Friday, June 24, 2022

How to Care for Berries 101


Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries…I love them all, especially when they are freshly picked and tasting like sunshine. However, few things are more discouraging than spending money on fresh berries only to have them go bad before you use them up. Thank goodness this method on how to care for berries I read in Cooks Illustrated magazine keeps them fresh as long as possible. It also works for other fruits and vegetables as well.

Wash the berries in a bowl with three parts water and one part white vinegar. Then drain and rinse. (For other fruits and vegetables, fill a spray bottle with the water-vinegar solution, give them a spritz, and then rinse.)

           
I typically let my berries air-dry, but you can also place the more sturdy ones like strawberries and blueberries into a salad spinner lined with three layers of paper towels. Then spin until dry. Delicate raspberries can be laid out onto a paper towel-lined counter or baking sheet and allowed to dry. (A fan blowing on the berries will speed up the process.)
           
Once cleaned, place the berries in a container lined with paper towels and keep them in the refrigerator. Leave the lid opened a bit to allow any excess moisture to escape.
           
The extra berries I purchase are headed straight for my freezer to enjoy the rest of the year. How to freeze your berries? After the berries are cleaned and dried, place them on a rimmed baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Then pop the sheet into the freezer. Once they are completely frozen, remove the berries from the baking sheet and place them into a zippered freezer bag.
           
Both fresh and frozen berries work well in so many recipes, from smoothies to pancakes. When using the frozen ones, most recipes will tell you if they need to be thawed out first. When in doubt, thaw the berries.




Thursday, June 9, 2022

Muffuletta Sandwich Recipe

  


I love a good sandwich in the summertime. Sure, salads are great too, but I find a sandwich to have much more staying power, especially if I’m busy doing yard work, sightseeing, or just playing in the sunshine. Plus, a sandwich is much easier to transport for a picnic at the park, beach, or backyard.

Photo from Central Grocery
Have you ever heard of a muffuletta sandwich? It is an iconic New Orleans favorite created at Central Grocery and Deli. A muffuletta is filled with Italian cold cuts and cheese. The difference-maker is the olive salad, which is somewhat like a tapenade but chunkier. It’s a combo of olives, garlic, herbs, olive oil, and vinegar and gives the sandwich a complex flavor beyond the typical Italian sub.  


For me, the key component of a good sandwich is the bread. The traditional muffuletta bread is round and topped with sesame seeds. I used a delicious slow-fermented olive oil ciabatta from my recent Wildgrain box order. It was perfect—soft on the inside, crusty on the outside, and just the right amount of sourdough tang. (FYI: I have a terrific deal to share with you from Wildgrain! See the below!) 

You will want to make the muffuletta olive salad a day or more ahead, so the flavors have a chance to mix and mingle. Otherwise, a muffuletta is a snap to put together. I think the sandwich is even better the next day, so feel free to make it the day before and store it in the fridge. 



Now, for the Wildgrain deal mentioned above. If you follow me on social media, you know I’ve enjoyed all the wonderful items I received in my first box. Wildgrain is the first membership box that delivers bake-from-frozen sourdough breads, fresh pastas, and artisan pastries to your home. Everything bakes within 25 minutes (no thawing!) and are made with clean ingredients.


My box contained three different sourdough loaves of bread (including the ciabatta I used for this Muffuletta recipe), sourdough rolls, croissants, and two kinds of pasta. 


Here’s the deal, and it’s a big one: Follow this link to order your first Wildgrain box and use the promo code SUNFLOWERLIFE, and you’ll get $30 off your first order! (And I’ll get a small commission as well.) Not only are the breads delicious, but I love having them delivered right to my door. Especially since the nearest artisanal bread bakery to my home is a 30-minute drive. Give them a try! 


Friday, April 29, 2022

Shredded Beef Enchilada Casserole Recipe

  


It can be a challenge to put together a Cinco de Mayo celebration dinner when the holiday falls on a weekday. This Shredded Beef Enchilada Casserole is a tasty solution. You can assemble it this weekend and have it ready to pop in the oven on May 5th. 

I first made this roast beef casserole for my niece and her family. They loved it so much she’s requested it two more times. I even gave her a pan as a Christmas gift! Of course, I made a smaller pan full of goodness as well for Mom and me to enjoy. 

The beef is what puts this recipe over the top. A meaty chuck roast slow cooks until it’s fall-apart delicious. I typically prepare the meat a day before assembling the casserole, and I make more than I’ll need for the recipe to have extra shredded beef for tacos, burrito bowls, and barbecue sandwiches.


