I was too rushed for rectangles tonight. I just arranged my toppings in a circle of mini-heaps. My husband always opts to distribute each ingredient evenly across his bed of lettuce, kinda like a pizza. I have no idea what this says about him, but I sincerely question his judgment.
Once upon a time, in my previous life as a swinging '80s public accounting professional, I fell in love with the Cobb salad.
My favorite female colleagues, all swinging accounting professionals in their own right, and I would often slip down to the City Tavern, a bistro-style restaurant on the street level of our rocking office tower at 33 West Monroe in Chicago's Loop, and snap up some Cobb salads to go.
Back upstairs, we would hole up in an open conference room or crowd around the desk in one of our offices, and excitedly crack open our styrofoam clamshells.
And there it would be, in all of its glory. A rectangular bed of crisp iceberg lettuce, upon which were balanced six smaller rectangles of finely chopped ingredients:
Carrots. Chicken. Tomatoes.
Bacon. Cucumbers. Hard-boiled eggs. .
Three vegetables and three proteins. placed in an alternating pattern, with a generous serving of dressing on the side.
And I have nothing but the fondest memories of eating them.
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Fast forward a few years, skipping over the decade or two when my growing girls were not so keen on lettuce-based meals for dinner, and the Cobb salad has become a sentimental favorite at my table.
I'm not sure that my family exactly loves them, but they know that I do.
Especially during the summer, I love them for a lazy evening meal. Earlier in the day, I cook up the chicken and bacon in the oven, keeping the heat (and mess) to an absolute minimum. Along with hard-boiling the eggs, I can get all the dirty work out of the way, and head back outdoors to play. Then, when the late afternoon sun is streaming into my kitchen, all that's left to do is chop a few harmless vegetables.
I've made a few refinements on the original City Tavern recipe that suit me well, and I'm always up for a bit of tinkering, depending on what I may find (or not find) in my refrigerator.
But here is my most favorite, tried-and-true version of the ever-delectable Cobb salad:
3 strips of bacon, roasted in the oven and cut into small strips.
2 hard-boiled eggs, cooled and cubed.
1/4 cup diced cheddar cheese
1 large carrot, washed and grated
1/2 cucumber, peeled, quartered, and sliced.
1/2 homegrown tomato, washed and cubed.
1 plateful of Boston lettuce, washed and torn
1/2 cup of homemade ranch dressing
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place chicken and bacon in a cast iron skillet - if you're making modest quantities, they can share the same pan - and cook for about 20 minutes, till chicken is cooked through and the bacon is agreeably crispy. Cover and allow to cool to room temperature.
2.. Fill a saucepan with cold water; add the eggs and cook on high heat. Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium and cook for five minutes. Turn off the heat and let the eggs sit in the hot water for another five minutes, then flush with cold water and let the eggs sit in cold water for a third round of five minutes. Peel immediately, and pop them into the fridge.
3. Prepare the cheese, vegetables, and lettuce; park them in the fridge as well. If you can't get your hands on garden-fresh tomatoes, just skip over them and choose another veggie.
4. Just before serving, cut the chicken, bacon and eggs into bite-sized pieces. Pull everything out of the fridge and arrange each ingredient in a separate serving bowl. Serve with dressing on the side.
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I know, that's a lot of bowls. But trust me, the table will look beautiful and each diner will have the fun of artfully arranging their ingredients just so upon their beds of lettuce.
And if you want to be extra cool, create little rectangles out of each ingredient, alternating proteins and vegetables upon your bed of lettuce.
Because according to this swinging '80s public accounting professional, that is definitely the way to go.
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For the recipe of my homemade ranch dressing, stay tuned.
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Ready for more stories about my most dearly beloved, tried-and-true homemade meals?