Life of Leisure

August 7, 2008

Will you resent me too much if I itemize all the reasons why I love my post-Bar Exam life (the name I’ve coined for this seven-week period I’m in, bookended by the Bar Exam last week and my start date at my law firm in September)? First, there’s the weightlessness: the vice grip of stress has slowly released and, now, is completely gone. Then, there’s the fact that I can read—like, for pleasure. That’s something I have hardly done since I started law school. Plus, our house is spotless, my life is organized and the dark half-moons below my eyes have disappeared. And, of course, there is cooking. I’ve been planning more elaborate menus full of new ingredients, techniques and recipes. I’ve compiled a list of dishes to try that stretches well into the dozens.

One of the biggest treats is being able to do my shopping on an as-needed basis, rather than doing one big shop per week. Not only does this afford me the ability to have the freshest ingredients, but I also find that I waste much less food. And, probably best of all, I can wake up, decide what I want to make, research the nearest farmers’ market open that day and head there. That’s exactly what I did on Tuesday, when I visited one of the farmers’ markets in the Loop, this one conveniently located near my gym. I had a panzanella in mind and when I saw a basket of tiny tomatoes in a kaleidoscope of colors and sizes, I snapped it up. I also grabbed a bundle of basil and a handful of chives to flavor the panzanella, and selected a bouquet of flowers for good measure.

(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos and the recipes.)

The panzanella was for a flickery-candle-and-political-discussion-filled al fresco dinner with our friends Maggie and Matt later that night. Maggie just left her job because she’s going to business school this fall, which means that she too is a woman of leisure (for now). The two of us might have boasted a bit too loudly about the gobs of time on our hands in front of Matt and Kevin, but luckily they were mollified by a giant platter of ribs. And this panzanella, which—while I’m boasting—was very tasty, thanks in no small part to the fresh, juicy, ripe tomatoes.

My take-away point from the evening (other than this recipe, which is certainly a keeper) is that when one-half of a dinner party is living the life of leisure, the “party” portion of “dinner party” tends to eclipse the “dinner” portion. Which makes for late bedtimes and more than one drained bottle of wine—two things that don’t really phase this woman of leisure.

Cornbread Panzanella
Adapted from Michael Chiarello

Serves 4

2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
1/4 cup minced red onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Several grinds of black pepper
Cornbread Croutons (recipe below)

In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, onion, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, basil, chives, salt, and pepper. Add the croutons and toss well. Serve immediately.

Cornbread Crutons
Adapted from Michael Chiarello

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 cups cubed cornbread (1/2-inch cubes) (recipe below, but store-bought would be fine too)
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over moderate heat and cook until it foams. Add the bread cubes and toss to coat with the butter. Transfer the bread to the prepared baking sheet. Immediately sprinkle with the cheese and toss again while warm to melt the cheese.

Bake, stirring once or twice, until the croutons are crisp and lightly colored on the outside but still soft within, about 15 minutes. Let cool. Store in an airtight container.

Adapted from Cooking Light

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup nonfat buttermilk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon chives
1 clove garlic, minced
Vegetable cooking spray

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture. Combine buttermilk and next 3 ingredients; stir in chives and garlic. Add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened.

Spoon batter into a 9-inch square pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 30 to 35 minutes or until done. Cool 5 minutes in pan on a wire rack.

19 Responses to “Life of Leisure”

  1. Maggie Says:

    I can attest to the delicousness of this dish. The corn bread was an amazing twist to the recipe and was perfect with the ribs – highly recommended. Thanks again for having us.

  2. RecipeGirl Says:

    Sounds great… haven’t tried a panzanella yet. Enjoy your leisure-filled days!

  3. GS Says:

    I’m having rack of lamb tonight and I was just thinking that I’m tired of my regular old sides! Thanks for the idea! Enjoy your break!

  4. Dragon Says:

    I love the idea of corn bread in a Panzanella. Looks beautiful.

  5. PaniniKathy Says:

    I’ve been meaning to try a panzanella salad, and I love the idea of doing it with cornbread croutons. Yours looks really delicious!

  6. Tom Aarons Says:

    Your photos are absolutely stunning and the food look delicious!

  7. nina Says:

    It is a few minutes past mid day and this will be so perfect for lunch..Cornbread is my favorite….I can only imagine this salad…

  8. Jeanine Says:

    your panzanella looks fantastic! I made it for the first time last week, and we loved it! Will definitely be making it again. 🙂

  9. Maggie: Anytime.

    RecipeGirl: Oh, you must try a panzanella. Especially with the tomatoes right now!

    GS: I can’t decide whether I’m more envious that you’ll be eating rack of lamb or this salad. Hmm, I’m stumped. Hope you like it! Let us know how it goes.

    Dragon: Thanks. I did too — it certainly made it seem like a better partner to the ribs I served it with.

    PaniniKathy: Thank you!

    Tom Aarons: Thanks!

    nina: You know, it’s only breakfast here and I could go for a bowl of this!

    Jeanine: It only takes one panzanella to hook you (I know from experience). Hope you give this one a try too.

  10. K8 Says:

    That salad looks like a dream come true! Enjoy your bit of va-cay.

  11. Kate Says:

    As a fellow food lover who just took the bar exam, how have I not found your blog before? This looks absolutely delicious; I would never have thought of a panzanella made with cornbread. I’ll have to try it out – the cornbread is baking now!

  12. K8: Thanks! I am doing my best to enjoy every minute.

    Kate: Well I’m glad you’ve found it now! Hope the bar (which state?) went well for you. I also hope you give this a try. Let me know how it goes!

  13. Kate Says:

    The Washington bar. Three really fun days of essays! My friend Kara moved to Chicago after graduation, so she was there with you for the Illinois bar, which according to her wasn’t much more fun than mine was.

  14. Oh to be a woman of leisure! Glad to hear that you are finally enjoying the fruits (well, tomatoes are fruits, aren’t they?) of your labours.

    The panzanella looks amazing! I love the twist of cornbread.

  15. steve Says:

    congrats! awesome panzanella!

  16. kate: Three days?!? Terrible.

    js: Thanks!

    steve: Thank you!

  17. Olga Says:

    This looks absolutely delicious and I like all the variety of tomatoes you used!

  18. […] it must be when tomatoes are literally farm- or garden-fresh. Inspiration for this salad came from The Kitchen Sink. My cornbread was made with soy yogurt instead of the usual calling for buttermilk; my parmesan […]

  19. Olga: Thanks!

    got no milk: Looks great!

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