Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Apple Pecan Chicken Salad



I love me some chicken. (in case that hasn't been a little obvious in many of my previous posts. LOL) So, I guess it just stands to reason that I also lurve me some chicken salad. I've used the same basic chicken salad recipe for years and it's pretty good, if I do say so myself, but there are some foods/ingredients that the poor Hubbs never seems to get here at home; like recipes that include nuts and hot and spicy well... anything. What can I say? I'm just not that into most nuts. So, like the loving, caring wifey that I am, I decided to do it up a little differently this time and I have to say that Hubbs was a very happy man. This chicken salad is crispy, crunchy, tender, sweet and salty, all wrapped up in creamy. I guess I'm pretty happy with it too. :~)

The big difference?? Nuts. Pecans to be exact. Yes, I know that doesn't sound like anything all that special, but although I do enjoy snacking on peanuts and cashews every now and then, I've just never been a fan of them when they've been mixed in with other foods. I could easily sit and eat handfuls of dry roasted peanuts while I'm watching a movie, really. But adding nuts into fudgy brownies, cookies or candy, well... I want no part of it. Hmmm. I have a funny feeling that there are a few nut lovers out there, that just gasped in half of the air in the room. ;~) Sorry.

Anyway, back to the recipe.  I decided that I wanted something slightly sweet with a lot of crunch and a bit of salty tang. Apples provide a good crunch, as does the celery and since I really wanted to do something nice for the Hubbs, I figured that nuts had to be a part of this, too. But, I needed them to be sweet and a little bit spicy. The scallions give a nice savory, tangy balance and the mayo is kinda like frosting on a cake. It just ties all of the other ingredients together into a creamy versatile, creamy salad for sandwiches or maybe a traditional "cold plate" lunch.


These days, I like to bake my chicken for most recipe preparations but that hasn't always been the case. I grew up eating my dear mother's baked chicken bless her heart, it was always a bit too dry and a bit too tough. That was before I had my current ovens. The difference is a feature called "convect roast" and it does the most amazing things to meats - and pretty much all things roasted.

Chicken cooked this way never fails to turn out crispy and brown on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside. It's kind of like kitchen voodoo. Really. The next best method in my book, would be to saute or "brown down" the chicken (as my Nana used to call it) slowly in a skillet, until it reaches that same crisp/tender texture and flavor. It takes a bit longer, but it's so worth the results. You can cook yours in whatever fashion works best for you, of course.


I had five huge bone in, skin on chicken (split) breasts, but we had two of them for dinner on Monday night, so that obviously left me with three. That being said, once the meat was removed from the bones and cubed, it came to almost 4 cups for the salad. (I wasn't kidding when I said they were huge...) If what you have are more average sized chicken breasts, I'd go with between 4 and 6.


Apple Pecan Chicken Salad
  • 3 - 4 Cups Chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 Ribs of Celery, diced
  • 2 Scallions, sliced thinly
  • 2 Medium Gala or Fuji Apples, diced
  • 1/2 C Pecans, chopped, toasted and spiced
  • Good Mayonnaise
  • Kosher Salt & Fresh Ground Black Pepper
  • Sugar, Salt, Cinnamon, Cloves and Oil (for the spiced pecans)

The chicken was roasted with a little bit of kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and thyme. I guess you'd say that's my "house seasoning" for chicken. I will usually swap out the thyme for chopped rosemary for beef, or add in some sage for pork, etc. You get the picture...


If I only need a small amount of spiced nuts, I usually don't bother heating up the oven like I would to roast a large batch. Instead, I'll chop them first, then toast them in a dry, non-stick pan over a medium high flame. (Chopping them first also provides a better surface to spice mixture ratio than toasting them whole) When they start to turn a little bit golden and you just begin to smell that toasty aroma wafting up from the pan, it's time to remove them to a bowl or a plate to cool just a tiny bit.


In the photo below, I have about a tablespoon of granulated sugar, a pinch of kosher salt, a heaping teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a small pinch of ground cloves. (Just mix it all together well with a fork before adding it to the toasted nuts) While the nuts are still warm, drizzle a scant teaspoon of light vegetable or coconut oil on them and toss to coat. Then, evenly sprinkle on the spice mixture.


Toss the nuts in the bowl (or on the plate), coating them thoroughly.

If the nuts have cooled a bit too much, you can throw them back into the pan over a very low flame and stir them around til they heat back up enough for the spices to stick to them, BUT if you do this, be very careful. Do NOT walk away from the pan and stir or shake the pan frequently, because these beauties can go from toasty loveliness, to burned (and bitter) in the blink of an eye.

Set the finished nuts aside to cool completely before adding them to the salad.


Chop the apples and celery into a small to medium dice, depending on your own personal preference. Try not to go too, big, though. Thinly slice the scallions.


