Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Benefits of Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Chai

July 26

On my recent trip to New York I spent a lot of time in Starbuck's. Nothing wrong with that, it's just not what I usually do, and I only went there because there were so many of them, and I needed that wi-fi connection.

I limit my coffee intake these days to two cups at a time, and then only two days a week, usually Saturday and Sunday. Breakfast. Heaven. Limited, but heaven.

At Starbuck's it was not easy to limit caffein or calories, but on an early visit I decided to spring for something called an iced chai latté: How bad could it be?

Turned out it was delicious! Spicy, creamy, chilly, redolent of cinnamon and nutmeg. And I got the small ("Grande" in Starbuck's language), which was practically the cheapest thing on the menu. When I got home I looked it up, and went to the health food store and bought myself a box of Redbush Chai Tea. It's nice hot in the morning, or over ice as a pick-me-up at any time of day. And it's good for you, too!

I never thought of cinnamon as anything but a taste treat until I learned that all the spices I associate with Thanksgiving and Christmas -- cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove -- offer health benefits too. Cinnamon does not only taste good, it also contains Anti-Clotting and Anti-Microbial actions, Blood Sugar Control; it boosts Brain Function; its Calcium and Fiber protect against Heart Disease and improve Colon Health, among other things.

Those capital letters come from the Internet, and I decided to leave them in. Makes everything seem more important.

Now I add cinnamon and nutmeg to oatmeal, and I can't wait until Christmas. Think of all those health-promoting sticky buns!

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Wonders of Flour Tortillas

July 20

When I buy one of those roasted chickens at the supermarket the first things that go are the thighs. Because I like dark meat I have no trouble disposing of the drumsticks and wings next. Then of course I'm left with a carcass and a lot of breast meat.

A week or so ago I bought some of those prepackaged flour tortillas. I actually bought the white flour ones even though I'm basically off white flour in any form. But these little pancakes are such a great way to make a lunch out of leftovers that I gave them a try.

Here's what I did with one -- the last one -- for lunch today. I had a fresh tomato which I chopped and warmed in a little olive oil in which I had poached a chopped clove of garlic. I had some leftover cooked spinach from last night and added that. Then I took the tortilla and dropped into a heated frying pan and turned it when it began to bubble up. Onto this I put about an eighth of a cup of shredded cheese and piled the spinach-tomato mixture on top. I added about a half a cup of white meat of chicken. I happened to have some bottled salsa in the refrigerator so I dropped about a tablespoon of that into the mixture and a few capers.

I was about to say the last two ingredients are optional, but actually all the ingredients except the flour tortilla and the chicken are optional. Use the cheese of your choice and the leftovers of whatever you happen to have.

The flour tortillas are a great invention, I don't know of whose. I don't know if they are Mexican, French, or actually American. But they are a wonderful shortcut to a delicious and easy lunch -- or supper or breakfast, for that matter. Try one.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Savoring Summer -- Tomatoes, Basil and Pasta

July 14

At this time of year it's almost a sin not to use up the bounty of tomatoes in something fresh and delicious. This is one of my favorite ways to do that -- taken from the American Women's Club of Geneva Cookbook, published in 1983, submitted by the Country Living Committee Chairwoman Peggy Cleveland:

Summer Pasta

1/2 cup olive oil (I sometimes use a bit less)
1 teaspoon salt
6 twists of a pepper mill (Here I think Peggy was being a bit persnickety)
3 or 4 cloves garlic, crushed (I use the garlic press this time)
4 large tomatoes, chopped (Peggy says: "thinly sliced lengthwise, then in half to conserve juice." I never could figure out what she was talking about.)
1 large green pepper, sliced in thin strips, then halved
25 leaves fresh basil, torn in quarters (Me again: julienne or chop as much as you like!)
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 1/2 cups pasta

At least 1 1/2 hours before serving, combine all ingredients except cheese and pasta in a large serving bowl. Let stand at room temperature, turning ingredients gently once or twice. Add pasta, warm, to the tomatoes, then the cheese, just before serving. This actually is best slightly warm, but can be served at room temperature.

