When I was a young reader, one of my favorite series of books was the one by Maud Hart Lovelace. It featured the characters Betsy, Tacy and Tib in the early days of the 20th century. The books started when the girls were just 5 years old and went straight through to the early days of their respective marriages.
In those later books, Tacy tells Betsy that she should have a “company meal” to avoid stress when having friends over for dinner. While much about this series might be seen as charmingly dated, I actually think that the concept of a well-practiced and delicious meal designed for sharing is a good one.
During the winter months, my personal company meal features chicken and ricotta meatballs, braised kale and some cheesy polenta. Either I ask my dinner companions to pick up something for dessert or I bake off some of the cookie dough I keep in my freezer.
It’s a very nice meal, but is too darn heavy for the warmer, humid weather we’ve been having lately. Happily, I think I’ve found the perfect recipe for this summer. It’s Rachael Ray’s Lemon Pepper Cured Chicken with Fennel Salad.
The chicken is marinated overnight in the fridge and can be cooked off on a grill to keep the kitchen cool. The salad is a quick combination of shaved fennel, arugula, celery leaves and parsley. It’s simple, cooling and perfect for The Weekender.
Before you start cooking, read these tips:
— Rachael gives you several different cooking options for the chicken. I like to do it on my countertop electric grill, because it heats quickly and doesn’t heat up the kitchen.
— I love the flavor of fennel. If it doesn’t float your boat, however, replace it with some shredded cabbage instead. You get all the crunch without the licorice flavor.
— On its own this salad is a great addition to any summertime potluck, because it’s sturdy and is dressed with a simple vinaigrette (no need to worry about mayo going off). Try it with a turkey burger at your next cookout.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her second cookbook, Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces, is now available.