Centerpieces from Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh Table centerpieces are not only appropriate for formal or informal dining, they are preferable for many reasons: they are edible, are low lying and do not obstruct the view of opposite diners. Add to that their attractiveness and you have a centerpiece that is affordable, in style, and preferable to expensive flowers or to nothing.

Arranging the fruits artistically and in a pleasing complementary way does take a little bit of practice, but let the fruits themselves guide you. To be low and out of the way of conversation that might take place across the table, plan on making the arrangement more horizontal than vertical. The one exception is the use of a pineapple that may, or may not be too tall to see over. It’s use though is recommended when one is available because of its unique ability to compensate for leaves in the arrangement. Nothing higher than this should ever be used, however.

Okay, so we have a diagonal tray that is nondescript and is only being used for its dimensions. This is of no consequence since nothing except its two or three inch sides will be seen, the rest will be covered with fruits. Or better still, an extra large round bowl that will hold a pineapple in the center and will various other fruits of varying colors will fill in all around. Allow the more colorful fruits to be seen and place the bananas and the grapes, both green and purple and the red cherries so they spill over the sides.

It’s all right to cheat a little and add whatever exotic artificial fruits in your collection, if you so desire, and if your arrangement is strictly for show and not for eating. If the centerpiece is to part of the dinner as an after dinner snack, then make sure all is edible. As to size of the arrangement, fit it to the size of the table. A larger arrangement will be permissible if only the plates and silverware and napkins will be the other accessories. The food being laid out on the buffet or on another long table.

Use your imagination and fill in if there are lacks in the arrangement. It could be the container is being showcased and will need only a few fruits to complement it. If the bowl is exceptionally attractive but is too small, arrange fruits around the sides of the bow on the table, as well as inside the bowl. Look, don’t fret, it is your table, your arrangement and your say. It the look pleases you, it is sure to please the guests. After all, they are there for the exceptional hospitality you offer, and second, your exceptional way with cooking.

One more thing. If the fruit centerpiece lacks that lively look, why not collect a few leaves from outside fruit trees to tuck in around the fruits making the apples appear to be still attached to the fruits. Again, it is your table, your decoration, your imagination, have fun and enjoy the moment, the creativity, and the guests. The fruit centerpiece will be seen as a last minute gesture of good will and will add a touch of gaiety.

Best Tasting Store Bought Pizza Sauce

Many agree that the flavor of homemade pizza sauce outranks most store-bought pizza sauces.  But that doesn’t stop companies from trying to re-create that flavorful red sauce that can make or break a pizza.  Without a doubt, store-bought pizza sauce can be the perfect solution when you don’t have a lot of time to simmer up a pan of homemade sauce.  The best store-bought pizza sauces may not be available in your area but if you can find these brands, you can quickly top your pizza pie without having to make your own.

Pastorelli Pizza Sauce

Pastorelli’s pizza sauce is an award winning sauce that comes quite close to most homemade versions.  The great part about this brand is the ingredients.  It contains extra-virgin olive oil and imported Pecorino-Romano cheese, and the garlic flavor really adds to the traditional Italian flavor.  The sauce also contains tomato puree, canola oil, salt, and spices – that’s it, no crazy preservatives that you can’t pronounce.  This unique brand of pizza sauce isn’t available in all grocery stores across the US but can be ordered from their website.

Don Pepino Pizza Sauce

Another brand that is limited to consumers, Don Pepino is highly popular in Jersey where it is usually readily available.  If you can’t find Pastorelli, this is the next best thing.  Don Pepino’s contains tomatoes, corn oil, salt, spices, and garlic powder – it’s definitely lacking that extra touch but it’s far superior to some mass-produced brands.  Don Pepino is also available for order online.

Pastene Pizza Sauce

Pastene is known for a variety of products including pastas, olives, and their amazing extra virgin olive oil.  They also have a descent pizza sauce but the ingredients are not as appetizing as Pastorelli’s and Don Pepino’s sauces.  Along with the typical tomato puree and spices, Pastene also adds corn syrup, soybean oil, modified corn starch, and citric acid garlic powder.  Since Pastene is more widely available than Pastorelli and Don Pepino, Pastene would be a good pick if you need some pizza sauce in a hurry.

