Pasta Salad With Chicken, Raisins and Almonds

What do I miss most when I'm actively dieting? Carbs. Starchy starch starch. Mmmm. Sure, I can always budget some in, that's why I'm such a big fan of counting calories. But the issue is, I can't get nearly as much bang for my food buck if I'm eating pasta, or bread, or rice, or, well, you get the idea. That stuff has a lot of calories (it's calorie-dense, as we nutrition geeks like to say). You can have a "wicked lot" of fish, broccoli, dark leafy greens, plain non-fat Greek yogurt, etc. in lieu of your carbs and you'll be fuller and more satisfied for waaaay longer. So carbs go by the wayside for me for a time.

But a girl cannot live by tofu and greens alone. And the other day my daughter and I had to bake a bunch of our FAVORITE cookies in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD. (These are them. I won't hate you if you make them, but please, just don't tell me about it right now, OK?) She had a family history unit at school, and for the open house which (mercifully) closed the unit, we all were to bring in food that was meaningful to our family. My Grandma made these every Christmas. They are my favorite. They are L.'s favorite. I am on a diet. I challenged myself not to taste, lick or nibble one. single. freakin'. cookie. And I did it!

I even blew myself away with this one. I've told you, I'm low on "willpower." So why'd it work this time? Chewing gum, for one - you laugh, but you don't want to taste cookie dough when you have gum in your mouth. Two, I was making this recipe for dinner, and I knew that it was a little bit of a treat, because THERE IS PASTA IN IT and I HAVEN'T HAD PASTA IN 2 1/2 WEEKS BUT WHO IS COUNTING?

This recipe is easy, light, flavorful, and has a bit of a "spa cuisine" feel to it. It's loaded with protein and is decent on fiber - especially for a pasta dish. That's on account of the whole wheat pasta, which you should learn to love. Don't over cook it. That, I think, is the #1 mistake people make with the stuff and why so many people profess not to like it. It's nutty and substantial, and actually, in this dish I think it's better. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a carb-deprived maniac or anything. Honestly. Eat up!

Pasta Salad With Chicken, Raisins and Almonds (adapted from Everyday Food Light - which is an awesome cookbook)

2 T. raw almonds
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 oz. whole wheat penne or other short pasta shape
1 c. plain non-fat Greek yogurt
1/2 c. raisins (if you want to be fancy, you can use golden, but these were delicious)
1/2 c. coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 T. finely grated lemon zest, plus 2 T. fresh lemon juice

Put the almonds in a small skillet and toast them lightly over low heat, stirring constantly for approximately 10 minutes. Let cool, then chop coarsely.

Place the chicken in a large skillet or saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then cover and cook 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the chicken stand, covered, until cooked through, approximately 12-14 minutes. Remove chicken from the water, and when it's cool enough to handle, use two forks to shred it into bite-sized pieces.

Meanwhile, cook the penne until al dente in a large pot of boiling salted water. Reserve 1/2 c. pasta water. Drain the pasta, then rinse it under cold water to stop the cooking. Drain well again.

In a large bowl, combine the pasta, chicken, yogurt, raisings, parsley, almonds, and lemon zest and juice. Thin the sauce with some of the reserved pasta water. Season with salt and pepper. Serve refrigerated (up to one day) or at room temperature. I think it was great at room temp.

Serves 4.

I served this with steamed asparagus spears that were sprinkled with lemon juice and finished with some chardonnay smoked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. The whole shebang was delicious (even the hubs liked it, and in fact suggested a 1st course of carrot ginger soup next time - more spa and more volume to increase those feelings of fullness!). A nice reward for slaying that cookie dragon.

Image: Grant Cochrane /