Sunday, December 28, 2014

Quinoa Pilaf with Shiitake Mushrooms, Carrots, and Pecans

WOW!  I just had the easiest Christmas ever.  A company Jim works with sent us a delicious Smithfield ham (thank you Mackson!), I made our favorite Scalloped Potatoes with Three Cheeses (see 12-16-11 post), Brussels sprouts, Benson's Special Salad (12-17-14, which I prepped the asparagus, green beans, and dressing the day before), the wonderful Rosemary and Salt rolls from Fresh Market, and that incredibly easy and delicious Pumpkin Chiffon Pie (12-1-14).  And thanks to Markson, I've still got plenty of ham (which is yummy all by itself).  I know I'll be make my favorite Brown Sugar Ham and Bean Crock Pot Soup (1-11-12), but I'd like to find some new recipes to share.

But to today's post.  I baked some salmon last night for dinner and had not had quinoa in quite a while.  I found this recipe on-line and opted to try it.  Oh YES!  Absolutely delish!  Now it calls for Shiitake mushrooms, but I had some button mushrooms which needed to find a home, so I substituted them with a perfect outcome.  I'm anxious to make it again with the Shiitakes.  This one's a keeper.

QUINOA PILAF with SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS, CARROTS, and PECANS (4 servings as a side dish, 2 as a main course)

1 cup quinoa, pre-rinsed or rinsed
1 2/3 cup chicken or vegetable broth
3 Tbsp EVOO, divided
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 small carrots, peeled and diced
3/4 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp minced garlic
1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted if desired
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Combine quinoa and chicken broth in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to low, cover and simmer until quinoa is cooked, about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, heat 2 Tbsp of the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften, 2-3 minutes.  Add the carrots and thyme and cook until the carrots are just tender, 5-7 minutes.  Add remaining tablespoon of olive oil, along with mushrooms and garlic.  Cook, stirring constantly, until mushrooms are cooked through, a few minutes.  Season vegetables with S&P to taste.

Add cooked quinoa to vegetables and stir in pecans and chopped parsley.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.  Serve hot or warm.

Recipe Source:

Monday, December 22, 2014

Honey Fruit and Nut Chicken Salad

Again, not much cooking going on here lately.   I have my Christmas breakfast and dinner menu set and ready to go.  I'm hoping it's going to be as easy as was Thanksgiving.  So until Jim gets home, I'm subsisting on baked sweet potatoes and rotisserie chicken!

Speaking of chicken, they were demo-ing this at Publix  the other day.  It's a pretty traditional chicken salad, but this one has walnuts and almonds, along with dried apricots and dried cranberries (I suspect they must have snuck some golden raisins in there even though it wasn't on the ingredient list).

The amounts below are what I used when I made my salad.  I can guarantee you they used doubled the mayo, if not more.  Also, I probably doubled all the crunchies: celery and nuts. So adjust the amounts to what suits your tastes.


1 cup (4 oz) shredded or chopped rotisserie chicken
2 Tbsp mayo (I use 1 Tbsp regular and 1 Tbsp reduced-fat mayo)
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp honey
1 tsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice
3 Tbsp finely-diced celery
2-3 Tbsp finely-diced sun-dried apricots (about 4 round apricot discs)
2-3 Tbsp dried cranberries
2 Tbsp chopped walnuts
2 Tbsp chopped almonds
golden raisins, optional

Mix mayo, onion & garlic powders, honey, and lemon juice until well-combined.   Set aside.

Mix chicken, celery, fruit and nuts.  Dress with dressing.  Let chill for several hours.   Serve as a salad on a bed of lettuce, a sandwich, or a lettuce wrap.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Taylor Farms World Famous Salad

Regional  grocery store deli-salads have generally, no....make that never, appealed to me (whole food stores are absolutely different...theirs are innovative, fresh, and you can pronounce all of the ingredients).  But I few weeks ago I was at my local Bi-Lo and the cole slaw caught my eye so I picked it up.  I have never, ever, ever had a good cole slaw from a grocery store deli.   So I was surprised that next time I was in, I took a look in their deli case and turns out they had several new salads.

I saw this broccoli-based salad and decided to pick up a small container of it.   Couldn't believe it!  Two in a row (and there are several more to try).  I've made broccoli with bacon, but salami had never entered my mind.  Their salad dressing looked to be mayo-based, but it wasn't.  I let my sample sit for a day to allow the flavors to meld, but it never did develop that creamy look to it so I ended up adding a Tbsp of mayo just for color.

