Category Archives: Salad

Springtime Grilled Chicken Bread Salad with Roasted Asparagus and Fennel

There are certain recipes that have nearly cult followings online, and the Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken and Bread Salad is one of them.  I’ve never had it in person, but have heard so many people rave about it that I recently decided to put my own spin on it.  It seemed fitting — fresh, small game hens and asparagus from the farmer’s market, and a loaf of sourdough bread from a wonderful bakery downtown.  I hadn’t planned to make it, but sometimes things just come together at the right time.   I made it on a week night, but my bet is that you might want to save it for the weekend as it is somewhat more time consuming than other recipes I post.

That is not to say it is difficult, though.  It just requires more steps and separate preparation methods for multiple ingredients.  But in the end, it is beyond worth it.  The salad is garlicky and lemony with chewy bread toasted in olive oil, enriched with roasted asparagus and fennel, and topped with roasted chicken that will have you licking your fingers throughout.  It would make a fantastic dish for entertaining, because you can prep most of the ingredients beforehand, and then simply compose the salad after roasting or grilling the chicken.  (Just save it for guests who don’t mind deliciousness that necessitates finger licking.)

We split our game hens into halves and my husband grilled them over a charcoal fire (he gets props for the chicken being insanely good).  However, you could just as easily roast them in the oven halved or whole.  If you do them over charcoal, he would suggest starting the halves over the coals, skin side down, for a quick searing of the skin, and then moving them to the center to cook indirectly until they are just done.  Keep a drip pan underneath them as you would typically do in a charcoal fire, and save the drippings so you can mix a bit into the salad at the end.  Don’t overcook and let the chicken rest for ten minutes or so before serving so it stays juicy.

Just be sure to put a stack of napkins on the table and pour yourself a nice, chilled glass of white wine before you dig in.  Spring couldn’t get much more perfect.

Springtime Grilled Chicken Bread Salad with Roasted Asparagus and Fennel

Serves 4-6

2 small game hens, or 1 small roasting chicken
Olive oil
Fresh parsley, rosemary, thyme, and sage, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 loaves of crusty sourdough or peasant bread (about 1 1/2 pounds, to yield 1 pound of crustless bread cubes)
1/3 cup of pumpkin seeds or pine nuts
1 bunch of asparagus, stemmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 fennel bulb, sliced and reserving 2 T of chopped fronds
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 or 2 scallions, chopped
2 or 3 large handfuls of salad greens, washed and dried

Dressing:
1/3 cup of olive oil
Zest of one lemon, chopped
1/2 t salt
Freshly ground pepper
Juice of 1/2 of a lemon, or more to taste

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Split game hens in half (disregard if roasting whole) and place on a tray.  Drizzle with olive oil and season both sides liberally with salt and pepper.   Sprinkle generously with chopped parsley, rosemary, thyme, and sage (or other herbs of your choice) and rub the halves so the seasonings cover the chicken well.  Put in refrigerator until ready to grill.

2.  Remove crusts from bread (take a thin layer off, but you don’t have to be 100% perfect … a little crust is OK) and tear bread into bite-sized cubes.  I threw the crusts into a ziploc bag in the freezer and will use them for croutons in a salad at some point.  Place bread cubes onto a cookie sheet and drizzle lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place the pumpkin seeds on a separate, small baking sheet.  Put both the bread cubes and pumpkin seeds in the oven to toast.  The pumpkin seeds will take about 5-7 minutes and the bread cubes will take about 7-10 minutes.  I broiled my bread cubes for a minute or two at the end, so they had some toastier parts.  Remove both items from oven and set aside at room temperature.

3.  In a roasting pan, combine asparagus pieces and sliced fennel.  Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Roast in oven for about 20 minutes until they are nicely cooked (but not overdone) and the fennel starts to caramelize a bit.  You can also broil this for a minute or two at the end if you want a little extra char or caramelization.  Remove from oven and toss with chopped garlic, chopped scallions, and chopped fennel fronds.  Set aside at room temperature. (Steps 1-3 could be done early in the day if you are entertaining.)

4.  Remove chicken from refrigerator and prepare charcoal grill for an indirect fire.  (If you like, you can start the grill before steps 2 and 3 if you are doing this all at once, rather than prepping ahead of time.)  Place chicken halves over the fire on the grill (with a drip pan in the middle), skin side down and sear for 2-3 minutes.  Flip and move to center of the grill (over the drip pan) and cook indirectly for about 30-40 minutes until done.  Remove to platter and let rest for about 10 minutes.

