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July 2014

Simple Summer Chicken Salad

Good_Seasons_Salad LR

I believe that great meals don’t have to take a great deal of effort, so long as you start with high-quality ingredients. This is not a new idea. At a recent dinner at Annisa, a three-star restaurant in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, its chef, Anita Lo came out to speak to the diners, and she talked about the value of starting with the best sources. “The French always say, ‘Shopping is half the work,’” she remarked. Knowing this can make you days much easier. Life is too complicated as it is, so why make mealtime into something that causes trouble. 

In the summer (and just about anytime, really), I love a fresh salad. My preferred green is romaine lettuce, which is what I grew up eating. (As a bonus, I recently discovered that you can re-grow your own romaine at home, using the heart that remains after you have pulled off the leaves.)  As a child, we had it all the time. My mother was born on a farm in Ireland and she spurned American conveniences like shrink-wrapped supermarket greens. I still remember the thrill of ordering a head of iceberg with Thousand Island dressing at a fancy restaurant once. We never had iceberg. 

Romaine has more nutrients than iceberg, but it alone is not enough for a meal for me. I need protein, too. Chicken salad is nice, especially when the weather gets warm. You don’t really want to heat up your kitchen like the sky on the Fourth of July, so sticking with fresh vegetables makes great sense. And I can cook the chicken on the stovetop quickly for the salad, so things stay cool around the house.

This simple chicken salad is perfect for a weeknight dinner. It’s quick and easy. For a long time I struggled with cooking boneless chicken breasts. I don’t like watching things on the stove for too long, and most are so thick that they talk a long time to cook through. I speed up the cooking process by cutting each chicken breast in half lengthwise, so it’s half as thin (I cut them at least in half; sometimes in half again, if necessary). Then I get a frying pan good and hot and I add a bit of oil. I sear the breast so it browns up nicely on one side, then I flip it. By the time the other side is browned a bit, it’s usually cooked properly inside. The meat needs to be opaque, but not dried out. That’s the trick. To season the chicken, I squeeze fresh lemon juice over the meat as it cooks. If you really want to increase the flavor, and since I was inspired to write this post through Kraft’s Tastemakers program, you can also try mixing a batch of Good Seasons Italian in your cruet and then pouring the dressing over the breasts and placing them in Ziploc bags to marinate them for a few hours, or overnight.


After the breasts are cooked, I slice them crosswise, and let them cool a few minutes while I get my salad ready. 


Once I’ve assembled my salad (and this is the simple version—you can add red peppers, onions, olives, tomatoes, and just about anything you like to your salad), I dress the salad with Good Seasons Italian, and divide the greens into serving bowls. Then I layer the meat over the greens and enjoy! If you start with fresh lettuce, good chicken, and the tasty herbs of Kraft Good Season’s Italian dressing, you can’t go wrong. The recipe for Simple Summer Salad with Good Seasons is here

A-Team Chicken, Spinach, and Tomato Pasta


Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to watch much television, but I somehow managed to lose myself in  “The A-Team,” the the eighties adventure series. It turned Mr. T in to a celebrity, putting his face on lunch boxes (a key metric of popularity when I was young), but my favorite character was the team leader Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith. The best moment of the show came for me when he muttered, “I love it when a plan comes together.”  It was usually mayhem at that point in a given show, and he was having a great time with the chaos.

It was excellent training for parenting. Plans often go awry, but things still work out. The important thing, is to have a plan. Last Tuesday, I came home from work a bit late, and needed dinner. Santa Maria, who got out of work earlier than I did, had fed the kids black beans, but I had eaten those for lunch recently, and wasn’t in the mood for them.

I had an overripe tomato, a tired bag of spinach, and a pack of chicken thighs that all needed cooking. What could I do with those, I wondered. I needed something fast, so a pasta came to mind. It’s easy to make a sauce in a pan by reserving the past-cooking water, so I was confident I could come up with something. There was just one catch—the kids were not yet in bed.

Bedtime is nothing like it was when the kids were young. We have a routine, and it’s mostly easy. But it takes time. Toothbrushing, hair combing, face-washing, book reading, etc. I needed to make dinner, but I wanted to be with the kids.

So I broke down the recipe into stages that I could stop at will.


I sautéd the chicken thighs in a bit of oil until they were very brown.

