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Stock your pantry with low fat snacks - popcorn and baked potato and corn tortillas chips.
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Week of April 25, 2004

The Different Varieties of Vinegar

Vinegar may not be the most romantic or sought after culinary ingredient, but everyone depends on it and the right vinegar can make or break a good recipe. Vinegar is simply "sour wine". If you want a fancier name, you can use the French pronunciation of vin aigre. Various vinegars taste different due to their starting point as a liquid (like wine, beer or cider), its storage conditions, acid level and whether the vinegar is infused with garlic, fruit or herbs.  
  1. Balsamic vinegar, which originated in Modena, Italy is definitely gaining increased popularity. It has a dark brown appearance with a mild but sweet flavor. It is made from the juice of sweet white grapes. Balsamic vinegar must be aged in wooden casks at least 10 years, making it a more expensive vinegar. White balsamic vinegar is made from white wine vinegar (freshly pressed juice) and the musts of white grapes. It is a clear vinegar with a subtle tang.
  2. Cider vinegar is made from the juice of apples and is the most widely used vinegar. It is golden brown with a sharp bite and subtle apple flavor.
  3. Fruit vinegars are infused with fruits, such as raspberries or strawberries.
  4. Herb vinegars are infused with garlic, basil or other herbs.
  5. Malt vinegar is made from beer or malted barley. It is dark brown with an assertive flavor and you probably know it as the accompaniment to fish and chips.
  6. Rice vinegar is popular in Chinese and Japanese cuisines. This pale gold vinegar is made from rice wine or sake, giving it slightly sweet overtones and a mild tang.
  7. Sherry and champagne vinegars start with their respective beverages. Sherry vinegar has a deep color and very rich flavor. Champagne vinegar has a pale color and delicate flavor. Good substitutes for Sherry vinegar is Balsamic vinegar and a good substitute for Champagne vinegar is white wine or rice vinegar.
  8. White or distilled vinegar is made from grain alcohol. It is clear with a strong sharp flavor and is most often used for pickling, processing and as a household cleaner.
  9. Wine vinegars are made from white, red or rose wines. The color and flavor of the vinegar depends greatly on the type of wine used. Red wine vinegar is heartier with more body.
  • When you are dressing a salad, the best rule is to pair milder greens with light dressing such as vinaigrettes. More intense greens such as arugula and spinach are good with stronger flavored dressing as they will not shroud the flavor of the greens.
  • For assertive, bitter greens such as arugula and mustard greens, use a bold vinegars such as balsamic or sherry vinegar.
  • For milder greens like Bibb or Boston lettuce, use cider vinegar or a fruit vinegar so the sweet flavor of the lettuce is not lost.
  • For a mixture of greens like mesclun, try wine, champagne or rice vinegar.
  • For creamy dressing, use white wine, rice, champagne or other pale colored vinegar to prevent discoloring.

Week of April 18, 2004

Dinner Made Easy as 1 - 2 - 3

If you turn the TV on at all, you have heard more about packet cooking recently because of an advertising blitz by Reynolds, who is pushing its foil "hot bags". The large bags are great for family-size dishes serving 5 - 6, but heavy-duty aluminum foil folded into packets still works best for smaller servings. Foil cooking is built for high heat and speed which naturally makes it a quick and easy way to cook with very little clean up.

Actually packet cooking originated in France, called cooking en papillote and parchment paper was the original wrap material. Many recipes can be wrapped in either parchment or foil, but if the food has more liquid, your best choice would be foil because it is sturdier. Food en papillote makes a prettier presentation than foil. Parchment packets, slightly browned from the oven heat, can be opened at the table, emitting enticing aromas amid the steam.

Do not confuse parchment paper with wax paper. Wax paper is a translucent paper coated on both sides with wax and is waterproof but not grease-proof like parchment paper. When grease from food gets on wax paper, it smokes and can catch on fire. Parchment paper resists both moisture and grease, making it the perfect wrapper for baking. Reynolds also makes precut parchment ready to cut and fold. They even have some great visual instructions on how to fold the parchment. Click here.

They also have some great packet recipes on their site complete with nutrition breakdown. (Most but not all are low fat.) Since they use asp in building their web page, I can not take you to the exact page but you can navigate from the home page Click here. Then go to the box on the right that says cooking method and find packet cooking.

Foil doesn't produce the same drama at the dinner table as parchment paper and it retains the heat making it very easy for diners to burn themselves. It's better to transfer the food to a plate or bowl in the kitchen and then serve. When making the packet, just place food on a foil square, bring two sides together and double or triple fold at top. Then seal the sides securely to ensure that no juices can drip out.

