Monthly Archives: April 2010

Mary’s Memo #2159

SHAKING THE SALT HABIT

A year ago the Center for Disease Control (CDC) declared that nearly 70 percent of all American adults should restrict their sodium intake to no more than 1,500 milligrams a day. Those singled out include everyone over 40, all blacks (who are more prone to hypertension) and people who already have hypertension …. in effect, two out of every three people. Because people are accustomed to eating processed and fast foods, it’s hard enough to get down to the 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, and women, 2,900 milligrams … much more than the small amount needed to maintain basic body functions. To stay within a 1,500 milligram sodium limit, you must eat whole fresh foods and cook from scratch nearly all the time. You can eat out or bring home takeout food only on occasion. That’s a tall order for even the most motivated and health-conscious person.




Tips on reducing salt include buying fresh foods and unprocessed grains; when buying packaged foods, compare the sodium content of different brands; when eating out, ask the cook to skip salt and MSG and request sauces on the side; and trim your portion sizes. Cutting back on snack foods automatically lowers your sodium intake, as well as your total calories, which is a good thing for most people.

Source: University of California at Berkeley Wellness Letter, April 2010.




POPULARITY RETURNS


Although around since the 1800s, charger plates have returned to popularity since the late 90s. Chargers are large decorative plates used to dress up dinner tables at parties, weddings and other special events. According to Wikipedia, charger plate etiquette and use varies among caterers and restaurants. Some think the charger plate should be removed as soon as people are seated. Often a charger plate is left on the table as a large coaster for soup and salad courses and then removed for the main course. Others keep the charger on the table until dessert or end of the meal.



Chargers come in different materials and prices including silver-plate, plastic and even rattan. I bought plastic gold chargers at Thanksgiving last year so I had something to serve as an under plate for Williams Sonoma squash-shaped soup bowls that clashed with my china. They looked so festive that I bought red ones for Christmas. After Christmas I bought green square ones on sale at Sur La Table to use on St. Patrick’s Day. They also compliment the green in my dishes so I can use them other times. Rattan ones round out my selection for summer use. You can spend a lot on chargers or choose the kinds that I did that were very reasonably priced!



Why are chargers gaining popularity? Maybe it’s because more entertaining is being done at home. They can also add ambience to family meals, especially on weekends. I like them so much; they’ve become a part of my everyday table setting. Although chargers are more readily available at holiday time, you can purchase them online throughout the year. That’s how I got my rattan ones. But compare prices before you buy because they can differ a lot from store to store. Why are chargers gaining popularity? Maybe it’s because more entertaining is being done at home. They can also add ambience to family meals, especially on weekends. I like them so much; they’ve become a part of my everyday table setting. Although chargers are more readily available at holiday time, you can purchase them online throughout the year. That’s how I got my rattan ones. But compare prices before you buy because they can differ a lot from store to store.





ADAPTING RECIPES


I do a lot of recipe changing, especially the second time I make something of merit. Such is the case with Saucy Sweet-and-Sour Chicken, a recipe in the second printing of Better Homes and Gardens Ultimate Slow Cooker magazine. This recipe is made in a 3½ to 4-quart slow cooker, the one more cooks are likely to own. The recipe calls for 2½ to 3 pounds of chicken parts but thighs and drumsticks will cook faster than breast halves. Because of this my recommendation is to either make the recipe with thighs and drumsticks or breasts but not a combination of the three. Also, be sure chicken pieces are the same size. I hate overcooked chicken and using the time in the original recipe, the pieces were overcooked. The sauce has an excellent flavor, however, my finished chicken did look like the picture in the magazine. That said here’s the Thaman version.





SAUCY SWEET-AND-SOUR CHICKEN

2½ to 3 pounds uniform boneless, skinless chicken breasts (4 to 6)
Kosher salt
½ of a 12-ounce can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed (about ¾ cup)
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons catsup
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
Hot cooked rice




Arrange chicken pieces in 3½ to 4-quart slow cooker. Sprinkle evenly but prudently with salt. In medium bowl, whisk together lemonade concentrate, brown sugar, catsup and vinegar. Pour over chicken in cooker. Cover and cook for 5½ hours on low setting but check doneness of meat after 5 hours (juices should run clear). Transfer chicken to a platter; cover and keep warm. For sauce, transfer juice to a medium saucepan. Skim off any fat. Combine cornstarch and water; stir into liquid in saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until thick and bubbly. Spoon some sauce over chicken pieces and remaining sauce on the side. Serve on cooked rice. Recipe makes 4 to 6 servings depending on the number of breast halves you’ve slow cooked.

