Chicken Salad with Fruits & Nuts

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Have you ever had a chicken salad that just felt too heavy.  So much mayo that it almost leaves a slick cream streak down your throat?  Creamy is nice but heavy is not.   Especially during the summer months, salad featuring proteins should lift you up, not weigh you down. 

My recent cooking adventures afforded me the opportunity to cater for my Mom's 'Ladies Lunch'. I had proposed a couple of different menu options but they didn't want me to go too crazy, fancy.  Understandably so, they needed food that would have a broad appeal for everyone's palate, which makes total sense given a group of 30. Chicken Salad was suggested.

I must admit that making chicken salad didn't thrill me.  It was my job to give the 'clients' what they wanted but also introduce them to chicken salad with pizzaz. I like to create flavors that pop, and really wanted to make something different for these special ladies.  Instead of creating a new dish, the creating came in the form of how to take bland, regular, mayo slathered chicken salad and make it lighter and more exciting.  Once I realized that they were open to a more zippidity-do chicken salad, I starting thinking: summer, lighter, texture and crunch. That's when I got more excited.  Texture would come by way of adding crunchy, crisp fruits and toasted nuts. And I dare say that the fruits also help to lighten the load. Check off the texture category requirement.  Now how to lighten up the dressing that is typically globs of mayo?  Yogurt is light. It's tangy. It's zingy and is still creamy.  Gosh, if only I could be more like yogurt...
So, that was it.  I would cut the mayo in half using Greek yogurt and add a couple of other zesty ingredients to lighten it up.     

I got the thumbs up from the team leaders, my Mom and Elena. Onto the plan. I went back and forth about whether to use dark and white meat, whether to roast or poach.  In the end, I choose to use organic chicken breasts and to poach them using aromatics to subtly impart flavor.

Ingredients 

(This batch was made for 30 people. And it made about 10 c.  Scale down for your needs.)
For the Poaching
9.5 lbs Chicken Breasts *                                       
4 bay leaves
4-6 lemon slices
2 t peppercorns
1 carrot, chopped in chunks
1 celery stalk, cut in pieces
parsley sprigs

For the Salad
2 c red seedless grapes, thick slices
2-3 red apple, peeled & cubed
5-6 scallions, thinly sliced
1 c walnuts, roasted & rough chopped
* You can also use leftover chicken and add the dressing.  

Dressing
1.5 c Mayonnaise
1.5 Greek Yogurt
2-3 T Lemon zest
1/3 c lemon juice
2 T mustard
salt, pepper
 

Instructions

1. Clean and rinse the chicken well.  In a large sauté pan, add the chicken in one layer in the pan.  Add the aromatics and enough water to almost cover.  Bring to a boil, then cover and let simmer for 8-10 minutes depending on the thickness of the chicken.  Use a thermometer to ensure that the interior is 165 degrees.

2. While the chicken is cooking, make the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients.

Creamy, tangy and light.

Creamy, tangy and light.

3. Once the chicken is done, remove from the pot and let it cool.  Meanwhile, roast the walnuts for 5-7 minutes and rough chop them.  Cut the grapes, apples, and scallions. (Squeeze some lemon juice over the apples or submerge in lemon water to keep them from turning brown.)

Chicken
Red grapes
Apples

4. Either cut the chicken into chunks or shred.  Your choice. Mix all the ingredients together with the dressing.  Some people like their salad moist, others dry. Dress as desired.

Chicken Salad lighter

You can serve this on rolls, or French baguette.  I decided for summertime, and for a healthier option, to serve them with small romaine lettuce leaves to act as boats.   All the ladies enjoyed this light and tangy chicken salad. 

A huge bowl full of light and crunchy, savory and zesty chicken salad.

A huge bowl full of light and crunchy, savory and zesty chicken salad.

The ladies taking a little bit of all the offerings.

The ladies taking a little bit of all the offerings.

Since I made a ton of chicken salad and had so many other offerings, I had some leftovers.  I brought home some chicken salad, and the Israeli Couscous  and Asian Slaw with Tahini/Peanut Dressing and made a bountiful  lunch plate for JC.  At first he said, "That's way too much food."  Not too much later, I found the plate, empty, not even a grain of couscous left.  Apparently, it wasn't too much. He loved it enough to have the rest the next day.  

