Mix up crisp cauliflower and apricot

Ideas for putting a new meal together crop up around fine dining tables, farmers’ markets and food trucks. There’s no shortage of inspiration whether from a bunch of baby carrots waving their green tops to an endless stream of tempting digital food photos just a swipe away on the phone.

Though traditional cookbooks may seem stodgy compared to a perfect post of pasta primavera on an Instagram feed, printed and bound works of cooking devotion share much more than how-to instructions. Story-driven cookbooks can introduce a world beyond the recipes and ingredients that they present.

Lately, cooking prompts arrive by text from a friend who shares an interest in sampling good eating at hole-in-the-wall restaurants while a host of menus and meal propositions finds a way to my email inbox from food news subscriptions. Some draw a quick look while others move to a list of saved recipes to consider. But even with constant access to a vast selection of online food pages, menus and quick-tip videos, I still linger over traditional cookbooks, not only for cooking’s sake but to soak up an author’s connections to farming, gardening or composing a repertoire of ethnic family favorites. It’s not instructional guides that I love, but tapestries of recipes woven together with scenes of life and illustrated with artful design and photography presented on paper.Storied Cooking

One of my prized treasures weighs several pounds and claims a generous space on the pantry bookshelf. Written by John Besh, My New Orleans: The Cookbook piles on pleasure with cooking, culture, history and a dash of food tourism.

When we sold our family home in Austin several years ago, the buyers were making their relocation from New Orleans. Shortly after the sale’s closing, the cookbook arrived at our new home with a note from the buyers about their appreciation of Besh and the chef’s respectful nod to New Orleans tradition and progressive invention of contemporary tastes. It’s a beautifully written book paying tribute to friends, family and the freshest finds in food. I may never make his crawfish agnolotti with morels or dewberry streusel pie, but Besh won me over with descriptive narrative (“waist deep in a cypress swamp”) from his crawfishing adventures. Two years ago my family hosted a Mardi Gras dinner using Besh’s big book, breaking in the pages with a few smudges of buttermilk and corn meal. Cooking together ended up becoming a cultural awakening of Louisiana cuisine thanks to Besh. We honored the recipes but had a little fun making them our own. If a copy of Besh’s cookbook that includes 200 of his favorite recipes and stories from his hometown presents itself, make room for it in your collection.

I try to limit new cookbook acquisitions in my own collection to one or two a year simply due to space restrictions. But when there’s a chance to borrow or browse a new publication, it’s a joy to find more than something to eat in a cookbook. One recent rainy evening, I found a shelf of cookbooks at the Desmond-Fish Library in Garrison. The selection kept me out of the rain and engaged with a range of good reading. Some featured step-by-step instructions while others centered more on food travel and finding the choicest raw ingredients. In Pure & Special: Gourmet Indian Vegetarian Cuisine by Vidhu Mittal, a tangy lettuce wrap presented a possibility to include the nuances of Indian vegetarian cooking in spring’s rotation. I stumbled on a few pages of brilliance with Diana Henry’s “healthy meets delicious” cookbook, A Change of Appetite. A great read because the images and layout help tell the story, but Henry’s work suggests a year of feasting on inventive healthy food, organized by seasons and showcasing dishes like yogurt with honeyed saffron syrup, almonds and apricot compote. Not too intimidating and who doesn’t love apricots?

Minimized crispy cauliflower with apricotThe combination inspired me to put apricots on my shopping list and I’ve been testing salads in my home kitchen. The recipe shared here combines crispy cauliflower and tangy toasted sesame seeds to create a somewhat nutty flavored medley. Try sharing a small portion as a side salad or just a tasting to welcome hungry guests before breaking out more substantial fare. For this simple combination, dip in to your premium extra-virgin olive oil and the best sea salt on hand. The ingredients are all everyday finds and inexpensive, but together they’ll please on any plate.

