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Volume 37 Issue 15, - August 1-8, 2007
now in our 37th season

Fire and Ice...burg

by Maryjane Mojer

The heat is getting to me this week. Some may say “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity,’ but truly, the heat doesn’t help.  While I love the sun, I’m a bit particular about the temperature.  A few degrees cooler than right now, and I’d be quite content.

Unfortunately, my appetite is not adversely affected by the sweltering days and steamy nights.  I simply look for cooler, lighter fare In the summer, chicken legs are a staple in our fridge.  Simple, baked chicken, jerked chicken, poached breasts or thighs are quick, inexpensive and very versatile.  They store well and it makes feeding an army a snap.  Cold chicken legs are the best beach or picnic lunch.  Poached chicken breasts or thighs can be shredded and turned into a salad in no time.

During the heat and whirl of summer,  I only really cook on my days off.  Oh, heck…I only really cook on my days off all year.  I am married to a very understanding, self sufficient man.  Not only is he the best road trip partner anyone could ask for, he realizes that being married to a chef does not necessarily mean amazing meals…unless he’s the one making them.  Much like the cobblers children have no shoes; my family has learned to fend for themselves.  I keep my fridge and pantry well stocked.  You might say that I do bring home the bacon.  I just don’t fry it up in the pan.

When I do use the stove, I plan ahead and cook more than one meals worth.  I think in terms of batches.  I also try to cook first thing in the morning when its cooler, turning on every fan and letting the heat of the stove dissipate into the heat of the day.

For poached chicken breasts, I start with boneless, skinless breasts.  If you have time, and are so inclined, by all means buy the breasts bone-in, or bone out a whole chicken.  Right now, I don’t care to make stock, nor do I care to spend more time in the heat of the kitchen than necessary.  This works well for breasts and thighs.  I have to say, the boneless, skinless chicken thighs are my favorite convenience, an in the heat and frenzy of the summer, I opt for convenience!

Rinse your chicken well under cool, running water.  Trim off any extra bits of fat.  Place the chicken in a pan; add a bay leaf, a couple of scallions in large pieces, and five or six peppercorns.  A splash of white wine or vermouth is just fine if you’d like.  Over medium high heat, bring the chicken to a boil. Reduce to barely a simmer for about 8 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover, and let sit until cool enough to handle.  Remove from poaching liquid and discard the liquid.  I like to shred my poached chicken with two forks, but cutting with a knife is just fine, too.  Poached chicken will last in your refrigerator for four or five days, if it’s around that long.  Any left after the initial green salad with sliced, poached chicken is usually turned into chicken salad.

There are some things that should just not be messed about with too much.  Potato salad, for me, is potatoes, mayo, lemon juice, salt and pepper. On occasion, a bit of celery is ok.  When we have company, I’ll often gild the lily and fold in a couple of hard boiled eggs and sprinkle paprika over the top. This is the potato salad of my childhood.

I feel the same about chicken salad.  Celery, mayo, salt and pepper are the only requirements.  That said, a perfectly delicious chicken salad can also be made with any additions that you and your family enjoy.

I  mix up my dressing first.  Into the bottom of a large bowl, I place the mayonnaise and mix it with salt and pepper, thinning it out with a bit of lemon juice.  If I’m adding anything else, this it the time.  Red grapes, sliced in half, toasted almonds, diced green apple, scallions, and sunflower seeds are all great embellishments.  Toss all of the extras in with the dressing to coat, then add your chicken, and fold in to combine.  Chilling overnight allows the flavors a chance to meld and blend.  A scoop of this, next to a wedge of chilled iceberg lettuce, a few thick slices of tomatoes, and a bit of blue cheese dressing.  So much for lighter fare!

One big batch item that can be daunting, but needn’t be is gazpacho.  I’m not a big gadget gal in the kitchen, but there are a few that I love.  One is my food processor with various blades.  Another is my tomato shark.  Think mini-melon baller with teeth.  Tomatoes are a dear commodity and every ounce is valuable.  Taking out the stem end, and only the stem makes me feel as though I’m not losing a bit.

Before start, get your stuff ready.  You’ll need a large bowl, a good wooden spoon, and your cleaned, prepared vegetables.

Gazpacho

8 ripe tomatoes, washed and stemmed
3 carrots, peeled
2 cucumbers, peeled and seeded
1 green pepper, stemmed and seeded
1 red pepper, stemmed and seeded
1/2 red onion (or Vidalia), peeled
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 cup cilantro
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (or more to taste)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, diced fine
6 cups tomato juice (or low sodium V-8)
(I add a few drops of Worcestershire sauce, but remember to leave it out
for the vegetarians you know and love.)

Wash, dry and stem your tomatoes.  If you are using your food processor, use the small shredding blade.  Feed your tomatoes through, and empty them into a bowl.  You’ll need to do this in successive batches. 

Shred the rest of your vegetables, adding each one to the tomatoes, and so on.

Add the spices, oil, vinegar, and juice.  Mix well and chill overnight.

This is a great recipe to play with, because, lets face it; all of those ingredients in just about any combination will be quite tasty.  Using fire roasted peppers, grilling your tomatoes, changing up the oils and vinegars—all of this will let you make this recipe your own.  I like my gazpacho quite chunky and more stew like, but I have friends who pulverize theirs into a very smooth soup. 

Garnishing it with crème fraiche, plain yogurt, or good old sour cream along with a squeeze of lime will only add to the joy.  Add a tall, cold iced tea, or a smooth gin and tonic…now that’s summer lovin’.

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