5.  While chicken is cooking, combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl (could also be made ahead of time).  In a large salad bowl, combine toasted bread cubes, roasted asparagus and fennel, and toasted pumpkin seeds.

6.  While chicken is resting, skim a layer of fat off of the drippings and mix one or two tablespoons of remaining drippings with bread cubes and other ingredients.  Add a few handfuls of salad greens and toss with about half of the dressing.  Taste for seasoning and add more dressing if necessary, as well as additional salt and pepper.

7.  To serve, give each person a nice helping of the bread salad, top with a portion of the roasted chicken (a leg, thigh, or breast piece — or a combo) and serve with remaining dressing on the side.

 

Sesame Crusted Fish Tacos with Avocado Salad and Slaw

So, here we have meal #2 from the Cuizoo Arsenal.  I’m pretty sure I won’t be getting one done per day, but I’ll try to keep these coming as frequently as possible.  I know I’ll be cooking tonight, but once the weekend hits, I don’t make any promises as cooking cuts into my drinking time.  I kid.  (I should mention though that one small bottle of white wine has lasted me *all* week, which is some sort of healthy living record for me.  And no, I haven’t switched to bourbon in an attempt to take it easy on wine.)

Today we are going to talk about tacos.  They are generally a huge kid favorite and when it comes to flexibility, anything in a wrap is about as good as it gets.  Let’s first discuss the shell.  I, for one, don’t really like grocery store taco shells because they just break and make a mess.  When I came across this lightly fried/soft shell method for tacos a while back, I began to enjoy them again.  Basically, you soften a corn tortilla in a bit of oil in a saute pan, fill it with toppings and cheese, fold it over, and let it crisp a bit before flipping it and then crisping the other side.  What you end up with is a crispy (but not crunchy) taco shell with warm fillings and melted cheese.  It’s sort of a cross between a quesadilla and a taco.  This all being said, if you like regular taco shells or if you want to do soft tacos with flour tortillas, it’s totally up to you. One thing to add here is that you should always have some corn or flour tortillas in your freezer (and regular taco shells or tostado shells — which I do love — in your pantry).  It is a no-brainer of a meal.

Second, you need some protein.  Obviously, the choices are pretty obvious here.  A can or two of white or black beans heated up with some garlic and spices and mashed is fantastic in a taco (and about as fast as you can get for a dinner).  Grilled chicken or ground beef are the old stand-bys.  Sauteed veggies with cheese is great too.  You can also do a combination of several proteins and let everyone pick their favorites.  But it seems that the whole world is gaga over fish tacos right now (and I can’t say I blame them), so that’s what we did last night.  On the subject of the fish, I will add that the sesame crusted method I used makes a great and easy stand alone entree with a simple salad or vegetables. You can also add some bread crumbs to the sesame seeds if you like.

Third, you need some condiments.  The easy ones are salsa and sour cream.  Not much more difficult is making some basic guacamole.  When I do that, I simply mash one or two ripe avocados with a chopped garlic clove, salt and pepper, some cumin, and lime juice.  With last night’s meal, I had some tomatoes and cucumbers left over from the previous night, so I just chopped those up with the avocado for more of an avocado salad.  As the veggie or an additional condiment, I like to serve some form of cole slaw or salad greens with tacos because they are just as good inside the taco as on the outside. Find a good hot sauce for the grown-ups at the table and you are basically done.

Now, for variations that we love:  Spicy Mashed Black Beans with a Creamy Red Cabbage Slaw and Queso Fresco or Feta cheese — that is one of my favorites; Grilled BBQ Chicken (or leftover chicken) with Creamy Slaw and Cheddar Cheese; Steak with Caramelized Onions and a bit of Blue Cheese and Balsamic Greens; Fajita style with Grilled Chicken and Sauteed Red Peppers and Onions; or for a VERY quick dinner, just cheese and whatever else you may have leftover or in the freezer (guaranteed to be faster than any fast food).

As for the $15 limit, I might be slightly over because the fish itself was about $10.  But clearly you can make this meal just as easily with chicken or beans and cut that cost dramatically.  So, I’ll let it slide.

