Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Easy Apricot Pie and more...

Cook’s Corner
July 23, 2008
Betty Kaiser

Fresh, fragrant and delectable apricots are here! They are the first so-called “stone fruits” to arrive at local farmer’s markets and they are available now. The summer growing season in Oregon is short and you don’t want to miss these delectable treats.

Personally, I have never met an apricot that I didn’t like. However, in this area, the Tilton apricot is the leading all-purpose variety for freezing, drying and canning. Different varieties thrive in different climates. When I lived in California near the Santa Clara Valley region, the Blenheim variety was the all-purpose king. So wherever you live, there’s a regional favorite to enjoy.

The Tilton is one of the most flavorful of all apricots. A close cousin to the peach, the medium sized fruit has a light golden orange skin with a red blush. It is somewhat heart shaped with a clear line that goes halfway around the fruit, making it easy to split.

But the real test of any fruit is in the tasting and the Tilton is delicious. It is both tender and juicy, a combination of tart and sweet. Plus, it’s good for you! Apricots are low in fat, calories and sodium. They provide vitamins A and C; are a good source of potassium and fiber. These little powerhouses even contribute iron, calcium and phosphorus to your diet.

Apricots are fairly fragile and bruise easily but picking a tasty fruit is not rocket science. Choose fruit that is fairly firm with good color and a delicate aroma. They ripen from the inside out so be sure and refrigerate ripe fruit or you’ll find yourself making jam.

Canning apricots is a snap: wash, pit, put in jars, cover with hot syrup and process. No peeling necessary and minimal oxidation. Now here’s a secret: if you want them to be extra tasty you can leave the seeds in. Or, you can split the fruit and remove the seeds. Put just three seeds in the bottom of each jar. After processing, the fruit has a delicate almond taste. Delicious!

The California Apricot Council is the source for today’s recipes. California grows more apricots than any other state in the nation and they have great ideas for serving them from breakfast to dinner. We’ll start with a simple appetizer and then head straight for dessert.

The pie recipe is fabulous. It makes two pies. You can bake one for dinner tonight and freeze the other. Another option is to freeze the extra filling by itself. The second recipe is a light ice cream with apricot nectar added for extra flavor. Finally, there’s an all-purpose topping for ice cream, shortcake or anything else that suits your fancy. Oh, yum. Let’s head to the farmer’s markets and get cooking.

Savory Fresh Apricot Bites

4 oz cream cheese, softened
12 fresh apricots, halved
1/2 cup pistachios, finely chopped

Stir cream cheese until smooth then pipe or spoon into apricot halves.
Sprinkle tops with pistachios. Serve as an appetizer, snack, or dessert. Makes 6-12 servings.
Note: I prefer to mix the pistachios with the cream cheese.

Fresh Apricot Pies
Makes 2 nine-inch pies, 8 servings each

 2 tablespoons lemon juice
10 cups sliced fresh apricots (4 pounds)
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Double crust pastry for 9-inch pie(s)

2 tablespoons butter
Cream or beaten egg

Sprinkle lemon juice over apricots. Blend in sugar, tapioca, and cinnamon; mix lightly. Let stand 15 minutes.

Pour half of apricot filling into unbaked 9-inch pie shell; dot with 1 tablespoon butter. Add top pastry; flute edge of crust. Brush top pastry with beaten egg. Bake at 425°F 40 minutes or until fruit in center of pie is cooked.

Place half of filling in large freezer bag; dot with 1 tbsp butter.
Squeeze out air and seal. Place in 9-inch pie pan; shape to fit pan and freeze. Once frozen, remove pan.

Unwrap and place frozen filling in unbaked 9-inch pie shell.
Add top pastry; flute edge of crust.
Bake at 425°F 60 to 70 minutes.

