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FOOD FUN: Chicken Salad Without The Sandwich

Like chicken salad, but trying to cut back on bread?

If you want to avoid the bread, croissants and wraps, there’s always a scoop of chicken salad on greens, in lettuce cups, or stuffed into a bell pepper, tomato, or avocado half.

But we thought these ideas from Willow Tree Farm add allure to a long-time favorite.

Whether a filling for celery or fennel stalks, or a base for mini “cucumber sandwiches,” these make fun appetizers or snacks.

Use your own chicken salad, or one from Willow Tree Farm.

cucumber sandwiches. Serve #Sriracha Chicken Salad between two cucumbers for a crunchy, cool and spicy bite.

 
RECIPE: CHICKEN SALAD STACKS

For snacks, with beer, or as an amuse bouche before dinner. For something sweeter, you can use apple slices.

Ingredients

  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 container of Willow Tree Farm Sriracha Chicken Salad (or your recipe)
  • Garnish: cilantro or other herb
  •  
    Preparation

    1. SLICE the cucumber into 1/2″ slices

    2. PLACE the chicken salad on half of the cucumber slices. Top with a cucumber slice.

    3. ROUND the edges with a spatula. Garnish with cilantro and secure with a toothpick.

    THE HISTORY OF CHICKEN SALAD

    It may come as a surprise—because modern mayonnaise was invented around 1800——but the Chinese were the first to serve variations of “chicken salad” (see below).

    The ingredients were not the same as what we call Chinese chicken salad*, but included pieces of chicken mixed with a variety of spices and oils and another binder, such as rice.

    The American form of chicken salad was first served in 1863 by Town Meats, a meat market in Wakefield, Rhode Island. The owner, Liam Gray, mixed leftover chicken with mayonnaise, tarragon, and grapes. It became such a popular item that the meat market was converted to a delicatessen.

    Modern Chicken Salad

    In the U.S., chicken salad is a cold salad with chicken as the main ingredient, and typically bound with mayonnaise with optional mustard. Other ingredients can include bell pepper, celery, hard-boiled egg, onion, pickles or pickle relish, plus herbs, such as dill, rosemary or tarragon.

    It can also include diced apples, grapes or dried fruit, such as cherries, cranberries or raisins. Diced mango is another popular addition as are nuts, such as almonds, pecans and walnuts.

    In some areas of the U.S., especially the South, chicken salad may be a garden salad topped with fried, grilled, or roasted chicken, sliced.

    While today chicken salad is mostly served in a sandwich or wrap, it has a history as a ladies’ luncheon staple, served on a bed of greens with sliced tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, bell pepper rings, and olives or other garnish, served with crackers.

    Variations were inevitable, using ingredients specific to regional and international cuisines.

  • Chinese chicken salad is made with celery, sliced almonds, fruit (diced apples, mandarin orange segments or pineapple chunks) and mayonnaise, and topped with fried Chinese noodles.
  • Southwestern chicken salad includes avocado, black beans, cilantro, corn kernels, diced tomatoes, onion, shredded cheddar cheese and a garnish of crushed tortilla chips (recipe).
  •  
    Modern recipes expand the concept of chicken salad to pasta salad or Caesar salad with chunks of chicken; add wing sauce and blue cheese for buffalo chicken salad.

    Binders can include anything you like: blue cheese dressing, hummus, pesto, remoulade sauce, Russian dressing, Thai peanut sauce, and on and on.

    In other countries, chicken salad can be made with any number of dressings, along with couscous, pasta, rice and vegetables.

    So don’t be wary: Experiment!

    Fancy presentations serve it in a lettuce-lined coupe; molded into a ring; or scooped into a toast cup, avocado half or pineapple half.

    As with any recipe, add whatever you like; from bacon to capers to pickled jalapeño.

    ABOUT WILLOW TREE FARMS

    Willow Tree Farms makes pot pies and chicken salad from premium white meat.

    In addition to original chicken salad, there’s a flavorful selection of:

  • Avocado Chicken Salad
  • Buffalo Chicken Salad
  • Cranberry Walnut Chicken Salad
  • Sriracha Chicken Salad
  •  
    The products are sold at major retailers, including BJ’s, Stop & Shop and Whole Foods in New England and the East Coast. Here’s a store locator.