I set them aside and checked on the kids.

 I sliced an onion in sautéd it in the chicken fat.

While the onions were sweating, I made sure teeth were getting brushed.


I put on a big pot of water and made pasta.

I ran to get the kids washcloths for their faces, and ironed out a squabble over sharing the batthrom.


And when was done, I reserved its cooking liquid for later.

I made sure the kids were brushing their hair, and sorted out some squabbles over sharing the bedroom.


I diced a bit of garlic, and cut up that over-ripe tomato, and set them aside until I was ready for them.

I went and check on the kids again, to make sure they getting dressed for bed.

The spinach was pre-washed, so there was nothing to do with it. I chopped the tomato, cut up the cooked chicken, and then I turned everything off.

I went to tuck in the kids. 

Everything was going to plan. It was perfection.

I returned to the kitchen to assemble the final dish, heating the onions. Tossing in the tomatoes. Then adding the garlic, spinach, pasta, pasta water, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Santa Maria was just kissing everyone goodnight. Dinner was moments away. It was all coming together wonderfully. 

Then boom—something went awry. There were tears. There were howls. Someone was upset, and dare we say overtired (and I’m not just talking about myself). There were words between Santa Maria and myself. Dinner would have to wait. Appetites were fading. The dish sat on the stove. And sat.

After everyone settled down, we ate. And it was delicious. A quick, flavor-rich sauce. A one pot-wonder of spinach, tomato, and chicken. I have to say it was the Parmigiano-Reggiano that brought it all together. Roll Credits.

A-Team Chicken, Spinach, Tomato Pasta

  • Pasta of choice
  • One pack of boneless chicken thighs, about a pound
  • Half an onion, sliced lengthwise, and then cut in half again, once.
  • One very ripe tomato, diced
  • Three cloves of garlic, halved and sliced
  • A few cups of clean baby spinach
  • Grated Parigiano-Reggiano 

Put a pot of water on for the pasta.

Cook the pasta, reserving the water

Sauté the chicken thighs in a bit of oil until fiercely brown.

Remove and set a side.

Sauté the onion in the chicken fat, slowly, until golden brown.

Add the tomatoes, cook until they collapse; a few minutes.

Add the garlic, cook a minute.

Add the spinach, cook until the spinach collapses.

Add the chopped chicken, cooked pasta, and a few spoonfuls of the reserved pasta water to create a bit of sauce.

Finish with copious amounts of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Serves two to four, depending.  

Not Just Another Kale Salad—A Kale Salad Kids Love


At the risk of turning into a parody of a Brooklyn parent, I have to tell you about my latest kale salad. Oy, that sounded bad, but I’ll fall on my chef’s knife for the sake of the kids. This kale salad, for some inexplicable reason, was a huge hit with the under-seven crowd at my niece’s first birthday, on Friday. 

Nephew after nephew of mine clamored for the greens. The salad was as popular as hot buttered corn. More popular, even, with my nine-year old, Nina. As the eldest of the group, I asked her why she liked it so much. “I don’t know, it’s just delicious,” she said. Okay, you can’t argue with that. And she’s right. It is delicious.

The other nice thing about this salad is that it is very easy to make—there’s no cooking involved. None. There is a bit of chopping, though, and that’s the trick. The kale must be cut in a chiffonade, which is a fancy term for thin, long strips. Here’s how you do it.

  1. Strip the kale from the thick center rib and wash the leaves well.
  2. Stack them lengthwise as best you can on a cutting board.
  3. Roll the stack as tightly as you can.
  4. Using a large chef’s knife, repeatedly slice the roll perpendicular, as finely as you can manage.
  5. When you’ve reached then end of your rolled stack of kale, you will have a chiffonade.

After that, simply toss the kale with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt, and let it sit for a few minutes while you gather the rest of your dinner and get your friends, family, and other guests to the table. That’s all there is to it.

Kid Friendly Purple Kale Salad

  • 1 head purple kale
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced, or to taste
  • Olive oil, to taste
  • Salt, to taste. 

Wash and then cut the kale in a chiffonade.

Toss well with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt.

Let rest about ten or more minutes.


Note: As much as I enjoy making, eating, and blogging about this recipe, it is entirly Santa Maria's.