Fresh Apricot Dessert Topping

2 cups sliced fresh apricots (about 12 oz)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar         
2 tablespoons apricot nectar OR
2 tablespoons orange Muscat dessert wine

Mix together apricots, sugar and nectar; cover and set aside.
Makes a delicious topping for shortcake, pound cake, ice cream, frozen yogurt, etc. Makes 6 servings

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare. Contact her at 942-1317 or email bchatty@bettykaiser.com

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dithering and Doctoring

7/16/08 Chatterbox Betty Kaiser "Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." Mark Twain Like all young people who are blessed with boundless energy, good health and enthusiasm, I never thought much about what life would hold for me as a “senior.” For the first sixty years of life, I agreed with Twain’s famous statement. I honestly believed that at any age, there was nothing that I couldn’t accomplish if I really set my mind to do it. Now that I am no longer young, I beg to differ. Age does matter. It creeps up on you and bam! You celebrate a Social Security birthday, turn a corner and run smack into a wall of limitations. “The mind is willing but the body is faint” goes another famous saying. Well, again I beg to differ. This summer I have sadly discovered that neither my mind nor my body is willing! I call this new phase of life “dithering and doctoring.” At our house one of us is either dithering or going to the doctor — my husband, the cats, the dogs or myself. Recently my daughter gently mentioned that her dad and I might be suffering from AAADD — or — Age Activated Attention Deficit Disorder. To clarify her suspicions, she sent me a copy of information that she had received regarding this newly discovered condition. I had never heard of AAADD and was shocked that it is a common problem. I was even more surprised to discover that someone had been spying on my daily routine. Otherwise, how would they know that my days go something like this: I get up, feed the dogs, eat breakfast and start to rinse off the dishes. About that time, the dogs decide they want to go for a walk. I put the dishes in the sink, open the door, leash up the dogs and we head out the gate. Passing the newspaper and mailbox I decide to collect the mail and we head back to the house. I suddenly notice that the vegetable garden and hanging plants are wilting. I turn on the hose. The flowing water reminds me that the car needs washing. That’s one of Chuck’s favorite jobs but I’d better pull the car out of the garage to remind him. That entails finding the keys. I bring the mail and newspaper inside, locate my car keys, move the car and sort the mail. I make two piles: bills and junk mail. I discard the junk mail and notice that the trash can is full. I’d better empty the trash can and then pay the bills before I forget. In the meantime, the water is overflowing in the flower baskets and the car is baking in the sun. Now I can’t find the keys to move the car back inside so I embark on another search for them. Of course, they’re right where I left them, under the bills! I decide to make some ice tea for lunch right after I finish paying the bills. Naturally, the checkbook is not on the desk. While searching for it, the phone rings. I go to answer it but it’s not on its cradle. Where, oh, where did I put it? It must be upstairs. The phone is not to be found in any of its usual places and the call goes to voice mail. Oh, well, I’ll get that later. Right now, I need to dump the dead roses and water the sweet pea arrangements because they’re dry as a bone. Honestly, they sure suck up water. Oops! Speaking of water, the garden hose is still on. Those veggies are soaked. Well, by now, it’s lunchtime and I have to get ready for a doctor’s appointment. I set some meat out to thaw for dinner and make a mental note to take a bank deposit to cover the bills. Oh, yes, I’d also better stop by the grocery store for potatoes. Then I head into town. At the doctor’s office, I’m advised that I need to go to the lab for some tests, make a series of physical therapy appointments and pick up a prescription. All of that takes longer than expected and I wearily drive home, completely forgetting to put money in the bank and pick up potatoes at the market. The rundown at the end of the day isn’t pretty: The dinner dishes have now joined the breakfast dishes in the sink. The dogs haven’t been walked. The trash hasn’t been emptied. The flower baskets are either drenched or dry. The car is still dirty (Chuck was doing his own dithering). The ice tea hasn’t been made. The checkbook and telephone are still missing. There’s no money in the bank. We didn’t have potatoes for dinner. With a record like that, no wonder my daughter thinks I suffer from AAADD. Sheesh. But she’ll understand once she’s my age. And contrary to the esteemed Mr. Twain’s opinion, most of us do mind the limitations of age so it does matter. Fortunately, tomorrow is another day to dither away! Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Bountiful Blueberries

7/9/08 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Blueberries really know how to dress up a meal. They are a great fruit to eat out of hand or flavor recipes and simple to freeze. I usually buy a flat or two, spread the fresh berries onto cookie sheets and pop them into the freezer for a few hours. Once frozen, I portion them out into plastic baggies and put them back in the freezer to use as needed. Voila! Done!

