Thursday, December 31, 2009

Under A Blue Moon

Ninety-nine percent of the time when I bake breads at home, they're dark and grainy. [See Thursday, July 9 2009 post by clicking here.] But once in a blue moon I'll make a light and fluffy country loaf, using unbleached, all-purpose flour. Well, guess what? Tonight, New Year's Eve -- there's going to be a blue moon. So to mark the occasion and kick off a new year, I baked a loaf of country bread and cut it into big, thick slices. And it's not altogether unhealthy. I used eggs, lots of buttermilk, olive oil and oatmeal in the recipe. My sample of fresh baked bread was delicious with wild, blueberry fruit spread. Tonight I'll serve it with humous, brie, ham and wine.

Everything in moderation though. That's a smart New Year's resolution for life and a diet. Limit white foods like refined rice and flour most of the time. I believe in a little flexibility. Otherwise, you become a fussy guest in someone else's home, and you can never enjoy a country biscuit, Christmas cookie or French pastry. Ridiculous!!!

So the word for 2010 is “moderation.” And you might expand your everyday diet to include 100% whole grains.

Ten healthy grains to try in 2010 are:
1) Amaranth – It's really a seed, but eaten like a grain and loaded with vitamins A, B2, B6, C, K, folate, and minerals like calcium and iron.
2) Brown Rice – Rich in vitamins B1, B3, B5, B6, plus iron, magnesium, phosphorous and zinc.
3) Bulgar Wheat – A good source of the usual B vitamins, iron, phosphorous and manganese.
4) Barley – In addition to B vitamins, it has iron, magnesium phosphorous and zinc.
5) Millet – Packed with B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc.
6) Popcorn – Eat plain, or flavored with olive oil and brewers yeast to keep it healthy.
7) Quinoa – Contains a balanced set of all 8 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.
8) Spelt – A good source of protein, B vitamins and minerals like manganese and copper.
9) Steel cut Oats – High in protein, B vitamins, iron and magnesium. It's also good for your heart because of its cholesterol-lowering properties. [Steel cut oats are chewy and taste nutty unlike rolled, or rolled quick oats. All 3 are whole grains.]
10) Teff – An excellent source of protein, cacium, iron, magesium, boron, copper, phosphous and zinc.

For blue moon occasions, here's my Country Bread recipe:
1 package dry active yeast
2 tablespoons honey
1 ¼ cups buttermilk, warmed [Eyeball it. Add more or less as you work the dough.]
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra
1 cup rolled oats, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling top
Optional: 1 tablespoon each - sesame seeds & flax seeds for sprinkling top
2 ½ cups all-purpose unbleached flour, plus extra for kneading
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 extra large egg, plus 1 egg yolk
1 egg white, lightly beaten for top

In a bowl combine the yeast, honey, 1 c. buttermilk and olive oil. Make sure the liquid is warm before you stir in the yeast. Set aside for about 20 minutes. Next add the oats, salt, eggs and flour. Mix into a dough. Knead on a lightly floured surface until supple, and place the dough in a bowl. Coat the ball of dough with olive oil. Cover and let it rise for about an hour, until doubled in volume. Then, punch the dough down, knead and shape into a loaf. Place it in an oiled loaf pan. Oil the top and let the dough raise until it doubles in the pan. Last, brush the top of the loaf with an egg white and sprinkle with the remaining oats, sesame seeds and flax seeds. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 - 30 minutes.

Enjoy the blue moon … and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's Beginning To Feel A Lot Like Christmas

Mahalia Jackson 1911 - 1972
Around the holidays, I find myself counting my blessings for tangibles and non-tangibles, big and small. One of the many things I'm grateful for is the age we live in, including the ability to look stuff up on YouTube. It's such a magnificent library for music, vintage interviews, historic speeches, old movies and television shows, current events and talented ordinary people. If we ever have to start paying for the channel, I don't know how much my bill will be. I use it to hear music I don't own, to see concerts all over the world I can't attend and to learn more about historic, or current events (and yes, that includes the latest celebrity faux pas).

Last night after a night out, I spent a half-hour listening to Christmas music on YouTube. Here's a rendition of “Go Tell It On The Mountain” by the late, great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson that just might bring a tear to your eye. She was the real deal! It is worth watching old interviews of her too! 

As we enjoy the holiday season, let's take some time to remember what Christmas is all about. Perhaps, we can find ways to use our time and resources to give something back to a world that really is in need.

