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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.

 

Cod in Parchment

A friend brought up a good point the other day.  This is a horrible time of the year to have to give something up for Lent.  Winter has us feeling defeated — with almost a foot of snow the other day after spring started to tease us.  Illness has us down — I’ve been sick with a cold virus (which led to a sinus infection, bronchitis, and an ear infection) for three weeks.  And maybe it’s not the time of the year, but politics and the news have me feeling pretty low.  I attempt to not get too political here (I had some pseudo-stalkers who didn’t like my politics on my old blog), but let’s just say that Republican governors who think it’s a good idea to propose 50% funding cuts to public universities are on my shit list.  Some people invest and innovate through a down turn.  Here in Pennsylvania, we slash, burn, and build more prisons.

Part of the cuts to our university have the potential to decimate our College of Agriculture.  This comes at a time when research on feeding the world using sustainable methods is more important than ever.  So I guess if I were to give up something for Lent (which I won’t because I’m a heathen), it would certainly not be the college that represents, and innovates in the top industry in our state.

Beyond, I think about my grandfather, who grew up on a farm and had a tractor business.  He never went to college.  And yet, through the availability of state-funded and regionalized public higher education, he was able to put my dad through college.   My dad started out as a teacher and went on to become a local businessman which allowed him to put me through college and a masters degree program at public, land grant institutions.  My siblings and I (and all of our spouses) graduated from public universities. My husband and I work at a public university (me not so much anymore).  My in-laws taught at a public university.  My mom, sister, and sister-in-law have degrees in education from public universities — my sister is a teacher at a public school and my sister-in-law works at a public university.   Without subsidized public higher education, where would we be?  I am not saying that any one of us is changing the world.  But I do know that we are educated citizens and productive members of society who contribute in positive ways.

And I might not remember how to conjugate all of the French verbs, but I do know that being exposed to the academy changed my worldview in a profound way.  At a time of economic and global turmoil, we need more, not fewer, educated citizens who are capable of challenging their own worldviews.  Education did not get us into this budget mess — our funding has been steady or decreasing for years.  But we realize that education will have to accept cuts to move forward.  Let’s just make sure that we are not cutting off our nose simply to spite our face.

“Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail.  What you gain at one end you lose at the other.  It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail.  It won’t fatten the dog.”  ~Mark Twain

Cod in Parchment

Since I was knee deep in education, rather than food, I should add that this is a perfect dish for those giving up meat for Lent.  It is also great for kids, as each person can customize what is in their packet and the surprise factor of opening it up at the table is always popular.  Feel free to use other flavorings, vegetables, or anything you have on hand!

Serves 4-6

1 1/3 pounds of Wild Cod (or similar mild white fish)
1 potato, peeled and sliced paper thin
1/2 of a large onion, thinly sliced
1/2 of a lemon, thinly sliced (remaining half used for juice and zest)
1/2 of a large carrot, grated or in ribbons using a vegetable peeler
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
6-8 large green olives, sliced
4-6 sprigs of fresh oregano, stemmed and chopped
Parchment Paper
4-6 T white wine

Herb Butter:
4 T butter
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
3/4 t salt
1/2 t Smoked Paprika
Freshly Ground Pepper

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cut fish into 4-6 somewhat equal servings.  Cut parchment paper into 4-6 pieces that are roughly 13 inches by 13 inches.

2.  Make herb butter by combining butter, zest, garlic, salt, Smoked Paprika, and pepper.  Set aside.

3.  Take one square of parchment and make the first layer with several slices of the paper-thin potatoes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Top with a piece of fish seasoned with salt and pepper, then a few onions, some tomato slices, carrot ribbons, and a dollop of the herb butter. Place one or two lemon slices on top of that along with some chopped fresh oregano and a few green olives.  Drizzle with a bit of lemon juice and about 1 T white wine (per packet).  Gather up parchment into a purse, attempting to avoid any gaping holes for steam to escape.  Tightly tie the packets shut with kitchen twine and place on a baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining fish.

4.  Bake packets for about 18-20 minutes until you see them starting to bubble a bit. (You can cheat and open one up if you are unsure if they are done.)  Place each packet on a plate and open at the table.

Lima Beans with Garlic, Lemon Zest, and Herbs

I hated lima beans as a kid.  They would come out of my grandparents’ garden in buckets and the difficult task of shelling them was a shared responsibility.  However, given the skewed memories of children (and knowing what I now know about how much mothers get done), I probably had to shell about four of them before I decided it was the most impossible thing ever and I needed to go play. Something tells me that my grandmother, my aunts, and my mom probably did a few more than I.

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But I think I hated the lima bean eating even more than the shelling.  This is meant to be of no disrespect to the hands that cooked them, but HOLY SHIT, did you have to cook them so long?  I’m sure that some people like their lima beans really cooked, but I could never get over the mushy, paste-like texture.

