A Lesson in Baking A New Recipe

Apples 3Apples are versatile and make for good cold weather desserts. They are relatively inexpensive and always available, plus they are very good nutrition. Needing inspiration for an apple dessert, I checked through my cookbook collection looking for a different way to make one. Because I try to avoid pie crust, I’m not a pie baker. Apple crisp, though very tasty, gets boring. I found that the recipes in my cookbooks for Apple Pan Dowdy and similar concoctions called for too much starch for a healthy diet.

After perusing many recipes, I decided to create one of my own. Toward that end I was careful to note down my ingredients and their measurements in case I wanted to repeat my effort. Sourcing many of recipes I had perused, I tried dried bread crumbs. This proved to be a mistake. They absorbed too much of the liquid and made for a rather stiff end result. Still, the pudding tasted good enough so that I wanted to make it again, but a little differently. Rather than using dried bread crumbs, I decided to try fresh ones. I pinched small pieces off the bread, including the crust.

The pudding tasted wonderful. Unfortunately, my original dish size was incorrect for the change in the recipe. The resultant mess on the oven floor was horrendous. Another lesson learned. The recipe was so good I made it again with different fruit. This one worked well however it stuck to the baking dish. More lessons. The solution to that was to set the container in a pan of hot water for the duration of its baking time. This produced a moister result. All in all the recipe through trial and error has improved to a point where I want to share it.

 

Preheat oven to 350, use a 2 quart buttered covered casserole

Ingredients:

4 cups THINLY sliced peeled apples*

4 or 5 slices of bread

½ cup raisins or chopped dates

¾ cup rough chopped or broken pieces of walnuts (Optional)

½ cup flour

¾ cups brown sugar

1&1/2 cups cider

¼ cup butter plus some for buttering casserole

1 tsp Cinnamon, ½ tsp nutmeg, ¼ tsp clove

¼ tsp salt

 

Method: Heat cider, butter and spices on stove until butter melts. Stir to blend. Butter well a 2 quart casserole. Pinch off small pieces of bread. Cover bottom of casserole. Make a layer of apples, sprinkle on ¼ cups brown sugar, 2 Tbs flour, ¼ cup raisins and ¼ cup (optional) walnuts. Repeat bread, apples, sugar, flour, rest of raisins ¼ cup (optional) walnuts. End with a layer of bread, apples, (optional) walnuts, sugar and flour. Pour cider mixture over all. Bake covered at 350 for 1 hour. Uncover casserole and bake 10 more minutes to brown. Serve or save for later or next day. It tastes lovely with cream or ice cream or plain.  Alternative ingredients: 1 to 2 cups frozen cherries, cut in quarters and 1 to 2 cups frozen blueberries, omit raisings, substitute pecans for walnuts. With berries, you might use a shallow pan filled with water beneath the casserole for a moister pudding that doesn’t stick.

 

Up to my Neck in Lemons, my latest book has more recipes, poetry, and insights into turning Life’s Lemons, into Lemonade To have your own autographed copy,  please send $15. To Tasha Halpert at P.O.Box 171, North Grafon, MA 01536,  or purchase your copy on Amazon.

Everything’s better with Parsley on it

Parsley“Remember the parsley,” Stephen said as I got out the eggs to make scrambled eggs for supper.

I nodded and smiled. “I have some in the ‘Fridge, already cut up.”

He smiled back. “Everything’s better with parsley on it. I love the way it tastes.”

“You’re right,” I said. “And that sounds like a good title for my next column. I put a little coconut oil for the sausages in a small frying pan, broke the eggs into a bowl, and beat them up. I’m always happy to use it in any recipe because in addition to tasting good, parsley is very good for you.

I’ve read and researched many recipes for scrambled eggs; they all suggest adding a small amount of liquid before cooking. I no longer do. A friend of ours once made us scrambled eggs and they were excellent. I asked him his recipe. “Lots of butter in the pan and nothing in the eggs,” he told me. I had for years made them using water, a couple of tablespoons or so depending on how many eggs–advice from a French friend. Before that I used milk, and even tomato juice. Now I prefer the eggs by themselves, especially the cage free ones with a chunk of butter.

I got out the container of chopped parsley from the ‘Fridge and added some to the eggs. When I lecture on herbs I often speak about how healthy parsley is for you. It has lots of vitamin A and C, iron and many other minerals. It is a mild diuretic, and also is good for the liver. I make a parsley tonic by soaking fresh parsley in cold water in the ‘Fridge for twenty-four hours, overnight. Then I pour it off and drink it during the next 24, while making a new batch. It is both refreshing and energizing, without a caffeine high. Helps with joint pain too. I reuse the parsley a couple of times, then snip it into soup.

I put a chunk of butter—about a tablespoon per egg into the warming frying pan and waited for it to melt over moderate heat. Then I poured in the parsleyed eggs and turned them a couple of times. The sausages were ready as were the salad and the toasted gluten free English muffins. What a tasty supper!

