Chicken Salad by Cynthia Raub

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chicken salad recipe with croissants and crackers

Is there anything to dislike about chicken salad? Unless you are a vegetarian or vegan, or you don't care for mayonnaise (Amy . . . ), what is there not to love? Tender supple chicken accompanied by a crisp crunch of celery, a little sweetness from the fruit of choice, all brought together by a delicate mayonnaise dressing. Ahhh! Sounds like the perfect lunch or snack to me. I love sandwiches because they deliver the perfect bite and I especially have a thing for loosely filled sandwiches. I'm always looking for more recipes to make that keep well, and are easy to make larger quantities without much more work. This is one of those recipes and I promise it will be a crowd favorite, unless the crowd is vegetarian or hates mayonnaise (Amy . . . ).

Notes: This recipe requires a fair amount of chopping, but it comes together in a cinch. It involves very little to no cooking, depending on what chicken you choose to use. In a pinch, you can always shred chicken from a store-bought rotisserie bird or you can buy prepared chicken meat; however, I would strongly suggest you try the simple poaching method, (recipe below,) to get tender chicken and a delicious broth simultaneously with hardly any extra work. The grapes in this recipe can also be substituted with other fruit such as diced green apple or dried cranberries. I love chicken salad on a croissant because, why not? But, it's also a dream on sliced white bread, a simple roll, or on crackers.

Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 cups

1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup mayo
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/3 cup red onion, finely diced
1/2 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped
3 cups (about 2 pounds) poached chicken, diced (Recipe Below)
1/2 cup celery, small dice
3/4 cups grapes, halved

In a small bowl, make the dressing by combining lemon zest, lemon juice, mayonnaise, salt, black pepper, sugar and parsley. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine red onion, pecans, chicken, celery, and grapes. Pour dressing over chicken and stir to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning. 

Serve as a sandwich on a roll, croissant or sliced bread; or with crackers as a light side or appetizer.

Poached Chicken

2 pounds chicken breast (about 3 moderately sized breasts)
1/2 carrot
1 celery rib
1/2 onion
10 parsley stems
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon salt

Place chicken in a large pot and cover with water by 1 inch. Scatter carrot, celery, onion, parsley stems and peppercorns on top. Season with salt. 

Turn heat to medium high and bring the pot to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 3 minutes, then turn off the heat and cover the pot with a tight fitting lid. Set aside and allow chicken to finish cooking in the hot liquid. Leave the chicken to cool in the pot, about 1 hour. 

Remove chicken and dice into 1/2 pieces. Strain liquid from vegetables for a beautiful and easy broth.

Easy Chocolate Pudding by Cynthia Raub

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I vacillate between having absolutely no self control to annoyingly smug and proud for my saint-like restraint. It's black or white and there is no grey. I either have self control or I don't. This is why you normally won't find cookies, ice cream or any other sweet treat in my home. My smug self feels superior for not caving in at the store and buying yummy and delectable treats at the store. The reason I don't keep treats in the house is because if I have them, I will eat all of them. Not one, not a few - ALL. This is where my self control fails me. But after my kids go to bed, I open my sad pantry doors, and I am disappointed that there are no yummy sweets for me to indulge in. This has lead to some desperate alternatives. A handful of chocolate chips? I've done it. A spoonful of Nutella? On the reg. Cinnamon sugar toast? I'm a child, I know.

But ever since I made this easy and fast chocolate pudding from pantry staples, my late nights have been a little less sad and disappointing. This pudding comes together in 15 minutes because of the cornstarch. Cornstarch doesn't have the best reputation, but it's just as "natural" as refined flour or sugar. I love to use cornstarch in my Korean Green Onion and Seafood Pancakes (Pa Jun) to lighten the pancake batter. For this recipe, the cornstarch thickens your pudding beautifully and easily. This recipe is also very versatile, as you can switch the milk from whole to skim, or an alternative milk. You can omit the cocoa to make a vanilla pudding or omit the generous portion of butter to health-ify things a little. Chocolate pudding can be made ahead and kept for several days, or it can be made on the fly to satisfy an immediate craving. I love that it's easy to transport (especially to a picnic with a summery bean salad) and doesn't require any extraneous kitchen equipment.