And since I had some of the chicken salad dressing leftover and I love to share, I gave some to my neighbors who are a foodies. They just happen to have some roasted chicken.  What serendipity.  They mixed up my dressing with their chicken and loved how the lemon zest and juice really brightened it all up.  Why did the neighbor cross the road?  Ask the chicken.

My plate full of love that I made for JC's lunch. Boston lettuce pockets filled with zingy chicken salad, couscous and peanut slaw.

My plate full of love that I made for JC's lunch. Boston lettuce pockets filled with zingy chicken salad, couscous and peanut slaw.

Why did the chicken cross the road?  To mingle with a few fruits and nuts and slather herself in a light yogurt lemon dressing, of course.

 

Zucchini Carpaccio

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Carpaccio refers to raw, thin slices.  Most people typically use this method for beef or fish. But why limit its focus.  The technique can be applied to any food really.  That's when I elected to employ its useful style to zucchini; both green and yellow. 

Once upon a time on a warm summer's day in the country, I had zucchini. AGAIN.
Another dilemma of what to do with this ubiquitous kinda bland veg. And so, the idea of creating a dish that would be fresh and cool given the heat of the day sparked the idea for carpaccio.  Slice it thin.  No need to cook it.  Add a zingy sauce and call it day.  

That is how this dish came to be. Out of sheer not wanting to turn on the stove or oven or eat anything hot.   I don't need to bore you with any more adjectives, adverbs or other fancy descriptions.  This is a simple once upon a time story, with a happy ending.  Now, down to the 'how to'.

Ingredients

1  zucchini, thinly sliced approx. 2 c
2 small yellow squash, thinly sliced approx. 2 c
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 c red wine vinegar
1/4 c white wine vinegar
salt

 

Dressing
1-2 T honey (depending on your taste)
1/3 c fresh lime juice
1/3 c fresh lemon juice
1 T rice wine vinegar
1/4 shallots. minced
1.5 T mint, finely chopped
1.5 T basil, chopped
1+ tsp salt / 1/4 t pepper to taste

Instructions

1. First things first.  Thinly slice the red onions so they have time to pickle. I use a mandolin for this so I can cut them quickly, evenly and thinly. Next, combine the red and white vinegar with salt and submerge the onions.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the zucchini and dressing.

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2. Thinly slice both the zucchini and yellow squash using a mandolin.  Unless you have a sushi master skill of using a knife, the only real way to get these thin enough, and consistent, is to use a mandolin.  Sorry, sometimes it's just that way. I like to make sure that I am slicing them so they are round, not oval.  I just groove off the overall visual look. But go ahead and slice as you like, just as long as they are thin. Then begin to layer them.  Again, I like order and visual appeal. So my aesthetic is one color for each row in a circular fashion.  I overlap slightly as I go to create a wheel of green and yellow swirls. But lay them down in whatever fashion suits your style.

Round and round we go. Layer anyway you like. I like circles.

Round and round we go. Layer anyway you like. I like circles.

It looks neat and visually appealing... and mesmerizing.

It looks neat and visually appealing... and mesmerizing.

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3. Once that is done, make the marinade/dressing.  Combine the lemon and lime juices, vinegar with honey, shallots, mint and basil.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Pour over the entire dish and allow the dressing to settle in for 15 minutes to 1/2 hour to absorb and "cook" the zucchini.  Drain and add the pickled onion in the center.

The first couple of times I made this dish I used regular basil. This time around I had purple basil, so that's what I used.

The first couple of times I made this dish I used regular basil. This time around I had purple basil, so that's what I used.

Sometimes I start my circles with yellow squash, then zucchini. Other times the versus. I know, I live dangerously.

Sometimes I start my circles with yellow squash, then zucchini. Other times the versus. I know, I live dangerously.

The purple basil adds another color pop.

The purple basil adds another color pop.

Warning, this dish is tart and tangy. (Use more honey to balance the flavor to your palate. I like it tangy.)
Perfect for the summer.
Perfect for BBQ meats.
Perfect solution to not sweating over a stove. 
Another zucchini dilemma solved. 
Another happy ending.

Any Night Meal - Al Fresco

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That's right the weather has turned... Finally.  I'm sure you have washed off the furniture, swept the patio and tidied up whatever outside area you have, whether it be a terrace, a small deck or a rolling pasture. It's time to go - al fresco.

