ditch the trendy meals

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I love to cook, and I love to eat! I spend a lot of time online researching food facts, nutrition, and ingredients to create many of my own recipes. But ever since the elevation of the “celebrity chef” to near god-like status, trendy food styling and ingredients are out of control. Food topics are now “above the fold” and recipes are breaking news.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the attention given to the wonderful variety of foods available in our modern grocery stores. And we’re a long way from the meat and potatoes diet our grandparents lived on. Advances in nutritional science have created changes in that old “food pyramid” from an emphasis on carbohydrates to vegetables and fruit. It’s just those pesky trends that continue to irk me.

I don’t know about you but I‘m pretty much done with the laundry list of fads that continue to assault this foodie’s semi-purist sensibility.

Personally, I’ve had it with Buffalo-style anything, especially chicken wings—possibly the most unhealthy part of the beloved bird. Then there are chipotle peppers, chimichurri, salsa, red pepper flakes, and hot sauce in everything! Let’s dial hot, spicy foods back a bit so we can taste the delicate flavors we love.

When did cilantro become a staple? TV chefs are putting the soapy, nasty herb in dishes that never rubbed elbows with it before! When I saw a cook assaulting some beautiful grilled salmon with cilantro, I wanted to—well, let’s just say I was not happy.

And what’s up with kale? Chefs are putting it in places it’s never been before.  Cooked, it has a strong, bitter, “cabbagey” flavor; raw, it’s tough, like chewing on elephant ears. Yum. Give me more of that. Actually, I still prefer spinach, romaine, and leafy lettuces—so tender, crisp, and sweet.

Then there’s presentation. Stacking food in the middle of the plate has been a popular serving style since the 1980s, but I hated it then, and I hate it now. It’s pointless (you still have to level off everything to get at it), and it’s dangerous (ever try carrying plates loaded with towers of food to a table of hungry teenagers?).

My recipes will never ask for kale, cilantro, food towers, or trendy anything. I can’t guarantee gluten-free either. I try to buy organic vegetables, meat, and eggs, and steer away from foods that aren’t non-GMO. I’m not perfect so I leave it to you to make food choices you are comfortable with. Here’s an easy, quick, and delicious way to start. Happy eating!

easy non-trendy “tex-mex” orzo

serves: 6

Always available, always a bargain, and always easy to prepare, orzo is rice-shaped pasta kids and adults alike enjoy. Combining beans with vegetables makes a nutritious dish you and your family will love.  If you feel the need for a protein, add diced poached chicken or shrimp. No hot sauce required unless you like it!

ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced (or ½ tsp garlic powder)
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 15.5-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 10-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1½ cups frozen  or drained canned corn
  • 3½ cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth, or whatever you have on hand)
  • 16 oz. orzo pasta

instructions:

  1. In a large pot over medium high heat, add olive oil and heat until shimmering.
  2. Add red bell pepper, green bell pepper, garlic, and onions. Sprinkle with salt and sauté for 3-5 minutes, until just softened and fragrant. Add cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper and stir until combined.
  3. Add the black beans, diced tomatoes, corn, and orzo. Stir to combine.
  4. Slowly add the chicken stock then bring mixture to a boil, turn the heat to medium low, cover and let simmer until orzo has fully cooked through and absorbed most of the liquid, about 13 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Serve hot with warm flour tortillas or in lettuce cups. Pass the shredded jack cheese.

Is there a food fad you love to hate? I’d love to hear from you. You can also send me your favorite recipes. If I use them in my column or blog I will credit you. Let me know at my new blog address, http://www.cooksjournalblog.com, where you can comment, follow me, and receive and print out every post sent directly to your inbox.

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romantic suppers and sweets

Shrimp pasta

I failed to post this column on time as I became ill shortly before the holiday! Sorry to all my followers! Here it is, new and improved!

