A Simple Meal for a Hot Day

Daisies (shasta) Hi resI remember my mother on a hot summer day wiping the sweat from her brow as she prepared the vegetables and fruit she canned for us to eat in the Winter. We lived on the property of my great aunt Alice whose gardener grew planted, harvested and shared lots of good food from her extensive garden. My mother was frugal and to her mind saving money in the winter was worth her efforts in the summer. In her mind nothing was ever to be wasted. While I feel the same way, I don’t have a garden to draw upon, however I do have a wonderful local farm stand that supplies me with fine food.

I tend to lose my appetite in the heat, thus I don’t much like cooking in the summer. Autumn is my favorite season because when the weather cools I feel much more like cooking as well as like eating. However it’s not then now, so I need to be in the present moment in the kitchen. Simple recipes are my go to solution for eating healthy food in this hot weather. I find it’s easier to motivate myself to cook when I don’t have to spend a lot of time doing it.

Salads are all very well in hot weather, however I do get tired of them and I actually prefer a hot meal even when it is warm outside. One of my favorite easy summer recipes combines freshly available local greens and pasta. It really doesn’t matter what greens you use. Personally I like the combination of spinach and Swiss chard, however, kale with spinach or chard is good too, and so are collard greens, broccoli rabe, or other potential ingredients you can use singly or in combination.

I prefer using my food processor to mix the greens together, adding good olive oil and some fresh garlic as well. Using a blender, while doable would be tedious however lacking a food processor you could use a food mill to grind and blend the cooked greens. My food processor is a very useful tool and one that even though I like to cut my vegetables by hand, I have come to rely on for certain kinds of food preparation. I treasure my kitchen tools. Some of them date back more years than I prefer to count. I have a wooden cutting board I received at a shower for my first child; she is now a grandmother too.

The recipe itself is very simple. Ingredients are: a pound or so of spinach, the same of Swiss chard, or use other greens as suggested above. Cook them separately in as little water as possible. Drain well and turn together into the food processor bowl. Add 3 or 4 tablespoons good olive oil, 2 medium cloves chopped or sliced garlic or 1 large one, and a pinch or two of salt. Process until everything is nicely blended. Meanwhile, cook pasta of your choice to serve your diners. When done, drain, put in a serving bowl and pour the mingled greens over it. Stir well and serve with freshly grated Parmesan. Simple, tasty, and good for you as well! Finish the meal with some fresh watermelon and enjoy.

Simple Salads for More Fun in the Sun

Salad and casserole 2In chilly weather, especially when snow or rain is falling, we welcome soups simmering fragrantly on the stove. However when summer is warming us up we don’t need more warmth to overheat us and salads get center stage. Heartier ones like pasta or potato salad are nice when the desire is for more carbohydrates, however protein is vital and is needed to balance them. One of my favorite go-to warm weather salads is made with chicken breasts, shredded.

First try this easy way to cook them. It requires almost no heat from the stove. For two to three servings, use two medium boneless breasts. Pour some olive oil in a frying pan and warm it on medium high. Sear breasts for a minute each side. Quickly slap on a tight cover, turn the heat to medium low, and cook for 12 minutes. Then turn off the stove and leave for another 12 minutes. DO NOT LIFT THE COVER DURING THIS TIME. Once the chicken is cooked, let it cool, then shred the breasts with your fingers. Save the bit of rich broth for another use.

Refrigerate chicken or use at once. For the salad use these ingredients: mayonnaise to taste, 1 tsp dried tarragon or thyme or 2 tsp fresh, 1 Tbs or more parsley, ¼ tsp pepper to taste, ½ tsp salt, to taste, 1 Tbs horseradish sauce to taste, ½ cup celery chopped small, ½ cup sweet onion chopped small or to taste, 1 medium apple peeled and chopped small, if desired, ½ cup walnuts chopped small, if desired, ½ cup dried cranberries or other fresh berries, if desired, plus chicken breasts. Mix all together and refrigerate for at least 6 hours for flavors to blend. The ingredients can be varied; you can also add mustard.

