Monday, November 2, 2015

Get Youth in the Kitchen

Usually, when I write a post, it's a basic, quick and easy recipe. It is not my intention to give you overcomplicated recipes that take all afternoon and all your pots and pans to cook. And, yes, I do believe there is a time and place for those recipes.

I also develop recipes for our local foods program. Those recipes also follow the same basic, quick, and easy method.

This year something extra exciting has happened. The interest in youth and cooking has grown exponentially. My Facebook posting on youth and food, received over 150 hits, more than any other posting. I thought 'I am on to something here'. More and more people are realizing the value of teaching children to cook. Learning to cook is a life skill. It builds confidence. Just watch a child smile when you tell them how good their dish tastes. Learning to cook builds reading and math skills.

Even very young children can perform tasks in the kitchen. Check out this reference from Clemson University on age appropriate food preparation tasks for children.

This is a recipe from our latest local foods brochure.  It is for orange and honey roasted carrots. You can use baby or regular carrots. If using regular carrots, your child may need help with peeling and cutting.

Orange and Honey Roasted Carrots

Serves 4.

1½ pounds carrots
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 orange, zest and juice
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 to 2 Tablespoons honey

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Wash and peel carrots. Slice diagonally into about 1-inch pieces.
3. Arrange carrots in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Coat with olive oil.
4. Remove about 1 teaspoon of zest from the orange. Cut orange in half and remove the juice. Combine zest, juice, salt and pepper. Pour over carrots. Stir to combine. Cover tightly with foil.
5. Roast until crisp-tender, about 10 minutes.
6. Remove foil and increase oven temperature to 450°F.
7. Roast, uncovered until carrots are tender and browned in spots, about 10 minutes longer.
8. Drizzle honey over carrots. Stir to coat the carrots.

Note: Citrus zest may be slightly bitter. If desired, the zest can be omitted.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Breakfast Counts!

I've been reading a lot of articles on families eating together. Studies show that eating together has numerous benefits. Children consume healthier diets, more fruits and vegetables, more dairy. Eating together is also a time to talk, about the food, your day, and your nosy neighbor. (Admit it, not all table conversations are polite.)

We humans dine, while other animals eat. Food is more than a group of nutrients. It's talking, listening, passing down traditions, learning manners. Have you ever noticed that most famous TV shows always have a dining table?

Ok, the table is important, but dinner is just too hard for you right now. Rest easy. Breakfast is also a chance to get together. You may not sit at the table as in the old days. You may eat around the kitchen stove, over the sink. Whatever. Just try and share a few pleasant words with your family.

Here is a 'recipe' to get you started. It is based on a recipe from Bon Appetit, Ricotta Toast with Pears and Honey. It's simple and the ricotta mixture can be mixed the night before.

I made my version with cream cheese. It's a common ingredient in many American households.

Cream Cheese Toast with Fruit and Nuts

Serves 2 to 3.


4 ounces cream cheese
2 Tablespoons honey or jam
2 to 3 slices of whole wheat bread, toasted
fruit, apple, pear, peach, about ½ cup per person
¼ cup, nuts, toasted and chopped


1. In a small bowl, stir together cream cheese and honey or jam.

2. Toast the bread. Spread  cream cheese mixture onto bread. Slice fruit and place on top of cheese. Top each piece of toast with about one tablespoon nuts.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Snacking at the Office

Eight hours or more in the office and dinner is a couple of hours away. Yes, sometimes you gotta snack at the office.

Apparently, I am not the only one snacking at the office. The percentage of energy Americans derive from snacks has doubled since the 1970's.

In the US, snacking has evolved into an actual meal category. Sales of snack foods have reached more than $64 billion dollars. Food companies have developed an almost endless array of snacks. From savory to sweet. Think potato chips and jerky. Oreo cookies ring a bell?

So why all the snacking?

We are on the move more. We consume less traditional meals around the table. Consumers are asking for snacks that are portable, easy/fast, value priced, healthy, delicious and shareable.

While I agree with this list, I have a few requirements of my own. I want a snack that makes me happy. Broccoli is out, but broccoli with ranch dip is a possibility. I also want some nutritional value and I want it to hold me over until dinner.

Here is one of my favorite snacks to make. It has chocolate - I'm happy now. And I use dark chocolate to get more antioxidants. A mixture of nuts, because I like the crunch. 

I like dried fruit for sweetness and the chew. Depending on how I feel, I might add something for flavoring, vanilla, candied ginger. If it's a grown up snack, a liqueur, such as amaretto or orange can be good additions.

French Chocolate Bark

Makes 10 to 12 pieces.