Sesame Crusted Fish Tacos with Avocado Salad and Slaw

Makes 8-10 tacos (enough for 4-6 people)

1 pound of mild white fish (I used cod)
1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds (you can buy them pretoasted in Asian markets)
1 T butter
Salt, Pepper, Smoked Paprika or Chipotle Powder
10 – 6 inch corn tortillas
4-6 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
Sour Cream
Salsa
Hot Sauce

Avocado Salad
1 ripe avocado
1/2 cucumber
10-12 grape or cherry tomatoes
Onion
Fresh cilantro from one bunch
1 garlic clove
1/2 of a lime
1/4 t cumin
Fresh cilantro
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Slaw
A small Napa or Chinese Cabbage (or any type of cabbage will work)
Fresh cilantro from one bunch
Olive Oil
1/2 of a lime
A bit of orange juice

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Melt 1 T butter and mix with sesame seeds.  Add to that 1/4 t salt, pepper, and smoked paprika to season (Chipotle Powder if you like it spicier).  Place fish on a parchment line baking sheet.  With a sharp knife, cut it into 3/4 inch slices, but leave whole filet in one piece (See pic above). Pat sesame seed mixture all over top.  Bake for 12-13 minutes until just opaque.

2.  While the fish is baking, mix avocado salad.  Halve, peel, and remove pit from avocado.  Chop it into a medium-sized dice and place in bowl.  Halve the cucumber lengthwise, remove seeds with a spoon, and chop into a medium-sized dice.  Quarter the cherry or grape tomatoes. Finely chop a small piece of onion to make about 2 T.  Chop about 1 T of cilantro.  Finely chop the clove of garlic.  Mix all of the above in the bowl.   Add the juice of 1/2 of a lime and a drizzle of olive oil.  Season with 1/4 t of salt, pepper, 1/4 t of cumin, and a bit of Smoked Paprika or Chipotle Powder.   Set aside.

3.  Prepare the slaw.  Cut the cabbage in half and remove the core.  Thinly slice 1/2 of the cabbage and place in a bowl (reserve other half for a different use).  Chop about 1/4 cup of cilantro and add to cabbage.  Drizzle with about 1/4 cup of olive oil, the juice of 1/2 lime, and a bit of orange juice to taste.  Season with 1/2 t of salt and pepper.  Play with the dressing if needed, adding more citrus, salt, or olive oil if necessary. Set aside.

4.  To prepare the tacos:  heat a bit of olive oil in a large saute pan.  Take one corn tortilla and place it flat into the pan, spinning it a bit to coat it with olive oil.  After about 10-20 seconds, it should be flexible (if it’s not, your shells may crack).  Add one or two slices of the baked fish and about 1 T of shredded cheese.  Gently fold the taco in half and hold with a spatula for a few seconds to make sure it stays folded.  Repeat with another taco (I usually do two at a time).  When the tacos are lightly golden on one side, flip and cook on the other side.  Remove to an oven safe platter and place in oven to stay warm.  Repeat with remaining tacos.

5.  To serve, put a bit of the avocado salad inside the taco and serve with slaw, sour cream, salsa, and hot sauce.  The slaw is also good inside the taco as a condiment.

Crispy Calamari Chopped Salad

Mark Bittman has me thinking again.  He has a way of doing that.  After reading his latest NYT piece, “Chop, Fry, Boil:  Eating for One, or 6 Billion,” I once again realize that people who like to cook have a way of making things way too complicated for those who don’t (Bittman is not one of those people). We teach using recipes, when we should actually be teaching with models and systems.  Whenever I talk to someone about cooking a meal, it’s always the same complaint:  “I can usually follow the recipes, but I have no idea how to pull the meal together and time things correctly.”  And that’s the problem  — getting a handle on the bigger picture is truly the hardest part of cooking when you are learning.  But recipes don’t help with this unless they are written in a “non-mise en place” manner.  (For the non-French speaking, mise en place means simply to have everything in its place and ready to go — chopped, toasted, sauteed, etc. — before cooking.)

