saturday.  She didn’t want to make a big deal, because it wasn’t a nice round number, and frankly, I think she was a little apprehensive about the number anyway.  However, thanks in large part to my mother and overly festive family, I do not believe in such things as “non-important” birthdays.  Every birthday is cause for celebration, much like a random Tuesday is the perfect time for champagne and popcorn for dinner.  Life is short, might as well enjoy it.  Besides, who looks back and says “man, I wish I hadn’t thrown/gone to that great party”?  NO ONE.

So, I berated talked SJ into letting me throw a party for her.

Happy Birthday napkin

She had one request: sherbet punch.

I hate sherbet punch.  It is sweet and dairy filled and gross and seems like the last possible thing you’d want to mix with alcohol.  What’s wrong with sangria?  Isn’t that fruit punch for grownups?  So, I did what I always do.  I asked the twitters and e-mailed some friends and asked the Kitchn and did all those things at a late enough date that I was basically left to my own devices.  Oh, and did I mention that the punch had to be gluten-free?  Because it did.

My Saturday schedule is always a bit hectic.  I am either completely exhausted by Friday evening, or am not exhausted and stay out too late.  I have to be at the market by 7:45am Saturday (I can push it to 8:10 if I stop here for coffee for Sarah, my stand coworker).  I’m home by a little before 2:00, assuming I don’t make any stops.  This past Saturday, that left me with 4 hours to shower, shop, and get the party and myself together.  To top it off, in a fit of inspiration, we had decided on a vaguely mid-century theme- think 50’s bridge club gathering for hors d’oeuvres.

Between the time constraints and my constant pathological need to entertain, I’ve learned a few things about hostessing, and I thought I’d share:

1) Get dressed.  30 minutes before go time, shower and put your outfit on- shoes, makeup, the whole nine.  It is far more festive to cook in a party dress than in gross jeans and t-shirt flecked with apple butter.  Also, you are wearing a party dress, so WEAR AN APRON.

2) Don’t kill yourself, chances are no one will notice.  I am insane and make everything from scratch.  I will happily cater to your most esoteric requests. That makes this rule is hard for me to stick to, but you should learn from my neurosis.  For this party, I only “made” the sherbet punch.  I bought cheese (the remainders bin at Whole Foods is the best friend of every cheese tray ever), pulled out some pickled pears and pickled tomatoes I’d made earlier, and bought some gluten-free crackers, vegetables, and hummus.

3) Accept help.  Another one that’s hard for me to deal with.  Saturday I completely forgot to pick up charcuterie, so when someone asked if he could bring anything, I texted back “OMG YES PLEASE.”  Problem solved

4) Disposable is okay, sort of.  I am trying to banish paper from my house.  No paper towels, no napkins, nothing.  This is dumb.  I bought small appetizer plates and festive napkins, and did not have to do dishes later (see #2).  Will I do that for a sit down dinner?  Probably not.  But every now and then, it’s okay.

5) Have a good roommate.  Mine has Thursdays off (no class, no work), and so cleaned the house in a fit of procrastination.  If that doesn’t work for you, sweep, wipe off the table, and use candles.  No one will be able to tell you haven’t cleaned the glass on that mirror in 3 months.

sherbet punch

photo: DCBenji

And now, what I bet you’ve all been waiting for…SJ’s Not Gross Sherbet Punch!

SJ’s Birthday Sherbet Punch
Serves….12?  depends on how well your friends play the part of “lush”

  • 1 container Edy’s (you can use another, but it might not be gluten-free) berry sherbet
  • 2 750 mL bottles of the DRIEST champagne/cava/prosecco/sparkling wine you can find
  • 1 cup of vodka (gluten-free note: most processing removes all the gluten, but you can go with something distilled from grapes or corn if you’re not comfortable with that.)
  • 1/2- 1 cup of lemon juice (I imagine other citrus would work, but this is what I had)
  • 1/2 lime, halved and thinly sliced
  • handful of raspberries, fresh or frozen

1) Combine sherbet, champers, and vodka in a punchbowl.  Be careful, it will foam.  Add the vodka and lemon juice to taste.

2) Stir well (AND CAREFULLY).  Once you’re done, the punch will separate into three layers- dark pink juice at the bottom, mystery light pink mixed layer, and then a layer of white/pale pink foam on the top.

3) Scatter the raspberries over the punch, then carefully place lime slices on the foam- if you’ve mixed correctly, they’ll stay suspended on the top and look pretty.

4) Yell at your friends not to muss your creation, and ladle FROM THE MIDDLE ONLY PLEASE.  Serve with a slice of lime in each glass.  Marvel at your domesticity and the fact that you now own a punchbowl.

5) Smile smugly as the birthday girl keeps gushing “it’s so PRETTY!”