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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Christmas Eve tourtiere is the toast of Canadian tables


Tourtiere, or meat pie, is a traditional part of French Canadian Christmas and New Year’s Eve fare, although the dish is enjoyed throughout Canada.

Like many traditional dishes, the exact ingredients vary by family with recipes handed down throughout generations.

Typically, the meat pie consists of tiny cubes of pork, veal and beef, slow cooked and served in a pie shell. Meats very often differ based on availability by location. You’ll find fish served in some meat pies in coastal areas, for example.

Spices also vary. Some tourtieres feature a festive spice combination of cinnamon, cloves and all spice. Others feature sage and thyme, or a combination of spices.

This recipe from hiddenponies.com features ground pork plus bread crumbs. Many recipes call for mashed potatoes instead of bread crumbs.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 pounds ground pork
1 1/2 cups beef stock
3 onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups finely sliced mushrooms
1 cup finely chopped celery
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon summer savory or thyme
1/3 teaspoon cloves, ground
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
Pastry for a double crust 9-inch pie
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon water

In large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat and cook pork, breaking it up, until no longer pink. Drain fat.

Stir in stock, onions, garlic, mushrooms, celery, salt, cinnamon, pepper, savory and cloves. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes or until 2 tablespoons of liquid remains.

Stir in bread crumbs and parsley.

Refrigerate to allow the flavors to meld.

Spoon filling into bottom shell, situated in deep pie plate or iron skillet. Cover meat mixture with top pastry and press edges to seal. Cut vents in top crust.

Brush top crust with egg and water.

Bake at 375 for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Plant based proteins put the pulse in your diet


Pulses are in the nutritional spotlight, and we aren’t talking heart beats.

Pulses — a branch of the legume or pea family — are harvested for their seeds. Pulses include chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans), lentils, and dried peas and beans like kidney, navy, black and lima. Some legumes are not pulses: soybeans, peanuts, peapods and green beans, for example.

What makes pulses important are their protein and fiber content, important qualities especially for those on meatless diets.

Besides being inexpensive, pulses also have a low glycemic index, so they raise blood sugar levels less than other carbohydrates, according to the Harvard Health Letter.

Pulses are easily added to salads and stews to increase the protein punch, but food makers are increasingly providing new products that make it easy to add pulses to the diet. Among the new products are flours used in mixes for brownies and pancakes. Pulse flour made from garbanzo beans or peas can be used as a coating for food you would typically drench in white flour before sautéing.

Pulse pastas made from red lentil or black beans are also new, replacing semolina or durum wheat.

There are even new pulse-based snacks such as crackers and chips made with black beans, safflower oil and sea salt.

You can also add pulses to your diet through soups. White bean, lentil chili, and pea soup are just a few.

Stuffing — by any other name — still rocks Thanksgiving


In the north, it’s called stuffing. In the south, it’s called dressing. In the east, sometimes it’s called filling.

The word you use means less than the recipe you make and no other dish in the Thanksgiving meal has more family allegiance than stuffing. The main ingredients are mostly the same: Some kind of bread, onions, celery, broth and spices. But, families often pass down their stuffing recipes for generations.

In San Francisco, you might find a sourdough bread base. In Alabama, cornbread. In Louisiana, don’t ignore the andouille sausage. On the east coast, it’s oysters that rock the dish. And mostly, we find a mix of all those ingredients everywhere.

Here is a typical recipe for oyster dressing or stuffing. The key is finding just the right amount of oysters for your taste.

Traditional oyster stuffing
8 cups bread crumbs or small pieces of dry bread
1 cup celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 teaspoon sage
1 cup chicken broth
2 eggs
1/2 pint fresh or canned oysters
Salt and pepper to taste

In a saucepan, cook celery and onion in butter or margarine until tender but not brown.

Remove from heat. Stir in sage and several dashes of salt and pepper.

Place bread crumbs in a bowl and add the onion and celery mixture.

Whisk the eggs into the chicken broth and drizzle the liquid over the bread crumbs.

Drain liquid from the oysters. Use a scissors to snip oysters into smaller bits then thoroughly stir the oysters into the bread mixture. The dressing can be stuffed into the cavity of the chicken or turkey or placed around it in a large baking pan or roaster.

Cook until the bird is done and the top of the dressing in the pan is brown and crisp. If the bird needs to be cooked longer, periodically baste the dressing with chicken broth or water to keep it from becoming too dry.

North America treat mystifies Europeans


October through December are prime months for pumpkin pies — a uniquely North American treat that mainly puzzles Europeans.

In fact, expats routinely complain that finding cans of pumpkin in October and November is nearly impossible on the continent. According to The Guardian, Brits never really understood a vegetable-based pudding and pumpkin has never caught on.  In fact, in Europe, most expats end up substituting butternut squash or sweet potatoes for pumpkin.

Nonetheless, North Americans love their pumpkins and it does more than satisfy the taste buds. It wins big time for its nutritional values. A slice of pumpkin pie has up to three times the recommended daily value of beta-carotene  plus the phytonutrients lutein and zeaxanthin.