Notes: Although this recipe is very straightforward, it does implement one important cooking technique: tempering. Tempering is the process in which you heat an egg mixture slowly with a hot milk mixture. Adding hot milk to eggs will heat the eggs without cooking them, in order to develop the custard. The egg in this recipe helps to thicken the pudding and brings an overall richness to each bite but must be cooked and introduced to the recipe properly. If too much heat is introduced to the eggs too quickly, the eggs will scramble and curdle, leaving the mixture inedible and unusable.

If you are looking to cool your chocolate pudding quickly, (maybe you're pressed for time or maybe you have no self control . . . ) cover a rimmed baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap. Spread the chocolate pudding evenly to increase the surface area of the pudding, and cover the top of the pudding with another sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap. Placing the parchment paper or plastic wrap directly on top of the pudding prevents the rubbery pudding skin from forming. If you find that your pudding it too firm or gelatinous for your liking once it's been cooled, you can put it in a mixer with the whisk attachment to lighten it up.

Time: 15 minutes active + cooling time
Yield: 3 cups

3 egg yolks
1/3 cup cornstarch
3 cups whole milk (divided)
3/4 sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
2 tablespoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter
Optional: cookie crumbs and/or whipped cream for garnish

In a large bowl, combine egg yolks, cornstarch and 1/2 cup of milk. Whisk until frothy and until the cornstarch has been fully incorporated.

In a non-reactive medium pot on medium heat, combine remaining milk, sugar and cocoa. Whisk until combined and bring to a simmer, allowing to simmer for 3 minutes.

Remove pot from heat and with a ladle, slowly stream 1/4 cup of hot cocoa liquid into the large bowl containing the egg and cornstarch mixture, whisking to disperse the hot liquid. (In my photo I did not use a ladle- I poured the hot cocoa liquid directly from the pot, which I would not advise). Continue to add hot liquid in a thin stream to the egg mixture slowly, while whisking constantly, until the egg mixture has been tempered (see Notes above).

Once combined, pour back into the pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking occasionally. Once thickened and glossy after coming to a boil, turn off heat and transfer to a clean, heat proof bowl and place plastic wrap or parchment paper directly onto the top of the pudding. Chill in the refrigerator and serve, garnishing with cookie crumbs and/or whipped cream. (See Notes above for a rapid cooling tip!)

Two Bean Summer Salad by Amy Cantu

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Once a quarter, I eagerly await my next shipment of beans from the Rancho Gordo Bean Club. When I hear the loud thud of the box hitting my doorstep, I run out and rip the box open to take stock of what beautiful bean goodies have arrived - I'm never disappointed. Rancho Gordo grows heirloom bean varietals that might otherwise go extinct, since grocery store beans have become so limited and homogenous. I never knew how glorious beans could be before I cooked up my first batch of Rancho Gordo beans. There are so many different kinds with varying colors, textures, sizes, and flavor. Some varieties cook up big, sturdy and meaty, while others are petite, melty, and creamy. Also, these beans don't take forever to cook because they haven't been sitting on warehouse shelves for years and years. I held a bag of scarlet runner beans in my hands and admired their deep eggplant purple sheen with violet speckles and streaks - so beautiful. I knew these scarlet runner beans were destined for a bean salad that would celebrate summer. An overnight soak and hour-long cook rendered the beans plump and substantial with creamy centers, ready to soak up a bright, vibrant dressing. Tossed with summery green beans, ripe tomatoes, and sweet corn, this Two Bean Summer Salad has lots of fun textures and is hearty enough to be a main course. Tote this bean salad along for a picnic alongside a few cups of easy chocolate pudding, and you'll remember why sometimes the ordinary can really be spectacular. Happy summer!

