Summer-Fresh Herbs Thursday, Jun 3 2021 

One of the prime factors in cooking the tastiest dishes is to use fresh, quality ingredients–fresh herbs being particularly important in most recipes.

Purchasing herbs in your local grocery store offers a convenient but expensive option. However, these herbs are only as fresh as the harvesting and transporting allows and are handled by multiple people. Also, we typically only use a portion of the packet and toss the rest.

The best alternative is for us to grow our own herbs. We then know the quality of the soil and seed, especially when choosing organic products, and likely are the only ones to touch these herbs. Most significantly, we can pick the exact quantity we need for a dish.

In the Midwest, cilantro grows best in spring conditions. However, most others grow well throughout the summer. Rosemary is said to be the easiest herb of all to grow.

A sunny window can offer space for a mini-indoor garden, if your herbs can get at least four to six hours of direct sunlight. Use pots with drainage holes to avoid over-watering.

I have limited garden space, so my herbs are planted in pots on outdoor shelves. I prefer purchasing small plants rather than starting my herbs from seed. This allows me to beginning harvesting within a couple of weeks. This year my herb garden consists of the end of the cilantro and lavender, mint, parsley, basil, rosemary, and sage. These are ones I know that I will use and work within my allotted space, but there are so many more from which to choose.

In addition to cooking with herbs, I also toss a few leaves in my iced and hot tea, lemon and limeade, and water. The hint of flavor and fragrance of the herbs transforms a normal beverage into a special treat. They also offer numerous health benefits. For example, sage and rosemary can improve brain function and memory. Peppermint relieves IBS pain and reduces nausea.

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Inspired Caregiving was written for the caregivers in your life. It’s a gift book with lovely photos and manageable bits of information and inspiration.

You can see all my books on my website.

Have you seen my other blog, Mary K Doyle Books? Posts relate to my published books.

Dip It Friday, Mar 5 2021 

Creamy onion dip and crunchy, salty potato chips. Back in the 70s, this appetizer was a party standard. Packages of Lipton powdered soup and sour cream were always on hand to whip up this yummy chip topper at any moment.

I’m a dipper. I love dipping veggies, pretzels, and chips of every kind. Most dips are high in fat, sodium, and calories, so I offset my cravings with healthier alternatives whenever possible. Today we have low-fat and low-calorie choices in our local grocery stores. Hummus in a variety of flavors, including chocolate; chunky and smooth salsas; guacamole, plain and with other fruits and vegetables; vegan “cheese” sauces; and dips made from vegetables such as cauliflower, are pre-made, ready to grab and go.

Most of these dips can easily be prepared at home with a few ingredients. Transform old favorites into healthier alternatives by substituting items, such as plain yogurt for sour cream. One cup of sour cream has 492 calories and 48.21 grams of fat and only 7.27 grams of protein as opposed to one cup of yogurt at 154 calories, 3.8 grams of fat and 12.86 grams of protein. Yogurt is also a better choice for those with lactose intolerance, and it is rich in calcium and vitamins B6 and B12.

Vegetables can make some of the tastiest dips. White Bean, Black Bean, Avocado and Edamame, Spicy Edamame, and Babaganoush dips may be your family’s newest favorites. Nuts also add an amazing twist to dips. My daughter, Erin, is a master at turning cashews into her children’s favorite “cheese” sauce. These recipes take a little more time, such as this one for Vegan Nacho Cheese, but it is so much lower in fat and cholesterol and contains more vitamins, so she isn’t concerned about how much her children want to use.

Here are a couple other recipes for you to try. I’d love to hear your suggestions.  

Avocado Hummus

2 garlic cloves
1 (15-ounce) can of garbanzo beans
1 lemon, zest and juice
2 tablespoon tahini
2 avocados
Salt
Olive Oil
Paprika

1. Place garlic cloves, garbanzo beans, lemon zest and juice from the lemon and tahini in a food processor. Blend until smooth. Salt to taste.

2. Add two avocados and blend just until smooth. Salt to taste once more. Transfer to a bowl. Top with a few tablespoons of olive oil and a sprinkle of paprika. Serve with pita chips, crackers, or vegetables.

