Friday, July 14, 2006

Baby, It's Hot Outside!

This photo of Cory best describes how we've all felt over the last week. With temperatures reaching past the 100 degree mark and no air conditioning, we now affectionately (or NOT so affectionately) refer to our house as The Oven. Sure, it cools off a bit at night but the sun doesn't even really go down until close to 8:00 PM. So even when we go to bed, it's still warm. It's been so hot that when it comes time to figure out what I want for dinner, only two things come to mind: Ben and Jerry. Since eating ice cream for dinner isn't a realistic option for my waistline, I've had to come up with other ideas.

As I stated in a previous post, a salad makes the perfect summer supper. Not only are they nutritionally sound (although beware of some restaurant salads that can clock in at over 1000 calories!!!), but they are cool, crunchy, refreshing and require no use of heat. There are few things as satisfying as a really great salad. When we're out at a restaurant, I always gravitate towards salads that contain the words 'southwestern,' Mexican,' or 'bbq'd chicken.' Yes, I have a weakness for those hearty greens tossed with bbq sauce, corn, tortilla strips, cilantro and plenty of colorful vegetables.

I found the salad of my dreams at the unlikeliest of places: Mi Piace in Pasadena. It's one of the few restaurants that has survived on the main drag over the years but I've never really thought much about their food. It's fine, basic Italian food dressed up to look nice, but there is nothing that has blown my socks off. That changed a few months ago on my first brunch-time visit - I ordered the half-order of the Insalata Di Taos, chopped. When I saw the heaping pile of chopped lettuces, blackened corn, cubed avocado, black beans, roasted red pepper, crispy onions, tortilla strips, grated cheese and diced tomatoes, I sat up straighter in my chair and grabbed my fork. It's flavor lived up to it's good looks and I knew that I'd be having regular rendezvous with Di Taos from that day forward. And what rendezvous we've had! Even if I'd find myself at Mi Piace at 10:00 AM, I'd still ask for the lunch menu so that I could have my beloved salad. We've been through bad waiters, long waits for tables and even one instance of lipstick on the water glass. My best friend and my husband both met Di Taos and also started a love affair with it! Yes, I love Di Taos THAT much. However, I can't hop over to Mi Piace every time I have a craving for that salad, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.
On a related note: Let me say that after one email to Mi Piace about all of the obstacles I had to face when dining there, the management really made a noticeable effort to get things right which was clearly obvious on my last visit.

Since I've been really trying to curb the calories lately, I knew I'd have to come up with a much lighter version of the salad. I brined some skinless, boneless chicken breasts in a simple solution of 1 cup of brown sugar, 5 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of salt overnight. I've been using this brine for awhile now and it consistently makes any white meat tender and juicy. Once the breasts were almost done on the grill, I slathered them with chipotle bbq sauce and let it caramelize onto the meat. Meanwhile I blackened the skin of one large red bell pepper and some corn. Instead of frying the tortilla, I simply put in it my toasted oven until it got hard and then broke it up into small pieces. After combining all of that with a mix of fresh chopped veggies and a dressing made with 1/2 light ranch and 1/2 chipotle bbq sauce, I had my homemade, lighter version of the Insalata Di Taos.

How did it taste? Well, let's just say I've had it for dinner three times this week and I'm normally a person who insists on variety. Even though this salad does require a bit of "cooking," the end result is so fine that I really don't mind. And if you grill up enough chicken, blacken enough corn and roast enough peppers, you'll have the ingredients to make the salad, well, three times a week if you like;).


Rorie said...

Oh, its hot here in San Diego too, baby. Yowza. Hate it hate it hate it! But guess what? Salads are the best revenge - especially when follewed by a big bowl of cherries for dessert - keep cool!

Colleen Cuisine said...

I'm glad to know I'm not alone! We have no air conditioning either, plus an attic circulation problem - it clocks in the high 80's in our apartment during the day. No breeze, just heat. We joke that it would make for the perfect bikram yoga studio. Well, at least it motivates me to get out of the house!