Since this was my sample batch, I forgot to measure just how much this made, but I'm going to guess at about 4 side salads.

TAYLOR FARMS WORLD FAMOUS SALAD (makes 4 side salads?)

2 Tbsp canola oil
1 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp corn syrup
1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 Tbsp distilled vinegar
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, crushed or very finely minced

8 oz broccoli florets (1 medium head of broccoli crowns)
1 each mini peppers: red, orange, and yellow, sliced into rings 
1/4 cup red or green cabbage, chopped
1/4 cup carrots, cut matchstick-style (about 3 baby carrots)
3-4 oz thin-sliced salami (hard or genoa), about 5 thin slices
1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 Tbsp mayo, optional

Whisk dressing ingredients until emulsified.

Mix salad ingredient and then toss with with dressing.  Let sit at least several hours.  Add mayo at the end if you like.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Benson's Special Salad

I discovered this recipe years ago in a "Gourmet" magazine.  The first time I made it, we both immediately knew it was a keeper.  The recipe originated at Ben Benson's Steak House in New York City (now closed).  Years after I first started making it, I was in NYC and purposely made a point to stop and try it there to make sure I had been preparing it as intended.  This recipe is right on the button.

In the years since I have been making this salad, it eventually evolved into a Christmas dinner tradition.  Not only is it absolutely delicious, the vibrant green and red helps make a festive table.  I will tell you, while the anchovies are optional, to us (and to Benson's) they are essential.  I know some people's toes will curl at even hearing the word, but it's one touch that makes this salad.  Don't get me wrong, the vegetables by themselves are delicious.  One thing I did discover about the anchovies.  They are delicious the first time around, but on the second day they are definitely different.  Therefore, I put the anchovies on the side and them mix them in each time I make a serving for a fresh salad.

BENSON'S SPECIAL SALAD (makes approximately 8 side salads)

3 pickling cucumbers, or one English cucumber, partially peeled and coarsely chopped
1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced or diced
about 3/4# asparagus, cut into 1" lengths
about 3/4# fresh green beans, cut into 1" lengths
grape tomatoes, cut in half, I add enough to make a pretty color (Benson's uses a mixture of red and orange grape tomatoes)
8 oz can hearts of palm, coarsely diced
1/2 cup thinly sliced iceberg lettuce
2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill (essential, don't leave this out and don't use dried dill) 
small tin of anchovies, finely chopped, optional

1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup canola oil
3 Tbsp sugar

Have a bowl of iced-water next to stove.  Bring a pan of water to a boil.  Add the green beans and cook for about 5  minutes.  Strain the green beans and put them in the iced-water to stop the cooking.  In the still boiling water, add the asparagus and cook 2-3 minutes, strain, and add these to the iced-water.

Whisk the dressing ingredients together.

Combine all of the vegetables, toss, and add the dressing.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Spinach-Mushroom Scrambled Eggs

Good Holiday Season, friends!

Once again, please forgive my absence.  My circadian rhythm has gone all wonky and am I very slowly trying to adapt to my new low-gear speed of life.  I have always loved staying up late at night and getting up early in the morning, with a power-nap in the afternoon.  I would  generally get 4-5 hours of sleep, 6 was sleeping in.   Over the last several months, I've started sleeping 8-10 hours and when I do get up, it takes me at least an hour to get moving.

This couldn't have come at the worse time of the year.  Thank goodness it will be just Jim and I and The Girls over Christmas.  I'm getting things done, just at a much slower pace! that I am slowly adapting to my new speed, I'm back in the kitchen (it doesn't help that I made so much soup over the last week or two, it's all I've been eating).  I have a couple of salads I'm looking forward to experimenting with.

But first, here's a great and easy idea for a Christmas breakfast.   You can easily  change and/or add ingredients.  I'll post it the way I found it, but chop up some tomatoes and you've got a red and green Christmas scramble.  Change the cheese (I used Swiss), but a smoked provolone, cheddar, Mozz, Italian or Mexican blend would work beautifully.  Or put a Greek twist on it by adding feta.


