Culinary conversation: Wild life is spice to our daily lives

Published 9:27 am Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I was fortunate enough to have experienced one of the most refreshing moments, a few mornings ago. Breakfast completed and dishes washed and put away, I stole a few brief moments of solitude seated on my back porch and simply enjoying the numerous aspects that nature has to offer.

The fragrance of the morning air, rich and fresh with the odor of freshly mown grass and flower blossoms … is a luxuriant scent that even the most accomplished cologne industry cannot duplicate. On this particular morning, I felt doubly blessed, as I witnessed a four-legged lanky form with a beautiful, and what appeared to be long silky tail, emerge from the undergrowth. It stopped short, upon seeing me, and focused its gaze directly at me. We both stood there transfixed with each others presence! I could not help but feel a bit intimidated … for its eyes appeared an intense golden in color, surely unlike any others I had ever witnessed.

His gaze never wavered as he appeared to study my every move, then eventually … obviously considering me no threat, slowly retreated into the undergrowth. I so look forward to this time of the year when we can be visited by the woodland creatures, watch the squirrels chattering and scolding from the treetops and the brightly colored hummingbirds darting from tree to tree. Have you ever actually given any thought to what a dull existence it would be, were we to be deprived of our wild life?

Steamed Halibut with Garlic and Ginger

4 – 6 ounce halibut fillets
6 tablespoons cooking oil
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
2 tablespoons finely minced ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
16 large cilantro leaves
lime wedges for garnish

Gently warm the cooking oil in a large skillet. Add both the garlic and ginger to this, then proceed to cook it slowly over a very  low heat for just two minutes. Add the soy sauce and the lime and stir well. Simmer for one additional minute, then remove from the heat. Arrange the fish fillets in a steamer basket, simmer until just cooked through, no more than five minutes. Place the fillets onto four warm plates and spoon the finished sauce over them. Garnish with fresh cilantro and lime wedges.

Food Facts: Did you know that 2-3 servings a week of salmon, sardines, shrimp, lobster and  other cold water fish or seafood are lined with a reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes?

**In reply to the reader who questioned the meaning of “meat analogs,” this term refers to non meat foods which are made from soy protein and other ingredients which have been combined to simulate various kinds of meat. They are sold canned, frozen or even in dried form and only need to be heated.

Colossal Coleslaw

4 cups shredded green cabbage, packed
1 1/2 cups shredded red cabbage, packed
1 cup finely grated carrot
1 cup minced red pepper
1/2 cup minced Vidalia onion
2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced

1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon celery seed
salt and pepper to taste

Shred the vegetables very finely, mince the red pepper, onions and dill, then combine all of the vegetables together. Whisk together the coleslaw dressing and pour it over the vegetables. Toss gently, but well. Serve immediately.

Food Facts: Cabbage is rich in vitamin C, low in calories and high in fiber. Cabbage juice is said to be beneficial in healing peptic ulcers and some believe that it can even help prevent colon cancer and malignancies stimulated by estrogen.

In order to discourage loitering along some of Louisiana’s waterways, one of the environmentally conscious groups has actually adopted the slogan, “Trash is not bayou degradable.”

Vegetable Pasta Yogurt Toss

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 carrots
1 onion
1//4 head red cabbage
1 red pepper
1-2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1/4 cup water
1 full pound spinach pasta
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
3/4 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
2 teaspoons dried dill
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1 cup nonfat plain yogurt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese

Heat your olive oil in a skillet placed over just a medium high heat. Add the garlic to this and cook until the garlic softens. Add the carrots and sauté the entire mixture for several minutes. Add the onions, red cabbage, chopped bell pepper and the caraway seeds and allow this mixture to sauté for a full minute. Add the water and vinegar and stir to combine. Continue cooking, then when the water boils and begins to steam, cover the pan and immediately reduce the heat to medium low. Cook for 10 minutes. While this is cooking, prepare your pasta in another pan. Add the dill, mushrooms and white pepper to the cabbage mixture. Place a lid onto the pan and continue cooking for an additional five minutes. When you make the sauce, just combine the olive oil, butter, yogurt and cornstarch in a saucepan. Stir this mixture constantly over a medium high heat, then add the cheese gradually while continuing to stir. Simmer for one full minute. When the pasta is done, drain it immediately and return it to the cooking pot. Add the vegetables and toss. Add the yogurt sauce and toss again and then be sure to serve this immediately!

Food Facts: For some individuals, the ingestion of caffeine late in the day can relax in a sleepless night. Excessive intake of caffeine can often cause feelings of both anxiety and irritability, rapid heartbeat, tremors and excessive urination.

A touch of levity: A small youngster grabbed his coat and boots and said to his mother, “Mom, can I go outside and help Dad put the snow chains on the car? I know all the words.”