     

    Chicken Salad Celery Sticks

    Chicken Salad Cucumber Stacks

    Chicken Salad In Wonton Cups

    Mango Chicken Salad Stuffed Avocado

    Southwestern Chicken Salad

    Avocado Chicken Salad

    [1] Filled celery sticks and [2] cucumber stacks from Willow Tree Farm. [3] Chicken salad in wonton wrappers (here’s the recipe from Shared). [4] Mango chicken salad in an avocado (here’s the recipe from The Real Food Dieticians). [5] Southwestern chicken salad recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction. [6] Avocado chicken salad (here’s the recipe from Whole And Heavenly Oven).

     

      

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    RECIPE: Valentine Brownies

    Want to bring something fun to work or school for Valentine’s Day?

    These strawberry brownies from Kevin Lynch of Closet Cooking can be made for any occasion.

    But we especially like the heart-shaped effect of halved strawberries for “love” occasions: Mother’s, Father’s, Valentine’s, anniversaries, etc.

    You can adapt the idea to your favorite brownie, or use his. Wwe tweaked his a bit, using 2/3 cup sugar instead of 3/4 cup, since the chocolate topping is so rich; and used white chocolate for the top for color and flavor variation.

    For a step-by-step photos and substitutions for gluten-free, vegan, etc., see the original article.

    RECIPE: STRAWBERRY HEART BROWNIES

    Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 20 minutes Cool Time: 30 minutes Total Time: 1 hour Servings: 9
    Chocolate covered strawberry topped fudge-y brownies!

    Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound strawberries, sliced (look for smaller strawberries to maximize the heart effect)
  • 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (substitute white chocolate if you prefer)
  •  
    Preparation

     

    Chocolate-Strawberry Brownies

    Fresh Strawberries

    [1] The strawberry “hearts” make these brownies easy to love (photo courtesy Closet Cooking). [2] Use smaller strawberries for more of a heart shape (photo courtesy Quinciple).

     
    1. GREASE an 8-inch-square baking pan. Optionally, line it with foil or parchment, overhanging to make lift-up and clean-up easier. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

    2. COMBINE the chocolate and butter in a sauce pan over medium heat; melt, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and let cool.

    3. MIX the sugar into the eggs. In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Blend the melted chocolate into the egg mixture, followed by the flour mixture.

    4. POUR the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake about 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven.

    5. SPRINKLE the strawberries on top of the brownies. Melt the chocolate over medium-low heat on the stove or in a microwave. Pour it over the strawberries and let cool until the chocolate is set, 30-60 minutes.
     
    MORE VALENTINE DESSERT RECIPES

  • Chocolate Pudding With Strawberry Rose
  • Coeur À La Crème
  • Easy Chocolate Pudding Pie
  • Frozen Raspberry Soufflés
  • Red Velvet Raspberry Truffles
  • Strawberry-Brownie-Marshmallow Skewers
  • Valentine Cheese Plate
  • Valentine Jell-O Shots
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    TIP OF THE DAY: Practice Your Frosting Roses (& Maybe A Party?)

    Since childhood, our favorite part of a birthday cake has been the buttercream roses.

    No matter whose cake it was, we had to have a slice with a rose.

    You too?

    Then Valentine’s Day is your opportunity to practice piping frosting roses.

    Do we have to mention, you get to eat all the “learning mistakes?”

    (We don’t want to demotivate you, but tutorials often recommend that beginners work with Crisco until ready to take on frosting. Rationale: You can put the Crisco flowers back into the can and re-use it. Bah!)

    There are numerous tutorials on YouTube. We’ve included two below:

  • One for roses to put on a cake.
  • One for cupcake roses: The basic one in the second tutorial is pretty easy.
  •  
    If you don’t have a piping set and don’t want to buy one until you’re sure you want to pursue the craft, see if you can borrow one.

    People often have a set they rarely use (we have two sets!).
     

    HAVE A PIPING PARTY

    You can turn piping flowers into a friends-and-family event.

  • You can make it BYO piping bags, tips and, for cake flowers, a #7 flower nail).
  • Or, to make a real party out of it, you can provide these relatively inexpensive items as party favors.
  • Consider hiring a professional—a specialty cake baker or the decorator from your local bakery to guide the group.
  • You can tell guests to bring what they want to decorate (un-iced cupcakes, cakes), or provide them.
  •  
    If you’d like to make the chocolate cupcakes with pink roses (top photo), here’s the recipe.

