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Fast Monday Night Dinner

14 Dec
One bowl to clean up after dinner! What's not to love?

One bowl to clean up after dinner! What's not to love?

I don’t about all of you, but come Monday, I’m not all up for a rollicking dinner complete with accessories and baking. Especially since I’ve started an on-site contract job (if anyone’s seen “The Office,” I am Ryan—the second-class “temp”), it goes like this: get home, think of food, think I should make food, wonder when the Man is coming home, think about making food, look in my pantry, have aspirations for way more than I should at that time (who’s making homemade marshmallows before dinner?!), look in the fridge, look online for inspiration in food that other people make, repeat. Something along those lines. This process continues until I’m humbled and hungry enough to wonder if we have any leftover Halloween candy and, if we do, well, there you have it. Three Musketeers for an appetizer.

Making dinner is good for you

As nine million news reports have told you, however, these are tough times we’re in, especially in this country, and a girl (and her man) deserve to eat something decent even when they might have to shovel the driveway and contemplate why they haven’t done anything about food storage, since some of the broadcasts could leave you to believe that the apocalypse is tomorrow. In which case, it really would be unfortunate that I haven’t done anything in the way of preserving with my six bags of from-the-orchard apples besides hoard them. And on the other hand, my methods of preservation include Tupperware and freezers, so all is not lost.

The point is that even though I might be inclined to make the bad decision of finishing off the sugar cookies from last weekend while I’m hungry, this really isn’t necessary. Lately, fresh food is it when cooking, and I’m all for it. This sometimes involves a lot of prep work, as I oughta know—I probably go through four onions, a bag of carrots, and a bag of celery a week just for soup bases. It doesn’t have to, though, and yes, all those euphemisms about flavors “singing” when the food is simply prepared actually isn’t a bad idea. Though if my food does start singing, I kind of want it to singing to a rendition of “Gesu Bambino” at the moment.

This is less of a recipe and more of a pattern—my nutrition background and concern with the composition of what I put in my mouth demands that my eating and cooking style be not only tasty, but check off the necessary macro and micronutrients. Yes. I literally think, “Grain…check. Protein…check. Vegetable…check. Dairy?” Not every meal needs to have every one of those groups, since I can push and pull during the day—my lunches tend to be very vegetable- and fruit-stocked, so it’s okay if I don’t load up on that group at dinner. This meal is basically a result of my thinking—grain (soba noodles), check. Protein (fried egg), check. Vegetable (sprouts, haha—no, not just for my name), check. I fry the egg in a little olive oil to get some good fat in, especially for the Man, and dinner is done. I’m talking five-ish minute here, maybe longer if you aren’t able to cook the sprouts and noodles at the same time, for example.

Nutritional lowdown

Speaking of soba noodles. Don’t be afraid. I know. They’re Japanese. And you’ve never eaten them. And yes, they do taste kind of funny. But look here. They’re a whole grain, and even though they’re buckwheat, not whole wheat, and whole wheat is kind of a nutritional American Idol finalist of grains, buckwheat is like the girl who’s still pretty great but just didn’t get the record deal. Buckwheat is actually a seed, not a grain, and related to rhubarb. Just don’t go putting it in pie, because I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t be good.

As for nutritional benefits, buckwheat (soba noodles) has a range of refuted plusses, including blood sugar regulation, an alternative to gluten (it seems like more and more people are sensitive to gluten), and something about menopause. Which I have no comment on, but apparently it’s a good thing. Buckwheat, I mean.

Brussels sprouts, well, you know about those guys. Relative to broccoli and all cruciferous vegetables, including our friends the cabbages. Yes, they taste somewhat like metal and a little bitter. Season, season, season, and cut into smaller pieces. Like their family members, they’re good for fiber, some iron (though not as bioavailable as other sources), some potassium, and other trace minerals.

Eggs. These are our friends, okay? I know there were some nasty rumors about them in the past. The 80s and 90s were not a good time for them, and I think they’d rather forget those decades. We’ve treated them wrong, we’ve put them down, and what have they done? Built us muscles, given us slow-release energy, and stuck our cookies and baked goods together, covered our fried goods and emulsified our lives. They deserve more. And they don’t ask for much. And in this case, they like to be fried in some olive oil.

Soba Noodles With Fried Egg

From “raw” to eating: 10 min., appx.