2 eggs
2 egg whites (or one small container of Egg Beaters)
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 tsp butter
1/2 cup thinly sliced mushrooms (4-6 button mushrooms, depending on size)
1/2 to 3/4 cup fresh baby spinach, chopped (or 1/3 cup frozen, thawed, squeezed dry)
shredded provolone cheese

In a small bowl, whisk eggs, egg whites, S&P until blended.  In a small nonstick skillet, heat butter over medium-high heat.  Add mushrooms; cook and stir 3-4 minutes or until tender.  Add spinach; cook and stir until spinach is wilted.  Reduce heat to medium.

Add egg mixture; cook and stir just until eggs are thickened to your liking.  Stir in cheese.

Recipe Source: Taste of Home, December 2014, p. 36

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Wild Rice Soup

Still sitting on a load of turkey and turkey stock, I used more to make (another) favorite soup: Wild Rice.  Living in Minnesota for about 6 years, I learned to love this soup....a staple in almost every restaurant.

I've made many versions, but this one is a bit's more of a broth soup vs. a cream soup.  Although it does have a flour/stock slurry, it really doesn't thicken it up.  So if you like a lighter version, this may be for you (versus Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup, see 11-23-13 post).

A few notes: this recipe calls for 8 cups of stock.  Personally, I would have started with 6 and added more if I needed more broth.  Also, I had just sauteed a couple pounds of mushrooms and saved the stems and made a bunch of broth.  So I used 6 cups of turkey stock and 2 cups of mushroom stock.  Also, this recipe calls for a Wild Rice BLEND.  I think I've found the Lundberg brand in just about every state I've lived in.

CHICKEN and WILD RICE SOUP (6-8 servings)

2 Tbsp butter
1/2 small onion or 1 large shallot, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 small carrots, chopped
S&P to taste
2 tsp minced fresh garlic
1/2 tsp dried thyme
8 cups chicken/turkey stock
2 chicken breasts, cut in halved (or cooked shredded or cubed cooked turkey/chicken, amount to your liking)
3/4 cup wild brown rice blend
1 cup milk
1/4 cup milk

Melt butter in a large soup pot over medium heat.  Add onion, celery, and carrots, season with S&P (or do this at the end), then saute until tender, about 10 minutes.  Add garlic and thyme then saute for 1 more minute.

Add chicken/turkey broth then increase heat to high and bring to a boil.  Add chicken breast halves and cook until no longer in the center, about 10 minutes, then remove to a plate and set aside (if using uncooked chicken/turkey).  Shred when cool enough to handle.  Add wild brown rice blend to the pot then place a lid on top, turn heat down to medium-low and simmer 40-50 minutes or until rice is tender.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup milk with flour until smooth then add remaining milk.  Slowly drizzle into soup while stirring.  Add cooked chicken/turkey then simmer soup for 10 minutes uncovered and serve.

Recipe Source:

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Creamy French Salad Dressing

I've never been a big French salad dressing fan.  But when I worked at a now-defunct restaurant in Red Wing, MN, the owner had a fabulous French salad dressing recipe.  And as if it couldn't get any better, he took it one step further and made a separate French dressing with bleu cheese crumbles included.  Being  an aficionado of bleu cheese, this really tugged at my heart.

This was a wildly popular dressing at Old-Fashioned Foods (you can find a couple of his recipes at  I wish he would have continued his blog.  He had so many good recipes (the best sausage gravy you'd ever try and he made the sausage from scratch) and he was known for his soups (the best chicken & dumpling soup which I could never replicate in a non-commercial amount).

This is the best dressing you could imagine for a classic wedge salad of iceberg lettuce, crumbled bacon, tomatoes, and bleu cheese (or the dressing with crumbled bleu cheese) or really for any garden-type salad.  So if you're a fan of French dressing or simply a tolerator, give this a try.  You won't be disappointed.


1 cup Hellman's mayo (I use half regular and half lo-fat)
1/4 cup tomato juice or V8
3/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried chopped onions
1/4 tsp finely minced fresh garlic
1 Tbsp tarragon vinegar
1/4 cup ketchup
2 Tbsp sugar
crumbled bleu cheese, optional

Combine all ingredients and whisk until smooth.  Let chill at least a few hours to allow the flavors to meld.  Keep refrigerated.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

White Chicken Chili

Well, I ended up cooking two turkeys for Thanksgiving and therefore have a bit of leftover turkey.  I finally got a cool, rainy day and have been on a soup-bender today.  I needed to use some of the turkey.