Valentine’s Day means expressing your love for your spouse, partner, family, and friends. What better way than to say it with food you lovingly prepare? Here are two suppers and two desserts to consider.

pasta with shrimp, tomatoes and feta cheese
Who said you can’t serve seafood with cheese? Ever have a tuna melt? Crab and swiss? Here’s delicious exception perfect for a Valentine Day supper.

ingredients

  • 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 lb raw large or jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 5 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
  • 1 Tbs each white wine and balsamic vinegar
  • ½ to 1 lb pasta (I usually make only half a pound since I like a higher shrimp-to-pasta ratio using linguine or bowties.)
  • 15 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • ½ can of petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp dried basil
  • 1 (6-ounce) package crumbled feta cheese

directions

  1. In a skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cook shrimp, garlic and white wine for 4-5 minutes or until shrimp is pink. Do NOT overcook!
  2. Remove shrimp with slotted spoon and set aside. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes until al dente; drain and keep warm.
  3. While pasta is cooking, place diced tomatoes and halved grape tomatoes with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, balsamic vinegar, oregano, and basil over medium heat into wine mixture in skillet until tender—10 minutes.
  4. In a large bowl, toss hot pasta with shrimp, tomato mixture, and feta. Feta will melt slightly. Serve immediately with lemon wedges and a crusty bread.

 

Chicken feta beans toms

greek chicken tenders with veggies
Prefer chicken? This dish is packed with flavors sure to spark up any evening!

for the chicken

  • 2 Tbs plus 1 tsp olive or avocado oil, divided
  • 8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 lb fresh green beans
  • 1.5 lb chicken tenders
  • 2 Tbs honey
  • 3­/4 Tbs balsamic vinegar (do not substitute)
  • 1 cup grape/cherry tomatoes, halved

for the greek dressing

  • 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 fresh squeezed lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt 1/2 tsp black pepper

directions

  1. Sauté mushrooms in large frying pan with 1 tsp of the oil, until just browning. Remove from pan, set aside.
  2. Heat 1 Tbsp oil over medium­-high, add green beans. Sauté until green beans are cooked, but still a bit crunchy. Remove from the pan, set aside.
  3. Heat remaining 1 Tbs oil over medium-­high, add chicken, salt, and pepper.
  4. Cook chicken 3­-4 minutes on both sides and remove once browned & cooked though. Remove from pan, set aside. Whisk all dressing ingredients together.
  5. In the same skillet, lower heat to medium, add dressing, honey, and balsamic vinegar. Stir and heat until bubbling.
  6. Toss in mushrooms, and green beans then the cooked chicken and tomatoes. Stir to heat through. Serve over rice or pasta.

 

easy chocolate bar fondue
This takes on a romantic hue when served with champagne. If made ahead, keep the chocolate warm in a double boiler till ready to serve.

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 1 pound milk or dark chocolate bars, broken into pieces
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries
  • 1 store-bought angel food cake, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 8 ounces dried fruit, such as pineapple slices and figs

directions

  1. In a small saucepan, over low heat, warm the cream and chocolate. Stir until the chocolate melts. Transfer the fondue to a warm serving bowl or fondue pot.
  2. Serve immediately with forks for dipping strawberries, angel food cake, or whatever you like.

 

chocolate-cinnamon pudding with raspberries
So easy to put this together ahead of time. Kids will especially love the flavors.

ingredients

  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 2/3 cup plus 1 Tbs packed brown sugar
  • 2 ½ cups whole milk
  • 1 ¼ cups heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups fresh raspberries, or frozen raspberries, thawed

directions

  1. Combine the cocoa, cinnamon, cornstarch, and 2/3 cup of brown sugar in a heavy saucepan. Whisk in milk and 1/2 cup of cream.
  2. Bring to a boil and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until pudding is thick and smooth.
  3. Remove from heat and add vanilla.
  4. Whip remaining cream in a separate bowl with the remaining sugar until soft peaks form.
  5. Pour pudding into individual ramekins or a large bowl and press plastic wrap directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Serve warm or chill for at least two hours. Top with raspberries and whipped cream.

your turn
Hope you enjoy these romantic dishes! Here is a PDF you can print out for your recipe collectionRomantic Suppers and Sweets Blog 2-16

shakers exemplify simplicity

Shaker Village

The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing (called the Shakers) was founded in the 18th century in England as a branch of the Quakers. The sect fled to America to gain religious freedom.  Known for their communal lifestyle, pacifism, and practice of celibacy, they also established model for equality of the sexes. Shakers are famous for their simple living, food, architecture, and furniture. Their credo is, Hands to work; hearts to God.