Makes: Two meal-sized servings

½ lb. soba noodles
¼ one purple onion, cut into large dices
½ lb. brussels sprouts
olive oil, for frying
four eggs
cracked pepper
salt, to taste
soy sauce, for seasoning at the table

Cook soba noodles according to package directions. Set aside.

Halve sprouts; score halves with a small ‘X.’ Set aside. Heat a grill pan—medium heat. Put a few swirls of olive oil in the pan. Toss in onion, followed by the sprouts, cut side down. Cook until sprouts are nearly golden, and ignore the fact that these vegetables have my name. It is coincidence, but a jolly one. And no, I do not eat sprouts every night just for the fun of it.

While the sprouts are cooking, fry up your eggs in batches of two at a time. Crack two of the eggs into the pan; crack some pepper and sprinkle some salt on the top. Cook two or three minutes on each side, flipping once (optional; this is the “hard yolk” way).

Add soba noodles to the pan with the sprouts. Heat through.

Divide noodles, sprouts, and eggs between two large-ish bowls. I like to put the noodles on the bottom, sprouts over that, and two eggs flopped on top.

Pass around the soy sauce and enjoy the fact that you made dinner in maybe ten minutes.

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Grown-up Mac and Cheese: Sage and Ham Version

6 Oct
As you can see, it was well-liked.

As you can see, it was well-liked.

I grew up on the blue box macaroni and cheese (yes, you know the one), and at the time, I thought it was delightful. In fact, it was a sure sign of affluence in my mind when my friends had character macaroni—when the pasta was shaped like a Barbie or whatever. Those were fancy friends, and I probably should’ve done a better job keeping in contact with such rich people. However, you grow up, and as your body gets bigger, your mind gets stronger, and it’s great to learn! ‘Cause knowledge is power! Actually, those are lines from “Schoolhouse Rock,” but still applicable, as well as catchy; hopefully, your taste buds grew up when you got older, too. My mom’s dreams were realized, I believe, when I would eat fish.

Despite my obvious and impressive maturation, good ‘ol mac ‘n cheese still has a homey appeal, and its place in the American psyche will probably never change. Still, the blue box won’t cut it anymore, so it’s time for an upgrade.

I make several versions of grown-up macaroni and cheese: tomato-pea, herbs de Provence, some with white cheeses, some with orange cheese, some with soft cheese, and some with hard. If I were really a high-roller, I’d be melting things like Gouda or gruyere in here, but I’ll have to dream. If you do put some higher-end, gourmet cheeses in, leave me a comment and let me know which ones you use. And if you could, please come bring me some to try. I’m a very nice person.

~Erin

Grown-up Macaroni and Cheese: Ham and Sage

This recipe includes one my lengthier instruction sections, and a few more steps than usual. Don’t be daunted, though—as with everything else I make, there’s nothing complicated here. If you can make “blue box” macaroni and cheese, you can do this. And you’ll be very glad you did!

From “raw” to eating: 30 min., appx.

Makes: a huge bowl full, 8+ servings

Inside:

1 lb. whole-wheat macaroni

1 ½ C milk
1 small onion
1 clove garlic, smashed
6 whole cloves
1/8 t nutmeg, grated

2 T butter
2 T milk

½ lb. smoked ham, cubed
~6 mature (large) leaves fresh sage (about 1 T), chopped into ribbons or flecks
½ C shredded parmesan cheese
kosher salt and freshly-cracked pepper, to taste

1/3 C pre-seasoned panko bread crumbs (or make your own)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1-2 T liquid the pasta cooked in. Put macaroni in a large bowl (you’ll be cooking in this bowl.) Add ham and sage (don’t need to mix at this point). Set aside.

Poke the cloves in the onion—like studding an orange with cloves at Christmastime.

Put milk, studded onion, smashed garlic, a little salt, and some pepper in a medium saucepan. Place the saucepan on medium-low heat on a stovetop. While the milk heats up, make a roux: in the same pan you cooked the macaroni in, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour to make a roux. Set aside.

When the milk just barely starts to steam, remove from heat (you don’t want to develop a skin on the milk). Remove and discard clove-onion and garlic. (Technique note: you’ve just infused the milk. This technique allows a liquid to take on flavors without retaining the things you used to flavor it (onion, garlic). You’ll recognize this technique from tea-making. Hooray, you!)

Combine roux and milk mixture. Stir to fully incorporate. Gently pour over macaroni mixture. Stir in parmesan cheese. Top with bread crumb mixture.

Cook at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes, or until set (doesn’t jiggle). Let cool for 5 minutes before serving. Makes excellent, cuttable leftovers.

