Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I am not a food blogger

But I do cook, a lot actually, and I enjoy the heck out of it.. it's like therapy or yoga or what happy hour used to be before Baby E was on the way.  I'd probably cook every night if I had the organizational skills to plan more than a day or two ahead, but alas, for now I'll get the urge to make something, hit the grocery store after work, and sometime between then and midnight, dinner hits the table. I tend to draw on a few cookbook standbys that I've mastered and can pull together on the quick, but every once in a while inspiration strikes and something marvelous happens.  Sunday night was one such evening, and as I sit here munching on the last scraps of the leftovers, I feel the need to share this flavor explosion with you.

And since I am not a food blogger (to my deep chagrin), I must preface...

I didn't take pictures.

I can't recall exact measurements.

Temperatures and cook times...?  Ehhhh.... 

But it was easy, it was pretty, and it was something simple that didn't look like something simple so you could do this to impress your friends one night with a bottle of whatever or to triumphantly circumnavigate the always welcome surprise in-law visit or because you may have spent the equivalent of next month's rent on baby clothes (that never happens here, never...) and you need a buffer meal to put you back in your significant other's good graces. This is the Belgium chocolate of easy meals. Or the Italian shoe. Or the vegan falafel waffle... I don't know, whatever works for you.

I call it... Italian Wedding Salad.

And lemme tell you why... no, it does not have delightful little meatballs, or italian seasoning of any kind (unless you count scads and scads of garlic), and no little noodle balls or equivalent substitute. I call it Italian Wedding Salad because it has lettuce and baby spinach (the green!), and potatoes (which kinda look like the noodles... sort of... before you cook and season them), and balsamic vinaigrette (which could be broth! maybe! especially if you're a liberal dressing-dressinger like I am!).. and... gah... don't ask, it was delicious. 

Italian Wedding Salad
(Served two ravenously hungry people, who tend to ignore appropriate serving sizes altogether, generous portions plus sliiiightly more reasonable seconds one night, one person a yummy lunch and dinner the next night, and then the two people from the first night bickered over portion size the 3rd day until the person who made the original mass quantity pulled the "growing a human" card and got all the rest of it to herself... so whatever that serving size would mean in your household, so be it)

From what I can recall:

1.79lb package of chicken tenders (I only remember the weight because it's the last thing I saw before I dumped the trash, and the exact number of tenders alludes me, but it doesn't really matter, as you will see...)
2 large lemons
1 red onion (I would say mine was small-mediumish, but again, most of this is to taste and who cares what size your onion is anyway?)
2-3 cloves of garlic (I love garlic like I love thin thighs so I used 3 elephant-sized cloves and probably could have added a 4th)
Salt & Pepper
Lettuce mix of Red Lettuce, Arugula, and Baby Spinach (enough to fill a big 'ole mixing bowl, it's gonna "melt down" when you add the rest of the innards)
Red potatoes (I used 2 medium-large guys)
1 package of baby bella mushrooms, sliced
Balsamic Vinaigrette (I use Newman's because he's my boyfriend, but fancy people make their own I hear.. pssht...)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (I used some store brand that's about 100 years old and somewhere Mario Batali was weeping I'm sure)
Feta, crumbled 

And here's what I did:

Throw the chicken tenders in a bowl, squeeze the juice of both lemons over the chicken. Thin slice the onion,  set aside half, rough chop the garlic, and throw that in with the chicken as well. Combine, cover with plastic wrap (or a plate, if you never have plastic wrap, ahem...) and put that mess in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour while you gather your strength and eat some girl scout cookies.

In the meantime, fill a medium sauce pan halfway with water, add a dash or so of salt, and bring that to a boil. Chop your potatoes into "quarter crescents"... basically slice the potato down the middle, cut 1/4 inch slices from each half, and then halve those - make sense? Or chop them however you please, just make sure they're not too thin and you can fork them with ease. Throw your chopped potatoes in the boiling water for about five minutes or so, enough to soften but not to turn to mush... or.. er.. mash.

While that's going, heat a big skillet over medium heat and add a little olive oil to the pan. Rinse your mushrooms if need be and give them a rough chop, set aside. Drain the potatoes and set those aside. Get your chicken mess out of the fridge, add salt & pepper to taste, toss to distribute, and add a few tenders to the pan (I cooked mine in three batches, but do what you will, it all comes out in the end). Don't stress if a few chopped onion or garlic pieces are stuck to your chicken when you throw them in the pan. I stressed, but it's all part of the magic.

Tenders don't need long to cook at all, so after 2-3 minutes I flipped over my first batch, saw golden brown perfection and knew today was the day I brought world peace to all. I added about a third of the potatoes and mushrooms to the skillet, around the chicken Roman wreath style, and then added a splashola of the balsamic dressing. Stir that all together and prepare for nosy people to start making their way in to your kitchen. When the chicken was cooked through (2-3 min per side), I moved the tenders to a plate to rest, gave the whole skillet a stir, let it sit for a few seconds, and then moved each batch of potato-mushroom-balsamic-plus whatever was stuck on the chicken to a separate bowl.  I repeated this in three batches... add chicken, add potatoes and mushrooms with some balsamic, flip chicken, remove chicken, stir the rest, move the rest.  I added the last bits of onion-garlic-lemon marinade, along with with the rest of the red onion set aside earlier, to last batch so as to not burn the bennies out of the garlic and onion, and to give a fancy flourish to the end since by this point people were watching.

Somewhere in the middle of all your batch-ing, rinse and chop your lettuce mix and throw that in the biggest mixing or dedicated salad/serving bowl you have.

Once all is cooked and fragrant and lovely, start adding your potato-mushroom mix to your greens, using some sort of tong-tossing-sand shovel device to combine. I did try to do this with some semblance of grace and agility so the greens would stay fluffy and not ripped to shreds under the weight of the cooked elements, and honestly, it may have been the hardest part of the whole endeavor. Once that was done, I layered the chicken on top, sprinkled with a generous helping of feta, and voila... Italian Wedding Salad was born.

The chicken was absurdly tender, the lemon flavor was there enough to add some early spring citrusy goodness, but not overpowering. The arugla was peppery, the spinach was healthy, and the red leaf lettuce just makes me feel normal. We both added some extra balsamic to our helpings, but since no one likes a soggy day old salad I opted not to add it to the whole bowl.  Smart.

And the feta... oh sweet, tangy, delicious Greek feta... there are no words for what we share.

So there it is folks.  Next time I'll have the foresight to also grab a fat loaf of crusty, yummy bread.  As it was, he who has been previously mentioned in the bickering over who got the last helping was so inspired and enamored with my culinary prowess that he decided to whisk me off to the end of the street for after dinner frozen yogurt, Japanese-style.  Chopped strawberry and rice crispie treats on top of some original tart fro-yo on a 75-degree March evening?  And I didn't even have to suggest it???

You're welcome.


  1. Omg, I needed this recipe, how did you know? And you had me at "and balsamic vinaigrette (which could be broth! maybe! especially if you're a liberal dressing-dressinger like I am!)" LOL.

    I have been accused of drinking Good Seasons balsamic dressing. I don't actually drink it, but that's mostly because it would be rude to my dinner companions to do so.

    1. I feel you 100% Jacki - hope you enjoy it as much as we did, and I'm sure will again and again... let me know how it turns out!

  2. i love to cook too! that recipe sounds delicious! have you ever tried italian wedding soup???? that's one of my favorites!!


  3. haha, your "preface" cracks me up! Sounds familiar... :) . The recipe sounds delish though! I may just have to make it sometime very soon!