Saturday, February 27, 2016

Mushroom Rice Pilaf

Toss dried mushrooms right into the cooking rice to impart a deep mushroom flavor to the liquid.  Chopped celery and onion and a few herbs like thyme and margoram create an interesting yet fast side to pork, chicken even salmon. 

Mushroom Rice Pilaf
Yield: 4 servings


2 celery stalks, chopped
1/4 onion, diced
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup rice
2 cups liquid-- water or broth
1 ounce dried mushrooms
1/4 teaspoon salt

  1. Place celery, onion and butter in a large pot over medium heat.  Use a large spoon to stir the mixture and begins to soften the onion and celery.  
  2. Stir in the rice and continue to stir to coat rice in butter and brown slightly.
  3. Add liquid and bring to a boil.  
  4. Lower heat to simmer.  Add dried mushrooms.  Cover and simmer 10 minutes.
  5. Stir in salt, cover and continue to simmer until rice is tender.  For white rices, this will be 10-15 minutes longer.  For brown rice, this will be 20-30 minutes longer.
Elegant Life Leftovers:  Extra rice can be mixed with cooked beans for a terrific cold salad or main coarse vegetarian entree.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Black Pepper & Cherry Savory Crackers

These tender crackers are for soft goat cheeses and tubs of homemade (or farm stand) ricotta cheese.  Black pepper and dried cherry feature here but feel free to swap in chopped rosemary and dried figs or walnuts and dates.  Try serving the crackers with drier cheeses too--Manchego comes to mind.

Black Pepper & Cherry Savory Crackers
Yield 2 dozen crackers

½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
¼ teaspoon salt
1/2-1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ¼ cups flour
¼ cup brown sugar
1 large egg
½ cup dried fruit, chopped(cherries, cranberries, nectarines,
¼ sliced almonds, lightly toasted


  1. Place the butter in a large mixing bowl and use an electric beater to mix until fluffy.  
  2. Add salt, pepper and brown sugar and continue to beat until sugar has melded with butter.  
  3. Add flour as you continue to beat so that the flour is nicely coated in butter mixture.  Do this in three batches but work quickly so you do not over work the flour and create a tough cracker.
  4. Add egg and mix in.  
  5. Use a large spoon to mix in dried fruit, nuts and any extra flavorings (herbs, citrus zest, etc).  
  6. Using your hands, form the dough into a log.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.  
  7. Once chilled, preheat oven to 350˚F.  
  8. Slice dough in ¼ inch slices and lay on a parchment lined baking sheet.  
  9. Bake 10 minutes until crackers are just browning on the bottom.  
  10. Remove to a cookie rack to cool.  Crackers will crisp as they cool.  Store in an airtight container. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Avocado Pasta with Bacon

An avocado sauce on pasta has a creamy texture similar to Alfredo sauces.  This recipe uses lemon juice, olive oil and pasta cooking water to thin down the mashed avocado.  A sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and basil provide complimentary flavors.  The thick noodles shown are bucatini, long spaghetti with a hole down the middle, like a long pipe.

Bacon is my favorite garnish for this cheesy version.  Later in the spring, I'll cut back on the cheese and add tiny tomatoes, corn kernels and sliced black olives and serve this alongside burgers or grilled chicken.  
Avocado Pasta with Bacon
Yield: Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 main course servings

1 very ripe avocado
juice of 1/2 lemon (about a tablespoon)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese 
salt & black pepper to taste
large pinch of dried basil or 5-6 fresh leaves, sliced
optional: 1 clove crushed garlic
1/2 cup pasta water (reserve from cooked pasta)
4 ounces uncooked bucatini or favorite pasta
4 slices cooked bacon

  1. In a small bowl or food processor, combine avocado, lemon juice and olive oil.  Pulse to combine.
  2. Add cheese, salt, pepper, basil.  Pulse again and taste.  Add more more salt, pepper, cheese or lemon juice to suit your taste.  
  3. Cook pasta following package directions.  When the pasta is ready, scoop out a 1/2 cup pasta water and set aside.  Drain pasta.  
  4. Stir half the pasta water into the avocado sauce.  
  5. Add avocado sauce to drained pasta and stir to combine.  Add the remaining pasta water as needed.  The sauce should be creamy and coat all the pasta. 
  6.  Add bacon at this stage or serve and garnish with bacon and extra cheese.
Try this:  If you are serving this as a main course for two, add a poached egg to each plate of pasta. The egg yolk will break and ooze onto the pasta and mix with the bacon. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Sweetheart Chicken Salad

This chicken salad is easy to make at any time of the year and especially welcome as the days begin to get longer.  The recipe stands on its taste alone but also gets points for heart health.  It has no mayonnaise, uses lean chicken breast meat and delivers antioxidants via dried cherries and pecans.  Cap that off with a little fiber from the pears and celery.

Serve it on warm rolls, wrapped in lettuce cups or alongside some cottage cheese (the pears form a nice taste bridge to cottage cheese).

You can use fresh, poached or roasted pears in the recipe.  We love it with our roasted pears recipe and our 20-minute poached pears recipe but you can use canned pears in juice.  (Rinse them off if in syrup.)

Sweetheart Chicken Salad
Serves 3

2 cups  cooked, chopped skinless chicken breast
2 small pears, peeled and chopped (canned, roasted, poached or raw)
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup chopped pecans

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper

  1. Place all chopped ingredients in a large bowl-- chicken, pears and celery.  
  2. Roughly chop cherries if large.  Add to mixture with pecans.
  3. Make dressing: combine vinegar and mustard in small bowl.  Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and whisk to emulsify.  Slowly add remaining oil as you continue to whisk to create a creamy dressing.  Stir in salt and pepper to taste.  Use a heavy hand with the black pepper; it compliments the tart cherries and mustard.  Pour over the chicken mixture and toss to coat.  
  4. Let chicken salad stand about 15 minutes to meld before serving.  Recipe can be made up to a day ahead.  Cover and refrigerate.

Valentine's Day note: If you are poaching or roasting fresh pears, make a few extra for dessert.  Drizzle with chocolate sauce and serve with some vanilla ice cream or vanilla yogurt for a sweetheart dessert.