My Mighty Muffaletta

17 Sep
It makes a thick, juicy, tasty meal. Don't worry, somehow it ends up fitting in your (my) mouth.

It makes a thick, juicy, tasty meal. Don't worry; somehow it ends up fitting in your (my) mouth.

If, like me, you’re clinging to the summer glory days of tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, and the like, this recipe is a shout-out to you. I know I should probably be featuring pumpkin-themed recipes at this point and talking about the chill in the air and how the wind brings the scent of cinnamon and rising dough wafting from my neighbor’s window, but seriously, it’s only September. And besides that, I don’t even know if my neighbors have things to waft my way, besides fertilizer. I don’t know my neighbors, actually. (Yet. Yet, I said!) Additionally, the wind poses a few problems for people like me who love to cycle, and people like me who like to not be cold in the winter.

Now that I’ve talked about why this is a summer recipe, let’s get on with it. Like the panzanella I featured a while back, this one also came from my days at an upscale, university café. In the late morning, an aluminum pan would come to the café filled with roasted vegetables. To that we would add sautéed mushrooms and a fresh slice of tomato. This comprised the sandwich guts. It was served on a crusty ciabbatta (I believe; J-Dawg, you can correct me), which we slathered in a rosemary-spiked mayo.

At least a few of us, upon leaving that café, had a strong aversion to mayo; it was the life-blood of that place. The vegetables are still roasted, but the “spread” is a bit of melted feta. I also roasted the tomatoes, instead of using fresh, whole slices. I love the whole vegetables appearance of this sandwich—you know exactly what you’re eating, and the tomatoes actually serve to bind it together.

Traditional muffalettas use an olive salad and a heap ‘o meat and cheese, but there are plenty of sub sandwiches out there already. I wanted this to showcase the fresh vegetables, the heat to draw out their flavor and marry with leeks and fresh, pungent rosemary. I think you’ll like the results. Let me know what you think.

Note: this can be made ahead of time, and is ready for vegan-izing.

My Mighty Muffaletta

From “raw” to eating: 30 min., appx.

Makes: a pile, 4 servings

Inside:
1 lb. tomatoes, sliced into rounds or left whole if using cherry tomatoes (I used heirloom, Big Boy, etc. from the garden)
½ lb. zucchini, cut on the bias into planks
1-2 bell peppers, each cut in half or thirds (I used purple, green, and chocolate, also from the garden)
1 bulb fennel, sliced on the bias into ¼” rounds
2 T olive oil
1 large clove garlic, slivered
leaves from ½ twig rosemary, chopped finely
kosher salt and freshly-cracked pepper, to taste

2” feta cheese (if in block form) or 3-4 T

4-6 ciabatta rolls (I get mine at Costco)

Preheat oven to 450 F. Combine vegetables in a glass baking dish, sprinkle leeks and garlic over top, and toss with olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt and a few cracks of black pepper. Roast in oven for appx. 20-25 min.

While the vegetables roast, slice ciabatta rolls in half horizontally. Turn a pan on medium heat. When it’s heated up, toss in feta. Turn the heat down to low; the residual heat from the pan will melt the feta nicely. Spread 1 T (or however much you like; the Midwestern Meateater, who is also lactose-intolerant, is ironically always adding more cheese…I suspect because of its meat-like qualities).

When the vegetables have roasted, remove from oven and top each of the ciabatta rolls with vegetables, making sure that each sandwich gets some of each vegetable. You’re not going for a zucchini sandwich here.

Optional: For the meat-eaters, include two pieces cooked (not to crispy) turkey bacon on their muffalettas. The Midwestern Meateater has a metabolism to die for, so I’m always trying to bump up the calories for him. I always do it in a healthful way, though—so turkey bacon it was this time. It adds a few calories without sacrificing nutritional value. Said the Midwestern Meateater about this sandwich, which was meant to be filled primarily with vegetables, “Yeah,the bacon really makes it.” Well, I tried.

