Getting a healthy meal on the table every night does not need to be a struggle. The key is to have a healthy meal plan that is flexible enough to accommodate the stresses of working families. The USDA recommends that Americans increase the consumption of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, while eating less fat and sugar. Traditional Southern meals often contain far more fat and sugar than they should, but healthier options are available. Aim to eat healthy versions of your favorites on an everyday basis and save the high fat and high sugar versions for special occasions.
Eat Seafood Twice a Week
Not only is fish a healthy menu option, but it is quick to prepare. Save the fried fish for special occasions and opt for grilled salmon or salmon patties, Cajun blackened fish , seafood gumbo, shrimp and grits or shrimp etouffee. Serve with brown rice or wild rice, okra or green beans and tomatoes. Finish with a serving of fresh fruit.
Beef or Pork Once a Week
Throw a small pot roast in the crock pot in the morning for an easy week night meal. Add a little beef broth and an assortment of vegetables. It will be ready to serve when you arrive home after a long day. Thicken the juices to make gravy or serve it au jus. Use 1-inch pieces of beef to make a hearty crock pot stew in the winter.
Serve grilled or broiled pork chops with mashed sweet potatoes and a green salad. Stewed apples or ginger spiced pineapple are a nice sweet finish for this meal.
Poultry Once a Week
When you think of Southern chicken you probably think of fried chicken, but there are a lot of healthy options available. If you prefer your chicken fried, try a healthier oven-fried chicken recipe. Serve with homemade biscuits, corn-on-the-cob and a salad or green vegetable.
Prepare weeknight barbecue chicken: broil chicken breasts or chicken tenders in the oven or cook them on the grill pan, topping them with barbecue sauce during the last few minutes of cooking.
Stew chicken pieces with whole wheat noodles to make a healthy version of chicken and dumplings or cook them with rice for the Southern chicken and rice favorite. Offer green beans and tomatoes on the side.
Current nutritional recommendations include eating meatless meals two or three times a week. Traditional Southern foods offer many options for healthy meatless meals. Try a low-fat version of macaroni and cheese or center your meal around Southern peas and beans. Offer a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits and a square of cornbread with these meals. Sweet potatoes, baked potatoes or corn make good starches for these meals.
For More Information:
On Oranges and All Things Citrus
Oranges are something I have always enjoyed. I have eaten them off the tree since I was young and have eaten them from unripe to dried out old. When you get an orange or any citrus for that matter, that is ripe, there is no better flavor in the world. The best orange comes right off the tree. Pick a ripe fruit, cut open in the cool winter sun and consume it right there. It is so juicy that the fluid runs down your forearms as you eat. Flavors abound, the sweetness and tartness explode in your mouth. [Read the rest of this entry…]
Cornbread and corn sticks are traditional in the south. They are easy and quick to make, providing you know a few secrets. Since they are made with a chemical levening agent such as baking soda or baking powder no lengthy risings are needed – thus the name “quick bread”.
When making quick breads like cornbread it is important not to overwork the dough. Combine the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients separately. Once the two are combined, be gentle. Over beating will develop the gluten in the dough and make the bread tough.
- 1 cup finely ground cornmeal
- 1 cup plain flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2/3 cup buttermilk
- 2/3 cup whole milk
- 2 tablespoons +extra to grease pan unsalted butter
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
- Grease a 9 inch square baking pan with melted butter. Place in the oven to heat.
- Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, mix well. Combine the wet ingredients in a separate bowl and whisk well.
- Make a well (hole) in the middle of the dry ingredients.
- Pour the wet ingredients into the well and gently fold the dry ingredients in from the side. Do not overmix.
- Spoon the batter into the hot pan. Bake in pre-heated oven (425) for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and done.
- Turn onto a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve warm.
Use a cast iron corn stick mold to make corn sticks using the recipe above. Grease the mold and place in oven to heat. Make the corn bread batter as above, then regrease the mold and spoon the batter carefully into the hot molds. Bake for 15-20 minutes.
Tex-Mex Corn Bread Variation
Add 4 cup cheddar cheese and 2 chopped and seeded jalapeno peppers to the batter for a delicious Tex-Mex version of this tasty cornbread.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield:1 pan
Allow time for soaking overnight.
1 whole country ham
½ cup molasses
1 cup brown sugar
Wash the ham well under running water. Put into a large pot and cover with cold water. Let soak overnight.
Next day: Drain the water, rinse the ham, and cover again with fresh hot water.
Add the molasses and 1 cup brown sugar. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down and simmer for 3 hours, adding more water as needed.