So, my plan for the next few weeks is to teach 7 basic meals using a systems focus.  We will talk about soups, curries, pizzas, salads, rice and beans, tacos, and stir fries.  The goal is to give you a meal for each day of the week that you can confidently play with using the ingredients you have on hand.  The meals will be cheap (less than $15 to serve 4 people), easy (done in 30-60 minutes), healthy (whole grain and light on meat), family friendly, and flexible for many types of ingredients.  Because once you know the method for a stir fry or a hearty soup, you can rework it endlessly and never get bored with it.  And the “recipes” may not look like my normal ones (and may seem longer because of it).  I will try to focus on listing the ingredients, but not indicating how to prepare them in the ingredients list (e.g. I won’t write “2 onions, finely chopped”).  Instead, I will work the preparation into the directions so you can save time by chopping onions while water is coming to the boil, etc.  Mise en place is necessary for a restaurant kitchen, but it’s not always realistic for the home cook who is trying to get dinner on the table while doing third grade homework with children hanging off his/her legs.

I think by giving you models and showing you how I would actually cook a meal like this with logical instructions, rather than recipe notation, you can increase the repertoire of meals you cook on a regular basis and start to cook based on intuition rather than following a recipe word for word.  And when you get to that place, I can almost guarantee that you will begin to enjoy cooking more because it becomes an expression of creativity and more of a challenge.  So, our first recipe in the “Cuizoo Arsenal” is a Crispy Calamari Chopped Salad.

A main course salad like this needs only a few components:  salad greens or cabbage, some protein (fish, chicken, beans, or tofu all work), extra chopped veggies, some nuts or seeds, fruit or cheese if you like, and a dressing.  Use the veggies that you have, or the ones that your family loves the most.  We like chopped salads with a creamy dressing, but feel free to use a vinaigrette too.  Making your own dressing takes all of 1 or 2 minutes and is so much more flavorful and healthy than a bottled variety (Here’s my recipe for Balsamic Vinaigrette which you can leave as is or tweak with herbs, mustard, etc.).  In this salad, I lightly fried our calamari, but it would be equally good sauteed or grilled if you don’t feel like frying.  And this easily feeds 4-6 people for less than $15.

Variations I could easily envision would include a Leftover BBQ Chicken Salad with greens, thawed corn, avocado, tomatoes, Jack cheese,and a creamy cilantro dressing; a Turkey, Dried Cranberry, and Pecan Salad with greens, carrots, celery, chopped apples, white cheddar cheese, and an Apple Cider Vinaigrette; a Vegetarian Greek Salad with greens, chick peas, roasted red peppers, green onions, feta cheese and a basic Greek Vinaigrette; or a Pizza Salad with greens, peppers, tomatoes, torn basil, some crisped prosciutto, rustic croutons, mozzarella, and a Basil Vinaigrette.  The key is to take flavor combinations that you enjoy and convert them into a salad.

I’m looking forward to this challenge and I hope it gets you in the kitchen more in 2011!

Crispy Calamari Chopped Salad

Serves 4-6

3/4 pound of calamari (squid) bodies (Not tentacles —Here’s a before and after pic)
1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds
Large bunch of salad greens (or enough to fill a large salad bowl or spinner)
1 cucumber
1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes
2-3 radishes
1 lemon
3/4 cup of corn starch or arrowroot starch (or flour if you like)
Smoked Paprika (or Chipotle Powder if you want it spicier)
Salt and Pepper

Thousand Island Dressing:
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup low fat plain yogurt
1 T low fat milk
1 T pickle relish
1 T finely chopped onion
1 T chopped parsley
1/4 t salt
Dash of cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon Juice

1.  Preheat the oven (or toaster oven) to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Clean squid bodies by making sure there are no remnants of cartilage, etc. inside the pouch.  Slice in thin rings and toss with juice of 1/2 of a lemon, salt and pepper, and a bit of smoked paprika.  Let marinate while you prep the veggies and toast the pumpkin seeds.

2.  Put pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet and toast for 10-12 minutes in preheated oven.

2.  While pumpkin seeds toast, place salad greens in a salad spinner or bowl to wash.  Meanwhile, wash cucumber and slice in half lengthwise.  Using a spoon, scrape out the cucumber middle to remove the seeds.  Cut the halves into quarters lengthwise and cross cut to make bite sized pieces.  Wash the tomatoes and set aside. Wash and trim radishes, quarter them, and chop into bite sized pieces.  Remove the salad greens from their rinsing water, and spin or towel dry. Tear dry salad greens into bite sized pieces if necessary and place in a large salad bowl with chopped cucumbers and tomatoes.