Source: Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens recipe.
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Mary’s Memo #2158

“SPRING” INTO SALADS

Before Easter I served Basil-Lime Salad at the Bryan Chief. When testing the recipe I accidentally added 2 tablespoons of lime zest instead of 1 but decided to make it a permanent amount. To save time you can cut up the fruit ahead of time but keep in separate containers and add Fruit Fresh to mangoes. I’d also wait until shortly before serving to add strawberries. Skeptics might hesitate to make a fruit salad dressing with fresh basil but trust me it adds a distinctive, subtle flavor that you’ll like!





BASIL-LIME FRUIT SALAD

½ cup sugar
½ cup water
½ cup packed basil leaves (0.75 ounce package available at Chief and Rays produce department)
1 medium pineapple, cubed
1-pound package strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 large mangoes, peeled and cubed
4 kiwi, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced


Combine sugar and water in saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or long enough to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat; stir in basil and lime zest. Let stand until cool. Strain and press sugar mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Discard solids. Just before serving, combine fruits; drizzle with Basil-Lime Dressing and toss gently. Recipe makes (12) ¾ cup servings.

Source: Adapted from March 2008 Cooking Light magazine recipe.



I spent the Easter weekend with daughter Mary Ann in Naperville, Illinois. She knows how much I appreciate new recipes and she accommodated with a Jamie Oliver salad recipe. Because fresh peas are not easy to come by this time of year she substituted thawed, uncooked frozen peas.




BABY SPINACH, PEA AND FETA CHEESE SALAD

2 large handfuls of baby spinach, washed and dried in a salad spinner (a 6-ounce bag of baby spinach should be enough)
2 smaller handfuls of thawed frozen peas (10-ounce box)
Crumbled, reduced-fat feta cheese
Olive Oil and Fresh Lemon Juice Dressing:
2 tablespoons lemon juice
5 tablespoons olive oil (I prefer light-flavored kind)
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)




Combine prepared spinach and peas in a salad bowl. Mix dressing ingredients together and drizzle over salad just before serving. Sprinkle crumbled feta cheese on top.


Source: Adapted from Jamie Oliver recipe.We continue to find winning recipes in California Mosaic, published in early 2008 by the Pasadena Junior League. Orange Poppy Seed Salad was the latest one that Mary Ann made for us Easter weekend. The dressing makes a pint so there will be plenty leftover for future salads. Store covered in the refrigerator.





ORANGE POPPY SEED SALAD

1 romaine heart, trimmed and torn into bite-size pieces
1 11-ounce can Mandarin oranges, drained
½ cup chopped avocado
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
¼ cup crumbled blue cheese
Dressing:
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 cup canola oil
½ small red onion, finely chopped
½ cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons poppy seeds




To prepare salad, gently toss romaine, oranges, avocado, pine nuts and cheese in a salad bowl. Add the desired amount of dressing and mix until coated. To make dressing, process sugar, salt, dry mustard, oil, red onion and vinegar in a blender until combined. Pour dressing into a jar with a tight fitting lid and add poppy seeds. Seal tightly and shake to mix. Recipe made 3 large salads for us although recipe says it serves 6.


Source: California Mosaic, a cookbook celebrating cultures and cuisine by the Junior League of Pasadena, Inc., available from Amazon.com.




RIPENING AVOCADOS

It’s difficult to buy an avocado in the supermarket that’s ready to eat or use in a recipe. Avoid buying a bright green, hard-as-a-rock avocado or one that’s overripe. Instead buy an avocado just beginning to darken. To hasten the ripening process at home put them in a brown paper bag and add another ethylene producer like an apple or banana. Avocados are ripe when they yield to slight pressure but not be mushy. Once they’re ripe, they should be used or refrigerated but no longer than three days at the most.