The first one I made is with a new recipe I ran across.  And it came out great!  She notes that she halved the cannellini beans and processed one-half to help thicken the soup.  You could certainly omit this step and just add the whole beans, but I really like the thickened result.  If you don't have or don't want to pull out a full-sized food processor, you could either smash the beans by hand or spend the best $10 you'll ever spend on a kitchen item and buy a Black & Decker mini-processor at Wal-Mart.'

Also, she calls for using paprika, but I substituted smoked paprika because, well, if it has smoked paprika (and/or cumin), I'm going to love it.  Even though it's a relatively small amount, it adds a great smoky flavor. 

Additionally, since I have a bit of extra cooked turkey on hand, I shredded some turkey breast in lieu of uncooked chicken.  I halved the recipe and then ended up adding 1 cup of shredded turkey (3/4 cup would have been plenty).  If you go with the cooked chicken/turkey route, simply add it before serving to simply warm through.  I also made a boatload of turkey stock so I used that in lieu of the chicken broth.

WHITE CHICKEN CHILI (6-8 servings)

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced into 1/2" pieces
1 small onion, diced
1 Tbsp EVOO
2 tsp finely minced garlic
2 (14.5 oz) cans chicken broth
1 (4 oz) can diced, undrained green chiles
1 1/2 tsp cumin
3/4 tsp paprika (regular or smoked)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne, or to taste, optional
S&P, to taste
1 (8 oz) Neufchatel cheese (reduced-fat cream cheese), cut into 12 slices
1 1/4 fresh corn or frozen corn, thawed
2 (15 oz) cans cennellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
chopped fresh cilantro, for serving
shredded cheese (your choice: Jack, Italian, cheddar....whatever you like), optional
tortilla chips, for serving, optional

Heat olive oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Once oil is hot, add chicken (if using uncooked poultry) and diced onion and saute until chicken is no longer pink.  Add garlic and saute 30 seconds longer.  Add chicken broth, green chilies, cumin, paprika, oregano, coriander, cayenne pepper (if using) and season with S&P.  Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.

Add cream cheese and stir until nearly melted (it will bread down into little bits and will appear to look like separated cheese, but it will eventually melt).  Stir in corn, and 1/2 of the beans, then process the other 1/2 of the beans along with 1/4 cup broth from the soup in a food processor until pureed, add bean mixture to soup (you can skip the pureeing step and just add the beans directly to the soup, the soup just won't be quite as creamy.)  Simmer about 15 minutes longer.  Mix in fresh lime juice and serve with cheese of choice, chopped cilantro, and torilla chips for dipping, if desired.

Recipe Source:

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Almond Roca

This is a repeat post.  But with winter and holidays on the horizon (yea!), I felt it needed repeating.

The reason I'm reposting is because if there is anyone who has tried making toffee for the holidays (or anytime) and has failed, I may have the answer.  I used to make English toffee and it came out perfectly for a few years.  And then the next two years: separation.  And then I tried this Almond Roca recipe.  It worked great.  Once.  And then again: separation.  What was going on?

I mentioned my dilemma to a friend and former neighbor (hi Pat!) and she asked if I was using salted or unsalted butter.  I always use unsalted butter (store brand).  She suggested using a name brand (Land o' Lakes) salted butter.  Since then, perfection everytime.  Funny, the recipes I used never specified salted butter.  So I don't know if it was the salt or the brand name, but my roca/toffee has worked every time since using this simple rule.

So, lesson learned.  I love to cook, I will bake, but candy-making has been my bane.  I'm still not a big fan of candy-making, but at least now I'm not as afraid of it as I was in the past.  Using good cookware (I used a non-stick lightweight cast iron Dutch oven) this was quick, easy (and easy clean-up), and came out as you would expect: crunchy, creamy, and delicious.

ALMOND ROCA (makes one 16"x12" jelly-pan roll, about 2 pounds)

1 cups salted, name-brand butter
1 cup sugar
6 oz slivered almonds
1 1/2 to 2 cups milk chocolate chips
3 oz sliced almonds
Kosher or sea salt, for sprinkling

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Spray with cooking spray.

Place the slivered almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in the oven at 300F for 5-6 minutes, checking often, until the almonds are golden brown and toasted.  Remove from the oven and set aside.