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When I started to get involved in our CSA and local farmer’s markets, I decided to give lima beans another try.  I guess the nostalgia of my childhood got the best of me and I was pretty sure there was a reason the adults loved them so much.  And low and behold, I realized that I do indeed love lima beans.  And my kids do too.  But we tend to season them heavily and err on the side of about five minutes of cooking — unless we have a lot of art projects to do.

Lima Beans with Garlic, Lemon Zest, and Herbs

Serves 4-6

4 cups of lima beans, shelled
1/2 red onion, chopped (can use shallots also)
2 T butter
1-2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Zest of two lemons, finely chopped
1 T lemon juice
Chopped Chives
Chopped Mint
Salt and Pepper

1.  Melt one tablespoon of butter in a saute pan, and cook red onion until very soft and slightly caramelized.  Set aside.

2.  Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of salted water to the boil and cook lima beans for 4-5 minutes until just tender.  (Larger beans will obviously take longer than smaller ones.)  Drain the beans and immediately plunge into an ice bath or rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process.  Put beans out on paper towels and dry off a bit.

3.  Reheat red onion over medium high heat and add the additional tablespoon of butter.  Add beans and cook 1-3 minutes, just until hot.  Remove pan from heat.

4.  Stir in chopped garlic, lemon zest, mint and chives (several tablespoons of each), 1 T lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.

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Honey Lemon Blueberry Pound Cake

I have nothing interesting to say.  Would you call that the summer time blues?  I guess it just has to do with trying to keep everyone entertained, fed, appeased, bathed, and exercised.  While I attempt to keep the house cleaned, the weeds pulled, and the damn bathing suits and towels hung up.  It hasn’t helped matters that my husband was on the west coast all last week.  The kids and I are having a great summer, but I’ve just been unable to focus on cooking anything complex or interesting.  When we are here by ourselves, dinners usually include fancy things like eggs and toast.  You would be surprised by how nicely a glass of wine goes with breakfast food.

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So, I was so pleased when my mom, grandmother, and sister decided to come visit us for the afternoon.  Aside from bringing cousins, which are an amazing source of entertainment, I got to plan a nice lunch for everyone — which pulled me out of my cooking funk.  I figured it probably wouldn’t have been cool to serve them the leftover pizza I had in the fridge.  So I made some great tarts based on this Epicurious recipe which were really delicious (and provided me with leftovers to get through the rest of the week).  For dessert, I made a Honey Lemon Blueberry Pound Cake inspired by another Epicurious recipe.  I felt redeemed.

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I made my cake entirely with whole wheat pastry flour and sweetened it with honey and brown sugar.  I flavored it with a bit of fresh thyme — although lavender or rosemary would be equally nice for a little herbal flavor.  If the sweet and savory combos aren’t your thing, just skip the herbs.  I also added some sour cream to balance out the whole wheat flour, which frequently requires more moisture.  I served the cake with some fresh whipped cream and a simple blueberry sauce made of fresh berries, a little water, and a drizzle of honey simmered until thickened.

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The only problem was that with six eggs in the recipe, I had to come up with something other than omelets for dinner.  The leftover cake, however, made a tremendous breakfast.  (Oh.  You judge me.  But if it were in muffin form, no one would think anything of downing it with a cup of coffee.)

You see?  I told you I had nothing interesting to say.

Honey Lemon Blueberry Pound Cake

Makes one bundt or tube cake

1/3 cup whole milk
2 t vanilla extract
6 eggs
1/2 cup of sour cream
2 2/3 cups of whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/4 t salt
1 t baking powder
1 1/2 cups of butter, softened (three sticks)
Zest of two lemons
1/2 cup of honey
1/2 cup of brown sugar
3 heaping cups of fresh blueberries, tossed in about 1 T flour
2 t fresh thyme, finely chopped (or other herbs such as lavender or rosemary)

For the glaze:
Juice of two lemons
1/3 cup of honey

1.  Butter and flour a ten inch bundt or tube pan.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, vanilla, eggs, and sour cream.

3.  In another medium bowl, stir together whole wheat pastry flour, salt, and baking powder.

4.  In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream butter with lemon zest and herbs (if using) until light and fluffy. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by 1/3 of the egg and milk mixture.  Repeat with remaining flour and egg mixtures until they are incorporated.  Do not overmix.

5.  Gently fold about half of the blueberries into batter.  Spoon about 1/3 of the batter into the bundt pan and top with 1/2 cup of remaining blueberries.  Repeat with remaining batter and blueberries (3 layers), ending with a layer of blueberries on top.

6.  Bake for about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, until cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  (Mine took a lot longer than this b/c I was using a bunk silicone pan– which I subsequently threw in the trash — but I think any decent pan will be done within 1 hour and 15 minutes.)

7.  While cake is baking, place juice of two lemons and honey in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer and remove from heat.  When cake is finished, poke holes all over with a toothpick or skewer and brush on about half of the lemon glaze.  Let cool about 20 minutes and invert onto cooling rack or plate.  Poke holes on top of cake and brush with remaining lemon glaze.  Cool completely and serve with loosely whipped cream, blueberry sauce, or lemon curd.

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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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