Crisp Cauliflower with Apricots

1 head cauliflower

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 cup dried apricots, chopped

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 scallions, chopped

1 teaspoon sea salt flakes, crushed

Cut cauliflower into small florets and set aside. In preheated oven, bake sesame seeds on flat ungreased baking sheet at 400 degrees Fahrenheit about 5 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove seeds from oven and place baking sheet of cauliflower florets on top rack. Bake 20 minutes until florets begin to brown. Toss cauliflower, apricot pieces and chopped onion in mixing bowl. Mix sesame seeds with olive oil and add to mixing bowl ingredients. Stir mixture and sprinkle generously with salt. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner

First published at The Highlands Current

Big on Beans

With his standard limit of one daily cup, Charles Day would rather skip coffee than drink it stale. The Cold Spring resident has tasted his way to faultless flavor not simply by sipping through a procession of espressos or lattes but by perfecting beans before the first pour.

Day started home-roasting coffee beans soon after he and his wife, Susan Wallach, relocated from his native England to Brooklyn.

“Susan’s sister’s husband got me interested in roasting 15 years ago,” Day said. “He presented us a roaster as a gift.”

The gift served them well but met its retirement. Now on his third roaster, Day, who moved to Cold Spring 11 years ago, uses a Gene Café CBR Model 101, made in Korea.

minimized beans before and afterBefore and after — green coffee beans and freshly roasted beans

“It’s been very impressive,” Day said as he prepared to roast a batch of Sumatra Wahana Rasuna Honey beans. “You can get one for a few hundred dollars but this one was a little over 500 bucks.”

The roasting area doesn’t require much space. The roaster sits close to a basement wall with a window used for ventilation. Before Day begins the process, which is a full-on sensory engagement, he scans the raw beans and runs his hands through the tray to check texture and look for imperfections.

“Broken beans can lodge themselves into the little holes in the roaster and can burn,” Day said. “Then you get a bad batch.”

minimized quality controlCharles Day of Cold Spring inspects a tray of green beans in his home roasting process.

He experiments with beans of various origins to make a balanced cup, purchasing from green coffee suppliers, including Roastmasters.com in Connecticut and Sweet Maria’s in Oakland, California. Even the slightest change in roasting time can alter the profile of a batch as the process transforms the green coffee into powerfully aromatic brown beans.

Susan appreciates his darker range of coffees as well as an often-present warm aroma — roasty and earthy — wafting through the house. “He and I like different coffees,” she explains, so the aroma is constantly changing.

Anyone who has savored a custom cup of the family’s coffee (full disclosure: I enjoyed every drop) will never willingly return to mass-produced beans.

minimized heat controlCold Spring’s Charles Day fires up his home coffee bean roaster.

Day says coffee’s distinct smoky scent takes him back to his youth in Rochester, Kent. Though tea was rather important, the smell of fragrant coffee reminds him of his teen years. “I used to change buses for school and where I changed buses there was a little store, a coffee and tea store, with a roaster,” he said. “That’s where I used to smell it.”

Tea still matters to Day but since moving to the U.S., he drinks more coffee. He’s been mostly vegan for three years, but emphasizes that “mostly” keeps him eligible for an occasional diversion with his coffee. “Susan makes a coffee icing on a chocolate cake,” he said. “So sometimes, yes, I’m mostly vegan.”

Day recently conducted a roasting demonstration at Wave Hill, a public garden and cultural center in the Bronx, where he works as the Ruth Rea Howell horticultural interpreter. As a member of Cold Spring’s Tree Advisory Board, he pays precise attention to details in professional and personal endeavors.

minimized cooling the beansCharles Day — cooling the beans— engages all of the senses in home roasting.

In his roasting log, Day keeps a record of procedures, including dates, temperatures, roasting time, stages of the roast and overall taste. The roaster combines heat with an agitation method as well as a collection process to retrieve the chaff, the light husks that come off beans as they expand during the roast. When the roasting begins, an audible crack sounds, similar to the sound of popcorn popping.

