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Friday, May 27, 2016

Harvard Beets

Harvard Beets are delicious cooked beets in a tangy sweet sauce.  What a lovely and colourful, not to mention tasty, addition to any dinner plate.

Does anyone eat Harvard Beets anymore?  I never hear anyone talking about them. You can buy them in cans but, yuck, they taste like beets in a sweet and sour glue.  But homemade fresh Harvard Beets are delicious.  Aunt Joan used to make Harvard Beets and I loved them. I was always happy to see them coming to the table.  But I haven't had them in years.

The other day I bought several pounds of fresh beets.  I wanted fresh cooked beets for dinner.  But Don isn't too fond of fresh beets.  He loves Pickled Beets and eats them like a side-dish.  He'll eat the fresh beets but only a slice or two.  In an attempt to satisfy both Don's and my tastes when it comes to beets, I decided to make Harvard Beets.  Oh, what a success they proved to be.  Don looked at them rather suspiciously but I assured him he'd like them.  He took the obligatory two slices.  In a few minutes he came back into the kitchen looking for the beets and helped himself to a rather hearty serving.

We enjoyed them so much I made them again that week and I'll be making them again this weekend.

Harvard Beets
1 pound boiled  fresh beets, sliced or cubed, about 3-4 cups sliced
1 tablespoon cornstarch
⅓ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup vinegar
½ cup water or beet water
Pinch black pepper, optional
1 tablespoon butter

To boil the beets, trim any leaves to about 2 inches from the beet.  Wash any loose dirt from the beets under running water.  Place beets in a large saucepan and cover with cold water.  Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar, if you wish, to prevent excess bleeding.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat and cook gently until tender, about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on size of beets.  They should be fork tender.  Drain and let beets cool.  Then slip off skins, trimming any bits that don't come off easily.  Slice or cube for recipe.

Mix cornstarch, sugar and salt together in a medium sized saucepan.  Add the vinegar and water and stir until dissolved.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens.  Boil for additional 1 minute.  Stir in the butter.  Add the sliced beets and heat through. May season with black pepper, if desired.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Harvard Beets can also be served cold with salads.

Boil, cool and slice or cube the beets.  There should be about 3 or 4 cups.

Mix the cornstarch, sugar and salt together and then add the water and vinegar. Mix until there are no lumps remaining.  Heat mixture until it comes to a boil.  Boil for 1 minute.  Stir in the butter.

Pour the sliced beets into the cooked sauce.  Stir until coated with the sauce and then heat through.

The Harvard Beets are served hot but they are also very good cold.

 Tangy and sweet Harvard Beets 
will be a bright spot on your plate.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Oriental Cabbage Salad

Back in the 1990s I was studying away from home during the summers working on a Master's degree in education.  Leaving behind a husband and two young boys was hard but for four summers it was a means to an end.  One joyful summer they all came to visit for four of the weeks and had a great time visiting with friends, visiting the zoo, swimming pools and parks while I went to classes and did as much homework as I could before they came traipsing back from their day trips.  Peter turned seven that summer and I was as happy as could be not to miss another of his special days. 

While I was studying I was stayed at the school dormitory and ate at the school cafeteria.  The dormitory wasn't too bad as most of us were teachers working on a master's degree and that gave us the opportunity to discuss many of the topics that came up in class or in our classrooms back home. 

The cafeteria was another thing.  Most of the food was good but there were days I wondered what the cook was thinking when some of the food was cooked.  On those days I'd have a look at the salad bar.  One particularly unappetizing day I went to the salad bar to see a rather strange looking salad looking back at me.  I'd never seen it before.  It looked a little like coleslaw but different.  Being the adventurous sort when it comes to tasting new foods I took a serving. 

Settling down at the table I took a bite of the salad and was delighted with the flavours in my mouth.  I determined it was a cabbage salad of some kind with nuts, sunflower seeds, noodles and some kind of sweet and salty dressing.  It was like nothing I'd ever tasted before. For some reason or other I never asked anyone in the cafeteria for the recipe and it was never served again while I was there that summer.

I never forgot the salad.  The following summer when I was at the bookstore I came across one of those church published cookbooks that are popular fundraisers.  I like those cookbooks so I took this one off the rack and started thumbing through to see what the recipes looked like.  Well, what do you know, as I was flicking through the pages, my eye caught one of the titles, "Oriental Cabbage Salad" and I immediately knew it was THE SALAD.  A quick reading of the recipe confirmed my belief and I hurriedly scribbled down the recipe (thus avoiding buying the book).  Of course, since that fateful day, I've found thousands of recipes for cabbage salad or something similar floating around the internet-- some probably the same as this one. 