Notes: I can't encourage you enough to seek out quality dried beans and cook them up yourself, but I know that sometimes we're in a pinch, and we just need to pull a meal together. Feel free to substitute two cans of beans, drained, and rinsed for the beans in this recipe, if you are short on time (red kidney beans or cannelini beans will work).

Just like with Broccoli Cooked Forever or in a good Caesar Salad dressing, even if you're not an anchovy fan, I promise that you won't taste them or anything fishy in the final salad. The anchovies lend a deep, savory flavor that is really delicious in the dressing.

Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes (or 30 minutes, if using canned beans)
Serves: 6-8

1 1/2 cups dried scarlet runner beans (or other dried runner bean), soaked overnight and drained (about 4 - 4 1/2 cups cooked)
1/2 pound green beans, ends trimmed, and cut into thirds
3 ears corn, shucked
2 large tomatoes, watery seeds removed, 1/3" dice
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly round pepper
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 anchovies, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup basil, slivered or torn into small pieces
 4 stalks green onion, thinly sliced

In a stockpot or french oven, combine beans with enough water to cover beans by 2 inches (about 6 cups). Bring to boil for 5 minutes, then reduce heat to low, and simmer partially covered, until tender - about 1 hour. Drain and rinse under cold water until beans are cool. Transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to boil. Prepare an ice water bath by combining water and a few handfuls of ice in a large bowl. Blanch green beans in the boiling water for 2 minutes or until crisp tender, then scoop out the beans with a slotted spoon or strainer and plunge into the ice water. Add cooled green beans to the scarlet runner beans.

Next put the corn into the boiling water, reduce heat to medium low, and cook for 5 minutes. Add another handful of ice to the water bath, and plunge the cooked corn into the icy water to cool. Stand an ear of corn flat side down on a large cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut the kernels from the corn cob. Transfer corn kernels into the bowl with the beans and repeat with remaining corn.

Add diced tomatoes, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, mustard, garlic, anchovies, and olive oil to the salad and mix well. Taste and add additional salt and pepper to adjust seasoning. Sprinkle slivered basil and green onions over the salad and lightly toss to combine. Serve immediately.

Pesto Pasta Salad with Roasted Tomatoes by Amy Cantu

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The first time I ever made a Pesto Pasta Salad with store bought pesto, I thought, really? This is it? I was underwhelmed and disappointed because I was looking forward to luscious pesto coating hot, long strands of pasta. The pasta was too firm, (even though I cooked the pasta to al dente,) with only a hint of basil, and it just tasted flat. This recipe for Pesto Pasta Salad with Roasted Tomatoes is not altogether different from that first attempt, but it tastes worlds apart. THIS pesto salad is a glorious celebration of summer, and the difference is all in the details. I made my own pesto sauce (instead of store-bought) using fresh basil. I toasted the pine nuts to bring out their nutty flavor. Beautiful summer cherry tomatoes were roasted to make them taste like candied tomatoes, without adding any sugar. I made sure to check the seasoning and add more salt before serving, to keep the flavors tasting bright and savory. Milky fresh mozzarella provided nuggets of soft, creamy flavor and texture. Each pesto-infused bite of pasta was a revelation in my mouth, with big, bold basil flavor. I was very, very happy.

Notes: I beg you to try making your own pesto at least once, (as in this recipe,) before deciding to use the store-bought kind. I have definitely used store-bought before for convenience, but when I developed this recipe, I did a side-by-side comparison of freshly made pesto vs. the store-bought pesto, and the fresh pesto blew my mind. Really. The difference was huge, and if you have a food processor or blender, fresh pesto only takes a few minutes to make. 

I have been overcooking my pasta for pasta salad by a minute or two ever since I read this post on Serious Eats about how pasta gets stiffer when it cools, so over-cooking the pasta a bit for pasta salad is great because it keeps the texture from getting too firm.

Pine nuts are at least half of what makes pesto so darn good, but I realize they are pricey. You can substitute half or all of the pine nuts for walnuts, and it will be a suitable substitution.

