Category: Food

Wine and Cheese Pairing Tips for Summer Entertaining

Summer is a time for picnics, festive garden gatherings and poolside parties. For hot days and warm evening entertaining, keep things cool by creating a delicious, yet easy-to-prepare spread of wines, cheeses, fresh fruits and nuts.

Choosing cheeses to go with your favorite wines does not need to be difficult. Start by thinking of each component of the wine and cheese as a complementary or contrasting flavor, considering the texture, sweetness and flavor intensity of each. Experiment by tasting each on its own to get a sense of its characteristics. Then, see how they taste when combined. You can do this on your own while planning your event or make it a fun activity with your guests.

As part of their hospitality program, the culinary team at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards in Sonoma County, CA looks to local cheese producers for interesting choices to pair with their certified sustainable wines. To help hosts recreate the winery experience at home, here are a few pairing tips for preparing summer spreads that feature some of the best wines and cheeses of Sonoma County:

Pair wines and cheeses of equal flavor intensity.

Bold wines can overwhelm some cheeses. One pairing example of balanced flavor intensity is Laura Chenel Goat Brie paired with St. Francis Sonoma County Chardonnay 2016 (SRP $16.99). The goat brie is delicious for summer, with a light creamy quality that carries notes of grass and nuts and has a clean lemony finish. The Chardonnay has delicate aromas and flavors of green apple, juicy pear and melon. The combination is a bright, crisp wine that nicely matches the cheese’s flavors and weight.

Pair bold reds with aged cheeses.

Aged cheeses are richer in flavor. This aspect of their character counteracts the tannins of a bold red wine, making for a delicious pairing. Consider serving Vella Dry Monterey Jack, an aged cheese similar to Parmigiano with a sweet flavor reminiscent of butterscotch, with Sonoma Valley Merlot 2015 (SRP $20.99). The expressive Merlot, with aromas and flavors of red cherry, plum, espresso bean and savory spices, complements the cheese beautifully. The aged Dry Monterey Jack cheese highlights the smooth texture of the Merlot wine.

Add an array of fresh fruits to your spread.

After assembling the cheese board, add color and texture with fresh fruits of the summer season. Strawberries, cherries, grapes, raspberries and figs are festive choices. For an added cool factor, put frozen green grapes in your glass of Chardonnay to keep it chilled without diluting the flavor.

With these pairing tips, you are sure to have an entertaining and delicious cheese and wine filled gathering. (StatePoint)

Simple Tricks to Satisfy Picky Eaters

Family mealtime can be challenging for a variety of reasons, including the varying taste buds of moms, dads and their kids.

Although there is no consistent definition of picky eating, according to a report published in the journal Frontiers in Pediatrics, the term is generally used to characterize children who eat a limited amount of food, have strong food preferences, have restricted intake of certain foods, or who are unwilling to try new foods. It’s difficult to account statistically for picky eating, but this relatively common behavioral problem tends to peak around age 3.

Picky eating tends to be genetic. A study led by Dr. Lucy Cooke of the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London found genes are largely to blame for picky eaters. According to her research, 78 percent of pickiness is genetic and the other 22 percent is environmental. Pickiness usually is a temporary part of normal development, and many of the behaviors associated with picky eating can be alleviated by open-minded, patient parents who are willing to try new things themselves.

Experiment with different textures

Sometimes it isn’t the food itself but the texture of the food that is the problem. Therefore, parents shouldn’t rule out certain foods just yet. For example, a child might not like the texture of a baked potato, but mashed potatoes are fine. Try presenting the food in a different way. Cauliflower is one food that can be transformed into many different styles, from being grated like rice, to baked into a pizza crust. Don’t give up on foods on the first try.

Make meals more hands-on

Many ingredients touching one another can be an overwhelming experience for children getting ready to eat. For example, young kids may not understand that melted yellow stuff on a hamburger is the same type of cheese they eat cubed with crackers for lunch. Rather than create separate meals, make the dinner table look like a fixings bar at a restaurant. Let kids pick and choose what they want to put on their plates. This may compel them to be more adventurous with their selections.