Blueberries freeze well without washing and generally maintain their deep freeze quality for 10-12 months when they get yucky. For me, that means carefully keeping track of my inventory. I have inherited a Great Depression mentality when it comes to seasonal fruits and vegetables. All year, I miserly dole out my precious stock until the new summer crop appears.

Sometimes finding the last berries in the freezer is like looking for a needle in a haystack. They tend to mysteriously move around and hide between the pork chops and frozen peas. So, if your food is sneaky like mine, now is a good time to get organized.

This will save you grief later on this summer when you’re wondering where to put all that shredded zucchini. Fresh produce will soon be at its peak and you’re going to need readily available space to store nature’s bounty. I even inventory the freezer contents but my kids tell me that’s obsessive compulsive!

Last week I found six bags of my 2007 blueberry stash lurking behind a bag of stuffing and a pot roast. My first inclination was to make my infamous Bumbleberry Pie. This combination of whatever berries I have on hand in the freezer is a hit any time of the year. It was pretty yummy, so I moved on to a couple of other old favorites.

I have two blueberry sauce recipes that we particularly enjoy. One is sweet and the other is savory. Laura from Eden Valley Farm gave me the sweet sauce recipe from the Oregon Blueberry Growers Association many years ago. I have modified it slightly. The savory sauce recipe’s origins are a mystery. Both are simple and surefire hits whether served on pancakes, vanilla ice cream or pork chops. Give these recipes a try and treat yourself to a (mostly) blueberry meal.

Savory Blueberry Sauce

2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons chopped shallots or onions
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 tablespoon dried thyme, crushed
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1/2 cup each dry red wine and water
1 1/2 cups blueberries

Sauté shallots in butter in small saucepan. Add flour and herbs; cook and stir until mixture bubbles and thickens. Gradually add wine and water; stir in blueberries. Cook and stir until mixture thickens and boils; simmer 2 minutes. Makes 2 1/2 cups.

Note: Water with added red wine vinegar may be substituted for wine.

Pork Chops with Blueberry Sauce

4 boneless pork chops (not thin cut)
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
Dash cayenne pepper
Enough oil to brown meat

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Combine spices and sprinkle over chops.

Heat a heavy, ovenproof skillet and brown chops. Transfer skillet to oven and bake about 15 min. or until cooked but still moist.

Serve the chops garnished with the savory blueberry sauce or on the side. Delicious with oven-roasted potatoes, steamed carrots and blueberry corn muffins (recipe follows).

Blueberry Corn Muffins

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup margarine or butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp grated orange peel
2 cups fresh blueberries

In large bowl, combine flours, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In small bowl, combine buttermilk, orange juice, margarine, egg and peel; add to flour mixture and mix only until moist. Stir in blueberries. Spoon into prepared muffin cups. Bake at 400 degrees 20 to 25 minutes or until wooden pick inserted near center comes out clean. Makes 18 muffins.

Good On Anything Blueberry Sauce

2 cups fresh blueberries
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons flour, mixed with ¼ cup water
Dash of salt
1-1/4 cups water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
Dash cinnamon

Combine all ingredients except lemon juice and let stand five minutes. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil. Stir in lemon juice, zest and cinnamon. Remove from heat and cool 20 minutes. Stir. Serve warm on ice cream, pudding, cake or pancakes. Cover and store leftovers in refrigerator.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! 
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare. 

Thursday, July 3, 2008

4th of July Facts (or Fiction?)

