Consolation in the kitchen

My husband likes to say that when his wife gets upset, she starts cooking, so he can’t lose. He exaggerates, of course; but when things go topsy-turvy, I admit I do find some solace in kitchen duty.

So when I recently received sad news of a friend’s passing, I found myself consulting cookbooks, looking for something to bring to the family.

In a cookbook from my early days as a bride, I found a recipe for Rhubarb Nut Bread. This friend was originally from the Midwest, so a Midwestern pie and dessert staple like rhubarb seemed somehow fitting. And I had rhubarb in the freezer — not quite enough for the recipe, but I’d eke it out with some compatible and equally homey chopped apple.

The measuring, sifting, pouring, stirring was consoling, as was the thought that perhaps the end product would give some small comfort.

As my hands get busy with cups and spoons, flour and sugar, I think. Probably not the deepest thoughts; probably very ordinary ones about life and death. I think of the grieving spouse — one moment a wife, the next, a widow. I think of what is going on today in that other house, that other kitchen. My life and those of millions of others are continuing, while others have ended.

And I think that some of the most hopeful words in life can also be counted as the saddest: Life goes on.

Our time here is short. Religion promises believers a happy reunion beyond. But here and now, let us stop sometimes and think: On balance, have we said more “yes” than “no” to life and living? I don’t mean are we hang-gliding and nightclubbing and “doing things” 24/7. But simply — are we aware and enjoying what is spread before us daily? A gathering with friends, a quiet evening with the cat, a walk in the park. All small opportunities to pause and say to the universe, “I’m here and glad of it.”

Our friend lived a full life, with wife, children, work, travel, hobbies. I would say he lived a “Yes” life, and for that I am glad. I know people who seem to live a “No” life. Maybe they think that constant “no” gives them control. Perhaps, but of what? A steadily diminishing world.

I hope at the end that my life will be counted in the “Yes” circle. That I managed, despite fear or fatigue or orneriness, to look up and say “Yes” more than I said “No.”

The breads are mixed and in the oven now; in an hour they will be done. I wash the bowls and spoons, dry things off and put them away. I give silent thanks that I’m able to do these small things for myself and for others. Even so small an offering as a loaf of bread can be a “yes.”

This recipe is from “The Best of Taste,” a cookbook put out by the Illinois chapter of Alpha Delta Kappa, the International Honorary Society for Women Educators. It’s by Lucretia Crawford of the Mu Chapter.

RHUBARB NUT BREAD

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk (see notes)

2/3 cup oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon (baking) soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1 1/2 cups finely chopped rhubarb (see notes)

Mix ingredients together and pour into two greased and floured loaf pans. Add the following (optional) topping.

TOPPING:

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup white sugar

1 tablespoon butter

Mix together (cut in butter). Sprinkle on top of loaf. Bake 40 minutes at 325 degrees.

Notes: Instead of buttermilk, I put a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar in a cup measure and then add milk to make a cup. Let stand for 5 minutes, then use in recipe.

If you don’t have enough rhubarb, add chopped apple to make up the difference. I suspect this recipe would work well with all apple, too.

(c) Copyright Laura Groch 2014

Didn’t seed that coming: A new way with pomegranates?

pomegranate seeds on salad

A sprinkling of pomegranate seeds adds a bright touch to this simple green salad. (Photo by Laura Groch)

Cheery, colorful pomegranates are in season and ready to brighten our tables. Pomegranates are especially touted for their antioxidant properties these days, plus they are high in Vitamin C and a good source of fiber, says the POM Council.

But before we start cooking and eating, let’s decorate!

The fruits keep for a long time without refrigeration, so use them in a colorful display on your table or kitchen counter. Feature them in a large bowl or basket, and tuck in greenery, pine cones, cinnamon sticks or the like. Or mound them in a bowl with silver or gold round glass ornaments.

Now let’s talk juice. The flesh-covered seeds, called arils, are beautiful — once you’ve gotten them out of the fruit. But oh, the mess they can make! So I went online to see whether the Internet had come up with any new ideas.

Several videos demonstrated what I’ve now seen called the “fanning” method:

With a sharp knife, score the fruit in a circle  close to one end. Remove that part, then score the sides of the pomegranate where the white pith is showing — about 6 lengthwise slices. Then gently separate the pom into sections, invert it over a bowl, take a ladle or other hard kitchen tool, and start gently tapping the fruit. The seeds spill out magically.

