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Wednesday, July 11, 2007


It was a moment of canine-human telepathic communication. Henry-The-New-Puppy looked at me beseechingly with his little blue-black eyes. “It’s HOT” he telegraphed, tiny, pink tongue flapping…his pot-bellied little body slumping to the sidewalk. I nodded back in complete agreement. We stood there for a second and then shuffled back into the building to the din of blasting window unit air conditioners echoing through our apartment building’s courtyard.

This week summer was dialed up a notch. Here in Chicago that meant a double whammy of heat and humidity, presenting an endless string of bad hair days for yours truly. I swear there isn’t enough hair product on the planet to help me during heat like this, but I digress. It also resulted in the notorious Hot Weather Appetite Shift. When it’s like this, I have longings for just a couple cool bites of sushi followed by an ice-cold beer, or the snap of cold vegetables and crispy greens. In a city apartment cooled by those ubiquitous window unit air-conditioners, my main goal is NOT to use the stove or oven for any length of time. Baking anything goes on hold, for sure. (And that brings the joy of a summer evening’s stroll to the local ice cream place for a cone! We really should take advantage of these precious few months.)

So when the heat wave rolls in what’s a wilted, tired person with a listless appetite to do? Pretty simple: salad and cold cuts.

It sounds pedestrian, I know. Yet, it’s also practical, and fitting.

I have a rotation of salads we eat throughout the summer months. Here are just a couple. More to come…

Chef’s Salad

I’m fairly certain that there’s dispute over who made the first Chef’s Salad, and I say, “who cares”! The main idea here is to use the idea as a platform for your own invention.
Here’s my formula:

Base: Romaine lettuce, washed and chopped roughly. (I love the crunch of romaine, but don’t let me stop you from using your favorite lettuce.)

Middle layer: Any combination of chopped veggies you prefer. I like a broccoli, red or green pepper and some chopped, or grated carrot. Sliced red onions are optional. Sugar snap peas are nice too.

Top layer: Cold, sliced meat. I like leftover grilled chicken breast if it’s available. Or, my favorite smoked turkey or ham. Slice these, stacked, into strips and arrange across the top.

Swiss cheese. Again, sliced into thin strips.

More options: Salami, or hard-boiled egg, or, mmmm, bacon.
It’s all good.

Arrange everything in a large bowl, using proportions based on your taste and how many you're feeding.

For the Dressing:
Here’s where I don’t want vinaigrette, and since I’m partial to creamy dressings, but often horrified by the ingredients list on store-bought, I make ‘creamy-ranch’ dressing at home. One of the really wonderful things about having worked at Oprah was meeting Art Smith, her personal chef. My copy of his cookbook,
Back to the Table is well thumbed, spattered and falling apart at the spine, which means I've got nothing but love for his way with food!

The perfect dressing for your Chef’s Salad is,
Art’s Ice Box Buttermilk Dressing.
(Makes about two cups, keeps for a week in a glass jar in the refrigerator.)

Put all the ingredients in a large glass jar and shake it up to blend!

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup mayonnaise (Art says to use reduced-fat, but I love my regular Hellman’s.)
½ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons grainy mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped rinsed capers (Optional for me.)
2 tablespoons minced shallots (I’ve used green onions or chives with great success.)
2-4 teaspoons of mixed, fresh herbs – whatever you like (oregano, basil, tarragon)
1 teaspoon sugar (for that certain je ne sais quoi…)

Here’s another salad in my summer rotation. This is a perfect side to a plate of your favorite salami or prosciutto, a crusty loaf of bread and maybe some olives. Pull that chilled white, or rose, out of the fridge and you’re in heaven.
No oven needed!

Caprese Salad My Way
serves 2

Toss in a large bowl:
2 cups fresh mozzarella, bocconcini, halved
2 cups fresh tomatoes (oooh, this is the time of year for the colorful, sunburst-in-your-mouth varieties at the farmers market!)
handful of basil, stacked, rolled and then sliced in a chiffonade

salt and pepper to taste
several drizzles of extra-virgin olive oil (now’s the time to pull out the good, peppery stuff you paid big bucks for!)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (again – here’s where the expensive, liquid gold really shines!)


Jane said...

I made the Chef's Salad for supper tonight. (How thoughtful of you to offer another recipe with buttermilk, just a few days after the pancakes! I actually had all of the ingredients on hand.) Unlike you, I'm not a creamy dressing fan, but I really liked this one: it was tart and had a bite. I followed the recipe faithfully, and the texture of the dressing, at first, was a bit too spoonable for my tastes, so I added a bit more olive oil, which fixed that.

We had some leftover cold ham for the top layer. As I ate the salad, it occurred to me that the dressing would be a perfect sandwich spread to marry a piece of ham and a piece of Swiss cheese on some French bread.

Delicious! (And one nice thing about a salad meal is the chance to have something more filling for dessert. Tonight -- strawberries, sponge cake, and whipped cream.)

Marcia said...

Jane, I'm so glad you tried this! And the ham sandwich idea -- perfect! I was also thinking, in addition to a filling dessert, salad meals always provide an opportunity for a loaf of good bread and I'm always on the lookout for an excuse to eat bread.