Ultimate Party Salad

There is a salad that I make for almost every single party, potluck, barbecue, whatever it is that I attend. It’s a sure-fire win for every occasion, it keeps well in the heat (i.e. summer barbecue) and it meets all three of my recipe criteria: easy, healthy, delicious.

So many people have asked me for this recipe over the years (some people more than once, you know who you are), and I thought I’d put it on the blog so I could just point them there from now on. And get in a little shameless self promotion in the process. Ahem.

Finding the recipe was kismet, truthfully. I had just purchased a basil plant from Trader Joe’s for my patio garden, and Real Simple magazine (go subscribe right now, it is amazing) did a spread on cooking with fresh basil. So, I tried it out, and both Huz and I were like THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING THING I HAVE EVER EATEN. I make it for a party and everyone is all, “WHO MADE THIS? RECIPE. NOW.”

Here is the recipe, as taken from Real Simple:

Chicken Salad with Apple and Basil

  • 4 6-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (2-3 limes)
  • 1 tablespoon white wine or rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 4 scallions, white and light green part, thinly sliced
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, diced (peeled if desired)
  • 1/3 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
  1. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Pound it to an even thinness.
  2. Place the chicken in a large saucepan and add water to cover by ½ inch. Add 3 teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon pepper and bring to a gentle simmer.
  3. Cook until no trace of pink remains, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of ice water for 5 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the lime juice, vinegar, and sugar, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the scallions and apples and toss.
  5. Drain, pat dry, and dice the chicken. Add it to the apple mixture with the peanuts, mint, basil, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper.
  6. Toss and divide among individual plates.

Some notes:

This recipe calls for poached chicken breasts. To that I say: NOT IN MY KITCHEN. I mean, if that’s what you have on hand, then by all means. But, I have found that a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store deli or the slow cooker chicken recipe outlined below (cooked in the AM, dismantled in the PM) are far superior. Just shred the meat by hand and add when you would have added the chicken breasts.

Follow directions exactly re: onions and apples. The vinegar and lime juice will help keep the chopped apple from getting brown.

I make this salad (for the adults) when I have snack duty at preschool, and there is a little gal there with a peanut allergy, so I omit the peanuts on those occasions. It still tastes awesome (but the peanuts add a wonderful flavor, so add them if you can!).

I have used both kinds of vinegar, both are great.

I’m sure other apples could stand in here, if that’s what you have on hand. But, the Granny Smiths are absolutely the bomb. The tartness of the apple is a major component, so just make sure it’s a really tart apple.

The salad tastes even better when it sits for a while, so make it ahead of time if you can, and let it sit in the fridge for 8 hours or so.

Just promise me that if we are attending the same party, you won’t bring this salad. Because chances are I’m bringing it too.

The fan-freaking-tastic slow cooker chicken recipe (from this cookbook):

Mexican-Style Lime and Cilantro Whole Chicken

One 3 to 4 pound broiler/fryer chicken

3/4 to 1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

juice of 1 small or 1/2 large lime

1/2 cup fresh cilantro sprigs

2 cloves garlic

1. Wash and dry the chicken thoroughly. Season inside and out with salt and pepper. Place in slow cooker, breast side up. Squeeze the lime juice over the chicken, and put the rinds, cilantro and garlic into the cavity. Cook on LOW 6 to 7 hours.

2. Transfer the chicken to a platter. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and remove/shred the meat. If not using the meat immediately, refrigerate.

Note: I’m petrified of handling raw chicken and eggs, ever since the salmonella. If you’re like me, it helps to have all the other ingredients prepped and at your fingertips so you don’t have to get your germy hands all over the kitchen. Hint: I put the salt and pepper in a little dish.

Happy eating!

The Aformentioned Lime Vinaigrette

By popular demand. (Ok, so just my mom asked, haha). An SF Wankel household classic.

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp sesame oil

2 tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice (about 1 lime)

2 tbsp rice or white wine vinegar

a few grinds salt and pepper

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Pour over salad/pasta/pretty much whatever you want.

I adapted this recipe from making this salad so many times (which is UNBELIEVABLE, make it NOW). But, I have also put it on green salad, quinoa salad, a whole bunch of stuff, it’s very versatile. I tried making it with lemons once, and I didn’t care for it, but some might.

Amazing Slow Cooker Chicken

So, in high school, I worked for a pet store that was in the same building as a veterinarian’s office. Sometimes they would call us over to help out in the clinic, administering meds and stuff. It was so exciting, and I had all these fantasies about becoming a veterinarian myself.

Until the day I sat down in science class with a dead frog in front of me.

Okay, once all the cutting and slicing and dicing is done for me, I can look around at an animal’s insides like none other. Intestines and hearts and kidneys and livers and blood and guts. It’s all very fascinating. But, cut open the animal? Even a dead one? No thanks. No siree. Nope.

So, as domestic as I claim to be sometimes, I’m leap years behind some because until this afternoon, I had never touched a whole raw chicken. Not even once.

But, I got this great new cookbook, and there are all these delicious sounding recipes that call for whole roasters or broilers. And finally I was like, WTF I AM GOING TO TRY THIS. AAAAAAAAAH (Imagine a pro football player after a locker room pep talk).

Directions said: Rinse with cold water and pat dry. Remove neck and giblets. I am immediately turned off by the neck. But, I remove it with a knife, and a little gagging. Then, unbeknownst to me, this chicken was sans giblets. However, I did not want to stick my hand in to retrieve them, so I did not find this out for oh, about 15 minutes. I tried to dig them out with a spoon, I tried to rinse them out with the water, and finally I got the balls to shine a flashlight inside the cavity (yes, yes I did). And after 5 minutes or so on the Interwebz, I determined that my chicken had no giblets. Okay.

