(10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare)
By Lisa Messinger
Food and Cooking at Creators Syndicate
The multimillions-selling cookbook author and TV cooking series host known as The Pioneer Woman (aka Ree Drummond) might just circle the wagons around me for the quick and surprisingly healthful way I make the winter childhood staple comfort food of cinnamon-sugar toast. In 2010, Drummond declared on her popular blog that started her empire, "Did you know there's a right way and a wrong way to make cinnamon toast?"
In addition to comparing and contrasting step-by-step four ways to prepare cinnamon-sugar toast, Drummond declared one a winner. It involves making a spread of softened butter, cinnamon, sugar and pure vanilla extract, swiping it onto bread and baking it in the oven at 350 F.
It is closest to a fifth contrast that somewhat matches one (her husband's) that Drummond calls "absolutely, positively wrong...wrongalongadingdong" that my cinnamon-sugar toast fits in. However, mine is so healthful, so quick and still so comfort-food delightful that I have it as a non-guilt-inducing snack and/or mini-meal about once a week.
Unlike Drummond's choice of an everyday brand of supermarket wheat bread, I use a protein-packed, live sprouted grain bread (often the raisin version) available at health food stores and some supermarkets that gets a significant amount of its protein from additions of lentil and soybeans in the ingredient list that contribute no discernible flavor and makes this my go-to bread for everything. I then commit the Drummond-declared sin of toasting the bread first. I follow this by spreading on a vegan buttery spread that sits alongside butter in most supermarket chains, let it melt in for a second and sprinkle with ground cinnamon and natural no-calorie sugar substitute stevia and mush it all together with a knife while the bread is still warm.
In fact, I've become so enamored of the sweet cinnamon concoction, I've extended it throughout my cooking-and still with Drummond non-sanctioned healthful results (e.g., she freely admits to the questionable use of sugar and butter, but declares them essential to her process). Following is a super soup including a cinnamon stick, brown sugar and the health powerhouses of fresh ginger root and both winter and acorn squash that melds in a slow cooker. After that is a dynamic rub that I spread onto firm tofu steaks before pan-grilling, but would be equally good if you (or Drummond) slathered on strip steaks.
Fun fare like this also proves food preparation can be easy, nutritious, inexpensive, fun - and fast. The creative combinations are delicious proof that everyone has time for creating homemade specialties and, more importantly, the healthy family togetherness that goes along with it!
Another benefit: You effortlessly become a better cook, since these are virtually-can't-go-wrong combinations. They can't help but draw "wows" from family members and guests.
SLOW COOKER CINNAMON-SUGAR WINTER SQUASH SOUP
5 & 1/4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root
1 cinnamon stick
1 & 3/4 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
1 large acorn squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 3 & 1/2 cups) 1 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
Yields 8 servings.
Stir broth, brown sugar, ginger root, cinnamon stick, butternut squash, acorn squash and onion in a 6-quart slow cooker.
Cover and cook on low for 7 to 8 hours, or until the squash is tender.
With a utensil, carefully remove the cinnamon stick. Carefully place 1/3 of the squash mixture into a blender or food processor. Cover and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture into a 4-quart saucepan. Repeat the blending process twice more with the remaining squash mixture. Cook over medium heat until the mixture is hot.
SOUTHWESTERN CINNAMON-SUGAR BEEF OR TOFU RUB
1 & 1/2 teaspoons cumin seed
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 & 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon oregano leaves
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon (preferably sea) salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Yields 8 servings.
Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food and nutrition writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the National Council Against Health Fraud and author of seven food books, including the best-selling The Tofu Book: The New American Cuisine with 150 Recipes (Avery/Penguin Putnam) and Turn Your Supermarket into a Health Food Store: The Brand-Name Guide to Shopping for a Better Diet(Pharos/Scripps Howard). She writes two nationally syndicated food and nutrition columns for Creators Syndicate and had been a longtime newspaper food and health section managing editor, as well as managing editor of Gayot/Gault Millau dining review company. Lisa traveled the globe writing about top chefs for Pulitzer Prize-winning Copley News Service and has written about health and nutrition for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Reader's Digest, Woman's World and Prevention Magazine Health Books. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.
Toast cumin seeds in a small, dry skillet on medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes, or until aromatic. Carefully remove from skillet. Crush seeds using mortar and pestle, spice mill, clean coffee grinder or rolling pin.
Mix brown sugar, cinnamon, and then cumin and remaining spices. Good rubbed evenly on both sides of 2 pounds of beef strip steaks or firm tofu steaks and refrigerated for 15 minutes before grilling or broiling until fully cooked and at internal temperature recommended by USDA (for instance, 155 F for beef steaks).
QUICK TIP OF THE WEEK: I don't have a Vitamix, but I've been poaching some of the easy and tasty recipes anyway from President and CEO of Vitamix Jodi Berg's new 375-page The Vitamix Cookbook. After all, the subhead is 250 Delicious Whole Food Recipes to Make in Your Blender. My blender is surprisingly strong, but was bought on special in the kitchen utensil section of my local supermarket. Some of my favorites so far are Strawberry Dressing that's just 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil and 1/2 cup hulled, halved strawberries for 6 servings, and Pecan Peanut Butter that's 1 & 1/2 cups lightly salted dry-roasted peanuts, 1 & 1/2 cups unsalted roasted pecans and 1 tablespoon honey to yield 1 & 1/2 cups.