TND – How Dinner is like a computer game

August 3, 2011

There are some weeks when my menu planning falls into place like the perfect game of tetris.  Then there are weeks when I leave my menu plan open in the background on my computer all day long, all week and keep clicking back to it in spare moments to swap things in and out and leave blanks and email everyone I know (okay, my mother and Jes) asking them for help figuring out what’s missing.  This week was a lot more like the latter than the former.  At this point, I’ve made and eaten Dinner and I’m still not entirely happy with the juxtaposition of all the dishes.  90% of it was there, but the green beans felt off somehow, like they didn’t quite fit into the rest of the meal.  

Part of my problem was that I think the perfect side to have with this meal would have been mango slaw – a little bit crunchy, a little bit acidic, a little bit sweet – but, I served that last week and I dislike repeating myself.  Also, I felt like the meal really needed a green vegetable (no, the two cucumbers in the fruit salad don’t really count) and I already had fruit salad going into a salad bowl so green salad wasn’t an option (I do not live in a world in which it is okay to serve salad on the plate unless salad is the meal – in twitter-verse this would be tagged #otherpeoplesfoodissues).

Plus, I wanted to continue with the Southern barbeque theme I had going I so needed a dish that would be reminiscent of something you’d find on the menu of a barbeque joint  (again, the mango slaw would have been so perfect).  The problem with this?  There aren’t a lot of vegetables involved in the traditional barbeque bill of fare.  On a night when I didn’t have fruit salad going into a salad bowl I could have made the massaged kale salad as a play on collard greens, but see above about salad bowls and #otherpeoplesfoodissues (which is to say, food shouldn’t touch).  I finally settled on green beans because they are one of the few vegetables that show up on a barbeque plate. I wanted a little acid and a little heat to counteract the heavy sweetness of the barbeque sauce on the chicken and I thought the lemon-chili breadcrumbs would have a nice bit of crunchy kick to them.

For the record, I do realize that I am probably over thinking this and nobody else had a problem with it, or even gave it much of a second thought.  However, half the fun of being the cook is doing the menu plan and finding the range of dishes to make a complete plate that is varied but cohesive.

In the end the green beans were fine, if not exciting, and in conclusion, next time I make this I’ll be sure that I haven’t served the mango slaw in the past few weeks because that really would have be perfect.

Thankfully next week’s menu fell into place so easily that I already have my grocery shopping list made, and I’m idly noodling with menu plans for two dinner parties that aren’t even tentatively scheduled until September and October.

Pomegranate Pulled/BBQ Chicken
Green Beans with Lemon-Chili Breadcrumbs
Watermelon – Jicama – Cucumber Salad
Tomatoes with Buttermilk Dressing
Zucchini Pickles

Pomegranate Pulled/BBQ Chicken
(serves 4-6 people
I doubled the recipe using about 9 lb+ of chicken, and planned to serve 8 with leftovers.  I ended up only having 6 people at the dinner table and sent leftovers home with everyone plus kept some for us.)

I made a recipe last week that called for three ingredients I didn’t have – I know, I was shocked too – za’atar, sumac and pomegranate molasses.  I was even more surprised when they all turned out to be easily findable.  Usually when I come across spices/condiments I don’t have they’re things that require internet research and treks to ethnic grocery stores.

Having then bought the said sumac, za’atar and pomegranate molasses for a recipe that called for minute quantities of each of them – I could have substituted, but I was curious – I went hunting for other recipes that used one or more of them.  I have a chicken baked on pita bread that’s seasoned heavily with sumac on the schedule for next Thursday, and then I have this dish for chicken braised in a pomegranate barbeque sauce that I’ve been waiting to make ever since I saw it.  It is as spectacular as I hoped it would be, and it was all I could do not to just eat the barbeque sauce out of the pot with a spoon on Monday night.

2/3 cup pomegranate molasses*
8 oz can tomato sauce
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 small onion, sliced
5 cloves garlic, smashed & roughly chopped
1 apple, diced small
Pinch of chili flakes
4 lb bone-in chicken thighs

Mix all of the ingredients except the chicken in a large casserole dish.

Remove from the skin from the chicken thighs Add to the casserole dish and turn several times to coat the chicken in the sauce.

Cover with tin foil and bake in a 350 oven for 2 hours.  When the chicken is fall off the bone tender remove from the oven.  Remove the chicken from the sauce and place in a large bowl.  Allow to cool slightly and then shred the chicken off the bone.  Pour the sauce into a saucepan and refrigerate overnight.

Skim the now solidified fat from the sauce.  Add a third to a half of the sauce to the chicken and toss to coat.  Reheat the chicken over a low heat on the stove top, stirring occasionally.  Reduce the remaining sauce by half and then either add to the chicken, or serve on the side.

* If you don’t have/can’t find/don’t want to buy pomegranate molasses you can make your own quite easily – just bring a pot of pomegranate juice to a simmer and reduce to a quarter of its original volume and the general consistency of molasses (i.e. 1 cup pomegranate juice yields ¼ cup pomegranate molasses).  Some recipes for pomegranate molasses also call for extra sugar and lemon juice, but I’m not sure they’re necessary (i.e. 4 cups pomegranate juice + ½ cup sugar + ¼ cup lemon juice = 1 cup pomegranate molasses).  However, I bought my pomegranate molasses so I couldn’t say for sure either way.


