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4 great reasons to pick your own berries

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The only thing better than eating a handful of berries bought from the store is noshing on some you picked yourself. Here are just a few reasons to load the family into the car and head to your local u-pick berry farm.

1. Enjoy time outside. There’s nothing better than spending a day outdoors with your family. Pack a lunch and make a day of it. Just don’t forget your hats and sunscreen.

2. Teach kids where food comes from. Picking their own berries teaches your children that food doesn’t come from the grocery store.

3. Support local agriculture. Supporting a local farm means that your hard-earned cash goes toward supporting a local family instead of lining a corporation’s coffers.

4. Get the freshest berries. When you pick your own berries, they go from the plant to your plate in a matter of hours — or minutes!

In addition to picking berries, be sure to discover your local farm’s freshly made pies, jams and juices. You can also buy extra fruit by the basket to freeze and enjoy later or to make your own preserves.

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Asparagus and Gruyere puff pastry bundles

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recipe

This simple appetizer is perfect for an Easter brunch — or any other time!

Start to finish: 40 minutes (10 minutes active)
Servings: 8

Ingredients
• 24 fresh asparagus spears
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• Salt and pepper
• 1 14-ounce package puff pastry
• 16 thin slices of Gruyere cheese
• 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
• 1 egg yolk, beaten
• 1 tablespoon water
• 1/4 cup sesame seeds
• Fresh thyme sprigs, to garnish

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set it aside.
2. Trim the bottoms from the asparagus spears. Coat the asparagus with the olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.
3. Roll the puff pastry dough until it’s about half an inch thick. Cut it into 8 equal-sized squares.
4. Diagonally across each puff pastry square, place 1 slice of Gruyere, 3 asparagus spears, 1 more slice of Gruyere and 1 tablespoon of grated Parmesan. Join the two opposite corners of the pastry dough, leaving the ends of the asparagus showing.
5. Combine the egg yolk and the water. Using a pastry brush, lay a thin coat of the egg mixture over the pastry and sprinkle on the sesame seeds.
6. Bake for 30 minutes or until the puff pastry is golden brown.
7. Garnish with the fresh thyme and serve.

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Food

Bird’s nest cupcakes

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A sweet way to end an Easter brunch, these adorable cupcakes are sure to delight the young and young at heart.

Start to finish: 1 hour
Servings: 12

Ingredients

Cupcakes
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
• 1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature
• 1/2 cup butter, softened
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 3/4 cup brown sugar
• 2 eggs, room temperature
• 1 egg yolk, room temperature
• 1/4 cup boiling water

Frosting
• 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
• 2-1/4 cups icing sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 3 tablespoons heavy cream, room temperature

Garnishes
• 3.5 ounces semi-sweet baker’s chocolate
• 36 candy-coated chocolate eggs

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners and spray lightly with cooking spray. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.
3. In a small bowl, combine the milk and the sour cream. Set aside.
4. In another large bowl, beat the butter using a hand mixer. Add the sugars and continue to beat until light and fluffy.
5. Add the eggs and egg yolk to the mixture and continue to blend. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture followed by half of the milk mixture. Repeat with another 1/3 of the flour and the remaining milk. Add the final 1/3 of flour. Add the boiling water and stir until completely combined.
6. Divide cake batter evenly between the 12 muffin cups (they should each be about 3/4 full). Bake for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out dry.
7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely while you prepare the frosting.
8. In a large bowl, beat the butter for about 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add half the icing sugar and mix until combined. Repeat with the second half of the sugar. Add the vanilla, salt, and cream, and mix on low speed until fully incorporated.
9. Using a piping bag, pipe a circle of frosting on each cupcake.
10. Using a vegetable peeler, shave the chocolate. Place on top of the icing to create nests and place three candy-covered chocolate eggs on top of each nest.

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Discovering textured vegetable protein

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As more people eliminate meat and animal products from their diet, the food industry is adapting by offering an increasing number of plant-based products. Textured vegetable protein (TVP) is one such innovation, and here’s why it’s gaining in popularity.

It can replace ground meat
Rehydrated TVP has a texture that’s remarkably similar to that of ground beef. This makes it a popular choice for things like spaghetti sauce, shepherd’s pie, hamburgers and tacos. As a bonus, it’s cheaper than ground beef.

It’s dry and easy to store
In addition to being affordable, TVP keeps for a very long time in its dried form. It’ll stay fresh for as long as six to nine months at room temperature and for even longer if frozen or refrigerated. Note, however, that it’ll only keep for three days in the refrigerator once rehydrated.

It’s easy to cook with
Preparing TVP is as easy as adding an equal amount of hot liquid, such as water or broth. If using it in a dish that contains liquid, you can simply incorporate the TVP in the sauce or stock. It’s a highly versatile ingredient that absorbs seasonings well, so it can be used in a variety of cuisine styles. It can also be used as a way to boost the nutritional value of any dish.

It’s rich in nutrients
TVP contains almost twice as much protein as ground meat. It’s also rich in dietary fiber, iron and calcium. Even better, it’s low in both fat and sodium. Its calorie content is effectively the same as ground beef, meaning it provides just as much energy at a fraction of the cost and fat content.