“One of the most important points of having the log is it tells me details of cracks,” he said. “Until that first crack, the coffee is not roasted. Immediately after that first crack is finished, the coffee can be withdrawn as a very light roast. You can continue to the second crack for a darker roast and beyond that, it can be roasted to black and very dark.”

With this particular batch, Day estimated he would roast for 17 minutes with a peak temperature of 482 degrees Fahrenheit. As the first crack sounded, he dropped the temperature to 460 degrees and checked the remaining time for roasting: 6.5 minutes. Once the batch reached the desired stage, he recorded the time, temperature and crack notations and transferred the beans from the rotating chamber to the cooling tray.

After cooling, Day stores his roasts in airtight jars and labels them. Within a week, he fires up his roaster to replenish the family supply for grinding, brewing and relishing, favoring the freshness over store-bought beans, which may age for months.

“The general recommendation is not to use the beans for 24 to 48 hours,” he said. “It’s best after 48 and we tend to make it by the cup with a filter throughout the week. After a week it’s still perfectly drinkable but it’s not quite as flavorful.”

If you’re not a home-roasting candidate, search for a respected roaster. Day enjoys the beans roasted in small batches by Coffee Labs Roasters in Tarrytown and sold at Bank Square Coffeehouse in Beacon. “When I roast it, I guarantee that it’s fresh,” he says, “but there’s a good reason why there are professional roasters.”

Minimized coffee breakCoffee Cake

½ pound (two sticks) salted butter

3 cups flour

2¼ cups sugar

2¼ teaspoons baking soda

3 tablespoons ground cinnamon

3 tablespoons freshly ground coffee (medium grind)

1½ cups buttermilk

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Mix flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and ground coffee. Add butter. Blend gently two minutes until crumbly texture forms. Reserve ¾ cup of dry mixture and set aside. Add buttermilk and mix thoroughly. Gently fold in beaten eggs.

Pour into a greased and floured 8-inch springform pan. Sprinkle reserved dry mixture over top of batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Cool, remove from pan and serve with coffee.

Text and photographs by Mary Ann Ebner, first published by Philipstown.info

Playing Favorites

Certain foods have a way of bringing back memories that haven’t been stirred for a while. It’s far more appetizing to relive a feast rather than a painful potluck (scorched gravy from summer camp, anyone?). Sometimes sentimentality works up a longing for that favorite food and these epicurean moments usually deserve the credit — or blame — for an appetite. When it comes to French onion soup, nostalgia takes over and I trail back to one of those happier meals.

On a recent chilly evening, four of us ventured out and ended up at 12 Grapes in Peekskill. The cold weather called for something warm and we all settled on French onion soup. The dish, simple yet perfected with a bit of precision, made the ideal wintery supper. We finished off every sliver of onion, crumble of toasty bread and dripping of cheese.

Minimized French onion soupIt may have been the wine talking but nostalgia warmed us further as we recalled our early introductions to French onion soup. My husband described his first bowl as we savored our piping-hot restaurant helpings. He remembered feeling like a big deal leaning over a bowl of broth and delicate onions, and even detailed what he wore on the occasion: an off-white tuxedo fit for a six-year-old. Too tall to help as the ring bearer, he ushered at a wedding where reception guests celebrated with French onion soup. Onion soup still pleases crowds of all ages and it doesn’t break the budget.

My own onion soup inspiration, served for decades at Famous-Barr, a St. Louis shopping landmark since retired into merchandising history by latest-owners Macy’s, looked more tempting than anything on a plate. As a kid visiting the department store on rare occasions, one trip included a lunch date. My best friend’s dad brought me along on one of their Saturday excursions not to shop but to see Santa and check out the festive window decorations. We were probably second graders, far too mature to really believe in the jolly old elf, but we played the part well. Finally, it was time to sit down to lunch. I would have typically gone for a kids’ club sandwich and raspberry Jello served in a parfait cup, of course, but when I saw another diner eating a steaming bowl of the onion soup, I graduated to new tastes. It was a bowl full of softened lacey onions and gooey cheese goodness.

