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Friday, August 6, 2010


Moving towards a more homegrown life has separated me from one of my long held favorite activities – dining out. Yep. In my former consumer based life I was a fan – huge fan – of eating out. Having apron clad servers bow to my ever whim, talented chefs whipping up my favorite entrees, and, most of all, not having to clean the kitchen made me feel special, almost regal. The idea of not having to figure out what to do for dinner was sublime. I was bringing home the bacon, why the hell should I have to cook it too.

But – somewhere along the way to this simpler life, eating giant portioned meals, prepared by cooks of questionable health, with products grown in God knows what conditions lost its luster. I was breaking away. The only problem…I had my favorite dishes from my favorite restaurants. I really didn’t want to give them up.

What’s a girl to do?

Set out on a mission, of course – a mission to recreate those dishes with homegrown meats and produce, or at the very least, organic locally grown.

I didn’t give up eating out all together, but over the years I have made notes on what was in my favorite meals. Like a biologist dissecting a frog, I jotted down ingredients, seasonings I could taste and herbs and spices I recognized. On weekends I worked at recreating those dishes. It took time and there were a few failures along the way. But, like Marshall Thurber said, “anything worth doing well is worth doing badly in the beginning.”

After several tries many of them came together nicely and some ended up better than the original I was trying to copy. Below are two favorites that will have you eating well and locally summer or winter. The first is a hot weather Luau Chicken Salad; chock full of crunchy veggies and crispy wonton strips; and the second, an exotic North African Lamb dish, full of aromatic spices and sweet dried fruit.

Luau Chicken Salad

1 Chicken breast (preferably home grown), sautéed and chopped
1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
¼ head Napa cabbage, chopped
½ yellow bell pepper, sliced thin
4 scallions, white and green parts, sliced thin
12 Green beans, blanched and cut into pieces
1-2 Carrots, julienne
½ Cucumber, sliced
½ Mango, diced
¼ cup almonds, sliced or slivered OR peanuts, chopped
Wonton papers, sliced and fried in oil
1 bottle Ken’s Asian Sesame salad dressing

On medium heat pour 2 – 4 tablespoons of the Ken’s dressing into a skillet. Place sliced chicken breast in skillet and sauté until done. Set aside to cool, then chop. In a separate skillet, heat oil and fry wantons until crisp. Set aside to drain.

In a large bowl mix lettuce, cabbage, bell pepper, carrot scallions, nuts, mango, cucumber and green beans. Pour about 1/8 cup of dressing over and mix thoroughly. Add more dressing if desired. Toss in chopped chicken. Serve in large shallow bowls and top with fried wonton. Makes 4 to 6 servings.


North African Lamb

(this is a great dish to prepare in the crockpot)

2-1/2 Pounds lamb shoulder (preferable homegrown), cut into cubes
2 Large onions, sliced thin
2 Medium carrots cut into chunks
1 Small yam or sweet potato, peeled, cut into chucks
2 Cloves garlic, minced
1 Tsp salt
2 Tsp ginger
½ Tsp pepper
¼ Tsp cinnamon
2/3 Cup dried apricots
½ Cup pitted prunes
2 Tbsp honey
1 Cup apricot juice or water
½ Cup slivered almonds

Cut lamb off bone and remove as much fat as possible. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Place all vegetables at bottom of crockpot dish. Place lamb on top of vegetables. In a small bowl mix spices then sprinkle over lamb and vegetables. Add apricots and prunes. Pour juice or water and honey over all and set on low; will cook all day. Test seasonings and adjust to your liking.

When ready to serve spoon onto rimmed platter and top with almonds. Serve with couscous or rice and warmed garlic flatbread.

Creating your own restaurant inspired dishes can be fun and affordable, not to mention healthy when you know how the ingredients were grown.

So throw your aprons on, folks, and get in the kitchen.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Vilseskogen

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