Sunday, March 04, 2007

Weekend Cookbook Challenge #14: All Aboard for Salads

This month's installment of Weekend Cookbook Challenge is being hosted by Tami of Running with Tweezers. She is filling in for Sara, our regular hostess, who is vacationing in the sun and surf of Hawaii. Tami picked a great theme for this month: salads. Now, this may sound like a strange theme for the month of March but I liked the idea of thinking about warm weather foods while the wind, snow, sleet and ice were all reminding me that despite what the groundhog said it was still winter here in New England. I am kind of piggy-backing on last month's WCC theme of cooking from one of my newest cookbooks. You may remember that I had a very hard time choosing a new cookbook to use last month so since I still haven't cooked from half my new cookbooks, I decided to use another for this month's WCC. It was also while preparing for this month's edition of WCC, I realised that I had a little personal mini-theme going: food from modes of transportation. Last month, it was food from ships in the form of Great Lakes Freighters. This month it is food from trains as I'm making New England Scallop Salad from The Harvey House Cookbook.

The Harvey Houses were a chain of restaurants founded by Fred Harvey in the late 1850's in the American West to serve the railroads, specifically the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. Fred Harvey brought the idea of fine dining at a reasonable price to the burgeoning Wild West and by the 1880's Harvey Houses were known for their fine china, linen, good food and most especially for their waitresses, The Harvey Girls. Harvey Girls and how they helped civilize the West are probably best remembered in the 1946 Judy Garland musical "The Harvey Girls" that featured the Johnny Mercer song "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" (you should be humming that about right now). Like most people my age, I missed out on the golden era of passenger rail service in the United States but I did have exposure to the Harvey House chain of restaurants in the early 70's at the Kent County Airport in Grand Rapids, MI where the Harvey House operated the restaurant. I remember eating there several times waiting for my grandparents to fly in from their latest world travels. Even in the final years of the Harvey Houses, the restaurants presented "elegant" dining option in many ways; at least to a little girl from Northern Michigan. I knew because there was a white table cloth and crystal salt and pepper shakers on the table, I better mind my "P's and Q's". In the late 30's, Harvey Houses expanded beyond food service for trains to include opening restaurants at resort hotels, for airlines/airports, and even an attempt in the late 50's to have a line of refrigerated rail cars. By the late 60's, the age of rail travel had been bypassed by air travel and the Interstate Highway System. With this change in the way America traveled began the end of the Harvey Houses. Today, only a handful of "Harvey Houses" are still open as restaurants with the most authentic probably being the Harvey House at El Tovar Hotel in the Grand Canyon National Park.

The Harvey House Cookbook recipe for the New England Scallop Salad reflects the times it was invented, the late 30's. It offered an usual combination of "exotic" ingredients like cucumber, pimentos, mushrooms, green olives, celery, and French dressing. The salad was the Specialty of the House on the lunch menu at the Victor Hugo Inn in Laguna Beach, CA (the restaurant is still in operation as the Las Brisas). I used the recipe in the Harvey House Cookbook for the French Dressing. I didn't really like it as it had a very oily taste and, since I don't use dressing very often on my salads preferring instead to use a little fresh ground pepper and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, so I chose not use it on the salad. What really appealed to me in this salad was the scallops as they are my all time favourite sea food. We are the tail end of the scallop season here in New England and while the scallops aren't as sweet as they were in December and January, they are still like eating candy. I chose to use huge, fresh Georges Bank sea scallops and not cut them up as the recipe instructs. I made one final adjustment to the printed recipe ingredients; I skipped the pimentos and celery since I don't like either ingredient. Lastly, I plated the salad ala a Cobb Salad (little piles of ingredients) vs intermingling the ingredients.

New England Scallop Salad
Adapted from the Harvey House Cookbook

1 small head of Heart of Romaine lettuce
1 Tbsp salted butter
3 - 4 large sea scallops
2 large white button mushrooms, sliced
1 small English cucumber (seedless cucumber), sliced thin
5-6 mixed olives (from the olive cart at the deli)
1 tablespoon sun dried tomatos, diced
2 wedges of lemon
salt, pepper, garlic powder to season scallops and saute mushrooms

Wash and dry lettuce. Using one leaf at a time, place in single layer on a medium plate. Wash, dry and season scallops with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Over medium heat, melt butter and season with garlic powder. In small saute pan, saute mushrooms in single layer, allowing each side of the mushroom to get golden brown. Remove from heat and place on paper towel to absorb any butter. Using same pan, sear scallops about 2 - 3 minutes per side until golden brown and translucent. Remove from pan and place on paper towel. Place scallops in center of plate of lettuce. Arrange sliced cucumbers, mushrooms, olives, sundried tomatoes, and lemon wedges on plate. Season to taste with fresh squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Harvey House French Dressing
From the original Harvey House in Topeka Kansas

One part tarragon vinegar
Four parts olive oil
Paprika, salt and Pepper to taste

Combine the ingredients in a bowl; blending with an ice cube in the bowl. Remove ice cube before using on salad.