Find ways to mask nutrition

Choose foods that children regularly eat and enjoy and experiment with ways to dress them up and make them more nutritious. Regular mac-and-cheese can be improved with the use of whole-grain pasta and fresh cheese instead of boxed mixes. Try making chicken nuggets from scratch rather than buying frozen nuggets. Smoothies can be enhanced with fresh fruit and other mix-ins. Even desserts can include pureed vegetables and fruits to increase their amount of vitamins and minerals.

Picky eating is a phase many children will experience. Parents can ride through the mealtime woes by experimenting more in the kitchen.

Baking Shortcuts for Time-Pressed Entertainers

‘Tis the season for baking cookies, cakes and other treats. However, during the holiday rush, it’s easy to get side-tracked or tired, and perhaps even a little bit overwhelmed by all the things to do in such a short period of time. Holiday baking doesn’t have to add to seasonal stress. With these tips and shortcuts, there will be plenty of sweet treats for the family.

Stick with tested recipes

Although holiday bakers may want to branch out a bit with their culinary creativity, recipes that have previously been prepared with great success can take some of the work out of holiday baking. Preparing recipes you recall preparing in the past is much easier than trying something new. If you’d like, add sparkle to old standards, such as decorating oatmeal or chocolate chip cookies with colored sprinkles.

Cookies are fast-baking

Did you know that cookies were originally made to test oven temperatures? Culinary historians say that cookies were first made to test if an oven was hot enough to bake other goods. Today, cookies can be whipped up in mere minutes. Make a batch of dough and then freeze or refrigerate it, thawing it when the time comes to bake. Also, think about baking one day and decorating the next if pressed for time.

Embrace colored candy melts

Icing can be tricky to master. Simply heating colored candy melts and pouring over cakes or painting onto cookies can add festive appeal to desserts. Candy melts even come in many different colors and can be combined to achieve the tint desired.

Keep ingredients in top form

Don’t let poorly performing ingredients or a lack of supplies be your undoing. Butter can be softened quickly in the microwave when needed for recipes. Eggs can be brought to room temperature by allowing them to sit in a bowl of warm water. Ensure that brown sugar stays soft by putting a piece of sliced bread in the container. Don’t forget to stock up on other baking staples, such as vanilla and almond extracts, baking powder/soda, molasses, and confectioner’s sugar.

Don’t bake from scratch

Not all recipes need to be made from scratch. Boxed cake mixes can be embellished and turned into delicious desserts without much fuss. Substitute melted butter for oil, buttermilk for water, and add an extra egg for a rich cake. Mix in chocolate chips or nuts or experiment with garnishes for a festive look.

Parchment paper is key

Line cookie sheets or cake pans with parchment paper for easy dessert release and quick cleanup. Parchment paper and even foil can help lift cakes or cookie bars out of pans so they look neat and do not stick.

Holiday baking can be made much easier by employing a few tricks of the trade.

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Make a Household Favorite More Healthy

Many beloved dishes might be enjoyed more often if they were only a little healthier. Author and former personal chef Michelle Dudash was once asked by a client if the she could make a healthier version of chicken parmesan. The result of that request is the following recipe for “Skinny Chicken Parmesan with Spinach,” which Dudash ultimately included in her book, “Clean Eating For Busy Families” (Fair Winds). The recipe was a hit with Dudash’s client and will surely be a hit at home cooks’ dinner tables as well.

Skinny Chicken Parmesan with Spinach (Makes 6 servings)

For the sauce:

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
2 pinches salt
2 pinches freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon honey

For the chicken:

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons whole-wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
11/2 pounds chicken breast, cut into 6 pieces, pounded to 1/4 inch
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
4 cups baby spinach
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 cup fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into 6 medallions (or shredded)
6 cups cooked whole-grain thin spaghetti tossed in 2 teaspoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 F and coat the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch pan with olive oil spray.

To make the sauce: Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add oil and garlic and cook gently for 30 seconds. Do not brown. With your hand, squeeze each tomato into the pan and add basil, oregano, salt, pepper, and honey. Reduce to medium heat and simmer for 20 minutes, lowering the heat as needed.

