Two Dinners – with a little help from our friends at the grocery store

Chicken Salad Close

Monday:              Spicy Cashews, Rotisserie Chicken Salad with Charred Scallion Dressing


Tuesday:              Broccoli Bolognese with Orecchiette, Parmesan Bread

Off Season Caprese

chicken confit

Wednesday:      Off-Season Caprese App, Chicken with Garlic Confit and Preserved Lemon, Green Salad

Bread pudding

Thursday:            Fall Squash and Leek Pudding, Green Salad

leftover pudding with merguez

Friday:                  Leftover Squash and Leek Pudding with Home-made Merguez

pork chops

celery and almond salad

Saturday:             Guacamole, Pork Chops with Celery and Almond Salad

Sunday:                 Cocktail Party – Mere and Hoddy’s place – Danny’s Good Food, Hoddy’s good booze

If you are not a fan of Giant Eagle’s* Rotisserie Chicken, what is the matter with you?  [This is a rhetorical question, Loretta – I really don’t want to hear about your troubled childhood, the skin condition or the state of your finances].  And, if you ever refuse an invitation to a cocktail party given by Mere and Hoddy or find it necessary to bake your own brioche, I would ask the same question.  Look, learning how to cook a tasty dinner for friends and family is a wonderful thing.  Trying your hand at baking is admirable.  And if you don’t learn how to roast, smoke, grill, stew, braise and poach a chicken which you have butchered yourself – well, just make sure you treat the kitchen help well to avoid finding contraband material in your food.

But rotisserie chickens are a canvas on which you can paint a wide range of flavors, and bread you don’t have to bake yourself will free you to take care of the garden, write those thank-you notes which will get you invited back to parties, change that tricky light-bulb in the lantern above the front door and oh, I don’t know, earn a living.  And getting invited to Mere and Hoddy’s, or Hilda and Tim’s, or Katie and Dave’s, or Julie’s, or Annie and Dennis’s is a gift – take the night off, eat good food, drink someone else’s booze, relax, and enjoy yourself among truly fine people.

But, on the odd chance that you have not been invited to a good dinner or cocktail party, here are two suggestions for fine and easy dinners which will wow family members or guests.  The first is a great salad incorporating that rotisserie chicken but soaring far higher than Giant Eagle can even dream of.  The second is a unique savory bread pudding which is impossible not to like – add a green salad and you have a great meal.

*Substitute the name of your local supermarket – there is good rotisserie chicken across the country.

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(adapted from bon appétit, Nov, 2017 – Adam Rappaport)

 Timing:                                 20 minutes

Ingredients:                       Serves 4

5 ounces country-style bread, crusts removed, torn into 1-inch pieces  [Yeah, we didn’t know what 5 ounces was, either.  We used ½ loaf of Giant Eagle’s Sourdough bread and removed most, but not all of the crust.  We had a handful of croutons more than we needed]

10 tablespoons of olive oil – you’re going to use these in batches, not all at once
2 scallions (we used three)
Kosher Salt
Ground Black Pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 rotisserie chicken, meat pulled from bones and shredded [don’t cut the meat into chunks, but pull it apart into substantial shreds
6 radishes cut into wedges
Head of Bibb lettuce- the recipe calls for leaves to be separated, but we prefer them torn for easier eating
1 avocado, sliced

[Note:  Every 6 months or so we will remind you that olive oil is always extra virgin for us and that pepper is always ground, black, unless otherwise specified.  It is true that you can cook with lesser grade oils, but you really never want to use them in salads or for drizzling to finish a pasta.  So we think it’s just easier to go with the good stuff.  For cooking at high heat, we may blend the olive oil with grapeseed or canola, or just use grapeseed, because it does not burn as easily as olive oil]


Make Croutons – Preheat oven to 450 F.  Place bread on rimmed baking sheet and toss with 3 tablespoons of the oil.  Season with salt and pepper and bake about 10 minutes, until golden and crisp at the edges.  Let the croutons cool.

Separate the white and green parts of the scallions.

Finely chop the whites and place in a large bowl.

Finely chop the greens – we prefer to slice ours on the diagonal – we like scallions

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a small skillet over medium and cook the greens, stirring often, until they blacken around the edges and crisp – about 3 minutes.  Scrape the greens into the bowl with the whites.

Now whisk in the lemon juice, vinegar, mustard and mayonnaise and season with salt and pepper and, adding a little at a time, whisk in the remaining 6 tablespoons of oil.

Pour half of the dressing into a small bowl and set aside.

Add the chicken, the radishes and croutons to the large bowl with the dressing and toss well to coat.

Assemble and Serve:

Arrange the lettuce and half of the avocado on a platter and season with salt and pepper, then drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the reserved dressing.  Top with the chicken salad.  Tuck the remaining avocado around the salad, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with more dressing.

bread pudding serving

EXTRA                           Fall Squash and Leek Bread Pudding

(adapted from Quality Eats, NYC, recipe in bon appétit, Nov, 2017)

I know – this sounds like some vegan cook having gone a little too far out on a culinary limb.  But I assure you that Squash and Leek Bread Pudding is really good food, not vegan ideology.  If you try it, you’ll make it again I bet.

Timing:                                 2 hours and 15 minutes, but very little active cooking

Ingredients:                       8 Servings as a side dish / 4 as a main

4 tablespoons of butter, a little more for buttering the casserole or baking dish

The recipe called for 12 cups of brioche cubes which was way too much.  In general we suggest less bread and more vegetables than the recipe.  Use maybe 8 cups of 1” cubes of brioche (we used about ½ of the brioche loaves from Whole Foods which are about the same size as the loaves of sliced brioche from Giant Eagle)

1 butternut squash (medium – about 2 lbs.)   Note:  the recipe calls for a smaller – 1.5 lb. squash.
3 large, white and pale green parts only, halved and sliced into ½” sections.  Note:  the recipe calls for just 2 large leeks.
1 teaspoon of thyme leaves
Cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons and more of kosher salt
4 large eggs
3 cups of heavy cream
3 cups of whole milk
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 ½ cups of coarsely grated Emmenthal, Comté, and/or aged Gouda, divided into 1 and ½ cup measures [Recipe recommends using all 3 cheeses – we went with the Gouda and used more like 1 ¾ cups]


Preheat the oven to 350 F

Butter a 13 x 9 glass or ceramic baking dish


Toast the brioche:

Spread the brioche pieces on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, tossing halfway through, until golden brown and crisp – about 20 minutes, perhaps longer.  Let cool, then transfer to a large bowl.

Cook the Squash and Leeks:

Heat the 4 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium.  Cook the squash, leeks and thyme, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender – 12 minutes or so.  Mix in a pinch of cayenne (we used two pinches), then season with salt and transfer to the bowl with the brioche.

Bake and Serve the Dish:

Whisk the eggs, cream, milk, sugar, 2 teaspoons of salt and a pinch of cayenne in a large bowl – combine well.

Add 1 cup of the cheese to the bowl with the brioche and toss to distribute evenly.  Transfer this mix to the prepared baking dish and then pour 5 cups (not all) of the egg mixture over.  Gently press the bread into the liquid to coat.  Pour in the remaining egg mixture and let sit for 15 minutes.

Scatter the remaining ½ cup of cheese over the pudding and bake until it is puffed and the custard is set – about 60 minutes (up to 75).

Let cool at least 10 minutes before serving – can be served at room temperature, but tastes better warm.

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