My birthday has passed leaving behind trails of balloons and wrapping paper and ribbons in its wake. Which is fine by me, except for the mess to clean. Leave it to my culinary school galpal to go overboard on the presents and find some rather cool kitchen gadgets to excite me. One of them being a salad spinner, that I must admit excites me beyond belief. The other being a set of measuring scoops. Not cups. Scoops. And the best one yet? The shot glass maker. The ice shot glass maker. Yes, your shot glass is ice. Way cool. How can you not RSVP to a cocktail party when ice shot glasses are on the menu?? You can’t. Oh no.
And as for dinner? Well. When it comes to the big Birthday Dinner, I go for divine. I go for something to blow me away, take me away, lift me onto a cloud and float away to this-is-the-most-amazing-dish-ever land. My stomach is happy; my heart is happy. But this year, I just opted for the fun. Because as many chateaubriands as you may consume, and the caviar and the lobster and the risottos and the fancy froo-froo, if you cannot sit down to enjoy a simple, fun meal then you cannot love food. Then you do not love food. Ruth Reichl once wrote about Benihana: "...an establishment no self-respecting critic would set foot in. It is a marketing strategy disguised as a restaurant...", but even she went off with her son and husband and had a good time. So there. And besides, sometimes there is absolutely no reason to resist a flip of an egg, a turn of a spatula, and an onion volcano.
Oh and the birthday cake? As chocolate-y and peanut butter-y as one could ever hope for.
Im a South Florida girl. And as a true South Florida girl I’m used to the warm weather and the humidity and the constant wearing of flip flops. Really. I’m also quite aware of the fact that Florida is what I like to call "seasonally challenged". While all you lovely people out there are enjoying your snowy winters and fall leaves, we’re stuck with 4 different seasons of our own: almost summer, definitely summer, kinda-still summer, and "winter". And "winter" is that random week of 60º weather that has us busting out with our gloves, overcoats, and scarves, while the rest of the country is really bitching about the justified 30º. And so. We are in Definitely Summer. It’s beach weather. It’s flip-flop weather. (But more accurately, right now it’s shitty weather. Rainy and cloudy and thunderstorm-y. Le sigh.) So when these days roll around the last thing I even want to think about is turning an oven on and getting too fussy with heavy meals. I want light and crisp and refreshing. Like salad. And for the longest time I was such an awful picky eater. I didn’t eat anything green. That included parsley garnishes when we would go out to eat. "None of that green stuff, please". I shuddered at the idea of salad, but as I grew older I got into the habit of better eating. And one day decided: a salad can be comprised of anything I want so why not make a salad of everything I like? Thus My Favorite Salad was born. Dumb name, I know, but there is no other way to name it. It is my favorite salad. The salad I make constantly. Especially when the days are humid and hot and yucky. And I must say: there isn’t much not to love about this salad.
So here’s the deal. Grab yourself a medium-sized bowl. Juice a lemon or two right into it. Add in a couple of glugs of olive oil, some soy sauce (and that is the key here), salt, pepper, and minced garlic. Toss in the meat of your choice (chicken breasts are such a perfect option) and let sit for about 10 minutes. This is the simplest marinade and the marinade I use on literally everything. It’s so good and it’s simple. It doesn’t need 4 hours, it doesn’t need overnight, it doesn’t need fussy. My kind of thing. So as that sits, grab a big bowl this time. Chop up your favorite lettuce (I’m partial to romaine. And spinach. I could eat spinach by the bowl-ful every single day. Oh how things have changed..). Add in cucumbers - seeded and peeled, grated carrots, some handfuls of corn kernels, and a good bit of feta cheese. Toss that around. For a vinaigrette, I keep it just as simple as the marinade. A couple of lemons, juiced, some olive oil, chopped parsley, and a sprinkle of sugar to balance out the acidity. You don’t even need salt and pepper. Really. Grill the chicken breasts (or whatever meat) and then let rest for about 5 minutes. Slice up and toss into the salad. Pour on the vinaigrette and sprinkle on sliced almonds (I like them toasted. The toasting gives them an even bigger crunch). Toss. Now, of course this is a salad and a salad can be anything you decide to throw into a bowl, but you have to try it like this just once. The heat from the chicken soaks up the vinaigrette and the almonds add the most wonderful texture. Every time I make this salad, it’s common to see every one grab seconds and thirds. It’s that delicious, and on a Definitely Summer day, there is definitely nothing better.