Antidote for the Heat

We’re looking at another week of excessive heat warnings; we must find an antidote for the heat! I live in an early 20th century house. It has 12-foot ceilings and a variable speed dehumidifying heat & air system. I added vents in the kitchen/sunroom area. It should be relatively cool where I’m sitting. It is not. And it will get hotter as the sun sinks directly into the west windows.

When it feels like (checks phone so as not to exaggerate) 110˚ outside, there’s only so much you can do to cool the house. Of course there are things you can do to cool your body – sit in front of a fan, put a wet towel on the back of your neck, sit in a bathtub of cool water, and eat and drink cold foods.

The past week, I’ve been turning almost everything into a salad topping. Pork tenderloin – shred some and throw it on a salad. Baked beets – serve those puppies cold on top of a salad. Blackened Brussels sprouts – you guessed it; chop them up for a salad. In fact, I combined those three atop shredded bok choy, arugula, and Swiss chard yesterday for lunch.

The thing I like about salads is the variety of tastes you can achieve by using the same ingredients paired and dressed differently. This works especially well for families who have different tastes. You can pre-make salad to each person’s preference or get out some colorful serving bowls and let everyone mix their own. This is especially advantageous for families with multiple differing allergies or intolerances.

When I purchase greens, I like to have a lighter lettuce option – butter, romaine, or iceberg – to pair with bitter or peppery greens. My favorite mild salad green is mȃche, also known as corn salad, but it’s not easy to find. Baby book choy and baby Swiss chard are also delicious mild salad greens. I may also offer spinach as an option.

Many like to include greens with bigger flavor. Popular bitter greens include frisée, radicchio, and dandelion greens. Watercress is great in salads. It may be bitter or peppery. Arugula is also bitter and peppery and grows like crazy in my garden.

I recently made a quick happy hour appetizer by topping crostini with cheese, salami, shredded arugula and balsamic drizzle. Arugula, prosciutto, and cantaloupe also play well together. Tomorrow I may make a salad with those flavors. I could also add a little fresh mozzarella, basil, and the same balsamic drizzle. Yum! The perfect salad for a hot afternoon.

The sweetness of fruit helps balance salads that begin with bitter greens. Apples, pears, and blueberries are some of my favorites. Oranges, strawberries, pineapple, mango, and cantaloupe are also great fresh choices.

Fruit doesn’t have to be fresh to top a salad. Dried cranberries, raisins, figs, or apricots add delicious layers of flavor and texture.

And fruit salads don’t have to include greens. They can just be fruit. I like to make dressing for fruit salad by mixing orange juice and mayonnaise or orange juice and plain yogurt. I also like to top fruit salads with a dollop of plain yogurt sprinkled with cinnamon. Fruit is so flavorful it doesn’t need much.

My grandmother loved to mix vegetables and fruit in carrot, raisin salad. Some home cooking restaurants serve this. They often try to fancy it up by adding pineapple. I prefer the simpler version.

When you’re choosing vegetables for salad, you may automatically think of all the things that can be served raw – celery, radish, carrot, squash, cucumber, tomato, cauliflower, broccoli, bell pepper, or onion. But blanched and lightly cooked vegetables can be delicious as well.

A local Mediterranean restaurant serves a salad that’s shredded lettuce topped with sautéed yellow squash, red bell pepper, and onion as well as beef/lamb gyro. I like to add English peas and apple to salads topped with chicken. And sugar snap peas are a great salad addition raw or steamed.

The vegetables can even be canned. Kidney beans, green beans, black beans, and corn from cans can all be used in salads. Bean salads and pasta salads are refreshing cold foods during the summer heat.

Even if you feel like you’re just throwing things together, there’s no harm in topping a salad off with a little extra crunch or yum. Nuts, seeds, cheese, croutons, parmesan crisps, tortilla strips, potato sticks, and bacon all serve this purpose well.

The final element can be light, medium, heavy, or not needed. Some like their dressing creamy. Some like it acidic, citrusy, or sweet. The hotter the weather, the lighter I like it.

Not weighing myself down with hot, heavy food helps counteract the heat, but finishing with a bite or two of sorbetto or granita leaves me feeling cool as a cucumber. And that’s a great antidote for the heat.

Super Bowl Sundaes

On Super Bowl Sunday, why not serve Super Bowl Sundaes? Even if it’s cold outside, ice cream may be welcome. If it weren’t, why would there be snow ice cream?