Oriental Cabbage Salad has been a raging success with both family and friends.  I've given out the recipe dozens of times and have requests to make it over and over again.   During the years I have added an optional ingredient in the way of sweet pepper.  I sometimes add a handful of diced pepper which gives the salad a little different flavour for a change.  

(An added note to say some people like the noodles added first so they'll soften but I think they are best crunchy!)

Oriental Cabbage Salad
1 small to medium cabbage or ½ head large cabbage, chopped fine (about 6 cups)
6 green onions, chopped
⅔ cup shelled unsalted sunflower seeds, toasted
⅔ cup slivered unsalted almonds, toasted
½ cup small dice red or green sweet pepper (any colour will do), optional

1 package oriental flavour Ramen noodles broken into pieces (hold back seasoning for dressing)

4½ tablespoons cider vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon pepper or to taste
½ cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1 package Ramen noodle seasoning (came with noodles)

Mix all salad ingredients, except the noodles.  Set aside.  

Mix all dressing ingredients.  I put the dressing ingredients in a covered jar and shake them all together.  Pour dressing over salad mixture and toss together.  Let marinate in refrigerator for about 4 to 6 hours.  

Just before serving mix in the broken Ramen noodles.

Makes 8-10 servings.

Toast the sunflower seeds and almonds in a 325 degree oven for 10 minutes.  Stir occasionally.

Using a sharp knife, finely chop the cabbage as you would for cole slaw.
Slice the green onions.
 Mix all salad ingredient, except noodles, together in a large mixing bowl.
Remove the seasoning pack from the noodles.  It will be used in the dressing.

Mix the dressing ingredients in a small bowl or even better, a jar with a lid.  Mix or shake all ingredients together.  Don't forget to add the seasoning pack from the noodles.

Add the dressing to the salad and mix well until everything is well combined.
I really like red pepper in this salad so if I have some in it goes.
Mix everything up and let marinate a few hours.

Just before serving, crush the noodles in small pieces and mix through the salad.  

Crunchy, sweet and salty.  Yummy Cabbage Salad!

Monday, May 09, 2016

Rice & Carrots

Sometimes the simplest foods taste so good.  Take rice for instance.  Not much flavour to rice but with just a few extra ingredients it becomes a tasty dish to grace any table. I like plain old rice with just a little butter but it's amazing how good it is with a few more ingredients tossed in the pot.  This simple little dish is one of my favourite ways to eat rice. 

Many years ago, Mildred would bring this really fabulous rice to church potlucks.  I'd always question her on what was in it because it tasted so good.  She always told me it was just rice and carrots but I knew there was something else in that bowl besides rice and carrots.  Every time I tried to replicate the dish it never tasted like Mildred's rice.  Then, years later, on a whim, I added some black pepper to the mix and suddenly I had Mildred's rice! Mildred must have used a very fine grind of black pepper because there were no noticeable specks of pepper in the rice but the flavour was definitely there. Since that time I've added onions as well, because, you know, everything tastes better with onions (except dessert).    

Mildred always used white rice but brown rice works nicely as well.  The brown rice gives a chewier texture but the flavour is just as good.  Sometimes I'll use half white and brown rice as I did this past weekend. 

Rice & Carrots
1 cup parboiled rice, cooked according to package directions  (Use white or brown rice.)
1 large carrot, peeled, sliced and cooked tender crisp
1 small onion, small dice
2-3 tablespoons butter
Salt to taste
⅛ teaspoon pepper, or to taste

Cook the rice according to package directions.  While the rice is cooking boil the carrots in a small amount of lightly salted water unti tender crisp .   Cook the onions in the butter until soft but not browned.  Salt to taste.

Combine the cooked rice, carrots, onions and butter.  Add more salt to taste, if needed.   Mix about ⅛ teaspoon pepper through the rice mixture.

Serve hot as a side-dish with veggie meatballs.

Makes 4-6 servings. 

Cook the rice according to package directions.  I used a mix of white and brown rice. While rice is cooking, prepare the carrots and onions. Cook the carrots tender crisp.  The onions should be cooked in the butter until soft but not browned.  Add salt to taste to the onions and carrots while cooking.

Combine the cooked rice, carrots, onions, butter and pepper together.  

 Buttery, carrotty, oniony, peppery rice.  

