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 ♦ Dinner Tip of the Week ♦

Each week you will receive a brief cooking or food related tip or trivia, like the one below, along with your weekly dinner menu ideas.  Dinner Select helps make meal planning fun!

Monday, July 30th, 2012:


Parsley is more than just a pretty garnish.  It’s the world’s most popular herb, and it is full of great nutrition! It’s high in vitamins C, K and A.  Parsley is a good source of folic acid.  It even contains a unique plant oil that studies indicate may help neutralize particular types of carcinogens.  No wonder Chinese herbalists use parsley to treat all kinds of ailments.   And if the health benefit of parsley doesn’t entice you, parsley is also a great breath freshener!  So don’t be afraid to add more parsley than recipes call for, and add plenty of chopped parsley to your green salads too!

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Espresso vs coffee…Contrary to popular belief, any type of coffee bean can be used to make espresso or coffee, and both can be made with light, medium or dark roasted beans. The type of bean used and the roasting method are purely a matter of preference (hence coffee shops spend a lot of time testing different variables and keep their blends secret).

What really differentiates espresso from coffee is simply the brewing process. Espresso is a small shot of pressure-brewed finely ground coffee made with a special pump-driven or lever operated espresso machine. Coffee on the other hand is brewed with no pressure.

Some say espresso has less caffeine than coffee. In fact espresso has more caffeine than coffee per volume, but thanks to its small serving size one shot of espresso has about half the caffeine compared to one cup of coffee.


Grilling Tips.  Be sure your grill is hot enough before starting. Grill meat and veggies about 4 inches from heat source and chicken about 6-8 inches away. To add more flavor, try adding pre soaked chunks of natural hardwoods like Hickory. Make sure grill is clean before cooking. To prevent sticking, brush or spray a light coating of oil on grid. If your grill has a top, close it to allow smoke to add it's flavor. To keep poultry from drying out, grill with bone in and baste continuously. Poultry dark meat takes longer than white meat so start it sooner. Sear chicken on the skin side first.

Roast Veggies. Roasting is an easy way to cook root vegetables—like potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, turnips, and parsnips—and dry oven heat makes them crispy and golden. Preheat oven to 400°F. Peel vegetables, if desired, and cut them into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces. Alternatively, some such as carrots, parsnips, beets, summer squash, potatoes, fennel, zucchini, bell peppers, and eggplant may be quartered and then sliced. Toss them in a little oi or butter and salt and pepper; you can also add fresh herbs, like thyme, rosemary, or marjoram. Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Make sure it's big enough to hold them all in a single layer—the less crowded the pan, the better the vegetables will brown. Roast vegetables, stirring occasionally, until they're tender and golden brown, about 50 minutes.Serve warm or roast ahead and serve as a room temperature salad tossed with a vinaigrette dressing.


Fruit Pie. *Save the drained juice from frozen or canned fruit and use fruit juice instead of water in your recipe. This is only a good idea if the juice does not have a lot of sugar in it. * Add fresh butter to your fruit pie filling after it has been cooked. Or dot pieces of butter over the fruit before you place on the top crust. * Don't cut apples pieces too thin when you are using fresh apples. Larger chunks will hold together and have more apple flavor. * Use a little red food color and a drop or two of almond extract in your cherry pies when you use fresh or canned cherries.* Use a little yellow food color and a teaspoon of lemon juice in your apricot and peach fruit pies. The lemon juice will enhance their flavor and also help keep a bright color. * Mix a few raisins with fresh chopped apples and make a easy, new apple pie. * Do not over-cook pie fillings, especially those with corn starch used as the thickener. The filling will break down and quickly become watery. Over cooking fillings made with flour will cause the filling to be thick.

Lower Fat Cooking. Measuring the oil you use while you cook, rather than just pouring it out of the bottle. It will be much easier to moderate the amount you use. Use non-stick cookware so that you don't have to use as much, if any, fat. When sautéing, use a small amount of chicken broth or wine instead of butter or oil. To make fat-free broth, chill your meat or chicken broth. The fat will rise to the top, and you can remove it before using the broth. Many vegetables and fruits retain many of their nutrients in their skin. So when possible, leave the skin on your fruits and vegetables and cook them whole. Stock up on spices. One of the keys to cooking low-fat and not getting bored is to spice your food well. When you have finished your recipe, always taste it and adjust the spices to meet your taste. When cooking a dish with both vegetables and meat, reduce the amount of meat by 1/3 and increase the amount of vegetables by 1/3. Thicken gravies with milk or broth blended in the blender with flour. Be sure to cook long enough to remove the raw flour taste. You'll never notice the lack of fat. Use olive oil for cooking when appropriate. It adds to the taste of the dish and is better for you.