I tried this on my poms, with mixed success. My fruits were a bit dry, so there wasn’t much “rind” to score, but I managed to separate the fruit into sections. Whacking — er, tapping — the fruit with a ladle did dislodge some seeds. (And some juice. My sink looked like a crime scene). But it sure didn’t get all of them.

I don’t want to completely dismiss this method — it may be perfect for plump poms. But mine weren’t, so I ended up using my tried and true way:

Get a deep bowl of water and put it in the sink. Cut the pom in half, then submerge it while you use your thumbs to break the fruit apart from the center. Gently separate the seeds from the pith. Some seeds will burst, but the water keeps them from splashing red juice everywhere, and the bits of pith will float to the top for easy removal. Strain in a colander, and voila! Lots of yummy seeds.

Now that you have those seeds, what to do with them? Well, they make a great garnish for salads. Sprinkle them on breakfast pancakes or waffles, or add to cereal or oatmeal. Making a fruit cup for an appetizer or dessert? Pomegranate seeds will brighten the presentation. Try spooning a few into a tall glass of sparkling white wine, or topping your ice cream with them! (And you can put them in a plastic bag and freeze them for later.)

Then there’s juice. Some ways to make juicing the seeds easy:

– Put them in a sturdy ziplock plastic bag, seal it, and then use a rolling pin to crush the seeds within the bag. Open (carefully), strain and drink.

– Put them in a blender and blend for a few seconds. Filter the results through coffee filters and/or cheesecloth until it looks clear, then drink.

Or just use a hand citrus juicer/reamer. One woman told me she sets up a board on sawhorses outdoors as a work station to do this. She cuts the fruit in half, uses the juicer to extract the juice, strains it and lets it sit overnight. Then she pours off the clear juice, which, by the way, is great for making jelly.

Use the juice as you would any other fruit juice — in salad dressings, baked goods, your favorite drinks (Pomegranate Margaritas, anyone?).

In short, the pomegranate has much to offer in everything from appetizers to drinks to main dishes and desserts, so don’t be afraid to sample these beautiful fruits. (Just wear red while you work with them, to be on the safe side.)

Here are a couple of recipes from the Pom Council:

SPICY POMEGRANATE RELISH

2 medium pomegranates, seeded, about 1 1/2 cups

1/2 cup finely chopped sweet onion

1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped, green jalapeno pepper

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

Gently fold together pomegranate arils and remaining ingredients.

Makes 1 1/2 cups.

GARBANZO SALAD WITH POMEGRANATE ARILS

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/3 cup lime or lemon juice

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon cayenne

1 cup pomegranate arils

Two (15 oz.) cans garbanzos, rinsed and drained

1 cup peeled, diced cucumber

1/2 cup chopped mild onion

Salt and pepper

In a small frying pan over low heat, stir cumin until fragrant for 3-4 minutes. Scrape cumin into a large bowl, and add lime juice, sugar, chopped cilantro and cayenne. Add pomegranate arils, garbanzos, cucumbers and onion. Mix, and add salt and pepper to taste.

If you have any other ideas on seeding, juicing and/or cooking with pomegranates, I hope you’ll share them by leaving a comment below.

(c) 2014 Laura Groch

Make the ‘Bean Scene’ in Encinitas this Saturday!

crowds at the lima bean festival in Encinitas, California

The bean scene was lively at the 2013 Lima Bean Festival held at the San Dieguito Heritage Museum in Encinitas, Calif.

Time once again to make the bean scene! I’m referring to the sixth annual Lima Bean Festival and cooking competition put on from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 27) by the San Dieguito Heritage Museum at 450 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas, California. Folks, when other tasting events can run you upward of $35 a pop, this is a nicely priced alternative at $15 adults and $5 kids (for advance tickets) or $20 adults on event day. Buy them at www.sdheritage.org/limatickets.php.

And the cuisine on call isn’t just lima beans — other legumes are in play, in

everything from soups to stews to yes, desserts (one winning entry was chocolate lima cake!). I’m helping judge the cooking contest again this year, and I can attest that some of the goodies are truly imaginative and very tasty. Food will be served from 12:30-2:30 p.m. So come on out, check out the plant and flower silent auction, bring the kids for some petting-zoo fun, and enjoy a quality afternoon for a good cause. Visit www.sdheritage.org or call 760-632-9711.

