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Monday, February 19, 2018

Family Dinner for Working Parents

Family dinner may seem like an all-to-ideal goal for many working families.  If you want to smooth the way to the dinner table, here are some tips to get you well on your way to a family dinner routine.
Tips to help get a quick meal on the table:
Frozen bread loaves or rolls.
  • They have whole wheat and white and if you keep some in your freezer, you can pull some out in the morning, put them in a greased pan in your fridge, then when you get home from school, pull them out of the fridge, and when they look nicely raised, preheat your oven to 375 and 30 minutes later or so, you have fresh bread.
  • If a loaf is too much for the two of you to eat, then try tossing 4 or 5 rolls into a loaf pan and letting it raise.  I might be a bit of a bumpy looking loaf, but will be just as tasty.
  • You could also just put them in a pie tin and let them raise as separate rolls.
  • You could put some rolls in the fridge in the morning, then after school, roll them out flat, and make individual pizzas.  This really is super easy – a bottle of pizza sauce lasts quite a while in the fridge, you can keep grated cheese and pepperoni in the freezer, and pull some out, sprinkle on your mini pizza dough and bake at 425 for 15 – 20 minutes.  You can even open a can of sliced olives, and keep the rest in the freezer, as well as pineapple tidbits and Canadian bacon.

Pre-made pizza crust
  • For the times when you don’t want to roll out and deal with pizza dough, keep a pre-made pizza crust in the freezer.  Pizza is a great way to use leftovers: leftover taco fixings become Mexican pizza, leftover barbeque chicken = BBQ chicken pizza, leftover bacon = BLT pizza.

Crock-pot/slow cooker (with leftovers planned into the menu)
  • Pot roast with carrots, onions and potatoes is a great meal, but don’t chuck the leftovers.  Before you put that clean crockpot away, add some tomato juice, a bay leaf, a rinsed can of white or navy beans, maybe some pearl barley and a little beef broth.  Put that on low while you’re at work and come home to a hearty soup.
  • Toss some chicken breasts or tenders into the crockpot with your favorite barbeque sauce.  When you get home, add some fruit and a salad and you’ve got a great meal.  When cleaning up dinner, shred that chicken and put in the fridge for the day after tomorrow (you may not want 2 BBQ meals back to back).  Pull a pre-made pizza crust out of the freezer before work.  When you get home, top with BBQ sauce, shredded chicken, some frozen corn and Monterey Jack or mozzarella cheese.  Bake at 425 for 15-20 minutes.  Serve with a salad and you’ve got a delicious meal with very effort.

Salad Spinner

  • I’m not one to go for every kitchen gadget known to man (mostly because I don’t have the space).  But the salad spinner can be a very healthful gadget.  Whether you are buying a bag of salad, or harvesting your own from your garden, the salad spinner not only helps clean and dry the salad, but it is a great storage solution that will allow you to eat salad all week.  Salad stays fresh for days and you can just pull some out to add to any meal.  For example: Monday you might want taco salad.  Keep the leftover greens in the salad spinner and the next day you can add a side salad to your crockpot chicken menu.  Maybe the following day you can have a salad-topped pizza (another use of the pre-made pizza crust).  And to use up the last of your salad, it might go into BLT wraps the following night.

Best Cherry Pie Recipe on the Planet!

I grew up singing that song about Billy Boy's quandry of whether his future wife could bake a cherry pie or not. . . odd song, but a tasty lesson there. Folks are generally wowed by a lattice topped pie, but they needn't be, it is rather simple and actually quite fun to express a little edible artistry in my all time favorite dessert.

Cherry Pie Filling:
2 cans tart pie cherries (I can my own and use a quart, that provides leftover juice perfect for cherry lemonade)

Drain cherries and reserve juice. You will want 3 to 3 1/2 cups of cherries and 1 cup of cherry juice.
In medium sauce pan mix together:
3/4 c – 1 c sugar
1/3 c flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup cherry juice

Whisk until sugar and flour mixture is well dissolved. Cook on medium high heat stirring constantly. Boil 1 minute, then remove from heat. 
Stir in: 
3 1/2 c drained cherries

Pour cherry filling into prepared pie crust (recipe to follow) and dot the top with 1 tsp. butter

Add top crust. For lattice – cut 1/2 inch wide strips of pie crust, and then starting with the center strips, weave together just like you would to make placemats in kindergarten. 

