Category Archives: Cooking

Hammer Salad

One of my best friends has asked me to write anecdotal recipes, so here ya go, the tale of a girl and her combined love of tools and cooking.

In my time on the planet, I’ve been exposed to all sorts of people. From growing up on construction sites helping my father do plan (blueprint) take-offs for window bids to the man who taught me how to SCUBA dive 25 years ago and loves to woodwork or restore vintage American Muscle (cars and motorcycles) while he’s not adding to the abundance of salt that clings effortlessly to his persona, I’ve met some truly groovy folks I don’t ever want to forget.

I have to admit, for a girl whose tech savvy is almost second to none, I have always gravitated to getting dirty because, let’s face it, it’s a novelty for me. Technology, for the most part, is a sterile environment. Being a mouse jockey means that I can create all kinds of things without getting the slightest bit dirty, not even a speck of dust under my fingernails.

Speaking of fingernails, one of the biggest influences in my life (who taught me more about the joys of getting dirty while exercising creative skills) was a man, who on top of being a motor-head with what seemed like a permanent automotive grease manicure, selflessly shared with me all he knew about tools, shop maintenance and work space organization. The best part? After a hard day of creating beautiful, useful things in his shop, oh, that man could COOK!

Back in the day, I grew up in a world of spoiled men. Women dominated the kitchen environment in a way that is seldom seen today. Back then, if you told a woman that a man could not only cook, but that he LOVED to cook, you know what happened? You got a woman passed out cold on the floor – or – with a look of shock on their face like they just saw a ghost. Guys can cook, I’m not saying they can’t, but old school chicks like me rub their eyes and do double takes when we find them. In my 20’s, if you got one that loved to cook and could clean on top of all that, you could have called Guinness because it was a friggin’ miracle. Now, not so much. Boys are coming into their own in the kitchen and I love it.

But in 43 years on this planet, I’ve only met two men who effortlessly stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me in the kitchen having a blast collaborating with me to create a great meal. One taught me how to change my spark plugs, SCUBA dive and make Baked Ziti, the other taught me how to organize a shop, maintenance tools, woodwork with a vintage planer, fix an engine block then promptly went into the kitchen and did knife work so beautiful and elegant that it would make you swoon on the spot; all the while growing his own heirloom tomatoes so huge and delicious you could make a meal out of just one.

I count myself very lucky that I have encountered individuals that are so diametrically opposed to my own nature but are kind enough to share their knowledge with me. Where I was once a “geek-in-distress”, I am now a “geek with two of her own toolboxes.” One for the shop and one for the kitchen.

But! My friends have given me the ultimate gift. They turned me into a damsel-in-a-dress that doesn’t fear tools. I don’t fear getting dirty and I definitely don’t fear rolling up my sleeves and putting hammer to object to get the job done on my own, whether it’s in the shop or in the kitchen.

I’m just thrilled because my motor head buddies helped me with one thing they never realized they were: Teaching me how to be safe in spite of my clumsy nature. As we’ve seen time and time again over the last five years, I’m not perfect by a long-shot because if I can step on it, step in it, trip over it or burn myself with it, I usually do. I’m so human it hurts (usually pretty bad). Trust me, I can attest to the fact that sometimes stupid hurts so bad it leaves permanent scarring.

Now since being safe is one of my highest priorities, one of the most important things one of my friends taught me about tools was:

The first criteria of a great tool is that it does the job it was designed to do.

Followed by the words of an intellectual (but not-so-handy) buddy of mine who said:

When the only tool you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail.

What all that means is, simply, you have to have the right tool for the job. While my native tools are things like Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, I once sat through an hour-long lecture about hammers from one of my friends that listed at least 13 different hammer types, from rawhide and lead-shot mallets to ball, framing, masonry and finishing hammers. The man was a friggin’ hammer almanac. If you gave him half the chance he’d probably tell you the right one to use in inclement weather conditions. But that’s cool…you know why? I can do the exact same thing when it comes to almost any piece of modern technology from the smartphone to advanced video game engines. Hey, everyone has a different skill set and I just love to learn. And if someone is willing to share their knowledge, I’m paying attention and taking notes.

But speaking of the combination of hammers and kitchens…

My mom is a HUGE fan of the Property Brothers on HGTV. She’s a “STOP EVERYTHING, NEW EPISODE TONIGHT” kind of fan because she’s constantly looking at her home and trying to figure out how it can be very efficient while extremely stylish. I like watching the renovations. It’s tech and getting dirty simultaneously. Plus I like looking at the 3D models they use in their “ideas” segment since one of my hobbies is skinning 3D models in Photoshop for use in video games.

So, while Mom was watching “Property Brothers at Home” which happens to take place right here in Vegas, I got out a head of red cabbage, a large Rubbermaid bowl and a tenderizing mallet and hammered together a fine salad, thinking “Yeah, Jonathan can put hammer to nail and build a house, but can he literally hammer together a salad? I know I can.”

Betcha you want to know how I did it, don’t ya?