And speaking of beans … we’ve just returned from a trip to the UK, about which more later. Part of the “full English breakfast” is baked beans, seen on many a hotel breakfast menu to accompany eggs, bacon, sausage and grilled tomato and mushrooms. The Brits also enjoy nutritious beans as a quick, inexpensive dinner option over baked potatoes.

While we were vacationing there, I read a newspaper story about funds being restored to a before-school nutrition program. “And so,” said one of the school volunteers proudly, “this morning we were able to provide every youngster with a breakfast of beans on toast.” Sounds odd to us, but this carb- and fiber-rich meal is as much a morning mainstay there as cereal and milk or toast and jam to us.

It’s a good idea to bring beans into your menu any time or place. Check out the “bean scene” in Encinitas on Saturday for some inspiration — who knows, maybe you’ll enter the cooking contest next year!

Two simple tips to keep your pantry (or fridge) cleaner

Repurposing lids of various types and depths underneath jars and bottles that tend to drip will help keep your pantry shelves cleaner. Photo by Laura Groch

Repurposing lids of various types and depths underneath jars and bottles that tend to drip will help keep your pantry shelves cleaner. Also, note rubber band around oil bottle, second from left. Photo by Laura Groch

Labor Day now having come and gone, it’s fitting to post something about reducing one’s labors in the kitchen. So, time for a thrifty/nifty pair of hints:

Next time you are ready to toss a jar or container with a sturdy, fair-sized and relatively deep lid, wash it and hang onto it for a while. (Note: Do not save more than three. Just saying.) These make great “coasters” for various bottles and jars that tend to drip and make a mess in the fridge or pantry. Yes, olive oil bottle, I’m talking to you. And also to your pals vinegar and pancake syrup. 

In my pantry I’ve got the aforementioned bottles nestled in leftover lids. They keep my pantry shelves clean and are easily cleaned themselves.

Also, being able to hold onto bottles and jars prevents slips and spills. I routinely slip a rubber band (or two, depending on thickness) over bottles and jars that might tend to slip out of my hand. This especially works for refrigerated bottles, as they tend to start getting wet and slippery with condensation as soon as you remove them from the fridge.

The rubber-band trick also helps give you a bit more grip when you need to unscrew stubborn caps.

And if you enjoy visiting bars and breweries and wineries and have a collection of coasters that you’re not using, this is a good way to put them into action, too. They won’t contain a drip the way a lid can, but they can help keep a pantry or fridge or bathroom counter surface clean. (Um, hair spray can that rusts on the bottom?) Plus, you get to see them and enjoy them, for a while anyway, instead of shoving them in a drawer and having them get in your way when you’re really after batteries or adhesive tape or thumbtacks (what’s in YOUR junk drawer?). So use them and enjoy them, that’s my philosophy these days. ;<)

Creamy (and low-fat!) ranch-style dressing, with a surprise ingredient

Low-fat and loving it: Creamy faux-ranch dressing recipe from the NYTimes uses beans, yogurt and in this version, garlic. I loved it!

Low-fat and loving it: Creamy faux-ranch dressing recipe from the NYTimes uses beans, yogurt and in this version, garlic. 

If I told you I’d found a creamy, ranch-style dressing with LOTS less fat than the original, perhaps you would be more inclined to give those healthful salads a chance.
Well, since my last post on the topic of eating more healthfully, I’ve experimented with a neat salad dressing recipe seen in The New York Times that fits the bill.
It’s a creamy ranch-style dressing made with white beans and yogurt. The recipe says you can also use milk, and I suspect fat-free cottage cheese would also work. I’ll try it next time I’ve got cottage cheese in the house.
More often, though, I’ve got yogurt, so that’s what I used.
The dressing came out creamy, delicious, and on the thick side, so use it on a sturdy salad rather than on delicate greens. (If you thinned it with milk, though, it would probably work.)
I think it would also make a great veggie dip.
We tried the basic garlic recipe, but plan to give the cilantro and some other variations a whirl (get it, whirl, you use the food processor … ). If you’re trying to boost the flavor of your basic salad greens, or to add a bit more fiber to your diet, this is a painless way to do it. Let me know what you think!