Many years and servings later, I no longer remember much about the store’s club sandwiches, but I can still smell the soup. The department store dish may not have been artful or elaborate cuisine but it saw little competition and enjoyed a loyal customer base. Famous-Barr even sold the soup’s ingredients as if they were specialty supplies unavailable elsewhere. The effort exemplified clever marketing, but the product lived up to its reputation. Thin strips of golden onions hid beneath a thick slice of bread that floated in steamy broth and served as the base for a blanket of toasty Swiss cheese.

With some foods, taste arguably keeps us returning for more, though often the experience plays the larger part in preserving a memory. When we can’t come close to replicating a restaurant menu or a branded product, the craving can be hard to overcome.

Fortunately, anyone can recreate onion soup at home with a few modest ingredients. Many restaurant variations also appear around the Hudson Valley as French onion soup, onion soup gratinée and even potage d’oignon. They all pay tribute to the onion, the indispensable ingredient that’s affordable enough to keep on hand in large quantities. Order a bowl out or cook it yourself. The version here suggests a lighter vegetable stock rather than the traditional brown beef stock generally found in the soup. I’ve tried both stocks and the vegetable brings the basic elements together with fine results. My attempt replicates a soup once famous for drawing shoppers into a retail outlet. The taste gave the soup its allure, but the experience made it a memorable meal.

 French Onion Soup

4 to 6 servings

6 medium sweet onions

6 tablespoons butter

sea salt flakes

freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon flour

2 teaspoons fresh thyme

8 cups vegetable stock

12 slices crusty bread (day-old bread recommended)

3 cups grated cheese (Swiss or gruyère)

  1. Cut peeled onions in half and thinly slice. In heavy pan, heat butter and add sliced onions. Season with salt and pepper. Cook and stir onions over medium heat 25 to 30 minutes until softened and just golden brown.
  1. Sprinkle in thyme and flour and cook over low heat 5 minutes. Add vegetable stock, stir, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.
  1. Preheat oven broiler to 400 degrees. Ladle soup into individual ovenproof bowls. Place bread slices on top of broth. Sprinkle generously with grated cheese and place in oven. Broil 3 to 5 minutes until cheese browns and bubbles. Serve immediately.

By Mary Ann Ebner

First published at Philipstown.info

 

Shredded Bliss

It’s tempting to slip on a pair of stretchy dark yoga pants this time of year though not necessarily for yoga. The holiday season afterglow that drifts into January makes the rest of the wardrobe feel a little snug. An extra pound (or five) shows up after indulging in everything from office party cookies to the New Year champagne brunch.

While the extra weight represents an unwelcome reminder of dietary indiscipline, it also provides a souvenir of sorts in remembrance of generous holiday meals shared with family and friends. Visiting around each other’s tables is often where we find new ideas and a fresh take on ingredients prepared with someone else’s creative touch gives us the chance to continue the custom of exchanging recipes.

The final weeks of 2015 included samplings of food from a parade of nations and a first-birthday celebration at the home of friends honored a tiny Japanese child. Elaborate cakes and cookies waited for the birthday girl while guests celebrated with sushi and sake. If part of the rituals of the day’s tradition centered on gracing her with good health through fine food, then guests walked away with a few blessings as well.

Nordic indulgences also own a share of the blame for my extra consumption. Friends who claim a bit of Norwegian heritage by way of Minnesota delivered a box of krumkake to us in late December. We received these delicate Scandinavian cookies shortly after they were carefully made with a batter of eggs, flour, vanilla, cardamom and sugar.

KrumkakeThe batter is poured onto a special embossed griddle and then molded onto a cone to produce a light flaky cookie flute. The delivery came with a generous supply of filling for the cones in the way of whipped cream. They were truly too good to let even a drop go uneaten.