July 2, 2008 Chatterbox Betty Kaiser It must be the Fourth of July. Fireworks stands are popping up like weeds on every corner. July 4 is all about independence and the establishment of our country as a nation and fireworks are the ultimate celebratory symbol of our nation’s joy. With their bright, glowing and noisy exuberance against the black night they say, “Wow! Look at us! We’ve come a long way since 1776. Let’s celebrate!” Today let’s take a little trip down memory lane. A historical trip, if you will. One that may bring back memories of chalk dust and test questions; an amazing trip to remind us how far we have come and how much we have changed in just a few generations. A trip to remind us of our beginnings. In our lifetime, there has always been a United States of America. But once upon a time, just over 200 years ago, this country that we know today, was just 13 colonies primitively banded together by a desire for independence from Great Britain. Freedom was on the lips and in the hearts of every man, woman and child. Weary of being shackled to another country; of fighting battles over basic principals of decency that they couldn’t win, they toppled a giant and became one. Contentiously hammered out by our founding fathers, and largely written by Thomas Jefferson, the Continental Congress formally adopted the document we know as the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. It proclaimed to the world that there was a new kid on the world stage. These formerly “wanna-be-independent” colonies were now free of the tyranny of Great Britain. Free of “taxation without representation.” Free to act on their own beliefs and to begin a new world way of life (right after they fought a few wars!). On July 6, The Pennsylvania Evening Post printed, posted and distributed the now famous document for the general public to read. On July 8, the first public reading of the Declaration was held in Philadelphia’s Independence Square. It was a festive atmosphere accompanied by the ringing of bells and band music. The following year, July 4, 1777, Philadelphia set the standard for future Independence Day celebrations. Congress adjourned and the fun began. Church bells rang, cannons were shot from ships, candles illuminated windows and the night sky was lit up with fireworks and bonfires. Ours was a poor upstart country fighting a rich nation. George Washington was barely able to keep his small army together for lack of supplies, defeats in battle and weather. We all remember the image of the freezing, struggling troops and “Washington Crossing the Delaware” as portrayed by artist Emmanuel Leutze. But ultimately this rag tag army prevailed with the help of the French. Stories abound about the true origins and significance of our flag, national anthem, pledge of allegiance, the American Bald Eagle, and other beloved symbols. Some are true. Some aren’t. But all are thought provoking about the circumstances of their creation. The cracked Liberty Bell is a beloved symbol of that era, known for its inscription to “Proclaim Liberty thro’ all the land.” However, it probably didn’t ring in 1776 because the already the Philadelphia steeple holding it was rotten and in need of repairs. The bell no longer rings at all but every year it is symbolically ‘tapped’ 13 times on July 4 at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Children who are descendants of signers of the Declaration of Independence do the honors while other bells across the nation ring 13 times in honor of the patriots from the original 13 states. Good old Uncle Sam became the personification of the U.S. during the War of 1812. He was supposedly modeled after a wealthy man and was popularized by artist Thomas Nash. Today his image is often ridiculed but he was formerly adopted as a symbol of the best ideals of these United States in 1961. Although historic research has failed to confirm that Betsy Ross did indeed sew the first American flag, I love the possibility. One legend says that George Washington was bent on using 6-pointed stars. Betsy supposedly changed his mind by demonstrating how to cut a 5-pointed star with one snip of the scissors. Being practical men, he and his committee okayed the change. It’s interesting to contemplate the different settings that inspired songs of national significance. Francis Scott Key set the words of the “Star-Spangled Banner” to the tune of an English drinking song during a battle in the War of 1812. Julia Ward Howe was an abolitionist during the Civil War. She wrote the stirring “Battle Hymn of the Republic” after hearing troops go into battle singing “John Brown’s Body.” Another woman, Katharine Lee Bates penned the words to America the Beautiful while sitting at the summit of Pikes Peak. The bald eagle was chosen as the emblem of U.S. because of its long life, strength and majesty. Soaring above the trees, it represents freedom. It is said that during one of the Revolution’s first battles that the noise awoke sleeping eagles. They flew from their nest and circled over the battle with raucous cries. “They are shrieking Freedom’!” cried the patriots. Of course, Ben Franklin thought turkeys were a better choice but that’s another story. Finally, located in New York Harbor, stands one of the most enduring and universal symbols of the reason this country was founded — the Statue of Liberty. This gift from the people of France was packed into 214 crates and shipped to the people of the United States in 1885. It still symbolizes political freedom and democracy all over the world. Happy 4th of July everyone! Celebrate freedom and cherish the memories — but leave the fireworks to the professionals! Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel.