Less fat is needed because food cooks in its own juices. This keeps the food moist and concentrates flavors.

Vegetables and meat can be cooked together for a complete, nutritious meal. Be sure to cut vegetables in small, uniform slices to ensure even cooking.
Oven use is minimal, a plus during hot summer months. Most recipes call for cooking times of less than 30 minutes in a hot oven, about 425 degrees. You can also forgo the oven altogether and toss the packets on a hot outdoor grill.
Meals are easy to make ahead. Assemble packets in the morning and have dinner on the table in 30 minutes that night. It is also a plus if you have a family on the go; son at ball practice and daughter at dance class, husband working overtime shift; just cook the premade packets as stragglers get home.

Week of April 11, 2004

Citrus zest has an intense flavor, which will brighten any dish. When zesting a fruit, be very careful to get only a thin layer of skin and none of the white pithy parts The white pith is very bitter. To zest lemons, limes or oranges, use a vegetable peeler, paring knife, or "zester tool" (available at kitchen shops) to remove the outermost colored peel in long strips. Try to avoid digging into the fruit so deeply that you cut into the white underskin surrounding the fruit; cut off only the top, colored layer of the peel.

Lay each strip of peeling on a cutting board, outer peel side down. With a sharp knife, gently scrape away any white membrane that remains on the underside of the strip.

When you have cleaned the strips of all the membrane, use kitchen shears to finely snip the zest into small pieces or chop with a very sharp knife.

Then you can add the perfumed, pigmented zest to add terrific aroma and flavor to any dish.

Week of April 04, 2004

Renewed Popularity of Slow Cooking
Imagine coming home tonight and not having to fix dinner. Just think of wonderful smells coming from your kitchen the moment you walk in! No, you did not hire a cook - you have a slow cooker. All you had to do last night was chop up some meat and veggies and this morning you tossed them in the slow cooker and switched it on. Slow cooking is popular again! So dust off that old appliance and get ready to rediscover just how easy, delicious and healthy a slow cooker can make your life.

Slow cookers work at low heat and with their lids on, so little liquid is lost during cooking. Most foods contain water. As they cook, they begin to release their water. Since there is little evaporation with a slow cooker, you may end up with more liquid than you started with. So, if you are adapting your favorite stovetop and oven recipes for the slow cooker, decrease the amount of liquid you use.

There are some advantages to browning the meat or poultry before placing in a slow cooker. Brown will give it a more appetizing color and a richer flavor than simply tossing it in raw, but the meat will still cook either way. Always brown any ground meat including turkey. If you don't brown it first, it will clump together and have an unappealing appearance.

Whole spices such as bay leaves, peppercorns or cinnamon sticks will give slow cooker items a very intense flavor if left in the pot for the entire cooking time, so use sparingly. Ground spices as well as fresh and dried herbs, on the other hand, can lose much of their flavor if allowed to simmer for several hours in the slow cooker. It's better to add these items during the last two hours of cooking. To avoid curdling, wait until the last hour of cooking time to add dairy products like milk, sour cream, cheese or yogurt.

You can cut the cooking time in half by turning up the temperature, and still get great results. Because of its even distribution of heat, you do not have to worry about it burning. If something takes 10 hours on the "low" setting, you can safely cook it for 5 hours on the "high" setting with very much the same results.

Here are two easy and healthy recipes for your slow cooker:

Easy Easter Ham

1 - 3 pound lean low fat fully cooked smoked boneless ham
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups fruit chutney
1 cup diced dried fruit and raisin mix (dried cranberries, apricots, etc.)
1 cup small frozen whole white onions
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Place ham in 3 1/2- to 4-quart slow cooker. Sprinkle with pepper. Mix remaining ingredients; pour over ham. Cover and cook on low heat setting 6 to 8 hours.

Cover and cook on low heat setting 6 to 8 hours or follow your slow cooker's manufacturer directions.

Chicken and Corn Chili

Makes 6 servings.

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 - 16 ounce jar salsa
1 - 10 ounce can Rotel tomatoes and chilies
1 cup fat free chicken broth
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
Salt to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
1 - 11 ounce can Mexican-style corn, drained
1 - 15 ounce can pinto beans

Place chicken and salsa in the slow cooker the night before you want to eat this chili. Season with garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Cook 6 to 8 hours on Low setting.

About 3 to 4 hours before you want to eat, shred the chicken with 2 forks. Return the meat to the pot, and continue cooking.

Stir the corn and the pinto beans into the slow cooker. Simmer until ready to serve.


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