Chef Boyardee Pizza Sauce

Probably one of the most heard about and popular pizza sauces in grocery stores across the US, Chef Boyardee has a following. If you can get your hands on a brand that has all-natural ingredients, the flavor will reward you over this canned pizza sauce.  But Chef Boyardee is a great alternative especially for those living in rural areas and don’t have access to larger grocery chains.

Making a homemade pizza sauce is fairly simple and is your best bet for flavor and quality.  But if cooking isn’t your thing or you are lacking time, these brands will get you through your homemade pizza dilemma. 

Best Street Food in new York City

Exploring the many dining options in New York City can feel a bit like a kid in a candy store. There are so many varieties of foods and cuisines, from Ethiopian to Turkish, and organic health foods to heart attack-inducing diners. But the street food in New York City is in a class of its own and is a must-try experience.

Hot dogs

New York City is almost synonymous with hot dogs. You can do the ultimate touristy thing and munch on a hot dog while wandering around Central Park or watching a game at the Yankee Stadium. Or, you can go where New Yorkers go when they have hot dog cravings. If you’re in Manhattan, Gray’s Papaya is an experience you don’t want to miss. For less than $5, you can get the “Recession Special” – two hot dogs with the works and a papaya drink. The “works” at Gray’s means onions, sauerkraut and mustard. They don’t do relish so don’t ask for it or risk being spotted as a tourist. If you’re in Coney Island, Nathan’s of the 4th of July hot dog eating contest fame is a classic favourite.

Pizza

Pizza is a New York City institution. The best pizza places are, unfortunately, not street food joints. However, you can find good substitutes at Lazzara’s on Ninth Avenue between 43rd and 44th Street. Their thin crust pizzas, at $2.20 a slice, is some of the best and in New York.

Burgers and frozen custard

The daily long lines at lunch time is a testament to the delicious burgers at The Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. Juicy burgers grilled to perfection is just one item on the menu but many would argue that the real star at the Shake Shack is the frozen custard. These creamy desserts are so delicious that people still ask for them in the thick of winter.

Lamb on Rice

Lamb on rice may not be your typical idea of American street food, but these food stalls have gained amazing popularity among New Yorkers. With six figure salary corporate honchos in suits and ties lining up for this $5 meal, you know that this is something special. The best stalls can be found on 3rd Avenue just East of Grand Central Station or on 14th Street, East of Union Square.

Candied nuts

If you’re in the mood for a sweet snack, there’s nothing better than the candied nuts sold all over the city. These stalls move around, but the best place to find one of the carts is in the 5th Avenue shopping district.

Best Christmas Cookies

Actually, the best Christmas cookies I have ever came across were homemade Christmas cookies.  Many years ago, when I was growing up, my oldest brother’s wife’s mother made homemade Christmas cookies.  She was an excellent baker, and made delicious desserts.  Every year, she would make these Christmas cookies for her family. 

Margaret’s homemade Christmas cookies were delicious and very creatively decorated.  She would make the dough.  Then, she would have various cookie cutters with various Christmas time designs, such as Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, reindeer, Christmas trees, ornaments, candy canes, and many other shapes. 

Margaret would then roll out her dough with a rolling pin to the thickness desired.  Then, she would press the cookie cutters into the dough.  Neat looking Christmas cookie shapes would appear. 

Next, she would put her Christmas shaped cookies into the oven, and let them bake at 350 degrees until they were a golden brown color.  She would then take the baked cookies out of the oven, and let them cool.