Remove the ham, let it cool slightly, then trim off the skin and fat.
Mix together equal parts of honey, prepared mustard and brown sugar to make a glaze. Brush over ham.
Put ham in a large baking dish and cover with foil. Bake for 1 hour at 300 degrees.
At the end of 1 hour, turn the oven off and let ham cool sit in oven for another hour, cooling.
Slice thin to serve.
by Terry Telford
Pancakes are the staple of a delicious breakfast and the highlight of a casual brunch. But for many weekend chefs, the first pancake inevitably ends up in the trash can or the belly of the family pet. So what’s the secret to perfect pancakes? How can you master the art of cooking right from the very first pancake? Here are a few of the most frequent pitfalls of the pancake artist:
* Leaving lumps in the batter. Although many people feel that good pancake batter should be lumpy and uneven, many chefs actually encourage cooks to completely mix the batter until it’s the consistency of rich cream. This allows the gluten to be released from the flour. For best results, whisk the batter thoroughly for several minutes to allow air into the mixture.
* Cooking right away. It’s hard to wait for breakfast, especially when it’s something as delicious as pancakes. But batter needs some time to set – at least one hour minimum, but three hours is ideal. This allows the starch to grow and expand and air bubbles to release. For lighter, fluffier pancakes, mix your batter and then cover the bowl with foil or plastic wrap and let it sit for a few hours in the fridge.
* Using a pan that is not properly seasoned. For best pancake results, start with a flat non-stick frying pan. Season the pan with a bit of vegetable oil first by heating the pan and then roll up some paper towel and carefully rub the oil into every inch of the heated pan. Leave the pan to cool down and then remove the unused oil. While not everyone can devote an entire fry pan just to pancakes, you’ll find the most success if you never wash a seasoned pan. Instead, wipe it down after cooking with a wet cloth.
* Using a pan that is either too cold or too hot. Stove temperatures vary, so there is no “perfect” setting to make pancakes. Ideally, the frying pan should be so hot that it almost smokes. But if it’s giving off plumes of bluish smoke, then it’s too hot and your pancakes will burn. If you’re not sure if your pan is ready for cooking, throw on a few drops of water. If the water instantly evaporates on contact, your pan is too hot. If the water sits for awhile and takes its time to boil, then you need to turn up the temperature a few notches. You’ll know the pan is the right temperature when the water droplets sizzle on contact and then evaporate after a few seconds.
* Pouring too much batter. Most amateur pancake chefs make the crucial mistake of overdoing it on the batter for the first pancake. This usually results in a thick, oily cake that is burned on the outside and raw in the middle. For thin crepe-style pancakes, use just enough batter to coat the bottom of the pan by turning the pan in circles. For thicker pancakes, use about half a ladle or about two or three tablespoons.
* Flipping the pancake too soon. Once you’ve poured the batter, let the pancake set for a few seconds, or until small bubbles start to form on the surface and the edges begin to look solid. Then take a spatula and gently jostle the ends of the pancake before shaking the pan to jar the cake loose. Firmly place the spatula under the entire pancake and then flip it in one quick motion. Stack pancakes on top of each other to keep them from cooling down too quickly while you continue cooking.
Follow these tips and your first pancake will wow your guests and loved ones – instead of your dog.
Terry Telford is the publisher of Kingston East News and an avid promoter of Kingston Ontario. He highly recommends the fine dining experience at Bistro Stefan.
by: Mimi Cummins
Many bakers ask for tips and instructions on decorating cookies. Well that’s a tall order because there are as many ways to decorate cookies as there are cookies! Here are a few guidelines for novices and experienced bakers alike to help you generate your own ideas for cooking decorating.
DECORATING COOKIES BEFORE BAKING
Cookies can be decorated before baking with materials that withstand the heat of baking. Some things that you can place on your cookies before baking are:
- colored sugars or natural sugars such as pearl sugar
- jimmies, non-pareils, silver and gold drag, and other sprinkles
- raisins and dried fruits such as cranberries
These items can be placed on top of almost any cookie to dress it up a bit and give it a more festive appearance.
Paint a Masterpiece
You can also paint your cookies before baking them. Make an edible food paint out of an egg yolk mixed with a few drops of food coloring and paint the cookies with a clean paintbrush. The paint will dry while baking and give the cookie a colorful, glazed appearance. This is a fun activity for kids!
