Wednesday, July 05, 2006

My Fourth of July Dinner

My Fourth of July dinner was a beautiful illustration of utilizing what I had on hand to come up with something pretty special, healthy, and delicious.

I did go back to the grocery store for the broccoli. I also bought some tomatoes and some more blueberries (they were on sale $2.00 a pint). Since I scarfed down the corn I had bought before, I also bought some more of that.

I hadn't really planned a special dinner. I bought the broccoli for a test recipe for one of my 12 Best Foods Cookbook posts over on Fitfare, and I was trying to decide what I should make to go with it. Since pretty much the only thing I have in the freezer is chicken, it won by default. I pulled a package of chicken quarters ($0.49/lb.) out and threw it in the fridge to defrost for a couple of days. I still have plenty of carrots on hand, and a big onion I knew would make a nice bed in the crockpot for the chicken. I pretty much used the same recipe I used for the Slow Cooker Drumsticks and Carrots, except that I used quarters instead of drumsticks, I left the bones in the pieces, and I didn't add any parsley (which is too bad, because I have some and it would have been nice to use it up). And since I was going to have the chicken with the corn, I skipped the couscous.

I bought the tomatoes specifically to use with the cucumber I had left over from last week. I had some red wine vinegar in a little jar in the fridge that was left over from something else I had made recently (I can't remember what, now) so I used it to make a marinade for the cucumber and tomato salad. I made that right after I put the chicken in the slow cooker so it would have plenty of time to marinate before it was time to eat.

I don't make cucumber salads very often. When I was younger and we were going to have it at home we would just chop up some tomatoes, cucumbers and onion and dress them with white vinegar and oil and salt (no pepper) right before dinner, so the vegetables didn't have much time to absorb any of the flavors of the marinade.

As a dinner was taking shape in my mind, I decided to take more time with the salad. I peeled and sliced the cucumbers, layered the slices in a colander and sprinkled them with salt, and let it sit for a half hour, then I rinsed them off and squeezed the liquid out of them. I have to admit, it makes a big difference in their texture. They're just as crunchy, but they're firmer and have more character. And there isn't any liquid in them to dilute the marinade.

My only critique is that I used too much salt when I soaked the cucumbers and it didn't all rinse out. Since I tasted one before I made the salad, I knew not to put any more salt into the dressing so it wasn't too salty, but it was borderline. Next time I'll know better.

As I mentioned before, the Tomato Broccoli was a test recipe for a Fitfare post. It's a fresh, new way to prepare what can often be an invisible vegetable. I'm going to take that recipe to Austin with me next time I visit. I used my handy-dandy new microwave method for the corn. It's sweet enough to eat all by itself, although someday I'll put some lime and chili powder on it.

All in all, it was quite a festive little holiday feast I put together.

And for dessert? Since I had all those cheap blueberries on hand, I made good on my promise and doubled the Blueberry-Polenta Muffin Tops recipe and made muffins.

Yum. That's all I'm sayin'. But it made a lot of muffins--21 to be exact.
Cucumber and Tomato Salad

This dish is best made at least two hours ahead of time.

1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced thin
1/4 red onion, sliced thin
salt for cucumbers
2 large or 3 medium tomatoes, sliced thin
1/4 cup red wine vinegar, or to taste
1/4 cup water, or to taste
2 Tbsp olive oil, or to taste
1 tsp sugar
pepper to taste

Layer the cucumber on a paper towel in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Let it sit for half an hour, then remove the paper towel, rinse the cucumbers, and squeeze them dry. Taste one to determine salt level.

Place cucumbers and onion in a wide shallow dish. Add the red wine vinegar, water, oil, sugar, pepper, and salt if necessary. Mix well, then cover the dish and place in the refrigerator.

Let sit for at least one hour, then add the tomatoes, stirring again to make sure the marinade has covered everything. Let sit at least one hour more.

Bring to room temperature before serving.

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