Venturing Out Into the World of Greens

I must admit to being a wimp when it comes to shopping for salad produce. I glance momentarily at the cast of greens available and then settle back into my iceberg lettuce rut. Other greens look quite tempting, but I’m never quite sure what’s what, so I stick with my old standby. But that’s going to change. I’m determined to branch out.

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There are hundreds of lettuces and salad greens beside the standard lettuces like iceberg, romaine and spinach. Many of these greens are sold in grocery stores, farmer’s markets and gourmet stores. Most are also easily cultivated, so if you have the space, you might try growing your own specialty mixes of different plants and varieties.

Butterhead Lettuces. The most common in this group are Bibb and Boston. The leaves form a head but are very loosely packed around a small center core. Butterhead lettuces have soft delicate leaves that are nearly melt in your mouth and work very well with vinaigrettes and light dressings.

Leaf Lettuces. These lettuces often have crinkled leaves that do not form a head. Some common types are green leaf, red leaf and Lollo Rosa. Because leaf lettuces are so beautifully colored, they add interest and unique texture to a green salad. Best served with light dressings and vinaigrettes.

Chicories. This group of greens that includes endive, escarole and radicchio have a strong, slightly bitter taste. I’m not sure these will show up in my shopping cart anytime soon, but I’m trying to keep an open mind. Chicories work best when mixed with other strongly flavored ingredients like bleu cheese, citrus fruits, nuts and heavy dressings. They also brighten the flavor when mixed butterhead and leaf lettuces that tone down the flavor.

Of Meatloaf and “Homade” Chili Sauce

My sweet mother-in-law loved chili sauce. But not any ol’ version. It had to be Homade Chili Sauce,  which for the longest time I thought was her personal spelling of “homemade.”  But she was right. Homade Chili Sauce it is.

She’d put it on almost everything, which surprised me. I’d always thought chili anything meant spicy hot. Her chili sauce was not that way at all. In fact, I’ve come to love it, too. It is slightly sweet, perfectly spiced and yummy delicious.

Photo Credit: Ravenousfig

Photo Credit: Ravenousfig

When Gwen couldn’t bring herself to buy as much Homade Chili Sauce as she wanted (by the case) because it could be pricey if not on sale, she set out to make it herself. After many attempts, she nailed it.

From then on it become properly spelled, “homemade” chili sauce,  and stored in the refrigerator in any size container available—even in a few of those cute chubby jars the real stuff comes in.

My mind flooded with memories of my mother-in-law one day recently when I heard from reader, Janie S., Florida. She was kind enough to send us her family’s favorite meatloaf recipe, which to my amazement lists “Grandma’s chili sauce” in the ingredients, along with a note that “homemade from Ball Blue Book Recipes using garden tomatoes also works.”

Cooking Under Pressure

I’m a big fan of pressure cooking because I can make an entire meal in just a few minutes. Pressure cooking is crazy fast which means I save a ton of time—and energy, too. I do find this fact rather amusing as I am equally fond of slow cooking.

I have come to love and adore my 5-quart Kuhn Rikon Duromatic pressure cooker and I wanted you to see it.

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I don’t know how I could manage my busy life without my pressure cooker. There are cheaper models out there, but this Duromatic stands head and shoulders above the rest. This cooker comes with an excellent manual and recipe book. Totally safe and idiot-proof, this pressure cooker is known as Einstein in my house. That’s because it makes me feel like a genius.

Pressure cooking saves me time and money helping me to prepare delicious meals that retain nutritional values often lost in other cooking methods. Pressure cooking does require some adjustments, however. Follow these tips for the best pressure-cooking results:

Brown meats, poultry and even some vegetables like chopped onions, peppers or carrots in the pressure cooker first. This is the secret to producing intense flavors and beautiful color. In a stove-top model (like my Kuhn-Rikon) add a small amount of oil then heat uncovered over medium-high heat. Remove the food to a bowl and set aside. Now loosen up and remove those delicious cooked on juices and bits by eglazint eh pot with a small amount of wine, broth or water. Return the food to the pot and you’re good to go.

Go easy on the liquid. Because food cooks in a closed pressurized atmosphere, your liquid will not reduce. You must use some liquid however, so a good rule of thumb is to at least 1 cup of liquid. Never fill the pot more than halfway with liquid.

Simple Ways to Wake Up a Cake Mix

If I didn’t know better I’d swear that boxed cake mixes reproduce in the dark of night on the shelves of my pantry. One day I counted 18 boxes of cake mix.

Chocolate Cake

Here’s how that works: Cake mixes go on sale routinely. One week it will be Duncan Hines, then Pillsbury takes its turn and so on. The typical sale price for a cake mix is typically $1.50 or less. I hold onto my cake mix coupons until that particular brand goes on sale. With a $.75 or even $1 off coupon, rarely do I pay more than $.50 for a cake mix.

The challenge for me has been to find better ways to make a boxed cake mix taste homemade. 