This is the version I made and liked:

CREAMY FAUX-RANCH DRESSING

1 small garlic clove, halved, green shoot removed

1/2 cup cooked white beans, drained and rinsed if using canned beans

1/2 cup whole milk or 2 percent Greek yogurt or regular yogurt

1 ice cube, if using Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Salt to taste

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon minced chives

1 teaspoon each minced tarragon and dill (optional)

Process garlic in a food processor fitted with a steel blade until the minced garlic is adhering to sides. Stop processor and scrape down. Add beans, yogurt and ice cube and process until smooth. With the machine running, add lemon juice, salt, and olive oil and process until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Scrape into a bowl and stir in chives, tarragon and dill.  Makes 1 cup

Per serving (6 servings): 73 calories; 4 g fat;  3 mg cholesterol; 6 g carbohydrates; 1 g dietary fiber; 7 mg sodium; 3 g protein

More variations are suggested at the website. Have fun!

 

(c) copyright Laura Groch 2014

Go healthy: Five (OK, six) ways to trim the fat

pizza, half slice of pizza

Half a slice of pizza is better than none. (And you can also ask that half the cheese be used on it!)

Sorry for the hiatus! Been settling down to my new job. … :<)

So the doctor just told you it’s time to adjust the food intake: Cut the fat and cholesterol, tone down the salt, increase the fiber. But if you love burgers and pizza and ice cream, what’s a person to do?
Well, let’s face it — we know what we must do. But we can make adjustments to help the “medicine go down” a little more easily — and still keep eating (some of) the foods we love.
For most of us, changing our diets isn’t “all or nothing.” Being diagnosed with high blood pressure or diabetes or whatever doesn’t mean NEVER again having a chimichanga or brownie. But it does mean rationing some foods and making them treats, rather than daily fare. Thinking of those forbidden foods as occasional rewards (emphasis on “occasional”) will make whatever “deprivation” you’re facing much more bearable.
With that in mind, first take a deep breath, then tell yourself, “Yes, I can still have the occasional pizza slice or ice cream or french fries. But first I need to be eating my oatmeal/salad/applesauce/beans religiously. (And exercising more.) THEN I can reward myself.”
Here are a few ways to go:
Go low, not no. When it comes to fat, low-fat versions are preferable to non-fat versions, IMHO. Nonfat is often full of sugar and chemical filler. I think reduced-fat cheese tastes better and cooks better than the nonfat stuff. And reduced-fat ice cream (try that slow-churned version that’s less fat) is pretty good. Just don’t think you can now eat twice as much.
Go slowly (if your condition allows). A good way to transition from whole-fat versions to low-fat is to blend them until everyone is used to the new flavor. Here’s a way to wean yourself from whole milk to skim (our preference), for example. Instead of your usual gallon, buy a smaller container each of whole milk and 2 percent milk. When you use it on cereal or in coffee or for recipes, pour a mix of half whole milk, half 2 percent. That way everyone gets used to the lighter milk taste. When you buy milk again, get 2 percent and 1 percent this time and repeat the process. Last, buy 1 percent and skim, and then transition all the way to skim. Not everyone likes skim milk, though, so if your diet allows it, stop at the 1 percent level. You’ll still be “skimming” off a lot of fat. (Read the label.)
Go halves, Part 1: When you’re ready for that reward, go halves with someone. Half a chimichanga or a dessert is better than none. So when it’s time for a treat, share it with a pal or spouse. Eating solo? Ask that half the order be wrapped to-go by the kitchen, which puts it a little more out of your reach. Then stash it in the fridge — or better yet, the freezer — for another time. (Like after you’ve eaten a bunch more salads.)
Go halves, Part 2: Did you know you can order pizza with just half the cheese? Well, you can. And remember, half is always better than none.
Go “easy.” My eyes were opened to “easy” when I asked a waitress whether I could get a spinach-bacon omelet with just a little bacon in it. “Sure, just ask for ‘easy bacon,’” she told me. Surprise — you won’t be the first person to try to cut some of the fat or salt out of an entree. And most kitchens will be glad to accommodate reasonably “easy” requests.
Go naked. And by that I mean — skip the sauces, which are usually mayo-based. Like when you order that burger (occasional, remember!): Hold the cheese, hold the mayo and especially hold the special sauce. Get reacquainted with ketchup and/or mustard. Or, if it’s a high-end burger, eat it with just the lettuce, tomato and onion (raw, not grilled), so you can actually taste the meat. Fish tacos? Hold the sauce. Add lots of onions and chopped cilantro. Etc.
Not all these hints will work for everyone, but perhaps you’ll find some of them useful. My philosophy is, every little bit helps — and a lot of little bits add up.
It’s not easy changing dietary habits, but when needs must, I hope you’ll find success. Remember, people love you and want you to be around for quite a while longer.

