Taste of Home: Kitchen basics for your summer get-togethers

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A lot of people are gearing up for Memorial Day get-togethers -- and summer parties in general. Mark Hagen from Taste of Home joined the Studio A team with some kitchen basics.

Fresh Apple & Pear Salad

This fun combination of ingredients comes together beautifully in one flavor-packed dish. Crunchy apples and ripe, juicy pears are fantastic tossed with crisp, cool cucumbers and a spicy dressing. —Jean Ecos, Hartland, Wisconsin

Prep/Total Time: 20 min.

4 medium apples, thinly sliced
2 medium pears, thinly sliced
1 medium cucumber, seeded and chopped
1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 cup apple cider or juice
1 tablespoon snipped fresh dill or minced fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

In a large bowl, combine apples, pears, cucumber and onion. In a small bowl, whisk remaining ingredients until blended. Pour over apple mixture and toss to coat. Refrigerate until serving. Yield: 8 servings.

Nutrition Facts: 1 cup equals 96 calories, 2 g fat (trace saturated fat), 0 cholesterol, 175 mg sodium, 20 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 1 g protein. Diabetic Exchanges: 1 fruit, 1/2 fat.

Mediterranean Chicken Pasta

For special days, I make this cheesy pasta bake loaded with chicken and all sorts of veggies. Want a vegetarian version? Use vegetable stock and garbanzo beans. —Liz Bellville, Jacksonville, North Carolina

Prep: 25 min. Cook: 20 min.

1 package (12 ounces) uncooked tricolor spiral pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large sweet red pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup white wine or reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup julienned soft sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil)
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 can (14 ounces) water-packed quartered artichoke hearts, drained
1 package (6 ounces) fresh baby spinach
1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
Thinly sliced fresh basil leaves and shaved Parmesan cheese, optional

Cook pasta according to package directions. In a 6-qt. stockpot, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook and stir 4-6 minutes or until no longer pink. Remove from pot.
In same pot, heat remaining oil over medium heat. Add red pepper and onion; cook and stir 4-5 minutes or until onion is tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Add wine, sun-dried tomatoes and seasonings; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 5 minutes, stirring to loosen browned bits from pot.
Add broth and artichoke hearts; return to a boil. Stir in spinach and chicken; cook just until spinach is wilted.
Drain pasta; stir into chicken mixture. Stir in feta cheese. If desired, top servings with basil and Parmesan cheese. Yield: 8 servings. Editor's Note: This recipe was tested with sun-dried tomatoes that can be used without soaking. When using other sun-dried tomatoes that are not oil-packed, cover with boiling water and let stand until soft. Drain before using.

Nutrition Facts: 1-1/2 cups (calculated without Parmesan cheese) equals 357 calories, 8 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 39 mg cholesterol, 609 mg sodium, 42 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 23 g protein. Diabetic Exchanges: 2 starch, 2 lean meat, 1-1/2 fat, 1 vegetable.