Skewers. Soak wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes before using them so they won't burn during cooking. If you prefer metal skewers, which have a long life, use square or twisted types, which will hold the food better than round ones. To keep food from slipping off during cooking and turning, use two parallel skewers rather than a single skewer. If you're using a wooden skewer, as you thread the food move the pieces close together, with no space showing. If the skewer is metal, you can leave small spaces between the pieces. When using foods with different cooking times (such as shrimp and beef), don't combine them on the same skewer. Instead, make skewers of just shrimp or just beef, start cooking the beef first, and then combine them on a serving platter.

Carrots. Baby carrots are so popular, and indeed they are convenient for snacking right out of the bag. However they are typically more expensive per pound than regular full-length carrots and the variety of carrot used for baby carrots is not as flavorful. Baby carrots are simply full-size (ugly) carrots that are chopped in two or three pieces then whittled down to a uniform small size, then peeled and washed. If it has been a while since you have tried regular fresh carrots – with the green tops still on, you may have forgotten what a carrot is supposed to taste like! You’ll especially notice the superior flavor of fresh carrots when eating them raw. Look for young, slender carrots about 8-inches long with fresh leaves. Remove the greens after you buy them since they draw away moisture from the root. Much of the nutrients are in the skin, so gently scrub the skin and wash just before using (don’t peel the carrots unless they are larger with tough skin).

Cranberries. Cranberries offer five times more antioxidants than broccoli, and several times more than most vegetables. So go ahead: enjoy that cranberry juice punch or cocktail, nibble on your favorite cranberry relish, salads or chutney. Or consider the refreshing taste of a cranberry sorbet. Dutch oven. Do you own a Dutch oven? It is a heavy (typically cast iron) pot with a tight fitting lid. Historically they were used for cooking on an open fire, but today they are wonderful for cooking stews on the stove top. We love our enameled cast iron oven from Le Creuset.

Ginger. A common ingredient in Asian food is fresh ginger. In addition to adding a lovely fragrant mild spice to food, ginger has also been used since ancient times as a medical remedy to treat various ailments from stomach upset to the common cold. You can find fresh ginger at your supermarket in the fresh produce section, usually near the fresh garlic. Or for convenience, we buy bottled minced fresh ginger, which you can find in the international aisle of your supermarket.

Measuring. Before measuring ingredients such as honey or corn syrup, lightly coat the measuring spoon or cup with vegetable oil. This also works great if you have to measure peanut butter. Slow cookers. Slow cookers are perfect for stews or roasts, and especially when the weather is cool it's nice to come home to a warm dinner. Dinner in a slow cooker can also accommodate the nights when your family needs to eat in shifts. Take a couple of servings from the pot, and leave the rest warming until the last family member comes home.

Swiss raclette. Looking for a new and fun idea for dinner with a group of 4-8 friends? You will really enjoy a Swiss raclette dinner party. Raclette is both a type of cheese and a dish that features the cheese. The word raclette is derived from the French word "racler" which means "to scrape". Historically the Swiss melted the cheese over an open fire and as it melted slowly they would scrape the cheese off the wheel and serve it with potatoes and bread. The dish raclette is very popular in Europe (they call it "gourmet") and we were introduced to it years ago when we were living in Belgium. You need an electric raclette grill, which costs around $60-$100. The grill sits in the middle of the dining room table, and guests grill their own food while enjoying a few nice bottles of wine! White Wine from Red Grapes? Did you know that white wine is often made from red grapes? The juice from even a red grape is essentially white, and white wine is made using fermented grape juice. The production process involves little contact with the grape skin. On the other hand, the red wine production process involves using whole, crushed, fermented grapes.

