Giving Love at Christmas

Love for Christmas Giving

My mother wasn’t much for cooking, though she considered it her duty to serve us good, nourishing food. I don’t remember her ever baking anything sweet. She didn’t care for desserts; she considered them unnecessary and fattening. When I was old enough for her to trust me in the kitchen, she encouraged me to bake simple items like brownies or other easy recipes. Unlike her I truly enjoyed cooking and was happy to make what she permitted me to.

Once I had a family to bake for I broadened my repertoire and learned to make pies and cakes as well as cookies. However cookies were my favorite to make because they went farther. I used to count and divide up the cookies and each child knew what they could have. Because I was home with the children anyway, it was fun to try different recipes. Eventually I created a small Cookie Cookbook with my favorites that I still use today.

Although my family is grown and I no longer bake cookies regularly, every Christmas I make up several batches and create plates to give people who have been helpful or kind to Stephen and me in the past year. The newspaper delivery people who bring the newspaper to our floor, the ladies of the library where we take advantage of their services all year long, the fine gentlemen of the garage where we take our car for repairs and upkeep, and a few others I want to acknowledge for their kindness.

Favorite cookie recipes I usually make include my Disappearing Caramel Brownies, Jiffy Jam Delights, and Unexpected Company Bars, all reliable and relatively easy to make recipes. This time of year there are cookie recipes everywhere to be found, and while these are my personal favorites for giving, those with more time and energy than yours truly might make cut out cookies to decorate or even more fancy treats. If you want one of my recipes, please let me know which, and I will email it. To my way of thinking however one wishes to express love is valid. Spending time on a gift is one of my favorite ways.

While feeding people is one of the ways I use to express my love, I also appreciate recipes that take less rather than more time, yet still provide delicious tasting healthy food. I also collect recipes from others when they have something unique and special to share. Sometimes they even write them out for me. I have loose leaf notebook where I keep these, along with others. Within its plastic sheeted pages are pressed their treasured, handwritten pieces of paper.

The following recipe wasn’t written out by my late friend because it was so simple. Avocado and Grapefruit salad requires one grapefruit and one avocado per two people, so if you are serving a family you need to double or triple, depending. Think kind thoughts as you peel and section grapefruit, removing membrane and preserving juice. Cut in half, remove seed and section one avocado into slices. Combine all, add a tablespoon or two of a good tasting olive oil, stir well, chill slightly, and serve with love for the holidays or at any time at all.

 

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Home Cooked Food Feeds Body and Spirit

Fall Reflections 15As we drove down the highway to an appointment I noticed how the trees by the side of the road were beginning to look somewhat different. The ones with leaves that had not yet begun to change looked tired. Their color was no longer the vibrant green of summer. The ones that had begun to turn were just starting to color up, making a tentative venture into the opening notes of fall. The recent spate of warm days may have confused the trees or delayed their color, however, cool air will soon prevail and bring out the glorious brilliance we in New England are so fortunate to see each year.

While I still serve salads in the fall and winter, as the weather grows cooler I focus on warming foods. Cabbage is a great favorite in my household, both for its nutritional value and for the way it keeps so well in the ‘fridge, always ready to eat raw as in my cabbage salad, or cooked. Red cabbage, in particular with its vibrant color and hearty flavor is a very useful fall and winter vegetable. The following recipe is adapted from one I first saw on a video called Two Fat Ladies. The two women traveled the length and breadth of England collecting recipes for local foods. While many of their recipes were not anything I would care to reproduce—being too elaborate, too rich, or using ingredients I might not easily find, this recipe for red cabbage is easy and tasty, as well as economical. According to the Internet, one cup of chopped red cabbage has 33 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. The same portion of green cabbage only has 3 percent.

I have made it in a crock-pot, which reduces the need for stirring. However I also often cook it in my black iron frying pan. It doesn’t smell like overcooked cabbage, either, even though it needs to cook for at least 3 hours on the stove or much longer in a crock pot. It is delicious the day it is made and even better the day after. I always make a quantity because it keeps well and is handy for a quick supper. Serve it with hot dogs, sausages, or even hamburgers.