TVP is easy to find in bulk stores, grocery stores and natural food stores. It offers a convenient alternative to meat and could be especially useful when transitioning to a plant-based diet.

TVP is made from soy and sometimes referred to as textured soy protein, soy meat or soy chunks.

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Lenten breakfast: Uova in purgatorio

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As a Lenten dish, Eggs in Purgatory (uova in purgatorio) makes perfect sense since it has no meat and you can make purgatory as mild or as hot and spicy as you want!
The dish is nothing more than eggs poached in a tomato sauce — making it a favorite in Italy — but it really transcends cultures.

In Muslim countries, it is called Shakshuka, often made with lamb and feta. In Israel, you’ll find it for dinner with lovely challah bread. There is even a version made with kosher Spam. In Mexico, Huevos Rancheros are generally made with fried eggs with spicy tomato salsa.

The one thing you really need with this recipe is a crusty bread for dipping. Sliced and toasted French bread works well.

Once the eggs are finished, use a soup ladle to dish out a generous portion onto plates.

Super-easy heresy
Here’s one idea for the dish, which will be a Lenten heresy to purists, but is very fast and tasty.

Use olive oil to warm in a pan. Take pasta sauce (without meat, if you are observing Lent) and mix in your favorite salsa, in whatever proportion you prefer. Unlike the proper recipes, you don’t have to saute onions, peppers or other ingredients. Simply warm up the sauce on medium-low heat (preferably in an iron skillet) until it is hot and shimmery. Then make openings for your eggs. Most important, cover the pan so the eggs poach slowly and thoroughly. Cook 2 or 3 minutes for runny yokes.

Add chopped parsley on top for a colorful presentation.

Proper
Many variations on this dish add all sorts of ingredients.

The New York Times recommends browning garlic, red pepper flakes, and (optional) anchovies in the pan, then adding a can of diced tomatoes and a basil sprig. Mash down tomatoes and cook slowly until it becomes a thicker sauce. Add salt and butter and stir in Parmesan.

Bon Appetit recommends using 20 ounces of cherry tomatoes, slightly smashed during cooking, for a three-dimensional look.

Some recipes advise adding greens to the sauce.

For a more Middle Eastern flair, add peppers, sweet paprika, and cumin. Many recipes for Shakshuka offer some wonderful variations.

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3 key nutrients to monitor when switching to a plant-based diet

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Going vegetarian or vegan means you’ll need to review and adjust your eating habits. In particular, you’ll need to secure alternative sources of protein, iron and zinc. Here’s how.

Protein
The proteins we consume act as basic building blocks in our bodies, allowing us to build and repair tissue and to make hormones, enzymes and other important chemicals. While meat is a great source, vegetarians can get their fill by consuming dairy or eggs. Vegans can get theirs from nuts, pulses and soy products such as tofu, tempeh and textured vegetable protein (TVP).

Iron
Red blood cells contain a protein called hemoglobin, which uses iron to bind oxygen molecules and deliver them to cells throughout our bodies. We don’t produce iron, so we have to get it from food. While iron is present in plants, it’s about twice as hard to assimilate than the iron contained in meat, which is why we need to eat more plants to get the same amount of iron.

Good sources of iron include dark green vegetables like spinach, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and kale as well as quinoa, pulses and tofu. In addition, eating fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C can help us absorb iron.

Zinc
Our immune system needs zinc to function properly, but it’s hard to get it from non-animal sources. Nuts, whole grains, pulses and wheat germ are good sources of zinc. However, much like iron, the zinc in plant matter is harder to assimilate, so you’ll need to eat more of the foods it’s found in.

Reducing or eliminating your meat consumption is likely to improve your health, especially if you adjust your overall diet to avoid deficiencies. However, it’s a good idea to consult a healthcare professional for advice.

In addition to protein, iron and zinc, vegans and vegetarians should also keep an eye on their intake of vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and iodine.

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America needs more young farmers

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Did you know that less than 10 percent of American farmers are under the age of 35? America needs more young farm operators, but they need help. Here are the factors involved.

Older farmers are retiring
The average American farmer is 58 years old, which means that a large number of them will be retiring in the next few years. Currently, there aren’t enough young farmers to pick up the slack. In fact, while the proportion of young farmers is climbing, they’re still outnumbered by farmers over the age of 65 by six to one.

Without an influx of new agricultural workers, American consumers may end up having to rely on imported food more than before.

Farming practices are changing
Another reason young farmers are needed is that they bring a new perspective to agriculture. For the American agricultural industry to succeed in reliably providing food for the country’s growing population, it needs to adopt more sustainable, efficient and eco-friendly farming practices. Millennial farmers are better positioned to implement green farming technologies than their predecessors.

Young farmers face barriers
Unfortunately, while many millennials are ready to take up farming, few are able to afford land. Even those who inherit farms often lack the financial resources to operate them. The result is that farmland is being sold for commercial and residential development, further restricting access to it.

This could be a problem in the long term, as the demand for food is growing, both worldwide and in the United States.

More states are recognizing the crucial importance of ensuring the future of the agricultural industry. As a result, loan forgiveness programs and grants are increasingly available to prospective farmers, but more work needs to be done to safeguard America’s agricultural future.

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