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Chunky chicken salad

October 28, 2010 1 comment

Once, there was a sandwich franchise in town that made a great chunky chicken salad with carrots and celery.  But they went out of business, so I decided to try to recreate (or approximate) the recipe myself.  I researched various chicken salad recipes online, distilled some common factors about ingredients and proportions, and used those as the basis for creating my own recipe.  It went basically like this:

CHUNKY CHICKEN SALAD

1 1/3 cups cooked chicken, diced
1/3 cup celery
1/6 cup julienned carrots
2/3 oz pecans or walnuts (roughly)
1/3 cup light mayonnaise
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix dry ingredients (chicken, celery, carrots, nuts, salt, pepper) in one bowl and set aside.  Mix mayo, lemon juice and mustard in another bowl.  Spoon mayo mixture into chicken mixture and mix gently.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  Cover bowl and chill for at least an hour.  Makes c. 3 servings.

Now, when I’ve made this recipe in the past, it’s tended to come out a little short for me, more like 2.5 servings.  So this time I decided to double the recipe.  To make it a little leaner, I substituted plain Greek yogurt for about half the mayonnaise.  (No reason it has to be Greek; it’s just that the store was out of regular plain yogurt in a single-serve container.  I used about half the cup, then mixed some strawberry jam in with the rest and ate it.)

But then it occurred to me that maybe there was a reason chicken salad recipes aren’t usually that big — namely spoilage.  I wondered if I’d made too much.  But I checked and found that you can freeze chicken salad (though once you thaw it you should drain off the excess liquid and stir in a bit more mayo).  So I froze about 2 servings’ worth, giving me 3 whole servings to have over the past couple of days.  Works out nicely.

Anyway, I had my first serving on a whole garlic-oregano pita with Romaine lettuce and four grape tomatoes, just wrapping the pita like a soft taco shell.   I kept the tomatoes whole, which wasn’t a great idea.  The next two times, I halved the grape tomatoes.  The second time, I had the chicken salad, tomatoes, and lettuce in a wrap (soft tortilla) and added cucumber; the third time, today, I didn’t have too much chicken salad left so I had it, the tomatoes, and lettuce in a half-pita.  I didn’t try a sandwich per se since those are messy.  If one wanted to put this chunky chicken salad on regular bread, I’d recommend thicker slices than you get from storebought bread.  It works better if it’s more contained as in a pita or soft tortilla.

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Old family recipe: Schlung

And now, for my second installment of “Recipes I blog about while I eat them”:

I’ve just made my version of an old family recipe (if you can call something so informal a “recipe” at all).  It’s a sort of mock stroganoff which we call “schlung,” because that’s what it looks like — just a big, gloppy pile of schlung.  Or maybe a bunch of ingredients all schlung together.  (And I find from Googling that this fake word the Bennetts made up for this dish is also unfortunately used on occasion as a slang term for a reproductive organ, but that’s definitely not the intent here.)

The original recipe was made with ground beef, cream of mushroom soup, Philadelphia cream cheese, and diced onions, served over noodles.  Mine is a low-fat, vegetarian variant that evolved over time.  Here’s how it works:

Preheat a large nonstick skillet to medium heat; spray lightly with cooking spray. Brown about 4 oz. of veggie crumble (1/3 of a typical package) for 2-3 minutes.  Add about one medium-thick slice of onion, diced (maybe 1/4 cup or so?  Feel free to adjust to your taste) and a comparable amount of diced green pepper (I use frozen); heat and stir for a couple more minutes.

Add 1 can of condensed cream of mushroom soup (I use low-fat), plus about 2/3  can (the same can) of skim milk.  Add 2 1/2 to 3 oz. of Neufchatel cheese, in about 4-5 installments, and stir in each piece until it’s mostly melted before you add the next.  (Neufchatel is often marketed as low-fat cream cheese, which is ironic, since Philly cream cheese was invented as an imitation Neufchatel.)  Continue to stir over medium heat for a few more minutes to boil away some of the excess moisture.  When it starts getting crusty on the outer rim, and maybe a little bit crusty on top, that’s good enough.