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Cranberry Salsa

  • 1 (12 ounce) bag of cranberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions, cut into 3-inch lengths
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 3/cup white sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt

Combine cranberries, cilantro, green onions, jalapeno peppers, lime juice, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Chop to medium consistency refrigerate immediately, Serve at room temperature with tortilla chips or over cream cheese.

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Have you read my newest book, Inspired Caregiving or post on my other blog, “Pray It to Pieces?”

Thanksgiving Mussels Monday, Nov 23 2020 

The aroma of turkey roasting in the oven along with stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie lures us to the kitchen every Thanksgiving. However, this traditional meal has evolved since the first historic dinner. According to the pilgrim writer, Edward Winslow, crustaceans and mollusks were an important part of that first feast.

Europeans ventured through North America and established settlements since the 1500s. Friendly and hostile interaction with indigenous people occurred from the beginning. The holiday we celebrate today goes back to an event between the English setters who landed in Plymouth in 1620 and wanted to give thanks sometime in the fall of 1621 for their first abundant harvest and the assistance of their neighbors.

The little documentation we have tells of a three-day celebration between 90 Wampanoag indigenous people and about 50 English settlers. The food was prepared by the only four women (Eleanor Billington, Elizabeth Hopkins, Mary Brewster, and Susanna White) who survived the Mayflower voyage and first year in the New World. Young daughters and male and female servants likely assisted the women.

In addition to crustaceans, mollusks, and fish, one account states that the settlers hunted for fowl for the celebration. They returned with turkeys, venison, ducks, geese, and swans. Herbs, onions, and nuts were added to the meat before roasting.

Local vegetables likely included onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, and carrots. Corn was ground, boiled, and pounded into a thick porridge that may have been sweetened with molasses. Neither white nor sweet potatoes were yet available in the area.

Fruits indigenous to the region included blueberries, plums, grapes, gooseberries, raspberries, and cranberries. The pilgrim’s sugar supply was depleted by then, so no sugared cranberry sauce reached their table that year.

The settlers also lacked butter and wheat flour to make pie crust. That prevented pie or bread stuffing from being on the menu. Nor did they have ovens for baking. Some accounts do say that early English settlers in North America roasted pumpkins by filling the shells with milk, honey, and spices and baked the pumpkins in hot ashes.

Although the holiday did, and continues to center on food, the occasion was to show gratitude. This year has been a tough one for so many, but we likely have things to be thankful for, none-the-less. It’s a good idea to take a few moments this week to recognize our gifts and give thanks.

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Looking for gift ideas for caregivers? How about the uplifting book, Inspired Caregiving, or The Alzheimer’s Spouse, or Navigating Alzheimer’s?

Do you know there’s a New Blood Test for Alzheimer’s Disease?

Exploding Squash Friday, Nov 20 2020 

It was a quick dinner—spaghetti squash with oil, garlic, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. And I wanted to make it quicker by baking the squash in the microwave. After washing and pricking the small squash, I placed it in the microwave for about 7 minutes. It inflated and sizzled, so I pricked it again with a fork. The squash exploded in my face.

Small burns covered my forehead, eyelids, cheeks, and chin. I ran cold water on my face and placed a cool compress on it. Even minor burns keep burning for some time, so it took about an hour before I could apply fresh aloe vera from a plant I keep in the house. I continued to dab aloe on the burns for several days. Vaseline also helped, especially on my eyelids.

Aloe vera has incredible healing properties. By the following morning, the burns were significantly better, and at day two there are only a few pink spots on my face. One area on my forehead blistered and opened, so that one may take a little longer to completely heal. Also, the impact of the explosion on my forehead and right eye caused throbbing for a couple of days.

To avoid risk of serious burns and squash seeds and pulp imbedded in your hair, skin, and clothes, follow the standard rule—carefully cut open the hard squash before baking. The problem with cooking since I was a young girl is that I know all the shortcuts and am not as careful as I should be. This incident is a good reminder that the few extra minutes to do things correctly can save a lifetime of needless suffering. I was very fortunate not to have more serious burns or damaged my vision.