Mozzarella Cheese. This cheese was first made in Italy near Naples from the rich milk of water buffalos. Today thanks to this country’s love of Italian food, both low moisture mozzarella and high moisture (fresh) mozzarella are readily available. Most American-made mozzarella is made from cow’s milk. For convenience and price, in our recipes we typically use the pre-packaged shredded low moisture mozzarella. However for some dishes, like CapreseSalad for example, only fresh mozzarella will do. Fresh mozzarella has a higher moisture content making it more perishable, and consequently more expensive. Fresh mozzarella does have a superior taste and texture, so try it as a special treat in pasta dishes and on pizza if you are willing to splurge!

Garlic press. Do you own a garlic press? We believe pressing garlic is a lot quicker than mincing it with a knife, especially if you invest about $35 in a good press that can handle pressing an unpeeled clove. Pressing a clove unpeeled wastes only a little, and it saves time and makes cleanup easier. Note that the flavor of pressed garlic is a bit more intense than minced, but the difference is minimal as long as the garlic is cooked in the recipe. When our recipes call for "minced garlic", you can choose your own preferred method.

Mustard greens. Mustard greens have long been popular in southern cooking. They have peppery leaves, which are a bit too pungent for eating raw unless the plant is very young. Mustard greens are high in vitamins A, C and K.

Is kosher salt really kosher? No. “Kosher” salt gets its name from its use in the process of making meat conform to Jewish kosher standards. Kosher salt may come from either underground mines or from the sea. Both kosher salt and course sea salt have larger, irregular grains versus the fine grains of table salt. Some say kosher salt tastes “less salty” than table salt, but this is probably because the grains are larger and less dense giving the sense of more salt than there really is. The nutritional value of kosher salt, sea salt and table salt is the same (except that table salt contains added iodine, which is necessary for proper thyroid function.)

Olive oil. Why use olive oil in cooking? Two main reasons: 1. To add flavor... Meat or vegetables sautéed in olive oil taste great, and olive oil enhances the flavor of Mediterranean sauces. For example Italian spaghetti sauce is not authentic without olive oil! Vegetable oils have no flavor, so they work great in case you don't want to alter the flavor of the ingredients. 2. For nutritional value... Olive oil contains more monounsaturated fat (the good kind) than vegetable oils, and it is less processed than most vegetable oils so it retains more of its original nutrients.

Prosciutto. When we Americans refer to "prosciutto", we are referring to Italian dry-cured ham. However in Italian "prosciutto" simply means "ham". Every region in Italy makes its own variety of Prosciutto, for example Prosciutto di Parma. Prosciutto wrapped around melon slices makes a great appetizer.

Remove that garlic germ! If you cut a garlic clove in half, you will see a small sprout in the middle. That sprout is called the garlic "germ". Very fresh garlic has only a tiny, white germ. As the garlic gets older, the germ becomes larger and eventually turns green. Experts say the garlic germ should be removed and discarded - especially when the germ is large or when the garlic is to be eaten raw as in guacamole or salad dressing. Why? The germ is very acidic and can cause indigestion. It also has a bitter flavor, which may affect your recipe and leave a nasty aftertaste.

Mushrooms. Are mushrooms good for you? Yes. Well, at least the kinds you find at the grocery store are good for you…after all there are thousands of varieties of mushrooms and some rare wild ones are poisonous. At your local grocer you will typically find shiitake and variations of the button mushrooms: white button, portabellas and cremini (in fact creminis are baby portabellas). These are all low in calories, rich in dietary fibers and protein, contain B-complex vitamins, and even zinc to help boost your immune system. Asia has been using mushrooms for centuries to treat a wide range of ailments.

Sautéing tips: 1) do not overcrowd the pan – the goal is to brown the mushrooms in little fat, not boil them in their own juices; 2) do not salt until the end of sautéing process – salting too soon will make the mushrooms rubbery.

Rinsing rice. It used to be prudent to rinse rice in order to wash away any impurities like small stones or dirt. However today’s processing methods are cleaner, so it’s not really necessary for cleanliness. Rice in the U.S. is fortified by law with powdered vitamins and minerals; so rinsing washes some of these away. Occasionally imported rice contains talc used to keep grains separated during milling or transportation; if so the label should instruct that the rice be rinsed. As for taste and texture, rinsing does make a subtle difference. Rinsing washes off the powdery surface starch that may build up during shipping, and therefore results in cooked rice that is less sticky.

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