Category Archives: salads

Chopped

Despite a language barrier, Danielle and I work well as a team using hand signals

We had an hour, but it is 20 minutes now until judging and the chicken is raw. And then there is the peanut butter issue.

In our basket at the Char-Broil version of Chopped are the mystery ingredients: a whole chicken, a fennel bulb, a stick of butter, bacon, a wedge of blue cheese, a pineapple and a horrifying jar of chunky peanut butter. We have to use all of them in our dish. The Char-Broil people, who have kindly invited the All-Star Bloggers to a resort outside Atlanta, have thoughtfully provided us with a nifty “kitchen” consisting of two disposable cutting boards, a half sheet pan, a moderately sharp knife, and four miniscule bowls.

Fear the Diva

But I have the ace card in my corner. My teammate is Danielle Dimovski, the reigning world pork champion better known as Diva Q. I am totally set here. This is going to be a walk in the park. “I know exactly what we’re going to do,” says Danielle as she hacks away at the pineapple. “We’re going to make beer-can chicken but we’re going to use the pineapple as the beer can. We can totally do this in an hour.” I have a slightly difficult time understanding her. Danielle is from Canada and she uses words like “aboat” (about) and “hoose” (house). Then again I use words like “haid” (head) and “bidness” (business). We have a slight language barrier, but we’ll work through that.

There are screaming hot Char-Broil TRU-Infrared grills set up around the Lake Pavilion at Serenbe, an insanely gorgeous planned community. Danielle slams that chicken onto the pineapple spike, rubs on some spices and citrus juice (the bloggers have a common “pantry” of additional ingredients we can use),  slaps the whole thing authoritatively on the grill and slams the lid shut.

If you’ve ever watched Chopped, the Food Network Show where four chefs are given mystery baskets of insanely inappropriate ingredients, you will understand that Danielle and I had to take a few minutes to ponder the butter, blue cheese, bacon, fennel and peanut butter.

Bacon? Obviously, no problem. We cook it on a grill pan. Fennel? Shave it and briefly kiss it with some grill marks. Alrighty then. We’re left with the butter, blue cheese and peanut butter. Yummy, yum, yum.

I am slightly reticent to offer suggestions to the world pork champion, but I wonder if we can’t use the peanut butter with some barbecue sauce to make a dipping sauce for the chicken. Why the hell not? We throw the peanut butter, barbecue sauce, a bit of lemon juice and a bit of Worcestershire into one of our pygmy bowls.  We throw in some bacon grease and butter. It looks like baked beans. But it tastes good.

It is now 20 minutes before turn in. Danielle lifts the lid of the grill. The chicken is…raw. Plan B. Plan B! This woman is a rock star. She takes the knife and dissects that chicken right on the grill! Two chicken breasts off the bird and onto the grill. I retreat to make a vinaigrette for the fennel.

Grilled chicken with fennel slaw and our almost-award-winning pineapple and bacon bites

I am going to cut to the chase.We made a grilled chicken breast over grilled fennel slaw in a citrus vinaigrette topped with blue cheese and bacon crumbles. But the single thing that makes our dish is this: We took some of the pineapple, cut into spears, and grilled it. Then we topped it with our peanut butter barbecue sauce concoction and then we put a strip of bacon on top. Sweet and salty on top of sweet and salty. They were over the top. The chicken and the fennel, not so much. Danielle and I knew this. Even though we don’t speak the same language we are realists.

We got honorable mention, based solely on our pineapple bacon bites. The winner was a New York

Christo modest in victory

City chef, Christo Gonzales, who made a chicken breast stuffed with fennel, bacon and blue cheese with a peanut butter and citrus jus. What a show off. Oh, I’m sorry. That’s not ladylike. But we’re not bitter. We applauded Christo, took a bite of his chicken and conceded we were outdone.

I will say this. After the competition, we had quite a few pineapple bacon bites left. And one by one, our fellow bloggers slowly sauntered over to our station and ate them all. I’m just sayin’.

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Filed under cheese, chicken, pork, salads, sides, Uncategorized, veggies

The third Saturday in October: Cherry tomatoes and despair

It is the third Saturday in October. There are beautiful sweet cherry tomatoes at the Farmer’s Market. That will be a bright spot in an otherwise trying day.

The third Saturday in October is the Tennessee-Alabama game. It is also right smack dab on or near to Mark’s birthday every year. It’s kind of like getting married the day before April 15, which we did. Our anniversary is always tinged with bitterness as we ready our tax return – and check – to our hapless, idiot government that will waste it on $47 screws. Speaking of screwed, we as a country are right now. I want to go to Wall Street and protest. But I can’t afford the plane ticket, this being a stinkin’ recession and all.

But I digress. So, most years, Tennessee does not do well against Alabama. Most years, I watch the game in the bedroom so I do not have to hear Mark’s constant screaming at the TV. Most years, we start drinking before halftime so that by the end of the game we have a hard time remembering who was even playing. It gets that bad. Happy birthday, honey! He does not tell me to shut up, but he is thinking it.

