It appears that 2015 is the year that so many of my favorite pop culture items say goodbye, from Parks and Recreation and Mad Men‘s finales to Xavi Hernandez leaving FC Barcelona after seventeen years to the retirement of Jon Stewart from The Daily Show; had The Mindy Project’s cancellation from Fox not resulted in it being picked up by Hulu, I would have felt particularly downtrodden. When Parks made its final bow back in Feburary we marked the occassion with bacon-wrapped shrimp, but we decided to send out Mad Men with a full spread, complete with a re-watch of the finale. (Not having cable anymore means we have to wait until the episodes are up on Amazon, and for whatever reason Amazon took FOREVER to finally get the finale loaded to the site. I willingly stayed off most of the internet to avoid spoilers all day and instead just kept bugging Amazon as to when we could expect to see it, and it worked–the finale surprised me in many ways, most of them very pleasantly. There will be no spoilers here, I assure you.)
There have been some great spreads already highlighted in the weeks leading up to the finale episode, but we wanted to toast to seven amazing seasons by making some of the food featured throughout the series. In rewatching several episodes recently, I’ve come to notice a curious trend in the show: often if food is involved or shown or somehow referenced, some amount of chaos is seldom far behind. From the double-whammy of Roger hitting on Betty during dinner and then him puking up martinis and oysters the next day in “Red in the Face” to the tractor of doom during Joan’s going away party* in “Guy Walks Into an Ad Agency” to Peggy’s mother angrily taking her cake home with her after Peggy told her she and Abe were living in sin during “At the Codfish Ball,” food and misfortune always seemed very closely linked. When we sat down to plan what we wanted to eat, our menu was seemingly rife with potential mishap:
- Crab salad in avocado: one of the dishes Betty orders from room service after a less-than-thrilling romp at the Savoy on Valentine’s Day (“For Those Who Think Young”)
- Steak tartare and hearts of palm salad: what Don and Bobbie eat at Sardi’s before drunkenly driving to the beach and getting into a car accident (“The New Girl”)
(Oysters were also going to make an appearance, but then thought better of it when we realized we had so much food already to eat. This ended up being the right decision as we had SO MUCH FOOD to eat as it was. Besides: Michael wanted to use some of the beef I bought for the tartare to turn into carpaccio anyway, so there was our fourth dish.)
In looking for recipes, I went decidedly traditional for the steak tartare but was far more open to possibilities with the crab and the hearts of palm salads. The tartare recipe comes from Avec Eric and is as flawless as you would expect, because the non-beef elements all work together to make the beef itself so incredibly flavorful. Had we been able to get super-fresh eggs we would have gone the route of serving it with a raw egg yolk on top, but I’ve read that the combination of the two can sometimes almost be too rich. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to try it as soon as I can get my hands on some excellent eggs when the local farmers market starts up, though, so for now I’m just placing a bookmark on that particular recipe to revisit again later.
What drew me to the crab in avocado and hearts of palm salad recipes I found, on the other hand, were the fresh flavors that were perfect for this time of year. The lime especially does a lot to bring the crabmeat to life, and as it blends with the avocado as you dig more into it the fattiness of the avocado is cut just enough. We kept going back and adding a little bit more crab salad to our halves because the two together were so damn tasty, and shockingly the bowl was picked clean by the end of the meal.
As for the hearts of palm salad…well, to be completely honest it’s not my favorite vegetable, but Michael loves it so I wanted to give it another try for his sake. I’m still not sold on it specifically, but at least with this salad I could eat around the bits of palm and let him eat up the rest.
The most amusing part of this whole escapade was that aside from warming up the oven, we didn’t cook a single thing for dinner. Had we been on Top Chef and made this we might have been singled out for elimination (see the first part of the season 2 finale), but in this case we realized we just enlarged our arsenal of recipes to use for those days that are coming when it is just too damn hot to cook at night.
As a bonus, they all go extraordinarily well with an ice-cold martini (or a Gibson for that matter), so if you feel the need for a Mad Men marathon of your own or finally feel like diving into the series for the first time, it’s hard to go wrong with any of these recipes.
Cilantro-Lime Crab Salad in Avocado Halves from Epicurious
Hearts of Palm Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette from Food+Wine
Beef Carpaccio from Good Eats
adapted from Avec Eric
Serves 2-3, depending on how hungry you are.
- 3/4 pound very fresh beef tenderloin, trimmed of excess fat and finely chopped
- 1 1/2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped cornichons
- 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
- 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 3/4 tablespoon chopped capers
- 3/4 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 3/4 tablespoon finely minced shallot
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 3/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste
- Sea salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper
- Warm crusty bread for serving, sliced into rounds and warmed through
In a large bowl, add the beef, oil, cornichons, parsley, lemon juicee, capers, DIjon mustard, shallot, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco; season well with salt and pepper and gently stir with a fork to combine it all.
On a plate, place a 3-inch mold in the center, surround it with slices of bread for serving, and then add about 4 heaping tablespoons of beef into the mold, gently press down, and then remove. Repeat on second plate and serve immediately.
*One of the characters in this particular episode exhorts the office to “enjoy the liquor and the delicatessen” and to this day I can’t rewatch that episode without getting a little queasy because that combination sounds so wretchedly revolting.