½ cup nuts, toasted and chopped, your choice
7 ounces dark chocolate
¾ cup dried fruit, chopped, your choice
1 teaspoon vanilla, optional


1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Spread nuts on a baking dish or cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.

2. Place half the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 20 to 30 seconds. Stir and continue to heat in 30 second increments until the chocolate is melted. Add the remaining chocolate and vanilla.  Allow to sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally.

3.  Pour chocolate onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread to desired thickness.

4. Sprinkle nuts and dried fruit onto chocolate. Gently press nuts and fruit into chocolate. Set aside until completely firm, about 1 to 2 hours. Break into desired sizes.

Source: Adapted from Back to Basics from The Barefoot Contessa.

Lastly, don't forget plain fruit for snacking. Yes, fruit does make me happy. Apples, pears, bananas, peaches, and oranges are extremely portable.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

I too Sing America

I thought about this post a little before the 4th of July and around the time of the murders in South Carolina. At that time writing about food seemed trivial. After all, what did I have to say? What could I contribute?

What I really wanted was to go to bed and cry. But if there was any chance that I could help, I needed to pull everything together and go back into the world.

I am a daughter of sharecroppers and descendant of slaves. That does not make me special, but it does mean that I may not see the world as others. We are apart of the fabric of this country. Our blood has spilled to protect it.

As a nation, we seem to have lost our ability to sit together and discuss our commonalities and our differences. We don't always need to agree, but we do need to listen and respect different viewpoints.

This week, I am offering a recipe and a seat at the table of brotherhood. For as Langston Hughes, wrote, I, too Sing America.

This is a recipe for Crunchy Roast Chickpeas with Za'atar.

Za'atar is a Middle Eastern flavoring blend consisting of dried thyme, marjoram or oregano, sumac and toasted sesame seeds. One of my students told me that typically, bread is dipped in olive oil and then in za'atar. Similarly to the way Italians dip bread. She also told me that everyone makes za'atar differently and the good stuff is made at home. Since I have no idea how za'atar is supposed to taste, I headed to my local Middle Eastern store and purchased some.

Crunchy Roast Chickpeas with Za'atar


1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon za'atar


1. Drain and rinse chickpeas. Spread on paper towels to dry. This should take about an hour or so.

2. Preheat oven to 400°F. Place chickpeas on a rimmed baking sheet. (Note - I used my cast iron skillet and it worked just fine.)

3. Bake at 400°F for about 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Coat with olive oil. Sprinkle za'atar over chickpeas. Place in a serving dish and eat as an appetizer.

4. Chickpeas should be crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.

I liked za'atar, although I did find it to be a rather mild seasoning. I think next time, I will try it on peanuts. You can take the girl out of the south, but you can't take the south out of the girl.

This recipe is from the blog, "Rose Water & Orange Blossoms" by Maureen Abood. It is a wonderful site. Please check it out.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

It's That Time of Year

Rhubarb Time!

As you know, I love rhubarb. You get to eat it for dessert and still count it as a vegetable. But please don't tell the food police. Rhubarb desserts are usually a little tart, which means they pair well with ice cream. You knew there was a motive for my love of rhubarb. Rhubarb also pairs will with strawberries. Remember, they are both spring crops. Things that grow together, go together. If you want to test this idea, here is a recipe for strawberry rhubarb pie.

The rhubarb plant is a perennial, meaning it will return next year. It produces large leaves, with long stalks that resemble celery. When preparing rhubarb, discard the leaves and use the stalks. Rhubarb has a strong, tart flavor and is usually consumed, cooked with sugar.

Since I cannot allow you to have a rhubarbless year, this is my first rhubarb recipe for 2015. Yes, there may be more.

Rhubarb Orange Sauce

Makes 2 cups.


1 cup orange juice
½ cup sugar
3 cups sliced rhubarb


1. Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan.

2.  Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is falling apart and sauce is thickened, about 20 minutes.

3. Serve sauce with ice cream or yogurt.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Waldorf Salad - Revisited

Waldorf Salad - a mixture of apples, raisins, nuts, and celery held together by a mayonnaise dressing. It's a simple dish, but there is nothing wrong with simplicity. In our overcomplicated lives, simplicity is a good thing.

Food to Live By contains an updated Waldorf  Salad recipe - California Waldorf Salad. This version contains curry and is mixed with greens or spinach. I made a batch and took to my church potluck. I think it passed the test. (There wasn't much left to bring home - and someone took the leftovers.) Now that is a winner in my book.

Here is my version of the dish. I left out the curry, but feel free to add it to yours (2 teaspoons).

California Waldorf Salad

Serves 4.