Because they relied on evangelism alone to grow their numbers, today only one active Shaker village remains in the U.S.—Sabbathday Lake, near New Gloucester, Maine. The village grows all its own herbs and includes them in most of their dishes. I was privileged many years ago to host a Shaker exhibit at the Nylander Museum in Caribou and to take a cooking lesson from the wonderful staff of kind, gentle folks. Here are a few of the dishes they prepared, and I’ve adapted their recipes for today’s cooks.


shaker chicken tarragon
Four ingredients? How can a recipe be more simple or easy? Tarragon is a type of mint with a mellow grassy flavor that pairs perfectly with chicken or fish. That’s why this dish is so flavorful. If you buy a free-range, organic chicken, you don’t need a ton of ingredients. And you’ll actually taste the chicken! Totally worth it.

ingredients

  • One 2½ lb. free-range, organic frying chicken
  • Butter or cooking oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Dried tarragon

directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300° and prepare a small roasting pan by coating inside with a small amount of butter or oil.
  2. Thoroughly wash the inside and outside of the chicken with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Rub entire outside of chicken lightly with oil or butter. Sprinkle salt in cavity and rub in. Sprinkle salt and rub all over outside of chicken. Repeat with the tarragon inside and out.
  3. Place in pan and tuck wings under. Tie legs together with cotton twine. Bake about 2 hours or till thermometer inserted in the meatiest part of the breast reads 165°. (Tent with foil if breast or legs get too brown.)
  4. Remove from oven. Cover with foil and let rest for fifteen to twenty minutes while you prepare the table. Serve in halves or quarters as needed.

shaker herb biscuits
The secret here is to not overwork the dough. Overworking develops gluten, which is fine in yeast bread, but not in biscuits. Herb biscuits can be made with any herb—totally up to you. This is great because you can make dill biscuits to serve with fish; basil and oregano to serve with Italian food; or thyme and sage to serve with pork. Measurements are given for dried herbs, but fresh herbs can be used at the ratio of 4 times fresh chopped to 1 dried (1 tsp fresh to ¼ tsp dried)

ingredients

  • 4 cups flour
  • 3 rounded tsp baking powder
  • 3 Tbs sugar
  • 3 tsp total of any dried herb or combination: thyme, dill, basil, chervil, marjoram, sage, oregano
  • 1 tsp table salt (or 2 tsp kosher salt)
  • 6 Tbs shortening (lard or solid shortening work best)
  • 2 cups milk

directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°.
  2. Sift together flour, salt, and baking powder. Stir in herbs.
  3. Cut shortening in small pieces and blend into flour mixture with fingers or a pastry blender till it is in pea-size pieces.
  4. Gradually mix in milk very gently till well mixed.
  5. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and roll to a thickness of one inch, and, if it resists stretching, allow dough to rest if necessary.
  6. Use a round cookie cutter or simply cut dough into squares. Place on greased cookie sheets
  7. Bake for 20-30 minutes till raised and browned.

TIP: Just read this the other day, and this might very well be the reason why my and many others’ biscuits fail to rise as high as they should. Apparently, if you use a cookie cutter or jar rim to cut your biscuit dough and, like most of us, TWIST the cutter, it can seal the layers and prevent the biscuits from rising! I had no idea, and intend to test this very soon with twisted and non-twisted cutting. I would imagine the same goes for cutting the dough in squares—no sawing. Just cut straight down. Write to me if you discover anything. 


dill dip
Chop up those celery sticks, baby carrots, mushrooms, and bell peppers. Here’s a wholesome veggie dip to make at home (store-bought jars of veggie dip are loaded with sugar and chemicals!) that is healthy and nutritious.

ingredients

  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise or Miracle Whip®
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 Tbs minced onion
  • 1 Tbs minced fresh parsley or ¾ tsp dried
  • 2 Tbs fresh dill weed or 1½ tsp dried dill weed
  • 1½  tsp kosher salt

directions

Mix all ingredients and place in the refrigerator for 8-24 hours before serving. A squeeze of lemon or lime juice and some rind will improve the flavor even more. Serve with prepared veggies and crackers if desired.


TIP: You can buy herb seeds at any local grocery or hardware store and start your own herb garden on your windowsill. Transplant small plants outdoors or grow in containers on your deck or dooryard steps. You can clip them as needed all summer long and cut and dry them for winter use! If you have any questions about growing or drying herbs, please write to me at stardesign@ainop.com.


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hello, gorgeous! – part 1

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My tomatoes were grown in containers in my driveway.

do something with those gorgeous garden veggies!
Even if you don’t have your own veggie garden, there are many roadside stands, greenhouses, and farmers’ markets out there where you can pick up an amazing harvest of gorgeous, delicious, and sometimes organic, veggies. I’ve compiled a nice collection of unusual recipes that capture the spirit of the harvest that you and your family will want to enjoy for years to come.

feta and parmesan zucchini bake
This is so easy to throw together and a great way to use up zucchini or summer squash. Since eggs and cheese provide protein, this dish can be served alone with crusty bread for a quick late summer meal.