3.  Finely chop onion and parsley for dressing.  Make the dressing by combining mayo, yogurt, milk, relish, onion, parsley, salt, cayenne pepper, and black pepper.  Thin with a little leftover lemon juice if needed.  Place in refrigerator until you are ready to serve.

4.  Preheat a large saute pan with a thin layer of olive oil in it over medium high heat. On one plate (oven safe), place a double thickness of paper towels and set aside. On another plate, mix cornstarch (or arrowroot) with some salt, pepper, and a bit of smoked paprika or chipotle powder.   Take about 1/3 of the calamari rings and dredge in the cornstarch or arrowroot mixture.  Shake off excess and lightly fry in the preheated saute pan.  They will take only about 1-2 minutes per side.  When they start to look just golden, flip them with tongs and cook about 30 seconds more. (Don’t overcook your seafood!)  Remove with a slotted spoon and place on paper-towel lined plate and stick it in your still warm oven (shouldn’t be on, just warm from toasting the seeds).  Repeat with the remaining calamari until it is all fried (if you need to, add a bit more oil to the pan).  When it is done, remove the warming plate from the oven and toss the calamari with a bit of salt and more Smoked Paprika or Chipotle Powder.

5.  Assemble the salad by tossing the vegetables with most of the prepared dressing (reserving about 1/4 cup).  Mix in pumpkin seeds and either place on a platter or leave in a large bowl.  Top with Fried Calamari and serve with additional dressing if needed.

Garlicky Bread Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Sweet Corn

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day lamenting the fact that I have had nothing to post because my summer cooking has been so simple — and really not recipe worthy.  How can I legitimately write a recipe for tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil?  Or chicken on the grill? Or lightly cooked corn with butter and salt? Or cucumbers with a bit of sour cream and mint?

It’s just all so … basic.  When you start with seasonal produce grown down the road and picked the same day, you just really don’t have to do much.  And late summer has all of our favorite stuff — corn, tomatoes, raspberries — which are not exactly challenging to eat up.  Zucchini, on the other hand…

So after my little pep talk, I decided to make something slightly more “recipe worthy.”  A counter full of heirloom tomatoes, a crate of sweet corn, a bunch of basil, and some beautiful artisan sourdough bread were the inspiration — and I’m pretty sure nothing bad can happen when you combine those ingredients.  The key to dishes like this are simple, but high quality ingredients.   Your dish will go from delicious to “out of this world and I feel like I’m in Italy” if you invest in wonderful olive oil and have a great artisan baker for the bread.

This would be perfect for a picnic or party and is still good the next day (the bread in the leftover salad loses its crispness, but my daughter and I didn’t mind and polished the rest off for lunch.)  Pour yourself a large glass of red wine and savor summer.

Garlicky Bread Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Sweet Corn

Serves 6-8

1 1/2 loaves of sourdough bread (about 1.5 pounds)
4-5 ears of corn, husked
1 large handful of basil, washed and torn into pieces
4-6 heirloom tomatoes, cored (I used 2 large and 4 smaller ones)
3-4 T good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil (plus 1 T)
1 1/2 T lemon juice
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Coarse sea salt or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

1.  Prepare bread:  Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Remove crusts from bread (reserve crusts for another use) and tear bread into bite size pieces.  Don’t cut it — the rustic nature of the torn bread is perfect.  Toss the bread with 1 T olive oil and salt and pepper.  Place on a baking sheet and toast (stirring occasionally) for about 8-10 minutes until just lightly toasted. Set aside.

2.  Prepare corn:  Cover ears of corn in a large pot with cold water.  Bring water to the boil (as soon as it boils, the corn is done).  Remove and allow to cool for a few minutes.  Cut corn off the cob and set aside.

3.  Prepare dressing:  Mix 3-4 T of olive oil with lemon juice, chopped garlic, a healthy pinch of salt, and freshly ground pepper.

4.  When you are ready to serve, cut tomatoes into wedges or small chunks.  On a large platter or in a bowl, gently mix toasted bread, corn, tomatoes, basil, and dressing.  Taste and adjust with more salt and pepper or additional olive oil if necessary.  Using a vegetable peeler, make large strips of Parmigiano Reggiano and scatter over top of salad.  Serve immediately.