With the Nordic influence continuing into the New Year, a dinner party to mark 2016 could have been titled “Norway on the Hudson.” Encouraged by mild January temperatures, our host and home chef grilled salmon outdoors and served the fish with mounds of roasted baby potatoes and classic Scandinavian cucumber and dill weed salad. It seemed as if we’d ended the evening with a healthy-ish calorie count until he carried a steaming-hot chocolate cake to the table. The cake didn’t need anything to prop it up, but was topped with a dollup of puffy pillowy cream. Pull out the stretchy pants.

The most adventurous meal of the season — a seven-course Sunday dinner served with a selection of beverages to enhance each course — set a record for calories but more importantly for fun and dining pleasure. Our hosts, from Germany, treated us (for several hours) with much planning, preparation and care. Each course was punctuated with a subtle touch of flavor and described in detail.

Minimized red cabbageAlong with the dumplings (which were better than any this side of Bavaria), the cabbage was pure delight. Sweet and sour, not too heavy and boldly beautiful on the plate. A popular German food, red cabbage makes frequent appearances as an accompaniment. It’s also the sort of dish that doesn’t take a lot of time to prepare. The version that I prefer is mildly spiced and cooked until tender. It’s easy and affordable with ingredients widely available at any market around town. Leafy cabbage ranges in varieties and colors from ivory-white to yellowy-green, purple and bold red. We may think of sauerkraut, the tangy pickled dish made with white cabbage as the more favored German food, but red cabbage appears everywhere as a side, in soups, on sandwiches and in salads.

Minimized shredded red cabbageChoose a firm head of red cabbage with shiny and crisp leaves and sharpen a good knife to produce an ideal shred. Red cabbage naturally complements potatoes and meats but also stands well alone as a hearty vegetable. Olive oil serves as a natural substitute for the butter and additional apples along with raisins and seeds turn sautéed red ribbons of cabbage into a healthy warm salad. This sweet and sour red cabbage preparation produces a mild dish with a big serving of texture.

 Red Cabbage

Serves 6 to 8

1 head red cabbage

3 tablespoons butter

1 large shallot, finely chopped

2 medium apples, peeled, cored and diced

3 tablespoons white vinegar

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons brown sugar

½ teaspoon nutmeg

2 cloves

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Remove any tattered ends or leaves from cabbage and discard cabbage core. With a sharp knife or mandoline, thinly shred cabbage and set aside.
  1. Heat butter in heavy Dutch oven pan and add chopped shallot. Cook 2 minutes over medium heat. Add cabbage and coat with melted butter. Add remaining ingredients and stir thoroughly. Cook 15 minutes over medium heat stirring frequently.
  1. Lower heat and simmer 30 to 45 minutes until cabbage softens, stirring occasionally. Remove cloves. Adjust with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

 

By Mary Ann Ebner

First published by Philipstown.info

Make migas for the holiday houseful

Local Scramble

By Mary Ann Ebner

When happy hens lay their eggs, there’s no better time for the rest of us to rise, shine and whisk up a dozen — the fresher the better. And forget shelf life when it comes to fresh eggs. The just-laid delicacies taste so flavorful that they simply don’t even have a chance to age.

Minimized The Cat Rock Egg Farm

A distinctive dozen from The Cat Rock Egg Farm in Garrison, New York

Twelve precious eggs may not top the list of typical hostess gifts, but I’ll happily accept them any day of the year. My friend Diane recently shared a collection from her backyard chickens and when she arrived at an impromptu give-thanks gathering in November carrying a paper egg carton, I found myself giving all kinds of thanks for her thoughtful and nourishing gift. We used the eggs to make a favorite meal, our super-simplified version of Tex-Mex migas, an egg-scramble skillet dish adopted during our years living in Austin.

In Texas, we sampled several iterations of migas (similar to chilaquiles). A smoked jalapeno pepper version drenched in spicy tomato sauce proved a little too hot. But hot or mild, with fried tortilla bits smothered by a chef’s choice of ingredients, the one-pan preparation can be made your own way.