Be kind to the people around you. Merry Christmas! And thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

May the Pies Of Texas Be Upon You

When I plan a big holiday dinner and do a lot of cooking, I sometimes make my life slightly easier by ordering an appetizing dessert. It's more expensive than if I make it myself, true, but everything is paid for in either time or money. And the bustling holidays are the perfect time to spend a little more on culinary treats that are extra special, extra rich and extra delicious.

Some of the best pies known to man can be ordered from Royers Round Top Cafe located an hour's drive from Austin, Texas. It's been around for over 60 years, but in 1987 Bud Royer and his wife, Dr. Karen, bought the 38-seat eatery and turned it into a warm and friendly, casual and kooky Texas bistro. In addition to gourmet comfort food, Royers Round Top Cafe has evolved into a pie lovers haven. I cannot make a pie better than Bud, so it's worth the $26.50, plus shipping, for a holiday indulgence. Now ... I just order one or two pies; but for serious pie eaters, Royers has a pie-for-life membership plan. Here's a schedule of pies you could get monthly for the rest of your life:

January: Ann's Pecan
February: Bud's Butterscotch Chip
March: Café's Buttermilk Delight
April: Café's Buttermilk
May: Bud's Chocolate Chip
June: Ann's Pecan
July: Bud's Butterscotch Chip
August: Bud's Chocolate Chip
September: Café's Buttermilk
October: Sam's Coconut Chess
November: Dr. Karen's Pumpkin
December: Café's Sin-Nammon Ring

Fruit pies are only available at the restaurant. And if you order a slice while dinning in, without the recommended vanilla ice cream, you are charged an extra 50 cents. Talk about pie in the sky! Thanks to Royers, you don't have to wait for your heavenly rewards.
Café's Sin-Nammon Ring

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"There'll Always Be A Christmas," An Album Review

A classic Christmas album has been remastered and released as a CD.  It features The Ames Brothers, a popular 1950s quartet, singing in perfect harmony.  There are 12 songs and one bonus track.  And whether singing in close four part harmony, or taking solo turns, there is never a false note or arrangement.

The album is an enjoyable blend of religious and secular Christmas music. Listeners may not know all the songs, as some are not as familiar as, say, “Silent Night.”

Every track is fantastic. My favorites have changed over time. When I was a child, I loved “Silver Bells,” “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S.” Now I'm partial to “O Holy Night,” “Good King Wenceslas” and “Go Tell It On The Mountain.” To be honest, it's hard deciding. There's not one mediocre song to skip over.

The backing orchestra, conducted by Sid Ramin, hits the right notes too. Lush strings and a festive brass section, in spots, adds to a majestic mood. But it's the gorgeous voices, which make this a standout Christmas album. If you hear the CD, chances are it will become a family favorite.

Joe (bass), Gene (2nd tenor), Vic (1st tenor) and Ed (lead)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Time Of The Season

It's that time of the year again, harvest ... and holiday time. What side dishes do you serve at your holiday dinners? My picks are low in cost, fat and calories, but high in nutrition, fiber and flavor. They include:

Sweet Potatoes - Now is the time of plenty; you'll find them for 69 cents a pound, or less. I love sweet potatoes baked or microwaved. They satisfy my sweet tooth, which is activated by a myriad of holiday candies and treats. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamins A, B6 C, E, potassium and complex carbohydrates. And they are filling when temptation lurks all around and everywhere you go.

Pumpkin - This is the only time of the year you can buy cans of pumpkin at the supermarket. Rich in vitamins A and K, some C, E, iron, copper and other minerals, it is good for your eyes, heart and immune system. I like Libby's 100% pure pumpkin, which has only one ingredient. It makes easy and delicious pies, puddings and breads.

Cranberries - Fresh cranberries freeze well and can be thawed and used in salads and drinks throughout the year. Mix them with apples and grapes also. They are loaded with antioxidants, including vitamin C and flavonoids. Not only do fresh cranberries contain components to keep illness away, they are an anti-aging wonder.

Butternut and Acorn Squash - They are sources of vitamins A, B1, B5, B6, C, potassium, magnesium and folic acid. For a simple dish, I cut one in half, microwave it for 6 - 10 minutes (depending on the size), season to taste and ... voilà ... it's ready to eat.

Why wait for a holiday to serve food that's good for you and your palate? The peak season is now.
Sweet potatoes