Mayo Clinic recommends treating minor burns (no larger than three inches in size) by holding the burned area under cool (not cold) running water and applying a cool, wet compress on the area until the pain subsides. Absolutely do not break blisters. Should blisters break on their own, clean the area with water and apply an antibiotic ointment. If a rash appears, stop using the ointment. Once the burn is completely cooled, apply a lotion containing aloe vera to prevent drying. Cover the burn with a loosely wrapped sterile gauze. If needed, take an over-the counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen or Tylenol.

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Have you read my last posts on my other blog: “New Blood Test for Alzheimer’s Disease” or “Compassionate and Devout Saint Margaret?”

Jalapeno Popper Pizza Wednesday, Sep 9 2020 

Spicy, salty, smoky, creamy, and chewy. If you like jalapeno poppers, those yummy jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon, I have a twist that you might enjoy at least as much. Jalapeno Popper Pizza was one more tasty use of my crop of jalapeno peppers that I discovered this summer.

Homemade pizza is easy and delicious. It only requires a handful of ingredients, especially if you use prepared dough.

I baked two variations of this recipe. The first one contained healthier ingredients, including low-fat cream cheese and turkey bacon, and was baked on the outdoor grill.

The second one was the real deal with full-fat cream cheese and pork bacon. However, I baked this pizza in a pan in the oven.

I used raw, crunchy jalapenos on the first pizza. The second time around, I sautéed them slightly before adding them to the crust which I preferred.

The healthier pizza was tasty but there’s no argument the fattier ingredients were more satisfying. However, the grill produced the best crust. Had I baked the second pizza directly on the pizza stone instead of in the pan, or on the grill, it would have been perfect.

Temperatures rise up to 700˚ Fahrenheit in my little, inexpensive outdoor grill. That is close in temperature to commercial pizza ovens which range from 700 to 800˚. Both options result in an excellent textured crust.

Traditional indoor home ovens can come close to this if a pizza stone is used. The stone should be placed on the lowest rack in a 475 to 500˚ oven preheated for up to an hour before placing the dough on it.

I baked the second pizza in a pan because it was easier to manage in and out of the oven but have since ordered a pizza paddle, also called a peel. This will enable me to move breads and pastries on and off the pizza stone or grill much more efficiently.

I chose the Weber 6691 pizza paddle because of positive reviews and the rotating handle which allows for easier storage. I bake bread and pizzas often, so I don’t know why I waited this long to purchase such a handy tool.

I tried to be conscious of measurements for you with this recipe but typically I do not measure when cooking for myself and loved ones. Cooking to taste is so very personal. When making this recipe, adjust for the size of the pizza and the preferred amount of cream cheese, bacon, and jalapeno.

Homemade dough or store-bought frozen bread or pizza dough works well for the crust. Some pizzerias sell their dough for home use, as well.

I made my Italian bread dough recipe for the crust. Two thirds of the dough was patted into a 16″ pie pan and the remainder was formed into a few small rolls. I allowed the rolls to rise before baking, but not the pizza crust.

I also baked the crust about 5-10 minutes before adding the toppings. This prevents the toppings from soaking into the dough and making it soggy, which is especially important when using traditional tomato sauce and wetter ingredients such as olives, spinach, and sausage.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this recipe and how you improved it for yourself.

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Jalapeno Popper Pizza

(Makes one 16″ pizza)

  • 4-6 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 6 oz. of cream cheese, softened
  • 2 large or 3 small jalapenos, seeded and sliced
  • pizza dough for a 16″ pizza

Preheat oven to 475˚for at least 45 minutes.

Cook the bacon until crisp. Reserve the bacon grease. Chop into bite-sized pieces.

Sauté the jalapeno slices in a few tablespoons of the bacon grease. Cook until softened. Drain and pat with a paper towel.

Roll or stretch pizza dough into a circle or pat into a greased pizza pan. Bake 5-10 minutes.

Remove the pizza crust from the oven and immediately spread the cream cheese across the crust. Sprinkle on the bacon and jalapenos. Return the pizza to the oven and bake until the cheese is bubbly and the crust begins to brown, about another 15 minutes.

Cool, slice, and enjoy.

