Thursday, November 5, 2015

After a significant hiatus, we re happy to announce the creation of a series of videos entitled In Celebration of Good Food to air on our local public access TV station and to be shared on this blog. The final dates will be announced through this blog in the near future. Until that time we will be posting seasonal recipes and thoughts about food, along with comments from readers. Happy Cooking, Ann

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Easiest Salad I’ve ever made - and one of the tastiest!

It is still winter in Northern Vermont. The ground is covered with snow, but the days are noticeably longer, sun is stronger and I saw two cardinals in my backyard yesterday. But salad days are still a long way off and salads won’t replace soups anytime soon in our daily meal planning. Except for one, the Avocado Grapefruit Salad that my mother used to make (we are talking well over half a century ago......).

There are only two ingredients in this salad and the name tells all. One ripe avocado, one ruby grapefruit - that’s it. I start with the grapefruit as the acid in its juice will keep the avocado from turning brown when it is cut. I cut the grapefruit in half and using a curved grapefruit knife (one of the few items in my kitchen that has only one use) carefully cut the sections of fruit away from the membrane. Drop them into a bowl large enough to hold both ingredients and squeeze out the remaining juice over the sections. Cut the avocado in half, remove the large pit and score the flesh into “cubes” the size of the grapefruit pieces. With a spoon scrape them away from the skin and drop them into the bowl being sure to cover them with juice. Mix well and admire how the spring green of the avocado sets off the rose of the grapefruit visually just as the smooth creamy avocado sets off the tart grapefruit "explosion." Serve in two small bowls and enjoy. That’s all there is to it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Re: Lentil Soup

It is February and in Vermont that means soup weather, conjuring up images of a pot of soup simmering on a back burner all day. Unfortunately, for most of us with busy lives that has to remain a mental fantasy as we feel we don’t have time to make soup from scratch, and besides, there are all those tasty canned soups out there.

Although the canned soups are convenient, they can’t hold a candle to their homemade counterparts in either flavor, nutrition or cost. And with a little planning, a lot of soups can come together quickly, needing a minimum of time on the stove just before eating. And, when making a recipe that makes more servings than you can use in one meal you have created next day’s portable lunch or the basis for a different soup later
in the week. Using lentil soup, my all time favorite, as a study in flavor, nutrition and economics, I hope to show you how to begin to kick the canned soup habit.

Flavor is a personal matter, but most people respond to the freshness of something that doesn’t come out of a can. Also, when you make your own soup you are in charge of what herbs and spices you use. If you adore soy sauce or hot sauce, you may add them. If you don’t like thyme, don’t put it in. Home cooking is about what you like, not what someone else has put into the can.

Nutrition is a big reason why I cook for myself. There are a lot of things in processed foods that I don’t like and one of them is salt. One of the leading brands of canned lentil soup has three varieties out there with 18, 21 or 34% (443, 500 and 810 mg) of the daily allowance of salt in one cup of soup, according to their labeling. My homemade soup has only the amount of salt I put into it: none while cooking and a slight sprinkle when serving. One quarter teaspoon of salt has 590 mg of sodium, 25% of the daily allowance according to the nutritional information on my salt box; there are more than a dozen “three shake” sprinkles in a quarter teaspoon (I counted and measured). You do the math.

And now to look at the costs. A 16 ounce can (2 one servings) of lentil soup costs anywhere from $1.59 to $2.19 in area supermarkets, and takes just minutes to heat and serve. A standard lentil soup recipe that makes five one cup servings uses a half pound of dried lentils at $1.85 per pound, a carrot, an onion, a stalk of celery and some seasonings for less than $1.60. But it takes a little time: about 20 minutes to bring the water to a boil, chop the vegetables and put everything into the pot to cook; and an hour for the soup to cook. That hour of cooking can be divided up so that the soup has been assembled and half cooked long before it has to be served. The difference in flavor will more than compensate for the added half hour it will take to finish cooking on the stove. You get five cups of homemade soup for the price two cups of canned soup from ingredients always available on a moderately well stocked pantry cupboard. The added bonus for the environment: you don’t have a can to recycle!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Hot Lemonade

Continuing on two themes of my last blog, namely, new uses for common ingredients and making vegetables more fun, I will discuss frozen lemonade, as in, “if life gives you lemons.....”