To make the chicken: Combine parmesan cheese, flour, salt, pepper, and basil in a medium dish and coach chicken with cheese mixture. Place a large skillet over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of oil. When oil is shimmering, add chicken, rounded-side down, and cook until golden on one side, about 5 minutes. Arrange chicken in a baking pan. Pour remaining 2 teaspoons of oil into skillet and add spinach. Cook spinach for 1 to 2 minutes until wilted and swirl in lemon juice. Gently press spinach to release water and divide spinach on top of chicken. Spoon sauce around and over the chicken, place mozzarella on top, and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bake for 15 minutes until chicken is cooked through. Serve over spaghetti.

Foods That May Help Fight Cancer

People concerned about their cancer risk may find that switching their diets can do a world of good. Certain foods may reduce cancer risk, according to various cancer experts, including the MD Anderson Cancer Center. In addition, some foods might increase a person’s risk of developing cancer. Knowing what to put on the table come breakfast, lunch and dinner can go a long way toward reducing one’s cancer risk. Some foods show cancer-fighting properties, although it is impossible to currently say one food or another can actually stop cancer from developing. Studies have shown that diets filled with colorful fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of developing cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Cancer Research UK points out that some foods, such as red meat and salt-preserved foods, can increase a person’s risk of developing some cancers, while vegetables, fruits and foods high in fiber have the opposite effect. A comprehensive review of thousands of studies on physical activity, diet and weight conducted for the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research found that plant-based foods are the best at fighting cancer. Broccoli, berries and garlic showed some of the strongest tendencies to prevent cancer. According to research associates at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, a variety of chemicals from plants known as phytochemicals protect cells from harmful compounds in food and in the environment. Phytochemicals prevent cell damage and mutations. When making their grocery lists, people who want to eat healthy and lower their cancer risk can include as many of these foods as possible.

Garlic

Studies suggest that garlic can reduce the incidence of stomach cancer by attacking bacteria associated with some ulcers and belly cancers. Sulfur compounds in the food may stimulate the immune system’s natural defenses against cancer and could reduce inflammation and tumor growth.

Broccoli

Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage and kale contain glucosinolates. These are phytochemicals that produce protective enzymes that activate in the intestines. One particular compound, sulforaphane, is strongest and found in broccoli. Protective properties are highest in raw or steamed broccoli.

Blueberries

Blueberries are loaded with antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralize the unstable compounds, called free radicals, that can damage cells and lead to cancer.

Tomatoes

The red, rich coloring of tomatoes comes from lycopene. In laboratory tests, lycopene has stopped cancer cells, including breast, lung, and endometrial cancers, from growing. Researchers speculate that lycopene protects cells from damage that could lead to cancer by boosting the immune system.

6 Great Gifts for Home Cooks

Many people enjoy preparing homecooked meals for their loved ones. Whether it’s a large family gathering during the holiday season or a weeknight meal for their immediate families, men, women and even children who like to cook enjoy the satisfied looks on their loved ones’ faces after sharing a delicious meal.

Come the holiday season, gift givers can put the same satisfied look on the faces of the home cooks in their lives by offering a variety of gifts that can make mealtime easier and/or more enjoyable.

1. Electric corkscrew: Nothing complements a good meal quite like an appropriately paired bottle of wine. Cooks who are too busy in the kitchen to utilize traditional corkscrews, which can be time-consuming and messy, might enjoy an electric corkscrew. Such corkscrews quickly remove corks from wine bottles, requiring little effort on the part of already busy cooks.

2. Cookbook: People who understand the joy of cooking often love to experiment in the kitchen. Cookbooks can be an ideal gift for such cooks. Choose a book that provides recipes from their favorite styles of cuisine, such as Italian or Indian food. Or find a book that offers an array of recipes that allows them to explore various types of cuisine.

3. Cookware: Even the best cookware can only take so much usage, and chances are home cooks’ pantries can afford an upgrade or two. Gift givers should keep in mind that many home cooks have strong preferences regarding their cookware, so it might be wise to give a gift card or ask a loved one which type of cookware he or she prefers. Of course, a covert inspection of a loved one’s pantry might provide the insight gift givers need as well.

4. Rolling pin: For the person who loves to bake, a rolling pin might make a better gift than noncooks may appreciate. Rolling pins are necessary to prepare many baked goods, and a customizable rolling pin can flatten dough to the exact millimeter, helping bake-happy home cooks prepare the perfect plate of cookies.

