Thursday, August 26, 2010

All Too Easy

Fruit Platter

Today, I’ll be filling you in on the downright most simple meal ever to be heralded from the Scrumptious Company screen.  I know from time to time, I claim that this dinner or that recipe is relatively uncomplicated.  Relative to the big to-do’s I normally find myself in the midst of.   But this meal, I promise you, is nothing but easy.  And that’s an absolute, not relative to anything at all.  This meal, the last I’ll share with you from my time as a private chef down in North Carolina, is so darn easy, it’s nearly effortless. 

It’s not that I wandered down this easy street just for the sake of it.  (As most of you have probably figured out by now, easy is something I all too rarely do.)  But in the midst of a busy week, preparing meal after elaborate meal for a hungry family of fifteen, a simple supper every now and again is positively a must. And so, on this midweek afternoon, I found myself quickly throwing together this all too easy feast.

Green Goddess Chicken Salad
Simple Mixed Greens Salad
Corn on the Cob
Sliced Tomatoes
Crusty Bread
Lemon Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream & Sliced Peaches

The only dish that required any proper effort at all was the Green Goddess Chicken Salad (and I’ll get to that in a minute).  All the rest involved nothing more than a quick tossing of mixed greens, a brief toasting of hearty country bread, a speedy boiling of corn on the cob and a swift slicing of fruit and tomatoes.  This was all so simple, so rudimentary, so basic, I never even thought I’d end up sharing it with all of you. 

Simple Mixed Greens Salad

Boiling Corn on the Cob

It wasn’t until I saw the table all set for lunch, that I realized, this food was absolutely beautiful, regardless of what effort it did or didn’t take.  Toasty artisan bread from the nearby village bakery, corn and fruit and tomatoes, all at the height of their summer glory, and a perfect salad of tender greens.  How could it get any better than that?  And why would you ever need to try any harder, with all this so easily at your fingertips?  I knew right then, you all needed to see it!

Lunch Buffet

So now let me tell you a bit about that chicken salad.  I fortuitously stumbled upon this delightful recipe just minutes before heading to the airport, bound for the Carolinas.  A flattering mug shot of this photogenic dish was on the cover of one of my old Food & Wine’s.  This particular issue had, over the course of my haphazard filing and re-filing, somehow made it’s way to the top of one of the tall and rickety stacks of old cooking magazines that are somehow maintaining an upright balance on my office floor.  This beautiful cover with the colorful salad caught my eye and just struck me with it’s gorgeousness.  And so, even though I already had all my meals planned out by then, I stuffed this charmer of a magazine into my carry-on bag, with the thought that an extra recipe or two could never hurt. 

Fresh Herbs in the Food Processor

To say the least, I’m glad I made that last-minute grab.  This Green Goddess chicken salad was a real winner.  Strips of tender chicken (already cooked, rotisserie-style, to keep within the bounds of easy), thin shavings of crunchy, pale green celery, wide slices of smoky roasted red peppers, oblong hemispheres of briny kalamata olives, tiny rings of sliced chives, and a good handful of toothsome spiral-shaped noodles.  All of this cloaked in a creamy, green-tinted dressing of basil, dill, parsley, and oregano.  A hint of garlic, a squeeze of lemon, and just a touch of finely chopped anchovy, not so much that you’d ever even notice, just enough to give a little added depth of flavor.  This tremendous mix of flavors was sensational, and every last bite was quickly gobbled up.  More quickly than it even took to make! 

Oh yes, and then dessert.  You’re really going to laugh now.  If lunch was simple, dessert was a pure breeze.  I do confess that I didn’t even bake the cake.  This glazed lemon cake was a family favorite from the local pastry shop, loved my everyone, and nothing short a summer tradition.  All I did was scoop some vanilla ice cream and slice some peaches.  But, for the sake of my own traditions, I’d still like to leave you all with a recipe.  And so, I’m including below a really wonderful recipe for similar glazed lemon pound cake, one I’ve made on more than one occasion, and always to rave reviews.  Of course, the idea of turning on the oven does tend to ruin the easy-breezy mood of this post.  And I bet you all have a favorite sweet shop nearby too.  So, for today at least, I say go ahead and take the easy (dare I say, lazy) route.  Because we all deserve some delicious laziness every now and again. 