1/3 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
2 Tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon honey
1 bag (5 ounces) baby spinach or mixed greens, rinsed and dried
1 apple, unpeeled and cut into cubes
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
1/2 cup dried fruit, such as raisins, cranberries or tart cherries
1 cup seedless grapes, cut in half
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted


1. In a small bowl combine yogurt, mayonnaise, lime zest, juice and honey. Stir to combine. Set aside.

2. Wash spinach and place in a large bowl. Top spinach with apples, celery, dried fruit, grapes and nuts. Add enough dressing to coat. Toss and serve.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Not Your Mother's Spice Rack

One of my colleagues told me her father stated that good food did not need spices. Interesting.

My grandmother, on the other hand, told me that poor food would kill me. In other words, spice it up. Now mind you, grandma did not have a lot of spices, salt, pepper, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cayenne pepper and a few others.

Fast forward and I have a cabinet full of spices. I took grandma's advice to heart. While I will always use cinnamon, I also have coriander, cumin, Aleppo pepper, black peppercorns, chipotle pepper, and the list continues. I like to experiment with spices and other food cultures.

And this is only part of the collection!
It seems that more Americans are joining me in my quest for a wider variety of spices. We don't want just more spices, we also want more spice blends. Standing along side the standard Italian and poultry seasonings are ras el hanout, a spice used North African cooking, especially Morroco, harissa another North African spice, Indian inspired curry powder, and za'tar from the middle east. Needless to say, the list continues. Americans are on a spice roll. And I say we are the better for it. It is always wonderful to experience the food of another culture.

For this post, I am going with ras el hanout, a Moroccan spice mixture. You can purchase ras el hanout or make your own. Ras el hanout loosely translates to "head of the shop" and refers to the best spices the shop has to offer. Each shop has its own blend, but typically contain cardamom, clove, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, paprika, mace, nutmeg, peppercorns, and turmeric.

Ras el hanout is flavorful, but not hot. Since it is a spice blend, it can be used in marinades, as a rub, stews and braises. Check out The Kitchn for ways to use ras el hanout and other spice blends.

Ras el Hanout

Makes about 2 tablespoons.

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves

Whisk together in a small bowl until well combined. Mixture can be stored in a jar at room temperature for several weeks.
I have used this mixture on chicken and fish.  Both are equally good.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Brussels sprouts...Little Cabbages

Little cabbages - that's what I used to call Brussels sprouts. To my child's eyes that is what they looked like. To my adult eyes, that is still what they look like.  Brussels sprouts and cabbages are different plants, but part of the same family. Guess I wasn't too far off.

Until recently, Brussels sprouts were not readily seen. Maybe only grandma was eating them. Lately, they are everywhere. The internet has tons of recipes for Brussels sprouts. You would think we discovered Brussels sprouts.

Brussels sprouts are believed to have been cultivated in Italy during Roman times.  Brussels sprouts that we are familiar with were first cultivated in Belgium as early as 1587 and were introduced in the US in the 1800s. Okay, so we didn't discover Brussels sprouts, but we can still enjoy them.

I like Brussels sprouts. (If you like them, it's okay. You can admit it.) My love of Brussels sprouts has me looking for new recipes. For this posting, I found recipe on the California Almond Board and changed it to make it more Midwestern. Below is my version. But please feel free to try the recipe as the almond board intended it. My goal is that everyone eats good food. Use a recipe as a starting point. Changing it to fit your taste is perfectly fine.
Brussels sprouts Salad

Serves 8.
12 ounces Brussels sprouts
½ cup slivered almonds
1 large firm pear
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
½ cup seedless red grapes, halved
cup dried cranberries

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1½ Tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes


1. Wash Brussels sprouts. Remove damaged outer leaves. Slice Brussels sprouts very thinly. Set aside.

2. Toast almonds in a 300°F oven for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Set aside.

3. Wash and chop the pear. In a large bowl, combine pear, onion, and grapes. Set aside.

4. In a large saucepan, bring about 4 cups of water to a boil. Add ½ teaspoon salt. Add Brussels sprouts and cook for about 2 minutes. Add cranberries during the last 30 seconds. Drain. Add cold water to cool. Drain thoroughly. Add to pear mixture along with the almonds.

5. In a separate bowl, combine dressing ingredients. Pour over Brussels sprouts. Stir to combine.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Parsnips and Carrots

In addition to blogging, I also develop local food brochures for Nebraska Extension. I aim for recipes that are quick, easy, and inexpensive. See, I do not believe eating healthy has to be complicated or expensive. There is nothing wrong with simplicity.

I recently posted the Winter 2015 Local Foods Brochure. Yes, you can eat locally in Nebraska in the winter. Our fore parents did it. That was all they knew. Eating locally is a great way to get variety in your diet.