5. Cooking class: Cooking classes can make the ideal gift for novice home cooks who are just beginning to explore their love of cooking. But advanced classes can help more seasoned cooks perfect their craft as they learn to prepare more complex dishes.

6. Wine aerator: Much like electric corkscrews can make opening bottles of wine much easier, wine aerators can help aerate red wine more quickly than decanters, which can take up to two hours to fully aerate wine. Aerators oxidate red wine, softening its flavors and bringing out the aromas that can make a great bottle of wine that much more enjoyable.

Home cooks often enjoy preparing fresh meals for their loved ones. The holiday season presents a perfect opportunity to find gifts that make cooking that much more enjoyable for loved ones who can’t wait to whip up the next homecooked meal for family and friends.

Homemade Hummus With Truly Unique Taste

Hummus provides a delicious and healthy alternative to less nutritional dips. Versatile and available in various flavors, hummus can be whipped up at home for those who prefer to make their own dips. The following recipe for “Garbanzo-Carrot Hummus with Grilled Yogurt Flatbread” from James Campbell Caruso’s “España: Explore the Flavors of Spain” (Gibbs Smith) includes some Moroccan flavors that give this easy-to-prepare recipe a truly unique taste.

Garbanzo-Carrot Hummus with Grilled Yogurt Flatbread (Makes 2 cups)

2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
Salt
1 cup cooked garbanzo beans, drained
4 teaspoons chopped cilantro plus 1 teaspoon for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
21/2 teaspoons ground cumin
11/2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons chile flakes
2 teaspoons Moroccan Spice Blend (see below)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 batch Yogurt Flatbread (see below)

In a medium saucepan, combine the carrots with 2 quarts water and 2 teaspoons salt. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, until the carrots are tender. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the carrots to drain and cool in a colander.

Combine carrots and remaining ingredients, except for Yogurt Flatbread, in the work bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper and garnish with the remaining cilantro. Serve with fresh, hot Yogurt Flatbread cut in wedges.

Moroccan Spice Blend (Makes about 2 tablespoons)

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground smoked paprika
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel

In a small resealable glass or plastic container, combine all of the ingredients.

Yogurt Flatbread (Serves 4)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
21/2 cups plain yogurt
Olive oil

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the yogurt and mix on low speed for 2 minutes. Cover the work bowl and allow the dough to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat a gas or charcoal grill to medium. Scrape the dough from the work bowl and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a long log and divide it into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and use a rolling pin or tortilla press to flatten it into a 1/4-inch-thick tortilla shape. Brush each “tortilla” lightly with olive oil. Grill each for about 40 seconds then turn and cook another 40 seconds.

Recipe: Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust

Pumpkins are readily available in fall, when people carve jack-o’-lanterns out of pumpkins for Halloween or serve up pumpkin pie after a hearty Thanksgiving dinner. But people who are unsatisfied with plain old pumpkin pie can add something new to their repertoire this fall by cooking up the following recipe for “Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust,” courtesy of Lori Longbotham’s “Luscious Creamy Desserts” (Chronicle Books).

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust (Serves 8 to 10)

Crust

11/2 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped hazelnuts
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar

Filling

11/2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
11/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 cup solid-pack pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie mix)
1/2 cup créme fraîche, homemade (see below) or store-bought, or sour cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly butter an 8- or 81/2-inch springform pan.
2. To make the crust: Stir together all of the ingredients in a medium bowl until the crumbs are moistened. Press the mixture over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake the crust for 10 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Increase the oven temperature to 425 F.
3. To make the filling: With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the cream cheese, brown sugar and granulated sugar in a large deep bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and then the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour and pumpkin pie spice and beat on low speed until just combined. Add the pumpkin purée, créme fraîche and vanilla, and beat until just combined. Pour the filling into the shell.
4. Place the cheesecake on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 250 F and continue baking for 1 hour.
5. Turn the oven off and let the cheesecake cool in the oven for 21/2 hours. Then transfer to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate, tightly covered, for at least 10 hours, until thoroughly chilled and set, or for up to 2 days.
6. To serve, run a knife around the side of the cheesecake and remove the side of the pan. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature, cut into thin wedges with a sharp knife dipped into hot water and wiped dry after each cut.