Did you know that far more women, than men, have been diagnosed with bulimia? Some bulemics purge after eating any amount of food. Continued purging can have serious consequences, including: nutritional deficiencies, an imbalance of sodium and potassium leading to fatigue, fainting and even heart palpitations. Please, WASTE NO TIME in getting help if you happen to be a victim of this malady! It is so sad, but true, that every year another miracle cure diet rears its ugly head and despite all of its hypes and claims, none ever live up to the promise of painless weight loss and renewed health. You are, by far, money ahead if you seek the advice of a competent physician who will assess your situation and direct you accordingly. Off times, if we tire of poultry, beef, pork or even fish … it could be because we have gotten into a rut and cook it in the same old way … day in and day out! With this in mind, I dare you to branch out a bit and treat  your next chicken to a “bath” of nectar and honey.

Apricot Ginger Chicken

3 pounds chicken, cut up
1 cup apricot nectar
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup soy sauce
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cooking oil

Combine the nectar, honey, soy, ginger, garlic and oil. Marinate your chicken in the combination of this mixture, for a good two hours or even longer if you prefer. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, then bake the chicken with just half of the marinade to a boil, then allow it to simmer until it thickens. As the chicken bakes, baste it frequently with the thickened marinade.

I have often wondered why some people fail to realize that weight control is first attained by combining both your food intake with daily exercise. They work together as a unit … just like soap and water! One compliments the other and together they spell some instant success!

In reply to the reader requesting information on the benefits of leeks: they are used in a variety of dishes because of their mild, oniony flavor. Leeks are known to be very low in calories and a good source of vitamin C with lesser amounts of niacin and calcium. They are distant cousins of asparagus and members of the lily family. They are thought to have protective effect against stomach cancer and can be incorporated into a range of dishes, including:

Squash Pickles

8 cups sliced squash
2 cups sliced onions
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup diced green pepper
2 cups cider vinegar
3 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1-2 teaspoons celery seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds

Combine both the squash and the onions, then sprinkle evenly with salt and allow to stand for a good hour. Combine the green pepper with the vinegar, sugar, celery seeds and mustard seeds. Bring this mixture to a boil. Pack the squash into hot, sterilized jars; cover this with vinegar mixture, then quickly seal! Process them for a period of five minutes in a boiling water bath.

In reply to a request I frequently received “what is a sufficient substitution for a cup of self rising flour? I would suggest you use one cup of all purpose flour with one teaspoon of baking powder, and one half teaspoon of salt added.

One of my readers has questioned what I believe to be the trigger of overeating. Although I do not presume to speak for others … I must confess mine to be odor, sight, then texture. I also believe that the slightest moment of stress can act as a magnet to draw me to foods that I might otherwise resist. When my urge to snack becomes pronounced and frequent … then I profit by keeping a goodly supply of fresh fruits and veggies on hand so that I am not even tempted to dip into my cookie jar. The tiniest, mere tinkle of my cookie jar alerts my pet birds and they break forth with an array of chatter … which in turn alerts my huge dog, so I am immediately exposed as the family’s stealthy cookie thief; a label I cannot honestly deny! As fond as I am of that reliable old cookie jar, I swear it has been programmed to blow the whistle on me whenever I attempt to sneak a snack out of turn.

Don’t you long for the day that you visit your friendly grocers and find they are running a special on their veal or perhaps crab legs or lobster? Well, don’t hold your breath, my friend, because I don’t think it’s going to happen for a long, long time … so why don’t you just fork me another slice of that ….

Meat Loaf

1 pound ground chuck
1/4 pound sausage
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 egg, slightly beaten
4 tablespoons chopped onions
dash pepper
1 cup coarsely broken soda crackers
1 cup milk
salt as needed

Combine all ingredients, then form into a loaf styled form and then lay 2-3 slices of bacon on top. Set oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake for 2 hours.

I certainly do not wish to rain on anyone’s parade, but I just came across an article that made me sit up and take attention. They asked: Do you drink more than 3 cups of coffee or tea per day? Do you drink several cans of soda pop per day? Do you consistently eat a goodly share of chocolate each day (I happen to be nibbling on a chocolate bar when I read this). These authorities then went on to say if you are answering yes to any of these questions then your body is absorbing dangerous levels of caffeine. They were very rigid in their statement that even moderate amounts of caffeine drinks can sap your micronutrients. The chemical then limits your body’s absorption of calcium, which in turn causes your kidneys to flush out essential vitamins and minerals. A statement such as this kinda causes you to sit up and take notice, doesn’t it?

There is certainly no doubt about it … we have come a long, long way from the old mom & pop grocery store of penny candy, gauze covered barrels of 5¢ pickles and foot long licorice strips and the beard whiskered kindly butcher who oftimes slipped our children a tasty lollipop … while dad  and mom contemplated the choice of meat they should purchase.

**Those were the days  my friend, those were the days!**

Culinary Conversation encourages reader’s recipe contributions and requests, helpful hints and timely trivia. Simply phone them to (269) 683-7266 or mal them to 527 Philip Rd. Thank you!