Although frozen lemonade concentrate is available all year round, most of us think of it strictly as a summertime thirst quencher. It is so much more versatile than that! I use it in so many ways that are “off-label” that I totally forget about lemonade. As a thirst quencher I have two favorite drinks. For an iced tea that is so much better than any mix , bottled or canned drink simply put a tea bag in a cup, pour boiling water over it and let it stand 5 minutes. Take 1 - 2 teaspoons of frozen concentrated lemonade and put it into a tall heatproof glass. Fill the glass with ice. Put one of the ice cubes in the hot tea to cool it down and then pour the tea into the heatproof, plastic or metal glass and you’ll have a perfect glass of iced tea. A quicker drink is made by filling a glass with ice, adding 1 - 2 teaspoons of frozen lemonade concentrate and then mixing in plain seltzer to make a lemony soda. Yum.

But the best uses aren’t beverages at all. When I make a fruit salad I put a tablespoon of the concentrate in a bowl before I cut up the apple, pear, banana, etc. It keeps the fruit from turning brown, creates its own juice for the salad and adds a little tang. Its amazing how a fruit salad can come together with so few pieces of fruit and so little effort. Adding a few frozen strawberries and/or blueberries and some cut up orange sections adds color and texture as well as flavor to a winter fruit salad. And if you are tempted to put a dollop of ice cream or whipped cream on top. try mixing 1/4 cup plain or vanilla yogurt with one tablespoon of concentrate and you have a creamy, healthy, topping. (This lemon sauce is also great on pie, gingerbread, etc.)

It is with the vegetables that the frozen lemonade shines. The absolute simplest way to dress up brussel sprouts, broccoli, cooked green beans or cooked spinach (and any other green) is to to mix a tablespoon of frozen lemonade with a tablespoon of olive oil and mix it in with the cooked greens. For a fancier dressing for vegetables, melt a tablespoon of butter in the microwave in a glass or ceramic bowl. Mix in a tablespoon of frozen lemonade and a tablespoon of water and heat for 20 seconds. Add 1/4 cup chopped walnuts or sliced almonds and pour over the vegetable as you serve them. Vegetables won’t seem boring anymore.

This time of year in the depth of flu and cold season there is a fabulous remedy for that sore, scratchy throat. You guessed it: hot lemonade. Put a tablespoon of frozen lemonade concentrate in a cup; pour boiling water over it and enjoy a soothing drink that will remind you that summer will come again.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Vanilla/Chocolate Refrigerator Cookies

Christmas is almost here and you really wanted to bake a variety of cookies.  Where did the time go?  Maybe you can get one batch off, but were is the variety? We’ve got that covered with our Vanilla/Chocolate Refrigerator Cookies - one batch of dough makes six different cookies.  Here’s the recipe and the game plan.

Vanilla/Chocolate Refrigerator Cookies

1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 - 1 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp grated orange peel
1 1/2 cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoon cocoa powder

1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
one chocolate bar

Cream butter and sugar thoroughly.  Add egg,  vanilla and orange peel and mix well. Mix flour, salt and baking soda together and stir into butter mixture.

Divide dough in half and roll one half into a log 1 1/2 inches in diameter, wrap in plastic wrap or waxed paper and refrigerate until chilled through.

Add 2 tablespoons  cocoa powder to the other half and mix well.  Roll into a 1 1/2 inch log, wrap and refrigerate. 

When the logs are well chilled, preheat oven to 350° and slice one half of each log into thin slices (1/8 - 1/4 inch) and place on ungreased baking sheet and bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes.