(c) Copyright Laura Groch 2014

Fair time, and it’s free with food

It’s Fair Time in San Diego County! Did you know that if you take part in some of the one-day contests offered at the fair, you can get free entry that day? These contests are especially for amateurs, and several of them involve FOOD! Here’s a rundown of what’s going on and when. You will need to download an entry form, plus a form on which to write your original recipe, at http://www.sdfair.com/entry. Bring everything to the Home and Hobby Area on the second floor by 12:30 p.m. on the day of the contest. Your entry and entry contest form will admit you free!

The Great American “Spam” Championship,  Saturday, June 7: OK, short notice on this one, but if you’re used to whipping up your Spam specialty, you might be able to enter it in time! This year’s Spam contest is seeking Amazing Appetizers. Recipes are judged on Creativity, Taste and Presentation. The National Grand Prize is a trip to the 2015 Waikiki Spam Jam Festival in Hawaii (ages 18 and up). Fair prizes are $150, $50 and $25. Make your appetizer with at least one 12-ounce can of Spam products (Classic, Lite, Less Sodium, Hot & Spicy, or other) and up to 10 other ingredients. (Salt, pepper, cooking oil, water and garnishes do NOT count.) One National Spam Kid Chef of the Year (age 7 to 17) will be selected out of all 26 first place recipes, and will win a $2,000 cash prize.

All You Need Is Pie” Baking Contest, June 14: It’s just pie, folks! For ages 18 and over. Disposable plates are requested. Pies can be dessert or savory, and will be judged on filling (flavor and consistency) and crust (texture and flavor, appearance, uniqueness of product). First place winner in each class will receive $25.

“Jer’s” Chocolate Contest, June 21: Make a bite-size dessert recipe (amateurs only) using peanuts or peanut butter with chocolate. Chocolate prizes await the top finalists: First place, a Best of Jer’s Chocolates Gift Tower; second, Jer’s Chocolates Trio Tower and third, $25 Gift Certificate to Jer’s Chocolates. Entries will be judged on appearance, taste and creativity.

Bisquick Family Favorites Recipe Contest, June 22 (Ages 18 & Up).  Use Bisquick mix (1 cup or more) and make any   brunch, lunch, snack, dinner or dessert-type recipe. Amateurs only. Just make your recipe easy and spectacular! Recipes judged on ease of preparation, taste and overall appeal. First place is now $200 and there’s a New Entrant Award! Second is $100 and third is $50. Winners also receive a ribbon, award certificate and apron.

“Ringo’s Rockin Barbeque Sauce” Contest, June 28 (Ages 18 and over). Just the sauce, ma’am, just the sauce is the focus here. Judging will be on flavor, creativity, appearance and texture. Three categories: Hot and Spicy, Mild and Sweet, and Most Unusual Ingredients. Winner in each category gets $25.

“Sgt Pepper’s Salsa” Contest, July 1 (Ages 18 and over) Create your favorite salsa, and bring your favorite chips, crackers, pita chips, etc., that go best with your salsa for judging.  Categories are Most creative ingredients; Best tasting; and Most unusual. Salsas will be judged on flavor, creativity, and appearance and texture. Winners get $25.

Gold Medal Flour Cookie Contest, July 4 (Ages 18 & Up) Calling all cookies, any style, size or shape. Just be sure to use at least 1 cup of Gold Medal flour to create them! Cookies will be judged on Appearance, Flavor and Texture.  Prizes are $200, $100 and $50, plus a “New Entrant” Award. And all winners receive a ribbon, award certificate and apron.

Find more info at http://www.sdfair.com/pdf/2014_exhibits/home-hobby/one_day/2014ONEDAYADULTCONTESTS-Home-Hobby.pdf. And good luck!

 

(c) Copyright Laura Groch 2014