As I said, you can make this entire shredded beef enchilada casserole recipe a day or two ahead of time. Just assemble, cover, and store in the refrigerator or freezer until needed. (If frozen, unthaw the casserole before baking.) 




Also, here’s a link to recipes I got while in Mexico for Mango Margarita, Guacamole, and Drunken Salsa to complete the meal.


Divertirse!






Monday, April 11, 2022

Foods at the Last Supper

 


As Christians worldwide enter Holy Week, our thoughts turn to those last days of Jesus’s life. Have you ever wondered what was served at the Last Supper? Recently I taught a Sunday School class on the topic. We all know bread and wine made an appearance, which Christ transformed into the Holy Eucharist. But there was more food served at the meal.

Scholars debate about whether or not the Last Supper was a Passover Seder. While verses found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke talk about the meal taking place on the first day of Unleavened Bread, the Book of John seems to depict the meal and Jesus’s crucifixion occurring before the start of Passover. 

The book The Origins of the Seder: The Passover Rite and Early Rabbinic Judaism, written by Baruch Bokser, says scholars disagree on the answer. It notes, “The current state of scholarship tends to argue against the identification of the Last Supper as a Seder.”

An article in The Jerusalem Post published on 4/13/2014 notes, "The truth may be that though the last supper took place shortly before Passover, it was not a seder at all but a talk-feast, a meeting of the fellowship – the havurah – which Jesus constituted with his disciples. The participants would have said the regular blessings over bread and wine, as well as the grace after meals, like devout Jews at any meal: important elements, to be sure, but on their own they do not add up to a Seder."

So, just what did Jesus and the disciples eat at the meal? In 2015, archaeologists Generoso Urciuoli and Marta Berogno released a study that concluded the Last Supper would have consisted of:

  • Cholent, a stew of beans, potatoes, and beef, is started on Friday afternoon and allowed to cook overnight to be eaten at noon on the Sabbath. Jews still eat versions of this today. (Check out this recipe from the New York Times.)
  • Bitter herbs, which symbolize the bitterness and harshness of the slavery that the Hebrews endured in Egypt.
  • Charoset, also known as haroseth, a chunky fruit and nut paste. 
  • Unleavened bread and wine, of course.

One thing missing was lamb. In 2007, Pope Benedict XV stated lamb was not served at the Last Supper since the meal took place before the ritual sacrifice of the paschal lambs. Jesus took the place of the lambs. This announcement lends credence to the idea the dinner wasn’t a Passover seder. 

There were two things about the Last Supper menu I found intriguing. One was the charoset. I saw many recipes online made with apples, but since only crabapples were common in the first-century Mediterranean area, I adapted a recipe made with dried fruit. Most also used Mederia or dry sherry, but I went with lemon juice. The result is a mixture similar to a chunky jam. It was a hit in my household! The charoset also tastes great on buttered toast and in peanut butter sandwiches.


I was also curious about unleavened bread. I know it is common for Jews to celebrate Passover with matzah (also spelled matzo and matza), an unleavened flatbread you can find in most grocery stores. However, I wanted to try making it myself.



The unleavened bread doesn’t have much flavor, which makes sense when you consider it was used in Jesus’s time as a utensil to scoop food out of bowls. It would be the perfect accompaniment to cholent, and it tasted great slathered with charoset. 





As we approach the Easter celebration, I hope this information brings more meaning and insight to your Holy Week devotions.  

Unleavened Bread

Serves 8

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

1 cup water

Add all of the ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer. With the dough hook attachment, mix until the dough comes together and is kneaded until smooth, 4-6 minutes total. (Or knead together by hand until dough forms a smooth ball.) Wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into 8 pieces. On a floured surface, roll each piece flat into an oblong shape that is 1/8 to 1/4-inches thick. When all the pieces are rolled out, cover with a clean kitchen towel so they don’t dry out.

Heat a non-stick skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Place a flattened piece of dough into the hot skillet. Allow to cook until it starts to brown and puff up. Flip and brown the other side. Place on a rack to cool. 

Charoset

Serves 8

4 ounces raisins

4 ounces dried apricots, cut in half

4 ounces dried figs, cut in half

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons lemon juice (or Madeira or dry sherry)

Pinch of salt

3/4 cup chopped walnuts (almonds or pistachios also work)

Place the dried fruit into a medium bowl and cover it entirely with water. Allow the fruit to soak for at least 4 hours or overnight. Drain off the water and then place the fruit into a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients except for the walnuts. Pulse until the fruit is coarsely chopped. Add the nuts and pulse a few more times to combine. 