Rice & Carrots make a perfect side-dish to veggie meatballs.

Delicious, but simple Rice & Carrots.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Battered Tofu with Sweet & Sour Sauce

When we started eating vegetarian (almost 20 years ago!) one of the foods we missed were the sweet and sour chicken balls at our favourite Chinese restaurant.  You know the kind I mean, those small lumps of batter-fried chicken served with bright red sweet and sour sauce.  Not the healthiest choice but we liked it.   The fun of eating at the restaurant was gone and we seldom ate there anymore.  

But then I discovered tofu and its versatility in cooking.  Did you know if you freeze and thaw tofu the texture changes and becomes more "meaty"?  And if you marinate or simmer chunks of tofu in a tasty broth they soak up the flavour of the broth.  There's not much flavour to tofu so it's almost imperative that it does soak up some flavour for your taste buds to savour.  

One of the first times I made these tofu "chicken" balls was for a group of school children.  I can't remember why I would have been doing that but, nevertheless I was.  One of the boys was a very picky eater and was inclined not to try anything new or strange, which tofu would have been both.   When he ventured into the kitchen he thought I had made sweet and sour chicken balls and was happy enough to pile his plate with one of his favourite foods.  I didn't make any comment.  Sometimes a smile is enough.  I think he ate three servings, licking his lips in happy bliss.  (Isn't ignorance bliss?)  I eventually broke the bad news to him but by that time he had been won over.  

Since then, I have made these many times and most people gobble them up, regardless their dietary preferences.  Of course, Don and I are the biggest gobblers when it comes to these sweet and sour "chicken" balls.   I'm including a nice sweet and sour sauce recipe but unless I'm making these for a crowd, we just use the store bought cherry sauce which is most like what we would have eaten in the restaurant.  

Battered Tofu with Sweet & Sour Sauce
Prepared tofu
Sweet and sour sauce

1 pound firm or very firm tofu (454 gram package), frozen, thawed and pressed
2 or 3 vegetarian "chicken" bouillon cubes  

Freeze the tofu in the container it comes in and then thaw and drain.  You can gently squeeze some of the excess water and then let the block of tofu drain on paper towelling.  When drained cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes and simmer in a vegetarian "chicken" broth for 20 minutes.  Use bouillon cubes or the powdered broth made according to package directions.  The broth should cover the tofu.  Let the tofu cool in the broth and then strain.  The tofu is now ready to be batter fried.

1 egg
¾ cup milk
1 tablespoon melted butter or oil
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

In a medium-sized bowl, beat all ingredients together until smooth.

Heat at least 2 inches of oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan or even better use a deep fryer.  Heat the oil to 375 degrees. Dip the tofu cubes in the batter.  Let excess batter drip off.  Carefully lower the battered tofu into the hot oil.  Fry the tofu balls until golden brown on both sides.  

Serve with your favourite sweet and sour sauce.  

Pineapple Sweet and Sour Sauce
⅔ cup pineapple juice and water
⅓ cup rice vinegar or use white vinegar
⅓ cup brown sugar, packed or can use white sugar
3 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 8-ounce can pineapple tidbits, drained
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water

Drain pineapple and pour juice into a measuring cup.  Add enough water to make ⅔ cup.

In a medium saucepan, combine pineapple juice, vinegar, sugar, ketchup, and soy sauce and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Dissolve the cornstarch in the tablespoon of water and stir into the hot liquid and cook until thickened, about 1-2 minutes. Add the pineapple tidbits. Use with the battered tofu.  Store any left over sauce in the refrigerator.  Makes about 2 cups.

Use a good quality vegetarian bouillon.  McCormik is my favourite brand but use whatever you have in your area.  

Simmer the cubed tofu in the "chicken" broth for 20 minutes.

Let the tofu cool in the broth and then thoroughly strain. 

 To make the batter mix all the batter ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl. 

Dip tofu cubes in the batter.  Let excess batter drip off before frying.

Make sure the oil has heated to 375 degrees.  
As you can see, I'd better get that tofu in the oil before it gets too hot!

Carefully add the batter-dipped tofu into the hot oil.  Add as many as you can without crowding or overflowing the saucepan.  When you deep-fry stay with the pan.  Never leave the room.  If you must leave the room, turn off the burner and remove the pan from the hot burner.  

Grab your chopsticks and  favourite sweet and sour sauce and dig in.  Plain or fried rice makes a tasty side-dish.

Battered Tofu with cherry sauce.

As good as any restaurant special!