Of course, we are all anxious to throw garden parties, BBQ's and the like after enduring a long, long winter.  And California, please spare me the "oh, we have that all year round" remark.  We know just how special you are.  The rest of the country suffers through changes.  Which is why we are outdoor party ready.  But you don't need to orchestrate a shindig in order to delight in the summer's offering. Taking in an evening breeze while savoring a meal doesn't need to equate to a big ordeal.  A simple dinner will do just fine so you can bask in the longer days, the extended light and the brisk air of a summer's eve.

You can set the table and create warm vibes, or simply put dishes on the patio table.

You can set the table and create warm vibes, or simply put dishes on the patio table.

Cocktails - Here's a few ideas:

These Aperol Spritz cocktails are easy to drink, so be careful. If it's a school night, maybe just have one.

These Aperol Spritz cocktails are easy to drink, so be careful. If it's a school night, maybe just have one.

A dry rosé is the antidote to any long day.

A dry rosé is the antidote to any long day.

If you don't want the alcohol:

  • Cranberry juice, sparkling water and lemon wedge, or even add some frozen berries

  • Watermelon juice, sparkling water, basil leaves

  • Sparkling Water with Lemon & Lime Slices

The idea is to enjoy something refreshing.  So, go ahead and shake up a cool drink of your favorite flavors.

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The Meal

  • Summer Tart , simple puff pastry topped with farm fresh vegetables of the season

  • Large salad, it can be as simple as lettuces lightly tossed with fresh lemon juice and oil. Or a nectarine salad to reinforce that summer feel

  • Roasted salmon or grilled shrimp

  • Yogurt with honey and nuts

Puff pastry tarts don't need to be complicated. Fill them with whatever is fresh and seasonal and pop them in the oven. I always add cheese!

Puff pastry tarts don't need to be complicated. Fill them with whatever is fresh and seasonal and pop them in the oven. I always add cheese!

Salad ideas

Watermelon & Feta cheese served with a crisp white wine -  La Val Albariño  from Spain.

Watermelon & Feta cheese served with a crisp white wine - La Val Albariño from Spain.

Main Dish ideas


Keep it simple and roast fish on the grill.

Roasted Salmon is perfect for outdoor entertaining.

Roasted Salmon is perfect for outdoor entertaining.

 

You can even have dessert without a fuss.  Some Greek yogurt, nuts with a drizzle of honey is the just the right amount of sweet to finish off a meal. The idea is to get outside.  Grab whatever food you have and put it on a platter, pop open a beverage and breathe in the fresh air.  And the sheer joy of dining al fresco.  

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Whole Red Snapper stuffed with lemons and parsley and grilled on the BBQ. So fresh and clean and ideal for a summer night.

Whole Red Snapper stuffed with lemons and parsley and grilled on the BBQ. So fresh and clean and ideal for a summer night.

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Yogurt drizzled with honey & nuts equals an easy, satisfying dessert

Yogurt drizzled with honey & nuts equals an easy, satisfying dessert

Salmon Burgers - San Gluten & Eggs... WHAT?

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Some of you know that I have an allergic reaction to wheat, yeast and eggs (plus a few other foods). So I try to eliminate those as much as possible.  Which means even foods containing just a smidge of bread or eggs to hold them together are quite literally my unraveling.  And thus, blacklisted from my repertoire.  Seriously, how much deprivation can one woman withstand?   I love me a fish burger, but alas most use bread or bread crumbs, and almost all use eggs. What's a gal to do?  Being stubborn and wanting what I want is when the thinking cap needs to be fully stretched and used to its fullest. Unscramble the mystery and find another way to hold the darn thing together.

I remember seeing a recipe a while back that whizzed up part of the protein to make a paste.  Paste... that definitely holds shit together.  So, with the sticky part done I needed to fill up the rest.  Here is the fun part.  You can, seriously, add a long list of accompaniments like; kale, spinach, corn, mushrooms and so on.  Alas, I only had some basics on hand:  onions, celery, peppers, scallions. So, that's what I used, and they worked out just fine. (Next time I will share experimenting with other fillings. Heck, don't wait for me. Be daring and test on your own.)

The setup of what was to become a really tasty salmon burger.

The setup of what was to become a really tasty salmon burger.

Ingredients   

Burgers - Makes 6
1 lb Salmon, skin removed
1 c celery, chopped
1/3 c yellow pepper, small dice
1/3 c orange pepper, small dice
1/4 c red onion, small dice
1/4 c yellow onion, small dice
1/4 c + 2 T scallions, sliced
2 T oil
2 T capers
1 T parsley, chopped
1 t mustard
1/2 t whole grain mustard
1 t salt
1/4 t black pepper
corn meal, potato flour optional

 

 

Relish
2/3 c yogurt
2 T Kosher dill pickles, chopped
1 T parsley, chopped
1 t capers
1. 5 T lemon juice
1 T lemon zest
1/3 c sauté mixture
salt to taste

Instructions

Mise en place all the vegetables as directed.  Then in a cast iron pan or skillet, sauté onions, celery, peppers, 1/4 c scallions in oil, season with salt and pepper.

Mise en place is French for "everything in place", meaning prep all your ingredients so they are ready to go.

Mise en place is French for "everything in place", meaning prep all your ingredients so they are ready to go.

They sure look pretty like this but go ahead and mix them together for even sautéing.

They sure look pretty like this but go ahead and mix them together for even sautéing.

 Let them cook slowly over low heat until softened. When done, set aside and let cool.

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Meanwhile, cut the salmon into 3 equal parts.  One part cut into 3/4" cubes. One part cut into 1/4" cubes. One part pulse in a mini food processor to create a paste. 

Salmon paste that will be the glue to hold the other two together.

Salmon paste that will be the glue to hold the other two together.

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Next chop the parsley and rest of scallions.  In a bowl, add all three portions of salmon. Then begin adding all filling ingredients:  1/2 c of the cooled sauté mixture, capers, the mustards, 2 T scallions and parsley.  Mix together until well combined, then form patties, and refrigerate for 15 minutes to 1/2 hour.  

Salmon prepped in 3 sizes: Big cubes, smaller cubes and a paste.

Salmon prepped in 3 sizes: Big cubes, smaller cubes and a paste.

Start building the burger flavors by adding the vegetable sauté.

Start building the burger flavors by adding the vegetable sauté.

In go the capers.

In go the capers.

Then the mustard, and so on.

Then the mustard, and so on.

Then form your patties. This makes 6 medium burgers.

Then form your patties. This makes 6 medium burgers.

While the burgers are chilling out, move onto the relish. All it takes is a bowl to combine all the ingredients together, stirring until well incorporated.  Then refrigerate until ready to serve.

The lineup for the relish.

The lineup for the relish.

Homemade relish is so fresh and delicious. It can be used on baked potatoes, or over rice even.

Homemade relish is so fresh and delicious. It can be used on baked potatoes, or over rice even.

After the patties have had their chilled rest and are firm, they are ready for frying. You have choices at this point. You can either fry as is without any coating, or dust them with either potato flour* or corn grits**. Using my 6 burgers I experimented making 2 of each kind to see which we liked best. Jill and JC liked them plain with no coating. I also liked the purity of the plain one, but I liked the corn grits coating due to the outer crunch.  And if you search your memory banks, or this blog you will remember that I love crunch.  Test which one you like best.  

NOTE:
*If you use the potato flour coating, cook these at a lower heat since the the finer powder texture cooks faster and will burn if heat is too high.
** Corn grits are a larger grain, which gives it the crunch. But if you don't want as much crunch factor, then you can use a stone ground corn meal which has a finer texture.

Corn grits. See those grains of ground corn? That's what gives it Crunch!

Corn grits. See those grains of ground corn? That's what gives it Crunch!

Potato flour is much finer, almost like talcum powder.

Potato flour is much finer, almost like talcum powder.

About to make crunchy goodness.

About to make crunchy goodness.

I like using a cast iron skillet because the pan retains the heat and gives a nice outer crust. Fry on both sides until you see the salmon turn pink, about 2-3 minutes each side, depending on thickness. 

Front left has potato flour coating. Back center has the corn grits, while front right is sans any coating.

Front left has potato flour coating. Back center has the corn grits, while front right is sans any coating.

The final lineup from left to right: Potato coated, no coating, corn grits coated. You can see how much darker the potato coating got.

The final lineup from left to right: Potato coated, no coating, corn grits coated. You can see how much darker the potato coating got.

Serve immediately with slices of tomato, arugula or boston lettuce, and some cornichons. Any lettuce works fine, but I really enjoyed how the spicy flavor of arugula plays off the salmon,  Don't forget the homemade relish. It's tangy, sweet and delicious. JC and Jill both told me that they don't usually like relish, but plopped spoonfuls of my homemade version on their burgers.  The next night we had fish. They broke out the relish again!

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Hey, since this is such a healthy version of a burger, no bread filling or bun, go ahead and splurge by serving up some fries or a baked potato.  You can even use the relish on that, too. With Memorial Day steaming down the tracks, these could be a great addition to your outdoor party.
(Note: I would not cook these directly on the grill, as they need a flat surface in order to form a crust to help hold them together.) 

Just because I need to eliminate some foods doesn't mean I can't enjoy things I love.
And just because these are sans bread and egg definitely doesn't mean they are sans flavor!

Plentiful Platters

"Summer breeze makes me feel fine...Sweet days of summer, the jasmine's in bloom. July is dressed up and playing her tune."  You have to sing that last part to yourself.  And be grateful that I've only written the lyrics and you can't actual hear me butchering that beautiful Seals & Croft song. I've been told my singing voice is for internal use only.  But the sweet days of summer have arrived and for JC and me it signals a time for entertaining and calling on friends and family to join for BBQ, drinks and chilling.  One way to easily serve and satisfy a big crowd is present everything on a big platter and let your guests pick and choose what they like.  The combinations are infinite. The preparation usually pretty simple. The best part, it looks amazing and feeds the masses happily. 

Here are a few of my favorites from the past. For the most part the veggies are either grilled or oven roasted.  I have posted several recipes with oven roasted veggies before, so no need to photo walk you through all that again. (But for a reminder, check out  Roasted Vegetables - Lunch 3 Ways)  Remember, there is no step by step recipe for this.  Buy, prepare and assemble what moves you. 

Grilled veggies, roasted potatoes and grilled tomatoes

Grilled veggies, roasted potatoes and grilled tomatoes

This big platter of chick peas/celery/scallions, sautéd string beans, grape tomatoes and cucumbers served as the side dish to an abundance of pizzas.  It made the ideal accompaniment to those crispy, yeasty delights. 

This big platter of chick peas/celery/scallions, sautéd string beans, grape tomatoes and cucumbers served as the side dish to an abundance of pizzas.  It made the ideal accompaniment to those crispy, yeasty delights. 

Here it is on the table.  I think I also added roasted potatoes.

Here it is on the table.  I think I also added roasted potatoes.

A simple Boston salad with fresh tomatoes and grilled asparagus.

A simple Boston salad with fresh tomatoes and grilled asparagus.

The combinations are whatever you like, really.  I usually try to complement the main protein and use vegetables and herbs that will enhance and brighten the meaI. I also love combining roasted veggies into a salad, if you will.   Chopped up and tossed into something starchy and hearty like Israeli Couscous. When I was able to eat wheat this was one of my favorites.  It's not a full pasta but plump little pearls that won't overfill your guests but have just enough heartiness to round out a meal. 

Israeli Couscous with grilled zucchini, summer squash, roasted red pepper, hearts of palm and a basil dressing.

Israeli Couscous with grilled zucchini, summer squash, roasted red pepper, hearts of palm and a basil dressing.

For this dish, cook the couscous as you would any other type of pasta.  Simply grill or roast your veggies of choice and chop them into bite size pieces.  Toss them together.  Then I usually make some dressing for additional flavor and moistness.  You can smash some garlic, salt, pepper and basil and add olive oil for a super fast full of flavor dressing. You can serve this on its own or take that simple Boston salad and turn it up a notch by adding the couscous atop the lettuce.

The Boston lettuce platter making room for the fluffy couscous mixture.

The Boston lettuce platter making room for the fluffy couscous mixture.

Another great feature of the big platter, you can easily make some of these the morning of or even the day before with the extra bonus of room temperature serving.

Greens and Whites platter is made up of arugula simply dressed with lemon juice, salt and olive oil, next to hearts of palm, sautéd string beans, 2 bean salad and roasted broccoli.

Greens and Whites platter is made up of arugula simply dressed with lemon juice, salt and olive oil, next to hearts of palm, sautéd string beans, 2 bean salad and roasted broccoli.

Various grilled vegetables atop Aborio rice.

Various grilled vegetables atop Aborio rice.

So choose what you like and whatever is available at the farmer's market, or at the grocery store. Start grilling, roasting and assembling your platter.  Your guests will love the abundant choices and you will love the abundant time you have to share with them during your party.  Plentiful platters, plentiful in so many ways, just like a summer's breeze.