If it is summertime, the living should be easy. Part of my easy living includes make-ahead dishes for lunch or supper. After so many years of three big meals a day for a crowd, a few tricks of this cooking trade have rubbed off on me.
My summer calendar has begun to fill up. I now intend to be ahead of the game. I’ll have lunches almost completed and ready to pull out of the “ice box” as they used to be called.
When friends came by for lunch recently, I had two old favorites of mine on the menu, and now, to my surprise, they asked for my recipes.
At this stage of the game, many of my recipes are hit-or-miss, and I no longer need to refer to one of my many cookbooks. And I never found a recipe I didn’t change (for good or bad) in some manner. High altitude plays a part in this as well. Cakes must be baked differently and even some breads need adjustments. Plus, we don’t have the convenience of running down the street to the store if we need something.
An all-time favorite dish that I rarely make the same way twice is chicken salad. That is basically because I may not have some of the ingredients needed.
I always think of my mother when I start this dish. She had a bowl of very good duck soup in a Chinese restaurant once and asked for the recipe. After some discussion with the chef and some translation, he told her, “First, you cook a chicken.” So much for duck soup! I usually cook a chicken for chicken salad in my pressure cooker.
Chicken is relatively cheap now, and my big cooker holds a whole cut-up chicken. I add celery, onions, carrots, garlic and a few chicken broth granules to the cooking water. Yes, if I were closer to town, I could buy a ready-to-eat roasted chicken, but then I wouldn’t have that delicious chicken broth, the base of a great soup the next day. I cool the chicken in its broth then take it off the bone in chunks.
My guests asked me what my secrets were when making chicken salad. One is using lots of fresh lemon, both peel and juice.
I put the juiced lemon in the pot with the cooking chicken. The shredded peel goes into the mayonnaise, along with some juice. When the meat is chopped up, I toss it with some Kraft Citrus Splash salad dressing. This gives the salad a nice kick. Then I add celery, green onions (including the tops) and some fruit, apples, peeled or not, plus red grapes if I have them.
Mandarin oranges and pineapple chunks can be added as well. Plus some walnuts, coarsely chopped. I don’t overdo the fruit, and sometimes I just add the apple pieces. Then I bind it together with some mayonnaise, and chill it for a while to let the flavors blend. Sweet pickles, a jalapeño or two, some pickled button mushrooms can also be added, to taste.
My potato salad (and my pasta salad) both start with hot, cooked potatoes or pasta tossed with some vinegar, freshly cracked pepper, some chopped onion and some garlic powder.
Some Italian seasoning (spices) can go into the pasta at this point as well.
Then the same veggies that go into potato salads (carrots, celery, pickles, etc.) plus hard boiled eggs if you have them.
A little sweet pickle juice stirred into the mayo that holds it all together is good, plus some plain old yellow mustard. The best part of making this salad is the tasting as you go along. I have a collection of different vinegars that also add interest. And don’t forget a little coarsely chopped dried red chile powder in every kind of salad!
Yes, if it is summertime, the salads should be good and should be very easy to make. Both of these are … this I know because they have been tested dozens of times.
Editha Bartley lives in Gascon in Mora County. She may be reached at 454-0563.