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.

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