Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Grilled Chicken, Panzanella And Make Believe

Anybody that's been cooking for a long time probably feels the same way I do about using recipes. They are a guide, a starting point and a way of jogging your memory about dishes you've had in the past and combinations that you want to try in the future.

I was rustling up some grub for dinner and I saw a recipe in Bon App├ętit for grilled chicken and bread salad. And it was from Farm, where H and I dined happily during our visit to Napa. And who doesn't need another grilled chicken recipe? AND I'm always interested in bread salad or panzanella.

So I looked at this recipe and instantly changed it...before I even got to the second paragraph. I'm sure it's an ok recipe, but, for some reason, I didn't want capers in my bread salad; sherry vinegar just didn't appeal to me at that moment; AND I really didn't like the way they handled the bread. So here is my Grilled Chicken and Panzanella, based on an amalgam of recipes from past and present, plus my own mistakes and discoveries in the kitchen. (You know, basically the way we all cook.)

Grilled Chicken (serves 4)

1 tbl. ancho chile pepper powder (using regular chili powder isn't the end of the world)
1 tbl. smoked paprika (no substitutions here)
1 tbl. cumin
1/2 tsp. cayenne
4 whole chicken legs, skinned

3 almost 1/2 inch slices country or Tuscan bread
about 1/3 cup great olive oil
Kosher salt

2 tbls. fresh lemon juice
2 tbls. red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil (roughly two-thirds great olive oil and one third everyday olive oil - just eyeball it in the measuring cup)

1 cucumber (an English one would be grand), peeled and chopped coarsely
3 tomatoes, chopped coarsely
1/2 red or yellow pepper, chopped coarsely (the idea is that these 3 vegetables should be roughly the same size)
scant 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

For the chicken, measure the spices into a jar. Shake well. Salt the chicken on both sides and rub in a scant spoonful of the spices on both sides of the chicken. (You won't need all of the spice blend. Keep it in a the jar in a cool place.) Set chicken aside for 15 minutes or place back in refrigerator until 10 minutes before cooking.

Grill the chicken until nicely browned about 20 minutes on each side.

For the bread, brush the olive oil on both sides of the thick slices. Sprinkle salt very lightly on both sides, pressing it in gently. Place bread on a foiled baking sheet and broil it carefully on both sides until golden brown. Set aside for at half an hour. (All day is fine too.)

For the salad, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar and olive oils. (I would do it in the blender.) Stir together cucumber, tomatoes, pepper and red onion. Mix in some of the dressing and set aside for up to 30 minutes.

Using a bread knife, cut the bread into largish cubes and set aside.

Just before serving, mix bread cubes and parsley into the salad, adding more dressing to moisten nicely. Plate the salad and serve with the grilled chicken.

The next day, with leftover spice rub and cooked grilled chicken, I made a Cubanesque rice dish. It's so easy, I'll describe it in a couple of paragraphs.

Soften COMPLETELY 1 onion and 1 carrot in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Stir in 1/2 chopped red pepper and one pressed garlic clove. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of yesterday's spice mix. Cook over LOW heat, stirring occasionally for 3 minutes.

Add 1 cup of raw brown basmati rice and 1/2 cup of raw red rice (it's SOOOOOO good). Or use all brown rice. Stir over low heat for one minute. Add 3 cups of liquid, which can be stock, tomato juice, orange juice and/or water or preferably a combination of whatever you like. (I used one can of vegetable stock made up to 3 cups with water.) Bring to the boil - an hysterical boil - cover, turn down to low and cook UNDISTURBED for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, drain and rinse a can of black beans. Stir them into the rice as soon as the 45 minutes is up. Leave the pot, covered, on the back of the stove until you're ready to serve. It will stay hot for 30 minutes. After that, you may have to zap it a bit. Serve with the leftover grilled chicken and make someone very happy.

Where does the make believe come in, you ask? Just before serving, I cut up a beautifully ripe nectarine and pretended it was a mango.

H didn't notice the difference and I thought the fruity note in my nicely spiced rice was perfect.


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