    There’s chardonnay in the frosting!
     
    WHAT NEXT?

    If you really get into it, pick up a copy of The Contemporary Buttercream Bible.

    After you master roses, there’s an entire garden of frosting flowers to pursue—from anemones, sweet peas and ranunculus to billy balls (like pom moms), succulents and sunflowers.

    We found the chart below on Pinterest, attributed to the Instagram account of My Sister Bakes.

    (Attention social media gods: We need a reliable system for attribution so the originators can get credited.)
     
    NEED INSPIRATION?

    Here it is: Envision a cupcake party you created, with these different buttercream flowers.

    Buttercream Flowers

     

    Rose Cupcakes

    Cupcake Rose

    Buttercream Gardenia Cupcake

    Chrysanthemum Cupcakes

    The Contemporary Buttercream Bible

    Yes you can! Start practicing, and if you need an incentive, have a cupcake piping party.[1] Photo courtesy Kendall-Jackson. [2] Photo courtesy My Cake School. [3] Photo courtesy The Sugar Fairy | Pinterest. [4] Photo courtesy Taste Made. [5] Get serious with a copy of The Contemporary Buttercream Bible (photo courtesy David & Charles).

     

    It’s even easier to frost a cupcake:

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Jell-O Shots For Your Valentine(s)

    How about gelatin shots as a treat for Valentine’s Day? Use unflavored gelatin and other drink ingredients to turn your favorite cocktails into solid form.

    The alcohol-free version, Jell-O Jigglers, uses Jell-O for flavor and color; and engendered the return of a very old recipe—popular among young ladies in the 1860s, popular among all youth in the 1980s and beyond.

    For the record:

  • Jell-O shots are made with Jell-O and alcohol. The flavor comes from the Jell-O; alcohol is substituted for one-third to one-half of the cold water. Any spirit can be used; vodka and tequila seem to be in the majority of recipes.
  • Gelatin shots or jelly shots are made with unflavored gelatin. Spirits and other flavorings are added to emulate a cocktail or punch.
  • Jell-O Jigglers are made with no alcohol: just Jell-O made with much less water, promoted by Jell-O in fun shapes, although jiggly cubes are fine.
  •  

    THE HISTORY OF JELL-O SHOTS

    Many of us think of Jell-O shots as the creation of fraternity culture in the late 1980s. But the first published recipe is more than 100 years older: alcoholic punch turned solid with gelatin. You can find it in the original cocktail recipe book published in the U.S.: Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide of 1862. You can still buy it (reprinted) on Amazon.com.

    That recipe used generic, unflavored gelatin. Thanks to some pretty crafty sleuthing on the part of JelloShotRecipe.Blogspot.com, you can see a photocopy of the first known recipe for a molded gelatin-alcohol combination.

    They may have been forgotten by the cocktail culture, but in the U.S. Armed Forces in 1950s, they were made as a subterfuge to consume alcohol on the alcohol-restricted Army bases.

    The brand of flavored, colored gelatin called Jell-O was invented in 1897. Marketed as a light dessert, the product’s success began to wane in the 1960s; by the 1980s the company needed to revitalize the brand.

    The marketing team pored through older cookbooks and discovered what they renamed Jigglers, adding new excitement to the brand with the fun-shaped finger food snacks.

    The fun molds created for Jell-O Jigglers charmed children. The concept enticed teens and young adults to add alcohol to the Jell-O and call them Jell-O shots. Simple squares cut from a baking pan sufficed.

    Back in 1862 Jerry Thomas advised: “The strength of the punch is so artfully concealed by its admixture with the gelatine, that many persons, particularly of the softer sex, have been tempted to partake so plentifully of it as to render them somewhat unfit for waltzing or quadrilling after supper.”

    Refined ladies of the time could not be seen downing drink after drink, but the “gelatine punch” nibbles had the same effect as they have today (a.k.a., “drunk on Jell-O shots).

    MODERN JELL-O SHOTS

    Today, Jell-O shots are made in baking pans and cut into squares or fingers; made in theme-shape ice cube trays (hearts, stars, shamrocks, etc.), garnished with edible glitter, coated in hard chocolate, tiered in two or three colors, embedded with berries or cherries, and so on.

    You’ll find endless recipes on line. Note that many, like the one immediately below, are made with plain gelatin as opposed to Jell-O; and are thus technically gelatin shots.
     
