Mediterranean Chicken Pasta Salad

Have you ever been to the Finger Lakes of New York?

It's a magical place.  A magical land of water and wine.

My husband and I spent the Fourth of July holiday with dear friends old and new on Seneca Lake, the largest of New York's Finger Lakes.  The homes are cozy, tall, and nestled into the steep lake banks.  The views stretch clear across the lake, and sunrise on the horizon makes you feel lost at sea.

And then there are the wineries.  Dozens to visit on our lakeshores alone.  And as you make your way from one to the next, rows of perfect, elegant grape vines lead the way.  The landscape is effortlessly rich, and the tasting rooms are elegant and charming, with many set in old barns or among aging oak barrels.

Of the wineries we visited (and we certainly left no wine untasted), there were several that are the hands-down favorites for most delicious wine.  I'm no expert, but I know what I like.  (And by the third winery of the day, I like A LOT). 

But my real favorite winery experience took place at the Lacey Magruder Vineyard and Winery, on the northwest side of the lake.  New this year, their wine was very good with room to improve, but it was the tasting room that fed my buzz.  Built within a 200-year-old barn, the wine-maker hand-crafted this ornate tasting bar, as well as the gorgeously rich barn doors and cabinetry.  A real treat for the eyes.  I can't wait to see their continued progress next year.

In the end, we left wine country with a fair amount of wine-making knowledge, vineyard stories rich in history and interest, three gorgeous cases of wine, and (miraculously) no hangovers.

But now it's time to recalibrate.  To reset, get re-acquainted with routine...and do lots of other necessary "re" words.  It's easy to get overwhelmed by post-vacation to-do lists and responsibility catch-up.  Wine helps, but it's time to get back to basics.

We'll do that by playing with the neglected tuxedo cat until he nips at your fingers.  By doing some laundry but only the necessities.  By cleaning out the fridge to make room for fresh veggies.  And by making a giant bowl of warm-weather pasta salad for dinner without fretting over a recipe.

Tomorrow we can unpack, water all the wilty plants, balance the checkbook, and rationalize extensive wine-purchasing.  For now, let's just make dinner, and let's not have to fuss with a recipe.

Here's the formula:  Cook up some curly-cue pasta, chop up some Mediterranean goodies like Kalamata olives, artichokes, grape tomatoes, and sun-dried tomatoes, grill some chicken, and toss it all together with a Dijon-balsamic vinaigrette.

If you're the kind of cook that needs to follow a plan (and I'm right there with ya), see below.  Otherwise, it's as simple as that, and the possibilities are endless.  I want to bathe in the simplicity.  Welcome home!
Mediterranean Chicken Pasta Salad
Yields 4 servings

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders
8 oz whole grain short pasta (I used rotini!)
1/4 c sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/4 c grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 c artichoke hearts, chopped
1/4 c Kalamata olives, sliced
1/4 c crumbled, reduced-fat feta cheese
1/4 c fresh basil, chopped
1 tbs minced garlic
2-1/2 tbs balsamic vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil

Heat a grill pan or your outdoor grill over medium-high heat, and coat with cooking spray.  Grill your chicken until the desired degree of doneness, about 4-5 minutes per side.  Let cool, and then chop into bite-size pieces.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water according to the directions.  Drain, and then rinse with cold water to cool.  Toss the pasta into a large serving bowl, and add the chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, grape tomatoes, artichokes, olives, feta, and basil.  Toss to combine.

In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, vinegar, mustard, and salt/pepper.  Whisk in the olive oil, making sure to fully incorporate.

Pour over the pasta salad. Toss to coat evenly, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

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