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. 




Thursday, March 10, 2022

Cranberry Orange Baked Oatmeal

  


I know a recipe is a keeper when my 80-year-old mom asks, “Are you going to make it again anytime soon?”

The one she requested this week was for Cranberry Orange Baked Oatmeal. 


Do you horde fresh cranberries during the holidays? I do. Bags of those little red flavor bombs are primarily stored in the freezer to make my favorite Cranberry Orange Walnut Bread well beyond Christmas.



One cold morning in January, I wondered if I could take those same flavors and put them in baked oatmeal, which is one of our favorite breakfast dishes. After a couple of tries, I came up with this version. I enjoy it with a spoonful of plain Greek yogurt on the side.

Don’t have a stash of fresh cranberries? No worries. This dish tastes lovely using either fresh or dried cranberries. 




Don’t like cranberries? No problem. Earlier this week, I made the recipe by swapping out the cranberries for blueberries and the orange zest and juice for lemon. The result was equally tasty! 







Thursday, January 13, 2022

Biblical Multigrain Bread

 



How’s 2022 treating you so far? Sorry I’ve been AWOL for the past few weeks. I had surgery on my wrist, which made cooking and writing a challenge. The wound has now healed and I’m ready to get back at it! 

In December, I taught an adult forum class at my church, Grace Episcopal Cathedral in Topeka, Kansas, on three essential foods of the first-century Mediterranean diet and how they tie into the holidays. The focus of week one was bread.


Do you still eat bread? I’ll be brave and admit I love it! Especially homemade, warm, and slathered with butter. Mmmm… But I know that bread is on many people’s do-not-consume list, with the low-carb craze still going strong. 

Did you know bread was a dietary mainstay during the time of Jesus? It was the most essential component of the first-century Mediterranean diet, made every day and served every meal. 

One person was assigned to bake the bread, usually a female family member or a slave in wealthy families. The bread baker would awaken well before everyone else. Her schedule went something like this:

1. Light the fire in the bread oven. 

2. Grind the wheat into flour. It would take three hours of grinding to make enough flour for bread for five to six people. 

3. Make the dough with a bit of dough saved from the day before for leavening, much like we do today with sourdough bread. 

4. Sweep out the coals from the oven, which at this point would be about 800 degrees. 

5. Bake the bread, saving some of the dough for the next day. 

Bread in that era was indeed the staff of life. Sometimes it was all the poor had to eat. As long as you had bread, you would be okay, which may be why the line in the Lord’s Prayer of “give us this day our daily bread” had such significance. When Jesus said, “I am the bread of life,” it was a powerful message to those listening.


I used the book The Food and Feasts of Jesus by Douglas E. Neel and Joel A. Pugh for part of my research, and it includes a wonderful multigrain bread recipe. Instead of adding many different grains, the recipe uses Bob’s Red Mill’s 10 Grain Cereal. I ordered a package online, but you can often find it in natural food stores and some grocery stores.



 

This bread was a big hit in my household, and the students from my class who made it gave it rave reviews. It’s an easy recipe since a mixer does most of the work. I enjoyed slices of this grainy bread with soup, for sandwiches, and toasted for breakfast. 


Biblical Multigrain Bread

Makes 4 small round loaves

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

1 1/2 cup warm water (approx. 110 degrees)

6 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup Bob’s Red Mill 10 Grain Cereal

1 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, soft or melted

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons honey

1 cup whole milk

In the bowl of a mixer, place the yeast and warm water. Let stand for 15 minutes so activate the yeast. Then add the remaining ingredients.

Mix with a dough hook on low-medium speed for 5 minutes. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 15 minutes, and then mix again for another 5 minutes. The dough should be slightly sticky and springy. Add flour by the tablespoon if too wet, and water by the tablespoon is too dry.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning it to coat the top with oil. Cover with a towel and set aside to rise until double in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. 

Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured surface and punch down. Knead for about 1 minute, then divide the dough into 4 pieces. Shape into flat, round loaves about 6 to 8 inches in diameter and about 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick in the middle. Place the loaves onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper or lightly coated with non-stick cooking spray. Cover with floured towels and let rise for 1 hour. After 40 minutes, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the loaves are browned and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. (You can also use an instant-read thermometer to check for doneness. The center of the bread should be 190 degrees F.) Place them on racks and allow them to cool for at least 2 hours before slicing.