Any eggs will do for these migas, but starting with the best ingredients means picking up a decent dozen. The supermarket may work in a pinch, but with access to eggs in the Hudson Valley from farms like Glynwood and vendors at our local farmers’ markets, we can all choose a better egg. My latest dozen came from The Cat Rock Egg Farm in Garrison. Lydia JA Langley, owner of The Cat Rock Egg Farm, raises her pet hens with love and attention and the hens in return turn out eggs that can make cooking and eating omelets the highlight of a weekend.

“The freshest eggs you will find come from a local provider,” Langley said as she gathered eggs from her hens on a warm December morning. “One of the great things about buying eggs from someone like me is that there’s a variety but the taste is consistent.”

Minimized Lydia with eggs

Lydia JA Langley collects eggs from her hens at The Cat Rock Egg Farm.

Such a fresh egg doesn’t exist in commercial production. Some supermarket eggs may age from weeks to months in transit from the laying stage before they ever make their way into grocery carts. And even though supermarket cartons may be marked “organic” or “free-range,” it’s hard to know what’s in an egg. A yolk may look like a yolk, but still may not have much of a taste.

The flock at The Cat Rock Egg Farm lives a better life than its commercial cousins, and there’s no need for a “best by” or expiration date on great-tasting eggs. Quality draws followers and the colorful ovals are attracting locals (and a few customers beyond the Hudson Valley) almost as fast as the hens can lay them.

“They’re our pets and they live with us their whole lives,” Langley said. “It all goes into their lifestyle, letting them out, having access to bugs and grasses.”

The flock includes everything from Leghorns to Marans and they spend their days outside from dawn to dusk. In addition to the natural diet that the chickens nibble on in the yard, Langley feeds her flock non-GMO (genetically modified organism) food. Roosters and hens squawk about in the yard and Langley calls them by name as easily as she identifies the eggs from each by color, from a soft green to a deep terra-cotta shell. As she makes rounds and collects eggs, she finds herself quickly filling orders to deliver to customers, but of course, reserves her own family supply.

“We came home late from the city a few nights ago and had eggs for dinner,” Langley said. “Eggs and toast with polenta.”

She prefers her eggs not quite fried though not exactly scrambled: “I like to call them frambled.”

Minimized migas

Cook up a pan of migas. Photos by M.A. Ebner

Morning, noon or night, for your next egg-based meal, framble your own or fill a skillet with migas. Though we love migas covered in grated cheese, we’re skipping the cheddar for now to let the natural flavor of the eggs shine. Just add a splash of good salsa to perfectly complete the dish.

First published by The Paper/Philipstown.info.

Migas

Serves 4

1 dozen eggs

3 tablespoons butter

1 cup tortilla bits or crushed tortilla chips (whole chips work, too!)

1 medium avocado, cubed

½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

3 scallions, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon sea salt flakes

8 flour or corn tortillas

salsa and grated cheese (optional)

  1. Crack eggs into a bowl and set aside. Melt butter in skillet and add tortilla bits. Cook until crisp over high heat 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Pour in eggs and whisk around the skillet. Crush sea salt flakes over eggs. Add avocado, cilantro and scallions (or your choice of vegetables and herbs) and fold into egg mixture. Cook on medium heat until egg appears lightly firm and not runny.
  3. Dish this right out of the pan at the table or serve a heaping spoonful atop a toasty tortilla with salsa and cheese on the side.

Berried in Pumpkin

 

For all its warmth, silky smashed pumpkin, mildly spiced and tucked into flaky crust, might as well be classified as health food.

No matter how plentiful the turkey and Brussels sprouts, there’s always room for a velvety slice topped with whipped cream or served a la mode. Few Thanksgiving hosts challenge the pastry’s status as a given for holiday spreads which is how the traditional pie will manage to keep its place on our table this year, even as we break from family custom and add another dessert — pumpkin cranberry bars.