Canned tuna might replace chicken. Dill might substitute for tarragon or thyme. A simple side salad to go with burgers could include lettuce, dried cranberries or other fresh fruit, scallions and a simple lemon juice and olive oil dressing. Egg salad is satisfying and easy: Bring eggs just to a boil, cover and leave on the back of the stove for 20 minutes. Plunge them into cold water, peel and chop. Add mayonnaise to taste, add horseradish sauce the same, ½ cup finely chopped celery, ½ cup finely chopped sweet onion, chopped fresh parsley, fresh or dried tarragon or dill, salt and pepper to taste. Mix and chill. Serve with crackers or on a bed of lettuce with a light dressing.

Curry powder is good with eggs, chicken or tuna, then omit herbs except for parsley. I prefer the mayonnaise made with olive oil. Low fat mayonnaise is less tasty. Fat is also a good appetite suppressant, keeps us from getting hungry as quickly and the right kind has a lot of other virtues as well. There are many other good combinations of fruits and vegetables for salads, and avocado is always a fine addition to any salad. No tomatoes for me though, I’m allergic.

 

If you have any good salad recipes to share please email them to me at tashahal@gmail.com. I love to hear from readers.

A Spring Recipe to Try

dandilionforwishingThe Joy of Cooking is a popular cookbook. I have a well-thumbed copy, which along with my ancient Fanny Farmer’s form the lynchpin of my collection. Cooking has been my joy since I can remember being allowed to do it. My mother was born in Germany at the onset of WWI and the resultant lack of food she endured as a child made a lasting impression. She was reluctant to let me make main dishes–I was assigned to salads and desserts, so I had to learn how to make meals for myself. My cookbooks were and still are a great help.

I enjoy reading cookbooks as well as checking the recipes in newspapers, magazines and on line. It’s fun to see what’s trendy. Some fashions I don’t care for—roasted broccoli, for instance. I also favor eating with the seasons; now that we are coming into spring it’s time for spring vegetables like asparagus and dandelion greens. Some think of dandelions as weeds, however they are beneficial in a variety of ways and good in salads as well as steamed or stir fried with other greens and/or vegetables. Their slightly bitter taste is diminished when they are combined with other vegetables.

Try this recipe for yourself, either digging the dandelion greens from your garden or purchasing them from a market. The purchased ones are milder and easier to use, yet the harvest of garden and lawn weeds can be seen as a bonus. Ingredients: ½ cup chopped onion

4 cloves of garlic minced or chopped fine

1 small to medium summer squash chopped small or 1 pound of aspargus

4 cups dandelion greens

olive oil as needed.

Method: Gardeners, remove dandelion roots and tough bottom stems. Wash them in several waters. Purchasers can skip this step. Rough chop or cut up with scissors. Steam greens briefly in a small amount of water until they have wilted down. Strain water into a cup and set aside. While you are preparing the dandelion greens, sauté chopped onion, garlic and summer squash in a olive oil, stirring occasionally, or steam asparagus. Add chopped steamed greens to sautéed vegetables. Cook until stems are relatively tender. You can stop here and serve squash as is or put into your food processor and pulse a few times to create more of a mash. Pulse steamed asparagus with dandelion greens and olive oil to taste. Delicious! Use salt and pepper as desired.

Many children and even adults are fussy about what they will and will not eat. I was brought up to finish what was on my plate or else, however I made my children consume only three bites of any food they thought they might not enjoy. They did grow up to be able to eat a good variety of foods. However, in the process I learned to be detached about any response to my cooking. Today this has made it easy for me to be a happy cook in a peaceful kitchen.

 

Lemons Delight in Winter Doldrums

Lemon Circle

Lemons are one of nature’s finest healing foods. For starters half a lemon in a glass of warmish water is one of the best things you can do for your liver. It can help cure a cold whether you use it for a gargle—with some water, or drink it freely with honey for the Vitamin C it provides. Then too, lemon makes a great hair rinse for blondes, combined with water, of course. It can be used in the kitchen to clean counters—again, with some water or in combination with the sun, to bleach fine materials. In medieval times it was used to bleach the hair: Strands of hair being pulled through a straw brim pierced with holes and anointed with the juice.

However my favorite use for lemon is as an ingredient in a favorite dessert. Long ago I discovered that the filling for a lemon meringue pie need not be confined to the pie plate. I’ll tell you a secret—shh, I dislike making piecrust. I will do most anything to avoid making one, however I do love lemon meringue. So instead of making a pie, I make a pudding. This pudding can also be used as a sauce, as well as a filling for a scooped out angel cake or meringue shells. It might also make a nice filing for some kind of trifle—maybe with raspberries or strawberries, though I have not tried that as yet myself.