This Pesto Pasta Salad alongside Cynthia's Mediterranean Turkey Burgers and Mustardy Potato Salad makes an amazing barbecue. Adding shredded or diced chicken would also make this the perfect light summer meal, rather than a side.

Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 8-10

1 pound cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon plus 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided use
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup pine nuts, divided use
1 pound farfalle (bow tie) pasta
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
4 cups basil leaves, packed (about 5 ounces)
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 cup green onions, thinly sliced
pound fresh mozzarella, cut (or torn) into 1-inch piece

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine cherry tomatoes and 1 tablespoon olive oil on a rimmed sheet pan. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Roast tomatoes for 20-25 minutes, until tomatoes are soft and releasing some of its juice. Let cool.

Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Place pine nuts on a rimmed sheet pan, and toast in oven until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Let cool.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Stir in pasta, and adjust heat to maintain a low boil. Cook for two minutes longer than the package instructions. Drain and rinse pasta in cold water until the pasta is no longer warm.

Make pesto: Combine 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts, parmesan, basil leaves, and garlic in a food processor or blender. Process until a paste is formed, stopping to scrape the container down as needed. With the motor running, drizzle in 1 cup olive oil, and process until the oil is fully incorporated and pesto is smooth.

In a large mixing bowl, combine pasta, pesto, chopped parsley, sliced green onions, and remaining toasted pine nuts until pasta is evenly coated. Add half of the roasted tomatoes and half the mozzarella and toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional salt and freshly ground pepper. Pour pasta salad into a large serving bowl, and arrange the remaining tomatoes and mozzarella on top. Serve at room temperature.

Rice Salad With Nuts and Sour Cherries by Cynthia Raub

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rice salad with nuts and sour cherries

I love me a rice salad. A bit ago, I cooked a Korean meal for us complete with Seafood and Green Onion Pancake (Pa Jun) and a Soft Tofu Stew (Soondoobu Jjigae). Bi Bim Bap is also a traditional Korean dish with rice, various barely-cooked vegetables and topped with an egg. I like to describe Bi Bim Bap as a rice salad dressed with a browned and runny egg. This is what attracted me so much to this recipe: the various textures, temperatures and flavors make for an elegant statement dish. Ottolenghi' rice salad is nutty from the rice and quinoa, crunchy and rich from two kinds of nuts, and has a surprising subtle sweetness courtesy of the cherries and browned onions. Finished with herbs and spicy arugula for brightness, it's a wonderful side dish to practically anything.

Notes: This recipe yields a staggering amount of food. As written, it is at least 8 if not 12 generous servings. Tart dried cherries may be cumbersome to acquire, so I think that dried cranberries or even dried apricot would be complementary substitutes. This is a wonderful dish to bring to a potluck or a holiday gathering because of its versatility and because it makes such a large amount.

Scant 1 cup/150 g wild rice
Scant 1 1/4 cup/220 g basmati rice
5 1/2 tbsp/80 ml olive oil
2/3 cup/100 g quinoa
6 1/2 tbsp/60 g almonds, skins on, coarsely chopped
7 tbsp/60 g pine nuts
1/4 cup/60 ml sunflower oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced (about 3 cups/320 g)
1 cup/30 g flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup/20 g basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup/10 g tarragon leaves, coarsely chopped
2 cups/40 g arugula
2/3 cup/80 g dried sour cherries
1/4 cup/60 ml lemon juice, plus the grated zest of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and black pepper

Place the wild rice in a saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil, and then turn down to a gentle simmer and cook for 35 minutes, until the rice is cooked but still firm. Drain, rinse under cold water, and set aside to dry.

Mix the basmati rice with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Place in a saucepan with 1 1/3 cups/ 330 ml of boiling water, cover, and cook over the lowest possible heat for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, place a tea towel over the pan, replace the lid, and set aside for 10 minutes. Uncover and allow to cool down completely.

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil and add the quinoa. Cook for 9 minutes, then drain into a fine sieve, refresh under cold water, and set aside.