The carotenoids in pumpkin neutralize harmful free radical molecules, while lutein and zeaxanthin are potent free radical scavengers, according to Rutgers University in Brunswick, N.J. A diet that includes these antioxidants can help prevent many of the diseases associated with aging, including heart disease and cancer.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are naturally found in the lenses of the eyes. Studies suggest that eating foods high in these compounds help block formation of cataracts and decrease the risk of macular degeneration.

Canned pumpkin has virtually the same nutritional value as fresh, and it’s far less work to prepare.

You can make a nutritious pumpkin pie from a can of pumpkin pie mix or two pies from a 16-ounce can of pumpkin (just add your own eggs, sugar, and spices. The recipe is on the can.)

Some tips about pie made from canned pumpkin: If you find your pie cracks in the center or doesn’t hold together well enough, your eggs are probably too small. Use three eggs instead of two.

To reduce the fat content of your pie, (pumpkin itself has no fat) use fat-free canned milk.

If you will use whipped cream as a topping, select fat-free whipped cream at the supermarket for a flavor that’s still very good.

For more intense flavor from pumpkin pie mix, add a bit of extra spice and a tablespoon of brown sugar.

For more daring pie, put in three tablespoons of rum.

New food nutrition labels now list ‘added sugars’


The useful nutrition labels on foods now contain a new element: Added Sugars.

The listing now allows consumers to tell how much sugar is naturally occurring and how much is added. This can be important when comparing products.

One example, according to the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter: Compare 12 ounces of lemon-lime soda to 100 percent pineapple juice. Twelve ounces of either drink contain 38 grams of sugar. The difference is that all of the sugar in soda is added, while the pineapple juice contains all naturally occurring sugars that are also good sources of vitamin C, Thiamin, folate and vitamin B6.

The information can also help with food choices. Higher intake of added sugars has been associated with heart disease and metabolic syndrome, according to Alice Lichtenstein of Tufts.

So you want to keep your consumption of added sugars low. On the new labels, you will be able to see the percentage of daily value of the added sugars. If the value of added sugar is 5 percent or less, it is a low-sugar food.

If the value is 20 percent or more, it is a high sugar food. It’s a good idea to limit the added sugars to less than 10 percent of daily calories.

In evaluating nutrition, first look for the  total gram weight of sugar in the product. Below that total sugar number you will find the amount of sugar that was added.  So a product with a total of 12 grams of sugar might be comprised of 10 grams of added sugar. This means that only 2 grams of sugar naturally occur in the product itself.

Added sugars are not just cane sugar, but also ingredients like concentrated fruit juices, maple syrup, molasses and even honey — anything that is added to the food to create extra sweetness. These always raise the calorie count but may not necessarily add nutrition.

Iron-skillet seared chops and peaches


Here’s a meal that brings out the flavor of the delightful peach, even if, as a yankee, you get store peaches that are routinely hard.

This idea from emeals.com makes a showy dish with the orange fruit setting off the chops and onions.

2 thick boneless center-cut pork chops
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
2 peaches, pitted and thinly sliced
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh basil

Instructions: Sprinkle pork lightly with salt and pepper. Cook in hot oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat 4 to 5 minutes per side or until browned. Remove from skillet. Add onion to skillet; reduce heat to medium. Saute 5 minutes or until onion is browned and tender. Stir in peaches and broth. Return pork to pan. Cover and simmer 5 minutes or until pork is done. Sprinkle with basil.

Cooking with cast iron
If you are tired of wimpy, scratched non-stick pans, maybe it’s time to think cast iron skillets. This is the skillet used over outdoor fires for centuries and it’s still used by great chefs. Cast iron cooks evenly, goes from stove top to oven, and will last a lifetime.

Generally the pans won’t warp, but use them cautiously on electric stoves, the heat from which is usually uneven. Proper seasoning of a new skillet will give cast iron a natural, smooth, non-stick surface, according to whatscookingamerica.net.

Here’s how to do it
Rub a very thin coat of vegetable oil on the pan and then towel it off. It should look dry. Now bake the pan upside down in the oven for 30 minutes at 450 degrees. Put a sheet of foil below it to catch any drips. It might smoke a little. Don’t worry about it.  Let the pan cool in the oven to room temperature.  Repeat the process. Now every time you cook with the pan you are seasoning it again.

Tips for using cast iron
Preheat your cast iron before using. Water droplets should sizzle and roll on the pan. Never pour cold water into cast iron. It will crack instantly. After cooking, empty the pan and let it cool on the stove. Wash with dish soap and water. Rinse thoroughly. Dry with a towel. Rub on a thin coat of oil and store with a paper towel inside. Never put cast iron in a dishwasher.

Time for some zucchini. And more. And more.


They can be fun to grow and this is the problem.

One vine of properly watered and pollinated zucchini produces enough squash for a family. Grow two vines and you have to call in an army of vegetarians.

Most people accuse the Italians of bringing their zuccas to North America, but this is only partially true. Squash was first cultivated in the Americas before being imported to Europe, even though zucchini itself was developed in Northern Italy in the late 19th century.

Since then, people have been frantically trying to eat it all by frying, breading, grilling, mashing and dipping. But there is always too much zucchini, especially in August when the squash is typically harvested.

One solution: Sneak some onto your neighbors’ porch and run like heck.  There is a day for that: Aug. 8th.

Beware. It could happen to you.

Low-carb stuffed peppers spice up the season


Bell peppers have it all: They are nutritious, fun to grow, pest resistant and beautiful. Unlike most, bell peppers (named for their distinctive shape) don’t have the spicy ingredient capsaicin and are, instead, tangy with a satisfying crisp.

Like all peppers, bells love the warmth and gardeners must take care that the soil is at a minimum of 67 degrees before planting. Once in the ground, these peppers do a good job of resisting garden pests.

Nutritionally, they do some heavy lifting. A medium pepper provides 159 percent of the daily vitamin C requirement with no cholesterol and virtually no fat. The red bells are actually older versions of the green bells and have even more vitamin C.

They are delicious on a low carb diet for snacks, dipping or, as in this recipe, as part of a main course.  The traditional stuffed pepper recipe usually includes rice, which soaks up juices and holds the dish together. In this recipe, the filling has no rice and is therefore looser, but also is very low in carbs.

A medium bell has about six carbs overall or four net carbs when accounting for fiber.  All the carbs in this recipe are in the marinara sauce, which has about nine net carbs per half cup. You can estimate one stuffed bell pepper at about 13 carbs.

Peppers stuffed with Italian sausage and beef
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground Italian sausage
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15.5-oz) jar marinara sauce
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 large red, yellow, or green bell peppers.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cook beef and sausage in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until browned and crumbly.

Drain well as the filling with be juicy, and no extra juices are needed. Saute onion and garlic in pan 5 minutes or until tender.

Stir in beef mixture, marinara, and oregano.

Cook 2 to 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

For a cute cap look, cut bell peppers in half vertically; discard seeds and membranes. Spoon beef mixture into peppers.

Place in a baking dish. Bake 20 minutes or until peppers are tender.

For toppings, try arugula and basil or your favorite cheese.

Happy National French Fry Day!


July 13 is National French Fry Day! Folks everywhere can participate by enjoying one of the many varieties of the classic food.

French fries, also known as chips, fries, finger chips or French-fried potatoes, are sticks of deep-fried potatoes and are common fixtures at fast food restaurants that are loved by adults and kids alike!

A wide selection of condiments such as ketchup, ranch dressing, vinegar, mayonnaise, honey mustard, cheese and many more compliment French fries. Sweet potatoes make an alternate, healthier offering of fries found on menus around the United States. Other varieties are baked and come assorted shapes such as curls, waffles and crinkles.

The expression “French Fried Potatoes” first occurs in print in English in the 1856 work Cookery for Maids of All Work by E. Warren.

It is believed that the term “French” was introduced to the potatoes when American soldiers arriving in Belgium during World War I tasted tasted Belgian fries and called them “French”, as it was the official language of the Belgian Army at that time.

Shrimp and asparagus: A lovely combo


It was the favorite vegetable of Julius Caesar, King Louis the XIV, and Thomas Jefferson. But the history of asparagus begins long before that.

The name comes from a Greek word meaning stalk or shoot. The Romans borrowed asparagus from the Greeks and cultivated it in every land they visited.

Asparagus is a member of the lily family and is related to onions, leeks, and garlic. It contains more cancer-fighting glutathione than any other food. It is packed with folic acid, which helps to prevent birth defects and heart disease, and it’s a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamins A, D, B6, and thiamin. And it is rich in rutin, which helps strengthen blood vessels.

Health-conscious dieters will be pleased to know that asparagus contains no fat and no cholesterol. It’s low in sodium, and contains only 20 calories per serving.

Under ideal conditions, it can grow up to 10 inches in a day and reach up to 12 feet in height.

The best asparagus has firm, fresh stalks with tightly closed tips. Because its folate is destroyed by exposure to air, heat, or light, it is best to store it in the back of the refrigerator or in a produce drawer.

Microwaving destroys fewer of its nutrients than boiling or steaming. Cook it upright in a tall container with a few inches of water in the pot. Simmer 5 to 7 minutes with the tips out of the water.

Orange-Soy asparagus sauce
Combine 1 tablespoon each of soy sauce and fresh orange juice with 1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind, grated ginger, and dark sesame oil. Stir in 2 shallots or 1 small onion, minced. Drizzle over cooked asparagus and toss to coat.

Shrimp and asparagus
Perfect for low carb diets, shrimp has no carbs and asparagus has 5 carbs per cup. Lemon juice has 5 carbs per 1/4 cup.
Prepare this lemon sauce for the dish and set aside.
Combine in small bowl:
2/3 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
Add a tablespoon of sugar, if you desire.
Stir fry shrimp in olive oil, 1 teaspoon minced garlic and 1 teaspoon ginger until shrimp is pink. Remove. Using the same pan, add asparagus, cooking until bright and tender-crisp.
Bring asparagus and shrimp together in same pan. Pour lemon sauce mixture over shrimp and asparagus. Simmer for a minute to thicken sauce. Serve.
If carbs are not an issue, add rice or noodles.