Créme Fraîche (Makes about 1/2 cup)

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup créme fraîche or sour cream with live cultures

Pour the cream into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and spoon in the créme fraîche. Let sit on the counter, with the lid slightly ajar, until the mixture thickens, from 4 to 24 hours, depending on the weather. Refrigerate, tightly covered, until ready to use.

Give Boring Lunches a Big Boost

Lunch might not be the most exciting meal of the day, and conventional wisdom might not suggest it’s the most important meal. But that does not mean lunch has to be boring.

For those who tend to lean on sandwiches for their midday meals, straying from the sandwich norm can provide some variety and flavor. The following recipe for “Warm Tandoori Chicken Wraps” from Vicki Liley’s “Asian Wraps & Rolls” (Periplus) can make for a unique lunch for the whole family or even serve as an easily prepared dinner.

Warm Tandoori Chicken Wraps (Makes 6 wraps)

1/3 cup plain tandoori paste
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup plain yogurt
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
12 chicken tenderloin fillets or 3 skinless, boneless chicken breast fillets
2 carrots, peeled
1 English (hothouse) cucumber, halved and seeded
6 pieces naan
1 clove garlic, finely chopped

Leaves from 6 fresh mint sprigs, plus 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

In a small bowl, combine tandoori paste, 2 tablespoons yogurt, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Put chicken in a baking dish. Pour tandoori mixture over and stir until chicken is coated. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Light a fire in a charcoal grill or heat a grill pan. Brush grill or pan lightly with oil. Cook chicken for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, or until juices run clear when pierced with a skewer. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut each tenderloin into 2 long strips (if using chicken breast fillets, slice each fillet into 4 long strips).

Using a vegetable peeler, cut carrot and cucumber into thin ribbons. To heat naan, follow instructions on packet. In a small bowl, stir 1/2 cup yogurt, garlic and chopped mint together.

Place naan on a work surface. Divide chicken, cucumber, carrot, and mint leaves among naan. Drizzle with yogurt mixture. Wrap the naan around filling and serve immediately.

Green Tomatoes Not Just for the Frying Pan

Perhaps in part due to the popular 1991 film “Fried Green Tomatoes,” many people are familiar with the Southern United States side dish of the same name. But as proven by the following recipe for “Grilled Green Tomato ‘Sandwiches’ with Herbed Cream Cheese” from Karen Adler and Judith Fertig’s “The Gardener & The Grill” (Running Press), green tomatoes can be even more delicious when grilled than they are when fried.

Grilled Green Tomato “Sandwiches” with Herbed Cream Cheese (Serves 6)

Herbed Cream Cheese

1 8-ounce package cream cheese at room temperature
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives

Tomatoes

4 large green tomatoes (about 11/2 pounds), sliced 3/4-inch thick (to make 12 slices)

Olive oil, for brushing

2 teaspoons Seasoning Salt (see below) or kosher salt

Ground black pepper

Prepare a medium-hot fire in your grill. Place a well-oiled perforated grill rack over direct heat.

In a bowl, blend the cream cheese, garlic, basil, and chives together until smooth. Set aside.

Brush the tomato slices with olive oil on both sides and season with seasoning salt and pepper. Place the slices on a baking sheet and bring out to the grill with the bowl of Herbed Cream Cheese and a knife for spreading.

Grill all of the tomatoes on one side for about 3 minutes with the lid open, then flip and grill on the other side for 3 minutes more, or until the tomatoes have good grill marks.

Remove the tomato slices from the grill and allow to cool slightly on the baking sheet. Spread Herbed Cream Cheese on half of the slices, top with a second slice and set the sandwiches on a platter. Serve the sandwiches hot, with oozing cream cheese filling.

Variation: Grill all of the tomato slices as above and top each grilled tomato with a dollop of the cream cheese and serve open-faced.

Seasoning Salt (Makes 11/4 cups)

1 cup sea salt
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
1 teaspoon dried chives
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon red pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a glass jar and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Shake to blend. This keeps for several months in the pantry.