This year, the game was played on the eve of Mark’s birthday. We got clobbered. Taken to the cleaners. Whooped upside the head. Mark was inconsolable and headed to the deck for solitude so he could properly wallow in his depression. I tip-toe out there. He is pretending to read. I imagine the title of the book: “Hurts so bad: What it means to be a Tennessee fan.” Happy birthday, honey! Happy birthday? Oh, never mind.

So, there is nothing in the world to cure a bad case of depression like Eggs Benedict, which I make him this morning now that he has gotten his appetite back. If you are afraid of making hollandaise and resort to that little packet in the grocery store, please reconsider. It takes five minutes and it never fails. Here’s the recipe.

And the cherry tomatoes, tossed with some fresh basil, salt, pepper and olive oil are a perfect side dish. Hollandaise sauce? Bad, bad, bad but oh so good! Tomatoes are redemption every second bite. I am loading up on restorative food to erase the horror of last night. Supper will be his favorite dish, mustard chicken. And then German chocolate cake for dessert, not just like his mother used to make because I got it at my beloved Publix. But it’s the thought that counts.

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Filed under breakfast, eggs, salads, sides, Uncategorized, veggies

Ham salad

I am listening to Jacques Pepin on one of my food podcasts this morning and he is talking about what cooks really need to do is keep it simple. No asparagus foams or blood orange coulee. Just roast a chicken and serve it right up. And I wondered if my ham salad qualifies. I would be interested to know if Jacques Pepin actually has ever had ham salad. Or if he knows Mrs. Grissom.

Everyone in the South knows Mrs. Grissom. She started out as the pimento cheese lady and then she ventured into chicken salad and, finally, ham salad. Which is where my husband met her. Not actually. But there isn’t a supermarket below the Mason-Dixon line that doesn’t carry her products. And she’s a feisty old broad, still showing up at her factory in Nashville well into her nineties. The other day Mark was pining away for some Mrs. Grissom’s ham salad and I went to my beloved Publix to get some. And, shockingly, they didn’t have any. Maybe other people were also having Mrs. Grissom’s ham salad attacks and they had run out. I don’t know.

So I decided to make my own and this is so simple I am almost embarrassed to post this but if you, too, are having a ham salad attack one day and cannot find Mrs. Grissom’s you can make your own ham salad too.

First you have to start out with a very humble ham steak. I think this one cost $3.49. You may not think you’ve seen this, but you have. It’s the thing you walk by and wonder, “Who ever buys that?” I do. Mark just loves it simply fried in a cast iron skillet. Once you get it home, do the same thing. Fry it. It only takes about 2 minutes on each side. And then let it cool, trim the fat and remove the bone.

And then all you do is cut it into pieces, put it in your food processor and pulse until the ham is chopped very fine but hasn’t turned to mush. I like to keep things simple where ham salad is concerned. No pickle relish or chopped hard-boiled egg. Just mayonnaise and a little Durkee’s. Durkee’s is probably a story all by itself, but I’ll save that for another day.

There is no recipe here. Just add as much mayonnaise as you like in a ham salad and then add a touch of Durkee’s or plain yellow mustard if you don’t have the Famous Sauce. Taste it before you add any salt. Sometimes the ham is salty enough already.

As I said, I was not actually thinking of blogging about something so simple, but this morning Mark got out the last of the ham salad and started eating it on crackers for breakfast. Really? “This is the best ham salad I’ve ever had,” he mumbled as a few stray cracker crumbs hit the kitchen floor. Really? Better than Mrs. Grissom’s? I hope she doesn’t read this. I’d hate to give her a heart infarction or something.

 

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Bok choy and Ramen noodle salad

Ladies who lunch. It sounds dainty, but it is not. When you throw a potluck, all the rules of dietary etiquette go right out the front door because everyone brings their A game.

So the members of the P.E.O. Sisterhood, Chapter AG in Franklin, Tennessee, held a potluck yesterday. You have to understand that these are women who know their way around the kitchen. We all practically brought bibs with us. Generally, we try to coordinate our offerings so that there are not too many casseroles and not enough salads. But I forgot this cardinal rule of potluck gamesmanship and made my famous bok choy and ramen noodle salad. Apparently, it is world famous because two other sisters brought their own versions. This is somewhat akin to two women wearing the same dress at a party. Fortunately, all the salads looked completely different and we spaced them out on the buffet table so as not to draw attention to the similarities.

Here’s how it always goes. As you move down the buffet line you attempt restraint. You take a little bit of the tortellini salad and just a dab of the shrimp scampi, a wee smidge of the chicken linguine casserole and just one deviled egg. But before you know it, you look at your plate and realize it resembles something common at the Golden Corral. You are slightly embarrassed until you see everyone else has done the same thing. Then you come back for seconds and aren’t too shy to make a third trip for the caramel cake.

And then you realize you’ve gone and done it. You’ve made a big, fat pig out of yourself. And you feel fine about that.