Minimized fresh cranberries

Fresh cranberries

Combining pumpkin with cranberries brightens any dish with splashes of crimson. Sweetened dried cranberries offer convenience, but they don’t do a baked good justice. A baking occasion calls for the fresh plump sort, the kind that make baked goods pop with color along with bits and pieces of tarty-sweet fruit and skin.

Pick up fresh cranberries just about everywhere this time of year, packaged in small bags at many local markets including Foodtown. Organic cranberries are also available locally, and Beacon Natural Market carries them in the fresh produce and freezer sections. If you’re cooking for one or two, a bag of berries goes a long way, but if you’re feeding the neighborhood, stock a supply to last the rest of the year. For those with a true cranberry crush … Beacon Natural Market is offering their own fresh organic cranberry sauce spiked with orange and a medley of spices.

To modify my own holiday menu, I’ve adapted a pumpkin bar recipe with the fresh berries and chia seeds. When I set out to include the seeds, I didn’t intend to create a superfood to overshadow the pie. I unexpectedly found myself with a supply of raw seeds on the doorstep — in a box from Amazon. One of my kids received a birthday gift from family friends and when the gift giver closed out his online shopping cart, the gift and a 2-pound bag of chia seeds were on the way to our address. Once discovered, there was no chance of redirecting the seeds to their rightful recipient, a master when it comes to blending morning smoothies with yogurt, fruit and chia seeds.

Minimized chia seeds

Chia seeds

Beacon Natural Market carries a selection of chia products ranging from vacuum-packed seeds to miniature single-serving packets in seed and ground form. Kitty Sherpa, market co-owner with her husband LT Sherpa, said the store stocks many brands and quantities of the tiny chia seeds, which according to the Mayo Clinic, date back to ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations as a dietary staple.

“The health benefits of chia have become popular over the last 10 years,” Kitty Sherpa said. “It’s high in protein and fiber and provides omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also high in antioxidants and a good source of calcium, magnesium and copper.”

With their healthy reputation, I couldn’t bear to let the seeds age on the kitchen counter, and they’ve been making their way into brownies and biscuits. When chia seeds sit in liquid for a short time, the combination thickens and takes on a gelatinous form that folds into batters just as naturally as eggs with a much lower dose of fat and cholesterol.

“With chia coming into prominence,” Kitty Sherpa said, “for things like baking, as an egg replacer, it’s a great way to use it. And it has such a mild flavor that it’s almost a hidden ingredient.”

Minimized pumpkin barsIt may take more time for chia seeds to land on the average shopping list and pumpkin bars could never replace pumpkin pie, but cranberries — packed with their own nutritional benefits — remind us to count our blessings, sweet and savory.

Cranberry Pumpkin Chia Bars

Yield: 3 dozen bars

1 ¾ cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups mashed pumpkin (use sweet sugar pie pumpkins or canned pumpkin)

½ cup canola oil

¼ cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*2 tablespoons chia seeds

*½ cup water

3 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed and dried

½ cup butterscotch chips

Choose a 3- to 4-pound sugar pie pumpkin. Cut pumpkin in half and remove seeds (save seeds for roasting). Place split pumpkin on baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool. Scoop out pumpkin and mash or puree.

In a small bowl, add water to chia seeds. Let stand 10 minutes and stir. Seeds and water will take on a gelatinous consistency. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, combine chia seed mixture, pumpkin, oil, buttermilk and vanilla. Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moistened. Fold in fresh cranberries and butterscotch chips. Pour into a greased jelly roll baking pan or cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the surface bounces back from touch. Cool completely and cut into single-serving bars.

*In place of chia seeds and water, substitute 2 beaten eggs.

By Mary Ann Ebner, first published by Philipstown.info

A Toast to France

Cool fall weather marks the perfect time to toast France with a hearty meal and a glass of red wine.

Minimized Perfect Potatoes Make these creamy bistro potatoes.

I’m toasting our hosts in Paris for their fabulous hospitality. Merci!