Like any well-trained shop rat, let’s start with the tool list for this project. Remember, I pride myself on minimal cleanup, my current record for least amount of tools used on a dish is four:  The Crab and Hearts of Palm Salad tool list comprised only of a pairing knife, a cutting board, a bowl and a fork.

Hammer Salad takes my minimalist tool approach but I still haven’t broken the 4-tool record (not yet at least).

Here’s what tools you’ll need:

  • A cutting board.
  • A chef’s knife.
  • A food processor. (Optional if you don’t want to julienne manually.)
  • A kitchen tenderizing mallet.
  • A large PLASTIC Rubbermaid bowl.
    • Why plastic? Because my sweethearts, a hammer in a glass bowl with my clumsy nature just screams “disaster”, so stick with the high-sided plastic ones, that way you can relieve stress by beating the fool out of what we’re putting in the bowl. And you’re going to need to, this is hearty material we’re working with.

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Those two are the most important tools you’ll need.

Now for the ingredients:

  • A fresh head of red cabbage
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Vinegar

I’m telling y’all, this is the easiest salad to make in the world. You’ll be hammering it out in no time flat.

Here’s how you do it:

Depending on the number of people you’re feeding, you can make the whole cabbage or just half, that’s completely up to you. Also, all of the ingredients are TO TASTE, meaning that you add more or less as your taste buds dictate.

Ready? Here we go!

First, you’ll need to wash the cabbage under cool water and remove one or two outer leaves until you get a good-looking undamaged head of cabbage.

Next, place the cabbage on your cutting board and slice it in half.

Remove the big white core from the cabbage so all you have left is purple goodness without the core.

Now here comes the hardest part, julienne the cabbage.  It will look something like this:

You can either put the cabbage in the food processor or cut it up by hand. It’s up to you. As I’m clumsy, I prefer the food processor, but I can julienne-by-hand if needs be thanks to my pal who taught me some of his beautiful knife techniques.

Next, after you’ve julienned the cabbage, throw the cut-up cabbage into your bowl and if you’re just doing half of the cabbage, add three fingers of salt to it.  If you’re making the whole head for a dinner party, throw in three fingers of salt twice.

(At this point you’re finished with the knife and cutting board so put it aside…because it’s HAMMER TIME!)

After you add the salt, I want you to pick up your hammer and just beat the holy terror out of that cabbage. Imagine that you are Thor holding Mjolnir and beating the cabbage like it’s Loki trying to hurt your fellow Avengers. I usually grab the hammer by the handle and then come down on the cabbage with the top of the mallet, not even using the spiky or flat sides, just using the top of it to really go to town on it, then rotating it to the spiky side (if needs be) to really get the salt pounded into the cabbage.

Don’t get too crazy or anything with hammering your cabbage, I don’t want to hear how the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Toons came in and turned you and your kitchen purple. Keep it in the bowl, not on the floor, not on your other half, brothers, sisters, children or the cat. Just focus all that Thor-like angst on the cabbage IN the bowl.

We are NOT looking for this:

So don’t be gettin’ all crazy on the cabbage. Giant Green Rage Monster is my job, not yours.

Cabbage is hearty stuff and you really have to let it know who’s boss if you want to get it to cooperate. But you have to admit, this is kind of fun, isn’t it?

Now, after the cabbage has been well-tenderized with the salt, you’re going to notice that it’s weeping a little, meaning that it’s getting juicy.

When you see the juice starting to form, add three fingers of sugar. (Twice if you’re making the whole head of cabbage.) You want to make sure that you’re sugar and salt are in equal proportions to make a nice taste balance.

Grab your hammer and stir the sugar in, then start hammering again, giving it a stir every so often. Two whacks, stir, two whacks, stir…that kind of action until you’ve got all the sugar pounded in to the cabbage.

BE CAREFUL, once you see the juice starting to form, if you get too nuts with the hammer, you’re going to be wearing it. (That’s why we like the high-sided bowl…containment!)

After you get the sugar and salt hammered in, take a taste! Your taste buds should be getting a balance of sugar and salt in each bite. If you taste one more than the other, balance it out by adding the opposite (too salty = add sugar, too sweet = add salt) until you get it just right.

Once your salt/sugar balance is right, it’s time for the vinegar. You’re going to add a splash (NOT TOO MUCH!), just enough to be able to coat the cabbage without overly adding too much liquid. (I stir everything together with the hammer…saves dirtying up a spoon for no reason. But, you do what you want, I am just sharing the recipe.)

After you put in the vinegar, you’ll notice that the cabbage will turn from a deep purple and white to a beautiful magenta color. Now take another taste. If all of the flavors balance, you’ve done it right.

Congratulations. You just made Red Cabbage Salad, a.k.a. Hammer Salad. One of the oldest family recipes in my arsenal.

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For song of the day, let’s hear something that has the perfect tempo for hammering cabbage and cheers for the self-confidence that came from someone selflessly sharing their love and respect of hammers along with their excellent knife techniques with me.  You know who you are. Thank you.

Alesso featuring Tove Lo: “Heroes.”