Ingredients: 1 medium red cabbage, 2 raw onions, 2 apples, 1\4 cup brown sugar Or 4 tablespoons apple cider, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons butter, salt and pepper to taste. Method: Using a sharp or serrated knife, slice cabbage as thin as you can, being sure to discard the core and any very thick rib slices. Peel and slice onions and apples, being sure apple slices are not too thick. Sauté onion in butter and olive oil until soft. Add these to the crock-pot, or combine in the frying pan with the cabbage, apples, vinegar and cider. Cook in the crock pot for around 6 to 8 hours or in the frying pan for 3 or 4, stirring at least once an hour or more if you like. Serve or refrigerate to reheat, and enjoy!

 

 

Simple, Quick Summer Recipes

A Salad 1

 

I do love to cook, however my enthusiasm tends to dwindle somewhat in warm weather. I confess I am always glad to see the cooler weather of fall roll around. In hot weather I work to make healthy meals that will tempt summer appetites as well as help me stay out of the kitchen for any length of time. Salads are always a good choice, however variety is the key to tempting lackadaisical summer appetites.

Condiments that can be used as appetizers or mixed into other ingredients to make dips are high on my list. I am happy too that the following parsley pesto has so much healthy food value. However, be sure to wash the parsley well, otherwise your pesto could be gritty. I didn’t once and was embarrassed once when I tasted it at a neighborhood potluck party. Parsley is a breath freshener, so ignore the quantity of raw garlic, said to help preserve youth.

Some years ago I invented a parsley pesto. I called it Garlic Whammo. It is an excellent condiment, can be used to enhance the flavor of any recipe you wish to perk up. All of the ingredients: garlic, parsley , olive oil and green peppers are full of vitamins, minerals, and anti cancer nutrients. Simple to make in the food processor, it keeps well in the refrigerator. You can vary the amount of garlic and also rest assured that the large amount of parsley will prevent a strong garlic presence on the breath.

Ingredients: 2 cups Parsley, large stems removed, packed into a one pint measuring cup, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup roughly chopped green pepper, 5 to 10 medium sized cloves garlic, pinch of salt. Place ingredients in food processor and whirl until they resemble a green paste with flecks of white. For best results, stop the food processor once or twice and push the mixture together. Chill and serve any number of ways: on crackers or cut up vegetables, mixed into cottage cheese or any vegetable dip, in scrambled eggs, or to enhance any stir fry.

Parsley Pea Salad: This recipe was invented when I accidentally left the frozen peas out on the counter and needed to use them quickly. It has proved to be very popular and is especially good with salmon salad. Ingredients: 3 cups thawed frozen (petite or regular) peas. (Do not cook) 1/3 to ½ cup snipped parsley, 2 Tbs finely chopped sweet onion, 1/3 to ½ cup good mayonnaise (Don’t use low fat or light style) 3 Tablespoons Dijon or other good mustard, 1½ tablespoons or more horseradish sauce, salt and pepper to taste. Mix ingredients and chill until needed.

Salmon Salad: This is a summer staple in our house. Usually I cook twice as much salmon as I need and reserve half for later. Amounts really depend on how much you have to work with. For a half pound of salmon, I suggest ¼ to ½ cup good mayonnaise, (to taste) ¼ to ½ cup chopped sweet onion, ¼ to ½ cup chopped green celery, 2 Tbs or so snipped parsley, 2 Tbs capers, salt and pepper to taste. Mix all ingredients well with a fork until salmon is well integrated with ingredients and chill until ready to serve.

Celebrating Special Days with Special Treats

Cake imageThe joyful birthday of our country on July fourth happens to be right next to and between my husband Stephen’ birthday on the third and our wedding anniversary on the fifth. Over the many years of our life together what a wonderful time we have had with our celebrations. In the past we would share what we used to call our three days of peace and love with friends. They would come from everywhere and stay for the three days, overflowing our large home and even camping in the back yard. The pool and the hot tub were frequently in use. They were joyous occasions.

Today we live more quietly, yet we still celebrate and have friends in to join us, though not so many or for so long. Special recipes are always fun to share for these occasions. One of Stephen’s favorites is a cake made with Almond paste or Marzipan. The main ingredient can be purchased at almost any market. This cake is not the kind to be frosted however you could also decorate it with fruit. In my case if I decide to make it this year I might spell out Happy Birthday Stephen with pieces of strawberry.

Marzipan Cake for Special Occasions

Preheat oven to 325

Grease and flour, or grease and line with parchment an 8″ round cake pan.