When the cookies were cool enough, Margaret would put icing onto the cookies.  Each cookie would have the various colors of icing needed on it for whatever cookie design it was.  The various colors of icing would be put in the places needed for that special Christmas design.   That way, candy canes cookies had red and white icing on them, and in the proper places.  Santa Claus cookies had red icing, white icing, and even blue icing for the color of his eyes.   All of the cookies looked exactly like the Christmas design that they were – Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, snowman, ornaments, candy canes, reindeer, and many more.  She even had a Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer designed Christmas cookie.   

Then, Margaret would let the cookies sit for a while, until they were ready to be put into a wrapper.  She used Seran Wrap to wrap her cookies.  Each of her Christmas cookies would be wrapped in this clear wrapping, and fitted snugly around each cookie, individually. 

She would then attach stretchy white string to each of the Christmas cookies.  This stretchy white string would be at the top of each cookie, and in a loop.  With this loop of string, you could hang each Christmas cookie onto your Christmas tree.  These cookies would stay on the tree, remain delicious, and be ready to unwrap and eat on Christmas day (if you could wait that long). 

Margaret’s Christmas cookies were the best Christmas cookies if you ask me.  I haven’t came across any that were any better.  They were delicious.  They were cutely decorated for Christmas.  These cookies hung beautifully on Christmas cookies.  They tasted very good.  

Margaret has passed on now.   She is probably making Christmas cookies in heaven for the heavenly.   These are the best Christmas cookies ever – if you ask me.    

Add your own Touches to Bottled Sauce

Using a jar of spaghetti sauce to create a great meal saves a lot of time and money. While it would be great to be able to make a homemade sauce every time, it isn’t always possible. With the high quality and variety of sauces on the market however, it doesn’t take very much touch up a bottled sauce. When it’s done right, no one will even know that you didn’t do all the work yourself.

Add meat

You can take a basic jar of marinara sauce and add some meat to make it a great meal. Italian sausage can be sauteed and thrown into the sauce with some jarred roasted peppers.  This sauce is perfect to throw into the slow cooker in the morning when you leave for work and you will come home to a pot filled with sausage and peppers which can be served in a hoagie roll or over pasta. The only real work involved in this meal is sauteing the Italian sausage.  If you want to use pasta, you can even stick it right in the slow cooker with everything else and have a complete meal in a pot.  

If you prefer, you can add a pound of cooked ground beef, a bag of frozen meatball or sauteed chicken. Once the sauce has cooked for several hours with the other ingredients, no one is going to know that you used jar sauce.

Other additions

If you didn’t get your meal started and you are now home and need to come up with a homemade tasting meal using you jar sauce and you only have a few minutes, there are still some great things that you can do.

Cream

Take a jar of basic sauce,  add a good splash of heavy cream or half and half. This will turn the bright red sauce a pretty pinkish color. If you want a protein, chicken is a good choice with this sauce. Grab a jar of roasted red peppers and slice the peppers thinly and add to the sauce. Hopefully you have a jar of artichoke hearts on hand, chop the hearts into bite size pieces and add to the sauce. Dice a small one and add to olive oil and chopped garlic in a saute pan and saute with the chunks of chicken. Meanwhile, boil up a pound of pasta.  Add all the ingredients together and cook for about 15 minutes.

Parmesan

Grate some fresh Parmesan cheese over the top and serve with crusty Italian bread.

Just because you need to use a jar of spaghetti sauce it doesn’t mean that your meal can’t taste homemade. With a few of your own touches you can turn the pedestrian into something really special.

Benefits of Switching to Quorn Products


The Quorn range of products is getting bigger. Consumer demand for Quorn has dictated that the manufacturers produce more choice within their range. So what are the benefits to switching to Quorn products? These are many, since not only do they offer a viable and tasty alternative to meat for vegetarians, but they offer very good value and choice. The advantages don’t stop there. Looking at the benefits, these are broader than one may at first imagine.

*Price.

*Saving of energy.

*Taste.

*Health aspects.

*Vegetarian aspects.

*Choice and variety.

*Quickness of meal preparation.

Price.