I like to provide a range of ice cream to serve as the base for sundaes. I keep the flavors simple so they will pair well with a wide range of toppings. Vanilla and chocolate are always included for those who eat dairy. I serve a gluten-free brand with as few fillers as possible.

For those who can’t tolerate dairy, I include a cashewmilk or coconutmilk frozen dessert option in vanilla and chocolate. For a bit of variety, you may want to taste test the So Delicious® Snickerdoodle Cashewmilk Frozen Dessert. Essentially, it’s dairy-free snickerdoodle cookie dough ice cream and the dough is gluten-free. It’s quite sweet, but the taste is elemental enough to support a variety of pairings.

Quart or half-gallon containers are easier to keep frozen so it’s worth considering the purchase of several rather than a gallon. Sit them on ice in a watertight container. The obvious choices for Sunday the 13th are football themed.

Toppings can range from fruit to granola and cookies to melted marshmallows. In fact, a s’more sundae uses melted chocolate and marshmallows alongside graham crackers.

Serve Muddy Buddies over chocolate ice cream for a great peanut butter/chocolate combo or use peanut M&Ms or crumbled peanut butter cups. Make sure to keep guests safe by labeling all allergens.

Use assorted berry jams or citrus relish for a refreshing zing. Add crunch with nuts, toasted coconut, cereal, trail mix or one of the many Sahale Snacks®. Sahale Valdosta Pecans with orange zest, cranberries and pepper are a favorite of mine.

Boozy options may be appropriate for your party. Try Baileys Irish Cream over vanilla ice cream topped with crumbled pretzels. Kahlua and coffee poured over ice cream is also remarkably easy.

Don’t forget to top things off with whipped cream. There are non-dairy versions available.

To balance the sweet, I serve something salty as well. Popcorn, pretzels, and French fries are all great toppers or alongsiders. Bacon is a real crowd pleaser. Sometimes I choose candied bacon.

And a sundae doesn’t have to be served in a bowl. Fill the hole in a doughnut or top a pancake or waffle. Fill the center of individual Bundt cakes with ice cream and top the cakes with sundae toppings.

If you’re wondering what else to serve alongside the sundaes, traditional pirouette cookies and CocoRolls® are always delicious. Oreos are popular. But any cookie will work. Decorate your own to support your team!

Add some twists with unusual toppers like crystalized ginger, plantain chips, olive oil and basil, wasabi peas, and chocolate covered coffee beans. A good balsamic drizzle is a plus and goes great with fresh strawberries.

Super Bowl Sundaes include one of my favorite foods – ice cream. They bring incredible variety to the table. And best of all, they don’t require a lot of prep time. That makes them a winner in my book.

Dairy-Free Thanksgiving

I’m preparing for my first dairy-free Thanksgiving. That means no panna cotta with sweet potato topping, no milk-based gravies or sauces, and nothing enhanced with cheese unless I use a non-dairy milk alternative.

I’m accustomed to substitutions. Creating gluten-free recipes has been great preparation. But this fall has not yielded much time for experimenting. Keeping the substitution requirements to a minimum for this first holiday will keep stress to a minimum. I can expand the dairy-free options at Christmas and throughout next year as I have time to refine recipes.

While there is a wide variety of plant-based milk and cheese, the characteristics vary widely. That sometimes necessitates adding an ingredient to compliment or mask the flavor of the milk. It sometimes means a dish will require less fat or more sweetener. And it often means adjusting the amount of liquid in the recipe.

Learn on the fly.

If you don’t have much time up front but can afford the luxury of multiple purchases, choose a selection of cow’s milk alternatives to have on hand when you begin cooking. You can sample the taste, richness, and viscosity of several choices side-by-side to determine which will work best. Or divide up the mashed potatoes and try two or three at the same time. Let your guests help you decide the best option to make your go-to.

It doesn’t have to be only milk or cheese.

I use a mixture of firm tofu, unsweetened coconut milk (brand matters), and vegan cheese (brand matters) for lasagna. The tofu adds extra protein and a texture similar to ricotta cheese. I season the tofu to add flavor. I sometimes use plant-based yogurt for mashed potatoes or for baking.

While I will substitute milk and cheese for my dishes, I will use regular butter. I don’t suffer any ill effects from it. Others may. It’s good to check before assuming.

It doesn’t have to be plant-based.

Some people who cannot tolerate cow’s milk are fine with goat or sheep milk. Goat’s milk can often be found in pints or quarts in health food stores. Cheese made with goat or sheep milk is often available. Be sure to read labels before assuming feta is made with sheep milk.