Take the other half rolls and roll them slightly. Cut them in half.  Take one vanilla half and one chocolate half and roll them in the chopped walnuts, pressing firmly so that the nuts are really imbedded in the logs.  Cut each log into thin slices, place on ungreased baking sheet and bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes.

Take the last two logs, cut them in half and roll them so they are less than half inch in diameter.  Take one of each color and flatten and place one on top of the other.  Cut in half and stack and then cut in thin slices so that you have striped cookies. Place on ungreased baking sheet and baked 10 - 12 minutes at 350°.  These might take longer as they are a little thicker.

The last variation is pure kindergarten!  Take each remaining log and twist together. Fold it over itself and roll it into  log.  Fold it over itself and roll again and do that one more time and you will have a marbled log.  Slice the log into thin slices and you know what to do next.

After the cookies cool, melt half of the chocolate bar in a small microwavable bowl.  All microwave ovens are different, so I go by 30 second increments until the chocolate is soft.  It will be hot!  Don’t stick a finger in to test it; stick a cookie in to cover a third with chocolate.  Dip half of each variety of cookie in chocolate and you will have almost a dozen different cookies! All from one recipe!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Every so often I find a common kitchen staple that serves me well in many ways.  One such common ingredient that is mostly known as a “spread on bread” is cream cheese.  I use the reduced fat or “neufchatel” which sits next to its more calorie rich cousin in the dairy section, as the difference in flavor and texture is minimal and I’m happy to eliminate calories where I can!

One of the themes of Acts of Living is adding nutritious foods to our diet and sometimes, especially in the case of vegetables, it means dressing them up a little. There are many sauces and dips in Acts of Living that do just that with very little effort.  My newest discovery is a simple substitute for the ever popular white sauce (the base so many wonderful dishes) that can be used with vegetables or pasta and takes minutes to prepare.  I call it Simplicity Sauce and it goes like this:  Pour about 1/4 cup of milk into a small saucepan over a low heat.  While it is heating drop in two tablespoons of neufchatel cheese, cut into 1/2 inch (more or less) cubes and stir until smooth.  Add 1/4 cup  of grated cheese - parmesan, cheddar  or swiss work equally well.  When it begins to bubble, turn off the heat and pour over cooked vegetables.  That’s it!

It can be used in many ways and different herbs and vegetables can be added according to taste.  Sun dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, green tail onions can be added for color and flavor. I add a little onion powder to the sauce and then stir in two to four cups of frozen chopped spinach, cook for three minutes or until the spinach is heated through and  have a quick creamed spinach  that pleases everyone.

For an even quicker sauce, and one that requires no clean-up, put the milk and the cream cheese in a microwave ceramic bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds.  Stir or whisk the cheese into the milk and cream cheese and microwave for 30 seconds.  If it is not hot, microwave for another 30 seconds.  At this point you can serve it over vegetables or add spinach to it with a little onion powder and microwave for another minute.  Stir, microwave for another minute and stir again.  If it is not hot, continue to cook it a minute at a time until it is heated through.  When its hot, its ready to serve, right from the microwave to the table.  It doesn't get easier than that!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Welcome to my new blog.

Those of you who are familiar with Little Apple Press and Acts of Living: A Cooking Journal for the Culinarily Challenged  know that I am passionate about good food and about spreading the word about eating well in your own kitchen.  Home cooked meals are making a huge come back and with a little knowledge, very few tools and a willing heart, anyone can turn a few whole ingredients into a tasty meal.  Acts of Living will coach you through the basics  and open the world of cooking pleasures to anyone who picks it up and turns a few pages.

One of the joys of cooking is realizing how easily recipes can be adapted to suit personal tastes, preferences, health needs or just what happens to be in the pantry on a given day.  Acts of Living encourages that sort of experimentation  which can lead to more creative outcomes both in the kitchen and in other areas of one’s life.  Check back here regularly to see what new ideas are being posted about adaptations of recipes in the cookbook or new shortcuts to make cooking even more rewarding.

Let’s start a dialogue about good times and good food from the kitchen.

 Bon Appetit!