  • 6-7 medium zucchini or yellow summer squash
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 Tbs minced garlic
  • 2 tsp dried thyme or 1 ½ Tbs fresh thyme leaves
  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbs lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375° and spray a large casserole dish with nonstick spray. Slice the squash into 1/4″ slices. If they are larger squash, cut them down the middle before slicing into half-moons. Heat the oil to medium high in a large non-stick frying pan. Add the squash, garlic and thyme. Sauté and stir constantly until the squash starts to brown and soften slightly. Don’t cook too long or it will be mushy after it bakes in the oven, and the garlic will burn. Remove from heat.

Beat together the eggs, sour cream, cheeses and lemon juice in a medium-sized bowl. Place half of the squash into the bottom of the casserole. Sprinkle on some salt and pepper (remember the cheeses are salty!) then spread 1/2 of the egg mixture over the top. Repeat with remaining squash and then the egg mixture. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the mixture is bubbling and slightly set. Serve hot.

 

Buffalo Green Beansbuffalo-style green beans
This is an old Weight Watchers recipe I’ve adapted. It serves four, but you can double it.

  • 4 tsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbs orange juice or lemon juice
  • 2 tsp Tabasco or Frank’s Hot Sauce
  • 2 nice-size plum tomatoes, diced, or 1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
  • 2 or 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 pound green snap beans, washed, trimmed, and cooked until tender-crisp and well-drained
  • 4-5 fresh basil leaves rolled and sliced thin, or 1 tsp dried
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper or to taste
  • 1/8 tsp table salt or to taste

Whisk together oil, Worcestershire sauce, juice, and hot pepper sauce. Stir in vegetables, basil, salt, and pepper; Serve hot, or chill for 1 hour or overnight. Divide into 4 portions and serve with blue cheese dressing.

lebanese potato salad
This is a tangy variation on your potato, onion, and mayo version. The ingredients, like lemon, scallions, and fresh mint, make it a popular local dish, and it will be a big hit at potluck dinners, too. It is also very nutritious. You can make this with new potatoes, too. Just reduce boiling time.

Make Ahead Tip: Prepare all the ingredients ahead of time and refrigerate, then assemble just before serving. For a creamier salad, whisk ½ cup of plain yogurt into the lemon juice and oil mixture. Enjoy!

  • 4-5 pounds Round White potatoes (about 6-8 medium)
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 6 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 8 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup each chopped fresh mint and fresh parsley

Scrub potatoes; remove stems and eyes. Place in a large saucepan. Cover with lightly salted water. Bring to a boil and cook until tender, 25 to 30 minutes, or till a fork is inserted easily. Drain and rinse with cold water. Transfer to a cutting board. Let cool for 20 minutes. Cut the cooled potatoes into 1/2-inch pieces leaving the skins on.

Whisk lemon juice, oil, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add the cut-up potatoes and toss to coat. Just before serving, add scallions, parsley, and mint and toss gently.

roasted zucchini coins
This is a cinch to put together. Let the kids help. Be daring! Add sliced mushrooms, onions, or any fresh summer veggie.

  • 2 zucchini (give or take depending on size and how many people you are feeding)
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Rosemary (fresh if possible, but dried works, too)
  • Garlic cloves, sliced
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Preheat oven to 375 F.

Cut zucchini into large coins and then quarter. Place the zucchini and garlic in a large zipper bag, drizzle in enough olive oil to coat, sprinkle in some salt and pepper, a bit of crushed rosemary and massage the bag gently to coat. Turn the zucchini out onto a cookie sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes until soft and starting to turn golden in a few places. Spoon into a serving bowl. Garnish with parmesan cheese and pass lemon wedges.

bonus recipe: curried broccoli
This exotic twist on broccoli will have your family asking for it again and again. Healthy, delicious, AND no cooking required! This can also be made using raw cauliflower or blanched brussels sprouts.

  • 1 small crown of broccoli, washed
  • 1 Tbs lemon juice
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 pint or container cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Remove small crowns from broccoli stems, remove skin from stems and slice stems and crowns thinly. Place in bowl. Mix liquids very well and pour over. Toss. Add spices and toss again. Marinate up to 1 hour in the refrigerator. Add chopped tomatoes and mix before serving.

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