Add the apples, veggies and spiced pecans to the chicken and then add a hearty cup of a good quality "real" mayonnaise. If you prefer a "salad dressing" like Miracle Whip, you can use that instead. (I'm a straight up mayo girl, so I couldn't say how it would affect the overall dish, but if that's what floats your boat... go for it!) You can always add more mayo if you need it. I ended up adding another 1/4 to 1/2 cup, but it's all about personal tastes. We like our salads very well dressed. :~)


Cover the salad tightly and refrigerate for at least one hour before serving. This is probably a no-brainer for everyone, but because of the mayonnaise in it, if you plan to pack this salad in a lunch box for consumption later, make sure you either have refrigeration available on-site, or that you place a fully frozen ice pack in the box or bag.



Holy Moly!  I just learned that my Opa!-pa-sta Salad and my Garlicky Greek Vinaigrette were 2 of the top 4 of last week's "most clicked" links at Wednesday Whatsits, hosted by the super sweet Julie at White Lights On Wednesday!


White Lights on Wednesdays





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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Opa!-pa-sta Salad



OK, I realize that there are probably a million recipes for pasta salad floating around out in cyberspace, but I like to think that this particular version is a little bit special. Well, it's special in our house, anyway. :~)

I've made "traditional" pasta salads for everything from backyard barbecues to simple summer suppers. You know the one I'm talking about... Italian dressing, lots of crisp fresh veggies, pepperoni or salami and a healthy dose of shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese. Over all, it's pretty much a mandatory side dish, any time that my daughter has had a say in the menu.

A couple of years ago, she discovered (tossed green) Greek salads and was immediately obsessed. (Admittedly, I'm a little bit in love myself) I figured that since she already loved pasta salad and had recently become a bona fide Greek salad addict, it just made sense that she'd be a happy little camper if I combined the two and made a Greek pasta salad. Soooo...Since the more traditional version is often called "Pizza Salad", I decided that I had to find an appropriate (albeit, corny) name for this one.

*Opa is a Greek word that has multiple meanings. It's often used by the Greek people at times of celebration and joy and is basically a very "happy" word. And since this salad makes my family happy, it just seemed to fit. So... that, my friends, is how I came up with the name... Opa!-pa-sta Salad!  (Seriously folks, I really do know that I'm a whak-a-doodle)


Opa!-Pa-Sta Salad

  • 1Lb Pasta, cooked and drained (I used Farfalle/Bowties)
  • 1 Lg Green or Red Bell Pepper, chopped
  • 1 Sm Red Onion, chopped
  • 1 Med Cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 Cup Kalamata Olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
  • 2 Cups Feta Cheese, crumbled
  • Double Recipe Greek Vinaigrette (recipe here)
  • Kosher Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper


Cook the pasta in 6-8 quarts of liberally salted, boiling water, until it's al dente. Drain and set aside. For cold salads, I rinse my pasta BUT, I add a pinch of salt to the drained pasta and give it a little toss. Why would I do that?? Well, rinsing cooked pasta not only removes starchy residue and cools it down; it also tends to diminish the slight saltiness that was infused into the pasta during cooking. You don't have to do this step, but trust me... Even the best pasta can end up tasting a bit like cardboard without the addition of salt and using a decent amount of it during the cooking, makes a big difference. (See, I told ya... whack-a-doodle)

Pour about 1/2 of the prepared vinaigrette into the pasta and toss well. Cover and refrigerate, while prepping the rest of the ingredients.


Chop all of your vegetables and olives and crumble the Feta and set them aside. I like to leave a few strips of the skin on the cucumber when I peel it, but that's purely for aesthetics. You really do need to scoop the seeds out before chopping it though, because if they're left in, they'll water down the finished salad and can add a bitter taste. (It's also better for folks who might have a problem digesting seeds)


Take your pasta out of the fridge and add in all of the veggies, olives, cheese and the remaining vinaigrette. Season with a bit more salt and pepper and toss it well. You can serve this salad right away or you can cover it and pop it back into the fridge until you're ready for it. I like to make it a few hours (or up to a day) ahead of time, because the longer it sits, the more the flavors have a chance to develop. I usually make a double batch (at least) of the dressing and will sometimes add a bit more to the salad just before serving. I like to have plenty of this vinaigrette on hand for use in other salads and for marinating meats.


You can also add grilled chicken or seafood to make this an easy and delicious stand alone lunch or supper too.


*Opa!

