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.

 

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!

Hail to the Kale, Caesar

Kale Caesar Salad

Kale Caesar Salad

Kale is so very popular that you just want to say, 'Really, do you need to hog the whole stage from other leafy greens?  How much attention does one vegetable need?'  Apparently ALL.  You'd think it was the long lost Kardashian sister, Khail. That said, it is a nice little leaf that does offer what it promises.  As do I. Which is why I am posting this salad.  A few of you asked me to recreate the Kale Caesar Salad that was shown in my review post of Copper 29 Bar.  I, much like kale, like to deliver.  

But before we get down to the nuts and bolts of ingredients and instructions, let's examine the deeper qualities of this bold veg from the cabbage family and see why kale has gained so much fame of late.  First, it is the most nutrient dense leafy gem of all.  Packing Vitamins A, K, C, B6, B1, B2, B3, Manganese, Calcium, Copper, Potassium, Magnesium, Iron and Phosphorus plus it contains powerful antioxidants. It makes a ton of other boostful claims like lowering your cholesterol and fighting cancer. Well, who doesn't love that?!  It's low in calories, low in carbs and good on protein. Gosh damn, what a show off. I guess I can stop being critical and admit it has every right to hog the stage.  Can't say that about many others these days.

Few but mighty ingredients

Few but mighty ingredients

In the past I have used kale in a few different dishes.  I've made kale chips. I've sautéed it. I've made soup with it. I've added it raw to my Spicy Crunch Slaw.  I even experimented with it many years ago before Kale was all the rage.  I'll post that recipe shortly but for now we will concentrate on hailing to Caesar featuring Kale.  In the version from Copper 29, they added radicchio. Alas, my market didn't have any that looked nice enough to grace this salad, so no go on the radicchio. I used romaine instead. (Not because I thought that was an equal substitute but because I had extra in the house.  Use what you got.)  Their version also used a true Caesar dressing, and you can too.  But I don't eat eggs and wanted to come up with a creamy version that eliminated the raw egg.  I think I hit the mark on creaminess and then some.  

Ingredients

(Makes 6-8 side servings or 4 main)

3 c red kale, finely chopped
3 c green kale, finely chopped
5 c romaine lettuce, chopped
2 T shallots, fine dice
2 T pumpkin seeds, roasted
2 T sunflower seeds
Shards of parm (the amount you desire)
Pear, optional

Instructions

First things first, remove the ribs from the kale leaves.  These are way too hard to eat raw.   Then chop the kale leaves and lettuce in small pieces.  I feel that this is an important step when using hearty kale.  If you leave the pieces too large, they can be a bit rough and tough and slightly unmanageable to deal with... Much like a Kardashian.  So take the time and chop them fine.  Small dice the shallots and shave the Parmesan cheese, setting it aside.  Put all your greens and shallots in your bowl our choice, as it awaits its creamy coating.

Get rid of the ribs.

Get rid of the ribs.

See, nice small and manageable pieces.

See, nice small and manageable pieces.

Now it's time to make the dressing.  Remember, if you like traditional Caesar dressing, by all means, knock yourself out.  Below is my interpretation for those who also want to eliminate the raw egg.

The line up for my version of a creamy 'faux Caesar' dressing. (The chives aren't pictured here because I decided to add them after I took the photo. That is truly how the something from nothing style of cooking works. Add as you go.

The line up for my version of a creamy 'faux Caesar' dressing. (The chives aren't pictured here because I decided to add them after I took the photo. That is truly how the something from nothing style of cooking works. Add as you go.

Dressing

2/3 c Buttermilk
1/2 c Greek yogurt
1 T chives
1 T parsley, chopped
1/2 heaping tsp garlic, crushed  
1/2 t Mustard
2-3 T Parmesan cheese, grated
/2 t lemon zest
1 T lemon juice
1/2 full tsp salt
1/4 t pepper

 

Then combine all the above ingredients, whisking until smooth.  Easy, peasy.

Don't forget to add the grated parm. This harkens back to the Caesar taste.

Don't forget to add the grated parm. This harkens back to the Caesar taste.

Usually, I don't dress my salad until right before serving.  However, due to the heartiness of the leaf, I consider this salad to be more like a slaw which really demands time to let the dressing soak in.  Lovingly pour it over the salad a 1/2 hour before serving, but hold off on adding the shards of parm until right before serving.  Try not to eat too many while you wait.  If you do, just shave some more.

Now here's the part that rockets this recipe to the stars.  Copper 29 served their salad with croutons that were more like heavenly toasts.  Here's my version of those bad boys. 

Ingredients

4-6 thick slices of good crusty bread
3 T butter, room temp softened
1 T Bourbon
1 t Crushed garlic
Sea salt

 

 

 

 

 

In a bowl, mash together garlic, butter and bourbon.  Slather the mixture on both sides of the bread slices.

butter mixture
bread

 Sprinkle with sea salt and grill both sides til beautifully browned.  I use a cast iron pan which does the trick.

Oh the sheer crispy, crustiness soaked with warm bourbon butter. Hello, can you say 3 slices is not enough!

Oh the sheer crispy, crustiness soaked with warm bourbon butter. Hello, can you say 3 slices is not enough!

Sure this bread has butter AND bourbon, but given Kale's super power properties I think it negates any adverse effects from this mighty 'crouton'. 

So enjoy it all, down to the last crumb, as did my guests.  All in all, I was pleased with how this salad turned out.  I think you will enjoy it too.  Thank goodness we can all Hail the Kale without there being a social media scandal.

Recipe Printable Version

 

Salmon Bites with Yogurt Relish

It's no secret, I love to entertain.  For me, it's a wonderful way to gather the friends and family we love. Share food and drink, love and laughter.  When it comes to what to serve, of course, some of my old standby recipes appear.  Why not, they were good the first time and even the second. But admittedly, I try to be adventurous and use these entertaining moments to test out new ideas on my guests.  Fortunately for me, I have a group that is always willing to be just as adventurous in trying and reviewing my creations.  

In a couple of weeks JC and I will be hosting a small gathering and I've been pondering what to make.  Since many of these guests have dined with us before I certainly want to offer up some fresh new nibbles.  And I mean just that; nibbles, since I have decided that this event will be a cocktail/tapas style only.  No formal sit down or particular time to eat.  Just food coming out as it is ready.  This way we can cook, eat, entertain, cook, entertain, eat again.  It also allows for a very informal, free flowing party.  With this style of eating in mind, I want to have finger food or small items that are easy to pick up, put on a plate and mingle around.  I also thought this type of dish could be a useful one as we all are searching for easy ways to entertain during the holidays.

So, as I was sitting quietly one morning several ideas came my way. (I promise I will post the other ideas very soon.)  Normally, I don't test my ideas first.  I just make them and see what happens.  But since my sister and niece were here with us for dinner it seemed like a great opportunity.  My first set of guinea pigs!

So here's the rundown for my test run of seared salmon bites with my own homemade relish concoction for dipping.  

The line up. FYI, those small bowls are from   Miller Pottery  .

The line up. FYI, those small bowls are from Miller Pottery.

Ingredients

Salmon Filet (the amount will depend on the size of your crowd. For this test run I made 1.25 lbs of salmon which would have been enough to serve as an appetizer for 8-10 people with other offerings.)

Relish
1 c Greek Yogurt
2 T Dill Pickles, small dice
2  T Cornichon*, small dice
1.5 T Shallot, mince
2 T Chives, finely chopped
2 T Scallion, thin slices
4 T Cucumber, small dice
1 T Lemon Juice
1/2 t Course Salt

*Cornichon (French, meaning little horn) is a small pickled cucumber. 

Instructions

Cut the salmon into bite size squares, trying to make them as similar as possible.  Salt and pepper them and place them skin side down in a smoking hot cast iron skillet with a touch of oil (the fish will release plenty of their natural oils so you don't need much to get started).  Do not over crowd the pan.  

These will only need 2 minutes or so on each side. Let them get a nice crust.  Remove from the pan and place a on paper towel to soak up some of the oil. Continue cooking all your pieces. These can be made ahead of time and either lightly warmed up before serving or served at room temperature.

For the relish, this is as easy as mince 'em up and stir 'em up.  Cut all the ingredients into small pieces. 

All the little pieces ready and waiting for their yogurt bath: scallions, shallots, chives, olives, capers, cucumber, dill pickles and cornichon

All the little pieces ready and waiting for their yogurt bath: scallions, shallots, chives, olives, capers, cucumber, dill pickles and cornichon

Then with love, stir them into the creamy yogurt adding course salt and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

 

Plate them up and watch them fly off.  
 

Post note: This really does work well as a make ahead dish. I served it on the same night I made it and then again the next night.  I warmed the salmon in the low heat oven, and the relish got even better as all the flavors got super cozy with one another.  Be aware that when searing salmon open the windows and put the stove fan on high, as the smell does permeate the house.

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Salmon Salad... A Deconstructed Platter

As the weather gets warmer the urge to entertain grows.  Well, at least for me.  Although, if you were to ask my husband, he would say my urge to invite guests over is based solely on having free time, weather notwithstanding. He might be right.

Entertaining friends and family is such a treat.  Spending time and sharing food with loved ones, well, that's what living is all about.  However, the trick is to be able to actual spend time when invited guests come.  So entertaining has to be easy.  Look no further, for this recipe delivers a party on a platter. 

Usually, time of day will dictate the menu, as some dishes are clearly for lunch, while others are clearly dinner or breakfast.  Every now and then there are those star recipes that are the ideal crossover dishes.  This platter is one of those dishes.  It was originally devised for a brunch menu that I created last year but look deeper into its serving possibilities.  It's a perfect lunch,  or a summer dinner or simply ideal for a large party, indoors or out.  It's my take on a Niçoise salad but a bit deconstructed and replacing the traditionally used Tuna with Salmon, as I try to avoid Tuna due to high levels of mercury.  

Why I love this dish?  Let me count the ways.  

  • Eighty percent of this can be easily prepped beforehand.  Even the day the before.  
  • It's as simple as cutting up vegetables, roasting the onions and fish and assembling a beautifully abundant platter full of options. 
  • You can use whatever vegetable combinations you have or whatever are your favorites
  • Guests can grab whatever they like to compose their own 'salad' on their plate
  • It's plentiful and fresh...and a gorgeous presentation
  • It's room temperature so it's stress free serving
  • And let's not forget... delicious

INGREDIENTS

 

2 lbs Wild Salmon, roasted
4 c string beans, sauteéd
2 large heirloom tomatoes, cut in thick slices
1/2 c thinly sliced red onion
1/2 English cucumber, sliced
1/2 c Moroccan oil cured black olives
1 c Greek yogurt
2 small yellow onions, cut in thick slices/oven roasted
1 endive, leaves separated
2 T chopped basil
1/4 c dill, minced
Olive oil, salt, pepper
roe, optional
Lemons

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Instructions

In a roasting pan, place the slices of onions, drizzle with the Magic 3 (olive oil, salt & pepper). Roast at 425 degrees, turning once until they are caramelized.  About 30 minutes.  (These can be done ahead of time and left out at room temp before serving, or even slightly warmed up while the salmon is cooking). While the onions are roasting away, sauté the string beans with the Magic 3 to your liking.  I like these with some bite to them.

In a separate roasting pan, place the salmon skin side down. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and add the chopped basil on top.  Bake for 15-20 minutes at 375 degrees.  I do not like dry salmon and prefer to serve medium rare.

Salmon ready for roasting

Salmon ready for roasting

While those are cooking away, prep all the other ingredients.  Thinly slice the red onion, cut the cucumber. Chop the dill and mix it into the yogurt.  Cut the lemon wedges.  Separate the endive leaves.  (Note: all the previous cutting can be done the day before and place in containers or baggies and kept in the fridge.) Once you have all those prepped, you can start assembling your platter by placing all the above items any way you like. For me, I feel color blocking makes an attractive platter.  I like grouping same items together and spreading the color around the plate for visual interest.  I also use small bowls to hold certain items like the olives, roe and yogurt. Remember to leave a space for the star; Salmon.  For a little more pizazz, I use fennel fronds as a base for the salmon. 

All it really takes is some assembling to "deconstruct". 

All it really takes is some assembling to "deconstruct". 

I have made this platter several times now and really do love it's presentation, it's flavors and it's adaptability to any guest.   I have added boiled potatoes or roasted beets to it on occasion which truly makes it a complete meal in and of itself.  This dish can be adapted for a gathering of 4 or a large party of 20.  Deconstructed salad... makes the best building blocks of a great meal.  Get your entertainment apron on start deconstructing.