Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Chopped Salad

Sometimes, I steal recipes.  This can happen in a completely innocent way.  For example, I may be perusing a cookbook or cooking magazine in a bookstore, and I stumble upon an enticing photograph or recipe.  The idea may simply stick with me, and lead to my own version of the aforementioned image, visual or verbal.  My previous post is prime example of this borrowed creativity.  I saw an idea that I liked, and put my own spin on it.  Other times, it is a little more malicious.  I might, say, take a picture of a photograph, or quickly type up a note on my phone, documenting a simplified version of a printed recipe.  Admittedly, this is sort of awful of me. 

This past weekend, I engaged in the latter type of activity.  I saw a recipe for the loveliest chopped salad, with two types of cabbage, fennel, olives, chicken, and an oregano vinaigrette.  Hunkered down on the floor of Barnes and Noble, tucked in an unassuming aisle, I jotted down a list of ingredients on my phone, and a few notes on the vinaigrette, while occasionally taking a nervous glance over my shoulder.  “I will make it my own,” I told myself, trying to rationalize my inappropriate behavior.  I had spent over an hour looking at the cookbook from which I stole the recipe.  There were quite a few additional recipes that caught my eye, but I only stole one.  Later that evening, I found myself wishing my notes on the vinaigrette were more thorough, but I figured that served me right, and I was not even feeling the proper kind of remorse, given the crime. 

The next day, I went back to Barnes and Noble on an unrelated errand.  As I was getting ready to leave my apartment, I suddenly realized I would get another opportunity to take a look at the now fuzzy vinaigrette assembly; I found myself involuntarily picking up the pace in excitement over spending a little more time with the cookbook.  I took care of my first task; I immediately sidled up to the cookbook section, and then blew another hour sitting cross-legged on the floor, with the cookbook nestled in my lap.  I suddenly heard a voice in my head, saying “BUY THE COOKBOOK.”  It was as if I became Pluto in an old Disney cartoon, and a mini-me angel tapped me on the shoulder, guiding me towards the right thing.  And I am now engaging in a bold-faced confession, hoping that it will entitle me to blog about the recipe with a (sort of) clean conscience.
Seriously though, in spite of my questionable moral compass, this chopped salad is very tasty.  I am not a big salad eater; they tend to be too crunchy and not rich or savory enough.  With that being said, I’ve got to hand it to Jeanne Kelley, author of SaladFor Dinner because her book truly lives up to its title.  She takes a genre of food known for leaving diners wanting more, and renders it worthy of calling it a satisfying dinner.  Her recipes, categorized by their protein, are all well-rounded, full flavored, and filling meals.  Granted I have only made this Chopped Salad, but I can tell that there are quite a few other recipes that will live up to its prowess.
Now about this Chopped Salad… it’s utterly divine.  Crunchy green and red cabbage, sweet fennel, and red onion are offset by the heartiness of plenty of shredded chicken breast, all kissed with a bright Oregano Vinaigrette.  This strong foundation is then highlighted by a wide array of salty, savory morsels, that elevate it from a glorified slaw into a balanced and thoughtful main dish.  Briny green olives and peppery parley leaves run throughout the salad.  And as if that weren’t enough, the salad is then garnished with feta and prosciutto (I know, it makes me swoon, too). 
When I initially read the recipe, I thought, “Why green olives?  Why not Kalamata?”  Shopping for the meal, I even paused at the olive bar, eyes darting between the bins of green Mt. Athos olives and Kalamata, questioning what I felt to be an otherwise brilliant recipe.  I made a last minute swerve to the left, and counted out my 10 green olives, upped from Kelley’s six.  I’m willing to defend my choice on this particular judgment call, but I have to say that the Kalamatas would have been a grave mistake.  The color and the firm texture alone make green olives worth their salt in this context, and I think the brinier, milder flavor is the perfect compliment.  As for the prosciutto and feta, I’m pretty sure those two ingredients speak for themselves, and  they truly yield a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. 
Another strong selling point for the delectable Chopped Salad is that is one of the few in the history of salads that actually holds up as a decent leftover, and that is because it made with cabbage instead of lettuce or baby greens.  Tossed in dressing, it retained its immaculate crunch over a couple of days, only deepening in flavor.  I kept the prosciutto and feta separate (they were a garnish, after all).  Please note, I did not add any salt to this recipe, besides in the preparation of the dressing and the chicken.  The smorgasbord of salty flavors is adequate without actually salting the dish.  My favorite salty element?  The prosciutto, no question.  The sweet, meaty flavor and toothsome texture definitely add a certain “je ne sais quoi,” and the color is the icing on the cake.  The recipe written below is true to how I made it, including a few minor tweaks that veered slightly from the original text; however, I stuck to Kelley’s overall vision because she gave me no reason not to. 

Chopped Salad (slightly adapted from Jean Kelley’s Salad forDinner):
Serves 4

3-4 cups very thinly sliced green cabbage
2-3 cups very thinly sliced red cabbage
12 ounces shredded cooked chicken breast (cooked in the same way at the previous post)
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and very thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup red onion, very thinly sliced, tossed with a few tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
10 good quality green olives, pitted and chopped
3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, torn into pieces
4 ounces feta, crumbled

Oregano Vinaigrette
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 garlic clove, lightly smashed
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Whisk all ingredients for vinaigrette together except oil and garlic.  Gradually whisk in oil.  Add garlic clove, and allow dressing to sit for 30 minutes.  Allow garlic clove to continue sitting in dressing, but don't eat it.