Late Spring Couscous with Spinach, Zucchini, and Pumpkin Seeds

So the school year is wrapping up  and I am firmly planting my head in the sand related to how I am going to a) keep everyone entertained all summer, b) get my paid work done and deliver a large project at the end of August, c) maintain some sanity amidst the fighting siblings and wet bathing suits and towels on the floor, d) have a house that doesn’t look like it needs an intervention, e) keep the plants thriving outside given that hoses are quite possibly the most annoying thing to use ever, and f) do grocery shopping with an entourage who likes to find every possible piece of crap and put it in my cart.

And this all with cocktail time not starting until 5:00 PM?  Can’t we push that up a little?

Oh, but I kid.  I complain a good game, but I am actually looking forward to summer.  Just the idea of relaxing mornings where we aren’t rushing around to get out the door … or the idea of making a pot of coffee and actually being able to drink a few leisurely cups… and not having to think about getting homework done every night… or throwing dinner together at a seriously uncivilized time just to get to soccer practice.  We are all ready for a little vacation.

This dinner was put together on one of those rushed evenings where we were hurrying to get to an end of the school year concert, but I think it would also be a great aprés swimming dinner when you have to divide your energy between hanging up that wet stuff, making a meal, and unpacking the pool bag. To non-parents I know this sounds like a pathetically small task — but you are wrong. Unpacking the pool bag is a terrible task filled with wet stuff, soggy snacks, water bottles, leaky sunscreen, loose change, hats, visors, goggles, Spiderman diving toys, wallets, cell phones, floaties, allergy medicine, and reading material that rarely gets read.

Ahh.  Summer.

Late Spring Couscous with Spinach, Zucchini, and Pumpkin Seeds

Serves 4-6

2-3 cups of spinach, stemmed and chopped
1 small zucchini, trimmed and diced
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper
Olive Oil
1 1/4 cups water
1 cup couscous
3/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1-2 large green onions, trimmed and finely chopped
4-5 sprigs of oregano (remove leaves from stem and chop)

Dressing:
2/3 cup canola or olive oil
1/3 cup sherry vinegar
1 large clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 t salt
Freshly ground pepper

1.  In a large sauté pan, heat a few teaspoons of olive oil with chopped (1 clove) garlic.  Sauté spinach until wilted.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove to a bowl.

2.  In same pan, heat a bit more oil and sauté diced zucchini until lightly browned and softened.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove to a bowl.

3.  In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil.  Add one tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Add cous cous, stir, and cover pan.  Immediately remove from heat and let stand for about five minutes.  Stir to fluff the cous cous and allow to cool a bit.

4.  Whisk together dressing ingredients.

5.  In a large bowl, combine cooked spinach and zucchini, cooked cous cous, toasted pumpkin seeds, chopped green onions, and chopped oregano.  Re-whisk dressing and pour about 2/3 of it over cous cous mixture, tossing well to combine all ingredients.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.  Salad can be served at room temperature or chilled.  Reserve remaining dressing and add to the salad before serving if necessary (if the cous cous sits in the fridge for a while it will soak up the dressing and may need more.)

Black Beluga Lentil Salad with Ham and Kale

I have been MIA in the Cuizoo world lately.  Sorry about that.  It’s the strangest thing with this stage of life and motherhood (or maybe parenting older children in general) . . . I feel like I never have a minute to rest, yet I never have anything to show for it.  I’m not closing big deals.  I’m not renovating a house.  I’m not planting a garden.  I’m not traveling.

The things that occupy my days are the same old things.  People ask me what’s new and I struggle.  The driving to and from school and activities? The laundry that needs to be put away again? The twenty minute crying benders over the wrong pair of socks or the lack of cookies? The cooking? The grocery shopping? The loading and emptying of the dishwasher? The cleaning up of toys and clothes from the floor? The piles of junk that stack up in the exact same places?

I spend my days in constant do loops and nothing is ever done.

And because of it, I end up mostly frustrated and bored out of my mind.  Is that honest enough for you?

The spring weather helps.  Activities and schedules are changing a bit.  I have gone back to work ten hours per week.  I’m thinking about heirloom tomatoes and swimming pools.  These are good things.  But, damn if I still don’t feel absolutely unproductive and unrewarded.

