Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Oh, the Joys of Jell-o

Back in the dark ages, when I first started cooking, I purchased The New Joys of Jell-o Cookbook.  Think I paid a dollar for it.  Making jell-o, for whatever reason, fascinated me.  There was just something about sucking jell-o through my teeth.  Come on, admit it, you did it too.

My mother made jell-o on Sundays.  Why?  I don't know.  Maybe, jell-o was just that special.  It seems that most of my students purchase jell-o already made.  I'm sorry, but some things I just need to make myself.  Jell-o is easy to make, hot water, cold water and a package of jell-o.  However, you do need to plan ahead.  It's got to chill in the refrigerator.

Jell-o or gelatin is actually an animal protein, made from collagen.  Have you ever noticed that meat drippings become jelly-like when cooled?  Well, that's jell-o or as it is scientifically called, gelatin. Since it is low in the essential amino acid, tryptophan, it is an incomplete protein.  When jell-o cools, it actually forms a protein gel.  Although we think of jell-o for desserts only, gelatin is used frequently in the manufacture of food, such as, marshmallows, yogurt, ice cream and cream cheese. 

In it's early history, jell-o was made the well-to-do.  Because to make jell-o, you needed a refrigerator or icebox.  To purchase a refrigerator or icebox, you needed to have money.  Thus, jell-o was made by those with money. 

Now that jell-o (and refrigerators) are available to the masses, why not make a simple dessert of jell-o.  With a little planning, your dessert will be ready when you are.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Discovering Yogurt

I remember when I first tried yogurt.  My college roommate introduced me to it.  Until then, I had never seen nor heard of yogurt.  In the late 70's and early 80's yogurt was still a relatively new thing in the United States.  There were only a few companies that made yogurt and it was mostly flavored and contained added sugar. 

Fast forward to the 21st century and I am still eating yogurt.  I no longer consume much of the fruit flavored sweetened types.   I now purchase plain yogurt.  Before all of you true yogurt consumers get too happy, I do add stuff to plain yogurt.  I prefer homemade jam or honey, granola and maybe fresh fruit.  I saw a colleague do this and thought nothing about it.  Later another colleague told me about adding stuff to plain yogurt and I turned up my nose.  Her comment, "Don't knock it, 'til you've tried it".  Being the foodie that I am, I could not resist the invitation.  I tried it and was hooked.  The flavored sweetened varieties are good, but I now prefer plain yogurt with my additions.

There is a lot of scientific evidence supporting the consumption of yogurt and other fermented dairy products. 

Most yogurts provide the body with 'good', 'beneficial' or 'friendly' bacteria.  Research shows that 'good' bacteria may help with lactose intolerance, constipation, diarrhea, and colon cancer.  You may hear the term "probiotic" when referring to yogurt.  Yogurts that contain probiotics will have the statement, "live and active cultures" on the label.  The benefits of probiotics are specific to certain strains of bacteria. Most yogurts will also state which specific bacteria were used, such as, Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus

In order for bacteria to have probiotic benefits, they must survive the digestive system and colonize in the intestines.  Under normal conditions, good bacteria outnumber the bad, making the intestinal tract less hospitable for harmful bacteria.  In addition to its probiotic benefits, yogurts are made with dairy products and are a good source of protein, calcium, vitamins B2 and B12, potassium, and magnesium.

Yogurt - My Way

Serves 1.

6 to 8 ounces plain yogurt
Jam, 1 to 2 tablespoons or honey
Granola, about 1/4 cup.

Combine and enjoy for a healthy, breakfast, lunch or snack.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Reese's Tater Tot Casserole

For a long time, no one seemed to cook.  I knew people who even bragged about how they could not cook.  We were proud of our inability to prepare a few simple dishes.  Then along came Martha Stewart and Food Network.  And all of a sudden, cooking was back in vogue.  Thank God! 

Somewhere along the way we seem to have forgotten about the shear joy of sharing a meal with people we care about.  A lifetime of memories are made in the kitchen and at the table.  Sharing a meal is often where we learn the art of conversation and manners.  It is where we pass on values and traditions. 

Cooking may seem frivolous in a time-crunched society, but cooking stimulates creativity.  The late Julia Child believed that food is more than sustenance and children must be taught that cooking is akin to art.  Cooking is as creative as music, drawing.  Cooking helps children learn to love food - children should experience food hands on.  Research shows that hands-on cooking is a great way to improve mealtime practices and eating habits of children.  They need to taste, to touch, smell and listen to food. 

But enough with all the soft, feel good and scientific stuff, cooking and eating are just plain fun. 

Tater Tot Casserole is a favorite of a colleague's daughter.  Her favorite thing about this casserole is lining up the tater tots exactly the same.  Her mother says that even though the recipe states to dump it all together, it actually cooks better when the tater tots are "lined up". 

Tater Tot Casserole

Serves 8 to 10.


1 package (32 ounce) tater tots, thawed
2 cups (8 ounces) American or Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 can (10¾ ounce) condensed cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
½ cup onion, finely chopped
¼ cup butter, melted
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 cup corn flakes, crushed
1 Tablespoon butter, melted
Cooking spray


1.  Coat a 9 X 13-baking dish with cooking spray.  Place tater tots in baking dish; set aside. 
2.  In a large mixing bowl, combine cheese soup, sour cream, onion, butter, and pepper.  Pour over tater tots.  (If desired, casserole can be assembled up to this point and refrigerated.)
3.  Toss together cornflakes and one tablespoon of butter.  Sprinkle over casserole.  Bake in a 350F oven for about 1 hour or until casserole is golden brown.

To make this dish a little healthier, use reduced fat cheese and sour cream.