It will keep a day or two in the refrigerator, but I do not eat it cold. If I've saved any, I nuke it a few seconds just to take the chill off.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

New Fruit

July 12

I am old enough to remember when the nectarine was a new fruit -- unknown to us, anyway. It was so delicious we thought it had to be what it seemed, which was a hybrid between a plum and a peach. Turns out, it wasn't. It was and is a fruit on its own, as old as both the plum and the peach (but bearing a resemblence in texture to the former and in taste to the latter).

The first time I tasted a fresh lychee I thought it tasted like a cross between a pear and a yellow grape, although clearly, from its appearance, it was no relation to either.

Now the New York Times reports new fruits I didn't know existed. I've seen pluots in the produce bins but assumed it a was a marketing name for prune plums, devised as a way to get reluctant consumers to try them. The name put me off more than the moniker "prune plums" would. (Doesn't it mean "tears" in French?)

You have to click on the blue New York Times above to read the rest of the story. I say this because nobody ever does that no matter how diligently I work to put links on both my blogs. It's a short article, very informative -- and if you're interested in new fruits, you'll get some useful information for your daily life.

Now off to stalk a half pound of apriums or plumcots!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Tawkin' Right

July 8

Having posted yesterday on Pecan Bars, and referring to Ina Garten's demonstration of her recipe on Food TV, I omitted a pet peeve -- the mispronunciation of the word "pecan."

I grew up in Alabama, and I never heard it pronounced any way but "puh-cahn," with the accent on the second syllable. Occasionally we had to straighten out a Yankee who came to town, obviously one who'd only read the word and never heard it. They tended to say something that sounded strangely like pee-can, offensive in the utmost to our delicate ears, but amusing, perhaps, to four-year-old boys.

Until Paula Deen, who has an accent I find delightfully authentic. I have actually heard her defend her pronunciation, "pee-can," and tell people that she grew up in pee-can country and that's the way it's pronounced! Even Ina Garten believed her!

Well, I'm sorry. I lived in Atlanta for a few years, but have not spent much time in rural Georgia -- but I can testify that in Alabama and Mississippi, also pecahn country, I never heard it said the way she does, by a local. Never. I wouldn't even say it's a controversy. I have no doubt of Paula's authentic roots, and otherwise her Southern accent is impeccable. But I am flabbergasted if it's true that her Mamma and Grandmamma 'nem all pronouced the word that way.

So let me make this recommendation to all who inquire. Puh-cahn is the way to say the word. It's a delicious nut, so let's give it the respect it deserves. It just plain sounds better that way.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

My Own Favorite Pecan Bars

July 7

Yesterday I watched Ina Garten create a mouthwatering batch of Pecan Bars. I couldn't help thinking, "They look wonderful, but they're not as good as mine." I wouldn't turn one down if offered, but I'd wish for my simpler, more-to-the-point, delicious treats.

Ina's recipe calls for a shortbread dough -- mine is more like a piecrust. Then she uses heaps more pecans than my recipe does. Her caramel mixture is a bit different -- and she dips the completed cookie in chocolate. All delicious touches, but gilding the lily if you ask me.

So here's my version:

Pecan Bars

1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter

Combine these ingredients and spread with your fingers into a 9 x 13 pan. Bake in a 350° oven for 12 minutes (until set but not browned).

2 eggs
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
dash of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat eggs together, then add brown sugar and pecans. Sift the two tablespoons of flour with baking powder and salt. Add vanilla extract. Spread mixture over cooled crust and bake again for 25 minutes.

When cool, make a glaze of one cup powdered sugar thinned with about two tablespoons of lemon juice and spread over cake. Cut into bars.

My original recipe had dried sweetened cocoanut, but I've never used it. Ina's recipe included grated orange rind and grated lemon rind. Both would be excellent in this recipe, but I like it the way I make it. Sometimes I've made the glaze with water instead of lemon juice, but found that was a flat-out mistake. Otherwise, you can't hurt this recipe.