4th of July Kabobs, Potato Salad & S'Mores

6/25/08 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

From beginning to end, the Fourth of July is a bang up celebration. A traditional red, white and blue holiday, its festive colors carry over into all aspects of the day beginning with cookouts and ending with bright, sparkly fireworks.

Picnics are the usual order of the day and it’s easy to get carried away with complicated menus. Don’t do it! This is one of those times to apply the KISS principle: Keep it Simple Silly (the operative word used to be ‘Stupid’ but that’s now considered demeaning).

If you’re planning a picnic at the lake or a nearby park, remember the other rules: Keep hot foods hot and cold food cold. This takes a little preparation on the part of the cook but lots of ice is usually the key to keeping things fresh. Start now to freeze commercial ice packs and fill your own extra ice containers.

Traditional hamburgers and hot dogs are great for picnics but meat and buns along with condiments take up lots of room in coolers and baskets. If you must take hamburgers, make the patties before you go, separate them with wax paper and slide in a plastic bag.  If you freeze them the night before and let them thaw slightly before cooking, they’ll be perfect for grilling.

Kabobs are a great idea for a main dish that is tasty and a little out of the ordinary. No condiments are needed. Only a marinade has to be transported. The kabobs can be threaded on soaked skewers at home; then covered in plastic wrap, covered again with foil and kept on ice in the cooler until time to grill.

Be sure to cut the pieces large enough so they don’t fall off. The foods should be lightly touching but not jammed up next to each other. Your goal is to evenly cook each piece. Spray the grill after it is heated; lay the kabobs on the grill and cook an average of 6-8 minutes per side or until the vegetables are done. Baste frequently.

Think outside of the box when it comes to your meat choice. Smoked sausages and ham are less perishable than beef or chicken. The other night we had smoked sausage kabobs layered with just red onion, peppers and mushrooms marinated in a simple Italian dressing mixture. Wonderful!

Potato salad preparation is not an exact science. One must be able to “eyeball” the ingredients to determine whether or not to use more or less. When cooking potatoes, I figure one potato per person and a couple for the pot.

I like to marinate the potatoes in an Italian dressing and add the mayonnaise and eggs the next day. That way it doesn’t get too weepy.

Remember, these are just guidelines. Some like more mayo and some like less. Feel free to experiment and let me know how it goes. And don’t forget the S’Mores for dessert!

Smoked Sausage Kabobs

1 pound smoked sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ large green bell pepper
½ large red bell pepper
½ large yellow bell pepper
1 large red onion
½ pound fresh mushrooms, sliced if large; leave whole if small
½ cup Italian dressing
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Simmer sausage briefly in pan over low heat. Cut bell peppers into 1-1/4 inch squares. Add peppers to sausage mixture and let stand off heat 10 minutes. Assemble kabobs on skewers alternately threading sausage with onion, peppers and mushrooms.

Combine Italian dressing, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce in small saucepan. Heat just until blended and warm. Brush kabobs with sauce and let sit until ready to cook. Grill or broil 4-inches from heat, turning and cooking until edges are crisp. Brush with remaining sauce and serve.

Creamy Potato Salad

2 pounds red potatoes, unpeeled, cut into chunks
1/2 cup Bottled Italian Dressing (reduced fat, if desired)
1 cup Mayonnaise (‘light’ if desired)
3 tablespoons sweet pickle juice
1 cup celery, sliced into moons
1/2 cup red onion, finely minced
1/3 cup sweet pickles, diced
Salt and pepper to taste
Garnish with:
3 boiled eggs, shredded or diced
Seasoning salt

Cook potatoes in boiling water 15 minutes or until tender. Drain and rinse with cold water until cool; drain again. Mix potatoes, celery, onion, salt and pepper with Italian Dressing. Cover and refrigerate.

Mix mayonnaise and pickle juice together. Add chopped pickle to potato mixture and lightly mix in mayonnaise mixture. Turn into a serving bowl. Cover top with shredded eggs and sprinkle with seasoning salt. Serves maybe 5-6 hungry people.

Graham Crackers
Chocolate Bars

Toast marshmallows over campfire. Place chocolate squares on ½ graham cracker, top with crispy marshmallow, another graham cracker square and eat. Delish!

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! 
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes 
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.