Monday, April 4, 2011

Homemade Chicken Salad & New Books ~

Lately, I've been cooking much the old days, and really feeling the creative juices starting to flow once again. Part of the inspiration I must say, is due to the awesome package of new gluten-free and regular cook books that good old Amazon delivered to me the other day. There is just something so special about opening up a package of books, smelling that new-paper-smell, and diving into each cover like it's a gift just waiting to be discovered under the Christmas tree. Some of these books I've had sitting in my "shopping cart" just waiting for the right time, while others I've discovered more recently through on-line reading.

I've followed BabyCakes NYC success since they opened in Manhattan a number of years ago, founded by Erin McKenna. I have to say, I'm a little envious of her rise to success, having always wanted to open my own gluten-free bakery. The great news is they now have locations in Los Angeles too, so shipping their yummy treats is much easier and less expensive. Erin's cookbook titled after the shop, "BabyCakes" is mostly vegan but does have quite a few gluten free goodies to make and eat - I really can't wait to delve into this pretty little book and start baking away. The next time I'm in NYC, BabyCakes is one of the fist stops on my list!

The other gluten-free lovely that arrived is titled, "Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free," by baker Karen Morgan. I love this hard back for its gorgeous photos and perfect size, along with what look like some really delicious and mouth-watering treats. The recipe that really caught my eye, being the huge lemon fan that I am, was the lemon and rosemary buttermilk cookies with lemon icing...delish!

Moving away from strictly gluten-free, I am anxious to sit down with a nice cup of tea after work and dive into "Urban Pantry," by Amy Pennington. I first learned of this book from Gwyneth Paltrow's blog, GOOP, where she listed some of her favorite cookbooks. There's even a article out by the Christian Science Monitor regarding how Ms. Paltrow's mention of this insightful book helped it reach such success...and though I would love to hate her (just kidding), I can't...she's too cool and shares too many of the same joys and pleasures in life that I do, which is hence, why I also bought her inaugural cook book that was just released titled, "My Father's Daughter."

After work the other night, I nestled up with my favorite tea and literally read every single page of this beautiful book. I was especially moved by a certain page where Gwyneth paid tribute to her father and reflected upon a special dinner they shared together, their last, in Tuscany. I've shared a similar moment with my father, though thankfully, not my last. The love and admiration that she radiates towards her father is exactly how I feel about my amazing dad and in that moment, I had tears in my eyes...and yes, my stomach was growling, as well. It's a well-done book with a great layout and really interesting, fun recipes that even we "non-celeb" cooks can put together in our not-so-glam kitchens.

So there you have it...some great reading and creative, yummy dishes and desserts to inspire and feed. This week I decided on a whim to create a homemade chicken salad. I had an idea in mind because really, how tough can this dish be, right? But I wanted to create something with a tangy flavor that was nutritious and organic.

This dish would make for a great summer salad and definitely can feed a larger group when you just double the ingredient list. I even ate the leftovers for lunch the next day and the flavors were still fresh.

Homemade Chicken Salad ~
Serves 4

- 1 Head of red butter leaf lettuce

- 1/2 Cup of red seedless grapes

- 3 Large organic chicken breasts, or 4 medium

- 1/2 Cup of feta cheese

- 1/4 Cup of fresh walnuts, halved

- 1 Small Jar of Best Foods Mayonnaise(it's GF) - Will use two measurements

- 1/2 Cup of favorite Dijon mustard

- 4 Sprigs of fresh rosemary

- 1/4 Tsp. dill

- 1/4 Tsp. garlic salt

- 1/4 Cup Balsamic vinegar (which ever brand you love)or white wine vinegar

- 1/4 Cup Olive oil (I love Spanish oils but any you love will do)

- Pinches of sea salt and pepper to taste

- 1 Tsp. sesame seeds


The first step is to combine in a small bowl a 1/4 cup of mayonnaise, 1/2 cup of Dijon mustard, a splash of balsamic (to taste), 2 Tbsp. olive oil and salt and pepper. Whisk the ingredients together and taste. Add more of any particular ingredient to your liking. Baste the chicken breasts with marinade on both sides.

Lay chicken flat on a non-stick baking dish and add sprigs of rosemary. I shucked the sprigs all over the chicken then placed the remaining two sprigs in the baking dish for extra flavor. Sprinkle chicken with dash of garlic salt. Bake chicken at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Set aside until cool, then chop in bite-size squares.

Wash and chop lettuce and place in a large serving bowl. Wash grapes and halve them. Place in side bowl. Chop walnuts in half and place in own bowl. Feta, the same.

Take 2 large Tbsp. of mayonnaise and mix in bowl (this will be the dressing for the chicken and ingredients) with 1 Tsp. of Dijon mustard, another splash of balsamic, 1 tsp. olive oil, salt and pepper. Depending upon the tanginess you desire, use more or less balsamic or white wine vinegar. Whisk together then pour over chopped chicken and blend all together. After, add grapes and walnuts to chicken and mix.

Final step, add chicken mixture to lettuce and mix / fluff together until ingredients are evenly dispersed. Sprinkle feta on top, sprinkle on sesame seeds and serve. My version required another splash of balsamic/olive oil mix to the lettuce just to give it an extra something.

Enjoy and if you find other fun ways to modify this salad, please share them with us at Gluten-Free Bowl of Soul.

Next week - A flavorful restaurant review