Monthly Archives: March 2014

Chickpea Soup – One Way to Manage Your Produce Budget

Chickpea SoupRecently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projected that the lasting drought in California could have “large and lasting effects” on fruit and vegetable prices. Since California produces almost half of all U.S.-grown fruits and vegetables, their weather has budget implications for us all over the country. Experts are estimating that consumers will have to pay as much as 10% to 15% more this year for fresh produce than we paid in 2013.

A March 12 Hartford Courant article includes a host of ways to trim your grocery budget. One way to lower your expenditures is to use canned or frozen produce, which is something I tend to forget about doing. However, many supermarket brands offer organic options and low-sodium options, which are two of the main reasons why consumers avoid them. And then I thought about a chickpea soup that I just tried, inspired by a recipe in Martha Stewart Living from November 2013, and realized that this dish is a keeper for a few reasons. It was quite delicious, only took about 10 minutes to prepare, and was relatively inexpensive to create. This is a winning combination in my book! I omitted the garlic crisps and red pepper flakes, and substituted asiago cheese for parmesan. So if the higher produce prices start to pinch at your wallet, consider trying this chickpea soup as a tasty alternative that uses canned beans.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced (about 2 tablespoons)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cans (about 15 ounces each) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 cups chicken broth (homemade if you have it)
1 cup water
Coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Finely shredded parmesan (or asiago) cheese

Preparation:
Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add garlic, season with salt and pepper. Cook until oil is infused and garlic is just beginning to color (do not let brown), 2 to 3 minutes.

Add chickpeas to oil in pot, increase heat to medium-high, and cook until heated through and creamy, about 5 minutes. Smash some of the chickpeas with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon. Add broth and water; simmer until thickened slightly, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide soup among 4 bowls. Top with parsley and cheese.

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Cheer Up with Maple Syrup – and a Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie

Hi everyone! I hope that you are enjoying (or at least tolerating) the snowy and cold winter weather. Sensitive Husband and I have been busy stimulating the economy by purchasing real estate and a number of various services that go along with it. I must say, based on our recent house-buying experience, that the housing market is beginning to pick up, although slowly. The number of buyers is increasing, although some service providers are still clambering for work. For example, mortgage brokers, real estate appraisers, painters, and repairmen are more than happy to hear about a new house sale, and are available to help at a moment’s notice, which is not the case when the housing market is strong. Needless to say, most of my free time lately has been focused on choosing paint colors instead of trying new recipes. However, spring is almost here, and I am looking forward to more cooking and baking in a new kitchen!

If you have been down in the dumps because of the cold winter, cheer up because spring is a mere three weeks away. Late winter is also a wonderful time of year because the maple sugaring season is typically in February and March. Once the temperature reaches above freezing, pressure develops in the tree and causes the sap to flow out of the taps created by the sugar makers. Then with colder temperatures below freezing, suction inside the tree pulls in water to make more sap. When the fluctuations in temperature lessen, the sap stops flowing. This period of sap flow usually falls within early March to mid April. This year the maple sugaring season will be on the later side because the temperatures have been so cold.

According to the University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science, sap is boiled to evaporate water and to concentrate sugar. The quality of syrup is affected by the particular season, time of season the sap is collected, and how it is processed. The top quality syrups contain about 66% sugar.

Since we received a sampler of maple syrups as a gift, Sensitive Husband and I decided to conduct a taste test of all of the grades since we did not know much about the differences among them. The Grade B maple syrup was the darkest in color and had a rich, smoky taste. The Grade A Medium Amber variety was also quite good, and had slightly smoky and slightly buttery flavors. Grade A Dark Amber was also delicious, with buttery and maple flavors. And the Fancy grade was excellent with even stronger butter and maple flavors. Our taste experiment yielded positive results, in that we enjoyed all of the options! I think Grade B would be best for baking, and the Grades A and Fancy would be good for both baking and pouring over breakfast treats. The trick is to make sure that the maple syrup you purchase is pure, with no added sugars or preservatives, to get the best taste.

So now that we finally familiarized ourselves with various grades of maple syrup, the labels of the grades are about to change. The Grade B label will be eliminated, and the grades will explain more about the taste. Maple syrup producers will be required to use them starting in 2015, although consumers will probably start seeing them this year:

Golden Maple Syrup with a Delicate Taste: light to more pronounced golden colour and a delicate or mild taste

Amber Maple Syrup with a Rich Taste: light amber colour and a rich or full-bodied taste

Dark Maple Syrup with Robust Taste: dark color and a robust or strong taste

Very Dark Maple Syrup with a Strong Taste: very strong taste, generally recommended for cooking

According to the International Maple Syrup Institute, 2013 produced a bumper crop of maple syrup in most areas with the production of lighter syrups being most common. Total production of maple syrup for 2013 in Canada and the U.S. combined was estimated at 170 million pounds, with about 120 million pounds being produced in Quebec.

Skillet Chocolate Chip CookieMaple syrup is a fabulous natural sweetener, and can be substituted for cane sugar in most recipes as a 1:1 swap. I substituted maple syrup for the sugar in this recipe for a skillet chocolate chip cookie in the October 2013 Everyday Food magazine. This cookie is delicious and can be made in just a few minutes. I hope that you enjoy finding many ways to use this delicious natural sweetener.

Ingredients:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar (or maple sugar)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 cup grain-sweetened chocolate chips

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine butter, maple syrup, and sugar with a spoon. Stir in egg and vanilla. Stir in flours, baking soda, and salt. Stir in chips. Transfer to a 10-inch cast-iron skillet; smooth top.

Bake until cookie is golden brown and just set in the center, 18 to 20 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes.