Culinary Quest #13 – Chicken & Grape Salad

There is something really fresh about chicken salad.  It screams summer!  The only bummer is the nutrition factor which gets shot out of the water with mayonnaise.  😦 I discovered a mayo-less version in Dean & Deluca, but was very skeptical – so I bought some out of curiousty.  Wow!  It was so good!  I had to be convinced…and I was.

Below is my version of chicken & grape salad.  Although consideration needs to be given to refrigeration due to the chicken content, without the mayo I am a little more relieved when taking it to picnics, parties, etc.

The citrus really makes this salad pop, but it doesn’t dominate the flavor.  Also, when shopping, look for firm grapes.  Too soft and it makes the salad texture mushy.  The celery is the crunch; the chicken is the soft; and the grapes are the Goldilocks – just right in the middle.

This cool, summer salad can be served in a bowl on its own, or on a croissant, in a pita or between slices of bread.  The photo above shows this salad with hearty sourdough.

The vinaigrette makes more than enough for this recipe.  Depending on your preference, save some vinaigrette for later (great on lettuce salads or as a marinade) or use it to wet the salad almost like a citrus au jus.  Either way, it’s this easy recipe is a great way to beat the summer heat.  Enjoy!

Chicken & Grape Salad

Ingredients:

3              Chicken breasts

3c            Red grapes

4              Celery stalks

1/4c         Italian (a.k.a. flat) parsley; diced

salt, pepper, and herbs de provence to taste for the chicken

Citrus Vinaigrette

*****************************************************************************************

Citrus Vinaigrette:

2T           rice vinegar

4T           fresh squeezed lemon juice w/ pulp

7T           frozen orange juice concentrate

4T           canola oil

2T           granular sugar

1/2t          salt

1/4t       pepper

Directions:

Trim fat from chicken and rinse under water.

Bake seasoned chicken in a foil-lined baking dish in oven @ 350 for 20 minutes or until done (do not over cook or it will dry out).  OR, boil in a large pot on the stove until done.  (Boiled will produce a milder flavor.)  When I bake, I use a dish that squishes the chicken close together so it doesn’t dry out.

While the chicken cools, prep the grapes and celery (wash first, then cut in large pieces).  Chop parsley.

Make the vinaigrette.

While chicken is still warm, cut into cubes.

Toss everything together in a large bowl. (The warm chicken helps absorb the vinaigrette.)

Let it sit several hours or overnight before serving.  Stir well before serving.

Culinary Quest #6 – Pasta Marinara with Parmesan Panko Chicken

Chow!  It’s time for our weekly culinary quest!  Last week we cooked up cool couscous salad.  This week we travel to Italy for food so good all you’ll need to go with it is a nap, seriously.

One of my favorite things in the whole wide world of food is quality marinara.  However, I cannot stomach paying exorbitant restaurant prices for simple noodles and sauce.  On the other hand, I find store-bought, jarred sauce to be mass-produced tasting with undesirable ingredients lurking on the label.  So I set out on a quest to make it myself.

My husband says the same thing every time after this meal, I need a nap.  My teen son calls it a tranquilizer dart dinner for the same reason. 🙂

Two things to mentions about this recipe:  #1 – The sauce is thick.  That’s because, when serving a breaded meat like chicken with a runny sauce, the breading gets soggy.  Eww.  This thick sauce leaves the chicken alone and makes for a nice crunch of chicken with every bite.

#2 – Speaking of crunch, the reason why I cut the chicken into strips is the crunch to chicken ratio.  I could’ve left the chicken breast whole, but for one, that’s a lot of chicken!, and two, there isn’t much crunch.  Cutting it into strips makes the chicken go farther (yeah! economical!) and there is more panko to enjoy.  All this talk is making me hungry, so let’s get to it!

This recipe isn’t difficult to make.  Just know you’ll have 3 things cooking at the same time. 🙂

Pasta Marinara with Parmesan Panko Chicken

Serves 6-8

1#                           box thin spaghetti

4                              boneless/skinless chicken breasts

1/2c                       flour

2                            eggs

1box                      Italian Panko bread crumbs

1/4t                        black pepper

1t                            garlic powder (not garlic salt)

1/2c                       parmesan cheese; grated (or Romano)

2 x 28oz cans        petite diced tomatoes; slightly drained

12oz                       tomato paste

6                            fresh garlic cloves; crushed

1 bunch                  fresh basil; chopped

2t                            dried oregano

1/4t                        salt  (plus more for the pasta water)

4T                           olive oil (plus more for frying)

Sauce:

In a large skillet, empty both cans of tomatoes (slightly drained) & tomato paste.  Add 2T olive oil, crushed garlic, salt, oregano & basil.  Stir until blended.

Cook on medium, stirring to prevent scorching, until water from tomatoes cooks off and sauce thickens.  Let this simmer covered on low, stirring occasionally, while chicken and noodles are being prepared.

Chicken:

Pour flour into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag.

Crack eggs in gallon Ziploc bag, mush the bag until mixed.

Pour box of Panko, parmesan cheese, pepper and garlic powder into another gallon Ziploc bag.  Shake together.

Rinse chicken under water.  Trim any fat.  Cut each chicken breast into 4 strips.

Coat the chicken fillets, one at a time: first in the flour, then the egg, then shake egg-coated chicken in Panko bag.

Place chicken on a lightly greased, foil covered 9×13 dish.

Bake @ 350 20 minutes until done.

Remove chicken and place in hot skillet (4-6 at a time) with olive oil.  Fry all sides using a Diavola press.  If you do not have a Diavola press, try using the bottom of a clean, weighty sauce pan.  The frying only takes a couple of minutes because the chicken is already cooked.

Pasta:

Cook box of spaghetti noodles al dente (10 min in boiling, salted water).  Drain, mix with 2T olive oil to keep noodles from sticking together.

On plate- layer noodles, then sauce, then Panko chicken on top.

Buon Appetito!

Here, the chicken is raw.  I put the chicken strips in a slightly greased 9×13 dish so they are close together and won’t dry out in the oven.

Just enough hot olive oil to fry

Almost done!

Time to enjoy!

Culinary Quest #4 – Greek Chicken Salad

I have always dreamed of being a part of a huge Greek or Italian family.  You know, ten brothers and sisters and so many cousins you can’t name them all. (Okay, I’m exaggerating, but you get the point!)  And, I love Greek and Italian food!  Honestly, I think there must be someone in my ancestry who is one or the other, but we’ve yet to discover them.  So to get that big family feel, I love to cook Greek and Italain food.  Today…we’re going Greek!

Below is my version of Dean & Deluca’s salad that is oh so good!  Beware…this is not a quick prep.  It takes a little time, but every minute of labor rewards you with a dense, full-bodied flavor that zings your taste buds.  It’s not difficult at all, just prepping the the veggies takes a little time.

This salad is a hearty meal in itself, and only needs tea and a pita pocket to stuff it into!

The work pays it forward because you get 12 full servings out of this delectable dish!  If you’d like, you can half the ingredients for a smaller portion.  Either way, it’s fresh, healthy and totally savory & delicious.  My teenage son picked this, of all things, for his lunches this week.  Score one for a seasoned palette!

This salad is great to take to a picnic, work or block party.  Enjoy!

Kristi’s Chicken Greek Salad

(yields 12 cups)

Ingredients:  

4          Chicken breasts; cooked (w/salt & pepper, garlic powder & Italian seasoning), cooled & chopped

1c        Pepperoncini peppers; hulled & chopped

1 med  Red onion; chopped

10 oz    Sun-dried tomatoes; jarred in oil; drained & thinly sliced

3c        Artichoke hearts; drained & chopped

1c        Kalamata olives; pitted & diced

1          Cucumber; peeled, quartered & chopped

1T        Oregano

1c        Italian (a.k.a. flat) parsley; fresh, diced (about 1 bunch)

1          Lemon zest; whole large lemon

1c        Feta; crumbled

Feta vinaigrette (see below)

 

          Feta Vinaigrette

1/2c    Canola oil

4T        Rice vinegar

2T        Shallots; finely diced

1/8t     Black pepper

1t         Oregano

1t         Thyme

3/4c     Feta; reduced fat; crumbled

1oz       Lemon juice; fresh

2t         Lemon zest; fresh

1/8t     salt

2          garlic cloves; fresh & pressed

Directions: 

Bake seasoned chicken in preheated oven @ 350 for about 20min or until done.  Set aside to cool.

While chicken is cooking, prepare remaining ingredients (except vinaigrette) in a large bowl. (Tip – to hull the pepperoncini, simply pull on the stem and the entire middle should slide right out.)

Once chicken has cooled, dice and add to bowl.

Make vinaigrette and toss everything together.

Cover and marinate several hours or overnight before serving. Can be made a day ahead. Before serving, using a large spoon, stir it well so the vinaigrette is mixed well in the salad.  Serve chilled with pita bread or baguette.