After that, aside from the creepy way that the wing and leg joints still work making the chicken seem a wee bit alive when you’re rinsing it, the rest was a piece of cake. Here’s the amazing recipe that I tried for you to give a go yourself. Bear in mind (only because I cluelessly did not know) the chicken will be falling apart when all is said and done. And, ahem, it will be DELICIOUS.

Slow Cooker Lemon Chicken with Potatoes and Mushrooms

From: Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook

One 3 or 4 pound broiler or fryer whole chicken

2 cubes chicken bouillon

1/2 large lemon or 1 small lemon

1/4 tsp paprika

3 tbsp minced fresh flat leaf parsley

2 medium or 1 large onion, cut into wedges

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tbsp soy sauce

salt and pepper

6 to 12 small gold potatoes (Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold), unpeeled

6 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced thick

1. Rinse and dry chicken well, cut off large lumps of fat. Put one bouillon cube in the cavity. Squeeze the lemon juice into a dish and reserve. place the lemon rinds in the cavity. Place the chicken in the slow cooker, breast side up. Sprinkle with the paprika and parsley. Place onion wedges and garlic around the chicken. Pour the soy sauce and lemon juice over the chicken, then season with the salt and pepper to taste. Crumble the other bouillon cube over the chicken. Place the potatoes and mushrooms on top. Cover and cook on HIGH 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours, or LOW 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 hours, or until a thermometer reads 180 F at the thickest part of the thigh.

(The cookbook insists that the flavor is superior if you are able to cook it on HIGH for less time, but I cooked it on LOW and it was pretty freaking amazing.)

2. Discard lemon rinds and portion the mushrooms, potatoes, onions and chicken in shallow bowls or on plates. Discard skin and bones, reserving for another use if desired.

Okay, now I am the domestic goddess I once claimed. (Except, um, I still have not made my own stock. Stay tuned.)

Beth’s Picks: Zhena’s Gypsy Coconut Chai Tea

We live in one of the coldest places on earth now: the Sunset district. Ok, I may be exaggerating a little, but it is pretty foggy and chilly out here for a good part of the year. I was so depressed to leave sunny Potrero Hill, but alas. They just want too much money for that sun.

But, I think we’re settling in ok. I’m the weird kind of gal that would much rather put on a sweatshirt and make a nice hot cup of tea than sweat to death on some beach. So I suppose this is really the perfect place for me.

I drank a lot of tea before, but now I’m drinking probably 5 or 6 cups a day, especially when I’m powering away at my desk. For everyday cups of tea, I usually stick to the basic Earl Grey, but when it’s really cold and I need a little treat, I like to throw something a little more exotic in the mix for a change.

I recently stumbled upon Zhena teas, and let me tell you what, people. The coconut chai flavor is out of this freaking world. The coconut provides a smooth, tropical flair and the chai warms you up from the inside out. You would swear you were sipping tea in some remote Indian street market or something. Absolutely hands down the best chai I have ever tasted, and I mean that. It becomes a luscious treat with milk and honey but is also still spectacular on its own.

And sometimes with a fruity or sweet tea, the fruit or sweet flavor is just too much. Not so with this tea. There is just the slightest hint of coconut, but enough that you can still taste it. Amazing.

If you’re a tea lover like me and you also like the spicy warmth of a good cup of chai, you gotta get your hands on this stuff! So good!

Best Mac and Cheese

I made a new, very terrible macaroni and cheese recipe last night.  In honor of its colossal failure as a dish, I thought I’d post my favorite macaroni and cheese recipe.  To give credit where credit is due, this is adapted from a recipe that was clipped some time ago from an issue of Everyday With Rachel Ray (say what you will about the woman, but her recipes are genius).

You’ll notice quickly that the mac and cheese sets on a bed of broccoli, which is incredible and a really great way to eat it, but I have been known on a decadent day or two to leave it out.  Also, it says serves 4, but I think it’s more like 6 or 8, so feel free to half the recipe if there’s just a few of you eating it.

Baked Macaroni and Cheddar

1 large bunch broccoli, cut into bite size florets (stems cubed)

1 pound elbow macaroni

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup finely chopped shallots

3 tablespoons flour

3 cups milk

1/2 cup cream (optional, you can use more milk instead)

3 tablespoons cornstarch

12 ounces cheddar, shredded or cubed

1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

salt and pepper

3 tablespoons bread crumbs

Fill a pot with enough water to cover the broccoli. Bring to a boil, add the broccoli, cook for 1 minute and drain. Rinse with cold water. Grease a 9×13 inch baking dish and add the broccoli in an even layer. Use the pot again to cook the macaroni. Drain.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In the same pot, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until soft, 3 minutes. Stir in the flour for 1 minute.

Whisk in 1 cup of milk until it gets thick, then whisk in 1 cup more. Whisk the cornstarch into the remaining 1 cup of milk and ½ cup of cream and then whisk that mixture into the pot. Simmer until the mixture thickens, just a few minutes.

Lower the heat and add the cheddar and parmesan, stir until the cheese melts. Season with the salt and pepper. Stir in the pasta. Spoon this mixture over the broccoli.

In a small microwave safe bowl, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Stir in the bread crumbs. Sprinkle on top of the mac and cheese.

Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.