The classic presentation is atop wide egg noodles, but I take mine three different ways — over whole-grain noodles; over brown rice; or, like today, atop two pieces of whole-grain toast.  If you don’t know how to prepare any of those, you’re on your own.  Since it’s relatively labor-intensive, I like to make it when I already have leftover rice or noodles, and failing that I just use toast.  Then I can make rice or noodles the next day and have leftover schlung on that.  It makes 3-4 servings, depending on how liberally you slop it on, so I can go through all three substrates with one batch.

My father would always sprinkle paprika on top of his, though I’m not partial to it.  I’m in the habit of having a serving of canned pear halves as a side dish.

This will make kind of a mess.  Rather a lot of it will stick to the pan, the spoon, the containers you put leftovers in, etc.  And depending on how big your skillet is (or how steady your hands are), there may well be some spillage from all the stirring.  However, in a nonstick skillet, if you let the residue sit for a while, it’ll dry out into a solid film that easily flakes off the pan.  EDIT: No, apparently it won’t.  It used to do that in the old days, but when I tried it today, it just made the stuff stick rather solidly to the pan.  Maybe it’s because the ingredients are different or the pan’s composition is different.  Or maybe I’m confusing it with my memory of some other recipe.  Anyway, probably best to rinse the skillet out ASAP.

I know this isn’t a very precise recipe.  But schlung, by its very nature, is an inexact science.

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Change of pace: My favorite recipe

I’m not a great cook, but living on my own as I do, I’ve had to develop a modest degree of culinary skill so I’d have an alternative to frozen dinners and sandwiches.  This is a quick, fairly easy recipe I concocted a while back, enjoyed quite a bit, and have refined as I went.  Today I made it again (I’m eating it as I write this) and I decided that, instead of just eyeballing the proportions as I usually do, I’d measure more carefully so I could get it into a form resembling an actual recipe I could pass on to others.

I don’t have a name for the thing, but it’s a chicken-and-rice dish, basically.  The ingredients are:

  • 1 cup (or so) cooked brown rice
  • 1 cup diced precooked chicken
  • 2/3 cup frozen peas
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil (I prefer pure)
  • 1 medium to large clove garlic
  • Black pepper
  • Grated parmesan cheese

Preparation is simple enough.  Cook whatever kind of rice you prefer (I’ve done it with every kind of rice from the regular kind that takes half an hour to cook to the 10-minute boil-in-bag kind to the 90-second microwave pouches, depending on what kind and how much time I’ve had available), just so long as the cooked volume is 1 cup or so.  Meanwhile, steam the peas for a few minutes (not sure this step is necessary, but it saves time in the combining stage).  Steaming is better than boiling since you don’t drain the nutrients away with the boil water.  If the chicken is frozen, thaw it.  Mince the garlic clove finely — remember to smash it first to release the flavor.

Once the rice is cooked, put it in a medium saucepan (if it isn’t there already) and stir in the peas, chicken, olive oil, and garlic (not necessarily in that order) and grind black pepper over it to taste.  Simmer over medium heat until it’s uniformly heated; I forgot to time this stage, but I think it took me about 8 minutes this time.  Once plated, top with the grated parmesan.  (I’ve tried mixing in the parmesan with the rest, but it sticks more to the pan and the storage containers.)  It makes about three servings, or two if you have a big appetite.

I think it’s a pretty healthy meal.  You’ve got whole grain, lean meat, a green vegetable, garlic (whose health benefits are often exaggerated but still present), and plenty of ultra-nutritious olive oil.  The oil has a fair amount of fat, but it’s the good kind of fat, the kind that reduces cholesterol.  And the grated parmesan is pretty low in fat, according to the label on the little green can.  If you like, you could ease off on the olive oil, but I love the stuff so I like to pour it on.  (Funny, I don’t like olives much, but I love the oil.  Though the extra virgin kind is a bit too intense for me.)  And in addition to being healthy, it’s easy to make, uses simple ingredients, and tastes good.  I like to have it with a side dish of applesauce.

Leftovers can keep for, I guess, a few days in the fridge.  I wouldn’t know, since I usually finish them off pretty quickly.  If you’re cooking for one like me, a good trick is to have two storage containers ready beside your plate and spoon equal amounts into all three.  That way you’ve got your portions measured handily, and having the hot leftovers in two smaller containers helps them cool off faster so you can get them into the fridge sooner (not a good idea to put hot containers right into the fridge, since it heats up the whole thing).  Plus you can just take out one of the containers and pop it right in the microwave.

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