Romaine Salad with Chicken, Cheddar, Apples, Spiced Pecans and Cranberry Vinaigrette

from melskitchencafe.com

*Serves 4-6

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3-4 medium)

Salt and black pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil

1/2 cup water

1 large head romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces (about 8-10 cups)

8 ounces sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 Granny Smith apple, cored and chopped or sliced thin

1/2 red onion, sliced thin

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1 cup spiced pecans, store-bought or following the simple recipe below

1 recipe Dried Cranberry Vinaigrette, see below for recipe

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season both sides with the salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until the oil is shimmering and hot. Add the chicken and cook until it is nicely browned on one side, about 3 minutes. Flip the chicken over, add the water, and cover the skillet. Cook the chicken, letting it poach, until it is cooked through, about 5-7 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let it cool slightly before carving.

Toss the lettuce, cheese, apple, pecans, onion and dried cranberries together. Divide the salad among the serving plates. Slice the chicken on a diagonal and arrange over the salad. Serve with the vinaigrette. I prefer to let everyone douse their own salad with dressing, but you could toss the salad with 1/2 cup or so of the vinaigrette before assembling it on the plates and serve the extra dressing on the side.

Quick Spiced Pecans:

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

2 cups pecan halves

1 tablespoon sugar

Melt the butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Stir in the spices and then the pecans. Toast the nuts, stirring often, until the color deepens slightly and they are lightly toasted, about 5-7 minutes. Transfer the nuts to a bowl and toss with the sugar. Let them cool completely before tossing with the salad.

Dried Cranberry Vinaigrette:

*Makes about 1 1/2 cups dressing

1/4 cup cranberry juice or water

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup red wine or raspberry vinegar

1 shallot, peeled and quartered

1 small garlic clove, peeled

2 teaspoons fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Combine the cranberry juice (or water) and cranberries in a small microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high for one minute until hot. Process the hot cranberry mixture, vinegar, shallot, garlic, thyme, mustard, salt and pepper in a blender until the shallot and garlic are finely chopped. With the blender running, add the oil and continue to blend until the dressing is smooth and well-combined. Thin the dressing, if needed, with additional cranberry juice. Refrigerate until ready to serve.