It's easy to pick out the most popular recipes in a cookbook. They're the ones on the stained pages.
Spicy Peanut Noodles from ''The Best of Simply Delicious" cookbook definitely has its battle scars from being in the line of fire when pots were bubbling and ingredients were being tossed around.
Simply Delicious only operated in downtown Warren for four years (Blue Iris Cafe occupies the space now), but owners Andrea and Walt Lazar built a loyal following for their lunchtime fare and decadent sweets until they closed the business in 1991. Their creations were popular enough that they were collected in a cookbook that served as a successful fundraiser for the Fine Arts Council of Trumbull County.
I can't count the number of times I've made Spicy Peanut Noodles over the years, and the Cheesy Broccoli Salad wouldn't be far behind.
But here's another truism about cookbooks, at least in the Gray household. When we first get them, we flip through and see dozen of concoctions that capture the imagination and tantalize the tastebuds. Then we settle on a couple of go-to recipes that become part of the repertoire, and we forget about all of those dishes that initially caught our eye.
When Simply Delicious was in business, one of the things I would order most for lunch was its Lemon Almond Chicken Salad. But as I flipped through the cookbook last week looking for ideas for this installment of Tribune Cooks, I rediscovered the recipe and realized I'd never tried to make it myself.
Lemon Almond Chicken Salad
1 3/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon white wine
2 lemons one to use while poaching chicken and one to use for
the dressing and zesting.
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch freshly ground white pepper
1 ounce sliced natural almonds
Poaching chicken breasts: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Thoroughly rinse chicken. Place on foil-lined baking pan. Add enough water to pan so depth of the water is about inch. Add 1 tablespoon white wine. Squeeze one small lemon over chicken. Add whole lemon rinds. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake one hour. Cool, clean and chop into cubes.
In a food processor mix egg, white wine vinegar, lemon juice and mustard. With food processor still running, add olive oil in a slow steady stream and then canola. Mixture will thicken as oils emulsify. Add tarragon. Add salt and pepper.
Zest lemon directly onto cubed chicken. Pour dressing over chicken. Toss to mix thoroughly. Garnish with sliced almonds.
From ''The Best of Simply Delicious'' cookbook
Spicy Peanut Noodles
1 pound whole wheat fettuccine
1/4 cup canola oil
3 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons honey
2 1/2 tablespoons lite soy sauce
1/3 cup chopped roasted peanuts
1/3 cup chopped green onion (use entire onion)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Cook pasta according to directions on the box, drain and rinse with cold water. Rinse well. Toast sesame seeds in small saute pan over low heat or in toaster oven. In a sauce pan, heat canola oil, sesame oil and red pepper flakes for 5 minutes over low heat. Remove from heat. Add honey and soy sauce.
Pour dressing over fettuccine. Add peanuts, green onions and sesame seeds. Toss to mix. Refrigerate.
Adapted from ''The Best of Simply Delicious'' cookbook
But first let's go back to the Spicy Peanut Noodles recipe, which I've tinkered with over the years to make it healthier, and the accompanying recipe reflects those changes.
My version uses whole wheat pasta and doubles the amount the original recipe used. Switching to whole wheat doesn't change the calories but it does increase the fiber. Anyone who is counting points with Weight Watchers knows increasing the fiber lowers the point value.
And doubling the pasta while keeping the dressing proportions the same essentially cuts the amount of fat per serving in half. Even with a full pound of pasta, there's enough dressing for the sesame flavor with a touch of heat to permeate every bite.
I also use light soy sauce, which has less sodium, and leave out the teaspoon of sea salt in the original recipe. I've never missed the extra salt.
I do bump up the peanuts and onions (from a quarter cup to a third of a cup) so the proportions are more in sync with the pasta.
The recipe couldn't be easier. The dressing, the chopping of the peanuts and onions and toasting the sesame seeds all can be accomplished in the time it takes for the pot of water to come to a boil and the pasta to cook.
Throw it together and it's ready to eat, although this is a dish that is better a few hours later or even the next day when the flavors have a chance to mix.
The Lemon Almond Chicken Salad is more labor intensive but worth the effort.
Squeezing lemon on the chicken breasts and putting lemon rinds in the water while poaching the chicken gives the meat a mellow hint of citrus.
That flavor is intensified in the dressing, which has fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and with the lemon zest that is stirred into the final mix.
It will be difficult, if not impossible, to get the right consistency with the dressing without a food processor. And don't leave out the half teaspoon of sea salt that is called for when making the dressing. I usually have a light touch with salt and didn't put the full amount in initially. I ended up adding more later to brighten up the flavors.
And it was as wonderful as I remembered it. Eating that plate of food in the accompanying photograph was like taking a culinary trip 20 years back in time.