Beef-less burgers even the Midwestern Mideater loves

14 May

Turkey burgers

There’s a possibility that five or so people read this. If so, I promise that I have not caved into MM and been dining with delight at Burgers Supreme (replace with your favorite grease bin here). I have had my fair share, and probably your share, sorry about that, of burger joints over the past three weeks. MM graduated and is looking forward to helping other people count their sheckels, since he’ll be an auditor. We spent the time after his graduation traveling in a large golden van, mood lighting and cruise ship accents at no extra cost. Six or so days on a trip to the Grand Canyon (also large, but I vote for Southern Utah–is that blasphemy against a national wonder?) and back to P-town. Several boxes later, we went from one casserole land, through the beef belt, and have landed where casseroles are “hot dishes.” Thank you, MM’s family, for moving us in the magical golden van. Sorry that all of our stuff nearly killed everyone. I owe you dinner. Side note: the beef belt, where my Midwestern Meateater has relatives who surpass him in beef-loving intensity, is a cultural phenomenon for me. These are people who talk about bovine in terms of “head” (as in, “we have 300 head”) and who have steak for breakfast. No offense to those of you who agree–but as you can probably gather from my posts here, i am the least, least likely candidate to help myself to a meaty slab ‘o flesh, morning, afternoon, or evening. I prefer food either bloody or gray. But visit the beef belt just for funs.

Despite all said, I will eat a fowl burger. Might as well be called “fridge burgers,” because they do an excellent job of absorbing things in your (or my) fridge. But would guests come for tasty “fridge burgers”? Neither would I. These are the ultimate in kitchen resourcefulness, a trait which I’d say is vital to every good home cook (and otherwise, if I dare say).

Anyone who’s been reading my blog for a little bit of time knows that a primary impetus shaping my food is a bend on resourcefulness. Sure, I may have started thinking this way in college with wanting to stick to a small budget, but it’s a really useful, maybe even vital, trait that I think every home cook should have. Buy what you eat, eat what you buy, don’t waste. It’ll save you money, time, space, and certainly impact the world around you a little bit when you throw away less that was good once. So that’s the story of this burger, and maybe it’ll inspire you to look in your cupboards, fridge, and see possibilities. Almost every dish I create originates this way.

MM’s turkey burgers
Not because he made them, but because he ate…most of them.

From raw to eating: 30 min.
Makes: 6 thick burgers or more less-thick ones

On a sunny and pleasant day, I looked in the fridge, freezer, and cupboard, and remembered we were moving soon. The time had come for wild creativity, ground turkey, and a few other friends. Several ingredients later and a grilling later, something magical happened. These burgers *rocked.

Note: this is the scariest-sounding recipe I’ve presented yet. Don’t be afraid. The results…cliché, but…speak for themselves.

12 oz. ground turkey, thawed
½ bell pepper, diced (I used green)
3 cloves garlic, minced (seems like a awful lot—refer to customer review)
¼ medium onion, diced (I used yellow)
2 T ketchup
1-2 T prepared mustard (honey, whole grain, brown, English, etc.)
2-3 t “Italian” seasoning (MM had a little package left from making something—you can make your own)
2 T homemade pesto sauce (I warned you it was a magnet for fridge leftovers)
½ t salt
pepper, to taste

1-2 ripe avocadoes, skin removed, pitted, and flesh cut into slices of desired thickness
One large tomato, sliced to desired thickness (I did medium)
burger buns
crunchy lettuce (I used iceberg)

Turn your grill or grill pan (I used the second) on to medium heat.

Combine everything and mix thoroughly with also thoroughly clean hands (sing the alphabet while you rub, like your mom taught you). Form into burgers, patting into shape. Let rest first couple of patties rest while you make the others.

Grill each burger for about 5-7 minutes per side, depending on thickness. And this is important: this is not beef, so it’s not okay to have a “rare” burger. No pink, in other words. Remember that poultry is considered safe/cooked when it has reached an internal temp of 160-170 F, and the juices run clear/it is brown throughout.

Serve with avocado slices, tomato, and anything else you love.

*Based on customer review. Actual sentiments were “you can make these again,” “I wouldn’t mind if you made these again,” “these were really, really—no, I mean it—good.”

Wild rice & herbs de Provence bowl

7 Apr

Wild rice & herb de Provence bowl

Today I was going to talk about a poppy seed bread (not cake, nor muffin, nor in the rain on a train nor anything else) that I have the intentional habit of making each first weekend in October and April, significant times for we who are LDS. However, the lovely thing is actually a Martha (gasp!) Stewart recipe. Note: I started making these in the days when I thought she was cool. But since I could not find it online and wanted to make a quicker post than typing the thing out would do, I’ll have to save that for another time when I have a scanner. For that is not today.

