I've had a hard time getting motivated to cook dinner in the last few weeks. Apparently, I'm not the only one. I've thought a lot about why that might be, and I've come up with a lot of excuses: school has started and the new routine has limited the amount of time we have in the evenings, my husband has been working most evenings, so there's one fewer mouth to feed (and one fewer set of hands to help with cleanup). We've been dog-sitting and the dogs have taken over my comfort zone in the kitchen. Our food budget has been "adjusted." But of course, none of those excuses are nourishing our bodies, so this week I gathered up my un-shopped-for shopping lists, examined the budget and figured out what I could afford to buy and cook for dinner every night this week.
Yesterday we had Pork Tacos using shredded pork that I had cooked and frozen, topped with Tomato-Peach Salsa.
Today we had B.L.T. Salad.
Two days down. Three to go.
It seems silly to me to share a recipe for a salad, because by nature salads are so infinitely variable. But I really enjoyed this one, and so did my husband and our 6-year-old (with minor modifications), so I think it is worth sharing. It has all the things that make for a great salad: crisp mild lettuce, crunchy croutons, sweet juicy tomatoes, tangy dressing, satisfying saltiness and, most importantly, BACON. Please understand that if you don't have butter lettuce or you prefer romaine, I expect you to make that substitution.
For kids, I like the strategy of serving salads "deconstructed." As I assemble the main salad in a serving bowl, I put a small amount of each item in separate piles on my daughter's plate, omitting onion and serving the dressing on the side. It doesn't require any more work and it prevents whining at the dinner table. "Mom, you know I don't like lettuce!... I only want bacon and tomatoes and croutons."
Though bacon and croutons can both be made in skillets, I prefer the less-mess option of preparing them in the oven. For even less mess, line the baking sheets with foil.
Serves 4 as a light lunch or dinner. Top with cooked chicken for a heartier meal.
Bacon & Croutons:
1/2 lb bacon, cooked, reserve 1 tablespoon of bacon dripping for dressing
1/4 lb artisan bread, stale if you have it
2 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and pepper
1/2 cup finely shredded hard cheese, such as Parmigano Reggiano or asiago
Lettuce & Tomato:
1/2 lb cherry tomatoes
6 oz butter lettuce
1/4 sliced red onion
1 avocado, sliced or diced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
Bacon: Set wire rack over rimmed baking sheet and spread bacon in single layer on wire rack. (It is very important that the baking sheet be rimmed, because the bacon fat will drip onto the sheet and it must be contained. If it were to drip onto the floor of the oven, you would end up with a smoky kitchen.) Set baking sheet on middle rack of oven. Turn oven temperature to 375º. Set timer for 15 minutes and continue with Crouton Step below. If bacon is not done by the time the croutons finish, increase heat to 400º and let cook 5 minutes without opening the oven door. Note that bacon will continue to crisp slightly after being removed from the oven. Be very careful removing the bacon from the oven as the bacon grease is very hot. Let cool slightly. Crumble bacon between fingers or chop with a knife. Reserve 1 tablespoon bacon drippings in small mixing bowl or glass measuring cup.
Croutons: Slice bread into 1" cubes, toss with olive oil, season liberally with kosher salt and pepper, and spread evenly on second rimmed baking sheet. (Optional: place half of your cherry tomatoes on one end of this sheet. You don't want to them mixed in with the croutons, because if they burst they could make the bread soggy or encourage blackening, but there's no need for a third baking sheet.) Slide baking sheet into oven next to first baking sheet. Timer should have approximately 7-10 minutes left. After 5-7 minutes, stir and continue to check every couple of minutes for browning and crispness. When croutons are almost done, remove baking sheet from oven, pile croutons in the middle of the sheet, sprinkle with cheese and shake pan to form an even layer. (It is okay if the tomatoes mix in at this point.) Return croutons to oven just long enough to melt cheese, about 1 minute. Croutons will continue to crisp after being taken out of the oven.
Dressing & Assembly: To reserved bacon drippings add balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon olive oil and a small pinch of kosher salt and a couple grinds of pepper. Whisk to combine. In large salad bowl combine lettuce, tomatoes, onion, crumbled bacon and croutons. Drizzle with dressing and top with avocado.