Seal crust pieces down by wetting slightly with water. Use leftover lattice strips to cover the edge of the crust, then crimp edge. 

Place pie on a cooking rack that is placed on top of a cookie sheet lined with foil. My pies inevitably boil over and this saves me the grief of having to clean the oven afterward. 

Bake at 375ยบ F for 1 hour. Cool and serve warm or cold. 

Pie Crust:
1 ¼ cup flour
¼ tsp. salt
Mix together, then add:
1/3 cup shortening
Cut together with flour mixture until pea-sized lumps remain.
In a separate bowl:
1 egg white
1 tsp. white vinegar
2 Tbsp. cold water
Whisk together, then stir into flour-shortening mixture just until moistened. Do not over mix, or it will toughen the crust. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Head's Up Chocolate Lovers!

How big is our craving?
Although America doesn’t out eat all other countries when it comes to chocolate (the Swiss hold that title). We are no lightweights when it comes to the most notable and sometimes notoriously craved food in the world.  The Average American eats 12 pounds of chocolate per year.  That is the equivalent of 16 bags of chocolate chips. 

The history of the chocolate craze:
Known history of chocolate dates back 4000 years, and while we associate it’s early history starting in 1900 BC near modern day Chiapas Mexico and much later with Montezuma and explorers who brought it over to Europe, some lesser known history actually hits closer to home.  The earliest traces of cacao in this country have been found in southern Utah and date back to 780 AD.  This discovery is even more surprising when you recall that cacao is grown solely within 20 degrees latitude of the equator.  And yet ancient chocolate found its way 1,500 miles north to dry, hot Utah.

Test your knowledge of one of the most interesting foods on the planet.

True or False: Chocolate is high in caffeine. 
False. 1 oz. of dark chocolate (3 squares) has 12-15 mg caffeine – about 1/10th the amount in a cup of coffee. Semi-sweet and milk chocolate contains even less.
True or False: Chocolate is bad for your cholesterol.
False. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids which help reduce the formation of LDL cholesterol and increase HDL (good cholesterol).
True or False: 1 serving of chocolate has more iron, copper and zinc than 1 serving broccoli.
True.  While chocolate is no substitute for eating your veggies, dark chocolate does contain some healthful nutrients and fiber. 
True or False: Cocoa and Cacao are identical and interchangeable terms.
False.  Cacao is produced by pressure but not heat and cocoa involves heat in the processing which can destroy some of the healthy flavonoid compounds. 
True or False: Chocolate can improve your mood. 
True. Certain compounds in chocolate can improve mood and alertness, however, some of the mood improvement may just be attributed to the sensory effect of eating chocolate itself.

Health Benefits:
While chocolate provides minerals such as iron, copper, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus, the stars of the show when it comes to health benefits are the flavonoids.  These compounds help reduce blood pressure and reduce the production of LDL cholesterol.  Studies are researching links between these compounds found in chocolate and things such as improved brain function and memory and even oxygen use and endurance in athletes.  And of course, there are the mood enhancing effects of chocolate, which may account for the unrivaled craveability of this dark delight. While the % cocoa on the label doesn’t guarantee a certain level of heart-healthy flavonoids, the darker the better.  Also, heat and alkali destroy these healthy compounds so dutch processed and more heat processing means less health benefits.

Trends to watch for:

Keep an eye out for interesting additions to chocolate this year such as spirulina (blue-green algae), tahini, matcha, or other super foods.  Lavender chocolate is said to be on trend as well.  But if some of those combinations sound less than appetizing, it’s hard to nutritionally beat the classic combination of chocolate with nuts and fruit.

Take Home Tips:
The darker the chocolate, the more health benefits you’ll get. 
Portion control remains in force even for healthful foods.  A few squares a day are fine, a few whole chocolate bars . . . not so much.