When compared with the price of regular meat, quorn makes meals much cheaper to prepare. A packet of quorn chicken pieces for example can make up to four regular meals, meaning that it certainly is a cost effective alternative. The one packet costs almost the same as one chicken breast and that certainly cannot be sneezed at. Similarly, the beef pieces offer the same value for money and the Sunday roast can easily be replaced with their chicken roast rolls.

Saving of energy.

Meat takes a lot longer to cook and consumes more energy. To cook a meal made with quorn is extremely quick without risk, although undercook meat, and you undermine health risks.

Taste.

The taste of quorn is comparable with real meat. The chicken pieces taste like chicken. Similarly the range provided now includes mushroom pies, toad in the hole, beef and chicken pieces, though has been expanded to include spiced steaks and escalopes.

Health aspects.

Quorn is less calorific than meat, and will certainly cut down on the fat consumed. This means great news for meat lovers who don’t want to risk having too much fat.

Vegetarian aspects.

Compared with other products such as SosMix and BurgerMix, the taste is better. The range supplied by quorn means that vegetarian food no longer has to be boring and bland, and that the range of meals made is only limited by the imagination of the cook.

Choice and variety.

With the new range of Quorn products, this gives a consumer much choice. Unfortunately, Quorn is not available in every country, though it offers a great choice of types, meaning that instead of being stuck with boring alternatives, the chef can produce quality meals with a lot of taste, sufficient to keep the enthusiast fed with different types of food. The taste factor has also be dealt with by the addition of spices in many of the dishes supplied.

Quickness of meal preparation.

Unlike traditional meat, quorn takes minutes to defrost and can be cooked straight away. This means that the average meal can be produced in the time it takes to prepare the vegetables. Unlike traditional meat dishes, the time involved is considerably cut down, making ease of preparation one of the best aspects of the product.

If you haven’t tried quorn, it’s a worthy example of what can be done to make vegetarian meat substitutes tastier. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages, and make this a viable product for those thinking of their health, wealth and energy consumption.

Broccoli Touted as Fountain of Youth

So we know veggies are good for us, because they contain vitamins and other factors that keep us healthy and on the go.  But could it be that a vegetable can do more than just keep us healthy?  Aging is inevitable, but a recent study suggests that broccoli can actually slow down the aging process.

Frequently, when the healing properties and benefits of broccoli are discussed, people solely focus on sulforaphane, which increases cell detoxification. This is one of the amazing properties of broccoli, but unfortunately, the other nutrients that come from broccoli are too often overlooked. So, let’s talk about all the other properties that benefit our body – especially the anti-aging factor.

Supposedly, there is a compound found in broccoli that’s created when it’s digested. This compound goes by the name of Diindolylmethane (DIM), and has been found to increase the molecular pathways and structures that can actually slow down the aging process, and make your life last longer. Broccoli also contains key antioxidants that prevent cell damage – which contribute to aging – and in turn prevent and slow aging. Another way that broccoli can slow the aging process, is by increasing metabolism. When broccoli is consumed, energy generators in cells called mitochondria – which become less efficient with age – had a more improved performance. 

Diindolylmethane has also been found to have several biologic attributes, which shouldn’t be ignored. Apparently, several forms of cancer, and even Alzheimer’s could possibly be avoided, and even cured by this compound found in broccoli. The National Cancer Institute has started several studies to test the possibilities with cancer and Diindolylmethane. Women showed a 40% decrease in the risk of developing breast cancer, and men showed a 52% decrease in the risk of developing prostate cancer.

Broccoli has also shown to boost the immune system, thus making you less likely to become sick. This is because it’s your immune system’s job to fight off viruses and other bacteria, so if your immune system is strong, it will be able to kill unwanted viruses. Also, broccoli has some essential vitamins, and other components that are great – and in some cases necessary – for our bodies and our health, like lowering our cholesterol, detoxification, antioxidants, and anti-inflammation. Broccoli can also provide digestive support and cardiovascular support. Research that involves broccoli improving the risks associated with cardiovascular disease and heart attacks is still in the early stages, but scientists believe that Sulforaphane might actually be able to improve (or even reverse) the damage to the blood vessel linings that high blood sugar problems can cause. 