Pretty soon here we’ll be moving to the land of lefse and lutefisk, and doing so will mean I cannot haul any perishables there from P-town, refrigerator-friendly as Minnesota may be when we get there. So a look in the freezer and produce drawer helped me piece together a meal that helps get rid of some things—namely, turkey kielbasa, carrots, and celery. Sounds a little boring now, but it’s going to get tasty. I pulled down the Japanese rice cooker which I cannot read but simply push two buttons with funny people on them to use, and poured in both brown rice and wild rice (thanks for the latter, Mom). Like my favorite famous cooking person, Alton Brown, I don’t dig things in the kitchen that really do only one thing, but for someone who cooks rice a lot, the rice cooker is a boon. Put it in, go away and do something, voila! It even beeps to tell you when it’s done, and the kitchen has the nutty fragrance of cooking whole grain rice. That might not make you feel romantical, but I like it.

Lately I am a big fan of spice mixes (such as Chinese five spice, berbere, Thai green curry, etc.) as opposed to single spices (paprika, sage). It takes some of the guesswork out of flavoring when I’m encountering something I’m unfamiliar with—it gets the flavor in there, and then I can work backwards, figuring out what’s in the mix. Herb de Provence is a great, basic blend that I recommend even beginner cooks have on hand. Throw in a few pinches of a spice blend with your chosen meat or vegetable, and just see what it’s like. Not much to lose, unless you buy really fancy things from really fancy places. I buy clearance dairy.

This was great, fast, and heavenly easy. And the Midwestern Meateater and I enjoyed it thoroughly, plus the bonus of not many dishes to do afterward, since it was a one-bowl meal (not that I do the dishes anyway). Go, team!

Wild Rice & Herbs de Provence Bowl

Herbs de Provence (probably named for the region that first developed the blend) is available at any, any store. However, if you’re not sure how much you’ll end up using this, borrow! Or come get some of mine, since I have more than I should. Also, buy your spices in bulk whenever possible! This I will talk about more in-depth later. But trust me, and just do it. It’ll save you money and wasting spices that you have to throw out!

Serves: 3-4, or 2, if it’s me and the MM

Prep time: 10 min, at tops
Active cooking time: 10 min, at tops
Inactive cooking time: mmm, 45 minutes (rice)

2 C wild rice + brown rice
2 T olive or canola oil
¼ C white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 C carrots
chopped
1/3 C celery, chopped
2 T herb de Provence
Freshly ground black pepper, to tasteSalt, to taste
1/3 Jennie-O kielbasa or smoked turkey sausage (I don’t know any other brand), chopped into thickish coins

Put your kielbasa into a bowl of water, just enough to cover it. I don’t know how much of a difference this made, but because the one thing I don’t like about these processed turkey products is the salt content (holy sodium intake!), I tried to leech it out a little bit. I think my idea really came from what I do with plants to get some of the hard minerals left by water out. Leave it in the water until you are ready to cut it up.

Cook rice according to package directions (you can actually cook them both together—hooray!). Set aside. Get a sauté pan or another medium-deep, thick-bottomed pan medium-hot on your stovetop. This will take a few minutes. Put your oil in, swirl it around, and then put in your onions and garlic. Add a pinch of salt to “sweat” the onions (get the liquid out). Then add your carrots, celery, and the herbs de Provence. Stir it around for a few minutes, adding more herbs if you like. Add your pepper. Reduce the heat to low, then add your kielbasa. Add the rice last, stirring to get it all mixed together. Taste for seasoning—you probably don’t need more salt (see first paragraph), but you might need more herbs.

Divide into bowls and eat! Add a side salad or some fruit if you’re using this not as the main thing.

MOA Throwback Bread Salad (Panzanella)

3 Apr
Added this pic Sept. 17; panzanella, sadly, just does not make for the prettiest presentation. But I thought a better picture was in order.

Edit: Added this pic Sept. 17; panzanella, sadly, just does not make for the prettiest presentation, mostly because of the discoloration that balsamic vinegar produces. A better picture was in order, however. And trust me, it *tastes* fantastic! Yes, that picture was taken at night, when we ate at like 11 p.m., and the plates are indeed on my stove top. I'm so professional I can hardly stand it.

Once upon a time in a land we call “Happy Valley,” there was a small, upscale-for-campus café on the top floor of a beautiful university’s museum of art. Having spent my teenagehood behind the swinging doors of bakeries, working at the MOA Café, as we called it (Museum of Art Café) was not my first job in food. But it was my best. With the encouragement of managers who still top my list of favorite bosses and were liberal in letting me play with food, my education ran the gamut of food prep—blitzing through making focaccia sandwiches and toasting pounds and pounds of sugar-crusted almonds (which we usually felt compelled to test, for customer safety). Patrons were a mix of freshman students, most of which didn’t care much what was in their food, as long as their “magic” student meal card paid the bill—and visitors to the university who wanted classy, fresh food instead of Taco Bell. I still say it was the best place to eat on campus, and the place I’d take anyone who likes good food, such as a university donor or big-time visitor. Diane Keaton (with entourage) even dined there.