Ingredients:

7 or 8 oz almond paste or marzipan

¾ cups butter

2/3 cups sugar

3 large eggs, beaten

¼ teaspoon almond extract

¼ tsp baking powder

1/3 cup all purpose flour

Method: Crumble almond paste into bowl. Add butter. Beat well until blended. Gradually add sugar and beat well until mixture is light in color and texture. Add beaten eggs, continue beating for 3 minutes. Add flavoring. Sprinkle in baking powder by pinches. Fold in flower. Scrape batter into prepared baking pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until firm and browned on top, and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes on a rack. Slide a thin knife around and under the cake to detach from pan. Invert on rack then turn right side up and finish cooling. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

This cake is a wonderful treat, and can easily be made gluten free by using a flour mix from Bob’s Red Mill or another one you might like. It really helps to have a mixer, as it would be very labor intensive to mix it by hand, though it would also be excellent exercise. Whether I make this recipe or another I am fond of, I know I will enjoy celebrating these special days.

Easy, Healthy Spring Recipes

TashasSpiralGardenEven though I love to cook, in the good weather I’m happy not to have to   labor in the kitchen or spend time fussing with complicated recipes when I would rather be doing things out of doors and elsewhere. In addition, local fresh green vegetables are more and more often available as farm stands open and crops are harvested. It is such a treat when local asparagus as well as rhubarb become available. Both are helpful for the bodily cleansing that helps make for a healthful change of season.

This first recipe is win/win in that it goes together quickly, will please just about anyone, and is inexpensive to make. Gluten free or intolerant diners can make and eat it confidently using one of the many good gluten free pastas available in the local supermarkets. Asparagus Pesto and Pasta : Ingredients:1 Lb. Fresh Asparagus (The equivalent of 2 cups) 3 fresh basil leaves or 1 tsp dried—more is fine. ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, ¼ cup chopped pecans, walnuts or cashews, whatever you like is fine; 1 small clove raw garlic, ¼ tsp salt, 3 Tbs olive oil, 8 Oz fine spaghetti or fettuccine.

Method: Cook spaghetti to taste and drain. Add 1 Tbs olive oil and stir well. Place remaining oil, asparagus and all other ingredients in blender. Blend until smooth, pour over spaghetti, stir and serve with a side salad and some fruit for a complete meal. This is also a good recipe to have fun with: try other green vegetables and/or vary the herb as desired. The addition of Parsley would be a natural. Or combine say half a cup of parsley and any green fresh or lightly steamed and still bright green vegetable.

If you have access to rhubarb leaves, you might be tempted to think they are edible. However, they are poisonous for humans, so under no circumstances ought you to consume them. There is a simple recipe for an insecticide on Google so I won’t repeat it. But don’t spray the leaves of your lettuce with it. It’s poisonous and potentially dangerous.Use caution on vegetables, a simple onion garlic spray is better there.

Rhubarb is technically a vegetable and yet we generally serve it as a dessert. There are many ways to prepare it—pies, cakes, puddings and so forth. However, I have always preferred it steamed and eaten plain with honey. To enjoy rhubarb easily, simply purchase fresh, young stems at the market or if you are lucky, pick them from a friend’s rhubarb patch. Snip them into inch or so sections with a pair of sharp scissors. Put them into the top half of a double boiler or a bowl that will fit into a pot with some water in the bottom.

Another interesting thing about rhubarb is that it has so much liquid in it already you really don’t need to add any when you cook it the way I do in a double boiler. Cover and steam for about 45 minutes. Add ½ to ¾ cups honey or sugar, to taste. Stir well and chill. Serve any time of day for a refreshing treat as well as good cleansing for your system. Let your food be your medicine, especially in the spring!

A Recipe for Unexpected Guests

Spring blossoms, whiteIt makes me laugh when it gets cold after a warm day and someone says, “What’s happened to spring? It’s winter again!” That’s what spring is: a back and forth time of year. One day it’s lovely out, the next it snows. It’s difficult to make plans. Once many years ago my father decided to give an Easter egg hunt in the house he had inherited from my great aunt Alice. He invited all the members of an extended family of 12 children grown and married with children of their own, and told them all to come at one o’clock on Easter for the party. Then he went to Maine, intending to return that morning.

At eight AM that day it commenced to snow furiously. By twelve it had pretty much stopped, however my father, having been snowed in was still in Maine. I was faced with hosting a party for a large group of people I had never met not to mention hiding the eggs, providing the food, and being gracious. I called a friend and together we managed to pull off the party. I was rather put out with my father who very cavalierly said, “Oh, I knew you could handle it.”