Green Goddess Chicken Salad
Serves 6
Green Goddess Chicken Salad
For the dressing:
2 oil-packed anchovies, drained
1 small garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley leaves, packed
1/4 cup basil leaves, packed
1/4 cup coarsely chopped dill
1 Tbl fresh oregano leaves
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 1/2 Tbl fresh lemon juice
2 Tbl sliced chives
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, as needed
6 oz dried pasta, in a fun shape
2 large red bell peppers
1 2-pound rotisserie chicken
3 inner celery ribs with leaves, thinly sliced
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
Make the dressing: Combine the anchovies, garlic, parsley, basil, dill and oregano in the bowl of a food processor.  Process until finely chopped.  Add the mayonnaise and lemon juice, then process until smooth.  Fold in the chives, and season to taste with salt & pepper.
Cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil.  (Add enough salt so that the water tastes like the ocean.)  Add the pasta and stir.  Boil until just tender, stirring occasionally to keep the noodles from sticking to the bottom of the pot.  Drain in a colander and rinse under cool running water. Drain well and set aside.
Roast and slice the peppers: If you have a gas stove-top: Turn a burner onto high heat.  Place the peppers directly on the grate over the flame.  Keep an eye on the peppers, turning pretty frequently, until the skin is evenly charred all around.  Place the peppers in a container and cover with a lid or plastic wrap.  Allow them to set for about 15 minutes.  [If you don’t have a gas stove-top: Preheat the oven to 500°F.  Place the peppers on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast, turning every 5-7 minutes, until the skin is loose and blistery.  Remove from the oven and place the peppers in a container. Cover with a lid or with plastic wrap. Allow them to set for about 15 minutes.]  Remove the peppers from the container.  Slice each pepper in half, length-wise, and then into quarters, lengthwise again.  Remove the stems, seeds, and any tough, pithy membranes inside.  Using a knife, scrape off the charred skin from the outside of the peppers.  Slice the peppers into 1/2-inch slices. [Of course, to keep things even easier, you could always buy a jar of roasted red peppers.  No problem with that!]
Pull the chicken: Remove and discard the skin.  Pull the chicken meat from the bones and discard the bones.  Pull the meat into large bit-sized pieces.
Assemble the salad: Combine the pasta, peppers, chicken, celery and olives in a large mixing bowl.  Add the dressing and toss to combine thoroughly.  Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with celery leaves. 
Simple Mixed Greens Salad
This recipe is a repeat from a previous dinner party.  (It’s that good!)  Check it out here.
Simple Mixed Greens Salad


Glazed Lemon Pound Cake
Makes two 8 1/2 - by 4 1/2 - inch loaves
Lemon Cake with Peaches & Vanilla Ice Cream
For the cake:
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for buttering the pans
2 1/2 cups plus 2 Tbl all-purpose flour
1 Tbl baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbl finely grated lemon zest (from about 2 lemons)
1/2 tsp pure lemon extract
1/2 cup sour cream
5 large eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 Tbl freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 1 lemon)
For the glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
6 Tbl lemon juice (from about 2-3 lemons)
Make the cakes: Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven.  Generously butter two 8 1/2 - by 4 1/2 - inch loaf pans.  Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk to combine the flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.
Combine the butter, sugar, lemon zest, lemon extract and sour cream in the bowl of an
electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time and beating well after each addition.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, as needed.  Add the oil and lemon juice and beat to combine.  Add the flour mixture and beat on medium-low until just combined, being careful not to over-mix. 
Divide the batter evenly between the two loaf pans, smoothing the tops with a spatula.  Bake, rotating the position of the pans about half-way through baking, until the tops are lightly golden and a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 50-55 minutes.  Cool the pans on a wire rack set over a piece of parchment paper, about 10 minutes.  Invert the cakes onto the racks and continue to cool.
Make the glaze:  As the cakes cool, whisk together the powdered sugar and lemon juice until smooth.
Finish the cakes:  Drizzle the glaze evenly over the tops of the cakes.  Let stand until the glaze is set, about 20 minutes.  Serve, if you’d like, with vanilla ice cream and sliced peaches, but this is wonderful all by itself too.

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