If the protein in cow’s milk causes you a problem, A2 milk may be the best solution. It’s cow’s milk with all the familiar taste and texture, but a different protein that prevents stomach discomfort in some people. If you have an anaphylactic allergy to milk, do not use this as a substitute.

Substitute differently.

If only one or two in a crowd of 10 or 12 are dairy intolerant, you may want to make sweet potato or pumpkin pie using your regular recipe and offer the intolerant two an alternative dessert. I can purchase tofu pumpkin donuts nearby. Katz® offers a pumpkin pie spice glazed donut. And there are tons of recipes for dairy-free (and DF/GF) pumpkin bread. Pumpkin cookies would be easy as well.

And dessert doesn’t have to be pumpkin. Most pecan pies are dairy-free. Cherry or apple pie are good options. If you choose packaged crusts, read the labels to make sure there are no unexpected ingredients.

Don’t forget the stuffing.

While it may be easy to remember not to add milk, it’s sometimes harder to remember that some ingredients could already contain milk. Bread or cornbread that form the base of stuffing must be dairy-free too. The chocolate you choose should be dairy-free. Be sure to review all packaged items prior to including them in your dish.

Enjoy what you can.

If you don’t do the cooking, enjoy the items that are safe and skip the rest. Keep your avoidance as low key as possible and be sure to compliment the cook on the food you are enjoying. It is not necessary to jeopardize your health in order to please someone else. People who truly care about you will not want you to be unhealthy.

Say no if you need to say no.

When family systems are too dysfunctional to allow you to comfortably take care of yourself, it may be best to spend time with friends or football on TV. There are worse things than being alone on a holiday.

No matter what your dietary restriction, with some planning and playing there’s delicious food to be had. Wishing you a peaceful holiday in which to enjoy it!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Comfort Comes in Different Flavors

Comfort comes in different flavors. One of my neighbors was taken away by ambulance this morning. Once I knew he was stable and in good hands, I immediately thought about rounding up food for his wife. It’s not just that he’s the primary cook or that we often share recipes and dishes, but food is a basic need and I understand how overwhelming it can feel to meet that need when we’re stressed.

Our grandmothers, great aunts, mothers, and cousins understood this too. That’s why there’s a tradition of delivering food to sick friends or those who have lost someone. It’s a simple gesture that meets a need and brings great comfort. But comfort does not have to arrive wrapped in a specific flavor profile. Individual preferences for comfort food vary, but as long as you consider known allergies, intolerances, and dislikes, whatever you offer should be well-received.

Most of us have a favorite go-to. When I was young, my mother made Chicken Spaghetti for such occasions. I took a big gluten-free pot of it to the luncheon before her funeral. She probably wouldn’t have approved of me bringing a dish or the fact that the family didn’t parade into the sanctuary behind the casket. She was a stickler for the rules of tradition and convention. I sometimes find them a bit too confining. Nonetheless, I often wander back to the comforting foods I remember from family gatherings.

My grandmother served canned pears topped with a dollop of mayonnaise and grated American cheese. This was called a Pear-Cheese Salad in the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. I haven’t eaten that combination in years, but I can still taste it in my head.

When my exchange sister visited from the Netherlands a few years ago, she wanted Mom to cook Goulash because that’s the comfort food she remembered from the time she lived with my parents and sister. I’m pretty sure that recipe also came from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. It contains cubes of beef chuck roast, onion, flour, salt, paprika, tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, garlic, some kind of oil, and a spice bag filled with bay leaf, celery, parsley, and thyme.

My sister and I wildly preferred my grandmother’s beef and noodles to everything else. It was always our favorite and our most frequent request. Last year, I braised some beef and accidentally mimicked the flavor so closely I was shocked. My sister now wants this as her standing birthday meal.

Other common dishes were Green Rice, Swedish Meatballs, Poke Salat, and Hot Spots. Hot Spots go by other names. They’re crunchy crackers made using cheese, flour, crispy rice cereal, butter, salt, and red pepper flakes. My ex-husband loved my grandmother’s so much he adopted the recipe and still takes the crackers to parties as one of his signature dishes.

Your family may prefer Mac-n-Cheese, Lasagna, Clam Chowder, Crab Cakes, Buffalo Chicken Wings, Tamales, Enchiladas, Green Bean Casserole, or Sushi because comfort comes in different flavors.

Five Rainy Day Comfort Foods

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”