And it’s the ultimate “it’s not you, it’s me” thing.  The love I have for my kids and husband is beyond anything I have ever known.  I am so truly fortunate in that and I thank the Baby Jesus for them every day.  My rewards come climb in bed with me early in the morning and write me notes telling me how much they love me.  I know that is enough for now and forever.

But what is it about motherhood that makes you feel like you are in Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” silently crying out, simply hoping that the act might break up the monotony and frustration?

Or is that just me?  And beyond, what do you do when you have a leftover ham bone?

Black Beluga Lentil Salad with Ham and Kale

Serve 8-10

3/4 lb. dried Black Beluga Lentils
1 ham bone/ham hock
1 small bunch of kale, stemmed and chopped
1 large leek (or 2 small), trimmed, well washed, and white part thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, trimmed and chopped
1 1/2 cups of cooked ham or prosciutto, chopped
Salt and pepper
2/3 cup of olive oil
1/3 cup sherry vinegar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 T dijon mustard
Juice and zest of one lemon
Chopped fresh herbs, if desired (thyme or chives would be nice)

1.  Place lentils and ham bone in a large pot and cover with plenty of water.  Bring to a boil and cook for about 20 minutes until lentils are tender.  Strain and remove ham bone.  Place lentils in a large bowl.

2.  In a sauté pan, cook chopped kale in a bit of olive oil over medium heat until wilted.  Add 2-3 T of water, reduce heat, cover, and cook about five minutes longer until tender.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove and place in large bowl with lentils.

3.  In the same pan, sauté chopped leeks for 2-3 minutes in a bit of olive oil until just wilted.  Remove and place in bowl with lentils.

4.  Mix the dressing by combining olive oil, sherry vinegar, garlic, dijon mustard, juice/zest of lemon, and about 1 t of salt and pepper to taste.

5.  Add chopped carrots, celery, and ham to lentils, leeks, and kale.  Toss with dressing and season to taste with additional salt and pepper and chopped fresh herbs if desired.  Can serve slightly warm or make ahead and chill.

Spring Pasta Salad with Aparagus, Spinach, and Mint

One of the best things about belonging to your local Community Supported Agriculture farm (CSA) is how quickly the season gears up — and how big your box of veggies gets.   Our first few distributions of the summer season are teasers.  Just yesterday, we got eight sprigs of basil — yet the smell was enough to make me giddy thinking of the big bags that we will get in July and August.  Our smallish bunches of asparagus have given way to much bigger bunches and I’m already over my head in spinach and rhubarb.  And the radishes, how I love the radishes — they are eaten the minute they get in the house. (Given all this talk of wonderful produce, I should give a shout out to my fantastic CSA, Village Acres Farm.)

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You quickly start to plan meals based on what needs to be used, rather than what you are in the mood for.  But I find that it allows you to become much more creative in the kitchen — matching what you have with what sounds good.  This dish is a perfect example.  We were invited to a friend’s house for a party and I decided that morning to make a pasta salad.  A quick survey of the fridge revealed lots of spinach, a big bunch of asparagus, and some lovely green onions.  And the backyard mint patch was taking hold in a way that only mint knows how to do.  It definitely couldn’t be a vinegar-based dressing though — these ingredients called for lemons.

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And so I flew by the seat of my pants but it came together really nicely — in about 30 minutes flat.  It would make a great picnic side dish, but also a nice vegetarian main course on a summer night.  I think the asparagus could easily be swapped out for green beans once asparagus season ends.  Serve it to me with a nice Sauvignon Blanc and I might just give you a hug.  After I eat my radish and soft butter sandwiches and my rhubarb ice cream, of course.

Spring Pasta Salad with Asparagus, Spinach, and Mint

Serves 8

1 bunch of asparagus, stemmed and cut into one inch pieces
4 or 5 green onions
1 small bunch of mint
1 cup of spinach (packed), stemmed and chopped
2 lemons, zested and juiced
3/4 cup of olive oil
Sea Salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup of freshly grated parmesan
1 cup of sunflower seeds or pine nuts, toasted
1 lb. of whole wheat pasta (I used rigatoni, but penne or a similar type would be great)

1.  Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.  Prepare a medium bowl with an ice bath (just lots of ice and water, really).  Cook asparagus in boiling water for 2 minutes and remove quickly and place into the ice bath to stop the cooking.  When most of the ice has melted, remove asparagus with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to dry.