Many chew parsley for sweeter breath after a meal, especially one with garlic, giving themselves a health boost as well. The list of benefits to be gained from consuming parsley are numerous. It is a mild diuretic, however any potassium lost is replaced by it. Calcium and iron are two more beneficial ingredients. When you brew it cold as I do, none of the vitamins are lost to heat, and you get all the benefits of both vitamins and minerals. It is used by herbalists to help remove gall stones and kidney stones. Hippocrates said, “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine your food. Parsley is both. In ancient Greece, athletes wore wreaths made from it to signify their strength and endurance. Parsley is a real winner.

 

 

Are you a parsley lover? Write me and tell me how you like it. I love hearing from my readers. Suggestions and comments are welcome.

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.

 

Giving Love at Christmas

Love for Christmas Giving

My mother wasn’t much for cooking, though she considered it her duty to serve us good, nourishing food. I don’t remember her ever baking anything sweet. She didn’t care for desserts; she considered them unnecessary and fattening. When I was old enough for her to trust me in the kitchen, she encouraged me to bake simple items like brownies or other easy recipes. Unlike her I truly enjoyed cooking and was happy to make what she permitted me to.

Once I had a family to bake for I broadened my repertoire and learned to make pies and cakes as well as cookies. However cookies were my favorite to make because they went farther. I used to count and divide up the cookies and each child knew what they could have. Because I was home with the children anyway, it was fun to try different recipes. Eventually I created a small Cookie Cookbook with my favorites that I still use today.

Although my family is grown and I no longer bake cookies regularly, every Christmas I make up several batches and create plates to give people who have been helpful or kind to Stephen and me in the past year. The newspaper delivery people who bring the newspaper to our floor, the ladies of the library where we take advantage of their services all year long, the fine gentlemen of the garage where we take our car for repairs and upkeep, and a few others I want to acknowledge for their kindness.

Favorite cookie recipes I usually make include my Disappearing Caramel Brownies, Jiffy Jam Delights, and Unexpected Company Bars, all reliable and relatively easy to make recipes. This time of year there are cookie recipes everywhere to be found, and while these are my personal favorites for giving, those with more time and energy than yours truly might make cut out cookies to decorate or even more fancy treats. If you want one of my recipes, please let me know which, and I will email it. To my way of thinking however one wishes to express love is valid. Spending time on a gift is one of my favorite ways.

While feeding people is one of the ways I use to express my love, I also appreciate recipes that take less rather than more time, yet still provide delicious tasting healthy food. I also collect recipes from others when they have something unique and special to share. Sometimes they even write them out for me. I have loose leaf notebook where I keep these, along with others. Within its plastic sheeted pages are pressed their treasured, handwritten pieces of paper.

The following recipe wasn’t written out by my late friend because it was so simple. Avocado and Grapefruit salad requires one grapefruit and one avocado per two people, so if you are serving a family you need to double or triple, depending. Think kind thoughts as you peel and section grapefruit, removing membrane and preserving juice. Cut in half, remove seed and section one avocado into slices. Combine all, add a tablespoon or two of a good tasting olive oil, stir well, chill slightly, and serve with love for the holidays or at any time at all.

 

Pleasure Can Take Many Forms

As regular readers of my column know by now, my mother really did not like to cook. She did what she had to do to feed her family. However, at least as far as I can remember preparing meals gave her no pleasure. Nor did she want my father to cook because, she said, he burnt everything. Perhaps he was impatient or perhaps he wasn’t watchful. I don’t know because I never saw him in the kitchen except to mix cocktails.

The only household chore I ever knew him to do was to polish the silver. My mother refused to do that and I do not blame her in the least. It is a dirty, tedious job. My father however seemed to enjoy it. I have a memory of him in an apron made from black and white striped mattress ticking material, vigorously polishing some of the lovely silver items he had inherited or been given by family members.

I on the other hand have always derived great pleasure from preparing food, baking, and providing meals for loved ones. For years I collected recipes. In the 80’s I wrote a cookie cookbook as well as a completely refined sugar free general cookbook with many recipes I had created. In those desserts I used only honey or maple syrup. Now even that kind of baking, along with a lot of other recipes I enjoyed making over the years, is history.

Recently I was diagnosed with a medical condition that requires severely restricting my carbohydrate intake. This has resulted in a major upheaval in both my eating and my cooking. In addition to sugars I have had to stop eating rice, pasta and potatoes. Thus I have had to eliminate many favorite comfort food recipes. I can no longer eat the Chinese fried rice I specialized in, the home fried potatoes or the shrimp scampi I enjoyed making as well as eating.

Then along came some difficult news. This caused a reaction I did not expect. I found myself in a depressed state and developed new aches and pains. I kept asking myself why was this happening? Then I realized I had been limiting most of my pleasure to cooking and eating. This is not to say I wasn’t doing fun things or having enjoyable experiences other than with food, however, I had concentrated principally on food related pleasure. I no longer regularly practiced other experiences I found pleasurable, like playing my harp or coloring.

Pleasure can rebalance the body’s ph and help keep us healthy. So now I am working to discover ways besides eating and cooking to give myself pleasure. In so doing I have rediscovered hobbies from the past like embroidery and begun to watch favorite old TV shows we have on DVD. I am spending more time with my harp, simply playing for the pleasure of it rather than working to learn tunes. I got out my coloring books and blank paper pads and began to color and as well as to draw. As time goes by I expect to enjoy new pleasures as well and look forward to discovering them. Meanwhile I already feel better.

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.