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.

PRINT THIS POST: cj-ditch-the-trendy-meals-2-15-17

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

the great pumpkin (belated)

NOTE: This post was almost ready to go live when I fell on Turkey Day eve and broke a couple of ribs. I was in excruciating pain for a couple of months, and I needed another month after that to return fully to my pre-fall energy level. I am finally back in the groove and have a full plate since my husband retired from the VA the end of January, all the paperwork that accompanies said retirement (a federal job means many, many forms!), and now tax time is here again. Oh joy! So I cannot promise prompt updates, but I will try my best. I will add a printable PDF of this post in the next week or so. Thanks for your patience!

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My mother’s pumpkin pie recipe is the best!

I’m getting nervous with all this talk about pumpkin shortages, aren’t you? I don’t know if I can take the stress, but I will admit, I stashed about six cans of pumpkin in my cupboard last fall. How come I was so psychic? I guess I’ll muddle through and will still be able to make my mother’s wonderful pie for the holidays. In the meantime, I’m making these great desserts. Step aside, Charlie Brown! I’m stalking the Great Pumpkin!

pumpkin pie cookies        
These are a pumpkin version of thumbprint (jam-filled) cookies we all know and love, but with a giant twist. I don’t normally buy white chocolate chips as they are so overprocessed, but they are essential to keeping the pumpkin filling from becoming too gooey or runny. Raw sugar is a coarse granule with a molasses-y flavor. All this comes together to become a totally unexpected fall treat.

ingredients
3/4 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 or 2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt or softened cream cheese
2 Tbsp pumpkin (Steal from the can used for the filling)
2 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
Domino Demerara raw sugar for rolling, available in the sugar aisle

filling
3/4 cup plain pumpkin puree (Libby’s or One Pie), NOT pie filing
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
3 Tbsp half-and- half
1/2 cup white chocolate chips, melted in a double boiler

directions
Preheat oven to 375°. Cream together butter and sugars. Once combined, mix in egg and vanilla. Beat for about 2 minutes, until completely smooth. Add in yogurt or cream cheese and pumpkin, mix for one minute. Sift together flour, spices, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Slowly add into the wet mixture. Beat until combined. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight if you need to.

Make the filling: whip together pumpkin puree, brown sugar, cinnamon, half-and-half, and the melted white chocolate chips. Taste and adjust if you like it sweeter. Roll cookies into a golf-ball-size, roll through raw sugar, than place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment. With your finger, press a small dent into the center of the dough. Fill with pumpkin pie filling mixture. Bake for 10 minutes, then let cool before serving. Makes about 2 ½ dozen cookies.

dark chocolate pumpkin spice muffins
These muffins have no oil or butter in them. The moisture comes from the applesauce. Amazing! Go stock up on canned pumpkin NOW! LOL
P.S. You will gain back all the calories the oil might rack up if you ice them with the cream cheese frosting. Oh, well!

ingredients
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cup sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 cup applesauce
2 eggs
1/3 cup water
1 1/4 cup plain pumpkin puree (Libby’s or One Pie are best)
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
Cinnamon sugar to sprinkle on top

directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and spices. Once blended, add the remaining ingredients and mix until combined. Spoon batter into muffin tin liners about three-quarters- full. Let filled pan stand for about a half hour. Bake for about 22 minutes. Sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon sugar and serve! Makes 12 muffins. Top with cream cheese frosting.

cream cheese frosting

ingredients (can be halved)
2 pounds cream cheese, softened (1)
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened  (1)
3 cups confectioners’ sugar (1 ½)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (1)

directions
Sift all confectioner’s sugar into a large bowl to eliminate lumps. Beat cream cheese, butter, and 1 cup sifted sugar with a mixer on medium-slow speed until combined. With machine running, add remaining 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla, and beat until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes more.

Cook’s Note:  Cream cheese frosting can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature and beat before using.

I was excited to gain ten more followers last week with my veggie blog post! Log on and follow my blog so you never miss a new post. You can also print out all my recipes and add them to your personal journal. Food is one of life’s best pleasures. Happy eating!

Here’s a PDF you can print out for your recipe file: CJ-great pumpkin