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Friday, May 9, 2008

An Easy-to-Make Meal Perfect for Mother's Day

Since Mother's Day is a day when mom is celebrated and pampered, it would be counter-intuitive to expect her to cook. On the other hand, putting too much burden on the other members of the family (dad and the kids) would also be ill-advised.

There is the classic New Yorker's solution of serving lox, bagels, and cream cheese or avoiding cooking entirely by visiting a restaurant, but a home cooked meal makes such a personal statement. The key is to prepare a simple meal so you don't spend more time in the kitchen than with her. That and flowers tells her, "I love you."

Arugula Salad with Hazelnuts, Carrots, Avocado, and Croutons

1 bunch arugula, washed, stems removed, leaves torn into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup raw hazelnuts
1 carrot, washed, peeled, cut into thin rounds
1 avocado, peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped
1/4 cup croutons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

On a low flame reduce the balsamic vinegar to 1 tablespoon. Set aside to cool. Roast the hazelnuts in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes to cook evenly. Remove, put into a dish cloth, rub roughly to remove the skins, let cool, and crush with the side of a chefs knife.

Put the arugula, hazelnuts, carrot rounds, croutons, and avocado into a salad bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. Season with sea salt and pepper. Toss and serve

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 20 minutes.

Chicken Breasts Sautéed with Spinach

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, washed, dried
1 bunch spinach, washed thoroughly to remove all the grit, dried, stems removed, leaves roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
1 shallot, peeled, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1/4 cup water, chicken stock, or white wine
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Use one frying pan to cut down on clean up. Sauté the garlic and shallot until softened--about 2 minutes--add the chicken breasts and sauté until lightly browned on both sides, then remove and cover with aluminum foil. Sauté the spinach until wilted, then remove. Deglaze the pan with the liquid. Add the butter. Season with sea salt and pepper. Reduce the liquid by half, then add back the chicken breasts and coat with the sauce. Remove the breasts and cover to keep warm. Put the spinach back in the pan and mix well with the sauce. Slide the spinach onto the serving plate. Slice the chicken and arrange on top of the spinach.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 15 minutes.

For the dessert I'd suggest my mom's favorite: Banana Cake With Chocolate Chips and Almonds. The recipe is on Bitten. The cake can be made the day ahead. Before serving, bring to room temperature and serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

How Do I Love Thee, Egg Salad, Let Me Count the Ways

If you like eggs, you probably love egg salad not only because it tastes so good but because it evokes Proust-like memories of childhood, family picnics, and happy times. On Bitten I have a post about the egg salad my mother used to make and how I made it my own: Fancy Egg Salad A Mother Would Love.

Please take a look at the posting. The Comments are worth reading because they make the point that the creaminess of egg salad provides an opportunity to add a great variety of spices and herbs from every corner of the planet: capers, parsley, cilantro, olives, cumin, chutney, dill, lemon zest, pimento, tarragon, anchovies, smoked salmon, white truffle oil, sun dried tomatoes....

For dinner parties I like to serve an upscale egg salad- appetizer made with grilled shrimp.

Egg Salad With Chopped Grilled Shrimp

If you don't have a grill, the shrimp can be roasted in the oven.

4 eggs, farmers' market fresh
2 shrimp, medium sized, washed, shelled, deveined
1 tablespoon Italian parsley finely chopped
1 tablespoon capers, finely chopped
1 large shallot, peeled, finely chopped
1 slice of bacon, crisp, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Sea salt and pepper
Olive oil

Season the shrimp with olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper. Either grill or roast the shrimp in a 400 degree oven. In either case the shrimp will cook in 2-3 minutes. Remove, let cool, roughly chop, and set aside.

Cover the eggs with water in a saucepan and gently boil for 30 minutes. That may be longer than you're used to but cooking the eggs at a lower temperature makes the yolks moist and flaky. Let the eggs cool, then peel and chop them using a food processor or by hand with a knife. Mix together the shrimp, eggs, parsley, capers, shallot, bacon, and mayonnaise. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the egg salad with bread, crackers (especially Saltines), or hearts of romaine.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 30 minutes.