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photo credit: BakedBree

Check these quick hits plus five of my favorite recipes that use a cake mix as one of the ingredients:

Forget the water. Use whole milk (or even buttermilk) in place of the water called for in the package instructions.

Devil’s food. Any kind of a chocolate mix will really perk up and take on that wonderful homemade taste when you use strong brewed coffee in place of the water, and toss in a handful of chocolate chips, too.

Counteract the sweet. Cake mixes are very sweet with a distinctive “cake mix” taste. Adding 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 or 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice to any white or yellow cake will counterbalance the sweetness and hide the tell tale taste of the mix.

Butter is better. Instead of the oil called for in the box mix instructions, substitute with melted butter.

One Recipe, Endless Uses

Last week, a friend called asking me to send her “That Recipe!” Of course I was puzzled, but it didn’t take long to figure out what she was talking about when she mentioned,  “homemade Biscuits with freezer jam.” Apparently, I served that for breakfast the last time she visited.

photo credit: flouronmyface.com

photo credit: flouronmyface.com

That Recipe is my Master Mix. The recipe below makes a lot, and keeps really well. Because it contains dry milk, all you add at baking time is water. And while it makes fabulous biscuits, it’s an all-purpose mix to make everything from dumplings to coffee cake and shortcake.

This mix makes a lovely addition to a Biscuits and Jam gift basket. Simply package a supply of Master Mix in a tightly covered container or bag, adding a tag that describes the contents. A nice idea would be to include the following options for how your recipient can use its contents. Your friend or loved one will probably appreciate the Master Mix recipe as well.

World-Class Gourmet Pasta on a Shoestring

A popular restaurant in West Hollywood, Calif., Hugo’s, has been critically acclaimed for one of its menu items, “Pasta Mama.” The first time I heard about it and what’s in it, I thought it was a bit odd. Pasta with eggs? I couldn’t imagine what would prompt people to drive many miles to get it. But they do, saying, it’s the best pasta they’ve ever eaten.

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I had to try it, and as you might imagine, I love it. I would describe it to you here, but it’s indescribable—indescribably delicious, that is. But I don’t drive the 40 miles to Hugo’s to pay $12.25 (plus tax and tip) for this dish. Instead I make it myself, from scratch. What a wonderful, simply satisfying dinner—or breakfast—entree.

Pasta Mama takes all of about 10 minutes start to finish and feeds two for a total cost of about $1.50. At that price you have very little to lose if you try it and don’t like it, and chances are really good that you’ll love it. In fact, I won’t be surprised to hear that you’ve added Pasta Mama to your family’s list of favorite meals. Serve it once a week and your grocery budget will love you.

Let Us Eat Cake!

What do Pat Benatar, George Foreman and I, your humble columnist, have in common? We share the same birthday.

photo credit: veryval

photo credit: veryval

I only know this because someone gave me a 797-page book titled simply, The Portable Book of Birthdays. Good thing too, or I’d never have known that Pat, George and I have socially savvy personalities and a keen ability to promote our ideas and to get what we want. We are intelligent, easily irritable and need constant emotional stimulation, too.

While the book doesn’t mention our favorite birthday cake, I feel confident in speaking for the three of us when I say that without a doubt it is coconut cake. But not just any coconut cake. It has to be 3-Day Coconut Cake that is so delicious it will knock your socks off no matter when you were born. But first a small explanation.

The recipe that follows calls for “frozen coconut.” As many times as I have made this cake (I wonder if Pat and George make their own birthday cakes) I have yet to find such a thing where I live in California. I’ve looked everywhere, asked store managers and anyone else who might be handy. No where to be found. I do understand, however, that frozen coconut is readily available in other parts of the country in the grocery frozen food case. Someone suggested recently that I try an Indian market and I will do that as soon as I, well, locate an Indian market. In the past I have tried fresh coconut with excellent results, but it was a real pain to crack, pry, smash, break, drain, peel and grate. So, I will continue to use Angel’s grated sweetened coconut that comes in a bag and can be found in the baking aisle of any food market.

Of Fitness Bars and Baby Formula

I want to thank all of you who’ve taken up writing to me. I love to hear from you and I get a real charge out of the tips, questions and other fun stuff you send. Even though I cannot respond personally, believe me when I tell you that nothing goes unread.

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In an effort to respond to so many of you who’ve written asking for alternatives to high-priced protein bars and infant formula, I’ve come up with some cheaper alternatives for your frugal consideration.

First the infant formula. Without a doubt you will never find a more nutritional or economical formula for a newborn than mother’s milk. When that is not an option, commercial formulas should be your second choice, because they are highly regulated as to nutritional value for a baby’s developmental needs. Having said that, here is a recipe that goes back many years that may be appropriate as a replacement for commercial formula once Junior graduates to solid food.

Baby Formula
(as a supplement to solid food)

Place all ingredients in a very clean glass or stainless steel container and mix well. Pour into bottles that have been thoroughly sterilized. Store in the refrigerator. Yield: 9 six-ounce bottles.