Thursday, May 28, 2009

Watch Out for Sodium

I've just finished an article on sodium and the ways it has an impact on health. Consuming high amounts of sodium each day raises your risk for heart disease, strokes and hypertension.

In the summer we have hamburgers cooked on the grill and I always top mine with ketchup and mayonnaise. Both of these condiments contain significant sodium so I'm going to try other toppings. Instead of salt, sprinkle fresh herbs or lemon juice on cooked vegetables.

The recommended limit for adults is 2300 mg per day of sodium (sodium is one of the two components in salt).

One of the most effective ways to decrease sodium in your diet is to prepare more foods at home. Minimally processed foods are the most healthy. Fast food and restaurant food are high in sodium. Reading the nutrition labels on all foods will help you make changes.

Also limit bacon, ham and processed meats, canned vegetables, frozen dinners, canned and dry soups, sauce, salad dressings, snacks and seasoning mixes.

As you gradually reduce your salt consumption your tastes will adjust and you will no longer crave salt.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Turtle Bars for the Party

This weekend we are going to Chicago to visit my daughter and her fiance and meet her future in-laws. Kristin and John have invited a bunch of their friends to meet the four parents, so there will be lots of meeting and greeting!

I offered to bring some bars and decided to bake Turtle Bars from Baking Basics and Beyond. These gooey bars have milk chocolate chips, pecan halves and caramels. I discovered Kraft Caramel Bits at the supermarket and used an 11 ounce package instead of unwrapping 30 caramels. What a clever idea!

Here's the recipe.

Turtle Bars

Melt the caramels or caramel bits first and cool slightly. You can use caramel sauce, but it’s just not the same. To save time, buy graham cracker crumbs rather than crushing your own.


30 caramels, unwrapped (or 11-ounce package caramel bits)
1/4 cup milk
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk chocolate chunks (6 ounces)
1 cup pecan halves

Heat oven to 350°F with oven rack in middle. Line bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, extending foil about 2 inches beyond long sides of pan. Spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.
Melt caramels with milk in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring often, until smooth. Cool slightly.
Beat brown sugar, butter, vanilla, and egg in bowl of a heavy-duty mixer on Medium speed until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl once or twice. Add graham cracker crumbs, flour, and salt. Mix until crumbly on Low speed.
Remove 1 1/2 cups of mixture and set aside. Press remaining crumb mixture into bottom of prepared baking pan.
Sprinkle chocolate chunks and pecans evenly over crust. Pour melted caramels over top. Crumble the reserved graham cracker mixture unevenly over the caramel sauce, leaving some of the filling uncovered.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until caramel mixture is bubbling and edges of crust are beginning to brown. Cool completely on wire cooling rack. Remove in one piece from pan by loosening the ends with a metal spatula and lifting, using the aluminum foil. Cut into bars.

BAKER’S NOTE: The graham cracker mixture is very sticky and must be spread evenly, so I usually spray my fingers with nonstick cooking spray before pressing out the crust.
SECRETS TO SUCCESS: You can use semisweet, bittersweet, or milk chocolate chunks, but I prefer milk chocolate. Chop the pecan halves if they are large and the bars will be easier to cut.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What are Essential Gadgets?

In her weekly newsletter The Splendid Table Lynne Rossetto Kasper gave suggestions for bridal shower and graduation gifts- things she considers essential. She had suggestions I hadn't thought about such as timers and oven thermometers. And I admit they are essential to success.

Here's my list for someone who is learning to cook and bake.

An oven thermometer, timer and instant read thermometer

A microplane grater, a citrus reamer, a vegetable peeler with a ceramic blade (It doesn't rust in the dishwasher)

Quality measuring cups and spoons (I have a set of magnetic measuring spoons that are so convenient. They are held together with magnets so they're easy to find, but you don't have to wash the whole set and they have flat bottoms so you can measure liquids ahead

Silicone spatulas and quality wire whisks, a pastry blender, a pastry cloth and wooden rolling pin.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bits of Wisdom About Healthy Fish

There were lots of bits of wisdom last night at Edesia Cookbook Review with Kim Ode. Damon Holston of Coastal Seafood suggested deciding how you want to cook fish and then choosing the best fish for that method. Two fish that are currently popular are barramundi (a perch) and Artic char.

For kabobs on the grill try swordfish, tuna, marlin or cobia. After a short marinade grill the fish chunks and vegetables on separate skewers so each can be cooked to the proper doneness.

