I currently live in Charlotte, NC and after spending 7 years as a personal chef and caterer, I am now happy to share my love of cooking with friends and family. My heart is in the kitchen, but my soul is in the stars!

You are my sunshine....

photo by Dear Ole' Dad :)

It's not very often that I participate in a blog event - mostly because my schedule is so erratic and I can never seem to get the dish made, photographed, and blogged about before at least a month has passed since the event. But when Lisa of La Mia Cucina and Kelly of Sass and Veracity put the call out for a Salad 'Stravanganza in an effort to trim down for bikini season, I made it my personal mission to participate. And here I am skidding in on two wheels just in time for the deadline.

Lisa and Kelly were looking for any kind of salad recipe and not just lettuce type salads. Macaroni, Seafood, Chicken, Dessert, Pasta, Veggie, Fruit - all kinds. In addition, they were looking for homemade dressing recipes. I have a plethora of both salad and dressing recipes in my collection, but as soon as Lisa posted about the event, I knew without a doubt what I would submit. My most favorite chicken salad ever. I found a recipe called "Sunshine Chicken Salad" several years ago on the internet while gathering and researching recipes for my personal chef service. I had one client who requested this salad every single week and she literally begged me for the recipe when I told her that I was moving out of state and had to discontinue her service. My current catering clients love it too. Alot of them ask what we put in the salad to make it taste so good, and my standard answer is that it's loaded with chicken and fruit with a honey and mayo based dressing with "our secret ingredients" added. You'll see below that our "secret ingredient" is in fact a packet Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix. The original recipe called for almonds to be mixed into the recipe, but I usually omit those because after the salad sits for a day or so, the nuts become bloated and mushy. I do, however, like to garnish with slivered toasted almonds when I'm serving for a catering function. I usually pick up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store when I make this recipe at home.

I'm pretty sure this salad doesn't fall into the "low fat, low calorie" category considering all the mayo, honey, and sugars from the fruit and even though Lisa said "portion control is key," when it comes to salads of this nature I bet she, Kelly, and even you won't be able to stop yourself from sneaking another bite! Enjoy!!

* Exported from MasterCook *

Sunshine Chicken Salad

Serving Size : 8

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
1 package Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup honey
2 pounds cooked chicken -- small dice
2 cups sliced celery
16 ounces pineapple tidbits in juice, drained well (it is really important to drain them well or your salad will be wet and drippy. Just pour them into a strainer and let them sit for a few minutes while you go about the rest of the recipe)
3 cups seedless red grapes -- cut in half
1 cup toasted slivered almonds, for garnish

Combine dressing mix, mayonnaise, and honey thoroughly in a small bowl; chill for 30 minutes. Place remaining ingredients except almonds in a large bowl; toss with chilled dressing. Spoon mixture onto a bed of torn salad greens and sprinkle almonds on top to serve.

*To toast almonds, place in a shallow baking pan. Bake at 350*F for 15 to 20 minutes or until almonds are lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Cool. Or, place in skillet over medium heat and toast almonds, stirring constantly, until golden in color. Be careful not to burn nuts.

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In the heat of the moment.....

I could be a vegetarian. One of the nicest things about the arrival of summer is the availability of all sorts of tasty garden-grown vegetables. Who needs a huge hunk of meat when you have heirloom tomatoes, colorful bells, squash, zucchini, green beans, cukes...the list could go on and on. And while veggies are most definitely one of the great things about summer, one of the worst things can be the sweltering heat. Who in their right mind wants to be in a towering inferno kitchen? Grab a cold brew my friends, step outside to my patio, and enjoy some of my veggie delights! Grill 'em or eat 'em raw but best of all it's easy, easy, easy!!! So easy a caveman can do it...oh wait, that slogan is already taken. Dang!

No real recipes here folks - well, except for my green beans almondine which does, in fact, require you to be the kitchen but I think you can tough it out for the length of time that it takes the beans to cook.

Grill 'em

Slice up some zucchini, squash, vidalia onion, and eggplant and grill for about 2-3 minutes per side. I like to let them marinate in some Italian Dressing for a few minutes before grilling. Put the veggies on a platter with a couple of colorful roasted bell peppers. Sprinkle with some feta cheese and Yum-O!

Eat 'em raw

I'm not a huge fan of raw tomatoes - grape tomatoes are okay in my salad but don't be trying to sneak no grocery store grown tomato on my sandwich, burger, or anything else for that matter. Insalta Caprese is a different matter, though. It don't get no better than sliced heirloom tomatoes layered with fresh mozzarella cheese and fresh basil. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt just before serving. I like to cheat and drizzle some balsamic vinegar also. I'm sure there are some people from the Old Country who would roll over in their grave at the thought of that.

Saute 'Em

Being a southern girl, I do love me some green beans cooked with fatback but every great blue moon, I have to stray from my southern roots and saute some beans for green beans almondine. Quick to make, I love to serve these room temp but I have a habit of munching on them while they're sitting out on the counter and before you know it, there's none left for dinner! Even on the worse of hot and humid summer days, this dish is worth battling the heat of the kitchen.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Green Beans Almondine

Serving Size : 4
Categories : Vegetables and Side Dishes

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
1 pound green beans
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon dried oregano
fresh ground pepper -- to taste
1/2 cup onion -- small dice
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
sea salt -- to taste

Trim ends from green beans. In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add green beans and onions and sauté 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly so beans cook evenly. Add broth, oregano, and pepper; sauté for 20 to 30 seconds. Continue to cook, covered, over medium-low heat for 5 to 7 minutes, or until beans are tender-crisp. Meanwhile, in a small nonstick pan over medium heat, dry-roast almonds, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle almonds and sea salt over cooked beans.

"Wish Upon A Chef Catering & Gourmet Market"
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NOTES : Best if served room temp.

And speaking of eating veggies, I noticed Bugs Bunny in my back yard the same night that I was out grilling my bounty.

Here's the little guy happily munching on my hosta lilly.....

and here is his blurred getaway once my pooch got wind of him!

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