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Check out my post, Riches to Rags, on St. Francis and the sweet town of Assisi, Italy and also my website for all of my books.

Singing the Holiday Blues Monday, Dec 2 2019 

I thought it would be easier this year. Yes, my husband, Marshall, only passed away less than nine months ago, but this was my fifth year without him at Thanksgiving dinner, and I am at peace knowing that Alzheimer’s has released him into the hands of the Lord. Yet, at the end of Thanksgiving Day, I was still depressed.

As my friend, David, who just lost his wife to Alzheimer’s, said to me, no matter how we fill our days, the evenings are sad and lonely. I’ve noticed that the last few years have been like that. I’m more depressed after being with loved ones and returning home.

Keeping busy and social are important elements in preventing getting stuck in the muck of holiday depression. We need to do things that bring us joy. And at the end of the day, especially the most difficult ones, ease the loneliness with uplifting music, movies/tv/reading, and friends.

I’m fortunate to have people who help me through. My friend, Paul, insisted on coming over on Friday to watch a silly Christmas movie. He knew a cure for loss was company and humor. And then, my son and his girlfriend visited yesterday.

Remember, that although missing our loved ones, especially around the holidays never fully disappears, it does get easier. As my psychologist friend, Sue, says, it becomes a different kind of, more bearable mourning. My mother passed away in 1999, and I especially long for her while baking during the holidays. It’s not the heart-wrenching type of pain of the past, but more like a missing part of the puzzle of tradition and a gratitude for having those experiences at all.

May all your memories of passed loved ones bring a smile to your face and a warmth to your heart this holiday season.

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If you’re in the area, please join me for my last presentation of the year. “The Alzheimer’s Spouse,” will be from 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 5, 2019 at The Inter-Faith Chapel at Leisure World, 3680 S. Leisure World Boulevard, Silver Spring, MD 20906. For reservations, please call Julie Boone Roth, 301.847.3051.

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The Alzheimer’s Spouse is available from Amazon.com and ACTA Publications.comNavigating Alzheimer’s is also available from Amazon and ACTA.

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Do you follow my other blog, Midwest Mary, or my author Facebook page?

Sweet Twisted History Wednesday, Dec 12 2018 

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With the progression of the seasons comes the move from everything pumpkin to everything peppermint. But if the iconic Christmas peppermint candy canes aren’t your thing, you can appease your sweet tooth with your choice of an array of other flavors. Sour Patch, Jolly Ranchers, Orange Crush, and A&W are some, as well as–believe it or not–rotisserie chicken and pickle.

Legends about the origins of candy canes link a preacher and his lessons on Christianity to the candy. The story is that candy canes were designed with red to represent Jesus’ blood, white for the Resurrection, and the J-shape for the name, Jesus.

None of this is true, but it didn’t stop an elementary school principle in Nebraska from banning candy canes for these reasons. Most likely, the basis of the legend came from someone who indeed did use candy canes to teach about Jesus, but artwork shows images of candy canes long before these stories first circulated.

White, straight candy sticks date to the 17th century and came in several flavors, including mint. The twist of red and white began showing up around the turn of the 20th century. And the hook shape may have begun as a means to hang them on decorated Christmas trees, a German custom that became more popular when Queen Victoria and her German husband displayed them in their home in the mid-1800s.

What’s your favorite flavor? I’m still a traditionalist and like the peppermint, especially  when it’s crushed and mixed with white chocolate.

(Have you seen my latest posts on my other blog including: Save it For Those Who Listen, Soulful Connections, and The Alzheimer’s Teacher?)

Hot and Smokey Tuesday, Jun 12 2018 

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Cinnamon, cumin, sumac, and cardamom. One of my attractions to different cultures is their cuisine. Tai, Hispanic, Indian, Chinese, or Italian. I love them all! I thrive on the spices of ethnic foods and am excited when I discover a new one.

My newest seasoning of choice is chipotle powder. Chipotle is a smoke-dried jalapeno that has just enough heat and smoke to pack a great punch on everything from eggs and green beans to chicken and fish. Or try a few shakes over popped corn or even corn on the cop. 