According to the California Avocado Advisory Board, half of an 8-ounce avocado contains only 138 calories. In addition, they provide a fair amount of vitamin C, thiamine and riboflavin.
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Mary’s Memo #2157

WHAT’S THE REAL DEAL ON VITAMIN D?

While there are many promising studies on vitamin D benefits and health claims, there have been few randomized clinical trials. Even so, where vitamin D is concerned, a boost via supplements is worthwhile because natural sources of D are limited and deficiencies are common (average blood levels of vitamin D decreased in the U.S. between 1994 and 2004 according to a report in the March 23, 2009 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine). Currently the adequate intake for men and women 51 to 70 years of age is 400 international units (IU) daily, for adults 70 and older, 600 IU, doses that some medical experts think are too low. For others, upwards of 1,000 to 2,000 IU/daily is prescribed, which some doctors think is too much.



Some definitive answers may be forthcoming in the next five years when a large nationwide clinical trial involving 20,000 adults over the age of 60 (men) and over 65 (women) is scheduled. Meanwhile, talk to your doctor about screening for vitamin D and get your daily dose from the sun, from supplements in moderation or from fish/fish oils.


As more people live into their 80s, 90s and beyond,
researchers are increasingly asking what it takes not just
to survive but to thrive in later years. A recent study in the
Journal of Gerontology, for example, explored the secrets
of successful aging by following 2,432 older men and
women for a decade. Those who aged with little disability
tended to have a moderate-to-high income. But their
lifestyle choices also helped set them apart. They didn’t
smoke, drank alcohol in moderation, maintained a positive
outlook and reported less stress.



Source: DukeMedicine HealthNews, April 2010.

PS: I take calcium tablets fortified with vitamin D because the vitamin improves absorption of calcium. I also buy orange juice with calcium and vitamin D added. But don’t overdose because too much vitamin D leads to higher than normal levels of calcium. Unless your physician suggests otherwise, take supplements with food.




NOTES WORTH NOTING

To get the most mileage from a rotisserie chicken, strip meat from bones while it’s still hot. Then freeze in amounts used for recipes.
Kudos to Lays for introducing Lays All Natural Flavored Potato Chips including Garden Tomato and Basil and Tangy Carolina BBQ. I’m excited that there’s no MSG and although I like the flavor of both, chips could be a little less salty. To have your comments heard call Lays’ toll-free at 1-800-352-4477.



I’m pleased that many food companies are voluntarily reducing salt in their products. Salt is a flavor enhancer and without it food would taste pretty blah. So in my opinion, it should be used in moderation but not eliminated. Cooking from scratch is a good way to cut back at home.The Pledge Fabric Sweeper for Pet Hair (available with other Pledge products at Chief and Rays) really works. My only objection is that it can’t be recycled. I bought it anyway because my little dog is shorthaired and it will take a long time before the container is filled.



Regarding Clara Spletzer’s homemade wood cleaner recipe printed in the 3/22 memo, it did wonders for my old kitchen cabinet fronts! In case you missed it, combine 2 tablespoons white vinegar and 3 tablespoons olive oil in 1 quart hot water. Apply mixture to cabinets or woodwork, keeping water hot while you clean. When mixture looks dirty, discard and mix another batch. No need to rinse either, just wipe dry.



THINK SPRING BRUNCH
Since I’m doing this memo in March I do hope winterlike
weather is behind us and spring is not a figment of
my imagination.
Readers know how much I like brunches and spring
is a good excuse to have one!
I still have copies of my cookbook for sale but if there
was a supplement, Ham and Egg Combo would surely
be in it! For a spring brunch, serve in baked Pepperidge
Farm puff pastry shells or split baking powder biscuits.