Near the end of my employment there, we brought out a new entrée salad—a bread salad. Unfortunately, I fear its crusty, balasamic-soaked bread and fresh (grilled?) vegetables may have been too “far out” for the conservative eaters at the MOA; I’m hoping we’re all just a little more sophisticated than they were.

I remembered this salad today as I contemplated the kinda hard end of a fantastic “rustic French country” loaf I brought back from a trip to Austin, TX. It’s a very simple, pleasing meal with nutritional bonus and the potential to be a one-bowl, all-food-groups meal. And ta-da, I used a fork (which I ate with later) and two small bowls to make it. Could I make life any easier for you? You’re welcome.

Give this a try! It would be even better in the summer, with vegetables from your (or your neighbor’s) garden, but it’s pretty good now.

Cheapie chart:
I’ll say it many times—you don’t have to spend a lot of money to eat a lot of good stuff. Here’s what this meal would cost, per serving:
.30 tomato, on sale for .99/lb
.40 cuke, on sale for .69/each
.50 bread, 2.19/loaf
.89 chicken, on sale at 1.80/lb
.50 cheese
.20 (olive oil + vinegar)

$2.30/serving! Seriously. So cheap. Okay, if you’re feeding the Midwestern Meateater (I’m married to), let’s say $2.75.

Tuscan Bread Salad (Panzanella) with Balsamic Dressing

This’ll take you, oh five minutes to put together, so take that, 30 minute meals (which purportedly no one can actually make in 30 minutes). A great use for leftover chicken breast and of bread that has gone a little stale.

A few ideas for variation: rotisserie chicken; fresh, torn basil or other herbs lending themselves well to salad (parsely, cilantro, arugula, maybe watercress). Dried herbs added to the dressing—rosemary, tarragon, thyme…use your imagination and resourcefulness. Also, any soft-ish vegetable, such as zucchini, would be great (grilled first would be even better!).

Bread: any bread with good chew on the outside and (used to be) soft on the inside. Needs to be crusty—that is the key, or it won’t soak up the dressing, which is what you want here. A few breads worth mentioning: ciabatta, pugliese, even cheap ‘ol French bread from your grocer’s bakery (day old is best and more affordable!).

If you like less tang, go easy on the balsamic, and if you like more tang, shake, shake, shake it out! (Make sure you taste test along the way—you can add but not take away!)

Nutritional status

I didn’t use a whole grain bread, but other than that, this bread salad is a very intact meal-in-one. The stars on this front are the vegetables and olive oil; tomatoes provide antioxidants (lycopene especially; it’s role in protecting from a variety of cancers is being researched), fiber, and the high water content in tomatoes is always a good thing. Cukes are high in vit. C and also up the fiber content. Olive oil has the most monounsaturated fatty acids of all the oils (77%)—don’t skimp on it. Use the best quality stuff you’ve got around, and preferably extra-virgin (it’ll give it a deeper olive flavor). This recipe is also low in salt, for anyone worried.

Inside:
½ loaf crusty bread (I used a “rustic French country” loaf from Central Market)
1 ½ C cooked chicken breast, shredded
1 cucumber, sliced into medium-thick rounds
2 plum tomatoes
*Handful of parmesan, parmesan-reggiano, asiago, or other hard Italian cheese (not pictured; I did it afterward)

Dressing
2 T balsamic vinegar
6 T olive oil
*1 clove garlic, smashed and diced into wee bits
Pinch of salt
Few grinds fresh black pepper
Couple teaspoons of basil

Outside:
Two small bowls
A fork
Your two little hands

*optional

Directions:

  1. Roughly tear bread into bite-sized pieces; I like mine about 2” long.
  2. Combine vegetables/chicken in one bowl. Set aside. Combine balsamic vinegar and olive oil in another bowl, using a fork to emulsify. Add garlic and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Combine bread and vegetables with dressing. Toss lightly until combined. Divide into four serving bowls and top with parmesano-reggiano cheese.

So good! I love the olive oil and the balsamic vinegar soaking up in the bread, plus the texture play here. Enjoy.