For my Garlicky Greek Vinaigrette recipe, just click HERE


*OPA is a Greek Word that may be used as an ‘Exclamation’, or ‘Utterance’, or ‘Declaration’, or ‘Affirmation’ or a lovingly gentle way of telling you to ‘Stop’ ... depending on the situational context. 
It is a word or pronouncement of celebration; the celebration of life itself. 
It is another way of expressing joy and gratitude to God, Life, and others, for bringing us into the state of ultimate wisdom; that all that really matters is health, family, and friends. 
It is a humorous affirmation that you’re the best; that you’re where you’re supposed to be; and that you need to stop and celebrate. … 
It is the Greeks’ way of stating they have come to a level of serene exuberance able to enjoy life as children. … In a state where having been fed, and having quenched our thirst, and having enjoyed the pleasure of uniting with others, we have filled with hope and confidence that life abounds with all that we need, … and that food will always be there, … and so, we break the plates, … because tomorrow there will be more. … And we light a fire and dance around it as a symbol of the warmth that surrounds us. … and … 
We break the plates as a way of saying thank you to those that helped us reach a state of celebrating our life, … as a way of saying thank you to the music that brought peace to the world, … and we break them to honor the one that’s dancing, as we kneel in front of them and look up to them exclaiming : Oooopa !!! … 
And we throw the napkins in the air as a reminder that we are as free as the birds; ‘sky is the limit’ … so ‘Let go, Be Greek, Fear nothing and join in the celebration’. 
It is a way of saying “don’t worry” … no matter what has happened you are still alive, … “don’t be harsh on yourself,” there’s another minute and another day ahead of you to right what’s wrong, … and we are here together to make sure of this. … So, as an example when someone accidentally drops and breaks something, no matter how valuable, we yell: Oooooopa !!! … kind of “It’s ok,” … everything can be mended if your mind is healthy and still open to music, dance, mezedes, and wine !!   








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Oh My! My White Queso and other Cinco De Mayo favorites have been featured at the Show and Tell Showcase, hosted by the very lovely Sharon at Mrs Hines Blog!


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Garlicky Greek Vinaigrette

Phew! What a weekend! Sorry I haven't posted anything over the past few days...


We ended up having last minute house guests (much loved family members) arrive on Friday night. As happy as we were to have them here, we were so busy that I never had a chance to pop onto my laptop and check in with the blogosphere. And, since we went out for dinner or ordered in each night they were here, I did absolutely zero cooking over the weekend.

They headed for home on Sunday morning, but alas poor Hubbs woke up feeling deathly ill, with what I believe was that nasty stomach bug that seems to be making it's way around the universe right now. Suffice it to say that I had a pretty quiet Mother's Day, spent taking care of my sick sweetie, catching up on laundry and getting the guest room back in "ready mode" for the next time we have visitors. Luckily, Hubby felt well enough by Sunday evening to keep down a little tea and dry toast, but that was the extent of my food preparation for the weekend. Until yesterday, that is....

We had warm, muggy days from Friday night through Sunday, that have since turned into warm, muggy, rainy weather today and the way I tend to respond to close, cloying days like these, is to shoot for something that's easy to prepare, requires little to no stove top or oven time and doesn't fill us up with multiple courses. One of the first things that came to my mind was pasta salad. It is "that time of year", after all. Hmmm... Why is it that I don't really make pasta or potato salads during the colder months??

Anywhoooo... In order to make a pasta salad, one usually needs some sort of dressing to moisten it and give it some pizazz. I love a classic macaroni salad made with mayo, but I didn't think Hubby's tummy was quite ready for that. I've been wanting to make a pasta salad for a while now and I've also had a bit of a craving for Greek salad. So, why not a Greek pasta salad? Here's the recipe for my Garlicky Greek Vinaigrette. The recipe for the salad itself will follow this post. (HERE)


Garlicky Greek Salad Dressing
(amounts are below)
  • Olive or Vegetable Oil
  • Cider or Wine Vinegar
  • Lemon Juice
  • Lemon Zest
  • 2-4 Cloves Garlic
  • Fresh Parsley
  • Dried Oregano
  • Sugar
  • Kosher Salt & Freshly Ground Black Pepper


The key to all good basic vinaigrettes is to follow a few simple "rules". Once you know these, you can make endless and delicious combinations to dress salads and marinate and/or baste meats or vegetables.
  • Always use three parts oil/fat to one part acid.
  • Additions like mustard and egg yolk help to thicken and emulsify a dressing.
  • The sky's the limit when it comes to herbs and spices.
  • A little bit of white or brown sugar will help to balance out acidity.
  • Just about any kind of vinegar and/or citrus juice can be used as the acid in a vinaigrette.

1 Recipe Measurements:
  • 1 cup of olive oil
  • 1/3 cup White Balsamic Vinegar
  • the juice from 1/2 of a small lemon
  • the zest from that lemon
  • 3 small cloves of garlic
  • a tablespoon or so of fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar
  • a healthy pinch of Kosher salt and
  • a good grinding of black pepper
I just throw all of the ingredients, except the oil and vinegar, into the food processor and give it several pulses until it resembles a thick paste. Then I add the vinegar and drizzle in the oil, as the processor is running.


I highly recommend that you make a double or even triple recipe of this dressing. It's great on all kinds of salads and it makes an excellent marinade for grilled meats and vegetables.


When using this as a dressing for pasta salad, pour 1/3 to 1/2 of the dressing over the cooked and slightly cooled pasta and pop it in the fridge for an hour or so. It will absorb into the pasta and deepen the flavor of the finished salad. Add the rest of the dressing a few minutes before serving.


Enjoy!

Mary



Opa!-pa-sta Salad recipe HERE


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