In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the butter and sugar and cook, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula (I used a wooden spatula) until the butter is completely melted and the sugar is dissolved.  Don't rush this step!  It may take up to 10 minutes for the sugar to dissolve but you don't want the heat too high during this part of the process.

Once the sugar is dissolved and butter is melted, turn the heat up to medium and stir gently as the mixture comes to a boil.  Again, this will take a few minutes.  Once it comes to a boil, clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and continue stirring gently as it cooks.  The mixture will gradually turn to darker shades of brown until it reaches the hard crack stage and should register 300F on your candy thermometer.  As you stir during this process, don't scrape the sides of the pan, just gently stir in a figure-eight motion.

Immediately take the roca off of the stove once it hits 300F and stir in the toasted, slivered almonds.  Pour the candy onto the prepared baking sheet, taking care not to scrape the bottom of the pot as your pour it out.  Using an offset spatula (sprayed with cooking spray), quickly spread the toffee into an even layer on the baking sheet.  It will cool quickly making it hard to spread.

Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the hot toffee and tent with foil.  Let the chocolate melt for 2-3 minutes, remove the tented foil and spread the chocolate chips into an even layer.  Sprinkle the sliced almonds over the top of the roca, sprinkle with salt and set the candy aside to let set and cool completely (place in your fridge for quicker cooling/setting).

Once cool and the chocolate is set, break into pieces.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Parsnip and Spinach Soup Dijon


OK, getting back to soups.  I ended up frying two turkeys and make the stock yesterday.  Needless to say, I've got a boatload of stock and I need to get into soup-gear.

I've said before that everytime I post a soup, I always say this is one of my favorites, so I decided to start dividing them into categories (chicken noodle, split pea, etc.)  So I would have to put this into my "Elegant Dinner Soup" category.  And it would be #1.

I don't know when or where I found this recipe.  It was certainly in my early cooking days as the recipe is typed on a lined index card (remember typewriters?)  I'm still surprised I even tried it as, at the time, I had never heard of a parsnip.  But I was in the mode of stepping outside of my 60's Oklahoma menus and venturing into new culinary challenges.  I couldn't believe how delicious they were, especially in this soup.

For me, this is a meal in itself.  Simply serve with a lovely, crusty baquette or Ciabatta bread, or a favorite artisan bread.  You'll feel like you've dined at San Simeon or the Biltmore in Asheville.

PARSNIP and SPINACH SOUP DIJON (makes 2 quarts)

1 lb peeled and sliced parsnips
1 large sliced onions
1 large sliced celery stick
1 peeled and cubed russet potato
4 cups chicken/turkey/vegetable stock
2 cups fresh spinach
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 cup cream
S&P to taste
parsley leaves for garnish, optional
lemon wedges for garnish, optional

Cook parsnips, onion, celery, and potato in stock for 25 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Add spinach.

Puree mixture in blender.

Return to stock pot.  Stir in mustard.  Mix in cream.  Add S&P to taste.  Serve hot or chilled.

Garnish with parsley and/or lemon wedges, if desired.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

Here's hoping all of your Thanksgivings were as easy as mine.  This was the easiest Thanksgiving I've ever had.   I made the dressing the day before, deep-fried the turkey, and made the absolutely easiest, quickest, most delicious pumpkin pie I've ever made.

I was so surprised at just how fast and easy this was.  Bought a ready-made graham cracker crust, and the rest was simply mixed in my KitchenAid.  No baking.  Just chill for a few hours. 

The recipe calls to mix the cream cheese bottom and then mix the rest in another bowl.  Not me.  I mixed both parts in the KitchenAid without cleaning it out in between.  Easy-peasy. And Oh-So-Good.

PUMPKIN CHIFFON PIE  (6-8 servings)

3 oz cream cheese, softened (reduced-fat works great)
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 cups whipping topping (reduced-fat also works great)
1 graham cracker crust (8-9")
1 cup cold milk (reduced-fat works great)
2 packages (3.4 oz each) instant vanilla pudding mix
1 can (15 oz) solid-pack pumpkin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
chopped nuts and/or additional whipped topping, optional

In a bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth.  Add whipped topping and mix well.  Spread into crust.

In another bowl, beat milk and pudding mixes on low speed  until combined; beat on high for 2 minutes.  Let stand for 3 minutes.  Stir in pumpkin and spices; mix well.  Spread over cream cheese layer.  Chill.  Garnish with nuts and/or whipping topping if desired.

Recipe Source: