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summer lovin’

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Dinner, last night. In an attempt to get as many vegetables into us as possible, I threw together a tart, crunchy, juicy salad of shaved purple carrots, chioggia beets, cucumbers and radishes, with wedges of first-of-the-season heirloom tomato, tender baby lettuce, and lots of snipped scallions in a lemon and coriander vinaigrette. I added lots of shredded zucchini to my kofta-style meatballs, and served them on top of freekeh and lentils and crispy sweet onions, all of it drizzled with a goat yogurt tzatziki sauce. Bright flavors and colors for our dimly-lit late night meal, and a crappy camera phone photo for the record.

tweaking taco night

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I’ve been gravitating toward far simpler food during this pregnancy. Though I’m in the home stretch now, my appetite still comes and goes, and the only dishes that reliably work for me these days are straight-up comfort food, meals that are strongly evocative of my youth: simple pastas, mac and cheese, and Mexican food by way of Eagle Pass, Texas and Detroit, Michigan.

I grew up with taco night – and I’m willing to bet many of you did, too. And despite my heritage, I’m also willing to bet our taco night looked pretty much the same as yours: that familiar cardboard box of crispy taco shells, the packet of dry seasonings to mix with ground beef, little bowls of crunchy lettuce and diced tomato alongside. It was an easy weeknight dinner, a meal we all loved, and while I haven’t bought a “taco kit” in years, I still find myself craving those flavors and that satisfying crunch.

But I’m trying to pack as many vegetables as possible into my meals, too, both for the nutrition they bring to the table, and because everything at the market is just so good right now – and that’s how a recent taco craving morphed into this salad. It’s got a little bit of everything I wanted – crisp and crunchy vegetables, savory meat and beans, sweet summer corn, and a creamy, smoky dressing, punctuated with salty strips of crackly baked tortillas. This is a late summer salad that combines some of the best tastes of childhood with the fresh, bright flavors of the season.

taco (salad) night

my favorite taco salad (serves 4 as a main dish)
several leaves crisp romaine or butter lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
seasoned ground beef (recipe below)
1.5 cups drained, cooked beans – black or red, just make sure they taste good
½ cup shredded cheddar or monterey jack cheese
1 cup finely shredded red cabbage
1 cup fresh corn kernels – off the cob
1 cup zucchini – cut into matchstick slices
1 cup seeded and diced fresh tomato
½ c sliced scallions/green onions
½ c sliced black olives
crispy tortilla strips (recipe below)
creamy cotija dressing (recipe below)

Place a layer of lettuce leaves on a big platter (or on individual plates). Using a slotted spoon, add a layer of the seasoned ground beef, then the beans. Sprinkle grated cheese over. Layer on the remaining ingredients, drizzling a bit of the dressing on as you go, and finishing with the crispy tortilla strips. Serve with additional dressing alongside.

seasoned ground beef
1 T neutral oil (I like to use grapeseed)
½ cup finely grated white or yellow onion
kosher or sea salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 t ground cumin
1 t dried marjoram
½ t ground chipotle
½ t cayenne pepper
½ t smoked paprika
½ t sweet paprika
1 lb. lean ground beef (I use a locally-farmed Angus that is 90% lean)

Heat the oil in a wide skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, and cook until softened. Add the garlic and spices, and cook a few more minutes, until fragrant. Crumble the beef into the skillet and stir to coat with the spice mixture. Continue cooking until the meat is well-browned, adjusting the salt and other seasonings to taste. Set aside until ready to use.

crispy tortilla strips

crispy tortilla strips
6 corn tortillas
1-2 T neutral oil
kosher or sea salt

Preheat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil. Stack the tortillas and cut them into ¼-inch thick strips. Scatter strips on the baking sheet, and toss with oil. Toss again, then back, tossing occasionally, until crisp and browned, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and set aside until using.

creamy cotija dressing
juice of ½ lime
¼ t kosher or sea salt
⅓ cup prepared mayonnaise
⅓ cup creme fraiche (or sour cream)
½ cup finely grated cotija (or pecorino) cheese
½ t smoked paprika

Combine the lime juice and salt in a small bowl, stirring until the salt is dissolved. Add the mayo, creme fraiche or sour cream, the grated cheese, and paprika, and whisk until well-combined. Taste and adjust salt if necessary. Refrigerate until ready to use.

A Farmers Market Salad

farmers market salad

You’d never know it from this blog, but at 9 (!!) months pregnant, I’m still cooking dinner just about every night. Photos, too, are still being taken on a fairly regular basis, though they don’t often make it to my Flickr stream until days after the fact. As for the blogging… well, after commuting and work and more commuting and dinner-making and possibly ice cream, I’m lucky if I can keep my eyes open to read a chapter or two before passing out for the night. And I’m generally okay with that.

But I really had to tell you about this salad.

Farmers market season is in full swing here in New England, and between Providence and Boston, we could hit a market just about every day if we wanted. Though Mike and I are no longer just a short walk away, we still frequent the big Saturday market at Lippitt Park, and when we’re there, our friend Lynn (hi Lynn!) makes sure we don’t leave without a big bunch of kale.

Now, I like kale, I really do, but I had darn near run out of new or interesting ways to prepare it until I found a folded up page in the middle of a stack of old papers to be shredded. It was a printed list of specials from one of our favorite old NYC haunts, and as my eyes scanned the list of ingredients for this salad, I knew that even though I had never actually eaten it at any of our many visits to Diner, I’d have to try to replicate it at home.

sweet corn, shucked

I started with the dressing – a splash of red wine vinegar, a pinch of coarse sea salt, the juice of half a lemon, and a palmful of chopped fresh cilantro leaves, whisked together with just enough of our best olive oil to bring it all together. I added slivers of red onion next, allowing them to steep for a bit to lose their sharpness, then I added the kale – half a bunch or so, torn into manageable bites, tossing it with the dressing until the leaves were well-coated. Next came some fresh sweet corn (an ear’s worth of kernels), a couple of ripe white peaches, sliced, and finally, a shower of salty, crumbled Narragansett Creamery feta. Let it sit for a minute or five, until the kale softens up a bit. Then eat.

We ate this alongside Mike’s delicious brick chicken, but the salad was the star – an unexpected combination of flavors that worked just beautifully together. We each had two bowls of it, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be making this right through the end of summer.

East Meets West

Dinner: December 19, 2010

I’ve been working on my perfect chicken cutlet recipe for what seems like ages, inspired by our many Bay Area friends-who-feel-like-family and their delicious tales of Bakesale Betty sandwiches. So I was a little tickled when, in the midst of much discussion and tweeting about a certain salad Anita (and I, despite never having tasted the original myself) fell hard for during her (and Cam’s) recent Boston visit, Anita deemed my cutlet “drool-worthy.”

I’ll probably continue to tweak this because, well, that’s what I do, but I was extremely happy with how these cutlets came out, and I think I’m finally ready to share my recipe with you.

Wishing you all a safe and joyful holiday – may you get everything you hope for and more.

Crispy Chicken Cutlets

2 whole skinless boneless chicken breasts, tenders removed, breasts pounded to an even thickness
grapeseed or other neutral oil for frying

for the brine:
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
½ teaspoon hot paprika
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon Colman’s mustard powder

for the dredge:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
½ teaspoon hot paprika
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons dried marjoram
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon Colmans mustard powder

for the batter:
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon baking powder

Combine the ingredients for the brine in a lidded container or zip-top plastic bag, stirring or shaking to combine. Add the chicken to the brine, cover or seal, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Remove the chicken in its brine from the refrigerator about half an hour before cooking and set aside. Combine the ingredients for the dredge and the batter in separate individual containers. Remove the chicken from the brine, shaking off excess, then dip the chicken pieces in the dredge, making sure they are evenly coated. Dip the chicken pieces in the batter, shaking off excess, then dip them once more in the dredge before setting aside on a plate or platter. (They’ll look pretty shaggy, but you’ll get nice crisp layers of crust on the chicken once it’s cooked.)

Pour about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thickness of oil in a heavy-bottomed pan (I used our cast iron skillet) and heat until shimmering. Add the chicken pieces to the hot oil and cook until the crust is golden brown and the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 170 degrees, flipping the pieces once (I find that using an offset spatula to do the actual flipping, with a pair of tongs to guide, works well – you can gently flip the pieces while keeping the crust intact). When the chicken is cooked, you can finish each piece with a sprinkle of flaky salt or chopped fresh parsley.

If you’re scaling up the recipe to serve more people, you can place the cooked chicken pieces on a rack set over a baking sheet and hold them in a low oven until you are ready to serve.

Back and Blue

Dinner: September 1, 2010

Beets for your liver, radicchio for your gut, blueberries for your heart, and bacon and blue cheese for your soul.

(To everyone who reached out to me with words of encouragement and support, thank you. Thank you. I’m finding my way back, slowly.)

No-sweat Cooking, Day 19

Kale Salad With Apples & Currants

31 dishes, 31 days – I’m cooking my way through Melissa Clark‘s “No-Sweat Cooking” from the August issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray. And to those of you who made your way over here via rachaelraymag.com, welcome!

So about that kale salad that went alongside last night’s brick chicken? In a word, wow. We love our kale around here but I had never gotten around to trying it raw, and this salad was a revelation.

The fun thing for us was that the salad was exactly the sort of thing we could imagine being served at our beloved Marlow and Sons, a beautifully balanced mix of textures and flavors, and endlessly adaptable with the seasons. As we ate, Mike and I talked about how we might riff on this as various things cycle through the farmers’ markets, and I expect some version of this kale salad is going to become a regular part of our dining repertoire.

Get the Recipe: Kale Salad with Apples & Currants