HAM AND EGG COMBO

½ cup Hellmann’s Light Mayonnaise
¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 cups milk
¼-pound American cheese, cubed
¼ cup sliced scallions
¼ cup chopped pimiento
1 ½ cups cubed cooked ham
4 hard cooked eggs, sliced





Blend mayonnaise, flour, salt and pepper together; gradually add milk and cook and stir over medium heat until thickened. Add cheese, onion and chopped pimiento. When cheese melts, add ham and egg slices. Recipe makes 6 to 8 servings. Download PDF of Memo #2157

Mary’s Memo #2156

ANTI-AGING FROM HEAD TO TOE

Adopting healthy habits can significantly alter the course of aging, even if you don’t start until you are middle aged or older, growing research suggests.



Couch potatoes who start exercising at 50, for example, eventually realize many of the same benefits as people who have been active all their lives, according to a recent Swedish study of 2,205 men. “The older you are, the more important lifestyle choices become,” says Robert Palmer, MD, clinical director of geriatric medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.


As more people live into their 80s, 90s and beyond,
researchers are increasingly asking what it takes not just
to survive but to thrive in later years. A recent study in the
Journal of Gerontology, for example, explored the secrets
of successful aging by following 2,432 older men and
women for a decade. Those who aged with little disability
tended to have a moderate-to-high income. But their
lifestyle choices also helped set them apart. They didn’t
smoke, drank alcohol in moderation, maintained a positive
outlook and reported less stress.


Source: Consumer Reports on Health, March 2010.




FROM THE COOKBOOK SHELF

When I travel I usually buy a cookbook from the area I have visited and my latest purchase was Great Cooks Rise with the May River Tide, published by the Episcopal Church Women, Bluffton, South Carolina. The cookbook is in its 3rd printing since 2001 and that’s another good reason to buy it. The first recipe to grab my attention was Stacked Chicken Enchiladas. Recipe said to cook 2 chicken breasts and cut them in strips but I used cubed rotisserie chicken instead. I also replaced sour cream with regular Greek yogurt (not the non-fat kind). Be sure you use a deep dish 9-inch pie plate or the mixture will spill over during baking.







STACKED CHICKEN ENCHILADOS


116-ounce jar mild salsa (I used Pace brand)
1 cup chopped sweet onion
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup water
2 cups cubed rotisserie chicken
1 cup Mexican blend shredded cheese
4 7-inch flour tortillas




Preheat oven to 350F. Mix yogurt (or sour cream) and salsa together. In a nonstick skillet, sauté onion and pepper in hot olive oil. Add water and cook until onion is transparent, stir in cooked chicken for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Spoon 1 tablespoon salsa-yogurt mixture into greased deep dish 9-inch pie plate. Place 1 tortilla over salsa. Then layer with salsa mixture, chicken mixture and tortillas, ending with salsa mixture. Sprinkle cheese on top. Cover with foil that doesn’t stick to food and bake 25 minutes, removing foil last 5 minutes to brown. Cut into 4 to 6 pie-shaped wedges. Heat leftovers in microwave.



I have to admit that the Better Homes & Gardens Ultimate Slow Cooker magazine that cost $9.99 is paying for itself in good recipes that I’ve made. The latest is Fork-Tender Pot Roast. I used Burgundy wine instead of dry red because that’s what I had on hand. I also added an additional tablespoon of Minute Tapioca to the sauce and the entire 6-ounce can of tomato paste because I didn’t want leftovers.





FORK-TENDER POT ROAST

1 2½ to 3-pound English chuck roast (look for a lean one)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup coarsely chopped carrot (2 medium)
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
2 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
¾ cup beef stock.(I used College Inn Bold Stock Beef Sirloin Flavor – No MSG)
¼ cup Burgundy wine
3 tablespoons Minute Tapioca
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
¾ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon kosher salt


In large nonstick skillet, brown beef on all sides in hot oil. Remove from heat and set aside. In 6-quart slow cooker, combine carrot, onion, celery, garlic and bay leaf. Top with beef. In a large bowl combine broth, wine, tapioca, Italian seasoning, tomato paste, pepper, dry mustard, paprika and salt. Pour over beef. Cover and cook on low setting for 10 to 12 hours or on high heat setting for 5 to 6 hours. To serve, transfer beef to a platter. Remove vegetables with slotted spoon. Discard bay leaf. Skim fat from remaining sauce; drizzle sauce over beef and vegetables. Serve with mashed potatoes. Recipe makes 6 to 8 servings.
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