     
    RECIPE #1: COSMOPOLITAN JELL-O SHOTS

    Eat your heart out, Carrie Bradshaw! Other people are enjoying their Cosmos in solid form—and they’re spill-proof.

    We adopted this recipe from Jelly Shot Test Kitchen.

    Prep time is 20 minutes plus setting in the fridge; total time 4 hours.
     
    Ingredients For 32 Pieces

  • 1-1/4 cup cranberry juice cocktail
  • 2-1/2 envelopes plain gelatin
  • 1/4 cup Rose’s lime juice (or preferably, fresh lime juice with a half teaspoon of simple syrup)
  • 1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
  • 3/4 cup orange flavored vodka
  • Garnish: 1/4 cup lime zest
  •    

    Pink Champagne Jello Shots

    Cosmopolitan Jello Shots

    Jello Shots Ingredients

    Chambord Jello Shots

    Jello Shot Recipe Book

    [1] It takes more time to turn out a good supply, but heart-shape shots are an extra treat (here’a the recipe from That’s So Michelle). [2] A favorite American cocktail, the Cosmopolitan, transformed into a solid state (photo courtesy Jelly Test Shot Kitchen). [3] Look for fancy ice cube molds locally or online (photo courtesy Craftster). [4] What to do with that bottle of cassis, Chambord or framboise: Make gelatin shots (photo courtesy Sugar And Cream). [5] Get a copy of Jelly Shot Test Kitchen: Jell-ing Classic Cocktails—One Drink at a Time (photo courtesy Running Press).

     
    Preparation
     
    1. COMBINE the cranberry and lime juices in a small saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Let it set for a few minutes; then place over low heat, stirring constantly until the gelatin is fully dissolved (about 5 minutes).

    2. REMOVE from the heat and stir in the liquors, blending thoroughly. Pour into a pan or molds and chill until set, several hours or overnight. To serve…

    3. CUT into the desired shape and garnish with lime zest. They can be served on a plate or tray, or placed in mini-cupcake wrappers immediately before serving.
     
     
    RECIPE #2: JELL-O JIGGLERS

    Because there’s no alcohol for flavoring, Jigglers simply need Jell-O. Here’s the recipe via Craftster.org:

    If you don’t have a flexible mold, you can always make Jigglers—or shots—in an old-fashioned ice cube tray (using the bottom only) or a small square or rectangular pan.
     
    Ingredients

  • 1 package red Jell-O
  • 1 flexible ice cube tray
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • Pam cooking spray
  •  
    Preparation

    1. SPRAY the mold with Pam, blotting any excess cooking spray.

    2. DISSOLVE the Jell-O in the boiled water, stirring to dissolve. Add the cold water, blend, pour into the mold and refrigerate until set, two hours or longer.

    3. POP them out of the molds (the joy of silicon!), plate and serve.
     

     

    Molded Jello Shots

    Maraschino Jello Shots

    [6] For dessert: Turn the recipe into a mold, slice and serve with berries and crème fraîche or mascarpone. This molded “punch” includes crème de cassis, sloe gin and St-Germain elderflower liqueur. Here’s the recipe from Jelly Shot Test Kitchen). [7] For maraschino lovers: a creative idea for shots or jiggles (no alcohol—here’s the recipe from That’s So Michelle).

     

    RECIPE #3: CHAMPAGNE & CHAMBORD GELATIN SHOTS

    This recipe is from Sugar and Charm.
     
    Ingredients

  • 5 cups Champagne or other sparkling wine, regular or rosé
  • 9 packs gelatin
  • 1-1/4 cups Chambord
  • 6 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • Optional: red food coloring for a darker color
  • Optional garnish: edible glitter
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the Champagne, sugar and lemon juice in a sauce pan. Add the packets of gelatin and let proof for a few minutes. Once bloomed, put the pot over medium heat and bring to a slow boil until the gelatin is dissolved.

    2. REMOVE from the heat and add the Chambord. Pour into a square baking dish or cake pan and refrigerate, covered, for a few hours until set. After half an hour, add the optional glitter.

    3. CUT into squares or fingers.
     

    THE HISTORY OF GELATIN

    Gelatin (also spelled gelatine) has been made since ancient times by boiling animal and fish bones. Aspic, a savory, gelatin-like food made from meat or fish stock, was a French specialty centuries before the dawn of commercial gelatin.