Bok Choy and Ramen noodle salad

½ cup red wine vinegar

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup white sugar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

¼ cup butter

1 package Ramen noodles, crushed

¼ cup slivered almonds

¼ cup sesame seeds

4 strips cooked bacon

1 head bok choy

5 green onions

Combine vinegar, oil, sugar and soy sauce in a bowl and whisk thoroughly to combine. Reserve.

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the noodles, almonds and sesame seeds. Saute until golden brown. Reserve.

Slice the white stalk of the bok choy into thin bite-sized pieces. Slice the green leaves of the bok choy into equally bite-sized pieces. Slice the green onions, including green parts, thinly and add to bok choy.

Sprinkle Ramen noodle mixture and bacon over the top of the salad. Add the dressing and toss thoroughly.

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Artichoke rice salad

After my rant the other day about processed foods, I will now reveal to you one of the processed foods I cannot do without: Rice-A-Roni.

When I was growing up, Rice-A-Roni was marketed as “The San Francisco Treat” because that’s where it was invented. The commercial featured a cable car, with clanging bell. Our family made our first trip to San Francisco when I was about nine, and when I heard one of those cable car bells  the first thing I thought of was Rice-A-Roni. My mother was so disappointed. Mass marketing was already clouding my world view.

One of the best and highest uses of Rice-A-Roni is in cold salads. The beauty of it is that you don’t need to worry about adding any seasonings, because everything is in the tasty packet you add to the rice and pasta. I will tell you that I think the Rice-A-Roni people have the cooking directions wrong. The package calls for adding 2 cups of water to the pot. I always use a cup and a half. Otherwise, the rice can get mushy.

Use any Rice-A-Roni flavor for a cold salad and then just add in what you like. Here Chicken Rice-A-Roni gets a boost from lemony artichoke hearts.

Artichoke rice salad

1 box Chicken Rice-A-Roni

2 green onions, chopped

1 can artichoke hearts

1/3 c. green pepper, chopped

1/3 c. green olives with pimento, chopped

1/3 cup mayonnaise

Prepare Rice-A-Roni using 1 ½ cups of water instead of the 2 cups called for in the directions and omitting butter. Chill. Drain the artichoke hearts and chop into large pieces. Mix with the onions, olives, pepper, mayonnaise and cooled Rice-A-Roni.

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Panzanella salad

Yes, we are on a salad kick. This is because I gained five pounds eating funeral food and another two when Bunny and I took our whirlwind trip through the Presidential Court cafeteria at UT, feeling compelled to stop at each and every food station for a sample.

Since it’s tomato season, thank goodness, a panzanella salad is in order. Panzanella is just a peasant salad, really, that originated in Italy. It’s made with vine-ripe tomatoes and stale bread. Sometimes cucumbers, onions and basil are added, but I think that’s veering precariously close to gazpacho. Since Chez Mayhew rarely has stale bread sitting around, I make my salad with homemade croutons. Once you make your own croutons, you’ll never buy them again, I promise. Just take some sturdy rustic bread, any type, and cut it into cubes. Douse it in olive oil, sprinkle salt and oregano on top (or any herb you like) and bake them at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes or until they’re crispy and beginning to brown. Obviously, use them on regular salads, but you can also crumble them for casserole toppings or just serve them in a bowl alongside drinks. They’re that good.

So for the panzanella salad, I’m almost embarrassed to call this a recipe. It’s not. It’s not even a procedure. Take a few tomatoes and chop them up. Add an equal amount of croutons. You don’t need any additional salt because the croutons are salty enough. Mix the tomatoes and croutons and let the salad sit for a few minutes so the tomato juice begins to soak into the croutons.

And that is it. It is super fresh, super delicious and super easy.

 

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Filed under breads, salads, Uncategorized, veggies

Caprese salad

One of the most honorable uses of tomatoes in the summer is to assemble a Caprese salad. Ya’ll, I had to look this up but Caprese salad means salad in the style of Capri and originated in the Italian region of Campania.

I think my first revelation about this came years ago when I realized that mozzarella for this salad does not come in a plastic bag hanging in the cheese section of the supermarket. In fact, most supermarkets don’t carry the kind of mozzarella you need which is fresh, fresh, fresh and in a ball. Sometimes it comes in a plastic tub filled with liquid. Lately, I’ve seen it at The Fresh Market just wrapped in plastic. You have to have this or don’t even bother.

The second thing you have to have are real tomatoes. You can only make this salad during tomato season. It drives me absolutely up the wall to go into a restaurant in January and see this salad on the menu. I always ask the waiter if the tomatoes are in season. Trick question. The waiter is usually clueless and assures me they are. Liar, liar, pants on fire! If you order this salad in January, you will get what you deserve: flavorless orbs injected with chemicals to turn them red picked by slave labor in Florida. Not so appetizing, eh?

So, because I am so blessed to have a great farmer’s market nearby, this time of year I pick up not only the traditional red tomatoes, but also sweet yellow ones and beautiful heirlooms like the green zebra. Layer them with the fresh mozzarella, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, add a sprinkling of freshly ground salt and pepper. Serve with crusty bread for sopping up the dressing. Fall into a chair delirious with the bounty of the summer harvest.

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