For as long as I have known him, Stephen, like my father has been prone to spontaneously invite people over for a meal. Confident in my ability to come up with something on the spur of the moment, he doesn’t hesitate to play the host, and to be honest, I can say I have never minded. I love to cook and it gives me pleasure to provide for my friends or even for strangers who may become friends. The trick is to have certain things on hand that I can rely on to fix quickly and easily to feed two or more guests. Potatoes to bake and serve with sauce and cheese, shrimp in the freezer–a quick fix for shrimp scampi. Another is cooked rice for the following recipe.

Chinese fried rice works wonders as a quick meal. Of course you must have the simple ingredients on hand. The secret of this dish is that it must be made with leftover rice. Very quick to fix, it is popular with most. To serve four, use a cup of cooked rice per person, one egg, half a cup of frozen peas, half cup of chopped onion, half a cup of chopped celery, and 2 Tablespoons soy sauce or Dr. Bronner’s Mineral broth. If you have any leftover chicken, or extra firm tofu chop a half a cup of that too. 2 or 3 sliced garlic cloves and 2 or 3 Tablespoons ginger in thin strips is good too.

Take a half a cup large or extra large shrimp per person from the freezer, and thaw briefly in warm water. Peel if necessary and line up on a cookie sheet. Bake at 425 for 5 or so minutes. Scramble the egg without any extra liquid and fry in some oil or butter. Set aside. In a large frying pan, sauté the ginger, garlic, onion and celery in oil until transparent. Stir in the rice and cook 5 minutes stirring. Add the peas, the egg, broken up, tofu, chicken and shrimp. Stir in the soy sauce and cook 5 more minutes stirring occasionally. Voila, Dinner is served.

Thoughts from a Thrifty Cook

Tasha's Fridge 1My mother felt strongly that food was precious and not to be wasted. She had been a young child during World War I in Germany, and the experience of scarcity had shaped her attitude. To her way of thinking, all food was to be used up one way or another. Then came World War II and rationing. I too was very young, yet this also gave me lessons in thrifty use of food. Fortunately I have been able to put my early lessons to good use in learning how to create meals from whatever I have left over even if I hadn’t already planned ahead.

A chicken, for instance normally provides two people at least three meals: hot, cold, and soup. That’s easy, but what about the bits and pieces of vegetables, meat, fish, or even pasta that might otherwise molder in the back of the ‘fridge. Why not make a soup, or combine them in a quick stirfry? If your family is fussy about food you probably can’t do that, however a retired couple like us, or even a single person may find it fun to experiment. One warning: it is important for the leftovers from the originals to make good combinations. A curry and a chili won’t mix well.

To use up most leftover vegetables, sauté half an onion until soft and then tip in whatever you have. This freshens the taste and makes them seem like a different dish. Add half a box of chicken or beef broth and serve this as a soup with a salad for supper. Throw in a handful of uncooked pasta of your choice and simmer or add leftover rice for a heartier dish. Or combine the vegetables and the rice or cooked pasta, sprinkle on curry powder, voila, another meal. Cook any leftover hamburger or some other chopped up cooked meat and add to the simple stirfry for a more filling lunch or supper. You can also cover it with leftover mashed potato, pop into the oven and have a shepherd’s pie.

I often use some of that convenient boxed coconut milk to season my leftover vegetables. Or in the summer I may add some salad dressing and toss them with lettuce, chopped sweet onion, and whatever else you like for a cold meal. Adding some canned salmon or tuna makes a more filling meal. The coconut milk is also very tasty with leftover chicken stirfry or soup. Simply chop up what you have, add whatever vegetables you like and warm them all up together with either leftover or freshly cooked rice. For soup, add chicken broth.

Whenever I make rice I make enough so I have some left over. I like to use it to make what I call Pudding As Rice: Per person use ½ cup rice, 1 Tbs butter, 1 Tbs brown sugar, about a half cup or so mixed dried fruit of your choice—brown and white raisins, dried cranberries, cherries, dried pineapple, or whatever else you fancy. Mix and cook together over low heat 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally until all is mingled into a tasty mix and serve with almond, coconut or dairy cream poured over it. Or instead, combine it with fresh or canned fruit. This simple dessert pleases almost everyone.