Place the almonds and pine nuts in a small pan with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Transfer to a small plate as soon as the pine nuts begin to color and set aside.

Heat the sunflower oil in a large sauté pan and add the onions, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and some black pepper. Cook over high heat for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring often, so that parts of the onion get crisp and others just soft. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Place all the grains in a large bowl along with the chopped herbs, arugula, fried onion, nuts, and sour cherries. Add the lemon juice and zest, the remaining 3 1/2 tbsp olive oil, the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and some pepper. Mix well and set aside for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Swedish Meatballs by Cynthia Raub

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swedish meatballs

My two daughters had preschool potlucks on consecutive days - one in the morning and one in the afternoon. What could I cook that would work for both mealtimes? I wanted to bring something that: I could cook in bulk, was not very costly, could be prepared in advance, and was easy for preschoolers and standing parents to eat. Swedish meatballs were perfect! They are bite-sized and dense, making them an easy to serve and eat finger food. Not to mention, they are a preschooler’s favorite color of food: brown (see: crackers, toast, peanut butter, chocolate…). To make things interesting, I decided to quadruple the recipe to have generous portions for the two preschool parties, enough to freeze for my family and a bag for Amy.

Notes: In this recipe, I decided to shallow fry the meatballs to keep their beautiful round shape intact. This method is not for everyone, or for every occasion, but I was happy with the results. Alternatively, you can bake the meatballs at 350 degrees for 18-24 minutes; either directly on a baking sheet/baking pan or on a wire rack, so the fat can drip down. There are pros and cons to shallow frying and baking, but a big pro of baking is that you can scrape the little fatty bits from the pan into the gravy to make it extra delicious!

Also, this recipe calls for sweated onions, but I decided to cook half of the onion and keep half of the onion raw. I liked how the cooked onion lent a small amount of sweetness in a bite, but I loved how the raw onion cut through the beef flavor. The allspice and nutmeg in this recipe were so subtle that I think these meatballs are highly adaptable to numerous uses and cuisines. The spices are traditional for Swedish meatballs, but the gravy is what made it so. One night, my husband threw a dozen frozen meatballs into a vegetable soup for dinner and the allspice and nutmeg were almost undetectable. Amy used them in a completely different way, too, in her Meatballs with Tomato Sauce and Polenta.

Time: 1 hour
Servings: 30 2 oz meatballs, around 6 portions
Adapted from: Alton Brown, Swedish Meatball Recipe

For the Meatballs
3 cups of cubed white bread, crusts removed
1/2 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon kosher salt (plus more to taste)
1.5 pounds ground beef (I used 92% lean and 8% fat)
1.5 pounds ground pork
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 oz canola oil

For the Gravy
3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
Splash of Worcestershire or soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Parsley, finely chopped- optional for garnish
1/4 cup sour cream, optional, to finish the gravy

Place bread in a small bowl, pour milk over and mix, set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan over medium heat. Add half of the onion (1/2 cup) and sweat until the onions are translucent and soft. Remove onions from the pan and set aside to cool.

In a stand mixer bowl, combine the bread and milk mixture, ground beef, pork, egg yolks, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, black pepper, allspice, nutmeg, raw onions, and cooked onions. Mix until very well combined and the meat has become sticky and homogenous. Using a 2-ounce cookie scoop, portion, and then roll each meatball with your hands and place on a sheet pan.

In a 12" straight edge saute pan, heat oil to 250 degrees. Add the meatballs in small batches and fry until golden brown on all sides, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove the meatballs to cooling rack with a slotted spoon or tongs.

In a medium saucepan, melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat until foamy. Whisk in flour and cook until raw flour smell is gone and the mixture is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in chicken stock and bring it to a boil. Once at a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 3 minutes. Whisk in a splash of soy sauce (or Worcestershire) and acid. Season with salt and white pepper. If you are feeling sassy, stir in 1/4 cup of sour cream to give the gravy a beautiful creamy look and tangy flavor.

Add meatballs to gravy and stir to coat. Simmer until meatballs are heated through. Garnish with chopped parsley!