    Beginning in the 1400s, gelatin (protein produced from collagen extracted from boiled animal bones and connective tissues) had been used to make fancy aspics and desserts.

     
    It was a laborious process, undertaken largely by the kitchens of the wealthy, which had the staff resources to undertake it. It relied only on the natural gelatin found in the meat to make the aspic set.

    The next development, commercial gelatin sheets, was easier but still cumbersome: Gelatin was sold in sheets and had to be purified first, a time-consuming process.

    Powdered gelatin was invented in 1682 by Denis Papin. Here’s a longer history of gelatin and Jell-O; and a much longer discussion on Wikipedia.

      

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    RECIPE: Super-Easy Brownie Cheesecake

    Brownie Cheesecake

    Blondies

    Cheesecake With Lemon Curd

    [1] Top any cheesecake with brownie cubes and drizzle with caramel sauce (photo courtesy iGourmet). [2] Want cake without all the chocolate? Go for blondies instead (photo courtesy Valrhona). [3] Key lime or lemon bars also do the trick, although more jiggly than brownies and blondies (photo courtesy Baking Obsession).

     

    If you don’t have the time or inclination to bake from scratch, the easiest specialty cheesecake starts with a purchased cheesecake base.

    In the case of this Brownie Caramel Cheesecake (photo #1), you can purchase the brownies, too; or make a quick batch from a mix.

    RECIPE: BROWNIE CARAMEL CHEESECAKE

    Ingredients

  • 1 cheesecake
  • Brownies to taste (top the cake with as many or as few cubes as you like)
  • Caramel sauce
  •  
    Topping Variations

  • Blondies (blonde brownies—photo #2) with chocolate sauce
  • Linzer shortbread bars with raspberry sauce
  • Pecan pie bars with chocolate sauce
  •  
    Preparation

    1. CUBE the brownies/bars. Place as desired atop the cheesecake. We made concentric circles and covered the whole top.

    2. WARM the sauce as needed to drizzling consistency, and drizzle over the cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
     
    OTHER CHEESECAKE TOPPINGS

    Fruit Curds

    Spread the top of the cheesecake with fruit curd (photo #3).

    Commonly available choices are cranberry, Key lime, lemon, orange or passionfruit.

    It’s easy to make fruit curd from scratch; but it takes a bit of time and clean-up.
     
    Cookies & Candy

  • Cookies: Top with gingersnaps, Oreos or other favorite cookies. Place them flat or standing up around the rim.
  • Candy: The celebrant’s candy of choice will look great atop the cake. After Eight Mint Chocolate Thins, chocolate bark, M&Ms, mini peanut butter cups, pecan pralines, smashed toffee, etc.
  •  
    For fruit curd, cookies or candy, no sauce is necessary. Instead, you can serve the cake with an optional dab of whipped cream.
     
    There are many other ways to dress up a store-bought cheesecake, from pie filling to shaved chocolate.

    We love a cheesecake iced with chocolate ganache.

    Here’s a tip on top of that:

     
    THE GRIMBLETORTE: GRAND MARNIER CHEESECAKE COVERED IN GANACHE

    Long before there were “foodies,”* those who a decade later would bear the mantle sought out the famous Grimbletorte.

    This spectacular cheesecake from Miss Grimble’s, one of the early gourmet cheesecake bakers in New York City. Its point of differentiation was simple: liqueur in the batter and ganache on the top and sides.

    Miss Grimble (Sylvia Balser Hirsch, 2019-2006) sold the business around 1989 and retired. The subsequent owner discontinued the Grimbletorte.

    Here’s more about the original Miss Grimble.

    To approximate the Grimbletorte:

  • If baking a New York-style cream cheese cheesecake from scratch (2 pounds cream cheese, 5 jumbo eggs), add 1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur to the cheesecake batter.
  • If you have a ready-made cake, you can still get a bit of the flavor. Brush the cake with the liqueur before adding the ganache.
  • In theory, you can add the liqueur to the ganache, but we’ve always loved the great chocolate flavor against the orange-accented cheesecake.
  •  
    Mrs. Hirsch’s cake decorators wrote “Grimbletorte” across the top of the iced cheesecake, also in ganache. Proust may keep his madeleines; we want our Grimbletorte.

    ________________

    *What’s the difference between a foodie, connoisseur, gourmet, gourmand, gastronome, epicure and glutton? Check it out.
     
      

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