Don't forget about holdover cooking time. Bret Bannon, a local chef and teacher, suggested buying an extra piece of fish (for a dinner party) and using it to determine the proper cooking time. The best way to judge doneness is to lift a portion with a knife tip. Don't cook "until fish flakes with a fork" because at that point the fish is already overcooked.

Wild fish should be cooked through to kill parasites unless the fish has been frozen. High quality fish is fish that has been processed shortly after being caught and then stored in ice. Unless you catch it yourself, "fresh" fish is probably several days old.

Here's a simple way to grill any fish, especially salmon. Oil the grill and the fish and place the fish skin side down on the grill. Don't try to turn the fish as it will fall apart when cooked. When properly cooked, it releases from the grill.

Good quality fish requires little seasoning. Just a little salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Easy Side Dish for Summer

With summer just around the bend (I hope), we have started to use our gas grill often. The following recipe is very easy, very fast and goes with any grilled entree. Cous Cous is one of my favorite side dishes because it is so easy and has endless variations. I have recently started using whole wheat cous cous and can tell very little difference between regular cous cous and the whole wheat variety. After you try the basic recipe you can add raisins, chopped peanuts, chutney or chopped green onions if you like. I always add the peas because it's another way to add more vegetables to our diet and provides a punch of color.

Summer Cous Cous

Serves 2

1 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup whole wheat cous cous
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 tablespoon chopped parsley, if desired

Heat the chicken broth to boiling in a small saucepan. Stir in the cous cous, curry powder and salt. Cover and let stand about 5 minutes or until the broth is absorbed. Stir in the peas and parsley, fluffing the cous cous with a fork.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Look for organic foods

Lately I've been learning a lot about sustainable and organic foods. Generally, organically grown foods are more expensive. Since most of us need to make economic choices when purchasing food the following lists will help you make some choices.

Here is a list of foods that are recommended for organic.

Milk from organic dairies and USDA organic coffee (this also helps save rainforests)

Fruits- strawberries, peaches, nectarines, apples, cherries, grapes and other thin skinned fruits

Vegetables- red peppers, celery, kale, leafy greens, carrots (peeling helps if they are not organic), potatoes and tomatoes

Generally speaking fruits and vegetables with thick skins that are removed are the ones with the least pesticide residues.

Check out the farmer's markets which are just opening in Minnesota for locally grown organic produce.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with Tres Leches Cake

This is one of my favorite cakes- not just because it is dense and moist (from all 3 milks!) but because one 13x9 inch cake serves a lot of people. It can be made a day or two ahead and refrigerated. I usually spread it with plain whipped cream because it looks prettier that way and often add some strawberries. Everyone who tastes it wants the recipe and I always say "It's in Baking Basics and Beyond".

Here's The Recipe from Baking Basics and Beyond

Tres Leches Cake

This traditional Hispanic dessert is currently very popular in the United States. Tres Leches translates as “three milks,” and this cake is literally drenched in sweet milks—whipping cream, evaporated milk, and condensed milk. Whole milk is an extra!


2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

3/4 cup whipping cream
1 (15-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (5-ounce) can evaporated milk

Heat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Grease and flour a 13 x 9-inch baking pan.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl.
Beat butter until creamy in bowl of a heavy-duty mixer on Medium speed. Gradually add sugar, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally, and beat 2 minutes. Beat in egg yolks, scrape down sides of bowl, and add vanilla. Beat 2 minutes more until mixture is very light and creamy.
Reduce mixer speed to Low. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the whole milk in 2 additions. Scrape down sides of bowl after each addition. Beat until smooth, but no longer than 15 seconds.
Place egg whites and cream of tartar in bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the whisk. Beat on High speed until whites form soft peaks. (When you lift beaters, whites should form peaks that fall softly down.)
Add whites to batter with a folding motion. Bring a rubber spatula across the beaten whites in a motion parallel to the counter, slide the spatula down the back of the bowl, and pull it back in the other direction, lifting at the end. Rotate bowl as you fold. Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. The cake may not be browned. Place cake pan on wire cooling rack and pierce cake generously with a fork or skewer.

Combine whipping cream, condensed milk, and evaporated milk in medium bowl and mix well. Spoon generously over the cake. Continue to add more liquid as topping is absorbed. You may not use it all. This cake must be stored in the refrigerator.

BAKER’S NOTES: It is easier to separate the egg yolks from the whites when the eggs are chilled. Do this about 1/2 hour before starting the cake.
Condensed milk has lots of sugar added, and evaporated milk does not—read the labels carefully.
SECRETS TO SUCCESS: Be sure bowl for beating egg whites is free from fat so that the whites will whip well.