Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Chicken salad with guacamole and the world's ugliest squash dish

Well, I managed to screw up Mark Bittman's delicious squash recipe tonight. I'm so mad at myself - I peeled, seeded, and diced a huge local butternut squash during the kid's first nap this morning, so I braised and glazed a big handful in the afternoon for his (early) dinner. Practicing the dinner recipe = guaranteed dinner success, right? Not so much.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. For dinner last night, we turned to Rick Bayless for

Grilled Chicken Salad with Rustic Guacamole, Romaine, and Queso Anejo

For the dressing
1/2 c vegetable oil, plus a little
4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
Fresh hot green chiles to taste (Bayless recommends 2 serranos or 1 jalepeno, I used a dried chile de arbol because we didn't have fresh)
1/2 c fresh lime juice (or a little less, or fill it out with bottled lemon juice)
3/4 c loosely packed cilantro (Bayless says roughly chopped, I didn't chop it)
1/4 t ground pepper

For the salads
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2 inch slices
2 ripe avocadoes
2 medium romaine hearts, sliced into 1/2 inch ribbons (about 8 cups)
1/3 c grated queso anejo or another garnishing cheese

Heat oil in small skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and chiles; cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft and lightly browned (usually 1 to 2 minutes). Pour oil, garlic and chiles into blender jar or food processor. Add lime juice, cilantro, 1 scant teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Process until smooth.

Pour 1/3 of dressing over chicken breasts, spreading it evenly over all sides.

Heat a grill pan or gas grill to medium to medium-high heat (or start a charcoal fire and let it burn until coals are medium hot and covered with white ash). Lightly brush or spray onion slices with oil; sprinkle with salt. Lay chicken and onion on grill pan or grill. Cook until chicken is just cooked through and onion is well browned (3 to 4 minutes on each side). Chop onion into small pieces and scoop into bowl.

Pit and peel avocados, scooping flesh into bowl with onion. Add another 1/3 of dressing, then coarsely mash everything together with old-fashioned potato masher, large fork or back of spoon. Taste and season with salt (usually about ½ teaspoon).

Scoop the sliced romaine into large bowl. Drizzle on remaining 1/3 of dressing and toss to combine. Divide between 4 dinner plates. Scoop a portion of guacamole into center of each plate. Cut each breast into cubes and arrange over guacamole. Sprinkle each plate with garnishing cheese. Serve.

As you can see from my notes in the ingredients section, I didn't make this entirely according to the recipe. In fact, neither Josh nor I felt like dragging out the grill despite the fact that it's been in the 50s, in the Midwest, in January, so we cooked the marinated chicken breasts and the onions under the broiler and it worked beautifully. We didn't add cheese either, since I hadn't thought to buy any over the weekend.

Still, this remains one of our favorite salads. The dressing is flavorful and tart, the chicken stayed moist despite the broiler, and the roasted-onion guacamole adds a richness and sweetness that makes this salad feel like a great main course. Yum.

Now, back to the Braised and Glazed Butternut Squash with Pesto (click for the recipe). This recipe is genius. You simply cook a butternut squash, cut into cubes, in a little simmering stock in a skillet, then turn up the heat, remove the lid, and let the heat and the little bit of oil you used in the beginning turn that sweet squash into crispy, browned, lovely little bites of winter. Adding pesto, I thought, would bring enough complexity to the squash that we wouldn't feel glum having just a vegetable as a main course without much fanfare. The baby's version, sans pesto, was EXCELLENT, and I couldn't wait to show off for my husband.

So I got cocky. "I'll put the baby to bed, dear, just keep an eye on the stove and turn off the heat if the squash is fork-tender." I added too much stock, stayed away too long, and by the time I came downstairs a wet pan of overdone cubes awaited me.

It still tasted great! But imagine adding half a cup of pesto to the skillet I just described. The finished product looked, well, looked like it had already been to the digestion rodeo. Notice there are no pictures again? You'd be angry if I had posted any.

Accompanying dinner tonight was a pan of roasted broccoli and one of roasted zucchini coins, each cooked at 375 with a little olive oil and seasoning until finished. I threw a couple Spanish olives on the plate to bring some salty punch to the squash and Josh and I agreed that it was delicious - but this recipe is coming back, and I'm going to do it right next time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pork tenderloin review and a bonus green bean recipe!

I'm out of the habit of taking pictures while I cook, so you'll have to trust me that last night's Pork Tenderloin a la Mexicana was delicious and beautiful. Rick Bayless has done it again, and you should go buy his book right now. Mean it.

As you can see at the recipe link (or in your new copy of Mexican Everyday that you just bought), the pork tenderloin is cut into one-inch cubes, browned, and then set aside while you build a sauce of roasted poblano pepper strips, canned tomatoes, garlic, broth, and a couple herbs. It's a very simple, quick dish, as are most in this book, and it doesn't taste like much until the pork and the cilantro go in at the end. The meat was tender, the sauce was warm and satisfying, and it was all so lean and healthy that I didn't mind helping myself to seconds.

But even given all that, the real star of last night's meal was the garlicky green beans we had as a side dish. I struggle with green beans sometimes - we like them roasted, but that gets boring and I didn't want to turn on the oven. Spicy in a skillet is good but I really want fresh garlic, and it always burns. Plus my skillets are too small for a couple pounds, which we'll easily eat in a day or two. My solution was to brown thin garlic slices in oil with crushed red pepper flakes, remove all that from the oil and add two(ish) pounds of beans to the hot pot, and then just stir them around over high heat while the rest of dinner cooked.

It was amazing. So here's my first recipe of the revamped blog. Probably not original, but it's

Our New Favorite Green Beans

Cooking oil
2 lbs. trimmed and washed green beans
4 large cloves garlic
sprinkle of crushed red pepper

Heat a wok or pot (like this one) over medium-high. When it's hot, add a big drizzle of cooking oil - not extra virgin olive here because of the high temps. Slice your garlic thinly and add it to the hot oil, along with crushed red pepper to your desired heat. I used about 1/4 tsp. Stir the garlic around constantly until it's pretty uniformly brown, and then remove it with a slotted spoon.

Add the green beans to the still-hot oil, turn the heat to medium, and stir or toss them every few minutes or so while your main dish cooks. Color is good here - the little ones at the bottom of the pot were almost black, and they tasted great. Once everything else is ready, just salt your beans to taste, toss in the garlic chips, and serve. Bon appetit!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

This week's meal plan

In an attempt to stick with meal planning and sensible eating, and to return to blogging, I've decided to publish this week's meal plan and give you updates during the week. Please comment on this format and let me know what you'd like to see!

Following the typical holiday indulgences and a renewed focus on sensible budgeting, Josh and I are eating differently these days. More vegetarian meals are in the plan (to help with weight loss and savings), but simple carbs and processed foods are out. This includes bacon, which is a loss we mourn. Here's the plan for this week:

Sunday: Pork Tenderloin a la Mexicana, from Rick Bayless' "Mexican Everyday." This is my #1 go-to cookbook, and this recipe finds pork tenderloin cut into chunks and sauteed with roasted poblano strips (which I've got in the freezer) and canned tomatoes. Serving with garlicky green beans in the skillet.

Monday: Cilantro chicken salads with guacamole, also from Mexican Everyday. Yum!

Tuesday: Braised and Glazed Butternut Squash with pesto, from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian." Here's my go-to cookbook for vegetarian inspiration, as well as for condiment recipes. I love his hummus and homemade ketchups, but this recipe will be a new one for us. Cubed squash is browned in a skillet, braised in broth, then glazed in the pan. I'll toss in a half cup of homemade walnut pesto, also from the freezer, during the glazing stage. Serving with roasted zucchini.

Wednesday: Braised Kale with Black Beans and Tomatoes, from We made this on a whim last week and loved it! Trim, tear, and wash your kale during a quiet daytime moment and keep it in the fridge in a mesh bag, and this recipe is a breeze. Serving over a cauliflower and celeriac puree - that last part is new, but celeriac was on sale at the farmer's market, so why not?

Thursday: Pea and Tofu Curry with parsnips, from Bittman's Vegetarian again. This is a total whim, and I'll use curry paste instead of powder. Wish me luck. One-pot meal, although I'd add rice if we weren't off carbs.

Friday: Crock-pot chili, a recipe I'll likely make up on the spot, with grass-fed beef from the grocery store and home-cooked beans. Yum.

Saturday: Fresh from the farmer's market again, we'll make the usual rosemary-roasted pork shoulder and rosemary-roasted potatoes, with a vegetable to be determined by what's fresh and gorgeous. This pork recipe is a winner if there are grapes at the store, but a lot will depend on what Joe and Maggie feel like eating.

So that's week one! I'll publish some more updates as we go, and please let me know if you start following along!