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Week of September 26, 2004

We all know that commercially frozen foods are easy to rely on when you are tired and just can't summon the energy to fix a complete meal. But convienence does have it downside.

  • Commercially frozen food are actually quite expensive and
  • The contents of the commercial products are not always healthy, in fact many have added fat for flavor.

But, with a little forethought, you can prepare your own pre-baked dishes for the freezer on days off or during the weekend and when you are tired, pop them right into the oven for an easy and quick meal that is healthy and economical.

Freezing Pre-Baked Dishes

1. Because precooked frozen dishes need to be reheated before being served, plan to undercook your dishes before freezing them. This ensures that the finished, reheated product will not be overcooked.

2. Remember to let you precooked dishes cool as quickly as you can before they are placed in the freezer. Placing hot foods will raise the temperature in your freezer. Also the outer edges of a hot dish may freeze quickly but the interior may not cool in time to prevent spoilage.

3. The easiest method for cool the food down by floating the pan of hot food in a pan or basin filled with cold water or pan of water filled with ice cubes. Be sure to change the water often to make sure it remains as cold as possible.

4. Once cooled in this manner, you may make it into smaller sized freezer containers or freezer bags for servings or meals. Place them in the coldest area of your freezer until firmly frozen.

5. Make sure to use freezer bags, containers and products that are specially designed for freezing to protect your food from freezer burns and leaks. Foods must always be airtight and waterproof to keep odors from escaping and food from leaking. Remove as much air as possible from the container or bag but leave a little room for expansion as the product freezes.

6. It is always best to freeze food in no more than 1-quart capacity to ensure that firm freezing occurs within at least 4 hours.

Week of September 19, 2004

The island of Jamaica is famous stunning white sand, gorgeous blue green sea, tumbling waterfalls, reggae music and its smiling, welcoming people. But, if you can not make it to the islands, just taste a little of Jamaica instead. Jamaican Jerk, ya mon!

Jerk is the spicing and grilling of meats, poultry, and sometimes vegetables, resulting in a spicy-sweet flavor and a tender texture. The term jerk is also used when describing the dry or wet seasoning mix used to jerk (season) a particular food.

The number of recipes for jerk seasoning are too numerous to count, but most people who love the taste agree that there are three main ingredients: allspice, Scotch bonnet peppers and thyme.

Here is one recipe for a wet seasoning mix that you might want to try.

Jamaican Jerk Sauce Recipe

1/2 cup ground allspice berries
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
6 to 8 garlic cloves
4 to 6 Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers (extremely hot)
1 tablespoon ground thyme or 2 tablespoons thyme leaves
2 bunches green onions
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste*
2 tablespoons light soy sauce to moisten

Put everything in a food processor and blend until smooth. By all means use allspice berries, if available, but use enough to give the equivalent of 1/2 cup ground.

Rub the meat with the seasoning sauce. With chicken, be sure to rub under skin and in cavities. This sauce can also be used with firm fleshed fish - never a delicate fish.

Marinate overnight. Grill over a low fire until done. The skin will be a nice and dark color. Chop meat into pieces, and serve traditionally with hard dough bread and an icy cold drink.

COOKS NOTE: This sauce will keep for a very long time if kept refrigerated.

* I prefer to add the salt to any meat at the end of grilling to keep it from drying the meat out.

Week of September 12, 2004

Do you love tarts, but are looking for a way to lighten them up and not use a fat laden pastry? Try using meringue cups - light airy crunchy cups that have hardly any fat. Fill them with fruit, pudding, flavored frozen yogurt, sauces and other low fat delicacies.

Meringue Cups

Makes: 8 meringue cups

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
6 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Position 1 rack in bottom third and 1 rack in top third of oven; preheat to 200°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Trace with a heavy hand, 4 circles approximately 3 1/2 inches in diameter on each parchment sheet. Turn parchment over so that marked side faces down (if you have traced heavily enough, the circles will show through to the other side).

Whisk sugar and cornstarch in medium bowl to blend. Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat whites in large bowl until foamy, about 1 minute. Add cream of tartar; beat until soft peaks form, about 1 minute.

Add sugar mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until whites are very stiff and glossy, at least 4 minutes with heavy-duty mixer and 6 to 8 minutes with handheld.

Scoop enough meringue into pastry bag fitted with medium star tip to fill 3/4 full. Pipe small dot of meringue under parchment in each corner of baking sheets. Press parchment onto dots. This will keep the parchment lying flat.

Starting in center of 1 marked circle, pipe meringue in continuous spiral to fill circle completely. Pipe 1 meringue circle atop edge of base circle, forming standing rim.

Repeat, piping 2 more circles atop first, forming meringue cup. Pipe 3 more cups on sheet, filling bag with meringue as needed. Pipe 4 cups on second sheet.

Bake meringues 3 hours without opening oven door (meringues may drop slightly). Turn off oven; let meringues stand in closed oven over-night to dry completely. Store airtight container. Do not stack

Per Serving: 166 Calories; trace Fat (0.0% calories from fat); trace Saturated Fat; 3g Protein; 40g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 42mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain (Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 0 Fruit; 2 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.

Week of September 4, 2004

Flavored Syrups

Are you trying to think of ways to serve cool summer drinks for a backyard outing?

Flavored syrups can be added iced tea or coffee for an additional flavor dimension. These recipes are variable, so you can experiment to obtain the flavors you desire. Just make sure to keep the sugar and water ratio about the same.

To make a thick but simple syrup, use one cup of water and one cup of sugar.

Place the water and sugar in a pot. Bring the mixture to a boil and make sure the sugar dissolves. Stirring is not necessary, but will not harm the syrup. If you want to add flavoring, it is important to add it at the correct time. If it is not an alcoholic flavoring, add flavoring before the water comes to a boil. Example: substituting orange juice for water will yield orange flavored syrup, apple juice will yield apple flavored syrup, and an addition of vanilla beans will yield aromatic syrup that is excellent in brewed coffees. Remove the syrup from heat and let it cool to room temperature. If you would like to flavor the syrup with alcohols like rum, liqueurs or amaretto, add the alcohol after the syrup has cooled to room temperature.

  • For Flavored Adult Beverage Syrup
    6 Tbsp. sugar
    2/3 cup water
    3 tablespoons liqueur of your choice

In a saucepan with a tight fitting lid mix the sugar and water and bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Cover immediately, remove from the heat and cool completely. This lets steam wash down any sugar crystals from the sides of the pan. Transfer syrup to a measuring cup and stir in the liqueur. If the sugar syrup has evaporated slightly, add enough water to equal 1 cup syrup. You can multiply this recipe.

  • Vanilla Syrup
    1 cup sugar
    1 cup water
    1 vanilla bean, split

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the mixture boils, reduce the heat and simmer the syrup for 5 minutes, swirling the pan occasionally. Cool the mixture completely and pour into a glass container with a screw-top. Store in refrigerator for up to 4 months. Remove the vanilla bean before serving.

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