A bit of Trompe L’oeil
The folks at Better Homes and Gardens have a creative recipe for Colored Cream Dough which is a dough of frosting consistency that can be piped onto cookies with a pastry bag fitted with a writing or star tip, and then baked. The result is a cookie that looks like it has been frosted but the frosting is baked on and hard.
DECORATING COOKIES AFTER BAKING
Decorating cookies after baking them requires that you apply some kind of liquid-based substance that will adhere to the baked cookie, or that will act as a glue to attach other items. Usually, this takes the form of frosting, icing, or melted chocolate.
Frosting vs. Icing
There is a big difference between frosting and icing. Frosting is thick and holds shapes like rosettes and shells like those you see piped around the edges of a birthday cake. It remains soft to the touch and has a creamy texture, and most people think it tastes better because of the creamy buttery flavor.
Icing, on the other hand, is a thinner, more liquid substance, and as it dries it thins out, becomes very smooth across the surface of your cookie, and hardens. This is the icing to use for the most beautiful, professional results.
Working with Frosting
You can use frosting in two ways. One way is to simply use a knife or rubber spatula to spread the frosting across the whole surface of your cookie. The other way is to place the frosting in a pastry or decorating bag fitted with a small tip and piping out thin lines or rosettes of icing onto the cookie.
Either way, once the frosting has been applied to the cookie you can then further embellish it by using colored sugars, non-pareils, or any of the decorating items mentioned in the Decorating Before Baking section above. Christmas-Cookies.com has a delicious recipe for Buttercream Frosting at http://www.christmas-cookies.com/recipes/recipe.php?recid=306. See detailed instructions on piping frosting from Better Homes and Gardens.
Working with Icing
Icing is a little more difficult to work with but its smooth surface produces the most beautiful results! Icing should always be piped onto a cookie because it will run off the edges if spread with a knife. Once iced you can apply silver drag饳, or other sprinkles just as mentioned with the frosting above, before it hardens. Christmas-Cookies.com has an excellent recipe for Royal Icing at http://www.christmas-cookies.com/recipes/recipe.php?recid=42. Better Homes and Gardens also a recipe for Powdered Sugar Icing ( http://www.christmas-cookies.com/recipes/recipe.php?recid=288 ) that dries less hard than Royal Icing and has a shiny surface. Martha Stewart’s website features an excellent article on how to pipe icing onto cookies for professional-looking results.
Just about any cookie can be embellished simply by dipping it in chocolate or drizzling chocolate over it. You can even dress up the everyday chocolate chip cookie for gift-giving or serving at parties. Melting chocolate is a simple process, but a few rules must be followed in order to make it a success. For Easter, try using white chocolate tinted in pastel shades with food coloring. Use the gel, paste or powdered kind of food color, because the liquid drops may make the chocolate seize up.
What You Need
You can either use chocolate chips or baking chocolate (the kind that comes in 1-ounce squares) and the same process applies whether you use dark chocolate or white chocolate. A small amount of shortening should be added at the ratio of 2 tablespoons shortening for 1 cup of chocolate chips or chopped up baking chocolate.
Place chocolate and shortening in the top half of a double boiler or in a metal bowl that has been placed on top of a saucepan filled with hot water. The water must be very hot, but not boiling, because the steam generated by boiling water could get moisture into the melting chocolate which makes it curdle.
Allow the chocolate to melt over the hot water and stir it occasionally until it has achieved a liquid consistency.
Place your chocolate and shortening in a microwave safe bowl and microwave it on medium power for 1 minute. Stir. Continue microwaving 20 seconds, stir again. Keep doing this until the chocolate is almost melted. Remove it from the microwave and stir it until completely melted.
Dip one end of your cookie, or half the cookie, or even the whole cookie into the melted chocolate. Set the cookie on a wire rack to let the chocolate harden. If you wish, you can sprinkle chopped nuts, coconut, or non-pareils over the melted chocolate before it hardens.
Scrape melted chocolate into a ziplock baggie. With a sharp scissors, snip off a very small corner of the baggie. Drizzle top of cookies with zig-zags of melted chocolate. Cool until chocolate is set.
Using these simple techniques will help you produce a variety of beautiful-looking cookies at Christmastime and throughout the year.
Copyright 2004 Mimi Cummins. All Rights Reserved.
About The Author
Mimi Cummins is co-author of the book “Christmas Cookies Are for Giving: Recipes, Stories, and Tips for Making Heartwarming Gifts.” This book, “enthusiastically recommended” by Midwest Book Review, is full of baking tips and hints, including nearly 50 recipes each with a full-color photo. For more information visit http://www.christmascookiesareforgiving.com/ or order here.