Sarah said that she wanted to cook dinner at least once while she was visiting. I agreed. Who wouldn’t want an award-winning chef cooking in the kitchen. The limit set for the adventure was that it had to follow her High protein/low carb regimen. The other thing was that I didn’t want to go to the store again, so she decided to use what was in the pantry and the refrigerator.
She chose to make chicken panzanella. I reminded her that the dish referred to a traditional Italian bread salad. She said, “Just don’t eat the bread.” Point made.
I have not been too specific about quantities except for the chicken breasts – we only had two – and the bread – we had already started eating a pound-and-a-half loaf. Adjust the quantities of the various other ingredients to your particular likes and to the size of the group you plan to serve.
Some of the keys to success include making certain that the bread cubes are completely dried out and firm. Otherwise, they will absorb too much of the juice from the vegetables and wind up being soggy. The seedless grapes are a surprise: they make a sweet foil for the other acidic and bitter components of the salad. The avocado is also not a usual ingredient in a traditional Panzanella, but it makes a tasty addition. You can add more lettuce, but it might overwhelm the other flavors of the salad. You can use your favorite vinaigrette, but simple oil and vinegar allow you to adjust the acidity just as you prefer.
Chicken breasts marinating in buttermilk/yogurt with scallions
Marinated chicken breasts ready for sauteing
Chicken on the grill
Grilled marinated chicken breasts
Bread cubes drying completely in a 250°F oven
Peppers lightly sauteed
Ingredients ready for assembly
Selection of herbs from the garden
Ready to serve
Assembled chicken panzanella
Served up on a backyard table
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- Greek yogurt
- scallions, chopped coarsely
- 1 pound (2/3 loaf) farm-style bread, (Sage Bakehouse), cut into ¾-inch cubes, crust on
- extra virgin olive oil
- snacking peppers, seeded, coarsely chopped, and lightly sautéed so that they are still crunchy
- butter lettuce (about 1/3 head)
- cherry tomatoes, halved
- snacking cucumbers, peeled and cut into ½ inch circles
- red seedless grapes, halved
- avocado, diced
- fresh garden herbs (parsley, mint, oregano, tarragon)
- white wine vinegar
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- Marinate the chicken breasts for 2 hours in a mixture of equal parts of buttermilk and Greek yogurt with sliced scallions. Turn frequently.
- While the chicken breasts are marinating, toss the bread cubes with olive oil and salt, and dry in a 250°F oven until they are completely dry. Set aside.
- Lightly sauté the peppers in a hot skillet until they are slightly wilted, but still crisp.
- Wash, dry, and cut the lettuce into bite-sized pieces. Prepare the tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes and avocado. Wash the herbs, remove the leaves from the stems, and chop finely. Set everything aside.
- Drain extra marinade from the chicken breasts and grill over a hot flame until the chicken is cooked through and the marinade has turned into a golden glaze. Let the grilled chicken rest for 5 minutes, and then cut into ½ inch cubes.
- In a large serving bowl, combine the chicken, bread cubes, peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, avocado, and herbs. Dress with white wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil to taste. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Let sit for 30 minutes to allow the bread to absorb some of the juices from the vegetables. Serve.
Susan and I just returned from another trip to San Francisco. We babysat our 10 months- and 3 years-old grandsons while Sarah and Evan travelled to Dallas. They were invited to cook with the staff at a hot, new Dallas restaurant, FT33. Sarah and Evan and the local chef alternated dishes for an 8-course tasting menu with wine pairings. The place was sold out, and Sarah got to see Corey and Megan, school friends of our other daughter, along with a fellow member of her crew team at the University of Texas.
My cooking task was more challenging: I was charged with feeding the two little ones. Actually, the 10-month-old was not difficult. He is still drinking a lot of liquids, and he will eat anything else you put in front of him.
The three-year-old was another story. The first morning, he wouldn’t eat his cheerios until I added some milk, so the next morning I anticipated him and poured in the milk. That morning he decided he didn’t want milk, so I had to scrap the first bowl. The next morning I made French toast with maple syrup. He didn’t like it, but the 10-month-old polished it off.
My greatest failure turned out to be lunch. I put together some things for his lunch box for nursery school. My first thought was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. What child doesn’t like PB&J? Besides, PB&J is not forbidden at his nursery school as it is in many places. As I was planning my menu, Sarah sent a text message that the toddler doesn’t like peanut butter. I made a quick change of plans and substituted some chèvre that I found in the fridge. Then, I reached for a jar of fig jam when he announced that he didn’t like jelly. For that, I substituted some hummus. I thought a goat cheese and hummus sandwich on whole wheat bread looked pretty tasty, so I packed it with freeze-dried strawberry slices, crispy apple chips, and a stick of string cheese. Imagine my disappointment when the lunch box came home at the end of the day with only the string cheese gone.
We took advantage of the kids being at nursery school by taking a little trip to the Embarcadero and enjoying a good lunch at the well-known Fog City Diner.
The iconic TransAmerica Tower and the classic Fog City Diner
The Star Princess at dockside waiting for a new group of passengers
Pigeons in front of the Exploratorium
Daredevils stabilizing Telegraph Hill.
I was more successful with dinner one night. I found some packaged gnocchi and a cooked chicken breast in the refrigerator along with some mushrooms and colorful “snacking peppers”. I put it all together with some brown butter sauce, and it turned out to be a huge favorite with both kids.
Gnocchi, Chicken, Mushrooms, Peppers, and Beurre Noisette
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- juice of ½ lime
- ½ cooked chicken breast
- 6 white button mushrooms, sliced
- 1 each, red, orange, and yellow snacking peppers, sliced crosswise
- 1 package prepared gnocchi
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ cup grated Romano cheese
- salt and pepper
- In a small saucepan over low het, melt the butter. Heat gently until the milk solids float to the top and begin to brown. Skim off the solids with a tablespoon. Pour the melted butter into a small bowl, leaving any remaining solids on the bottom of the saucepan behind. Wipe the pan clean, return the clarified butter, and continue to heat over a low flame until it turns a nut-brown color. (hazelnut to be specific) Stir in the lime juice and set aside.
- Shred the cooked chicken with two table forks. Set aside.
- Sauté the sliced mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of the butter sauce over medium heat. Add the remaining butter sauce. Stir in the shredded chicken and pepper slices until heated through.
- In the meantime, boil the gnocchi in a pot of boiling salted water according to package instructions. Drain. Return to the pot, and stir in the butter sauce, mushrooms, chicken, peppers, and grated cheeses. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.