Ingredients:

1 ¼ cups sugar, divided

1 ½ cups water

3 eggs, separated

¼ cup cornstarch

2 large or 3 smaller lemons

2 pinches salt

Method: separate eggs while cold and set aside for a half hour or so. Meanwhile, grate the lemon rind. You need a fine grater for this, the wand one that works well for grating Parmesan cheese works great. Squeeze out the juice and combine with rind. Set aside. Measure and mix 1 cup sugar, pinch of salt and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Stir well. Mix water and egg yolks and slowly add to dry mixture. Stir well and cook over medium heat stirring often to be sure it does not clump up or stick to the bottom of the pan.

Once mixture comes to a hard boil, boil it for one minute stirring vigorously. Take pan from stove, add lemon mixture and stir well. Set aside while you whip the egg whites. If you feel vigorous, use a wire whip, if not, use a mixer. Add the pinch of salt and beat until they are starting to fluff up. Then add the ¼ cup sugar a scant teaspoon or a shake or two at a time so it dissolves quickly. Once they mound nicely, spoon a little o the lemon mixture into them. Mix well and then fold the whole egg white mixture into the lemon mixture until thoroughly incorporated. Chill and serve as is or use for a filling or sauce.

This is one of our favorite desserts just as is. However I have used it as a filing for meringue “nests,” large meringues made from any good recipe mounded on a baking sheet around four inches across then hollowed in the center. I have also made a special dessert using a purchased angel food cake sliced across the top and hollowed out. The pudding is combined with the pulled out pieces in the center, used to fill he hollowed cake, and then the whole cake is covered with whipped cream.

 

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!

Easter Eggs are More than Just Food

A favorite memory I have of Easter is of dying my eggs using onion skins. For weeks I saved up the papery wrappings of the outside of the onions. Now it was time to put them to use. Using string I secured the onion skins to my eggs and set them on to boil. The results were quite lovely and I was grateful to my friend Maggie for sharing her knowledge of how eggs were originally colored in her native homeland.

Eggs have always had mythological significance. The oldest recorded writings the Vedas of India, say the world evolved from a cosmic egg. According to Wikepedia other mythologies featuring creation and eggs include the Egyptian, the Phoenician, the Greek, the Chinese and the Finnish. As all life hatches from eggs—whether those of mammals or of egg layers, it make perfect sense that a holiday that began as a fertility celebration would feature them.

Easter is essentially a spring festival. The Christian expression of it also relates to life and generation of which eggs are a symbol. Red dyed eggs have been found buried at Bronze Age sites. These were surely connected to the worship of the pre-Christian deity, the goddess in charge of spring farm and field fertility. The name Easter derives from the name Eostre, the Anglo Saxon goddess of spring or Ostara the Germanic version of the goddess’s name.

How the rabbit came to be associated with Easter and eggs is another story. A rabbit relative associated with the goddess, the hare a strong, somewhat fierce animal is nocturnal and its babies unlike those of rabbits are born with eyes open. Some say the figure on the surface of the moon is that of a hare. The hare has also been associated with the moon because its gestation period is the same 28 days. Thus the goddess’s sacred animal came to be part of Easter.

Despite their differences, the hare became a rabbit when Germans immigrated to the United States in the 1600s and settled in Pennsylvania, spreading out from there to the surrounding states. Their Easter celebrations did not catch on right away, however, because of the stronger puritan influence that suppressed what was thought to be essentially too pagan in its expression. It is most likely that children envious of Easter goodies and fun influenced the universality of the celebration so that eventually it spread everywhere.

Easter eggs continue to be important and many households will overflow with them after the holidays. My favorite way to use hard boiled Easter eggs is in egg salad sandwiches. This recipe is for 6 eggs. I don’t peel them but instead break them in half and scoop out the insides. Chop and mash with ½ cup mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon tarragon, Salt, pepper, a tablespoon or more of horseradish sauce and ½ teaspoon of dry mustard. Add ¼ cup finely chopped celery, and ¼ cup finely chopped onion. If you like curry flavor, add a teaspoon or so to taste.