With all that said, broccoli is among the super foods category, and yes, can also promote a long, healthy life and does slow down the aging process. But not only does broccoli improve aging – it has so many other benefits that shouldn’t be ignored, and could definitely improve anyone’s health!

British Pub Food

While hungry regulars in the Rovers Return in ‘Coronation Street’ can only choose between Betty Turpin’s famous hotpot or a packet of crisps, most pubs these days  serve a varied menu. It’s a case of having to, really, as in the current economic climate, few pubs can survive on beer sales alone – particularly since the smoking ban came into force in 2007.

Since the introduction of extended opening hours, some pubs, especially chains like Wetherspoons, now offer breakfasts, either at set times or as an ‘all day’ menu choice.  And there is usually a good choice of hot drinks, as well as cakes, biscuits and muffins. In effect, the pub is competing with the local cafe for the breakfast trade these days.

Wetherspoons has brought about something of a revolution in pub food in the United Kingdom. There are ‘theme’ nights, such as Curry Night, Steak Night or the Sunday Roast Club, where you can order a meal and a drink for a really special price, and various meal deals throughout the day. Wetherspoons always keep the kitchen open till quite late – about 10.00pm – and other pubs are having to come in line, or lose business. I can remember, several years ago, trying – and failing – to get a pub meal at 8.00pm on a midweek night. Those days are gone now, thank goodness.

So what sort of pub food can you expect to find these days in the British boozer? You may be surprised at the quality and variety of the food on offer. One pub near my son’s home in Shropshire offers venison, kangaroo steaks and ostrich steaks to the more discerning pub diner. It comes at a price, of course, but that price is considerably lower than you would expect to pay for the same meal in a restaurant.

Most pubs offer a staple menu of meals such as fish and chips, pies, curry, chilli, cottage pie, lasagne, steaks, mixed grill, and ham egg and chips, with various ‘specials’ to ring the changes. Pub food tends to come with chips as a rule, although in these health conscious days you can probably ask for a jacket potato or a salad instead of chips, without getting funny looks from the bar staff.

As pubs become more family friendly in the effort to attract customers, you’ll often find a children’s menu on offer as well, along with starters and desserts for those who want to really push the boat out without sinking under the weight of the bill. In essence, it’s possible to eat a restaurant meal in your local. You won’t get silver service and a table for two in a secluded corner, but you will get good food at a reasonable price.

In short, British pub food has moved on considerably since the days when ‘something to eat with your pint’  meant a packet of crisps or a stale sausage roll. Enjoy!

Beginners Guide to the Flavors of Mexico

The food, the culture, the land that is Mexico reflect the contrast that is Mexico.

In bustling Mexico City, international business is transacted; in the Oaxacan countryside nearby, Hauve women patiently grind dried corn for tortillas.

In the northern-most regions of the country, vaqueros drive cattle across vast mountain ranges. Beef, dairy products and flour tortillas are favored in this area where cattle and wheat fields abound. Highly gifted bakers produce hearty loaves, light rolls, and sweet breads of every description.

In the high fertile plateaus of the Sierra Madre mountains, which extend down to the Pacific Ocean, oxen plow fields of corn, garlic and onions. Where the mountains meet the ocean, seafood such as shrimp, scallops, and oysters are abundant.

BREAD

Unleavened corn bread is an integral part of Mexican cuisine in countless forms and shapes: Tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, quesadillas to be layered between meats and vegetables and in many other applications are found throughout the country.

BEANS

Normal breakfast fare might include well fried (this is the proper term, not re-fried) beans. Frijoles, dried beans, are available in wide variety. Their favorite method of preparation is either regional or personal.

This method of preparation is simple, humble, and results in, what some say, are the best tasting beans: Don’t soak them. Simply cook the dried beans gently in water with onion and garlic. Add salt and a bit of butter after they have cooked. Beans are best eaten a day or two after they are cooked, so simply refrigerate. When ready to serve, warm in a skillet, finish as you prefer, and enjoy with your favorite garnish.