2.  In the same pot of boiling water, cook the pasta according to package directions.

3.  Meanwhile, make the dressing.  In the food processor, combine 2 or 3 green onions (in chunks), zest of two lemons, juice of two lemons (about 1/4 cup), olive oil, 1-2 tablespoons of mint (packed), 2 teaspoons of salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Process until smooth and place dressing in a large bowl.

4.  Drain pasta well and pour into bowl with dressing.  It is good to do this while the pasta is still hot because it will soak up the dressing.  Toss well and let cool slightly.

5.  Chop remaining 2 or 3 green onions, spinach, and 2 tablespoons of mint.  Mix into pasta and dressing.  Add cooked asparagus, 1/2 cup of parmesan, and toss well.  Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

6.  Chill for several hours (if possible) for flavors to mix and dressing to absorb into pasta.

7.  When ready to serve, give it a good stir and make sure there is enough dressing.  If not, add a little more olive oil.  Season more if necessary.  Mix in toasted sunflower seeds or pine nuts, and garnish top with additional chopped mint, green onions, and parmesan cheese if desired.

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Spicy Curry Chicken Salad

So I should start this post by saying it was supposed to be Grilled Chicken and Roasted Potatoes.  But you see, my husband came home very late last night and our grilling was done in the dark — so I couldn’t take any pictures of the work in progress because my photography skills are definitely in the “beginner” category.  It’s a great marinade and a great technique, so I promise I will do it again when it’s either lighter out or I have the proper equipment to take good pics in the dark.   

That being said, we had a couple of pieces of leftover chicken today.  The kids claimed the drumsticks for their lunch and I was left with a half of a breast.   And I know chicken salad is not exactly difficult, but I do think it is a forgotten favorite and it is great for lunches.  Kids typically love the sweet and crunchy texture with dried fruit (or grapes) and nuts/seeds.  If they don’t dig creamy things with mayo (like my daughter), just dress it with a little olive oil.   And while this isn’t overly spicy, you could use a regular curry powder (or skip the curry entirely) if children will be eating it.  

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Spicy Curry Chicken Salad
(serves about 2 people)

3/4 Cup chopped cooked chicken
1/4 Cup chopped celery 
Zest of one lemon, Juice of half that lemon
1 T dried cranberries
1 T pumpkin seeds
1/4 t hot madras curry powder (or regular curry, or skip it entirely)
1 heaping tablespoon of mayonnaise
1 t honey
1 T chopped parsley (cilantro would be good too, but I didn’t have any)
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper

Mix all ingredients and season to taste.  Serve with salad greens, on toast, or with lightly crisped flatbread or naan.

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Cuizoo’s Famous Balsamic Vinaigrette

This is one of my most requested recipes — which always strikes me as very odd because it is the most simple vinaigrette you can make.  And whenever I try to give someone the recipe, I never have any idea about amounts because I always mix it in the same bowl and add the ingredients until “they look right.”   This is the dressing that made my friend Kevin actually like salad.  My two year old loves it… but my seven year old prefers it without the balsamic, so I usually dress her salad separately with the oil mixture before I add the balsamic. 

There is only one key to making it right… good quality olive oil and good quality balsamic vinegar.  And if you have to choose one, pick a decent olive oil and spend a little extra on the vinegar because a bad balsamic vinegar makes a very bad vinaigrette.  Just so you know, I am not talking about a $30 bottle — I generally buy an organic variety that is about $10 for a pretty large bottle.  And when you consider that you only use about an ounce for an entire salad, it lasts for quite some time and is much more cost effective than buying most bottled salad dressing.  It’s yet another win-win-win … more reasonable, tastes better, and better for you because you control the ingredients.  (As you will notice, I don’t add any Potassium Sorbate or Sulfiting Agents to mine…)

And it takes all of one minute to make.

Cuizoo’s “Famous” Balsamic Vinaigrette (enough for one large salad)

3/8 cup olive oil
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, chopped finely
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Chop garlic clove finely and place in small bowl.  Add oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper and whisk well with a fork or wire whisk — until it is emulsified.  If not using dressing immediately, re-whisk before pouring over greens.