Confession: Sometimes I lack imagination…in my dinner menu. This is what happens – I find something that (blessedly) everyone will eat and make it so often that they get sick of it. Try to understand - the excitement of finding a dinner everyone likes! The comfort level of making it without looking at a recipe or ingredient list! However, my joy is never long lasting and it is followed by disdain and ruin (as in the meal is out of the rotation when the complaints become too frequent or loud) and my previously celebrated meal is a goner. What can I say? My mother did the same thing (your fault, Mom!) and it is a tough cycle to break. But I am resolved – sort of.

I know there is no shortage of amazing recipes – there are many sites dedicated to sharing them (Bakespace, Epicurious, All recipes), to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of food blogs (Smitten Kitchen, Whisk Kid, David Lebowitz) and even my own collection of cookbooks.  Sometimes I am not inspired even with these amazing resources. Sigh, I am a slacker dinner mom.

But then the universe tilts and I am inspired. This time it was closer to home – two talented home chefs that never challenge their families with boring dinners.

So first, a perfect summer salad with tomatoes, feta cheese and cucumbers from Bon Appetit. I tried it Friday night at my friend’s house – it is delicious – think chopped Greek Salad and it takes less than 15 minutes to make. Bon Appetit suggests serving it with lamb – I made broiled chicken breasts and sweet Italian sausage (on sale at Whole Foods this week).

Cucumber, Tomato, and Feta Salad

Makes 8 servings  Recipe by the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen

Ingredients

•6 cups coarsely chopped English hothouse or Persian cucumbers (about 2 pounds total) I used English hothouse but found the skin a little tough in my salad – next time I would go with the Persian or peel partially).
•2 large tomatoes (about 1 pound total), coarsely chopped I used small vine ripened tomatoes.
•1 bunch scallions, chopped
•1 cup assorted pitted olives (such as Kalamata or Gaeta), halved
•1 7-ounce package feta, crumbled, divided
•1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
•6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
•Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine cucumbers, tomatoes, scallions, olives, half of feta, and mint in a large bowl. Whisk oil and lemon juice in a small bowl; season dressing with salt and pepper. Pour dressing over salad; toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle remaining half of feta over and serve. Disclaimer: No one in my family likes olives except for me but all ate this. I have been requested to make the dressing again but with less gross stuff in the salad. I had it for lunch today over arugula from Newton Community Farm.

Am I finished with dinner? No, there is more! Another friend hosted our mother-daughter book group this past week and had (among other delicious things) beautiful pasta (whole wheat in one huge bowl, white pasta in the other) dressed with five Italian cheeses, served with marinated red peppers and tomatoes in the middle. Then she simply tossed everything together and served with some additional grated cheese.  I think she used just olive oil salt and pepper but I threw in some nice balsamic vinegar – terrific – especially nice with the chicken and sausage on the side (yes, that is how she served it) and both went really well with my chopped Greek salad. I grabbed a nice loaf of French Bread (Iggy’s) and the meal was complete.

Chicken – cook in your favorite way – I like Ina Garten’s basic prep or grilled is great this time of  year.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan and rub them with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cooked through.

Pasta with Italian Cheeses

Ingredients:

One large red pepper (sliced finely)
Grape or Cherry tomatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs, cut up)
olive oil (I didn’t measure – just covered the veggies – I know – annoying, right?)
salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Balsamic vinegar – to taste

Slice red pepper and cut tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Put in a bowl and drizzle olive oil over the vegetables. Let stand for 30 minutes for best flavor – or for as long as it takes for the pasta to cook if for some reason you haven’t given yourself enough time. Never happens to me (last week we made both cookies and brownies in under an hour while simultaneously making dinner. My husband was impressed – just business as usual here).

If making for a large group – use two pots, one for white pasta, one for whole wheat) or combine half whole wheat pasta and half white pasta in one pot.

Cook pasta according to package instructions, drain.

Place pasta in large serving bowl and sprinkle grated cheese of choice (she said five – I can only think of Parmesan, Romano, and Grana Padano) Maybe some Manchego would be nice) over the pasta. Make a well in the center for the marinated veggies (feel free to put in your favorites or more likely, stuff you have on hand) Serve with additional grated cheese on the side.

Presentation is gorgeous for both – this is my go-to for the next potluck!

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Tags: Appetit, Barefoot, Bon, Contessa, Easy, delicious, dinners, meals, night, week

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