Sunday, October 23, 2011

Chicken Salad Sonoma

So way back in my former life in Cleveland, we had a Relief Society dinner that has stuck with me for a long time. I may not remember exactly what it was said (I'm pretty sure it was a celebration of the Relief Society's birthday), but sadly I do remember what there was to eat. And I am the first to admit, I usually only go to partys or functions for the food. I am a foodie at heart and the way to get my attention is to serve me something yummy! Anyway, on the table ready for us was a gigantic chocolate covered strawberry (they really could have just stopped there), a salad, a huge cupcake for dessert, and a chicken salad sandwich on a croissant.

I have to tell you, my previous experience with chicken salad had been less than stellar. I had used the canned chicken (like you get from Costco) and mixed it with some mayo and a little mustard, then added a few things here and there, usually some almonds and Craisins or something. It had the consistancy of tuna sandwiches, which I actually don't like very much. I don't know why I never thought of using actual chicken that I cut up myself. Duh.

So I got the recipe from the gal in charge (who always made amazing food!) and tweaked it a little here and there and I have made it so many times. It feeds a crowd, but if I make it for my family it is perfect for dinner and then to have for the husband's lunch the next day.

And since I didn't know where the actual recipe came from, I googled the name I was given for it and found out that it is from a Whole Foods cookbook. So there you go, it has to be healthy, right?

Here's your lineup. Most of this stuff you would normally have in your pantry anyway. The only thing I had to buy was the pecans. And please don't substitute almonds. I think almonds are amazing too, but the pecans, when toasted, add a great flavor to the salad!
Your sauce. I always make this in a large bowl and refrigerate it until the chicken has cooled, then I dump everything into the same sauce bowl. This is the sauce with the curry in it. I like the flavor of curry with the grapes and celery, but it is completely optional and the salad tastes amazing without it (in fact, this is the first time I've added it. Ever.) so if you don't like curry or don't have it, just leave it out.
After your chicken has cooled, add it it to the sauce. The pour in the pecans. To toast them, break up the pecans into pieces (if they are whole) and put in a cool pan. Turn your pan on medium-low and stir the pecans periodically. When they start to become a little darker and fragrant, they are ready to be taken off the heat. Rachael Ray always says "Your nose knows" and she's totally right. You'll see and definitely smell when they are toasted right.
Add in your celery. I love the crunch of the celery and it doesn't overpower the other flavors at all.
Add in your grapes. And make sure they are red grapes, not green. Green are way too tart for this.
Everyone together. Just mix, mix, mix until it is coated. You can serve immediately, or refrigerate it until you are ready. We really like these on rolls or croissants. They are also super yummy wrapped in tortillas and that is how I pack them in my daughter's school lunch since it's portable that way.
It's also a pretty salad. This was served at my sister's baby shower and was an instant hit.

Chicken Salad Sonoma
by Carissa, adapted from Whole Foods Cookbook

3/4 to 1 cup mayonnaise (light is fine, and I usually don't add a whole cup)
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
5 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon curry powder (optional)
salt and pepper, to taste

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3/4 cup pecan pieces, toasted
2 cups red seedless grapes, halved
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced

Prepare the dressing by thoroughly mixing together all dressing ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to dress the salad.
Cook chicken and cut into bite size pieces. Cool in refrigerator for about two hours (You can also use some rotisserie chicken). Stir in pecans, grapes, celery and dressing.

**Optional method** You can make this salad without the grapes, since they can be pricey when they are off-season. Simply chop an apple into small chunks and add a 1/2 cup or so of Craisins in as a replacement. Omit the curry (which is optional anyway).

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