For a quick, healthy snack, sprinkle chipotle powder on a mashed avocado. Add a squeeze of lime juice and a dash of sea salt. Top it off with a bit of fresh cilantro and you have a special snack to enjoy with tortilla chips.

Venture out to your grocery store’s spice aisle and be brave! Pick up some chipotle powder or another spice that you haven’t tried before. Purchase the smallest amount possible and experiment. You may find that you are drawn to more vegetables and proteins when you literally spice up your life.

(Follow me on Facebook and see my other blog, Mary K Doyle Books.)

Taste That Shape Monday, Jun 26 2017 

Food is one of the pleasures of life. Most of us look forward to times of day and seasons that present our favorite dishes. But why we like those foods is complicated. All of our senses—sight, smell, sound, touch, in addition to taste—play a role. So does our memory and perceptions.

Marketers and chefs know the significance of visual presentation whether the food is packaged or plated. We are drawn into restaurants or the family table due to the aroma of what’s cooking. And that sound of the sizzle on the grill attracts us along with that smell.

The feel of foods is also important. Some like cold or hot dishes or foods we can hold in our hands. We also have our preferences of crispy, crunchy, or creamy. And how much we enjoy any of it is based on past experience. Comfort foods are linked to memories of earlier days.

I’m not a big fan of farfalle, also known as bow-tie pasta. As pretty as they are to look at, I prefer the firmer, tubular shapes of macaroni or penne. The texture, how the sauce sticks to the pasta, and the familiarity of childhood family dinners are only a few of the reasons these types of pasta top my list.

Scientists state that shape does in fact alter the flavor of foods. Molecules reach the tongue and nose at different speed and order with the change of shape.

A few years ago, the British company Cadbury updated the shape of their chocolates called Dairy Milk. The public strongly reacted claiming that in doing so the flavor changed. Cadbury responded that the recipe and preparation process remained identical. The only change was the shape of the angular chunks to ones that were curved.

Their goal was to allow the chocolates to fit into the mouth easier. But this also changed how quickly the chocolate melted and molecules were released on the tongue. The oils in the chocolate now are released quicker resulting in an oily taste.

When preparing foods, shape is even more significant. Dice vegetables and their texture changes, varying the taste, or at least our perception. Think of how differently raw, whole carrots taste from diced or sliced and also how they taste when cooked. And the more surface area of the ingredient, the greater the change. For example, we increase the browning or charring on a vegetable or piece of meat with elongated shapes of food.

The shape also affects aroma. The smaller something is cut, the greater the aroma, and as we know, smell is an important aspect of taste. Chop broccoli or cabbage and the smell of the sulfur can be offensive. Slice onions or mince garlic and we can almost taste them.

(Follow my posts on Mary K Doyle Books or my author Facebook page.)

 

 

Quick Crisp Saturday, Feb 11 2017 

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Family cooks have brought about many of our favorite and comfort foods as the result of limited ingredients on hand, rethinking the use of ingredients, and errors in baking. You may know that the original chocolate chip cookie baker intended to make chocolate cookies but the chocolate never melted. The chocolate chip, instead of chocolate, cookie soon topped the list of all-time favorite treats.

I recently purchased a mega box of packaged serving size instant oatmeal forgetting how much I dislike it. Instant oatmeal makes a softer textured dish rather than the chewier old-fashioned version which I prefer.

So what to do with all this oatmeal? Today I turned some of it into a very quick Blueberry Crisp. I didn’t measure but can give you a general guide to follow.

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The simple recipe begins by spraying ramekins or a baking pan with non-stick spray. Toss blueberries or sliced peaches or apples (I used frozen organic blueberries), in a sprinkle of sugar. Fill dishes about 3/4 full. Blend a couple of tablespoons of softened butter and/or coconut oil with each package of instant, flavored oatmeal. (I used maple brown sugar.) If using unsweetened oatmeal, you will need to add sugar. You also may want to sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake at 350 until the topping browns.

Depending on the amount of butter and sugar added, this is a relatively healthy snack or breakfast that literally takes minutes to prepare. You can bake ahead and have them ready whenever you want. Just top with plain yogurt and serve.

(Check out my posts on Mary K Doyle Books or like me on Facebook to see all my posts.)

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