SAUCES

Every cuisine has a mark of distinction. In Mexico, the sauces make this mark.

Cooking with fresh, local ingredients is a passion throughout the country and is no better reflected than in the many sauces, all representative of the eclectic mix of regional flavors.

Oaxaca, the town of the seven moles, very well demonstrates a principle of Mexican cookery not to be missed. The mole sauce is usually prepared by the “expert” in the family who is eager to make the sauce respectfully and carefully in the traditional style, slow-cooked and infused with cinnamon, chilies, allspice berries, cloves, sesame seeds, and many other ingredients.

The more ubiquitous, and simpler sauces, are the salsas, uncooked combinations of chilies and vegetables as originally introduced in the United States. Guacamole, with avocado, is universally popular.

DESSERTS

Farther west still, coconut, mangoes, and pineapple flourish among palm trees on the lush, tropical Pacific coast.

Coconut is the main ingredient of sweets on this Pacific Coast and even though introduced by the Spanish, coconut flan is highly popular today.

Chocolate drinks and desserts are popular throughout the country.

Fruit is normally offered with every meal.

CONCLUSION

Mexican cuisine is all I have mentioned: The ancient and modern, simple and complex, primitive and sophisticated. I hope this whets your appetite to try some Mexican recipes and, perhaps, find a new and delicious experience.

An Introduction to the Indonesian Rice Table Rijsttafel

If you enjoy savouring a variety of foods all in one setting or if you are a fan of the all-you-can-eat buffets featured in various restaurants across the nation, then you will certainly enjoy attending an Indonesian rice table, better known as Rijsttafel. A rice table consists of a variety of dishes featuring many specialties of the Indonesian cuisine, all beautifully displayed on a table for a feast of the taste buds and senses.

The amount of dishes displayed at a rice table can amount to an average of forty, but it is not unheard of to have even up to one hundred dishes. Since there is so much variety offered, the concept is to get a taste of a little bit of this and a little bit of that, in order to be able to taste a good amount of dishes without getting overly full.

Typically, the king of a Risjsttafel, is rice of course, which is placed at the middle of the table while several side dishes are displayed around the rice to complement it. Special tables were used in the old days featuring a hole in the middle to accommodate the rice and surrounded by other holes in order to display the side dishes.

As tempting as it may be, it is a mistake to mix the side dishes with the rice, since doing so will cause the flavors to lose relevance, so it is advisable to have them savoured as unique entities. The whole concept of Rajsttafel is ultimately to celebrate the variety of foods, their textures, colors and flavors.

While the rice table may appear at a first glance to be an Indonesian invention, this tradition actually originated by the Dutch, when Indonesia was under the Dutch colony and the Dutch plantation colonists decided to enjoy a variety of Indonesian dishes. The rice table, therefore, was prepared by servants and then enjoyed by the colonists washing it down with a good amount of strong Dutch beer. Preparation often took days since a large amount of dishes were served.

After the end of World War II, Indonesia was finally a free country and even though the Dutch colonists had left for quite some time, the tradition of the rice table survived and was used in festive occasions. The tradition was also successfully spread by the Dutch colonists in just about all the places they settled.

Foods to expect to be present at a typical Indonesian rice table include, but are not limited to: classic Chinese style egg rolls, meatballs, pork kabobs, fried duck, vegetables in peanut sauce, fried coconut, fried bananas, chutney, fruit in sweet sauce, and a very spicy dish called sambal. If you are not too crazy about spices, keep in mind that any dish with the word ”pisang” means that the dish is pretty hot.

Rijstaffal is quite popular nowadays in many luxury hotels in Holland or at famous Indonesian buffet restaurants. Considered more a banquet than an actual meal, you can attend a rice table in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Curacao, Indonesia of course, and even California where many Dutch men have settled across the years. Wherever you get to enjoy rice tables, they are surely a real feast for the eyes and the taste buds.