In a large bowl, combine both cabbages, fennel, onion, parsley, olives, and chicken.  Add enough Oregano Vinaigrette to lightly coat, and toss well.  

Divide salad on dinner plates and garnish with prosciutto and feta, and an additional drizzle of vinaigrette and freshly ground black pepper.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Kale and Chicken Enchilada Lasagna

Hey, everyone, I wrote a blog post!  I cannot explain my absence any better than my sudden return, nor can I promise that I will start posting again regularly.  I will, however, say that I am interested again.  I was tired of it for a long time.  Perhaps, that was due to a stale creative process, or my own fabricated pressures to post regularly.  Lately, I am enjoying cooking, making some tasty food, and I would like document it more often, even if it is solely for my own reference when I cannot come up with something enticing to cook.  We all have to eat, right?  It’s true, and for some of us, it’s more than others (namely, my glutinous self). 

I was talking to my cousin on the phone last Monday afternoon, while perusing cookbooks in local cooking store, and I found a ridiculously trendy kale cookbook.  Kale is so outrageously trendy; being the contrarian that I am, I would love to declare that I despise it, but I can make no so such statement.  It is such a fantastic vegetable.  It can pleasantly beef up the vegetable quotient of nearly any dish.  Unlike spinach, for example, it is difficult to overcook, and it doesn’t have that vicious, gum-gripping, tannic quality.  It can be braised, roasted, sautéed, or it can stud your favorite soup, and it simply tastes delicious.  My taste buds tend to veer more towards heavy cream rather than vegetables, so you know if I’m singing the praises of its favor profile, it must be good. 

Anyway, while idly thumbing cookbook pages, I found a recipe for kale and chicken enchiladas.  To be clear, I am using the term “enchiladas” loosely; these are by no means authentic.  In fact, they are not even authentic to the original recipe; not only did I veer wildly off course when I made them initially, but I have now reworked several renditions of my initial swerve from the published recipe.  It now resembles a sort of pseudo-Mexican lasagna, with corn tortillas acting as pasta, and store-bought green chile instead of red sauce.  It is delicious and satisfying, and possibly even healthy.  
There is, of course, cheese within the depths of this dish.  (Sidenote: I recently went on a random and ill-advised bout of cheeseless-ness. In other words, I was completely dairy-free for about 3 weeks.  I am relieved to say that I felt terrible, and I was able to bring cheese back into my diet, with a feeling of belonging and destiny. Needless to say, my love affair with cheese is back on track, if in a slightly more moderate format.)  The cheese in this meal is pivotal, but overall I think it is fairly healthy.  I used a combination of smoked Gouda, and a cheddar-gruyere conglomerate I found at Trader Joe’s.  Smoked Gouda doesn’t melt well, but I think the flavor is worth it.  High-quality white cheddar would be more than adequate as a substitute for both cheeses (this is what I used in my first version). 

In its evolved stated (compared to the original recipe), this layered enchilada masterpiece revolves around a mixture of kale, onion, tomatoes, and chicken breast.  This is layered with tortillas and cheese.  Instead of enchilada sauce, I decided to make it a little more interesting (but just as easy) by employing some medium heat 505 Green Chile in its place.  In case you aren’t familiar with this product, it is fabulous.  It is spicy, hearty, vegetarian, and nowhere near the calorie-laden, artery-clogging mess that you might think.  In fact, the entire 16 oz. jar has less than 100 calories.  Initially, I made this as rolled enchiladas, but corn tortillas crack so easily that I reformatted it to something layered.  Why do my corn tortillas crack?  Are they simply not fresh? Am I doing something wrong?  Is it karmic retribution?  I’m not sure, but I do know they are so flavorful that changing the presentation of the dish seemed the best solution, as opposed to subbing them out for their mild-mannered cousin, the flour tortilla.  Every time I open a bag of corn tortillas, the aroma overwhelms me.  When I think of super flavorful foods, fresh corn does not immediately spring to mind; however, this bland starch transforms into a different species when plied into a tortilla.  This dinner was delightful, and as all dishes must be in the psycho kitchen, it yielded abundant and delicious leftovers. 
Kale and Chicken Enchilada Bake

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Olive oil
Garlic salt
Seasoning salt
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 serrano pepper, ribs and seeds removed, minced
1-14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 bunch of kale, ribs removed and chopped
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 jar medium heat 505 Green Chile
3/4 cup smoked Gouda
3/4 cup white cheddar or cheddar-gruyere mix
9 small corn tortillas

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly coat chicken breasts in olive oil and season with seasoning salt, garlic salt, and pepper.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, then set aside.  Thinly slice when cooled.  Reduce heat to 350.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in large skillet over medium heat.  Saute onion, chile pepper, and garlic, seasoned with salt and pepper, for 10-15 minutes until translucent and soft.

Add chopped kale, 1/2 cup chicken stock, and tomatoes with juice.  Season with salt, pepper, and oregano.  Stir until kale is wilted slightly, then add chicken.  Turn off heat and stir to combine.

In a greased 9x13 pan, spread out 1/2-3/4 cup green chile.  Then top with 3 small corn tortillas, tearing into smaller pieces to create one layer.  Then top with half of the kale mixture, and half of the cheese.  Top with 3 more tortillas, and more green chile.  Add remaining kale mixture, and 3 more tortillas.  Top with additional green chile and cheese. 

Bake for 25-30 minutes at 350, or until hot and bubbly.  Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.