My most recent brochure contains recipes using rutabaga (or turnip), potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and broccoli.

One of my colleagues suggested I blog about my carrot and parsnip recipe. I thought, why not. It fits with my overall goal of the blog - helping you get dinner on the table. 

Parsnips and Carrots with Orange Butter

Serves 2.


½ pound parsnips
½ pound carrots
½ cup water
½ teaspoon salt
cup fresh orange juice, about 1 orange
1 Tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper, to taste


1. Wash and peel parsnips and carrots. Cut in half lengthwise, and cut crosswise into ¼-inch thick pieces. Set aside.

2.  In a skillet, combine the water, parsnips, carrots, and salt. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove lid and cook until the vegetables are tender and the liquid evaporates.

3. Add orange juice and butter, stirring until the butter has melted and the sauce thickens and coats the vegetables.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Cabbage...Says It All

In the olden days, one ate cabbage, turnips, and sweet potatoes in the fall and winter. You had no choice. You ate it or you went hungry.

Well, children nowadays have everything. They get peaches, lettuce, watermelon and everything else all year long. Don't get me wrong; I am all for progress. But does there come a time when progress is no longer progress? I say let's eat a few root vegetables and cool season crops this winter. They are usually inexpensive, low in calories, a good source of fiber, vitamins A, C and folate. They are just plain good for you, so eat up.

To help your winter vegetables go down a little easier, I am offering up a recipe for creamed cabbage. I told one of my colleagues that the only way my mother prepared cabbage was with pork fat. Her response was, "Well, I'd add some of that too". I left it out, but feel free to add bacon if you like.

Creamed Cabbage

Serves 4 to 6.


1 medium green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tablespoon grated ginger, heaping
2 Tablespoons butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper, to taste


1.  In a large skillet, heat the butter over medium heat until it melts and starts to bubble. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute. Stir in ginger and cook for another minute.

2. Add cabbage and stir to coat cabbage with butter. Cover with a tight-fitting lid. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 to 20 minutes, until cabbage has softened and slightly browned.

3. Reduce heat and stir in cream. Scrape up any browned bits from bottom of the pan. Cover an cook on low for about 10 minutes. Remove the lid, taste for salt and pepper. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and cabbage is coated with cream.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A New Year, A New Start

I've been writing about starting to cook for quite some time. So far, I'm just short of preaching. I don't mean to nag. But I believe there is value in preparing one's food at home. Food is communal. We create memories in the kitchen. A lot of our lives revolve around the kitchen. 

For me cooking is creating. I like knowing that I can make something. And I do enjoy it when people like something I cook. I cook for my enjoyment and for the enjoyment of those I feed. All my dishes are not masterpieces or works of art. Sometimes I just need to get dinner on the table. So I have a few things like eggs and pasta that I frequently fall back on.

Convenience ingredients are great for getting meals on the table. Try rotisserie chicken, bagged salads, frozen vegetables (without sauce), canned beans, fresh pasta, and pre-made pizza dough.

If you need a scientific reason to cook, here's one. According to a paper published in Public Health Nutrition, adults who cooked dinner 0 - 1 times per week consumed 2300 calories on an average day. Those cooking 6 - 7 times per week consumed 2163 calories on an average day. While that is only 136 calories, multiply 136 calories by 365 days. Get the picture?

Here is my recipe to help you get started. It is a Stromboli.   A Stromboli is an Italian-American sandwich of pizza dough wrapped various fillings. I chose spinach, onions, ham and cheese. 

Spinach and Ham Stromboli

Serves 4.


½ medium onion, chopped
Olive or vegetable oil
4 ounces deli ham
1 package (16 ounce) frozen chopped spinach
6 ounces grated cheese, about 1½ cups
1 container (13.8 ounce) refrigerated whole wheat pizza dough
Pizza sauce


1.  Heat about one tablespoon of oil in a medium skillet. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
2.  Remove onion and set aside. Add ham to skillet. Cook until ham has dried out and begins to brown. Remove from skillet and set aside.
3. Add another tablespoon of oil to skillet. When oil is hot, add spinach. Cook until spinach until most of the water has evaporated. Set aside.
4.  Coat a work surface lightly with flour. Unroll dough onto floured surface.  Roll dough into a rectangle, about 11 X 14-inches.
5. Brush dough with oil. Top with cheese to within one inch of the edge.  Add onions, ham and spinach.
6. Roll dough up jellyroll fashion. Place bottom of dough on cookie sheet. Brush top of dough with oil. Bake at 400°F until crust browns, about 20 to 30 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes. Slice into 1-inch slices. Serve with pizza sauce.

Note: Onions, ham, and spinach can be cooked in advance (one to two days) and refrigerated until ready to use.