Friday, December 07, 2007

A quick but satisfying entree salad for these harried holiday times....

So I'm in the eye of the hurricane at school. I survived it this week by some measure of grace, but next week might just finish me off. You see, next week is our finals week, and the "no sleep" rule will be firmly in effect until December 15! With all the paper grading, not to mention all the holiday preparations to be attended to in one's "free time," some nights I just can't face making an elaborate meal for dinner. And that's when I often turn to the composed entree salad that requires no real (or not much) cooking, just assembly.

I have been known to do a kind of south-of-the-border version with chicken, black beans, corn and a zesty chili or avocado-based dressing, or a garlicky chicken caesar with black olives and giant croutons, or perhaps even a Cobb-style salad. But this time around, my inspiration was one of those fried chicken salads that every chain restaurant seems to sell. But this was easy, tastier, and a whole lot cheaper to make yourself at home. There isn't really a recipe, just general guidance on composition (something I do a LOT as a teacher...tee hee). Moreover, this salad makes use of some "cheater" ingredients to simplify the process further. And LOOK what you will end up with! Don't you just want to grab a fork and dive right in? Trust me, you do. I ate this meal myself no fewer than three times last week!

So you start with your favorite kind of lettuce or mixed greens. At my house, it's usually a combo of red and green leaf lettuces, but we just had your basic green on hand this time. I de-spine it and then tear it into manageable pieces, but that's just me. Then you'll want to toss on some chopped, cooked bacon. You can use pre-cooked, but it's so expensive that it's well worth your time to fry up a little extra for a big weekend breakfast and use the leftovers during the week. You'll also want to slice up a hard-cooked egg or two. Yeah, it's a pain. I've even seen pre-peeled ones in the grocery store, for heaven's sake. But again, I recommend boiling up a dozen and peeling them on the weekend so that you have a quick breakfast with toast in the mornings, or egg salad for lunch, and egg on your salad at dinnertime. (As you may infer, we do not fear the egg-based cholesterol at my house! Then again, our chickens live a good life and their eggs are more flavorful and kinder to our health in return.) For veggies, I suggest some chopped scallions and some tomato in a small dice. You'll also want a good sprinkle of shredded cheese (I always have a Mexi-cheese blend in a bag in my deli drawer to make my life easier). I also found some fried onion salad toppers (on the shelf with the croutons at the store) that I threw on this particular salad, which added a nice flavor and crunch. And last but not least, you need some fried chicken. Feel free to fry your own, but as I said, I'm in the throes of finals, so I stopped by the deli counter at the grocery store and acquired a few chicken strips that I subsequently nuked and sliced for the salad.

For the finishing touch, I did make my own honey mustard vinaigrette that was so easy and informally thrown together, that I don't have a precise recipe for that either, I'm afraid. I started with a couple of tablespoons of mustard (one tablespoon spicy Creole for flavor, one tablespoon of regular yellow for that unmistakable color). Then I added at least as much honey (a couple/few tablespoons), along with maybe a third of a cup each of vinegar (cider or white) and olive oil. The olive oil I used was heavily-infused with garlic, or else I would have thrown at least one clove of minced garlic in there, along with salt and pepper to taste. I gave everything a quick, emulsifying spin in the blender, tasted it, and ended up adding a little more oil (so maybe half a cup total?) and maybe another tablespoon of honey until it was sweet enough to suit me. Basically, throw stuff in your blender until it looks right and tastes good, then drizzle a generous amount on your salad and you're done! Dinner will be taken care of lickety-split, and then you can get back to wrapping those presents and trimming that tree. Consider this quickie dinner idea another holiday gift from yours truly.

Stay alive, everyone. Christmastime is NOT for the faint of heart!

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