Recipe previously given:  Chili Take II

Green Beans with Lemon-Chili Breadcrumbs
When I was in middle school/early high school we lived in Paris.  There were many upsides to this including a fabulous apartment, a bakery every 15 feet, fresh goat cheese in every corner grocery store, and, you know, Paris.  There were also downsides – namely the tourists, and the fact that living in Paris allowed my mother free reign on her obsession with haricots vert.  We had tiny little thin French green beans approximately three times a week for four years.  It took me the better part of a decade to ever want to cook a green bean again.  Even now I don’t get wildly excited by them.  So, the breadcrumbs for this recipe are tasty, but they’re still going over green beans so there’s a limited extent to which I can enthuse about them.

½ cup breadcrumbs (I used panko for extra crunch)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
Pinch of chili flakes
4 handfuls green beans* (or enough for 4-5 people)

Toast the breadcrumbs in the olive oil until they get browned and crispy.  Add the garlic and toast for another 30 seconds, or until the garlic is fragrant.  Add the lemon zest, chili flakes and salt.  Toast for another 20-30 seconds, being careful not to burn the breadcrumbs.  Remove from heat and allow to cool (can be made the night before).

Cook your green beans, drain and then toss with the breadcrumbs and a little olive oil.

* The original recipe was for sugar snap peas, but they’re not in season here anymore so I used green beans.  I think maybe I’d have been a little more excited if I could have used sugar snap peas, but c’est la vie.

Watermelon – Jicama – Cucumber Salad
I once heard jicama described as tasting like a cross between a potato and an apple.  This is not a terribly appetizing description, but it is remarkably accurate.  It’s a little starchy, and a little juicy and crisp.  It’s nice paired with the sweet of the watermelon and the crunch of the cucumber.  It’s also really good pickled.

½ – ¾ watermelon, cut into chunks
2-3 cucumbers, cut into chunks
1 large jicama, sliced
Mint, chopped
2-3 limes, zested & juiced

Toss all together in a large bowl.

Tomatoes with Buttermilk Dressing
(from 101 Cookbooks recipe for Buttermilk Farro Salad – I also highly recommend the salad)
I’m not a big fan of doing much of anything to summer tomatoes because they don’t need any help.  But . . . this buttermilk dressing is the bomb.  It is the best thing that can happen to a tomato, and I’m marginally obsessed with it.

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
¼ cup good-quality white wine vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup chopped dill
½ cup chopped chives
1 Tbsp chopped thyme

Combine the minced garlic and salt on a chopping board and use the flat of your knife to mash them into a paste.  Combine the garlic paste with the rest of the ingredients.  Whisk thoroughly.  Drizzle over everything.

Zucchini Pickles
I am utterly unapologetic in my love of pickles.  Case in point, our local barbeque joint makes fantastic pickles and after four of us demolished a ½ pint container of them in one sitting a few weekends ago I stopped in while I was out grocery shopping to buy some more, much to the utter bemusement of the guy behind the counter.

Me:  I’d like a pint of pickles, and ooooh a ½ pint of the watermelon rind pickles.
Him: <pauses expectantly for the rest of the order>
Me:  <looks up from finding my wallet>
Him: <confused>  Just the pickles?
Me:  Yes please . . . . <at his look of mild perplexity> we really like y’all’s pickles.
Him:  <doubtfully>  Clearly.

However, my love of pickles does not extend to a love of (or really any interest in) canning, so until this summer I’d never made my own pickles because I don’t want to have to go to the trouble of sterilizing jars and creating vacuum seals.  But first there were rhubarb pickles, which frankly were never going to last long enough in my fridge to need preserving.  And now there are these zucchini pickles (also from 101 Cookbooks site) which I also highly doubt will last long enough for preservation to be an issue.

1 lb zucchini (about 2-3 medium zucchini), sliced thin (about 1/8”)
1 medium white onion, sliced thin (about 1/16”)
3 shallots, sliced thin (about 1/16”)*
1 ½ Tbsp salt
¼ cup (small handful) fresh dill sprigs
1 red chili pepper, sliced thin
½ Tbsp yellow mustard seeds
¾ cup cider vinegar
¾ cup white wine vinegar
1/3 cup sugar

Slice the zucchini and onion (a mandoline will be your very best friend for this) and toss with the salt in a large colander placed over a bowl.  Cover, refrigerate and allow to drain for 4-5 hours, tossing every so often.  When you’ve finished draining the zucchini, shake off any excess water and place in a 1 qt mason jar (or large tupperware container) with the dill, sliced chili pepper and mustard seeds.

Combine the vinegars and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and then simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Pour over the zucchini.  Cover, allow to cool, and then refrigerate.  The pickles will be ready to eat in 1-2 days.  They will stay good for about a week, assuming that you haven’t eaten all of them before that.

* I also want to try this with some fennel, but that’s mostly because I love fennel.



  1. […] Green Tomatoes This is basically the same brine recipe as the zucchini pickles that I make sometimes, only a whole lot faster because you don’t have to salt & drain the […]

  2. […] Recipe previously given: How Dinner is Like a Computer Game […]

  3. […] Recipe previously given:  How Dinner is Like  a Computer Game […]

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